I think Tallinn is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Estonia’s capital is not just a gorgeous city, but it’s full of life.
There are so many things to do in Tallinn that you can easily come here for a few days and not be bored for a second. (In fact, you’ll probably be planning your return visit before you even leave!)
However, I don’t hear Tallinn talked about by other travellers in the same way other European capital cities are.
Perhaps it seems far away because it’s right up in the corner of the continent. Or perhaps it’s seen as being too cold (and, in winter, I would agree with that!)
But put all of that aside because there’s no good reason to avoid Tallinn. Aside from all the cultural things to do in Tallinn, it’s also got a great atmosphere and is full of cool places to eat and drink.
It’s one of my favourite cities in Europe!
So, I want to give you some tips from the time I have spent here so that you can plan a visit to Tallinn yourself.
One of my first recommendations is to take a tour when you arrive to learn all about the city and see the highlights. There are some really good local tours here:
With some many things to see, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fit them all in. But let me share a comprehensive list of things to do in Tallinn so you can choose from them.
Things to do in Tallinn
These recommendations for what to do in Tallinn are in no particular order. However, I have noted when things are nearby and it may make sense to combine them.
I’ve also put together this map so you can see where everything is in Tallinn in relation to the other places.
Also, if you’re particularly keen on doing a lot of sightseeeing, I would recommend buying the Tallinn Card which gives you free entry to A LOT of sights, and will save you a fair amount of money.
Historic sites in Tallinn
Tallinn Town Hall
It’s hard to miss the Town Hall, right in the centre of the Tallinn Old Town. Even if you’re not trying, you’ll probably wander past here at some time and take some photos.
It’s the oldest town hall in the Baltics and Scandinavia, having been built in 1404. It’s worth going inside and having a look through the regally-decorated rooms.
St. Nicholas’ Church
Near the Town Hall, you’ll find St Nicholas’ Church, originally built in the 1230s. It’s one of the most important religious buildings in Tallinn.
These days it function mainly as a museum of religious art. The most famous piece is a spooky painting called ‘Dance of Death’ by Bernt Notke.
St Mary’s Cathedral
The oldest church in Tallinn (and mainland Estonia) is the impressive St Mary’s Cathedral, built in 1233. Although it was originally Catholic, it’s now part of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
There are a lot of artworks on display inside, as well as other historical artefacts. You can also go up the 69-metre bell tower for some lovely views.
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
On top of Toompea Hill, St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands out with its onion-shaped domes. It is Estonia’s main Russian Orthodox Cathedral and an important site of Tallinn.
The cathedral was built in 1900 when Estonia was controlled by Russia. Inside, you’ll find a stunning collection of mosaics and other artworks filling the space.
St Olaf’s Church
You’ll be able to see St Olaf’s Church from across Tallinn because of its enormous spire that is 124 metre high. Some people say it was once the tallest building in the world, but that claim is a bit controversial.
Either way, you should definitely go in and climb to the top of the spire for incredible views across the Old Town. Be warned, though – there are a lot of steps!
Kiek in de Kök Fortifications
The Old Town of Tallinn was once protected by a large stone wall and defensive towers – and much of it is still here. At the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications, you can go into one of the towers that has been converted into a museum.
The exhibits are really good and you’ll get an excellent idea of the Medieval history of Tallinn and interesting information about the walls and towers.
Right next to the Kiek in de Kök Museum is the Maiden’s Tower and most people would visit the two together. You can wall along some of the wall and see more of the tower system.
There’s also a nice cafe here and it’s a good place to have a rest. Often there are also activities in the courtyard.
Another section of the defensive wall that you can access is at Nunna Tower. Walking along the wall here will take you to three towers in total and give you some nice views back into the city and to the park on the other side.
I don’t think it’s the best section and, seeing as there are entrance fees for each one, it may not be worth it. But it is free with the Tallinn Card.
Epping Tower offer another chance to access the fortifications and this is a bit more interesting – particularly for children.
In this 15th century tower, you can dress up in medieval armour and use replica weapons. There are also some exhibits here that present a bit more history about Tallinn.
One last part of the city wall that I want to mention is at Hellemann Tower. Once you climb up the tower, you can walk along the wall for about 200 metres and see some of the other smaller towers in this stretch.
It’s on a different side of the city to all the others that I’ve already mentioned so you’ll get a different perspective when it comes to the views.
St John’s Church
While I mentioned the city’s main churches earlier, I want to also quickly point out another couple that are worth visiting. The first is St John’s Church, which is a yellow neo-Gothic building in Freedom Square.
It was built in the mid-19th century and has a slightly brighter feel than most of the older churches in the Old Town.
Holy Spirit Church
St John’s Church was built to accommodate the growing congregation at the 14th-century Holy Spirit Church, which still stands and has quite a remarkable interior.
It’s worth visiting to see the carved wood interior and the panels showing different scenes from the Bible. The painted clock on the church’s facade is also a highlight.
This stunning building just outside the Old Town is one of the architectural marvels of Tallinn. The Opera House is designed in the neo-classical style and was opened in 1913.
One wing of the building has a theatre and the other has a concert hall. I would certainly recommend seeing if there’s a performance while you’re in town because you can often get quite affordable tickets on the day.
KGB Prison Cells
Although Tallinn is a very liveable city these days, it was not so long along that Estonia was under Soviet oppression. The KGB Prison Cells represent one of the most awful parts of that period.
In this small site, you can go into the prison cells were suspected enemies were interrogated. There are some exhibits about what happened here but just visiting will be enough to show you how bad it was.
While I’m on this topic, there is also this very interesting tour about the Soviet times, which will give you an insight into some of Tallinn’s history.
Although just as unpleasant, another Soviet prison at Patarei was at least in a much better location. The Patarei Prison was an enormous building on the coast, just outside the Old Town.
Patarei Prison was originally built as a fortress by the Russians in the mid-1800s and used as a prison from about 1920 until it was abandoned
Until recently, you could go inside and explore it all on your own but it’s now closed to the public. I mention it because you can still have a look from the outside and you can see more of my photos of Patarei Prison here, from when I went inside.
When the Russian tsar Peter the Great took control of Estonia in the early 1700s, he built this palace in honour of his wife Catherine – although it’s said that she was never particularly interested in it. It’s hard to see why, because it’ a beautiful building.
The style of the current palace is from an 1827 renovation, although there are still quite a few original elements. These days it’s used to house an art collection so it’s worth visiting to see the artworks and the building.
Peter the Great House
Right near Kadriorg Palace is a much smaller building that is basically a cottage. This the the house where Peter the Great lived when he was in Tallinn before the palace was ready.
It feels quite humble inside – not what you would expect for a Russian tsar. But obviously the items he had here in this house are still very special and it’s interesting to see.
And, although you can visit all of these places independently, I think you get a lot more out of the experience if you have a guide.
For an excellent general sightseeing tour, I would recommend this one. But there are also some tours that focus on particular elements that you might find interesting:
Museums in Tallinn
Lennusadam (Sea Plane Harbour) Maritime Museum
I’m going to start right at the top because as far as museuems go, this is easily the best one in Tallinn. The enormous hangars that were once used for seaplanes has been transformed into a high-tech maritime museum.
While there are lots of planes and ships to see, the highlight is the 600 ton Lembit submarine that was still in use until 2011. You can go inside and explore the different sections.
If you have a particular interest in the museum, you can arrange a guided tour in advance.
Vabamu – The Museum of Occupations and Freedom
The Vabamu museum has been recently renovated and the new permanent exhibition does an excellent job of telling the stories of Estonia’s occupations by different countries.
You’ll go through the building with an interactive audioguide that senses where you are. As well as hearing about the history, individual people will tell you about their own experiences.
Estonian History Museum – Great Guild Hall
The Great Guild Hall was built in the 15th century and was from where members of the guild controlled the Town Council. It’s an interesting building on its own but the exhibitions inside certainly add to the visit.
The museum covers Estonia’s history from the prehistoric era up to the end of the 20th century. It shows the changes of society with interesting displays and some special sections focusing on weapons and coins.
Tallinn City Museum
You’ll find the Tallinn City Museum in an old merchant house from the 14th century, which has some charming architectural elements to it.
The exhibition itself has a fair amount to see but there isn’t a lot of explanation. If you have an interest in some of the detail of Tallinn’s history, it’s worth a visit, but I don’t think you’re missing out if you skip it otherwise.
Carved Stone Museum
Visiting the Carved Stone Museum is as much about the setting as it is the exhibits. It’s located underground in one the 17th century Bastion Passages, which were built so people could secretly go under the defensive walls.
On display are all sorts of carved stones show coats of arms, portals, and even tombstones. Not only are they decorative, but they tell interesting stories about the city.
NUKU Museum of Puppet Arts
You might think that a museum about puppets is aimed at children – and they’ll certainly love it – but it’s also surprisingly enjoyable for adults.
The museum has puppets from all across Estonia, sets for puppet shows, and other interactive exhibits where you can learn more about the theatre. There’s even a ‘horror world’ if you’re brave enough!
Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood
This is a fascinating museum and, even though I thought I would have no interest, I stayed here much longer than expected.
The museum has exhibits of various different types of orders that are given out in countries across Europe, including the Order of the Garter and the Order the British Empire.
It’s one of the largest collections in Europe and there is lots of excellent information explaining it all. Pop in and you might also be surprised at how interesting you find it!
Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design
There is so much to see in this museum and, whatever you’re expecting, it’s going to be much better!
The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design has a great collection of things that have been made in Estonia over the years. This means products like ceramics, jewellery, books, and furniture.
It’s presented well and there’s lots of detail. It would be worth you time having a look.
Maarjamäe Palace – Estonian History Museum
The Maarjamäe Palace is a little bit out of town but it’s easy enough to get there by public transport. The exhibition about the centenary of Estonia may not be worth the effort, if you’re not a history buff. But there’s something else cool here.
It’s the collection of old Soviet-era statues that the museum has. I actually visited a few years ago when they were just strewn around and you can see more of my photos from then. But now they are displayed very neatly.
Estonian Film Museum
The Estonian Film Museum is in the same complex as Maarjamäe Palace and is also probably only worth visiting if you have a particular interest in the topic.
Although some of the museum is dedicated to local Estonian cinema, there is a decent permanent exhibition about the film-making process. It will particularly appeal to families.
Museum of Estonian Architecture
The Museum of Estonian Architecture is quite small but its collection does a good job of showing a range of architectural styles that have influenced Estonia. It also has a scale model of central Tallinn.
The museum is inside the Rotermann Salt Storage building, which is an interesting sight in itself.
Cultural sights in Tallinn
Tallinn Art Hall
Tallinn has always had a creative streak but I don’t think it’s ever had as many art galleries and cultural spaces as it currently does.
One of the most interesting places to visit is the Tallinn Art Hall, just off Freedom Square. It always has different exhibitions, presenting a range of artists from Estonia and other countries.
The building is also great so don’t miss the cool 1930s facade when you’re going in.
As the name suggests, this gallery is dedicated to Adamson-Eric, an Estonian artist who died in 1968. He worked in a range of media, including oil painting, paintings on ceramics, and furniture design.
The museum is in a small house in the centre of the Old Town and displays his works well. It’s a great collection to see, even if you don’t know much about his work.
Kumu – Estonian Art Museum
Kumu is not just the largest art gallery in Estonia, it’s also the most innovative. The design of the building is a piece of art in itself, built into the side of a limestone cliff.
The collection has Estonian works from the 18th century through to modern day. The classical and the contemporary art is presented with context and there’s also an interesting section about the Soviet era.
Very close to Kumu is another art gallery called the Mikkel Museum. This is much smaller and has an emphasis on foreign art.
In particular, the collection covers antique Chinese porcelain, Italian engravings, and Flemish and Dutch paintings.
When you hear the name Kadriorg, it’s normal to think of the palace and the park. But there’s also a neighbourhood here called Kardiorg and it’s fascinating.
I would recommend wandering through it and looking at the wooden architecture of the houses here. They have wonderful designs and are painted in different colours. There are also some cool little cafes here.
Shopping at Telliskivi
This old factory complex has been rejuvenated into an area called Telliskivi Creative City. One of the things it’s now known for are all of its little vintage shops with boutique clothing, homemade crafts, fair trade products, and all sorts of other things you might like.
There are also regular flea markets and you’ll often find art exhibitions or performances going on as well. It’s definitely a really cool neighbourhood to hang out.
Views in Tallinn
Kohtuotsa viewing platform
There are quite a few places where you can get different perspectives of Tallinn, but my favourite is the Kohtuotsa Viewing platform. You can look right down into the Old Town and see the spires of the churches reaching up.
There are places to eat and drink here so it can also be a good place to have a rest. It does get busy, though, so you may prefer to take your photos and then go to one of the quieter viewpoints on Toompea Hill.
Patkuli viewing platform
The best spot in the Old Town to see the Town Wall and towers is at the Patkuli viewing platform.
It’s on the north side of Toompea Hill and you can also see the Kalamaja region and the main train station to the left.
There’s also a set of steps down the limestone cliff face here, if you’re looking for a shortcut to get back down to sea level.
Tallinn TV Tower
The TV Tower is Estonia’s tallest building so it’s no surprise that you’ll get amazing views from here. Although the tower is 314 metres high, the viewing platform is at 170 metres… but, it’s still really good.
There is also a 3D film about the tower and an interactive exhibition. There are also often special events held here.
Tallinn’s TV Tower is about 10 kilometres from the city centre but you can easily get out there with public transport. You can buy a fast-lane ticket in advance and, if you’re brave enough, make a booking to walk on the edge!
Right next to the TV Tower is the Tallinn Botanic Garden and so you can easily combine the two.
It’s got more than 4,500 types of plants spread through greenhouses, special sections, and out in the open. You’ll get a free audioguide which is useful for exploring (and knowing which are the poisonous plants to avoid!).
Walk around the coast
Tallinn has some stunning coastline and I have to give credit where credit is due, they’ve done a great job of creating paths so you can enjoy the water views.
There’s a good walk you can do from the Maritime Museum to the cruise terminal. Or you can go to Pirita Promenade where a paved pathway gives you good views of the Old Town in the distance.
Slightly further afield, at Rocca al Mare there’s a promenade that goes through a forested residential area, connecting the two beaches of Stroomi and Kakumäe.
Although I mentioned both Kadriorg Palace and the surrounding neighbourhood earlier, it’s worth telling you about the park surrounding it as well.
The park stretches out for about 70 hectares and the landscaping takes inspiration from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Particular highlights are the flower beds around Swan Pond, the gazebo in the middle of the water, and the monuments to Estonian cultural figures.
Eating & Drinking in Tallinn
Have a drink by the water
In summer, the days are long and you need to make the most of the evening sunshine. That’s why you’ll always find people along the coast having a drink or a meal.
You can get some wine or beer from the supermarket, go to a restaurant, or find one of the pop-up bars that appear during the busy periods.
For something casual, I would recommend a cafe called Klaus Kohvik, or the seafood restaurant on the opposite side of the street. A nice place but a bit out of town is a restaurant called Paat. Or for something a bit fancier, you could go to Tuljak or one of the other options around there.
Baltic Station Market
This market has been recently renovated and has a great selection of local food and drink. It’s not enormous but it’s right next to the main train station, not too far from the Old Town, so is a good place to stop if you’re in the area.
There are really decent street food vans but you can also buy some local produce to take back and cook, if you’re renting an apartment. There’s a brewery too, which is always welcome!
Telliskivi Creative City
Earlier I mentioned Telliskivi as a place to go shopping – but it’s also an awesome place to eat and drink. In this old factory complex, there are now quite a few bars and restaurants.
Some feel very bohemian and serve cheap beers. At the other end of the scale, you have excellent food at hip restaurants… although the prices are still very reasonable.
I would definitely suggest you plan to spend at least one evening in Telliskivi for drinks and dinner.
A great way to see a wide selection of the best food and drink in Tallinn is with a food tour. Let a local show you around and introduce you to some of the secret spots (otherwise it’s so easy just to end up at tourist restaurants).
If you have a particular interest in craft beer, there’s a great beer tasting tour. Or there are some fun food options here:
A rooftop drink
And, finally, why not splash out for an overpriced cocktail at one of the best views in Tallinn. The rooftop bar of the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel as a reputation as being the best in the city – and I think it’s probably fair.
The bar is called Lounge24 and it’s worth going up and having a drink just so you can look out over this wonderful city and wonder why you hadn’t come here earlier!!
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TALLINN
Although there’s more affordable accommodation in the suburbs, I recommend staying in the historic centre for the atmosphere.
There’s a great backpacker vibe at Tabinoya – and you can’t beat the location.
If you’re on a budget, I think Hotel Bern is great value for the historic centre.
For a gorgeous boutique experience, I suggest St. Petersbourg Hotel.
And there are a few nice luxury options, but I think Schlössle Hotel is one of the best.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT ESTONIA?
To help you plan your trip to Estonia:
Let someone else do the work for you:
You may also want to consider taking a tour of Estonia, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.
I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and they have a great tour of Estonia.
Have a look at:
- Baltic Adventure (13 days)
When I travel internationally, I always get insurance. It’s not worth the risk, in case there’s a medical emergency or another serious incident. I recommend you should use World Nomads for your trip.