Planning a trip to Europe this summer? Tallinn, Estonia, is a stunning, affordable alternative to the usual suspects of Paris, London, and Rome. Steeped in history, beautiful architecture, and gorgeous cafés, it’s not hard to see why this city is fast becoming one of Europe’s favorite getaways. See for yourself:
The entire Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
You can spend days walking around admiring the towers and walls of the Old Town of Tallinn. It’s incredible to think that these walls have survived multiple aerial bombings – sometimes hundreds of bombs at a time. Pay the minimal entrance to visit one tower and walk around the town walls, taking in breathtaking views over the red roofs of the city. Spend time walking through the city, taking in the historic squares where German and Russian enemies alike occupied and surrendered within the town walls.
Pikk Hermann, Toompea Castle
Pikk Hermann is a large tower on the outskirts of the Old Town that provides good photo opportunities. Toompea Castle can be accessed via the various other towers that you can pay to enter for some interesting photographic and historic exhibits that tell the stories of Tallinn residents over time.
You don’t need to “climb” Toompea Hill or enter the castle if you’re short on time (you won’t really be missing anything to be honest).
Freedom Square, St. John’s Church
A good place to start your tour of Old Tallinn is Freedom Square, which commemorates the lives given to restore Tallinn’s independence as late as 1991 from the Soviet Union. From here you can pay a short visit to St. John’s Church, a Lutheran church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
Walk up the green area behind Freedom monument to where you’ll see a few tourists and even locals sunning themselves or enjoying a picnic. From here you can directly enter one of the numerous Towers, and walk along the breadth of its walls to different viewpoints over the city (and enjoy some excellent exhibits within the rooms of the walls as well).
Kiek in de Kok
This is a restored cannon tower from the 15th century. You can go inside to take a tour of a few secret tunnels and view a few exhibits. If you haven’t been to St. Mary’s Cathedral or the other towers yet, it’s also offers views over the city.
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Iconic of the Tallinn city-scape, the Aleksander Nevski Kathedral, like most Russian Orthodox Cathedrals, is a sight to behold within its walls. Photography is not allowed inside.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
There are numerous churches you can pay to enter within the Old Town of Tallinn. St. Mary’s Cathedral provides a slightly viewing platform over St. Olaf’s, if you’re interested entering for the cityscapes the churches have to offer. We recommend paying to enter St. Mary’s, St. Olaf’s, and the Holy Spirit Church if you’re trying to choose which churches to pay to enter within Old Tallinn. Unless you’re interested in the specific history or architecture of various churches, you don’t have to visit others if you’re short on time, or on cash (we visited St. Nicholas’ Church and a few others as well for your reference in recommending the above churches).
St. Olaf’s Church
Built in the 12th century, St. Olaf’s Church is believed to have been integral to Tallinn’s Scandinavian community before Denmark’s takeover in 1219. The church houses different photographic exhibits and artifacts worth the small entrance fee.
Church of the Holy Spirit, Maiasmokk
Tallinn is flush with beautiful churches as is most of Europe, but the Church of the Holy Spirit is an eclectic church worth visiting, if only to see clock outside and the elaborate insignia inside. It’s also opposite to Maiasmokk, Tallinn’s oldest café.
One of the oldest continuously running pharmacies in Europe, the Raeapteek is located in the center of Tallinn at Raekoja Plats 11. It is likely that you’ll come upon this square when exploring Tallinn, and we recommend seeing the free exhibit of potions and medicines used over time by this pharmacy. It’s actually free: you’re not expected to tip or buy anything from there for visiting (but you can, of course).
From Occupation to Independence: The Museum of Occupations
The Museum of Occupations is an excellent museum to visit if you’re interested in the history of Tallinn. It provides several audio and visual resources to describe the people’s attitudes towards the occupation by Russians, Germans, and finally the Soviet Union, and the subsequent impact of these occupations on the current culture of its people.
The numerous viewing platforms
Whether you’re looking for the iconic Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform (Kohty 12, 10130 Tallinn), views from the tower at the Tallinn Town Hall (Raekoja plats 1, 10114 T Tallinn), or the The Tallinn TV Tower (Kloostrimetsa tee 58a, 11913 Tallinn) among others, there’s plenty of places to find beautiful views over the red roofed cityscape of Tallinn.
St. Catherine’s Passage
Take a walk down St. Catherine’s Passage to see numerous artisan shops and cafés. Be warned: it’s beautiful but very touristy!
The KGB Museum at the Viru Hotel
This is seriously a must-see when visiting Tallinn. Make reservations at the front desk of the Viru Hotel at least a day ahead of when you’d like to take the tour. You’ll be taken to the “unofficial” 23rd floor, which housed the KGB operations in the hotel. We were given a tour by a person who actually lived through the latter part of the Soviet Union operations in the city. The hotel was first built to house all foreign tourists during the occupation of the Soviet Union. You’re given some excellent tidbits of what went on in the hotel, and the effectiveness (or lack of…?) of officials at the time – we won’t ruin it for you, you have to hear, and see it for yourself! The KGB disputes the existence of this 23rd floor to this day.
The KGB Cells
Reopened to the public in July 2017, the KGB Cells tells the infamous stories of political prisoners held at Pagari 1. It’s a small space with a non-descript sign, so if you’re finding it hard to locate, head to St. Olaf’s church, and ask directions to Pagari 1 (or follow the street signs).
Erected by Tsar Peter the Great, this is a great stop outside the Old Town to marvel at the baroque architecture of the building and enjoy the beautiful gardens it has to offer. It currently houses foreign art. We recommend a visit if you rented a car to explore outside of Tallinn, or if you have a little more time to spare after visiting the above attractions already.
Like the other Baltic countries, Estonia is an extremely affordable European country to visit. Enjoy excellent dishes at beautiful restaurants in the heart of the beautiful Old Town for just €10. Stay in excellent central apartments for less than €30 a night per person. Your euro will definitely go farther here than at other “hot-spot” European destinations!
Day Trip to see Lahemaa National Park and the Jägala and Keila Waterfalls
Eat at a beautifully restored castle, and visit the Keila and Jägala Waterfalls! Make use of Estonia’s affordable car rental prices and take a day trip exploring the beautiful countryside outside of Tallinn.
The café culture
Tallinn is an excellent embodiment of the European café culture, with beautiful cafes on the Old Town walls, side-streets, and main squares where you can enjoy a refreshing Aperol Spritz or cold beer while enjoying the view. The numerous cake shops and cobble-stoned streets are the perfect setting for an idyllic European getaway.
When to visit
We recommend visiting between the months of June and September when you’ll have sunshine to enjoy the café culture and views at their best. Take advantage of visiting this area during the summer months over the more crowded southern European cities.
Where NOT to eat
We rarely do this but we wouldn’t be good travel guides if we didn’t share this information with you: do not eat at Golden Dragon in Tallinn. We know three people who got food poisoning from eating at the restaurant – add Christian to that list!
There are plenty of excellent restaurants and cafés in town where you can have a delicious bite to eat. Try not to eat or drink at the restaurants located right on the town wall walkways to avoid steep(er) prices than what you would get at other locations with as beautiful views. For example: the prices at Dannebrog, because of its “cool” location and concept, are crazy high.
We recommend finding restaurants at the side-streets over the main squares for excellent value for money.
How to get there
There are daily ferry connections between Helsinki and Tallinn if you’re looking to extend your trip from Finland, or to Finland for that matter! You can also fly directly into Tallinn with Ryan Air or Easy Jet from most European hubs.
Now: What are you waiting for? Book your trip to Tallinn today!
Inspired? Pin Us!