After a short ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland, we made our way to Tallinn, Estonia. It is the capital of Estonia and located along the Baltic Sea. A visit to Tallinn is a common day trip from Helsinki. We think devoting only a day to this fascinating destination is a shame. This amazing city is truly is a hidden gem in Europe. With captivating history, culture, and undeniable charm, Tallinn has preserved its old-world flare, boasting ancient churches, medieval constructions, and palaces. But, as one of Europe’s biggest startup hubs, Tallinn is also innovative and forward-thinking. So here are our top six reasons why Tallinn is worth visiting now. It should be the next destination you visit on your European holiday. And guess what, you won’t have to fight the crowds to enjoy the top attractions in Tallinn!
Why you Should Visit
Picture Perfect Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia
If there is one place you are likely to fall in love with in Tallinn, it’s the Old Town. It’s Tallinn’s historic core and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its imposing fortress walls, cobblestone streets, and medieval architecture transport you back in time. Aside from its historical value, the Old Town is also incredibly photogenic, like something straight out of a fairy tale. The Old Town is the pinnacle of Tallinn sightseeing.
The Old Town is noticeably divided into two parts – the upper and the lower. That’s because the upper used to belong to wealthy aristocrats and merchants from other North European countries. The lower portion of town belonged to the Estonians. Take a stroll along quaint streets, admire the Town Hall Square, the oldest Town Hall in all of Scandinavia and the Baltics, medieval churches like St. Nicholas’ Church and St. Olaf’s Church, and climb St. Olaf’s Tower to take in the picturesque view of red rooftops and spires.
Find the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in Europe, Town Hall Pharmacy, open since 1422. Today, not only is it still a pharmacy but also a tiny museum. It showcases what was used as medicine back in the day. Then, take a break at Tallinn’s oldest café Maiasmokk, serving guests since 1864. The name translates to ‘Sweet Tooth’ as the café specializes in baked goods and is also home to a Marzipan Museum, which tells the controversial story of the paste’s beginnings.
Once you are done exploring the Old Town from street level and above, we encourage you to take a tour of the 17th-century Bastion Tunnels. They weave underneath and were used as bomb shelters during WWII.
Just a short stroll or tram ride from the Old Town, you’ll discover the magnificent Kadriorg Palace and its surrounding park. This Baroque masterpiece, built by Peter the Great for Catherine the Great in 1718, boasts beautifully manicured gardens, ornate fountains, and impressive sculptures. Inside the palace, the Kadriorg Art Museum houses an extensive collection of European and Russian art spanning the 16th to 20th centuries. The park has become a home to some of the best museums in Tallinn, but if you have time for just one more, make it Kumu Art Museum – a stunning piece of architecture and a treasure trove of Estonian and international contemporary art.
Another building that certainly stands out is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a stunning Russian Orthodox church constructed in 1900 when Estonia was under the Russian Empire. Located on Toompea Hill, a major tourist attraction in Tallinn for the significant buildings it hosts and its beauty. The Cathedral is situated next to the famous Toompea Castle, which is home to the Estonian parliament today, and together with the steeple of St. Olaf’s Church, they dominate Tallinn’s city skyline.
Fascinating History and Museums
To dive into Estonia’s history, head to the Estonian History Museum, a complex made up of multiple museums, each unveiling different chapters of the country’s past. Out of all, we recommend you visit the Great Guild Hall, a Gothic-style building hosting over 11000 years of history, and Maarjamae Palace, a former summer palace that now houses award-winning exhibitions and a Soviet statue graveyard. They are considered a must see in Tallinn.
A significant chapter of Estonia’s history has to do with it being part of the Soviet Union. You can learn about the events and living conditions during this time at several impactful and interactive museums. Our favorites were the Viru KGB Museum and the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom.
Viru KGB Museum is actually a former hotel, which was used as a KGB base where the officers spied on guests staying at the hotel. Here, you will find listening equipment and other artifacts kept exactly as the KGB left them, and hear the stories about what life was like on paper vs. in reality during the 1970s. Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom, on the other hand, is dedicated to the history of Estonia under Soviet and Nazi occupation. The permanent exhibition allows visitors to understand what the people went through on a more personal level through moving stories, photos, artifacts, and thought-provoking art installations.
Vibrant Local Culture
A visit to the former industrial area turned hipster neighborhood called Kalamaja is among the best things to do in Tallinn, Estonia. It’s known as the Bohemian Quarter, housing trendy eateries and galleries. But the most appealing attraction is the colorful Tallinn Houses, which are old wooden residential houses, under strict regulations to preserve their original style. Fun fact: though completely unassuming from the outside, these houses are actually some of the most expensive real estate in Tallinn.
Tallinn’s creative spirit thrives in Telliskivi City. This former industrial complex has been transformed into a hub of artistic expression. It comes complete with art galleries, designer boutiques, quirky cafes, craft breweries, and vibrant street art. We even met one of our subscribers in a local ice cream shop. Telliskivi is also home to Stockholm’s Fotografiska Museum, a photography and art hub on a mission to inspire new perspectives. If you have never visited one, we highly recommend experiencing an exhibition and having a meal at their dining venues. If your stay in Tallinn falls on a Saturday, make sure to visit the flea market. This market that happens in this same neighborhood area. Telliskivi is hands down one of the best places to visit in Tallinn for those looking to explore the city’s contemporary culture, meet local artists, and shop for unique souvenirs.
Nature a Stone’s Throw Away
Lahemaa National Park is Estonia’s first and largest park. It is located only a 40-minute drive, which makes for the perfect day trip from Tallinn. Densely covered with forest, the park traces Estonia’s coastline. It features vast peat bogs, massive rock formations, waterfalls, and wild animals. This national park has served as an inspiration to much of Estonian folklore. This comes as no surprise when you find yourself on the wooden trail traversing over the mist-veiled wetlands, listening to woodpeckers and holding your breath in hopes of spotting wildlife.
With the Baltic Sea washing its shores and vast forests, Estonian cuisine is focused on using seasonal locally sourced produce and features notes of Scandinavian, German, and Russian influences. Start your culinary adventure at the Balti Jaama Turg market, the gastronomic hotspot in Tallinn, and check out the produce. Keep an eye out for vurtsikilu, a spicy fish picked in pepper, allspice, and cloves. Try it plain or on a rye open sandwich known as kiluvoileib. Does that sound familiar? (If you’ve read our Scandi articles, you know!) The other local favorite is verivorst – a blood sausage hot dog smothered in lingonberry jam. You’ll find the use of fresh locally foraged ingredients a common theme in many restaurants.
The Moon restaurant in Tallinn, Estonia is no exception. This Michelin guide restaurant named after the poppy flower aims to blend high-end gastronomy with tradition. This will allow the amazing ingredients to steal the show.
We hope our 6 reasons to visit Tallinn, Estonia have convinced you to add it to your next European holiday. If you are looking for more inspiration, read our guide to Helsinki, Finland. It is only a short ferry ride away from Tallinn. You can continue following our adventure as we set out towards Riga, Latvia.
Best Time to Visit Tallinn, Estonia
We have linked a great website to this button showing the weather for this location by the month. Click below to be taken to Weather-and-Climate.com.