Tallinn has a cutting edge modern vibe combined with a rich blend of architecture, quaint nooks and cozy street-side cafes. Its beautifully restored Old Town is a pleasurable, atmospheric and ultimately seductive jumble of medieval churches, cobbled streets and gabled merchants’ houses. Tallinn is located less than 100 km from Helsinki and connected by frequent ferry service. This makes for a convenient day trip from Helsinki to Tallinn. One day gives you ample time to experience some of the top things to do in Tallinn. And now, off you go 🙂
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Getting from Helsinki to Tallinn by Ferry
Located only 80 km across the Baltic Sea, getting from Helsinki to Tallinn is incredibly easy. In the winter, two companies serve the route from Helsinki to Tallinn, Tallink and Eckerö Line. In the summer there is also an express ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Linda Line. As you will be crossing a border, we recommend that you bring all necessary travel documents, but in particular your ID or passport and residence permit. Most ferry services require you to be at the terminal around one hour prior to departure. As the ferry rides are very short, tickets do not generally include cabins or meals. These can be booked at an additional charge.
Terminal: West Terminal (Länsiterminaali 1)
Departs: 07:30, 10:30, 13:30, 16:30, 18:30,19:30, 22:30
Travel Time: 2h
Terminal: Terminal D (Lootsi 13)
Departs: 07:30, 10:30, 12:30, 13:30, 16:30, 19:30, 22:30
Travel Time: 2h
2. Eckerö Line
Terminal: West Terminal (Länsiterminaali 2)
Departs: 09:00, 15:15, 21:40
Travel Time: 2:15h
Terminal: Terminal A (Sadama 25)
Departs: 06:00, 12:00, 18:00
Travel Time: 1:30h
3. Linda Line
Terminal: Makasiiniterminal (Eteläsatama)
Travel Time: 2:15h
Terminal: Linnahalli Terminal (Mere pst 20E)
Travel Time: 1:30h
You May Also Like→ Coming to Tallinn from Helsinki? Explore Helsinki through our self-guided walking tour!
→ Looking for more day trips from Helsinki? Browse through our recommendations for the best Helsinki day trips!
→ Only got 24 hours in Helsinki? Check out our guide to the best of Helsinki in one day!
→ Got some more time in Helsinki? Check out our guide to spending a perfect weekend in Helsinki instead!
How to Get Around Tallinn
Nearly all the attractions we’ve included in this article are within comfortable walking distance of each other. Tallinn is a very compact city and like most European cities, it is best explored on foot, especially the Old Town. Some parts of the Old Town are located on a hillock though, which can make walking a little cumbersome. If you’re coming with the ferry from Helsinki, the ferry terminals are each about a 15-20 minute walk from the Old Town. You can also opt to use public transport to get to the Old Town from the ferry terminals and to get to the attractions outside the Old Town. A single ticket costs 2 EUR and can be purchased from the driver (cash only!). Plan your journey using this trip planner here.
Taxis are another alternative but they’re notorious for over-charging. I would advise to book a taxi in advance from a reputable company like Tallink Takso and fix a rough price beforehand. Otherwise Uber and Taxify are good options.
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary (Best Things to do in Tallinn
With an intriguing history dating to the Middle Ages, Tallinn has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. Even if you are short on time, you can easily explore a bit of old and new Tallinn in a day. Of course, we’d recommend you stayed a little longer, but hey, who are we to judge.
For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Tallinn. You can find adresseses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map. We’ve tried to give visitors will get a real flavor of the history, culture, identity, and, of course, cuisine of Tallinn – a perfect introduction for those on a short break. We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Depending on the amount of time you have and your personal preference, you can choose to either visit the Kadriorg Palace & Park or the hipster Kalamaja neighborhood. Below we have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Tallinn in one day:
- Tallinn Old Town
- Kadriorg Palace & Park
- Kalamaja: Tallinn’s Hipster Neighborhood
- Rotermann Quarter
Kick off your tour of Tallinn sightseeing by treating yourself to some absolutely delicious buns (cinnamon, cardamom and lemon) and pastries at the wonderful RØST Bakery. Jacky and I love cinnamon buns and these were excellent. Gulp them down with freshly brewed coffee or tea!
Tallinn Old Town
The medieval Old Town is certainly the highlight among must-see attractions in Tallinn. I reckon that Tallinn’s Old Town is arguably the most beautiful one in all of the Baltics. Built by German crusaders in the Late Middle Ages, the Old Town is one of the best-preserved examples of medieval architecture in Northern Europe. With its contorting cobblestoned streets and rows of elegantly gabled facades, the Old Town retains the true character of a medieval town center. One can get lost in the side alleys wandering for hours on end imbibing all its glory and wonders. But since we just have a day, we will highlight the main sights in the Old Town.
I would like to point out that in recent years, due to a surge in tourism, the Old Town of Tallinn has become very touristy and expensive. A lot of the shops and restaurants here are geared towards tourists. So be prepared to encounter hordes of tourists, dozens of staff trying to lure you in their shops and restaurants, hawkers, scam artists, and some lofty prices. How I wish I had been born earlier so that I could have seen places before they became tourist hotspots!
The Danes conquered Tallinn in 1219 and built a stronghold on Toompea Hill. “Tallinn” is an abbreviation of the Estonian name Taani Linnus, meaning “Danish stronghold”. However, Tallinn officially bore the Teutonic name of Reval until Estonia’s first period of independence in 1918.
The best place to kick off your tour to the medieval Old Town is through the iconic Viru Gate. These two towers are remnants of the city walls. They are beautifully preserved and give you a great first impression of the place. They are as pretty as they are big and imposing. A great photo opportunity is accorded here as you enter or leave the Old Town. Naturally, this means that this area is usually packed with tourists.
City Walls & Towers
As you’re making your way into Tallinn, one of the first glimpses you’ll see is of the red colored defensive towers of the city wall. The construction of the town’s defensive wall began in the 13th century. The present outline of the wall dates back to the 14th century. In its pomp, the wall was 2.4 km long, up to 3 meters thick, and included 46 towers. Today, an impressive 1.9 km of the wall is still erect with 20 towers and it is one of the best-preserved city walls in Europe.
There is a substantial amount of wall to look at but it is worth noting that not all of it can be walked round. As you wander around the Old Town, you keep encountering stretches of the town wall, some with enclosed wooden walkways, some towers, and gateways. You can just imagine Rapunzel dropping her golden locks down one of the tower walls. It’s easy to understand why it’s a UNESCO World heritage site.
Hellemann Tower & Town Wall Walkway
The three-story Hellemann Tower was built in the 14th century and was used as a prison and weapons store at various stages. If you want to get a feel of a historical observation tower and fortification wall, then you should make your way to the top. It costs about 4 EUR to climb up. However, if you’re only looking for a panoramic view of Tallinn, then you should avoid going up because the wall deck is at a low elevation and stretches only about 200 meters which gives you a look at only one side of the town.
St. Catherine’s Passage
St. Catherine’s Passage is a picturesque and unique walkway in the Old Town that joins Vene and Müürivahe streets. The overhead vaulting and uneven stone walls from the St. Catherine’s Dominican Friary that line the passage on one end make for a quintessential medieval experience. The friary was Tallinn’s largest in its day and several tombstones, some dating from the 14th century, line this atmospheric passageway. At the other end of the passage, there are various attractive artisan workshops with arts and crafts of every description.
St. Olav’s Church
The Gothic St. Olav’s Church (or St. Olaf’s Church) was reputedly the tallest building in the world in the 16th century when its spire peaked at a massive 159 meters. It was constantly struck by lightning and subsequently burned down. Its current 124 meter tall spire still looms large over Tallinn. The interior of the church is quite dark with minimal decoration. The Gothic arches are highlighted with large windows.
The climb to the viewing platform of St. Olav’s Church will take you through a medieval winding staircase up about a hundred meters. Okay, this is nothing for the weak-hearted (or the weak-legged, in fact). If the climb does not take your breath away, the view certainly will. Nowhere else will you get such a great vista of the Old Town. Be warned though, the climb is not the easiest. The stairs are steep, narrow and somewhat slippery. The balancing act of not breaking your neck while still giving space to those traveling in the opposite of your direction, well, it is a delicate one.
St. Olav’s Church is open daily from 10:00 – 18:00 (April-June & September-October), 10:00 – 20:00 (July-August). The entrance to the church is free while the cost of going up the tower is 3 EUR.
The Three Sisters are the most striking of the Old Town’s gabled merchants’ houses and are among the city’s best-preserved Hanseatic buildings from the 14th century. I really love their enchanting facades. The houses were built in 1362 and were functional commercial premises, complete with loading hatches and winch-arms to hoist sacks of goods up and down. Their original owners were mostly guild elders, town councillors and burgomasters. They have recently been converted into a single upscale hotel and painted in snazzy citrus colors.
Fat Margaret’s Tower
The suggestive name of this 16th-century tower is derived from the fact that it was the largest part of the city’s fortifications, with walls measuring four meters in thickness. Fat Margaret’s Tower is one of the most easily recognizable parts of the city walls due to its structure. The barrel-shaped tower was originally built to defend the harbor as well as to dazzle visitors arriving by sea. Later, the tower was transformed into a prison. It is now home to the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square)
The Town Hall Square is the historic heart of Tallinn. It is surrounded by a classy ensemble of pastel-colored houses and has become an emblem of both the city and Estonia as a whole, reproduced on innumerable souvenirs. The square is home to the Town Hall Pharmacy, the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in Europe (since 1422). You can pop inside and take a quick peek at the modest museum with a small selection of historical exhibits including medical instruments and curative treatments.
The medieval architecture of the buildings here is beautiful but the centerpiece of the square is the Gothic Town Hall building, that dominates the main square. Look out for the waterspouts in the shape of green dragons just below the roof. It was built in 1404 as a meeting point for the governing authorities of the city and has been a showpiece of Tallinn ever since. The building’s 64 meter church-like spire is visible from all parts of town. Nowadays, it is the only intact Gothic town hall in Northern Europe, used primarily for concerts. In summer, you can visit the Town Hall for 5 EUR while a visit to the tower costs 3 EUR.
Other venerable buildings in the Town Hall Square are the House of the Great Guild, known for its forbidding Gothic facade and the Church of the Holy Ghost, famed for its whitewashed Gothic exterior that boasts the oldest public clock in Tallinn, with carvings dating from 1684. The square is home to numerous cafes, restaurants, shops and beers gardens surrounding the square.
We recommend that you do not sit at any of the restaurants surrounding the square. Prices are pretty high, the food quality is mediocre, and they represent a real tourist trap even though they are almost full. Go to one of the restaurants in the side alleys to get a better deal. They’ll still be a little pricey but you’ll certainly get your money’s worth.
For lunch head to the magnificent Olde Hansa restaurant that is a throwback to the days of the Hanseatic League, of which Tallinn was an integral member. The servers here are dressed in medieval attire, there’s no electricity (only candles light up the interior), and the food consists of wild game meats. It’s very atmospheric, so do check it out!
Toompea Hill overlooks Tallinn’s Old Town and surrounding neighborhoods and it offers spectacular views from several vantage points. There are several beautiful and intriguing historical buildings and churches here too. This area is also a diplomatic quarter as it houses several embassies.
Toompea Hill has always occupied a special place in the hearts of Tallinn natives and it is from here that the city has traditionally been ruled – from the first wooden fort constructed in the 9th Century to Toompea Castle, which houses the Estonian Parliament. Toompea enjoyed its own rights and privileges until 1878, when it was officially merged with the rest Tallinn below. The walk up Toompea Hill is delightful and full of character. The most atmospheric approach to Toompea Hill from the Old Town is through the sturdy Pikk Jalg gate tower. The cobblestone streets are moderately steep so wear suitable footwear. The climb may not be suitable for those with mobility issues.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This elegant mixed historicist onion-domed structure perched atop Toompea Hill is Estonia’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral. Built in 1900, it is a remnant of when Estonia was under Czarist Russian rule and served as a reminder to the Estonians of their subservient status during that period. The cathedral is dedicated to the Prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky. It is richly decorated in mosaics and icons and its unique black domes are visible through most of the Old Town.
The interiors are quite spartan compared to other prominent Orthodox cathedrals but impressive nonetheless. Admission to the cathedral is free. Photos are prohibited inside because it is a functioning Russian Orthodox church. It is open from 08:00 – 19:00 (Sun-Fri) and 08:00 – 20:00 (Sat).
Toompea Castle is an ancient site in use as a fortress since the 9th century. The Parliament of Estonia (Riigikogu) is based in the castle, and is the world’s only expressionist parliament building with its expressionist style interiors. When Estonia came under the Russian Empire during the 18th century the castle was converted into a palace with Baroque architecture. It is a delightful pink colored building and stands opposite the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The northern and western walls, the oldest part of the castle, include three defensive towers, the most admirable of which is the 50 meter tall Pikk Hermann, dating from 1371. These crumbling towers of the castle were often depicted in old Soviet films, especially fairy tales.
Kohtuotsa & Patkuli Viewing Platforms
To get great photos of Tallinn, make sure to head to both the Kohtuotsa & Patkuli viewing platforms. Both of these platforms are located on Toompea Hill and are only about 150 meters apart from each other.
Kohtuotsa is on the eastern side from where you can see the Old Town`s rooftops and modern skyline in the background. If you have ever seen any pictures of Tallinn, chances are they included a mural saying “The Times We Had”. You can find it at Kohtuotsa viewing platform 🙂
Patkuli is on the north side of Toompea hill from where you can see the City Wall and towers, St. Olav’s Church and the harbor. Patkuli is more secluded than Kohtuotsa.
Once you’ve finished exploring the fascinating Old Town you can explore some other attractions that Tallinn has to offer.
Kadriorg Palace & Park
Kadriorg Palace is a short tram ride or 30-minute walk from the Old Town. This palace was built as a royal summer residence for Russian Tsar Peter the Great and his family in the 18th century. It is an exquisite Baroque palace which is very much in the style of other palaces from the period, albeit on a much smaller scale.
The Kadriorg Palace is presently an art gallery as well as a palace museum and you can see a nice collection of paintings of the Russian royal family as well as 18th-century landscape paintings and pastorals. However, its main attraction is the ornate Great Hall with its chunky fireplaces topped by trumpet-blowing angels and two-headed eagles. It is among the finest examples of Baroque ebullience in Northern Europe. The entrance fee to the museum is 6.5 EUR and it is open from 10:00 – 18:00 (Tue-Sun) and is open till 20:00 on Wednesdays.
The palace is located within the park, but I think the park itself warrants more of a visit than the Palace. The park is not very large and it is relatively easy to cover its entire length on foot. Kadriorg Park is renowned for its tranquility and beauty. It has lovely fountains and water features, gorgeous plantings, a Japanese garden, plenty of paths for strolling and also boasts the Presidential Palace, the residence of the Estonian president. The Swan Lake is one of the park’s focal points, although its elegant island pavilion is usually swarmed with swans. Even though it appears large, it is actually fairly modest by the Romanov standards considering it was built by Peter the Great for his beloved wife Catherine.
Kalamaja: Tallinn’s Hipster Neighborhood
If you’re seeking what Tallinn has to offer beyond the Old Town and are keen on experiencing an alternate side of Tallinn, then you should definitely head to Kalamaja.
Kalamaja (which in Estonian literally means fish house) is an offbeat neighborhood that lies just outside the Old Town. Starting off as a fishing village in the 14th century, it turned into a working-class hub in the late 19th century with the emergence of factories. It is renowned for its old colorful wooden houses that were built to accommodate the influx of factory workers. The thing I love about Kalamaja is its understated charm despite not being overly pretty.
In recent times, Kalamaja has become a magnet for young artists and has taken on a bohemian and hipster vibe. The Balti Jaam Market and the Telliskivi Industrial City are also places worth seeing in Kalamaja. The Telliskivi area is today Estonia’s most important center for the creative industry, with several art galleries, design companies, non-profit organizations, theaters, restaurants and cafés. Telliskivi is also home to Pudel, an awesome craft beer bar with a wide assortment of beers. They’ve got some excellent Estonian and Scandinavian IPA’s, stouts and porters.
Rotermann Quarter is in the center of Tallinn, a few minutes walk from the harbor and the Old Town. It was a major industrial hub before most of its factories and warehouses fell into disuse and disrepair during the Soviet era. In 2007 the area underwent a major facelift. During the renovation, the architects did not destroy these industrial buildings, they just modernized them by adding additional floors, glass windows, which look like glass cubes or spinners.
This cutting-edge blended architecture makes buildings look very unique and different. The Quarter looks very modern as these renovated buildings were turned into swanky apartments, shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Neither Jacky and I are fond of modern architecture in general but this was a novelty and worthy of a short stroll.
Cap off your one day of Tallinn sightseeing by treating yourself to dinner at the fantastic Thai restaurant – Tai Boh. If you’re in the mood for something more casual, you should check out the Estonian Burger Factory, which serves some succulent burgers.
Shopping in Tallinn
If you are looking for a souvenir to bring back from Tallinn, why not shop around for some Baltic amber? The streets of Tallinn are littered with amber shops, so don’t feel disheartened if you don’t like what you see at the first shop. Virtually every street in the Old Town has something in the way of traditional handicrafts such as ceramics, glassware, linen, wooden utensils, and toys. There is a slew of stores and market stalls which specialize in antiques, jewelry, patchwork quilts
If its chocolates or sweets you crave, check out the Kalev Chocolate Shop in the Rotermann Quarter. Kalev is Estonia’s largest and oldest chocolate and confectionary producer and offers a wide range of luxury chocolates with picturesque boxes.
Extend Your Stay
In all honesty, you could easily spend 2 days in Tallinn with our itinerary above. Perhaps spend the first day only exploring Tallinn’s Old Town and reserving the second time for the other neighborhoods. You might also enjoy walking on the promenade along the shores of the Baltic sea and check out some museums such as the Kumu Art Museum and the Estonian Open-Air Museum. And if you can, you should definitely head over to Tallinn TV Tower, one of our favorite spots in the city!
If you are looking for a hotel, take a look at our post on the best places to stay in Tallinn for all budgets.
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Tallinn? What was your favorite sight? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Let’s stay in touch!