Best things to do in Tallinn – A complete guide to visiting Estonia’s capital. Everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip.
Tallinn, Estonia’s beautifully preserved capital is located at the north of the country right on the Baltic Sea. By far the most visited part of the city is the walled medieval Old Town. Inside these city walls, you’ll find stone roads, small charming streets, buildings, churches, cafes and shops packed with history and culture. Tallinn is a truely beautiful city and one worth exploring. Here’s out list of the best things to do in Tallinn.
1. Explore the Old Town by foot
By far one of the best things to do in Tallinn is to explore the Old Town by foot. Dating back to the 13th century, Tallinn’s Old Town was named a UNESCO Word Heritage Site in 1997. The Old Town is divided into two areas – Lower Town and Toompea, with the Toompea region taking its name from the Toompea Hill from where it’s located. Within the city walls you’ll find beautifully preserved medieval buildings consisting of restaurants, bars, museums, galleries and churches. You’ll need a couple of hours to really explore the cobbled stone laneways and enjoy this pristine old city.
2. Check out Town Hall Square
Since the Middle Ages, Town Hall Square has served as a market place and centre of Tallinn’s Old Town. It’s just as important to the town today as it was back then. In summer, the square fills with outdoor cafes, is host to medieval festivals, open air concerts, fairs and much more. In winter it transforms into a magical Christmas market, showcasing a huge Christmas tree. Celebrating Christmas festivities is a long standing tradition here. Dating back to 1441, it’s believed that this is where the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s very first Christmas tree!
3. Step back in time at St Katariina Käik (St. Catherine’s Passage)
If you want to step back in time, don’t miss Katariina Käik (St. Catherine’s Passage). The old narrow lane connects Muurivahe & Vene Streets and you’ll find the remains of St. Catherine’s Church at the northern end. It’s one of the oldest churches in the city and where the passage derives its name. Many famous people are buried inside the church and there are old tombstones dating back to the 15th century on the southern wall. The passage maintains a medieval vibe, whilst housing a selection of studios and cafes at the same time.
4. Walk the Town Walls
During medieval times, Tallinn, then called Reval, was a walled town originally constructed for protection against enemies. The oldest part of the walls were constructed in the 13th century and at its height, 36 towers protected the Old Town. This gained Tallinn the nickname of the ‘city of towers’. Over half of the defence system has been preserved including: 1.85km of the wall, 26 towers, portions of two front gates and 2 gates. There’s 3 different parts of the town wall you can access:
- Tallinn Town Wall and Towers – A section of wall connecting Nunne, Sauna and Kuldjala towers. Entrance €2 – Free with a Tallinn Card
- Hellemann Tower and Town Wall – A three-storey 14th century tower with 200m of Town wall. Entrance €4 – Free with a Tallinn Card
- Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum – Consists of the Maiden’s Tower, Stable Tower (Tallitorn) and Gate Tower (Väravatorn) atop the town wall. Entrance €14 – Free with a Tallinn Card
5. Admire the views from St Olav’s Church Tower
St Olav’s Church is the Tallinn’s biggest medieval structure, taking its name from the sainted Norwegian king Olav II Haraldsson. The 12th-century church is located in the Toompea area of the Old Town and offers panoramic views over Tallinn from the top of the church tower. We’re pretty sure the architects didn’t have mass tourism in mind when designing the tower, as getting to the top is a very tight squeeze. With people climbing up and down the narrow, spiralled staircase at the same time, reaching the top can take a while. But it’s worth the effort as the views are beautiful. The church itself was closed for funeral service during our visit. So sadly, we didn’t get to see inside. Entrance €5 – Free with a Tallinn Card
6. Check out Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
By far one of the most recognisable structures in Tallin’s Old Town is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Located on Toopea Hill, the orthodox cathedral is incredibly picturesque. Named after the holy noble Prince Alexander Nevsky, the cathedral was completed in 1900, during Estonia’s Russian rule. Restoration work was underway during our visit, resulting in one side being completely covered in scaffold. But the views from afar were just as impressive!
7. Visit the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum
The Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum is the place to go if you want to learn about the history of Tallinn. Explore underground passages and defence towers, walk part of the the town wall from one tower to another and discover the unique fortifications while enjoying views of the Old Town. The Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum consists of three interconnected parts:
- Kiek in de Kök artillery tower
- Underground bastion passages and the Carved Stone Museum
- Maiden’s Tower (Neitsitorn) museum-café, Stable Tower (Tallitorn) and Gate Tower (Väravatorn)
Entrance €14 – Free with a Tallinn Card
8. Check out Patkuli & Kohtuotsa viewing platforms
There’s several viewpoints dotted around Tallinn’s Old Town. The most popular are Patkuli & Kohtuotsa viewing platforms. Located very close to each other at the top of Toompea Hill, you’ll get unobstructed views of the city walls and towers, St Olav’s church tower and the Baltic Sea. With views like these, you’ll feel life like you’ve jumped straight into a fairytale! To access Patkuli viewing platform, climb the 157 stairs by Snelli pond in Toompark, or make your way to Toompea through the Old Town.
9. Stroll through the Danish King’s Garden
Located on Toompea Hill you’ll find the Danish Kings Garden. This open garden like area is of historic significance as it’s said that in 1219, King Valdemar II of Denmark and his troops camped at this very spot before conquering Toompea.
According to the legend, it’s also the birthplace of the Danish flag (aka Danneborg). As the story goes, Valdemar’s forces were losing the battle with the Estonians when suddenly, the skies opened up and a red flag with a white cross came floating down from the sky. This event was taken as a holy sign, leading the Danes to victory!
Today locals honour Denmarks role in Estonias history at the gardens. A relaxing place to meander, you’ll see an iron sword and shield with a Danish cross located halfway down the steps towards Rüütli street. And every summer, Danneborg Day is celebrated at this very place.
10. Watch the sunset from Patkuli viewpoint
There’s nothing better than ending the day with a beautiful sunset and Patkuli viewpoint is the perfect place to do just that. With that fairytale like backdrop, watching the sunset was for us, one the best things to do in Tallinn.
11. Check out the trendy Telleskivi Loomelinnak
Telliskivi Loomelinnak aka the Creative City, has emerged in a former industrial complex, just outside of the Old Town. As you wander around this area you’ll find funky restaurants & cafe’s, studios, artists and NGOs. There’s also unique shops offering design, interior design and natural products. Over 400 cultural events take place here each year and every Saturday, there’s a flea market. The Creative City has a hip and funky vibe, making it a great place to grab a bite whilst soaking up the atmosphere. Or, grab yourself a cup of soul warming Glögg – A local beverage consisting of warm wine mixed with spices and alcohol like vodka or rum!
12. Take a day trip to Helsinki
If you’ve got an extra day up your sleeve, consider taking a day trip, or overnight stay to Helsinki. Accessible by very comfortable ferries, the journey takes 2.5 hrs each way. On arrival, you can either walk 3km from the ferry port to the city centre, or catch a tram. Helsinki lacks the the wow factor of Tallinn’s medieval architecture and charm, but is a nice city to spend a day or two exploring. There’s a couple of ferry companies to choose from, to compare prices, click HERE.
13. Pirita district
Tallinn’s Old Town is certainly the heart of Estonia’s capital and is where most visitors invest their time. And rightfully so – the Old Town is beautiful! But the district of Pirita is worth a visit too.
Located just 10km from the Old Town, Pirita evolved around a fifteenth century convent, of which its ruins can be seen today. There’s 2km of sandy beach, the Pirita river & river valley, along with a coastal pine forest complete with an adventure park. You’ll also find the yacht harbour and restaurant situated at the mouth of Pirita river. Accessible by public transport, bike or car, some of the sights worth seeing in Pirita include:
- Maarjamäe Memorial – A memorial dedicated to Estonian’s who suffered at the hands of the Soviet regime
- Tallinn’s TV Tower – A 314m old telecommunications tower, now showcasing a viewing deck with panoramic views over Tallinn along with a cafe. On the ground floor learn about the history of the TV Tower and its role in Estonia’s independence
- Tallinn’s Botanical Gardens
- Walk along the promenade and watch the sunset over the Old Town in the distance
- Kadriorg Palace & it’s beautiful parks & gardens (located between Tallinn’s Old Town & Pirita)
Tallinn has become an increasingly popular tourist destination over the years and not only is the city visited by backpackers and holiday makers, it’s a cruise ship destination as well! As a result, popular sights become increasingly busy between 10am-3pm as the cruise ship groups explore the town. Try to see as much as you can outside of these times to avoid the worst of the crowds. Viewing platforms and the Old Town itself tend to get mobbed through the peak of the day.
The Tallinn Card
Visitors to Tallinn have the option of purchasing a Tallinn Card for the duration of their visit. The card gives free entry to a bunch of attractions and museums, along with free transportation. This is particularly beneficial for those wanting to visit lots of museums and use transportation. You can purchase the Tallinn card on board Tallinn-bound ferries, at the ferry passenger port, on arrival at the airport or at the Tallinn bus station. They are also available at the Tallinn Tourist Information Centre, in various travel agencies and some hotels/hostels.
Getting to/from & around
Getting to Tallinn couldn’t be easier! There’s a host of transport options to get you there, depending on where you’re travelling from:
Tallinn’s International Airport is modern, but small and is located around 5km from Tallinn’s Old Town. There’s ATMs located at the departures area and currency exchange booths inside the arrivals hall. There’s also car rentals on the first floor, inside the airport’s public transport terminal.
From the airport, you can jump on tram N°4 or bus N°2 to downtown, located just outside the airport. The tram departs every 5-10 minutes from 5:30am-00:45am, while the bus departs roughly every 20 minutes between 6:10am-23:30pm. Alternatively, a taxi ride to the centre will set you back around €10 and takes 10-20 minutes.
International and domestic buses arrive and depart from Tallinn’s Central Bus Station (Bussijam), located approximately 2km from Tallinn’s Old Town. There’s a number of bus companies operating international services to Riga, St. Petersburg and Vilnius, including the comfortable Ecolines and Lux Express. You’ll find left luggage in the basement of the station and ATM machines inside next to the main entrance.
Buses, trams and taxi’s operate between the Central Bus Station and Tallinn’s Old Town:
- Buses N°17 & N°23: departs from behind the departure platforms on Juhkentali Street. Services operate daily from approximately 6:00 am-23:15. For ticket information, click HERE.
- Trams N°2 & N°4 depart from Tartu maantee Street (tram stop Bussijaam), a 230m walk from the bus station. Services operate daily between 5.30am-midnight. The most central stops in town are Viru, and Vabaduse väljak (tram no. 4), Mere puiestee (tram no. 2) & Hobujaama (both lines).
- A taxi to Old Town should cost about €6.
The most popular ferry route is Helsinki-Tallinn and most ferries arrive at terminals A & D or the passenger port. You’ll find left luggage and
an information booth in the main hall of terminal A. There’s ATM’s and several exchange booths available, however don’t count on getting a good rate.
The Old Town is accessible by foot, but if you don’t fancy walking, a taxi to the Old Town should cost around €4-€5.
Tallinn’s train station Balti Jaam is located a mere 300m from the Old Town Walls. Just cross over Toompuiestee Street, and you’re there! The station houses a restaurant, small shop along with a day spa! You’ll find left luggage at the back of the main hall and exchange booths. ATMs are located by the front doors.
- You can find information on train connections to Russia HERE.
- And information on inter-city connections HERE.
There are loads of choices when it comes to accommodation in Tallinn. Accommodation within the Old Town usually come with a higher price tag. We stayed just out the Old Town Walls at a the Red Emperor Hostel. They had good kitchen facilities, clean ablutions and helpful staff. The hostel was opposite a supermarket, close to public transport and most importantly, close to the Old Town.
Best time to visit
May to September are the most temperate months to visit Tallinn. July and August are the busiest months, coinciding with European summer holidays. So expect big crowds and higher prices during these months. In contrast to the warm summer months, snows falls in winter and although the temperatures can be incredibly cold, experiencing Tallinn with a dusting of snow would be a magical sight. Accommodation prices are cheaper in the winter and there’s less tourists.
How much time do you need?
It’s worth investing some time to explore Tallinn and its surrounds. Although you can pack in a lot into 1 day, we recommend allowing 2-3 days to make the most out of this beautiful city. Allow an extra day or two if you want to visit Helsinki.
Estonia is part of the EU and uses Euro. You’ll find ATM’s and currency exchange booths all over the city and at public transport stations. Credit cards are widely accepted too.
Planning a trip to Europe? Check out our other European posts HERE.
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