6 Tips for Visiting Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn City View

I wasn’t particularly sure how to best share the city of Tallinn with you. As the capital of Estonia and its major tourist destination, if you’re heading to Estonia there’s a good chance you’re going there. Unlike my previous entries on Estonia, if you like European travel there’s a fair chance you’ve actually heard of it. This is for good reason as it is a vibrant city with a remarkable old town that’s hard not to like.

So I figured if I’m not trying to convince you to go there, then maybe I could at least provide some tips based on my visit there in August of last year. So here’s my advice that will hopefully help you with a visit to Estonia’s beguiling capital.

 

Get Ready to Wander

Tallinn Streets

If there’s one place in Tallinn you’re certain to visit on a trip there, it’s the city’s wonderful Old Town. Surrounded by formidable walls and impressive towers, this historic part of the town is bound to delight visitors. True to its medieval nature, the old town is a web of streets and lanes that are perfect for wandering through. I could have given you a list of sights to find throughout the city, but I figured most of them would be spots you’d inevitably find walking through the Old Town anyway.

Most of the central streets are pedestrian only, with vehicles mostly restricted to the roads closest the walls. In my opinion this makes Tallinn’s Old Town much more inviting as your free to absorb your surroundings, rather than be mindful of cars and the like. Best thing is, if you get lost, simply walk until you find a wall and follow it around.

Tallinn Lower Town

Tip: Be prepared to walk a fair bit because most of the Old Town is pedestrian traffic only.

 

A Tale of Two Towns

Rooftops of Tallinn

A fact I didn’t learn until I arrived in Tallinn is that the Old Town is actually two towns, Upper Town and Lower Town. Historically, the Upper Town belonged to the wealthy Germanic aristocrats while Lower Town housed the poor ethnic Estonians. As such, the two towns are considerably different in character and look, reflecting this centuries old divide.

This is why you will find things like Toompea Castle in Upper Town, while the market square besides Old Town Hall in Lower Tower. This divide explains why there are effectively two different old town walls  and also explains why you’ll find cathedrals in both halves of town. It certainly gives Tallinn a standout distinction compared to other old towns in Northern Europe.

Traditional Buildings of Tallinn

Tip: Take different paths up and down between the two towns, eg. take the path from the The War of Independence Victory Column up and Pikk Jalg “Long Leg” path down.

 

Free Walking Tour

Tallinn Sunny

I’m a big advocate of free walking tours as more often than not I’ve found them to be a great way to learn about places beyond the superficial. With them, you get to learn about the place’s history, local culture and get some great stories. Tallinn’s Free Walking Tour is no exception. Despite having to leave it half way in (see below for why), I learnt a lot about the city in a brief time.

Our guide shared plenty with us, from the clever way the locals tricked the Soviets into letting them build St. Nicholas’ Church, to their views on the Victory Column Monument and how Kiek in de Kök Tower got its name. You’ll come away with a greater insight into this fascinating city afterwards.

Tip: Take the Free Walking Tour that leaves opposite the Tallinn Tourist Information Centre at 12:00.

 

Summer Rain

Wet Streets of Tallinn

By the time I had reached Tallinn, I had learned that a Baltic summer didn’t necessarily mean unending sunshine and stifling heat. However, I wasn’t prepared for the torrential downpour that would rob me of roughly a third of my time sightseeing. Arriving to glorious sunshine in the afternoon my first day, I explored a decent portion of the Lower Town before calling it a day.

Little did I know that it would then rain nonstop for a day and a half, forcing me to abandon my walking tour and seek shelter because I didn’t have appropriate wet weather gear. It eased off in the afternoon on my last day so I was able to make up some lost ground, but the weather definitely put a dampener on my visit, pun certainly intended.

Tall Hermann, Tallinn

Tip: Even in summer, ensure you have appropriate wet weather gear, including footwear.

 

Not Just a Day Trip

Master's Courtyard Tallinn

Tallinn is an immensely popular day trip destination, as regular ferries run between the city and Finland’s capital, Helsinki. As the ferry ride is only roughly 2 hours each way, many people include a day trip to Tallinn as part of their Finnish holiday. While sure, you can probably cover a fair bit of ground in a single day, an overnight stay allows you to see more of the city and take it at your own pace.

With plenty of accommodation options in old town, plus a quality public transport network of both buses and trams, spending more time in Tallinn is straightforward and worth it. You could even stay in the cosy Master’s Courtyard like I did above.

Tip: Tallinn has more to offer than what can be comfortably covered in a day trip, so spend the night and enjoy your visit.

 

Escape Old Town

Tallinn Gate

Simply put, Tallinn’s old town is pretty spectacular. With its monumental walls, towers, traditional buildings and the like, it has to be one of northern Europe’s best old towns. And yet, there’s more to the city than just its old town. Even in my weather-limited exploring, I was able to visit some interesting parts of the city outside the walls. While I regrettably missed the Kadriorg Palace that looks quite grand, I did manage to visit both the Kalamaja neighbourhood and the Rotermann Quarter.

Kalamaja, TallinnKalamaja is the neighbourhood on the opposite of the train station to old town with a history all its own. A working class neighbourhood that sprung up in the late 19th century, it boasts plenty of old-fashioned, wood panel houses, typical of Estonia. I didn’t find any big attractions here, but it was nice just to walk through the neighbourhood and appreciate century-old houses that are still lived in.

Rotermann Quarter, Tallinn

Also worth visiting for its architecture is the Rotermann Quarter, found on the far side of Tallinn’s Old Town. Initially an industrial area in the 19th century, it’s seen a significant revamp in recent years, now blending industrial and modern architecture to staggering effect. Beyond the architecture, it’s also a shopping precinct for those looking to shop.

Tip: Venture beyond Tallinn’s Old Town to learn more about the city and modern life there

 


Have you had the opportunity to visit Tallinn before? Agree with my tips or have ones of your own? Please share them in the comments below.

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a booking, I may make a small commission, but at no extra cost to you. 

 


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6 Tips for Visiting Tallinn, Estonia's Charming Capital via @travelsewhere

 


This post is part of Wanderful Wednesday at SnowinTromso and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Albom Adventures. Please head on over for more great posts.

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24 Comment

  1. Sarah says:

    Ah, great timing for us as we are visiting Tallinn in March and have been looking for a travel guide! I became e-resident of Estonia last year so really looking forward to visiting this country for the first time 🙂 thanks for a good read and some useful tips.

    1. David says:

      Glad you found it useful Sarah. Tallinn really is a lovely city so I’m sure you’ll a fun visit. Safe travels!

  2. Looks like such a picturesque town! I always do a Free Walking Tour when I go to a new city. I’ve been to Riga Latvia but that’s as close as I’ve been to Tallinn. I’m still in that part of the world I might just add to my travel list 🙂 Great post.

  3. Tanja says:

    beautiful photos! thanks for the tips:) #wanderfulwednesday

  4. Saved as usual! 🙂 Sad that it rained so much while you were there, but European weather is quite tricky. I NEVER leave the house without an umbrella specifically for that reason. Even on the hottest of hot days in the middle of July, I still need an umbrella. I was once laying out at a swimming pool only to watch the clouds appear out of nowhere within 10 minutes. I decided to head out because I knew what was coming, ended up riding my bike in TORRENTIAL rain to get home, only for it to be sunny again 30 minutes later. Obviously, the grass was too wet to stay laying out on! #WanderfulWednesday

  5. vanbrune says:

    I would love to visit Tallin one day and wander around the old town and all those little alleyways! I’ve only been to Riga in the Baltics yet but I really want to explore more places!

    1. David says:

      I hope you get to explore more of the Baltics Van as I find they can be quite different and yet have some similarities with neighbouring Scandinavia.

  6. Ruth says:

    You are right! You do not have to do any convincing. I want to visit Tallinn. I am a fan of free tours too. Too bad you had to abandon yours. Last late summer, I was lucky with the weather in Central Europe. It was sunny except for two days (when I was in Prague, that was kind of bad luck). #WanderfulWednesday

  7. That’s interesting about the two towns, apart from the architecture are there still differences between them? Different atmospheres?

    1. David says:

      Well as the Lower Town is considerably larger than the Upper, it’s hard to get an equal read on them. It did feel like the Upper Town was still a bit more wealthier and there seemed to be fewer residential buildings.

  8. shere says:

    Tallin looks great! We were indeed thinking of taking a day trip from Helsinki, but we stayed in Helsinki as we prefer to have more time in Tallin. 🙂

    1. David says:

      Helsinki is pretty great too Shere so I can understand wanting to see more of there. Tallinn is worth a little extra time 🙂

  9. The Baltic States are very high on our list for this summer’s adventure so this is great timing for me. I’m pinning this for future reference thanks. #wkendtravelinspiration

    1. David says:

      Glad to hear Phoebe, they’re all worth visiting and hope you have a great summer!

  10. I have not been to Tallinn but it does look like an interesting town to explore.

    1. David says:

      I hope you get to visit one day Rhonda, it really is great.

  11. I just loved the compactness and walk-ability of Tallinn…such a gorgeous city.

    Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration! We’ll see you next week!

    1. David says:

      Certainly Corinne, definitely a compact and stunning old town.

  12. I don’t care if it is touristy, I want to visit Tallinn. It is archetypal beautiful

    1. David says:

      I think Tallinn is one of those places where it’s ok that it’s touristy because you can totally understand why so many people visit there. Definitely a beautiful city. Thanks for reading Paula.

  13. Ahila says:

    I had been planning to take a cruise holiday to Tallinn, while living in Stockholm, but it didn’t materialize. Perhaps someday I will visit the city again. Enjoyed your photos of the old town.

  14. Isabel says:

    Great list!

  15. Annely says:

    Thank You David. It is always great to read peoples emotions after visiting Estonia 🙂 You all are most welcome to visit our small and very beautifull country. And beside Tallinn we have other great towns to visit: Tartu as our University town, Pärnu as summer capital or Haapsalu if you want to have good SPA vacation. More information about upcoming events are here: https://www.visitestonia.com/en Best regards from Estonia 🙂

  16. Pavel says:

    Definitely a great place to visit if you are interested in medieval ages. I love how Tallinn keeps it own unique atmosphere during summer/winter seasons. David, you have a rich traveling experience, which place in your opinion is very similar to Tallinn?

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