Best Things to Do in Tallinn, Estonia in One Day
On my way to Russia for my Trans-Siberian trip, I decided to make quick stopovers in the capital cities of the three Baltic States, spending only one night at each place. So, after Vilnius (Lithuania) and Riga (Latvia), my last stop before Russia was Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
Similar to the other two capital cities, Tallinn also has a fairy-tale vibe to it, with winding cobbled streets, medieval churches, and majestic castles. But of the three, I personally think Tallinn is the prettiest.
Continue reading to find out more about this city and see if you agree with me.
As the capital of Estonia, Tallinn is the country’s main financial, industrial, and cultural center. This bustling metropolis is also recognized as the most advanced digital society in the world!
Tallinn is located in the northern part of the country, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. It is situated about 80 kilometres south of Helsinki, Finland, 320 kilometres west of St. Petersburg, Russia, 300 kilometres north of Riga, Latvia, and 380 kilometres east of Stockholm, Sweden.
At the heart of the city is the Toompea Hill, which is crisscrossed with cobbled streets and filled with medieval houses. From the foot of the hill, the town spreads out within the confines of what used to be a city wall.
Tallinn’s history dates back to the medieval times and was first recorded on a world map in the year 1154.
In 1219, it was conquered by the Danes, who built a stronghold on Toompea Hill. In fact, the name “Tallinn” is an abbreviation of “Taani Linnus”, which means “Danish stronghold” in Estonian.
After that, the city underwent a period of Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers, during which time it was known by its German name Reval (from the 13th century until the first half of the 20th century). It was during this period that Tallinn prospered as one of the most important trading hubs in the Gulf of Finland due to its strategic location.
The country enjoyed its independence in 1918 but only briefly, because it was later captured by the Soviet Union in 1940, followed by Nazi Germany (1941-1944), and again by the Soviets.
Estonia declared its independence once and for all on 20th August 1991.
During their occupation, the Soviet Union organized a massive Slavic migration, and as a result, over 36% of Tallinn’s current population are of Russian descent. As of 2021, Tallinn has a population of 448,770.
Estonian is the official spoken language in Tallinn, with at least half of the citizens speaking it as their native language. Around 46% speak Russian, while the rest speaks Finnish, Belarusian, and Ukrainian.
Is Estonia Open for Tourists?
Yes, Estonia’s borders are open to visitors with no symptoms arriving from the European Union and the Schengen Area, as well as some selected non-European countries.
You do not need to self-isolate upon arrival if you’re from a low-risk country, or if you have just recovered from the virus, or if you have completed your vaccination.
For more information, please refer to their official crisis portal.
Best Time to Visit Tallinn
Tallinn has a humid continental climate with mild, rainy summers (highest daytime temperature of around 22°C (72°F)), and snowy winters.
The average temperature in February, its coldest month, is -3°C (25°F) — still considered to be pretty mild for a country that high up north. This is due to its coastal location. However, the winters can be very gloomy, especially in December when the amount of sunshine is only about 20.7 hours for the entire month!
The best time to visit Tallinn is from May to late August, if you want to take advantage of the warm(ish) weather to go to the beach. Spring is also great if you love bird-watching, as the islands are occupied with long-tailed ducks, Steller’s eiders, Bewick’s swans, and lots of geese.
I visited in early October and it rained for the most part of it with temperatures around 0°C (cold by my standard). Still, I enjoyed the crisp weather in the morning and the beautiful warm hues of the trees.
How to Go to Tallinn
I went to Tallinn from Riga, Latvia by bus. There are frequent connections between the two cities, with continuing service to Vilnius, Lithuania and the rest of Europe. Then, I left Tallinn for St. Petersburg, Russia also by bus.
The bus companies that operate internationally to and from Tallinn are:
There are also frequent buses operating between Tallinn and other cities in Estonia. Domestic bus schedules and fares can be found here.
Tallinn Bus Station can be reached from the city center using tram number 2 towards Suur-Paala or number 4 toward Lennujaam (airport). Get off at Bussijaam (bus station).
Tallinn Airport (IATA: TLL), also known as Ülemiste Airport, is a small airport located on the eastern shore of Lake Ülemiste, 5 kilometres from the city center. There are various flights to and from major European cities.
To travel between the airport and the city, you have a few options:
- Taxis – should cost you around €10. Make an advance booking if you’re arriving around midnight.
- Bus #2 – stops right in front of the airport. To get to the city center, make sure you take the bus bound for “Reisisadam”. On working days, it runs from 6 a.m. till midnight, and on weekends until 11 p.m. The closest stop to the city center is A. Laikmaa.
- Tram #4 – The Lennujaam tram stop is located right next to the terminal It operates daily from 5:30 a.m. – 12:45 a.m. Depending on where you want to go, the closest stops to the city center are Hobujaama, Viru, and Vabduse väljak.
Elron Trains operate train services between Tallinn and Tartu, Viljandi, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and more. The train station is right next to the Old Town, and can be accessed by tram number 1 or 2. Stop at the “Balti jaam” station.
Tallinn is located less than 100 kilometres from Helsinki and connected by frequent ferry service, with up to 20 departures daily. Depending on the ferry, journey time is anywhere between 1.5 and 3.5 hours, and the prices between €16-30 one way. All ferries can also carry cars.
The following are companies that operate ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki:
- Eckerö Line – Operates only one 2000-passenger ship. Often has the cheapest fares.
- Tallink Silja – Up to 6 departures daily with discounts for Eurail pass holders.
- Viking Line – Two sailings daily.
Tallinn also has daily overnight ferry service from Stockholm all year round, which takes approximately 16 hours.
All ferries dock at Reisisadam port, north of the city center. To get there, take bus #2 from the intercity bus station (Autobussijaam stop), the airport (Lennujaam stop), or the city center (A. Laikmaa stop).
How to Get Around in Tallinn
Tallinn is a compact city and is best discovered on foot, especially the Old Town. Almost all the attractions mentioned here are within comfortable walking distance of one another. In fact, if you’re coming by ferry, you can even walk (15 – 20 minutes) from the ferry terminal to the Old Town.
However, if you need to take a break from walking or if you want to explore further, here are your options:
By Public Transports
The city is covered by a network of buses, trolleys, and trams, operating between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. every day. Timetables can be found here.
When traveling by public transports, you can either buy the ticket from the driver with cash for €2, or purchase a Ühiskaart — a smart card that you pay a €2 deposit for and add money to buy tickets. A 1-hour ticket costs only €1.10 with the card. When you leave Tallinn, you can get your deposit and balance (of up to €20) back.
By Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus
This sightseeing bus is a good option for first-time visitors as it takes you to most of the must-see attractions and provides commentary along the way.
Please check their individual websites for fares and timetables.
Taxis are another alternative, but just like everywhere else in the world, they tend to over-charge. Tallinn has many taxi companies. Reputable ones include Tallink, Tulika (airport taxi), Sõbra (economy taxi), Marabu, and Luxlimu.
To avoid scams, try not to take taxis late at night, and stay away from those that look too shabby or are without logos. Otherwise, do as the locals do and order a taxi by phone, or book on ride-hailing apps such as Bolt and Uber.
How Much Time Do You Need in Tallinn?
During my stay in Tallinn, I had the privilege of being hosted by Dmitri, a kind local I met on Couchsurfing.
With him as a guide, I was able to see the top sights in the old and new parts of Tallinn very easily within just half a day. But we were moving pretty fast, mainly because it was drizzling the whole time, and also because he had to go to work later in the day.
If you prefer exploring at a more leisurely pace, getting lost among the alleyways, and spending longer at each stop, two days would be ideal. I’d suggest spending one day in the Old Town and another day in surrounding neighborhoods.
Next, I will list down the top things you can do in Tallinn if you’ve got one day (or more).
Best Things to Do in Tallinn in One Day
1. Explore Tallinn Old Town
Having been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Town is certainly going to be the highlight of your trip to Tallinn.
Like in most other old towns in Europe, you can expect to see cobblestoned streets, cathedrals, market squares, and rows and rows of old buildings. But as mentioned earlier, I personally think it’s the among the prettiest I’ve seen. The town walls and their conical roofs lend the city a fairy-tale vibe that isn’t as prominent in the other Baltic states.
Although the bigger roads have now been converted into stylish shopping streets, the medieval town is still one of the best-preserved in Europe. It was built in the Late Middle Ages by German crusaders and managed to survive World War II despite heavy bombings by the Soviet.
2. See the Viru Gate
You will enter the Old Town through the grand Viru Gate. Tall and imposing, the two towers were part of the 14th-century walls that served as the city’s defense system.
See what I mean about the conical roofs? It doesn’t take much imagination to get transported back to the Middle Ages.
Although part of the gate had been demolished to allow horse-drawn carriages, the towers remain standing proud to this day to welcome visitors.
3. Walk Along Tallinn Town Wall
The Tallinn town wall is one of the first things you will see as you enter Tallinn. Easily recognizable by its red-roofed towers, the wall dates back to the 14th century.
In its former glory, it was 2.4 kilometres long, up to 3 metres thick, and had a total of 46 towers. Today, while not as magnificent as before, it still has a wow factor with 1.9-kilometre length and 20 remaining towers.
You will encounter sections of the wall as you explore the Old Town, some with towers, gateways, and enclosed wooden walkways. Visitors are allowed to climb a portion of the wall to enjoy the panoramic city views.
4. Visit St. Olaf’s Church
Built in the 1200s, St. Olaf’s Church is one of the most important structures in Tallinn and the city’s largest medieval building.
In the 16th century, its tower was purportedly the tallest building in the world, standing at 159 metres tall. It had been struck by lightning numerous times and eventually burned down. Today, the spire is only 124-metre tall.
If you’re physically fit, you can climb your way up the narrow, winding staircase to the top of the tower for a fabulous view of the Old Town. The entrance to the church is free while the entrance to the tower is EUR 3.
St. Olaf’s Church is open from April to October (closed during winter).
5. Walk Along Helleman Tower Walkway
Helleman Tower is a three-story structure built in the 14th century to be used as a prison, observation tower, and later as a weapon storage. Leading to it is a 200-metre stretch of fortification wall that you can walk on.
For EUR 4, you can also climb up to the top of the tower. While it doesn’t offer you the best views of Tallinn, it may still satisfy your curiosity about the medieval defense system. The tower now houses an art gallery.
6. See the Three Sisters
The Three Sisters were built in 1362 and originally served as commercial premises, complete with loading hatches and windlasses to transfer goods between floors.
In 2003, they were renovated into an upscale boutique hotel, maintaining the medieval architecture but offering modern amenities. The Three Sisters are among the best-preserved medieval buildings in Tallinn.
Click here to book a stay at the Three Sisters.
7. Visit Fat Margaret
The Fat Margaret’s Tower was named as such because it was the largest part of the city wall. Measuring four metres in thickness, this barrel-shaped tower was built in the 16th century to defend the harbor as well as impress inbound visitors coming by sea.
For a time, it also served as a prison, but today, it is home to the Estonian Maritime Museum.
8. Walk Along St. Catherine’s Passage
Formerly known as the Monk’s Alley, this unique walkway connects Vene and Müürivahe streets in the Old Town.
The passage is lined on one end with tombstones and uneven stone walls from the St. Catherine’s Dominican Friary, which was the largest friary in Tallinn back in the day. It is said to have been built here more than 700 years ago.
At the other end, there are a number of handicraft workshops where you can watch the artists at work.
9. Hang Out at the Town Hall Square
The Town Hall has been the heart of Tallinn since the 13th century. Although no longer serving as the city’s marketplace, it’s still bustling with tour groups, festivals, concerts, and the annual Christmas market.
Apart from the usual cafes and shops, you’ll also find the Great Guild Hall, the Church of the Holy Ghost (which features Tallinn’s oldest public clock), and the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Europe (since 1422).
But the most striking building here is the Town Hall with its 64-metre spire and dragon-shaped waterspouts. It is the only remaining Gothic town hall in Northern Europe.
10. Learn About Marzipan at the Marzipan Gallery
For the sweet-toothed, the Marzipan Gallery is a must-visit.
Here, you will learn the amazing history of marzipan — a medicine created by chemists during the Middle Ages that later became a popular sweet treat. It consists primarily of sugar or honey and ground almonds, sometimes enhanced with almond oil.
There are over 200 marzipan candies, cakes, and figurines on display in this gallery, some are made using molds that are more than a century old. You can also watch artists painting marzipan figurines and have one custom-made for you.
11. See Tallinn from Toompea Hill
To get the most picturesque views of Tallinn, make your way up Toompea Hill and head to the Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms. Both are located about 150 metres from each other and offer you unobstructed views of the Old Town, the modern skyline, and the harbor.
However, Toompea Hill is more than just a scenic viewpoint — it also has a historical and political significance. The site has been used as a fortress since the 9th century and it is also from here that the city has been ruled, since the ancient times till today. Therefore, you will find several important buildings in the area.
Make sure you have sturdy footwear on, as the inclined cobblestoned streets can make for a (moderately) strenuous climb.
12. Visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Located on Toompea Hill, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a relatively new addition to the old town, having only been completed in 1900 under Czarist Russian rule. Its distinctive black onion domes can easily be seen from all over the Old Town.
This Russian Orthodox church is still actively used for worship, so while visitors can enter for free, no photography is allowed inside.
13. See the Toompea Castle
Next to Alexander Nevsky Church is the Toompea Castle. Built in the late 1700s, this salmon-pink structure features three defense towers, including the impressive 50-metre tall Pikk Hermann.
When Estonia was under the Russian rule in the 18th century, the castle was converted into a Baroque palace. It now houses the Parliament of Estonia and can be visited on weekdays with advance notice.
If You Have More Than One Day in Tallinn
Because it drizzled almost the whole time during my visit, my host and I walked fast and didn’t linger for too long at each place. As a result, we actually managed to see a lot, both in the Old Town and the surrounding neighborhoods, albeit only briefly.
If you prefer going more slowly, here’s a list of things you can reserve for the second day:
1. Visit More Museums!
To satiate your thirst for knowledge, visit these museums:
- KGB Museum – The Baltic States’ dark history under the Soviet occupation is fairly recent, with Estonia only gaining its independence in 1991. Located in Viru Hotel, the KGB Museum is a replica of the secret headquarters kept by the KGB in numerous hotels throughout the Soviet Union. Here, you will see spy equipment and other paraphernalia from the Soviet era. Advance booking required.
- Kumu Art Museum – At almost 50,000 sq metres, this museum is the largest government-built building since the liberation. It houses a permanent exhibition of Estonian art, both old and new. The architecture of the building itself is enough to warrant a visit.
- Open Air Museum – This unique open-air museum is a life-sized reconstruction of an 18th century rural village that comes with a church, inn, schoolhouse, fire station, net sheds, twelve farmyards, and several mills. It spans 72 hectares and comprises about 80 buildings of Estonian vernacular architecture from the past two centuries. There are free dance performances on weekends and special events during Easter.
- Museum of Estonian Architecture – Located in the Rotermanni Quarter, the Museum of Estonian Architecture focuses on contemporary architecture and features frequently changing exhibitions.
2. Go to the Top of Tallinn TV Tower
Tallinn TV Tower is a 314-metre-high, free-standing structure, originally built to provide better telecommunication services for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics regatta event.
It is the tallest building in Tallinn and with the highest open viewing platform in Northern Europe. You can either go to the observation deck on the 21st floor (170 metres), or try walking on the edge of the tower on the 22nd floor (175 metres).
On a clear day, you may even be able to see Finland!
3. Explore Other Neighborhoods
Beyond the Old Town, there are a few interesting neighborhoods nearby that are worth exploring:
i. Kalamaja District
Previously a fishing village and later an industrial town, Kalamaja (which means fish house in Estonian) has recently bloomed into a hipster neighborhood just outside the Old Town.
It is best known for its colorful wooden houses built to accommodate factory workers in the past, and Telliskivi Creative City — a complex of former warehouses that have been turned into cafes, boutiques, and live music venues, all decorated with street art.
ii. Rotermann Quarter
At the heart of Tallinn, between the Old Town, the Port, and Viru Square lies a neighborhood that was once a thriving industrial hub. However, during the Soviet era, the majority of the factories and warehouses were abandoned and eventually fell into disrepair.
In 2007, the entire area went through a major renovation, and the old industrial buildings were given a new life. Additional floors were added, as well as glass windows and modern decors, giving them a cutting-edge look.
The newly renovated buildings were then turned into stylish apartments, bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops.
4. Marvel at Kadriorg Palace
Originally built as a royal summer residence for Russian Tsar Peter the Great in the 18th century, this Baroque palace is now an art gallery and museum, where you can see a huge collection of paintings of the Russian royal family.
Once you’re done inside, you can enjoy a stroll around the park outside with its beautiful fountains, swan lake, and the Presidential Palace — the residence of the Estonian president.
Kadriorg Palace is only a short tram ride or a 30-minute walk from the Old Town.
Where to Stay in Tallinn
It’s perfectly possible to visit Tallinn on a day trip if you only want to see some of the major highlights in the city. However, if you like to take things slow and hang out longer, here are a few accommodation options for all budgets:
Draper Startup House for Entrepreneurs – Adult-only accommodation with a bar, lounge, and garden, about 1 kilometre (0.7 mi) from Town Hall Square. From EUR 10 for a bed in a 6-Bed Female Dormitory Room. All rooms come with a desk, free WiFi and a shared bathroom.
Hotel L’Ermitage – A modern 4-star hotel just a 5-minute walk from the Town Hall, featuring pastel-colored rooms, each with an LCD TV, a mini bar and a private bathroom. Bicycle and car rental services available. At a surcharge, guests can also relax in the Finnish sauna. From EUR 53 for a Standard Single Room with a breakfast buffet of Estonian and international dishes.
Schlössle Hotel – Located in the center of the Old Town, this stylish 5-star hotel is housed in 13th and 14th-century buildings with antique furniture but modern amenities, such as WiFi and a flat-screen TV in each room. Usage of sauna is included in the room rate. You can also try a selection of massage treatments or head to the front desk to book a limousine! From EUR 157 for a Superior Garden Room, with breakfast. A glass of sparkling wine is served for breakfast.
For a country that has only gained its independence in the 1990’s, Estonia has developed at an exceptional speed to become among the top three of the most digitally advanced nations in the world.
The capital city itself is a perfect blend of ancient and modern standing almost side by side. Amidst the ultra-modern industrial buildings and quirky street art, Tallinn retains its well-preserved medieval history and charms.
Definitely a must-visit in your Baltic States’ itinerary!
Have you visited any of the Baltic States? Which one did you like best? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.