Tallinn is one of the finest preserved medieval cities in Europe. But as well as being a magnet for foreign tourists, the exquisite Estonian capital has become a truly international city with many foreign residents from all over the globe now moving here to start a new life.
Life and attractions in Tallinn are exciting, eclectic, and always being reinvented. This is the place where the Nordic world and Eastern Europe collide and something unique and intoxicating is created. From food to sports, and nature to nightlife, here are our tips on where you should visit or what to do in Tallinn, Estonia and why you have to visit.
Attractions in Tallinn
Keep in mind that one of the definite advantages of Tallinn is that the city is comparatively small if we consider other world capital. So, scientific, business, or shopping center, ancient towers and castles, lovely sandy beaches, luxury hotels, and fashionable districts - all this is at hand.
Old Town of Tallinn
The acquaintance with Tallinn should unquestionably begin from the Old Town (Tallinna Vanalinn). This magnificent ensemble of architectural structures of the Middle Ages is the cultural heart of the city. Numerous sights and attractions, including Gothic houses, ancient cathedrals and markets, narrow streets, and fortress walls, will immerse you in the mysterious atmosphere of knights and kings. This architectural monument is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is worth noting that no matter what you decide to go to Tallinn - by train, plane, ferry, or bus - the Old Town is just a stone’s throw away.
One of the most interesting places in the Old Town is Town Hall Square. Splendid at any time, Town Hall Square is full of life and bright activity. Various tour groups, festivals, and celebrations, including the annual Christmas fair, are held there. Moreover, an amazing building in the Gothic style that can astonish the eye of even the seasoned tourist is the only point from which you can contemplate the main steeples of the Old Town.
Toompea Hill is a 20-meter elevation on the Old Town. Due to its adventurous geographical position, Toompea Hill bears its enormous strategic significance and association with prestige and political power since the Medieval period. The most remarkable sight is the beautiful Toompea Castle that is currently used as the house of the Estonian Parliament. Here, you can arrange free-of-charge tours beforehand and even watch the parliament’s sessions from the public gallery. Exciting, isn’t it?
Another noteworthy sight on Toompea Hill is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, finished in 1900 when Estonia was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The Orthodox, five-domed temple built in the Moscow architectural style looks wonderful with its vivid white ornamentation, red walls, and cupolas in the form of onions. Inside, you will reveal a rich collection of fancy mosaics and wooden iconostases. Besides, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is situated near St. Olaf’s Church, the largest medieval structure of the Lower Town in Tallinn. These two places are worth visiting irrespective of your beliefs and views.
Finally, Toompea possesses two viewing platforms worth attention indeed. Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform provides an excellent opportunity to get an unobstructed outlook on bell towers, the harbor, and orange-colored roof tiles. This is the popular spot to take stunning photos for Instagram or just hang out and listen to the background music of local musicians.
The second viewpoint, Patkuli, allows you to contemplate the townscape on the western part of Tallinn. You will also observe the Gulf of Finland with numerous cruise ships.
Mysterious bastion earthwork passages are part of the fortified museum Kiek in de Kök. They were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries to move soldiers, ammunition, and other outfits unnoticed. The passages were also employed to track down the underground mining activities of the enemy.
Here, you should compulsorily visit a remarkable place - the Carved Stone Museum located in the Ingermanland Bastion. This museum exhibits the diverse collection of carved stones of the Tallinn City Museum.
It is worth noting that Kiek in de Kök itself represents an interesting museum comprising four cannon towers, where you can learn about the military history of Estonia and Tallinn.
Telliskivi Creative City
Telliskivi Creative City is perhaps the most famous place in Estonia. It is the former industrial area located in the Kalamaja district and replete with small shops, trendy stores, restaurants, galleries, start-ups, and creative companies. A tourist can find the well-known Juhan Kuus Documentary Photo Centre, Fotografiska Tallinn Photography Museum, Sõltumatu Tatsu Lava theatre, among a few. Moreover, over 800 cultural events are held, and twenty different street artworks are exhibited in Telliskivi Loomelinnak throughout the year.
Kadriorg Park is the most prominent urban and palatial park in Estonia. Since its construction was initiated in 1718, the elements of park design date back to the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The convenient and exciting place to enjoy promenades includes the embankment leading from flowerbeds around Swan Pond to the president’s palace.
Besides, you should visit the Kumu Art Museum, the principal building of the Art Museum of Estonia and one of the most significant exhibition places in Northern Europe. The primary objective of Kumu is to preserve, present, and comprehend Estonian arts created since the 18th century. The museum encourages cultural debates on modern art, thereby becoming a spring of new, bright, and inspirational ideas for many artists.
The second attention-grabbing place is the Kadriorg palace built more than 300 years ago by order of Tsar Peter the Great in honor of his wife, Catherine. The palace has beautiful architecture and houses an art collection. Moreover, here, you can find a lovely garden.
Within Kadriorg Park, you will also discover the Mikkeli Museum, Kadriorg Art Museum, Presidential palace, and monuments to different eminent cultural figures.
Estonian History Museum
Estonian History Museum presents an enormous exhibition of diverse exponents, covering 11 centuries of Estonian history. Located in The Great Guild Hall built in the 15th century, the museum attempts to convey the spirit of the ancient and medieval epochs, recounting activities, events, and instruments of that time. For instance, the Gun Room is dedicated to wars, while the exhibition ‘Power of the Elite’ tells about medieval trade and the activities of the Great Guild.
Estonian Open Air Museum
If you want to dive into the state’s rich history and heritage, you unquestionably should visit the Estonian Open Air Museum. The museum, comprising over 80 buildings, provides a comprehensive insight into the lives of families from different social strata residing within the 18–20th centuries. Here, you can find old mills, schoolhouse, shops, church, inn, fishing shed, and other interesting facilities.
Furthermore, the museum offers various entertainments, such as riding horses and testing traditional Estonian dishes.
Tallinn TV Tower
The Tallinn Television Tower is the tallest construction in Estonia, amounting to 314 meters high. Due to its height and inside attractions, the TV Tower has become tourists’ favorite cultural and leisure center. In particular, a mesmerizing view from 170 meters, a mind-blowing stroll on the edge, a cinema hall, the thought-provoking exhibition “GENE-IUS,” and many others are waiting for you.
It is beneficial indeed to visit the exhibition “GENE-IUS,” narrating everything about your genes and their impact on your appearance, health, and abilities.
Looking for more attractions in Tallinn?
In addition to the attractions mentioned above, the Estonian capital possesses other exciting territories and things deserving your consideration. For instance, alongside the TV Tower, the Tallinn Botanic Garden is situated, which counts over 4,500 types of plants in greenhouses and outdoors. Personally, we think it is sinful to omit the opportunity to visit such a wonderful place.
Besides, if you are interested in the wild world, Tallinn has its own zoo able to grant fascinating impressions. Here, you will have a chance to see not only rare and exotic animals, including golden eagle, gaur, Asiatic lion, or Amur tiger, but also visit SmartZoos, different exhibitions, souvenir shops, and cafeterias.
If you love sweets, we recommend visiting Kalev Chocolate Shop and Workshop in Rotermann Quarter. Besides the vast assortment of delicacies, you will watch a masterclass from genuine professionals and can master the art of making sweets.
Other things to do in Tallinn
Walking and Other Tours
Another means to explore the heritage and richness of Tallinn is to be engaged in walking tours to unfold Old Town’s legends and discover the best sights. In this regard, respectful and experienced guides will give handy tips on restaurants, hotels, must-sees, and other noteworthy issues. We should add that some of the tours are free. So, you should use this great chance!
It is worth noting that in addition to walking excursions, you will also find bike tours. In this way, you will have an opportunity to learn about the main parts and attractions of Tallinn within only 3-4 hours.
Moreover, there is Husky Dog Sledding allowing you to gain a sizeable portion of chilling adrenaline while Husky dogs rush through the snowy area. It is going to be a challenge worth trying!
Tallinn for foodies
A few years ago, dining options in Tallinn were, we might say, rather ‘limited’. But with the diverse culinary demands from millions of annual tourists as well as the permanent foreign residents from every conceivable corner of the globe, who now call this gorgeous Hanseatic city home, the dining options have flourished beyond all recognition and in 2020 are breathtaking. Indeed, such is the competition for your tummy that restaurants close down and new establishments open up on an almost daily basis.
Once the major submarine shipyard of Imperial Russia, Noblessner district has now turned into a seafront quarter that is open to the people and to the sea. Here you will find some wonderful dining options while the interiors of many restaurants here are simply stunning and wouldn’t be out of place in central Stockholm or Oslo.
Rotermann Quarter is another district packed with excellent eating options and attractive terraces. Definitely a place you have to visit to have a great time sitting back and enjoying delicious food.
Frankly speaking, Tallinn is not rife with dining options. Nevertheless, some excellent restaurants distinguish among other gastronomic facilities in the three Baltic states: Olde Hansa, Rataskaevu 16, Pegasus, Mon Repos, and Ribe. These establishments will give you incredible gustatory delight by offering dishes from traditional Estonian, Indian, and medieval cuisines.
Local Italians meanwhile recommend Amalfi and Kaja Pizza. If you are looking for Asian fusion, there are many you can’t go wrong with - Lendav Taldrik. Odeon, Boheem, Must Puudel, and Peatus all also regularly receive glowing reviews, which all can be found in or near Telliskivi creative city. Those interested in traditional Estonian cuisine might want to try the Golden Piglet Inn, while quirky local offerings are available at Balti Jaama Turg, where you can find one of the best fresh food markets and food stalls in Estonia. Food safety and freshness is extremely important in Estonia, so you can always find the best fruits and vegetables here.
Going out in Tallinn
If you're in the mood to dance and party, then Tallinn is for you. Nighttime Tallinn is a choice of traditional hits such as Hollywood (young crowd), Venus (crowded parties), Privé (very good DJ sets) and Studio mostly centred on the Old Town, or the hip and happening Telliskivi Creative Hub, which is full of partying locals. Here, a cornucopia of bars, concerts, clubs, street entertainment, street food kiosks, and even family events are to be enjoyed in Tallinn’s current favourite nightlife spot. The newly opened Fotografiska (sister to the one in Sweden) and the indie Sveta Baar are two establishments well worth your consideration. Meanwhile, St. Vitus, Pööbel, and Põhjala Brewery & Tap Room are all recommended by the city’s beer connoisseurs.
Opera, classical music, theatre (von Krahl, the Russian Theatre, and the Estonian National opera), and art-house cinema (Artis and Sõprus) are among the many other nighttime pleasures that can be enjoyed in Tallinn.
Sports in Tallinn
Sports enthusiasts will likely not be disappointed with the options available to them in Tallinn. From March until November there is always a football game to be found in the Estonian capital. Some of the big matches to look out for in the Premium Liiga are Flora-Levadia, Levadia-Kalju, Kalju-Flora. The good news is that these games often take place in the fantastic national stadium, the A. Le Coq Arena. The Snelli Stadium, under the shadow of the medieval Old Town upper city walls, is the city’s most scenically located football pitch.
During the cold winter months, those wishing to stay indoors can enjoy basketball at the Saku Suurhall and ice hockey at Tondiraba Jäähall. As well as domestic games, there is plenty of international competition on offer in these sports.
Other popular sporting pastimes in Estonia include floorball, cross country skiing, cycling, rally driving, and fishing. Estonia’s stunning outdoor nature ensures locals are always out playing sport twelve months a year and in all weathers.
The newly improved promenade Reidi road, linking the city centre to Pirita, is popular with runners (and electric scooters), while Pirita itself has an attractive beach, river, and walking trails with watersports and biking popular here.
Nature in Tallinn
Nature is never far away in Tallinn as the city is surrounded by thick forests (50% of the country is covered by them) and gorgeous beaches. A stroll to Kadriorg is a must, with its handsome gardens, nineteenth-century villas, and forested park. This can also be comfortably reached by tram.
A bit further but still within the city boundaries, is Rocca Al Mare Open Air Museum. This lovely ethnographic museum features many original buildings moved here from the countryside and its 72 hectares are surrounded by beaches and forests. Driving east out of town, you should definitely consider a visit to the stunning Lahemaa National Park. While closer to the city, Pääsküla bog and Pirita beach are also lovely places to hang out.
Art in Tallinn
Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness, Anni Albers famously said, and Kadriorg Park certainly exemplifies this sentiment with Kumu and the Kadriorg art museum, wonderfully combining art exhibitions with one of the most beautiful urban settings in the Baltic states. Kumu showcases art from the 18th century to the modern-day and is surrounded by cafes and gardens.
The Kalamaja district is popular with artists and the more Bohemian minded. This has helped lead to something of a rebirth for the district and now it has become one of the most popular Tallinn haunts to call home and to hang out in. The district is a piece of living art thanks to its wooden architecture but also boasts boutiques, eccentric handicraft shops, and old industrial and wood buildings covered in incredible graffiti.
Fotografiska in Telliskivi a must-visit place for anyone interested in the art of photography.
History in Tallinn
History buffs should make a beeline to the wonderfully charming Kalamaja district, full of old wooden houses before spending a number of hours exploring Tallinn Old Town and Kadriorg. These are one of the most important parts to explore in Tallinn to have a great time. Every part has various attractions you can go see and investigate to get a view of Tallinn. For example in the centre of the Old Town you can find The Town Hall. Near you can also find Kiek in de Kök, the museum fulled with mysterious underground passages.
There is history on offer at every turn in this remarkable city, from medieval churches to reminders of the Soviet past. Churches and the Tallinn City Museum is a good starting point for understanding the rich history of this city. Did you know that the St. Olaf's church used to be the tallest building in the world? The Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom, Estonian Maritime Museum. The Seaplane Harbour is the musem of rich history and also usually on most visitor’s wish lists.
Patarei Sea Fortress and former prison housed prisoners from 1919 until the turn of the twenty-first century and has remained pretty much as it was during the Soviet occupation. It is a fascinating place to discover some sense of how Soviet prison life once was.
Science in Tallinn
Estonia has gained a reputation around the world in recent years for innovation in science and particularly in technology. For the country that invented Skype, has more startups per person than Silicon Valley, and is now almost universally recognised as the world’s most advanced digital society, it’s not surprising there are some very engaging offerings around town for those with a penchant for science and technology. The top pulls in Tallinn are Lennusadam (seaplane harbour), the Energy Discovery Centre, and the new Proto invention factory in Noblessner district. Proto is superb if you enjoy interactive installations, as is the Energy Discovery Centre - the museum is located in the former 100-year-old Tallinn Power Plant.
Professionally-minded science and technology fans might want to consider TalTech and Tallinn University, both of which have excellent tech faculties and regularly put on talks. Startup scene also offers quirky events including Latitude59, bringing together new entrepreneurs and technology enthusiasts from around the world.
If you're looking for adventures and a lot to explore, you can plan your trip with various things to do in Tallinn mentioned above.
Photo sources: Visit Tallinn