Tallinn is a very inspiring city that unites world heritage sites dating many centuries back and a modern corporate quarter that produces a big number of startups, the architecture and culture that was influenced by many powerful countries throughout centuries and technological progress achieved after independence, museums and trendy social events for any taste. There are so many reasons to fell in love with this city! If you are visiting Tallinn for the first time, I recommend reserving at least two full days to explore it. I spent more and never had “enough” feeling! There are plenty interesting places to visit and things to do in Tallinn. The time required for the trip depends on how much of a walking person you are. I will suggest approximate itinerary as a base and you can look into your areas of interest.
Day one: Tallinn Old Town
One of the days you can spend in the Old town, exploring small streets, history, and heritage sights that it offers to its visitors. The Old town is a pride of Tallinn listed in UNESCO heritage sights since 1997. The area has two parts: the Upper Town (Toompea) and Lower Town. The Upper Town used to be an administrative center of the country, while the Lower Town was an area where merchants and craftsmen lived.
I would suggest starting your journey at the tourist information center. It is located close to the Vabaduse Valjak (Freedom square) at Niguliste 2. There are many freebies available for tourists in the center like maps, city guides, places to visit and even small discount flyers to some museums. They will be also selling a Tallinn Card – the common card for museums, sights and public transport. Though I haven’t purchased this card, it might be useful for you. To check if you need it, you can select places you would like to visit so the website can calculate how much you will save with the Tallinn card. One of the things I love about Estonia, you can find all required information online.
Tallinn free walking tour
If you are a budget traveler, I would suggest joining Tallinn free walking tour. It starts every day at noon from the tourist information center and lasts around two hours. It’s actually one of the best city tours I’ve been part of so far. It gives a good introduction to the history of Estonia as well as covers many places of historical and cultural significance in Tallinn. This tour might help you as well plan better your stay in Tallinn.
Maybe because it’s a youth-run initiative, all the information was presented in a very dynamic, at times fun and easy to remember way. I was part of a tour led by Heli. She is a very knowledgeable and bubbly personality, who managed to keep the attention of a group over 30 people during the whole tour. During my stay I met eventually several guides from the same group, they all happened to be helpful, easy going and opened to questions. I strongly recommend this experience.
[If you have never been part of such tours: It’s a free tour and no one will ask for money, though it will be a nice gesture to leave tips, especially if you find the tour helpful].
After the tour, you will have another half of the day to visit places of your interest in the Old Tallinn. This area has a lot to offer to any traveler.
Though Old town occupies significant space on the Tallinn map, you will be able to explore its streets within one hour. Additional time depends on the number of places you would like to visit: e.g. Town Hall, Cathedral, St. Olaf Church, view platforms, etc. Most of the tourist places you will find on the TripAdvisor are in the Old Town, thus they are really close to each other.
Important fact to consider: Old town is basically a tourist area. There are not so many local people there unless there is some event organized in the area. Cafes, shops, and souvenir boutiques are targeting mainly tourists. This being said, there are many nice shops and cafes, though if you are traveling on the budget, you will find much better deals outside the Old City.
Day two: Kadriorg park, explore Tallinn city
On the other day, you can visit Kadriorg district. There are several interesting places starting with a royal palace constructed by Peter the Great till the lush gardens. If you have ever visited Saint Petersburg and its suburbs, you will see the exterior and interior similarities in the palace architecture. If you are lucky with the weather, I strongly suggest taking a walk in the area. There is a great palace garden, park, KUMU art museum. At some half, an hour distance there is a Song Festival Grounds that have a national significance for Estonia.
From the Song Grounds, you can exit to the seaside, see the port and take a walk near the sea. If you are a fan of modern architecture you can walk through the Rotermann quarter. It’s on the way to the Old Town. This district served as a place for factories and warehouses in the past. During last ten years, it was transformed into a modern popular shopping and restaurant area. It’s just nearby the Old Town, thus it creates a contrast in architectural looks and styles.
Mentioned above points are the bare minimum which I would suggest to visit. If you have extra time, there are many more interesting areas to explore in Tallinn: Kalamaja, Pirita, Rocca al Mare.
Make a cultural plan for the evening
In addition to your daily program, don’t forget to plan out your evenings. Tallinn is a dynamic city where are happening different social and cultural events. In many articles, I keep promoting advice to connect with local people. They will make your experience greater and more memorable! In one of the evenings, we went to the beach area in Tallinn – there was a Reggae party. In the other evening, there was a jazz concert that was pretty cool. Check more events that are happening in Tallinn.
Where to eat in Tallinn?
Tallinn is all about atmosphere and it is reflected in interiors of its cafes and restaurants. Of course, you would like to try something traditional (because Eastern European cuisine is one of the best in the world – I’m biased :D). If you are in Old Town, pay a visit to Rataskaevu 16 – it’s a restaurant that can introduce you to local food. Also, if you are visiting Tallinn in the cold weather, don’t hesitate to savor the atmosphere of the charming cafes in the city.
If you are on a budget, do check-out LIDO – this is one of the best places to try the traditional food on the budget. It has a concept of a canteen, where you can put a bit of everything on your plate. I’ve taken several meals there and everything was so yummy and homey.
Transportation in Tallinn
If you are planning to move by yourself around Tallinn, I would suggest taking a transportation card. You can purchase it at any kiosk. The card costs 2 EUR. You can receive this money back by returning a card at a City Government Customer Service desk at Vabaduse Valjak at the end of your trip. If you are planning to travel around Tallinn it quite makes sense to take one. The card options are available for 1, 3, 5, 30 days. I’ve taken for five days for 6 EUR. You can also purchase a one-way ticket from the driver for 2 EUR. You can buy as well a ticket in advance for 1.10 EUR. If you stay few days, this card comes to be a very good deal.
There is a local transport map which has information about stations, types of transport, timings, advised routes and other useful information about local traveling.
Hope this post will serve as a base intro to Tallinn. If you would like to get a better understanding of the country, I would suggest going beyond the capital city and explore other places in Estonia.
If you have been in Tallinn, what other useful information would you share?