Visiting Tallinn – 11 must-know tips for first-time travelers
It was a wonderfully sunny day with clear blue skies when we landed in Tallinn. Visiting Tallinn in spring turned out to be a good idea, especially when seeing the old town from the plane. It’s a city that’s shaken off its former past, and instead embraced progress, innovation and technology to its fullest.
If you too are traveling to Tallinn for the first time, this helpful post outlines essential traveler tips and advice. The following’s based on our observations, and therefore some points may change by the time you visit.
Why should you visit Tallinn?
The capital city of Estonia is an ideal destination for a city break, long weekend and caters to all travelers. Flights to and from Tallinn are frequent and the city’s international airport beats many I’ve visited further afield.
What’s more, many people in Tallinn speak good English, and you shouldn’t have any problems in communicating with the locals.
Weather in Tallinn also matches the seasons, meaning there are no shock surprises when you visit. However, given its location in the Baltic region, it can feel cooler even in the sunshine.
Visiting Tallinn – the weather in Tallinn matches the seasons
Visiting Tallinn – wait for the green man before crossing
The first tip I want to share with you, is one we actually read in the Tallinn information leaflet in the airport. I’ve never been to a capital city where its citizens are so disciplined as they’re in Tallinn.
When crossing roads with traffic lights and signals, always wait for the green man to appear. At first, we didn’t think people followed it, but were quickly proven wrong. Even with no oncoming traffic in sight, people in Tallinn wait for the green man. And you should too.
It’s highly unusual for someone from London, where people have a ‘go when you can’ mindset crossing the road. Still, it’s always good to respect the rules of a city, and this is one of them.
Locals wait for the green man before crossing the roads in Tallinn
“It’s a city that’s shaken off its former past, and instead embraced progress, innovation and technology to its fullest.”
Visiting Tallinn – map highlighting all the places in this post
How to use the trams in Tallinn – travel to Tallinn
When in Tallinn, I highly encourage you to ride the tram. It’s cheap, clean and regular too. During our visit, it cost €2 ($2; £1.77) per person for 1 ride. If you buy your tickets in advance, it costs €1 ($1; £0.88). All public transportation is free for Estonians, and they show their respects by treating it well.
There are physical tram stops in Tallinn, but also some that stop in the middle of the road. For the latter, you typically wait at a bus stop for the tram you want. Once you see it arriving, you signal for the driver to stop like you do a bus, and board with fellow passengers.
This does involve crossing a busy road, but the traffic comes to a discipline stop — just like everything in Tallinn!
Extra Tallinn transport tip: You can take the no. 4 tram from the airport to the city center. Uber also is available in Tallinn and is very reasonable in price too.
Riding the trams – a budget-friendly way when visiting Tallinn
Some popular restaurants close early in Tallinn – Visiting Tallinn
Maybe it was the restaurants we chose, but we found that some places in Tallinn Old Town closed quite early. For dinner one night, we went to Farm, a popular local restaurant in the center.
We arrived at 8.30pm, only to be told the kitchen was closing at 9pm, and therefore wasn’t possible. It seemed strange given the many empty tables we saw ahead, plus the website also stating 11pm as closing time. The hostess explained that the restaurant does close at 11pm but the kitchen earlier. She asked us to book for the next evening and to arrive earlier to secure a table. Lesson learnt.
I advise making dinner reservations, especially at the more popular restaurants. You can take your chances and just turn up, but you may be left feeling disappointed and hungry too.
Make a dinner reservation to avoid disappointment, and hunger, in Tallinn
Visiting Tallinn for the first time – breakfast places open later
While Tallinn be may a city of great progress, we also found some contradictions. For example, there are many listed places offering breakfast, but some don’t open till around 10.30am or 11am. We stayed near the old town expecting to find many cafes for breakfast. We were wrong.
There was one place in particular I really wanted to try for their pancakes. Unfortunately, we found out they open at 11am, and my stomach just couldn’t wait that long!
We did eventually find a good breakfast place in Tallinn Old Town called Rukis. This intimate café’s actually part of the Farm restaurant group, with a heavenly smell that draws you right in. The menu’s varied with a good mixture of continental and Estonian items. I took the porridge with berry compote, and though big in portion size, it was very delicious.
Start your day with breakfast at Rukis when visiting Tallinn
Visiting Tallinn – booking a ferry to Helsinki from Tallinn
Taking a day trip from Tallinn is a must, and very easy to do too. A popular trip from Tallinn is traveling to Helsinki by ferry — with or without car.
If you’re also planning to make this ferry trip, I recommend booking ferry tickets in advance. Like most forms of transportation, prices can skyrocket the longer you leave it to book. As the locals regularly travel back and forth from Helsinki, they receive excellent discounts for the ferry. That said, unless you know a local that can book it for you, get your tickets ahead of travel.
Take the Tallink, or other ferry services, to travel from Tallinn to Helsinki
Tallinn travel tips – where to find the best viewing points in Tallinn Old Town
As you meander around the streets of the old town, be sure to explore every turn you come across. Because, not only do you get to explore the city, but you’ll also come across several viewing points.
The following places actually have ‘viewing platforms in its name’, so type this into your GPS when in Tallinn.
Patkuli Viewing Platform – best views in Tallinn Old Town
Patkuli Viewing Platform is the first one we came by. From here, you get to admire the colorful rooftops and church spires of Tallinn Old Town. There’s also a souvenir shop just before the observation deck, in case you need to find your bearings.
Visiting Tallinn – admiring the view from the Piiskopi viewing platform
Piiskopi viewing platform – free sights in Tallinn
A second viewing point in Tallinn is Piiskopi viewing platform. The name’s a bit misleading, as it’s not actually a platform, but more the end of a path. Depending on the time, and time of year, you visit, the number of people can vary from few to packed.
From Piiskopi Viewing Platform, you get to see an uninterrupted birds-eye view of Tallinn. Fortunately, there are no viewing binoculars — like the ones we found in Marseille — meaning more space to take photographs. During our visit, we’d arrived just as a group of tourists were going, leaving us plenty of ‘Insta-worthy’ photo opportunities.
Best viewing spots in Tallinn Old Town – Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
Unlike the other 2 viewing platforms, the one at Kohtuotsa has 2 viewing binoculars. The space here resembles more of a courtyard than the others, and is slightly bigger.
We found this to be the busiest viewing platform in Tallinn Old Town. Also, the positioning of the viewing binoculars made it tricky to get good photos, making this my least favorite.
Find the best viewing points in Tallinn to see sights like this…
Be careful where you park – visiting Tallinn
While the locals may be able to speak English, the same doesn’t apply when it comes to their written signs. If you plan to visit places — and you should — outside Tallinn, hiring a car is necessary.
However, one thing they don’t tell you as you drive off into the Tallinn sun, is about parking meters. In some areas we visited, and parked, such as Telliskivi, the meters were in clear sight. In other places, like Pirita, we couldn’t find any in sight, and parked unknowingly in a quiet road.
After an incredible dinner at Tuljak restaurant, and a glorious sunset to match, we came back to find a ticket. Hiding inconspicuously beneath the windscreen wiper was a plastic envelope with ticket inside. Needless to say, it put a downer on the entire evening.
Keep an eye open for the parking meters when visiting Tallinn
Travel to Tallinn – black rye bread is everywhere
You can’t visit Tallinn without trying the traditional black rye bread. It’s a staple in Estonia, and you’ll find it everywhere. Some restaurants, like Farm, serve it with home-churned butter and sea salt.
The black rye bread is also healthier compared to its white counterpart, and keeps you fuller for longer. There’s no room for guilt here, as rye bread’s packed with tons of nutrients, meaning you can also eat more! We enjoyed it so much, we ended up taking two from the airport shop before our departure.
Visiting Tallinn – the delicious black rye bread that’s everywhere in Tallinn
Experience medieval dining – visiting Tallinn
Of all the dining experiences we had in Tallinn, nothing was like our meal at Olde Hansa. A restaurant — and menu — straight from the Middle Ages, it’s the only place in Tallinn where you can eat medieval.
Everything from the menu follows the same recipes from the medieval period. Saying that, Olde Hansa isn’t the place to visit if you’re craving a burger and fries!
From the outside, the building’s exterior instantly pulls you into another era — a feeling that’s reinforced as you enter. Staff dressed in traditional dress hover around diners, bringing over clay mugs filled with home-brewed beer.
What can you eat at Olde Hansa?
For a restaurant focusing on all things medieval, Olde Hansa’s menu should keep everyone happy. Meat eaters can choose from a steak, leg of pork or Himalayan duck. There were no potatoes in this period, so most meals come with vegetables and some sort of grain.
Vegetarians may enjoy the forest mushroom soup, golden lentil pot or oven baked herb and juniper cheese. Olde Hansa also has smaller plates and some interesting desserts too, such as rose pudding, and apple and honey pastries.
Eating as they did in the Middle Agesl at Olde Hansa in Tallinn
Christian denomination churches in Tallinn Old Town – visiting Tallinn
As you begin to become more familiar with Tallinn Old Town, you can’t help but notice the amount of churches. While it may not sound unusual, once you enter the buildings, you’ll see a difference in each layout. Each of the churches follow a different Christian denomination, and the choice is vast.
Many of the churches in Tallinn follow the Lutheran faith, such as the Church of the Holy Spirit. However, you’ll also find those that follow Russian Orthodox (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) and Baptist (St Olaf’s Church). Whether you’re religious yourself doesn’t matter; simply seeing the differences between the churches’ architectural styles and faiths is interesting enough.
Christian denomination churches in Tallinn – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Tallinn travel tips – tap water is safe to drink
Are you the kind of traveler that stocks up on bottled water when you travel? If you answered yes, you’ll be happy to read that you don’t need to do this in Tallinn. Tap water here is clean and is also safe to drink.
It’s a tip that may not be the most important, but one I’m keen to share. Drinking tap water means you get to support sustainable travel by refilling your bottle every time you need it. Also, you save money on buying bottled water at the store, and can instead put it towards something more enjoyable.
Have you visited Tallinn before? If yes, are there other travel tips I should share with others? Let me know in the comments below!
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience; a demographic (late 20s onwards) that enjoys glamping over camping, staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels, sampling the local food and wine, cultural activities, and indulging in a spot of wellness on their travels. Read more here…