15 things in Tallinn you can’t miss — the medieval, the memorial and the modern
The basics — what to see in Tallinn
Where is Tallinn?
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, and is situated in the north of the country. It sits on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, allowing easy access between the 2 countries.
Estonia borders several countries, namely Russia to the east, and Latvia to the south. It’s also one of several countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, with Sweden to the west.
Tallinn also holds the title of being the largest city in Estonia, and is the country’s political and financial center.
What to see in Tallinn — what languages do they speak?
Most of the people we met in Tallinn spoke a good level of English.
You’ll probably find it’s younger people that can speak well, but you shouldn’t have any problems in general in communicating. Aside from Estonian, many can also speak Russian and also Finnish.
The main international airport in Tallinn
Tallinn Airport (Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport) is the largest airport in Estonia, and most likely where you’ll be flying into. As airports go, it’s modern, very clean and a pleasant welcome to the country.
Great transportation in Tallinn — what to see in Tallinn
Transportation to the center is excellent and varied. The trams and buses are regular and can take you to the city center for €2 ($2; £1.74) per person.*
Even for travelers on a tight budget, getting around by taxi service, Uber, is very reasonable. We paid around €5 ($5.59; £4.36) for a 22-minute ride to the city center.
This is in stark contrast to the over €40 ($45; £35) we paid for the same ride in Marseille.
Extra tip: we took the no.4 tram on our return to the airport. There’s no physical tram stop, given the trams pass in the middle of the road.
So, when you see the tram arriving, do as the locals do and cross the traffic to board. Just like Moses parting the Red Sea, the moving traffic comes to an ordered halt, and lets pedestrians pass.
Lastly, you can pay on board directly to the driver, but try to have the right change. It speeds up the process and also means you can spend more time enjoying the ride.
What to see in Tallinn — walk around the old town
1. Visit Tallinn Old Town
The Old Town of Tallinn has become my favorite of all the Eastern European old towns I’ve visited.
As well as being one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, it also holds a UNESCO title. What’s more, Tallinn Old Town draws you in even before you land, with views of church spires from the plane.
Free and historic — what to see in Tallinn
Taking a trip to the Old Town is also one of the best free things to do in Tallinn. Meander through the cobbled streets and admire the Scandinavian-style architecture as you go.
There’s also something reminiscent of Stockholm for me in Tallinn, which isn’t that surprising consider the country’s historical connection.
Churches to visit in Tallinn Old Town — what to see in Tallinn
As someone who grew up in the Catholic faith, I’m always intrigued to see different Christian denomination churches.
There are several spectacular ones in Tallinn Old Town, and I encourage you to see them all if you’ve got time.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral — what to see in Tallinn
“It doesn’t feature in that many travel guides I came across, but it’s worth seeing.”
Map: 15 must-see sights in Tallinn
2. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Tallinn
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the most striking in Tallinn for 2 reasons: its size and design.
Once you lay eyes on the structure, you’ll notice a Russian influence in the architectural style. The church was built in a traditional Russian Revival style during a time when Estonia was part of the Empire.
Worshipers that pray at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are Russian Orthodox.
3. St Olaf’s Church
St Olaf’s Church showcases a completely different architectural style. Built in the 12th century, it draws on Scandinavian influences, and was dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway.
The church’s main draw is its 405ft (124m) tower, which you can climb to reach the observation deck.
Plenty of steps ahead — what to see in Tallinn
While the views may be Insta-worthy, bear in mind the number of steps you’ve to climb to reach the top. There’s an entrance fee of €3* ($3.35; £2.62), but it’s a small price to pay for the views waiting ahead.
4. St Mary’s Cathedral Tallinn
I can’t write about churches in Tallinn Old Town without mentioning St Mary’s Cathedral. It’s one of the oldest, dating to the 13th century.
The church was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, before becoming Lutheran in 1561. It now belongs to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and is also the seat of the Archbishop of Tallinn.
The standout St Olaf’s Church in Tallinn
5. Toompea Castle — Parliament of Estonia
Standing atop Toompea Hill is a castle that’s been in use going as far back as the 9th century. The decision to build the structure on a hill was a strategic one. Its elevated position made it easier to defend against invaders.
The parliament building was built in 1918, after the Estonian Declaration of Independence. You can see from its exterior that’s it’s ‘newer’ than other structures in Tallinn Old Town.
More inside — what to see in Tallinn
Visiting Toompea Castle is also one of the best free things to do in Tallinn. Guided tours in Estonian, English and Russian are free and open to the public.
Feeling very small standing by the walls of Toompea Castle in Tallinn
6. Tallinn town hall
There’s no chance you can miss Tallinn Town Hall when traveling to the city. It’s the oldest town hall in Scandinavia and the Baltic region, and sits next to the Town Hall Square.
Its tower measures around 64m (210ft) in height. Its, vane, the Old Thomas, has been at the top of the tower since 1530.
Plan ahead — what to see in Tallinn
You can only visit the town hall on weekdays by making an advanced appointment, preferably 3 days in advance. The timetable varies, so check the website before you visit.
Speaking of the Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats), this grand plaza is a central hub in Tallinn Old Town.
Concerts and small festivals take place here, and come Christmas, the square transforms into something quite magical.
Entering Town Hall Square in Tallinn
7. Eat medieval in Tallinn
Just a short walk from Town Hall Square is the medieval restaurant, Olde Hansa. An impressive building from the exterior, it’s the place to visit if you’re intrigued about medieval cooking.
Remnants of a medieval period hit you the second you step inside. From the large wooden beams and candlesticks on the ceiling, to the staff in costume, it screams authenticity.
In truth, Olde Hansa is a little on the touristy side, given its medieval novelty. However, it’s also a big selling point of the restaurant, and makes for a unique foodie experience.
Olde Hansa food menu — what to see in Tallinn
On the menu is everything they would’ve eaten during medieval times — and potatoes are nowhere in sight. Even for a curious foodie, I’d no idea what to order.
In the end, I took a salad with smoked herring and salmon, and a forest mushroom soup. My other half daringly ordered the game sausages made from bear, elk and wild boar. All dishes come with traditional freshly baked bread, which is excellent.
Another selling point at Olde Hansa are the choice of ales and the large clay mugs in which they’re served. I highly recommend the dark honey beer. It’s light, slightly sweet and accompanies the dishes well.
Whatever you end up ordering, Olde Hansa is one of the top places in Tallinn, and for good reason.
Eating medieval at Olde Hansa — one of the most unique experiences in Tallinn
8. Alternative Tallinn — Telliskivi
From the medieval to the contemporary for this next must-see area in Tallinn.
If you’re a hipster, or just hip at heart, you should visit Telliskivi. It’s actually the name of a street, but as you move further into the center, you notice a stark transformation.
A different perspective — what to see in Tallinn
Sides of buildings plastered in symbolic street art, sit alongside retro bars and foreign restaurants. There’s something very similar to the Shoreditch area in the east end of London, and the similarities don’t stop there.
It’s fitting then that Telliskivi is also the home of the creative center of Tallinn.
Telliskivi Creative City is a former industrial complex, home to studios, creative companies and even NGO offices. It’s where you will find photo galleries next to small designer shops.
A flea market also takes place on the grounds every Saturday, attracting hipsters and locals alike.
Browse the antiques at Balti Jaama Turg in Tallinn
9. Balti Jaama Turg
I love everything about this former railway storehouse turned market. They sell everything here from fruits, vegetables and fish, to vintage clothes and antiques.
Balti Jaama Turg is for anyone that adores markets, and browsing everything there is on offer. Depending on whether you buy anything, this market’s one of the best — and free — things to do in Tallinn.
My favorite bar in the Telliskivi area, Peatus
Two vintage railway carriages form the unique bar/restaurant that’s Peatus.
Achingly hipster in feel, we stopped here for a cold beer and to experience a mix of nostalgia and modern. There’s also an outdoor terrace, which I’m certain is popular come summertime.
While Peatus is labelled as a restaurant, we only saw a drinks menu. Saying that, if you plan to eat here, check in advance whether it’s serving food that day.
Unique bars in Tallinn — Peatus Bar
10. Visit an exhibition about Estonia’s Soviet past
This next must-see in Tallinn is unfortunately time relevant, given it was an exhibition on at the time. The ‘Back in Time’ exhibition delivers exactly as its name suggests, showing you a glimpse of life under Soviet rule.
Incredibly interesting, it’s a harsh reminder of the bleak living conditions that many Estonians faced.
Bananas were seen as ‘exotic’, chewing gum was the number 1 thing all kids wanted, and TV commercials were nonsensical.
While the exhibition won’t be there forever, you can check Visit Tallinn for anything similar that may be on.
Visit a former Soviet exhibition in Tallinn
11. Visit the Memorial to the Victims of Communism
Bringing to light the reality of Soviet rule, is this moving tribute to the many Estonians who lost their lives.
The coastal town of Pirita is home to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. It’s a must see in the city, and one of many free things to do in Tallinn.
A touching tribute — what to see in Tallinn
This grand space overlooking Tallinn Bay consists of 2 parts. ‘Journey’ lists all the names of the Estonians that died, on a plaque stretching across a black wall.
‘Home Garden’ is the informative text and stone tablets in the park that mark where the events happened.
It’s an open space, meaning you can visit at any time. We went in the early evening, which was ideal as there were only a few people around.
Memorial to the Victims of Communism – free attractions in Tallinn
12. Watch the sun set in Pirita
The coastal town of Pirita is a favorite among the locals in Tallinn.
It doesn’t feature in that many travel guides I came across, but it’s worth seeing. By car, it takes around 10 minutes from the city center.
A sandy beach meets the shores of Tallinn Bay, which becomes packed once the temperatures heat up. However, I’m here to share with you the mesmerizing sunset from Pirita beach.
What makes it so special is that there’s nothing — and no-one — to distract you from the view.
If visiting during spring, sunset doesn’t happen till around 8.30pm. Even then, the colors continue to dance around each other, before merging into one.
Witness an incredible sunset from Pirita Beach in Tallinn
13. Fine dining at Tuljak
Its building is an example of Estonian Modernist architecture, and has also been recognized as a well-restored monument.
Pay attention to parking — what to see in Tallinn
One important thing you should note, is where to park at Tuljak. We unfortunately parked in the wrong place and received a ticket.
There are free parking spots for Tuljak on Pirita Tee (26E and 28E), or paid parking at Pirita Tee 25.
Finally, when making your booking at Tuljak, be sure to request a window table. It’s a scenic way to spend an evening, and also watch the sun set over Tallinn.
What to do in Tallinn – dine at Tuljak and book a window seat
14. Head to the beach
It doesn’t take long to get out of Tallinn and into the surrounding counties.
By car, we were already driving into forests and remote roads after just 20 minutes.
My number one recommendation for a Tallinn day trip is to visit some of the beaches along the coast.
Given Tallinn’s location, driving west brings you past several pretty, and very local, beaches. Some include the beaches at Vääna-Jõesuu, Kloogaranna and Laulasmaa.
Depending on the time of year, and weather pending, there’s a high chance you’ll have these beaches all to yourself.
15. Visit another country
Time pending, it’s also possible to visit Helsinki in Finland on a day trip from Tallinn. It’s a journey than many Estonians and Finns regularly make, and takes around 2 hours by ferry.
Again, the timing can depend on several factors, such as which ferry service you choose, the weather etc.
Extra tip: If you want to visit Helsink from Tallinn, book the ferry in advance. We found the ticket prices too expensive as we were looking at last minute trips.
Top things to do in Tallinn – take a day trip to Kloogaranna beach
Where to stay in Tallinn
Right in the heart of Tallinn Old Town are 2 luxury boutique hotels, ideally located for a short Tallinn break.
Hotel St. Petersbourg and Schlössle Hotel may belong to the same hotel group, but they’re totally different in style.
The former embraces a modern decor design, while the latter is more traditional luxury. There are 27 and 23 rooms and suites respectively in each hotel, and bookings go quickly.
What do you think of Tallinn? Is it a city that you’d like to visit? Let me know in the comments below.
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
*Prices correct at time of publishing
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.
Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....