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Some cities have a special charisma that invites you to fall in love with them instantly. Tallinn, in Estonia, is one of them. With its perfectly preserved medieval architecture, city centre is listed by UNESCO, and it’s very modern spirit, the Estonian capital is welcoming, warm, and, in short, perfect for a magical winter. But if Tallinn is the destination of choice for magical end-of-year celebrations, insiders know it is just as attractive in summer. Feet in the Baltic Sea, looking proudly towards Finland, the city is an invitation to travel to the crossroads of Baltic, Russian, and Western European cultures. Without further ado, here are our 15 unmissable things to do during a trip to Tallinn.
🗒️ What you need to know before your trip to Tallinn
Before we start our list of must-do things in Tallinn, here are a few tips for your next Estonian getaway.
Why visit Tallinn?
Tallinn is a city that can please everyone. It’s the perfect place for a romantic getaway, especially in the run-up to Christmas, with a medieval town centre buried in snow. It is also a trendy destination: the Telliskivi district (see below) behind the central station, is particularly popular with young people for the good food and the concerts it offers. Finally, Tallinn is the perfect starting point for visiting either the rest of Estonia (Tartu, Narva, and Saaremaa), or taking a trip to Helsinki in Finland, located just two hours away by ferry. Still undecided? Watch this short video that we have made for you.
When should you visit Tallinn?
A tricky question. If the cold doesn’t put you off, you should go during the holiday season. The Christmas market in the central square starts quite early and ends in January. The snow, the lights, and the warmth of the little cafes combine to make this time of year a truly magical thing to experience. Otherwise, go to Tallinn in the summer (June, July, or August). If the weather is good, you will have temperatures between 22 and 28 degrees, which is quite nice when heat waves hit the rest of Europe.
Which hotel should you choose in Tallinn?
Believe us, Tallinn is a city with some particularly original hotels to offer. An example? The Hektor Container establishment, located in Telliskivi, offers you the opportunity to sleep in a container. Most hotels in Tallinn are very modern. But if you to have a truly romantic time in Tallinn, here is our exclusive selection of establishments.
🔝 Top 15 things to do in Tallinn
After these few tips, we come to the heart of our subject: our selection of essential things to do in Tallinn.
Cross (and admire) the Gate of Viru
The twin towers of the Viru Gate, the main gate to the Old City, were built in the 14th century and were once part of a larger system of gates and towers. The gate towers, which are in excellent condition, lead to Viru Street, a busy pedestrian street lined with small shops, restaurants, and stalls. Entering the Old Town through these ivy-covered stone towers makes for an unforgettable first sight of Tallinn.
Stroll through the Old Town of Tallinn to warm up
Begin your trip with a walk through the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could spend hours strolling through these narrow streets, admiring the architectural harmony of the beautiful buildings with their red roofs. A visit to Tallinn’s city centre is like time travelling and this is especially true as Christmas approaches.
During your walk, you will necessarily pass the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, which was built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. If you are traveling in the summer, take the opportunity for a brief visit to the Town Hall. Unfortunately, it is closed during the winter, but you can still have a great time wandering around the square between the Christmas chalets. The III Draakon, one of the best restaurants in the Estonian capital and a true ode to the Middle Ages, is also located there.
III Draakon | Town Hall Raekoja flat 1, Tallinn
The magic of the holidays. Tallinn’s Christmas market is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Do not miss our selection.
Take on the ramparts of the medieval town
One can reach the top of Tallinn’s medieval walls from the Hellemann Tower. You can then walk 200 meters up the wall for an incredible view of Tallinn. Along the way, you will come across two other towers that you can climb for a better view of the city. However, be careful of the stairs, which are hundreds of years old and can be very steep in places.
There is an exhibition of depictions of Tallinn from the beginning of the 20th is in one of the towers. You will be amazed at how much the city has changed in some areas while remaining virtually the same in others.
Admire the view from Toompea Hill
If you head west and climb Toompea Hill, you’ll find other vantage points with great views of Tallinn’s Old Town. Kohtuotsa (map) is a must: it is located in the upper part of the Old Town and its romanticism is popular with locals and tourists alike. There is also the Patkuli viewing platform on the other side. This has the advantage of offering a view of the sea.
Visit the Great Guild of Tallinn
The Great Guild has been home to one of Tallinn’s many museums, the Museum of Estonian History, since 1952 (official site). The structure dates back to 1410 but has undergone many changes since then. The cellar was once used to store wine, which makes sense given the many celebrations of the Great Guild, the brotherhood of Estonian merchants. It also served as a stock exchange and arts centre in the 19th century. A must-see place in Tallinn.
Stroll (slowly) through Sainte-Catherine Passage
Passage Sainte-Catherine is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful alleys in the Old Town, lined by a few craft workshops where you can not only buy souvenirs, but also see the craftsmen at work. Although the passage is short, it is very scenic, so we advise you take your time and walk slowly. This district is one of the oldest in Tallinn: the Sainte-Catherine church, which is now in ruins, was founded by Dominican monks in the 12th century.
Gather at the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most splendid religious buildings in Tallinn. This Russian Orthodox cathedral sits atop Toompea Hill. If you visit it in winter, its roof will be covered with snow, which only adds to the magic of the place. The church was built in 1900, when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. Do not hesitate to go inside to admire the sumptuous decorations, specific to Orthodox iconography. Just be courteous and refrain from photographing certain parts.
Warm up in the oldest café in Tallinn
Here is another of the must-do things in Tallinn. Maiasmokk Cafe is not only the oldest cafe in the capital, it is also the oldest in Estonia. It opened in 1864, and the interior has remained relatively unchanged for over a century and a half. The coffee house is famous for its marzipan and for offering a place to unwind. Try one of the famous Estonian pastries, they are to die for!
Maiasmokk Cafe | Pikk 16, Tallinn
Have fun at the Nuku Puppet Art Museum
This museum is much more enjoyable than you might think. You can find almost everything related to the art of puppetry here, from string puppets to hand puppets, and even a section dedicated to scary figures. Originally built to hold the puppets that were no longer needed on stage, the museum has evolved into much more than that. Interactive experiences allow you to innovate and create your own puppet show. You can even build your scene!
Nuku Puppet Theater | Nunne 4/Lai 1, Tallinn
Treat yourself (or almost) in the oldest pharmacy in Europe
No one knows when the city council’s pharmacy opened, but city records dated to 1422 mention a third owner. This makes it the oldest pharmacy in Europe in continuous operation. A visit to the building has its place among the must-do things in Tallinn.
The Raeapteek, as it is called in Estonian, is located next to the Town Hall Square. Here, you will find an exhibition of herbs and medicines, as well as equipment used in the past. If you’re feeling adventurous, try Klaret, a wine made in there since 1467. The owners are very kind and welcoming, and admission is free.
Explore the Baltic at the Estonian Maritime Museum
The Estonian Maritime Museum (official site), founded on the initiative of captains and sailors in 1935, has several sites in the city, but we suggest you visit the one at the Lennusadam Seaplane Port. It is by far the largest and guarantees a great time. The port also includes several interactive exhibits, including submarine trials, flight simulators, and more.
Test the (very good) Estonian cuisine…
If you want to taste traditional Estonian cuisine, Tallinn is ideal, since the restaurants on offer are the most developed in the country. There is the III Draakon, which we told you about above, where you can try elk meat soup and traditional pastries. But there are plenty of equally good (and arguably less touristy) establishments in the capital.
Special Mention: Vanaema Juures
This restaurant prides itself on serving simple, traditional cuisine. The traditional, cosy atmosphere will also please you. It’s almost like stepping into a house from the 1950s. If you go, make sure to order the Kirju Koer, a delicious Estonian cake, for dessert.
Vanaema Jurors | Rataskaevu 10, Tallinn
… and have a drink in the trendy district of Telliskivi
Tired of old stone? Head to the back of Tallinn train station to discover the hipster district of Telliskivi. This former industrial complex has been reinvented by trendy artists and restaurateurs who have given it a second life. And it’s really worth the detour: huge works of street art line the walls, elaborate cuisine fill the plates, and sometimes improvised drinks set the mood. You will also find second-hand clothing and amazing concept stores. But at Destination(s) Europe, we like to go there to drink beer, so here are two bars we recommend:
Sveta Baar | T elliskivi 62 Depoo 1, Tallinn
Pudel Baar | Telliskivi 60a, Tallinn
Visit St. Olaf’s Church
St. Olaf’s Church was the tallest tower in Europe between 1549 and 1625. It now measures 124 meters, but its height has decreased over the years. The name is based on the Norwegian King Olav II Haraldsson, and the earliest mentions of this church are found in documents dating to 1267. Lightning has struck and burned the tower ten times – most recently in 1931. Now, you can enjoy a view of Tallinn from the tower’s observation deck.
Discover Kadriorg Palace
You will find this attractive building to the east of the city centre. It is easily accessible by tram lines 1 or 3. You can also walk, which will take you about 35 minutes.
Tsar Peter I designed Kadriorg Palace in 1718 and named it after his wife, Catherine. If you visit during the summer, take time to stroll through the gardens and admire the Baroque structure from the outside. The Estonian Art Museum (official site) is situated inside and features works by Western and Russian artists.
And a trip to Saaremaa? This large island in western Estonia is a popular place for Estonians and tourists alike. And we tell you in this article why.
That’s it, our selection of the 15 must-do things to do in Tallinn is over, but you surely have other ideas. So feel free to share them in the comments.