One of my favorite cities on our 2019 travel tour was Tallinn, Estonia. This place wasn’t even on my radar until some friends of ours suggested it, and since we’d be in Helsinki (which is a short ferry ride away), we decided to add it to our itinerary.
Tallinn is just a two hour ferry from Helsinki, so if you’re in that city, Tallinn can be visited as a day / weekend trip. The medieval city center is small enough to cover in a couple of days, but it’s so beautiful you should consider a longer trip.
The ferry was one of the most comfortable we’ve experienced, and the trip was quick. We opted for an inexpensive upgrade to the “business class” lounge to get the stronger WiFi connection, which also included stylish, quiet lounge areas and abundant free sandwiches and snacks. Upon arriving in Tallinn, we jumped in a taxi for a quick ride to our Airbnb in the city center. Our flat wasn’t ready yet so we stopped at an Indian restaurant that had a gorgeous outdoor patio and nibbled on samosas, washed down with cold Estonian beer. Before long we were settled in to our apartment and ready to explore!
Read on for my recommended stops, which can be covered in one to two days. If you have more time, take the #3 tram to Kadriorg to see the palace and the beautiful Rahvapark and Vabakujunduslik park.
Town Hall Square: The square is an expansive open space surrounded by stunning architecture and cafes, and is the home of the Town Hall, considered to be the oldest town hall in the Baltic region and Scandinavia. The Gothic building started construction in the 13th century and was completed sometime in the 14th century. On many days the square is the home of outdoor markets selling crafts, furs and specialty foods. If you have time, sit at a cafe on the square to people watch and soak up the ancient vibes. Have a honey lager while you’re at it!
Some of the pretty buildings surrounding the Square
Trying on some of the merchandise
Viru Street: Between the Town Hall Square and the Viru Gate is a wide pedestrian street chock full of souvenir shops, street performers and cafes. Despite the crowds, it’s a nice place for a stroll. Just be sure to venture off the beaten path to explore the lesser populated side streets, which hold surprises around every corner.
Near Town Hall Square
Near Town Hall Square
Exploring the streets of Tallinn
Katariina käik (Catherine’s Passage): Speaking of streets, this little alley is considered to be the prettiest in all of Tallinn. Enter the street at Vene, and check out St. Catherine’s church, founded by Dominican monks in 1246. Along an outer wall old tombstones have been affixed, and at the end of the passage is part of the Tallinn city wall that is open for exploration.
Climbing the city walls
Views of Tallinn from the City Walls
Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: You can’t visit Tallinn without making this cathedral a stopping point. Although not particularly old (by Estonian standards), its dramatic exterior and rich interiors are eye popping. If you’ve got some time, take a leisurely stroll through Toompark. Or, head in the other direction towards the Neitsitorni Muuseum. The museum itself is small and not worth the visit if you don’t have time, but wandering the lanes to the museum is charming and atmospheric.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Exploring the streets and walls near the Cathedral
The Neitsitorni muuseum
Alleys of Tallinn
For those traveling with more time, Kadriorg Castle is a close tram ride away and a nice way to spend an afternoon. The majority of the palace is used as an art exhibit, but the rooms are still lovely, and the grounds dramatic. The property has an interesting history, being purchased for Catherine the Great by her husband Peter, and later renovated by Tsar Nicolas I. Surrounding the castle are 70 hectares of parkland complete with fountains, rose gardens, and walking paths, and the President’s residence is next door! At the time of our visit, Kadriorg was unveiling its driverless bus which travels between the Kadriorg Tram stop to the Kumu Art Museum.
Another spot to visit if you have the time is the Noblessner port, a modernized area with shops and restaurants on the water. The destination itself is probably not over the top exciting, but if you are an architecture buff, the 1.6 mile walk from the Old Town to Noblessner through Kalamaja will treat you to numerous examples of old wooden structures that were once the homes of the working class in Tallinn.
Dramatic and colorful Kadriorg Castle
Beautiful parks surround the Castle
Some of the treasures on display at the Castle
Typical wood homes of the working class in Tallinn
Our favorite eating (and drinking) places in Tallinn:
Chakra: Great Indian fare with a beautiful outdoor patio. The dining room is really cool too!
Olde Hansa: We just had salads and beer here (I’m addicted to their cinnamon beer!!) The dining room is really interesting and the outdoor patio is a perfect spot for people watching. This place is very touristy but we still enjoyed it a lot!
Rataskaevu 16: We had our best meal here. If you can’t get a reservation try their sister restaurant Väike-rataskaevu which is right around the corner.
Porgu: A quirky little place that is literally underground. The food here is rustic but hearty and delish.
III Draakon: We didn’t eat here, just drank up the tasty beer. Another gimmicky medieval establishment designed to entertain the tourists, it’s still a great spot for people watching. Be sure to check out the inside!!
Pohjala Brewery and Tap Room: If you venture out to Noblessner, be sure to stop here for great modern pub food and a massive collection of draft beer.
Homemade bread and butter at Rataskaevu 16
Tender beef at Rataskaevu 16
Salmon at Rataskaevu 16
Descending in to Porgu
Porgu dining room
Starters at Porgu
Tallinn’s version of garlic bread. It was really good.
Chicken at Porgu
Beef at Porgu
Big Salad at Olde Hansa
Another big tasty salad at Olde Hansa
Yummy cinnamon beer at Olde Hansa
Dining room at Olde Hansa
The sink in the ladies room at Old Hansa. Someone comes in a refills the kettle when it gets low
Inside III Draakon
Inside III Draakon
Interior of Pohjala Brewery and Tap Room
Beer selection at Pohjala Brewery and Tap Room
Good barbecue at Pohjala Brewery and Tap Room
Pohjala Brewery and Tap Room
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Tallinn and are looking forward to the opportunity to return. If Tallinn isn’t on your bucket list, it should be… if it is on your bucket list, go before it becomes overrun with crowds! You can thank me later.