On your own in Tallinn? Even if you’ve got a tightly packed conference programme and a half dozen meetings lined up, you might still find yourself with a few spare hours in an unfamiliar city. Here’s a handy guide we’ve designed for the individual visitor, pointing you to the best ways to spend your precious limited time.
Stroll through Old Town
Tallinn’s fairytale medieval quarter is truly what defines the city, so if you only have time to see one thing during your visit, this should be it. Making your way through the cobblestone streets of Old Town will give you a sense of the city’s 800-year-long history, particularly its heyday as Hanseatic trade town in the 14th-16th centuries. Old Town’s colourful merchant houses and Gothic churches are encircled by the Town Wall and numerous defensive towers, creating endless photo ops. You can start by heading up the main tourist thoroughfare, Viru Street, to reach the heart of Old Town – Town Hall Square. To see some hidden gems, walk past the knit market on Müürivahe to get to the Katariina Käik craft lane, or squeeze your way along the towers on Laboratoorium Street.
Catch the view from Toompea
From the lower part of Old Town, a short climb up Pikk Jalg or Lühike Jalg brings you to Toompea Hill and some of Tallinn’s best-known sights: the onion-domed Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral, Toompea Castle (now Estonia’s parliament house) and Toomkirik church. But the real reason to hike up here is the view. The viewing platform at the end of Kohtu Street offers a picture-perfect panorama that includes the red-tiled rooftops of Old Town as well as the modern city centre beyond.
Feel the cool neighbourhood vibes
Tallinn’s atmosphere changes radically just outside the walls of Old Town, and visiting one of the hip, up-and-coming neighborhoods here will give you a taste of the city’s modern edge. The Rotermanni District, sandwiched between Old Town and the Passenger Port, is a historical factory area that has been revamped into an ultra-cool commercial/cultural zone. Its blend of century-old red brick and cutting-edge architectural designs lends a funky, futuristic feel to the maze of shops and restaurants you’ll find here.
For an edgier, more local experience, head to the Telliskivi area, just beyond the Balti Jaama Market (itself worth a look). The Telliskivi Creative City is a reclaimed industrial quarter that’s bursting with artistic and social energy. Startups, design shops, theatres and cafés all coexist among its patchwork of newly-restored structures. Drop by during the evening if you want to sip craft beer with the hipsters or try one of the many innovative restaurants that call Telliskivi home.
Get introspective in Kadriorg
If you’re a person who cherishes history, art and all things beautiful, definitely put a visit to Kadriorg Park on your agenda. This quiet, leafy oasis in central Tallinn is loved for its flower beds, walking paths, wooden villas, fountains and Swan Pond, all of which create a sense of serene, aristocratic refinement. It was Russian Tsar Peter the Great who established the park in the early 1700s when he had the beautiful Kadriorg Palace built here as his summer retreat. Today, the palace is home to one of the country’s prime art museums. That, along with the must-see KUMU and the neighbourhood’s other art galleries, makes Kadriorg a prime destination for culture creatures.
Hit the beach
Pirita Beach, Tallinn’s favourite spot for waterside fun, can be an sightseeing option all year-round thanks to the great views of the city you’ll get from here. The nicely forested area is also the sight of the massive Pirita Convent, lying in haunting ruins since 1575.
Pick an attraction that strikes your fancy
Some of Tallinn’s most fascinating niche sights are located outside the city centre, so you can plan to visit one or more of them based on your schedule and interests. If maritime history is what floats your boat, set a course for the Seaplane Harbour. Its vast hangars house an extensive, high-tech museum that’s big enough to include an entire 1930s-era submarine, while additional ships can be toured in the ‘floating exhibit’ docked outside. A curious mix of 1980s nostalgia and cutting-edge innovation can be found at the Tallinn TV Tower. Measuring 314 metres in total, it’s Estonia’s tallest building and offers great views from its observation deck. Maarjamäe Palace is the place to go to learn about Estonia’s struggle for freedom and its development over last 100 years. A film museum is also part of the history centre here. To relive the rural life of yesteryear, head to the Estonian Open Air Museum, a collection of restored farms, windmills and other structures from centuries gone by. If you prefer to sample a little bit of everything and get a feel for the various sections of the city, try out one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours.
Take in a bit of culture
Attending an opera, ballet or classical concert is a sophisticated to enjoy an evening while getting in touch with the local culture scene. As a bonus, any of these options will let you peak inside the beautiful Estonia Theatre building, a true national treasure. A complete list of cultural happenings in the city (and country) can be found at culture.ee.
Hoping to update your look or bring back something for the family? Old Town, as you might guess, has no shortage of souvenir shops. For authenticity, we recommend visiting the ever-popular knit market along the Town Wall adjacent Viru street, or the nearby Hää Eesti Asi shop, which specialises in traditional Estonian food and handicrafts (there’s also an outlet at the airport). More local shopping experiences can be found in Telliskivi, the Rotermanni District and the Balti Jaama Market. Large, central shopping malls close to the major hotels are the Viru Centre (home of Estonia’s own Kaubamaja department store) and Stockmann. Both are open until 9pm, 7 days a week. If you’re stuck for ideas about what to buy, check out our Souvenir Hunting Guide.
Grab a bite
Great news for those looking to fill their bellies: high-quality restaurants are generally more affordable in Tallinn than in Europe’s other capitals. To experience something unique, seek out one specialising in Estonia’s take on New Nordic cuisine. You’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants in Old Town and the abovementioned Rotermanni and Telliskivi areas. For dining with a view, try the Radisson’s rooftop restaurant Lounge 24 or Swissôtel’s Horisont.
Stay longer, see more
If you manage to extend your visit a couple of days (or longer, if you’re lucky), you can visit the charming cities and little towns that the rest of the country has to offer. Most are quickly reachable by bus, making day trips feasible. The history-packed university town of Tartu is loved for its Old Town, tranquil river and laid-back, student vibe. The enchanting seaside resorts of Pärnu and Haapsalu offer a timeless brand of relaxation, while Viljandi serves as the ultimate southern Estonian escape. Narva, sitting on the border with Russia, gives an altogether different perspective of the Estonia’s place in Europe. And keep in mind that Finland’s buzzing capital, Helsinki, is just a 2-hour ferry ride from Tallinn – perfect if you want to pop over for lunch and a bit of sightseeing.