Estonia, Europe

Exploring Tallinn, Estonia

Most recently we visited one of our favourite cities in Europe: Tallinn. I say it is one of our favourites, because it was in fact our third visit there. Rest assured though, that three times in Tallinn is nothing to the average Finn. Located only about 88 km or a 1.5h express ferry ride from Helsinki, this is probably most Finns’ favourite destination outside their beloved motherland. A cynic might say it is due to the low costs of alcoholic beverages and tobacco in Estonia. Alright, you know me, I’m a cynic. But really now, there is so much more to this beautiful city, other than cheap liqueur, that draws thousands of tourists from all over the world each year.

Founded in 1248, Tallinn (or otherwise known by its former name Reval) has a lot to offer in terms of history and culture. However, if you are short in 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. Below thus find our recommendation on how to make the most of your day in lovely Tallinn.

1. Start the morning in one of Tallinn’s numerous cafés

Tallinn may not have a long tradition in café culture such as Vienna’s, but this shouldn’t keep you from exploring some of the new and hip coffee shops that are emerging all over town. If you prefer, you can take a sneak peek into the old town, entering through the famed Viru Gates, and taking a quick turn to the left into a very non-descript ally. After a few hundred meters you shall find the café Black Poodle (Must Puudel) where only few tourists seem to make an appearance.

2. Explore the Old Town on foot

Points of interest: Toompea Hill Viewpoint, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Danish King’s Garden, St Nicolas’ Church, Raekoja Plats 

Opposed to most of Northern America, Europe is best explored on foot. And this holds especially true for cities with medieval cores such as Tallinn. The old town is rather small and the streets often narrow which would make driving a car pure madness. Try to ignore the nice ladies and gentlemen trying to lure you into one restaurant or another and take in the breathtaking architecture, the ornamently designed doors, the clacking of heels on the cobblestoned streets. The old town is truly magnificent and has in fact been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily wander it for one or two hours if your heart desires. And for 2€ you can even take a stroll over the medieval city walls!

Old Town of Tallinn.
Old Town of Tallinn.

3. Climb the tower of St. Olaf’s Church

Okay, this is nothing for the weak-hearted (or the weak-legged, in fact). The climb to the viewing platform of Olevisten kirkko will take you through a medieval winding staircase up about a hundred meters. 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 travelling in the opposite of your direction, well, it is a delicate one. The entrance fee is 2€ (as of 08/2016). All in all you will spend about half an hour here.

View over Tallinn from St Olaf's church.
View over Tallinn from St Olaf’s church.

4. Enjoy lunch at one of the city’s many restaurants

I believe it is needless to say that the restaurants around Raekoja plats should be avoided like the plague. Even if the prices may seem reasonable to you, they are a thorough tourist rip-off. Walk the streets for as long as you can, or preferably even leave the old town. An exception may be made for those who have never tasted Nordic cuisine, as one of the restaurants such as Olde Hansa might actually give you a good idea of what food in these latitudes tastes like.

5. Shop around for some Baltic amber

You really cannot walk into the Old Town without passing about a trillion amber shops. Alright, this may be slightly exaggerated, but honestly speaking there are more than enough shops to choose from. So don’t worry if you are not satisfied with the selection in the first one.

Baltic Amber for sale in Tallinn.
Baltic Amber for sale in Tallinn.

6. Breathe in the sea air

If after all the shopping you still have some calories left to burn, take a short stroll on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Here you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. You can walk the promenade in its entire length if you like, it will actually get you halfway to our last destination.

7. Catch a bus to Tallinn TV Tower

As your city break is coming to an end, make sure to take the time to go to Tallinna Teletorn. You can catch the bus from Viru keskus (just outside the Old Town through the Viru Gates) and the ride will take about 20 minutes. Once you arrive you can purchase your tickets for 10€ (as of 08/2016) at the entrance and then zip up 170 metres by lift to the observation deck. The view by itself is worth it, but the viewing platform has a lot more to offer as well. If it’s not too windy you can also step outside and if you’re really up for it you can do a “Walk on the Edge” for only 20€ a person (as of 08/2016). After the thrill make sure to visit the restaurant and finish your amazing day in Tallinn with some cold drinks as you watch the sun setting over the Baltic Sea.

Sneak peek of what's in store for you at Tallinn's TV Tower.
Sneak peek of what’s in store for you at Tallinn’s TV Tower.

Disclaimer: In this blog post we mostly discuss the old centre of Tallinn, but if you have the time we strongly recommend that you venture out into the modern business district as well as the “hipster” district of Kalamaja which is literally crawling with trendy bars and restaurants 🙂

Our final verdict: Tallin is best enjoyed in 2-3 days!

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 favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!

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