The tall stone tower, with its red brick conical roof, looks like the kind of place where a witch would lock up a young girl in a fairytale. "Let down your hair," I'm about to cry out before I spot the entrance to the stairs near me.
There's a big sign with opening hours and admission costs. I'm not quite sure how I missed it initially - perhaps I was blinded by my fairytale fantasy. But that's what happens in Tallinn. The medieval charm blinds you for a while until you realise there are more twists to come in the story of Estonia's capital.
The Baltic countries are not often on the agenda for Australian travellers but I think they offer some of the most interesting travel experiences in Europe: chic like Scandinavia, historic like Imperial Germany, and affordable like Eastern Europe. Of the three capitals - Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn - I think Tallinn offers the most variety for visitors with limited time.
The highlight of Tallinn is the Old Town, protected now as a World Heritage Site, but once protected by a high stone wall, with the Rapunzelesque towers spread along its length. There are still quite a few sections of wall that you can walk along, with stairs up to the tops of the towers.
But for real height, you need to climb one of the church spires. The tallest of them is St Olaf's, at 124 metres high. From the top you can look across the Old Town, more spires rising up amongst the red roofs, forming markers to guide your view along the streets to the main sights, such as the 15th-century town hall, the neo-classical Opera House, and the government buildings on Toompea Hill.
All of these sights are reminders of the time centuries ago when maritime trade made Tallinn an economic powerhouse in the Baltics (it's no coincidence that the tall church spires would be visible by approaching ships). But bleaker years were ahead during the period of the Soviet Union.
There are reminders of this past at the former KGB cells in the basement of a building in the Old Town that have now been turned into a museum. And the Estonian History Museum has an interesting collection of Soviet-era statues, with metallic figures of Stalin and Lenin.
But, in general, Estonia - and Tallinn in particular - has been able to shake off the decades of occupation that ended with independence in 1991. When I first visited Tallinn a few years ago, I was able to explore the large abandoned Patarei Prison that had been used by the Soviets to lock up (and execute) political dissidents. Now much of it has been closed off to the public but a new exhibition opened last month, called 'Communism is Prison', uses part of the waterfront building to put the tragic history on display.
Right next door is what I consider to be the best museum in the Baltics - the Estonian Maritime Museum. Housed in the buildings of an old seaplane harbour, high-tech exhibitions are mixed with original vessels, including a 1936 mine-laying submarine that you can walk through. It's a reminder of how important the coast has been to Tallinn - and how vulnerable it has made the city over the rolling waves of invaders.
For young Estonians, though, Tallinn is about the future. Estonia is ranked as one of the top countries in the world for digital workers, with people moving here from across the world to be part of an affordable tech scene. This, in turn, has spawned new creative and cultural hubs in the city.
The most popular of these areas is called the Telliskivi Creative City in the Kalamaja district, just a 10-minute walk from the Old Town. Here, you'll find small design shops next to craft breweries, and street art amongst organic restaurants. There are more than 600 cultural events held each year and, particularly in the warmer months, you'll find performances in the community theatres or on the streets.
You never know, perhaps one of the performances will even be of a fairytale. But if it's about someone locked up in a tower, then a fable is all it is. In modern Tallinn, the real stories are about freedom.
IF YOU GO: You will need two stopovers to fly from Australia to Tallinn, but there are lots of options available. A budget hotel room is about $70 a night and you can get 5 stars from about $200. A local meal costs from $15.
Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world full-time for the past eight years. Read more about his adventures at timeturtletravel.com