We spent three amazing days in Tallinn – and here is my guide of what to do in Tallinn, Estonia –
Charles and I were charmed by Tallinn. We didn’t know what to expect. We had seen photos and knew that it is a gorgeous city, but none of our friends had been. A simple Google search for Estonia was all it took on convince me to add Tallinn to our winter travel itinerary.
Our 2017 New Years resolution was to see the northern lights, and we decided to make good on the resolution with a trip to Finland at the very beginning of 2018. We were spending Christmas with Charles’s family in London and had 10 days to continue our trip elsewhere. We decided to fly from London to Tallinn, spend three days in Tallinn, and then take the ferry to Finland.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, sits along the Baltic Sea just a two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki. The city is filled with pastel colored buildings, church towers, and cobblestone streets – it is a quintessentially European city. Estonia is considered a Northern European Country and a Baltic Country. Before Estonia regained independence in 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union. The country has its own language (with 9 vowels and 14 tenses) and the culture is influenced by its Soviet history and Baltic location.
Tallinn has been catching the eye of more and more tourists. It isn’t as overcrowded as other European cities, but at the same time, there are direct flights, the country is part of the EU and uses the Euro, and it is more affordable than many other European countries.
Here are my recommendations for what to do in Tallinn:
The heart of Tallinn is Old Town, with a medieval wall surrounding parts of the neighborhood. We spent the majority of our time in Old Town, our hotel was in the area, as are most of the city’s sites. Since we were in Tallinn just after Christmas, the Christmas Market was still taking place in Old Town Square. The market is similar to other christkindel markets we have visited and has stalls selling food and gifts.
Free walking tour
I love a free walking tour because only really great tour guides can live off of tips so in my experience you will get a great tour. Nils led our tour and he blended history with humor and cultural knowledge. The tour focused on Old Town, and Nils highlighted historic buildings and sites while giving the historical context. We also stopped at a spot with incredible views of the city.
When you go on a free tour (or any tour) take advantage of the opportunity to pick a local’s brain. Ask what to do. Nils suggested visiting Kalamajar, a part of town once filled with Soviet factories which has become an arts center and hipster hangout with galleries, artist studios, graffiti, craft breweries, boutiques, and cafes. It’s a place where you can experience Tallinn more like a local.
Kalamajar was the neighborhood where the Soviets built factories. Today it is a hipster hangout filled with restaurants, shops, and art studios. We walked around to check out the amazing street art, then grabbed beers, walked around some more, and had dinner. We were there on a holiday weekend so it was a little quiet, but we liked the vibe of this area.
St. Catherine’s Passage
A small half hidden pedestrian passageway that leads to collection of craft workshops that still just traditional techniques. This is something you can see in 15 minutes, or you can hang around and visit all of the shops. There is a cute little cafe at the end of the passageway too.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
Climb the stairs to the top of the steeple and enjoy sweeping views of the city. I recommend trying to go at sunset. This climb was narrow, twisty, and a little more work than I anticipated, but it was so worth it. You will be rewarded with a view of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral nearby.
This tower is part of of the old city wall and was built in 1410. The tower has had many uses over the years. It has been a prison, ammunition storage, and a cafe. Climbing this tower is much easier than climbing to the top of St. Mary’s Cathedral since it isn’t as tall.
Apparently you need to book a reservation to see this museum, so we missed out, but it was highly recommended.
We didn’t make it to this museum, but is very popular so I wanted to list it for you. The museum has a submarine that you can tour along with many hands on life sized exhibits.
Hang out in Cafes and Eat Your Heart Out
The food in Tallinn is excellent, and the city has many wonderful cafes and coffeeshops. I will be telling you more about that soon.
Overall, I would recommend spending 3 days in Tallinn. We felt like we got to see everything we wanted to without being rushed.
If you have been to Tallinn I would love to hear your recommendations in the comments.