There is always something new to discover in Tallinn, whether you are a first timer or a return visitor. This article is packed with countless things to do in Tallinn as well as interesting facts and awesome hidden gems to discover in one of the best Baltic cities.
Discover Tallinn Estonia
Recently, I had the chance to venture over to the Baltic States to spend a few weeks exploring that part of the world. In case you don’t know, the Baltic States are comprised of three countries, which are Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The only problem that I had when planning my trip was deciding where I would stay longer. Such tough decisions when all three of these countries are rated as fabulous!
Getting to Tallinn from Riga
You can get to Tallinn easily from many nearby countries. My visit to Tallinn was from Riga Latvia. After researching the transportation options, the best and cheapest way to get to Tallinn from Riga was by bus.
Riga to Tallinn By Bus
Travelling by bus is often quicker and cheaper when you factor in the taxi cost and drive time to the airport, airport check in and security plus wait time at the baggage carousel. Buses depart from Riga International Bus Station (Autoosta) on 1 Pragas street and arrive at Tallinn Bus Station (Autobussijaam) on 46 Lastekodu street.
Lux Express is a popular bus line however there are numerous other bus companies like Ecolines that will get you there. It is a very comfortable way to travel and buses are fitted with a toilet, charging ports, entertainment system and free Wi-Fi. The 4.25-hour travel time flew by quickly and was a good opportunity for me to rest and get some blogging tasks done.
Have your bus ticket and passport ready to show the bus driver as sometimes passports are requested at the border. There are luggage and carry-on restrictions and although this wasn’t enforced when I travelled, the busier summer months maybe different.
Depending on the traffic, the bus station is located between 10-20 minutes from the centre of Tallinn’s Old Town. Uber and Taxis are readily available from the bus station however Uber pickup was at front of the station.
Lennart Meri – Tallinn International Airport
Often there are cheap flights to Tallinn Lennart Meri International airport with various budget air carriers like Ryanair. A taxi from the airport to the centre of Tallinn is roughly a 10-20 minutes ride depending on the time of day.
Things to Do in Tallinn
There are many unique things to do in Tallinn and I was glad I’d done some research beforehand and created a list.
Best Area to Stay
A good portion of my time in Estonia was spent in Tallinn, which is why I chose to stay at the Hotel Palace. This luxurious hotel was constructed in 1937 and due to its fabulous location, I was able to wander around the enchanting shops in the Old Town section easily and get orientated.
After checking into my hotel and a quick stroll, I wandered through the Ichthus Art Gallery. This art gallery can be found inside the cellar of the medieval monastery in Tallinn. I walked down the steep staircase that was just past an old iron gate and found myself amongst the history of the Dominican monks.
There were books upon books of old photographs, as well as writings that went in depth about the history of those that lived within the monastery. An artist rents this little gallery and I was able to watch him work on new pieces of art and admire the beautiful pieces available for purchase.
Free Walking Tours
I have been on a lot of walking tours during my two decades of travel but I can say that I was totally impressed with the Tallinn Free Walking Tour that I stumbled upon. ‘Tallinn in a Nutshell‘ and ‘Communist Tallinn‘ tours run daily during the summer months from May to September.
All you need to do is arrive five minutes before the tour starts and join the dozens of other people waiting to take it. All free walking tours commence from the Information and Tourism centre on Niguliste 2.
Yes, free walking tours are crowded, but the guides are so knowledgeable and some of the stories told were hysterical and absurd. The two-hour tour flew by, as we saw the most important sights in the Old Town and learnt about its history, politics and what it was like to live in communist Tallinn.
We discovered more about the historic buildings and churches, monuments, and even stopped at a couple of places for the gorgeous views. It was a fantastic way to see the sights, meet new people, and learn the history behind the people who have helped shape Tallinn today.
Tours are free but donations are greatly appreciated.
When the tour was over, I walked over to Clayhills Gastropub on Pikk 13, a modern bar filled with contemporary designs with a relaxed British atmosphere plus live music on the weekends.
Upstairs is a more intimate experience, or you can sit solo, and people watch from one of the window seats on ground level. I grabbed a local beer and some traditional Estonia cuisine before heading back on to the cobbled stone streets for more.
The Tuhala Witch’s Well has long been known in the world of witchcraft, but in reality, this well only floods after heavy rains. I wasn’t there when the Geyser was flowing, but I have heard that it is a sight to see, despite the horrendous flooding after the fact.
I can definitely see why people would want to blame catastrophes like these on witches, as the tragedies afterwards seem to be payback for how people live.
Tallinn’s trendy neighbourhood ‘Kultuurikatel’’ has become a cultural centre. It’s here you discover a different side of Tallinn and it’s only a short distance from the Old Town and near Linnahall. Rejuvenated industrial warehouses have been converted into theatres, cinemas, galleries, workshops and event spaces.
‘PADA’ Tallinn Creative Hub Garden hosts alternative events throughout the summer months. Access to the garden is via the café from Kalasadama 6. For more information on opening times and calendar of events check the PADA Facebook page or website.
9 Things to Do in Tallinn
Like all cities there are a number of sights visitors must see. To help you, I have created a list of the best sights to tick off in Tallinn.
- Architecture – Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral dominates the sky with its onion shaped domes and large arched windows. A breathtaking piece of architecture and the most photographed site in Tallinn. Another piece of architecture worth finding is the 14th century built, Fat Margaret’s Tower. Paks Margareta as it is formerly known is 82 metres in diameter with 5-metre-thick stone walls. Closed to the public for renovation until December 2019.
- Photography – For the best sweeping views of the town, head to Kohtuotsa and Patkull, two viewing platforms. Capture gorgeous photos of the mass of red tiled roofs as well as the slim towers, church spires and ancient defence walls that make Tallinn a beautiful medieval city. Keep a look out for Steven the Seagull who is a frequent visitor and the most photographed seagull on the Kohtuotsa viewing platform.
- Prettiest Walkway – St Catherine’s Passage on Katariina Kaik is the prettiest arched walkway, lined on each side with artisan workshops, cafes and souvenir shops.
- Public Toilets – Scattered throughout the city are the Swedish-built automatic WCs. You will find one of these on Toompea Hill next to Newski Cathedral, nicknamed by the locals ‘million crown toilet’ due to the public outcry in relation to its position and construction costs.
- Best Green Space – Public Garden ‘Kadriorg Park’’ was establish from 1718 as part of the Kadriorg Palace Estate. The Swan Pond is a popular meeting place as well as the fountain further uphill. Art lovers must visit the nearby Kuma Art Museum, the largest art museum in Estonia. Youth Park, a large childrens playground is loved by children and in 2009 an interactive childrens museum Miiamilla opened in the renovated main building.
- Museums – The Vabamu Museum of Occupation and Freedom is home to personal narratives about crimes against humanity. It’s stories like these that help us better appreciate justice and freedom. The exhibition offers guided and self-guided tours with special exhibitions tailored for children. Estonian Maritime Museum is located in an architecturally unique seaplane hangar at Seaplane Harbour. The modern museum is highly interactive and suitable for all ages.
- Secret Courtyard – Pilsticker Tower and Courtyard is well hidden in Toompea, directly behind the castle. Locals love this space when they want to escape the masses of tourists. Master’s Courtyard is another hidden gem which can be easily overlooked along Vene St. This artisan quarter and café within is a cool place to visit.
- Baltic Coast – There are a number of points of interest worth investigating at Pirita on the Baltic Coast. Don’t forget to take your swimmers as you may like to take a dip in the Baltic Sea. Return bus services run regularly from Tallinn city to the beach. The unique Pirita Monastery Ruins, date back to 1407, and although, all that has been preserved is the Gothic style outer shell, it’s still magnificent to walk back in time.
- War Memorial – Keep an eye out for the obelisk on your way to Pirita Beach. The pointy shaped spire was erected in 1960 as a memorial for the Russians who perished in 1918. It’s worth getting off the bus to visit the Maarjamae War Memorial opposite which was added some years later to honour the Soviet soldiers killed by the Nazis.
Where to Eat and Drink in Tallinn
Tallinn City Centre is a great choice for travellers interested in food, restaurants and history.
Pohjala Tap Room may be a little out of the hub of the old town but it’s still worth a visit to taste their quality craft beers. Located in the expanding area of Noblessner, Pohjala Tap room has an extensive range of craft beers on tap and you won’t go hungry either as they cook up a mean BBQ too.
Address: Peetri 5
We all have different ideas as to what constitutes a great bar! Some of us believe it is the staff while others say it’s the quality of the liquor, ice, mixers and venue. From the moment you enter the Junimperium Distillery, in Tallinn’s modern Telliskivi Quarter, you know you are in for a treat. Located in the heart of the creative centre, Junimperium is a unique gin factory in Estonia offering gin lovers a great selection of cocktails made from craft gins.
It is the total wow experience; highly skilled bar-staff, quality craft gins and mixers even hand-cut ice blocks stamped with the Junimperium seal. After visiting Tallinn’s craft gin distillery is it was easy to see why they were the winner of the first Estonian Gold Medal Gin award in 2019 at the San Francisco World Spirits Tasting Competition.
Address: Telliskivi 60M
Gloria Wine Cellar ‘Vinmark Grupp Ltt’
Hidden in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town is the elegant and cosy vaults of the Gloria Wine Cellar. The 13th century building was built at the request of King of Denmark and named after Danish Queen Margrethe. The lavish underground cellar and restaurant is concealed deep beneath the protective medieval city wall and home to over 2,000 bottles of international wines. The old town wine restaurant is undoubtedly one of Tallinn’s true pearls.
Gloria Wine Cellar not only offers guests a unique gourmet experience in a historical atmosphere, but also the largest selection of wines in the Nordic countries. Each of the 8 rooms are of original interior design and have a ‘yesterday’ feel.
It’s a brilliant combination of good wines and excellent food in an unbelievable setting. Guests can taste delicious wines by candlelight or sit by a warm fire in the cooler months. In the summer, guests can seek shade from the sun or enjoy a summer rendezvous with friends on the charming terrace.
Gloria’s also has a large selection of international spirits including Vana Tallinn, a bitter-sweet liqueur with aromas of citrus, cinnamon, toffee and warm spices.
Address: Müürivahe 2, Tallinn
We all know it’s thirsty work sightseeing all day, don’t we! Well, there is no better place to unwind and recap on the day than at R14 Wine Restaurant in the Rotermann district.
R14 is located in a beautifully architecturally renovated industrial building that is super cool to look at but boasts an elaborate menu and hosts, wine tastings too. Rotermann district is buzzing at with chic restaurants, hip nightclubs, laid-back music bars and crowded breweries. It is home to some of Tallinn’s finest restaurants and shopping precinct.
Address: Rotermanni 14
Kihnu Island Day Trip
An extra day in Tallinn is needed if you wish to visit Kihnu, the 7th largest island in Estonia. Kihnu is an ancient island of seafarers and fishermen, who spent most of their time at sea. With the majority of men out fishing, the Kihnu women have been left in charge of this Baltic community for centuries.
This hidden gem is a charming Eastern European village with just over 700 people and part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
While on the island, I spent time learning about the cultural heritage that included dance, music, games, and handicrafts. These valued old traditions are integral parts of life and provide income for the local community. Today, the women continue to play a major role in tourism on the island including riding motorbikes wearing Kihnu homespun striped skirts known as kört in Estonian.
To experience the best of Kihnu, it is advisable to visit the island during the church calendar celebrations such as St Catherine’s Day, Christmas, Easter and Midsummer Day. The island is host to several other annual events such as Kihnu Herring Hike in May, Day of Kihnu Home Cafes in June, Kihnu Sea Festival in July, Kihnu Dance Day in August and Kihnu Violin Festival in October.
There are many landmarks on Kihnu, but the most famous one is the lighthouse which many people believe was designed by Gustave Eiffel. You can see stunning views of the entire island and surrounding islets from the top of the local lighthouse.
Kihnu Strait is an important gathering place for birds and nesting area for birds endangered in Europe. 7km long and 3.3km wide, Kihnu island is the perfect size for exploring by bicycle!
The Kihnu Museum delivers an excellent overview of the history of the island and the people who have shaped it. The island has a number of small handicraft shops, however there are no cafes or ATMs, but many home style cafes offer visitors delicious treats and accept card payments.
During the busy summer months, a harbour market comes alive offering visitors a large selection of local handicrafts and traditional Estonian foods. At the Kihnu Harbour, there is an automatic petrol station for cars and vessels plus an interactive information kiosk.
Interesting Tallinn Facts
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia and has a population of approximately 450,000. Over half of the Tallinn’s community are Estonians and the rest are Russians, Ukrainians and a small percentage of other nationalities.
The prominent religions are Lutheran and Russian Orthodox although it is claimed that Estonians are not very religious minded. The English language is widely spoken by younger generations and those working within the tourism industry.
Most visitors are surprised to learn that Tallinn has a beach at its doorstep. Just 7kms from the Old Town is the Pirita District and 2kms of unspoilt sandy beaches offering excellent views out to the Baltic Sea.
There is a labyrinth of 17th century tunnels under Tallinn’s Old Town. These secret passages were used during WWII as bomb shelters, however, were not commonly known about to visitors until 2010, when 380 of the passageways were opened to the general public.
Best Stays in Tallinn
Schlössle Hotel is a beautifully styled 5-star hotel housed in 13th and 14th-century buildings in the centre of Tallinn’s Old Town. Each room is furnished with antique furniture and feature free Wi-Fi iPads, flat-screen TV with DVD player.
Rooms at the Schlossle are bright and decorated with high-quality fabrics and special features. Complimentary toiletries are included in the room rate plus slippers and bathrobes. A ‘la carte menu and buffet breakfast is served in the restaurant, and a glass of sparkling wine is available with breakfast.
Guests can relax in the sauna for free or try a selection of massage treatments. Front desk staff are available 24 hours a day and limousine service can be arranged.
Schlossle Hotel is situated 150m from the historic Town Hall Square. City’s main railway station, the Balti Jaam, is only 650 m away. Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport is located 5.5 km away.
Pirita Beach Apartments & SPA is located at Tallinn’s Pirita beach district on the Baltic Coast. The historical building was originally built for the 1980 Olympic Games. The scenic promenade connects Pirita beach with the centre of Tallinn. Tallinn Old Town is 6km from the hotel and there is a public transportation stop 300m away. Pirita yacht marina is 10-minutes away and Tallinn Song Festival grounds is a 15-minute walk.
Studio apartments are equipped with a kitchenette and feature a view to the seaside or to the park. The hotel offers a restaurant, sunbeds on the terrace, chairs and tables plus boasting views of the sea and Tallinn city. There are 3 outdoor swimming pools, includes a hot tub and children’s pool. You will also find an indoor sauna and spa facilities.
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