When we visited Tallinn on our recent trip to the Baltics, we instantly fell in love with the city. The charming medieval building, the cobblestone streets and alleys, all of it was perfect.
Additionally, we found lots of things to do in Tallinn. Unfortunately, we only had three days, but we could easily have spent much more time here. And you know what we loved most? Despite being amazingly beautiful, Tallinn hasn’t made it onto the radar of most tourists yet. That means that you will find far fewer crowds than in other European capitals like Paris and Berlin.
If you’re thinking about visiting Tallinn, then let us give you some advice on the best places to see as well as our favourite travel tips.
What to See in Tallinn
#1 Tallinn Old Town
Start your trip by walking through the Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily spend a few hours just exploring the narrow streets, looking up at the pretty buildings and their red roofs.
Sooner or later, you will end up at Town Hall Square. If you visit in summer, use this chance to go into Tallinn Town Hall for a quick visit. Unfortunately, the town hall was closed in winter, but we still enjoyed walking around the square. Here, you can also find the III Draakon, one of our favourite restaurants in Tallinn.
In winter, you can see a Christmas tree in the middle of the square. Tallinn claims that the tradition of erecting this tree goes back to 1441, making it the first Christmas tree in the world. Riga heavily disputes that fact, claiming that this record goes to them. Whichever one started the tradition first, it’s still pretty impressive to think about that Tallinn has been putting up a Christmas tree since the 1400s.When in Estonia, don’t forget to also visit
While walking through the Old Town, make sure to go to Viru Gate. You can only see the corner towers of the gate today as the structure in the middle was destroyed to make room for a horse-drawn tram route. On the road leading up to the gate, you can find a small flower market.
#2 Explore the City Walls
Close to Viru Gate, at Hellemann Tower, you can climb up the city wall. Here, you can walk around 200 meters on top of the wall and enjoy the view of Tallinn. You will find two towers along your way, which you can climb up to get an even better view. Beware the stairs, though, as they date back hundreds of years and can be quite steep.
In one of the towers, you will find an exposition of photos showing Tallinn in the early 20th century, with comparisons to today. I found it very interesting to see how much the city has changed in some places while remaining completely the same in others.
#3 Viewpoints on Toompea Hill
If you go west and hike up Toompea Hill, you can find multiple viewing platforms that give you a good view of the Old Town of Tallinn. Check out the Kohtuotsa lookout and then move on to the Patkuli viewing platform. While the first one is more famous, the second one also offers nice views, and you can even see the sea from here.
Toompea was once, by the way, home to the feudal nobility. They lived upon this hill from where they could literally look down on everyone else below in the Lower Town.
We ran into a seagull multiple times. If you see him, remember that his name is Steven and he has his own Instagram account!
#4 The Great Guild Hall
If you want to see one of the many museums in Tallinn, you should go to the Great Guild Hall. Here, you can find lots of information on the history of Tallinn as well as some exhibits from back in the time.
The building dates back to 1410 but has undergone many transformations since then. The cellar once served for storing wine, which makes sense if you keep in mind the many celebrations held by the Great Guild. The Great Guild Hall also housed the stock exchange in the 19th century and was used as an arts venue.
Since 1952, you can find the Estonian History Museum here.
#5 St Catherine’s Passage
One of the most beautiful alleys in the Old Town is, without a doubt, St Catherine’s Passage. You can find a few handicraft workshops here. If you decide to go inside, you will not just be able to buy souvenirs but also see the artists’ workrooms.
The passage might be short, but it is very photogenic, so we recommend that you take your time here and stroll through it slowly. This area is one of the oldest in Tallinn. Dominican monks already built a church here in the 13th century, St Catherine’s church, which is now in ruins but gave name to this alley.
#6 Visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
In my opinion, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of Tallinn’s most beautiful churches. You can find this Russian Orthodox Cathedral on top of Toompea Hill. When we first saw it, after walking up the hill, its roof was covered with snow which made the view even more spectacular.
The church was built in 1900 when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. We recommend that you go inside to discover the rich decorations. Just remember to behave respectfully and not to take any photos of the interior.
#7 Have a coffee in Tallinn’s oldest cafe
Maiasmokk Cafe is not just the oldest operating cafe in Tallinn but all of Estonia. It first opened in 1864, and the interior has remained unchanged in around 100 years.
The cafe is famous for its marzipan, and you can see lots of figures in the Marzipan Museum here. Maiasmokk Cafe is also a great place to sit down and take a break. Try one of the traditional Estonian pastries. We promise that they’re delicious.
If you want to have a larger meal, you can go up to the first floor where you’ll find a restaurant.
#8 NUKU Museum of Puppet Arts
We came here on a snowy day, mostly to escape the cold, and wow, this museum turned out to be much more fun than we had thought. In here, you can find everything related to Puppet Arts, from string puppets to hand puppets and even a section about creepy puppets.
Originally, this museum was created to give a home to puppets that were no longer needed on stage. But it has turned into so much more than that.
Lots of interactive displays invite you to be creative and come up with your own puppet show. You can even build your own stage and have lots of fun.
#9 Kiek in de Kök & Bastion Passages
If you want to explore more of the city wall, you should go to Kiek in de Kök, right behind Toompea Castle. This museum consists of multiple parts, and while you can buy individual tickets, we recommend that you go and see all of them.
Start your visit in front of the Maiden Tower, in the Danish King’s Garden, and enjoy the view of Tallinn’s Old Town. Then go inside and climb up the City Wall. From here, you have an even better view. Plus, if you’re hungry or need a break from exploring, you can find a cafe here.
Next, make your way to Kiek in de Kök, where you can enjoy many exhibitions about the history of Tallinn. The tower is much higher than we initially thought, with six floors and great displays on each of them. Go to the top first and then make your way down.
At the bottom of Kiek in de Kök, you can find the second entrance to this museum. Here, you can also start going down into the Bastion Passages.
Be very careful. The stairs are wet and slippery, and it gets quite cold as you go down. The fortifications down here date back to the 17th and 18th century and spread out far underneath Tallinn.
The first exhibits deal with the history and use of the passages. Here, you will find posters from WW II with instructions on how to find shelter or how to protect oneself from gas attacks.
If you keep going, you will eventually reach the Carved Stone Museum, which displays lots of pillars and reliefs from the 16th to 19th century.
Consider joining a guided tour, or at least getting an audio guide, for the Bastion Passages, as not all displays are self-explanatory. While the tunnels were fun to visit, we sometimes lacked context to understand what was going on.
#10 Visit Europe’s oldest Pharmacy
While nobody knows when exactly the Town Council Pharmacy opened, the city has records from 1422 that mention the third owner of this business. That makes it the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe, and yes, you should visit.
You can find the Raeapteek, as it is called in Estonian, next to Town Hall Square. Inside, you can find an exhibition with herbs and medicines as well as tools used back in the day. If you feel like it, you can also try claret, a wine produced in this pharmacy since 1467.
Don’t worry about disturbing the owners. They were very nice and welcoming when we visited. Entry is free, although I am sure they appreciate you buying any over-the-counter medicines you need to stock up on.
#11 Estonian Maritime Museum
The Estonian Maritime Museum spreads out over multiple sites in town, but we recommend that you go to the one in the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour. This one is by far the biggest site, and you can have lots of fun here.
You will find lots of interactive exhibits in this seaplane harbour, including experiments to see how submarines work, flight simulators and much more.
The highlight is, without a doubt, the submarine you can see in the photo above. You can go inside and explore. While the space is very cramped, keep in mind that people used to live here for many weeks without going on land!
I don’t think I would have lasted even a week in one of those beds. Although, most likely, I would already have passed out on the first day from hitting my head too many times on the low ceiling.
You can easily reach the Maritime Museum by taking bus 73 from the city centre and getting off at “Lennusadam”. If you want to see the other part of the Estonian Maritime Museum, go to the Fat Margaret tower.
We visited in winter and there was only a short queue for buying tickets. During the main season, though, we recommend getting your ticket in advance. Click here to buy it online.
#12 Eat Estonian food
Tallinn is the perfect place if you want to try traditional Estonian food. Go to the III Draakon at the Town Hall Square. Here, you can have elk meat soup or traditional pastries.
The food is very affordable, and the restaurant has an amazing atmosphere. Yes, it might be very touristy but isn’t it cool to eat in a medieval tavern? Plus, this is your chance to try elk meat for only 3€ or less.
We also went to the Restaurant Vanaema Juures, whose name translates to “Grandma’s Place”. This restaurant prides itself on serving simple, traditional meals, which is just perfect. All the food we had was delicious. Plus, I loved the atmosphere of this very traditional, cosy restaurant.It almost felt like stepping into a home from the 50s.
If you go here, make sure to have the Kirju Koer for dessert, a delicious Estonian cake. The name translates to Spotted Dog, which refers to the look of tart marmalade pieces and sweet cookies inside a chocolate mixture.
#13 St Olaf’s Church
Some sources say that St Olaf’s church was the highest building in Europe between 1549 and 1625. It is now 124 metres tall, although its height varied throughout the centuries. The name comes from the Norwegian King Olav II Haraldsson, and you can find first mentions of this church in records from 1267.
Lightning hit the tower of St Olaf’s Church around ten times, which led to it burning down three times – last in 1931. Today, you can visit the observation platform in the tower to enjoy the view of Tallinn.
Unfortunately, the tower only opens in summer, so we didn’t get a chance to go here. But if you go in summer and have enough time, the view from up there must be amazing. Just keep in mind that you have to climb 232 steps to get to the top!
#14 Kadriorg Palace
We didn’t make it here on our recent visit since we just didn’t have enough time. But I’ve visited Kadriorg Palace before, a few years before I met Daniel, and I loved it.
You can find this beautiful building east of the city centre, where you can easily go by taking tram lines 1 or 3. Or you could walk, which should take you around 35 minutes.
Kadriorg Palace was built by Tsar Peter I in 1718, who named it after his wife Catherine.
If you come in summer, it is worth taking some time to stroll through the gardens and admiring the baroque building from the outside. Inside, you will find the Estonian Art Museum, displaying art by Western and Russian artists.
Close by, you can also find the house of Peter the Great, where you can learn more about the Tsar and his wife.
#15 Hotel Viru & KGB Museum
This museum is the one thing we didn’t manage to see during our time in Tallinn. We would have loved to come here, but we heard about this amazing place too late and didn’t make it there in time to join one of the tours.
The Viru hotel opened in 1972 and became a hotel popular with foreign tourists. What very few people knew back then, was that the KGB operated a radio centre on the 23rd floor, from where they used to spy on guests. The KGB did not just plant espionage devices in the rooms but even hid secret microphones in the tables in the restaurant.
These days, you can visit the former radio centre and learn more about Soviet Tallinn and the history of this hotel. We heard great things about this museum, and it is the perfect chance to dive into Estonia’s Soviet past.
Make sure to book your tour in advance on the hotel’s website.
More things to do in Tallinn
Of course, you can find many more tourist attractions in Tallinn than the ones mentioned above. We didn’t make it to the Telliskivi Creative City, a centre famous for its art studios and designer stores. If you have extra time, you should come and join one of the 600 events that take place here every year.
Or why not go on a day trip to somewhere close by? Great options for day trips from Tallinn include hiking in the Lahemaa National Park or exploring the Estonian Open Air Museum. If you want to travel even further, consider taking the ferry to Helsinki and spending a day there.
How to get to Tallinn
Depending on where you are, you have many options for getting to Tallinn. If you’re coming from far abroad, you should look for flights. Tallinn’s airport is well connected, so you shouldn’t find it too difficult to buy a plane ticket.
If you’re already in Estonia, then you can easily reach Tallinn by bus. We bought all of our bus tickets online, and it was both easy and convenient. From Kuressaare, our previous stop in Estonia, it only took a few hours to get to Tallinn.
More popular bus connections include the bus from Riga to Tallinn and from Tartu to Tallinn.
Since Tallinn is located by the sea, it shouldn’t surprise you that you have multiple options of coming or leaving by ferry. The most popular ferry connection is the one to Helsinki, but you can also go to Stockholm, St Petersburg or even Mariehamn in the Aland Islands.
Getting around Tallinn
The Old Town of Tallinn is so small that you can easily walk to most places described above. Some are further away, though, in which case you can rely on Tallinn’s public transport. Visit Tallinn has useful information about bus and tram lines, including a map and timetables.
If you decide to buy the Tallinn Card, you can travel for free on public transport. The card also includes entry to many museums, so you should look into whether or not it’s worth it for you. Click here to find more information and buy the card online.
We decided against it because we weren’t sure about our plans when we arrived, but it can quickly pay off if you’re planning on visiting a lot of museums or using public transport a lot.
When to visit Tallinn
First of all, there is no wrong time to visit Tallinn. You can come here at any time of the year and have a great time. But depending on what you prefer, you might find some seasons more suitable than others.
We visited at the end of February, which meant that the city was almost empty. We saw a few other tourists, but nothing compared to the crowds you can expect in summer. Plus, we were lucky and woke up to snow one morning, which was very beautiful.
On the downside, visiting in winter means that some tourist attractions are closed or have reduced opening hours.
If you visit in summer, you can expect more crowds but also warmer weather. Plus, everything will be open, and you can sit outside in cafes. It is up to you to decide what you prefer.
If you come in December, by the way, you can admire the big Christmas Tree on Town Hall Square that we mentioned above. And you can also find a Christmas market here.
We hope that you have gotten inspired for your trip to Tallinn. We loved our time here and want for you to enjoy the city as much as we did.
While in Estonia, you should consider travelling around to explore this beautiful country. We spent a bit more than a week here and have created some useful resources for you to read that can help you plan your trip:
- How to spend one day in Kuressaare, on Estonia’s biggest island
- The best things to do in Tartu
If you have anything to add, please leave us a comment. We would love to hear from you.
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