Explore the Unique Medieval World of Tallinn, Estonia
Updated: May 5
Tallinn is a medieval paradise, which was perfect for me! Walking through the streets of the old town was like walking through history. There were no modern buildings to ruin the view, many of the shops and restaurants had a traditional feel to them, and there were loads of markets to get yourself lost in. Depending when you visit (we were there in July), queues can be quite long to get inside the attractions. I booked some of my tickets online ahead of time with Tiqets such as to the KGB Museum, Skywheel, and the Great Guild Hall. In terms of budget travelling, there are a number of free things to do in Tallinn, and even the attractions with entry fees are not very expensive. We stayed for 4 nights and didn't spend a lot outside of food and drinks. For example, if you're looking to do a walking tour in Tallinn, there are loads of free ones available, and some of the guides even dress up in medieval attire!
Getting to Tallinn
Tallinn's airport is located very close to the city centre. Instead of using the bus, we chose to take an Uber so it was more direct. Uber is very cheap in the city, so I'd recommend using it if you need to get further afield or are tired of walking - it won't cost much! In fact we didn't use any of the public transportation in Tallinn, since everything is more or less within walking distance.
Tallinn is a very easy city to navigate. The majority of the main attractions are located in or around the old town, meaning everything is within walking distance. Buses run very frequently for those attractions that are further away, but like I mentioned earlier, we only ever used Uber since it was more direct and very cheap.
The currency in Tallinn (and the whole of Estonia) is the Euro, and they accept credit or debit cards in most places. We had no problems speaking English in any of the areas we visited, but of course it's nice to know a few words in the native tongue to be polite. The main attractions all have guide books and audio guides in various languages, and we found that a lot of shops and restaurants also had English translations available.
From its 14th century medieval fortifications, to its numerous churches, to its large selection of restaurants and cafes, Tallinn has something for everyone. We spent the majority of our time in the old town area, but there are lots of great places to visit outside of that too if you don't mind a bit of a walk. Here are some of the best things to do in Tallinn:
What To Do in Tallinn
Town Hall Square is the heart of Tallinn's old town. No the photo isn't photoshopped. We woke up at sunrise to get this, which I'd recommend doing because it's packed with people at any other time. If you're lucky enough, you'll come across a market taking place which is a good spot to get souvenirs and other goodies. It's also home to Ill Draakon, a medieval themed restaurant where you can get soup or meat dishes for a very cheap price, served by a grumpy tavern owner! They only take cash however, and you need to be prepared to queue as well. Although it's very central, this medieval restaurant is one of Tallinn's hidden gems.
One of the best views of Tallinn's old town is from the Town Hall tower. There's a small entry fee which you can only pay with cash to the lady sitting at the entrance. The top of the tower is very small so the number of people let inside at one time is limited. The first time we went we were turned away and told to come back the following day.
A very interesting and unique thing to do in Tallinn is to walk through the KGB Prison Cells. The former KGB headquarters was where many suspected enemies of the state were imprisoned and tortured before being killed or sent to labour camps in Siberia. It's a very moving experience, and takes no time at all to walk around - a must see in Tallinn.
The SkyWheel is located on top of the Mall of Tallinn, so it's a short bus or Uber ride to get there. The views of the Tallinn region are amazing, and if you go closer to sunrise, it isn't as busy and you can snag your own private compartment like we did!
The Great Guild Hall is located just off of town hall square. This is another unique thing to do in Tallinn, especially if you want to learn more about the cultural history of the city and see some interesting artifacts.
The Seaplane Harbour Museum (Lennusadam) is located on the waterfront, and is a short walk from the old town. This museum is very unique and fun to visit! It's quite interactive and you can even climb inside a submarine, as well as hop aboard a variety of ships outside of the museum in the harbour. Normally this isn't the type of attraction I would go for, but it comes highly recommended and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
You can add Linnahall to your list of free things to do in Tallinn - yay! It translates to city hall, and was once used as an outdoor venue for various public events. It was built to mimic the old town bastions as well as the ancient Mayan temples. Although not in use today, you can still walk around it and if you climb to the top you can get some nice views of the waterfront.
Kalev Chocolate Shop is the best thing to do in Tallinn for chocolate lovers. It's Estonia's most famous chocolate shop, and can be found in the historic Rotermann Quarter. You can take a 2 hour workshop if you have time, or just browse the large variety of chocolates on offer. This area of the city has some great restaurants as well as some of the best shopping in Tallinn.
Speaking of shopping, Lühike jalg has some of the best artisan shops in the city. Walking along this street is one of the top things to do in Tallinn, and definitely shouldn't be missed. Once you make your way to the top you'll come out at an amazing viewpoint in front of the Kiek in de Kök Museum.
Kiek in de Kök Museum and Bastion Tunnels is the best example of the town's fortifications. The ticket includes entry to all of the towers here which is a bonus. There are a number of fortifications around Tallinn that you can pay to enter, but this is the largest and most popular one. You can also go underground and explore the history of the bastion passages too, which is both a very unique experience and a creepy one.
You'll most likely walk through the Danish King's Garden on your way to the bastion entrance. The small square provides great views of the old town from above, and the monks give a little added charm to it. Legend has it that this was the spot where a flag fell from the sky during the Danish invasion and turned the tide of the battle. Just up the hill from here you'll find Toompea Castle and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Located a short walk from the Danish King's Gardens, Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform is one of the best viewpoints in the city. It's also completely overcrowded as well. It's a bit difficult to get a photo here in the summer with all of the crowds, but if you really want one I would say that visiting very early in the morning or later in the evening is probably your best bet.
We came across the Master's Courtyard by chance, and it's easily missed if you aren't expecting it. Centuries ago it used to be a craftsman's courtyard, and is still kept in a similar way now. Sometimes finding hidden gems is the best part of exploring new places.
Getting to walk on top of Tallinn's TV Tower is a really unique experience! I've done the CN Tower walk in Toronto before, so when I came across this I had to give it a go as well. It's northern Europe's tallest open viewing platform, and the views of the Tallinn region are incredible. There are a limited number of people allowed for each tour so try to book ahead. Our tour guide made the experience really fun and gave us some interesting facts about the area. After the tour they'll also email you some photos from your experience FOR FREE.
St Catherine's Passage was one of my favourite spots in the city. It has kept its medieval roots, and is home to a collection of workshops that still use traditional methods to create their goods. Further along the passage are some restaurants if you're feeling a bit peckish.
Kadriorg Palace is a beautiful place to visit, and its park setting adds to its overall charm. The gardens are free to walk around, and the inside has been turned into a museum, which costs very little to get into. It was originally built as a summer residence by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I. Kadriorg Park is a great little retreat from the the old town and is the most outstanding park in Estonia, so if you're in Tallinn for a few days I'd recommend taking a walk here.
The Viru Gate marks the entrance to the old town, and leads you to one of the city's most popular pedestrian shopping streets. There's a flower market to the left of it too, as well as loads of restaurants in the area, many of which have traditional Estonian food.
It's very difficult to get a good shot of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in one photo (you're going to need to sit on the floor). This is one of the Tallinn's most beautiful cathedrals, and is completely free to enter. It's actually one of the top attractions in Estonia, so if you're only spending one day in Tallinn make sure you add this to your itinerary.
There are lots of viewpoints in the city, but Patkuli Viewing Platform was my favourite. It was slightly less crowded than the others, and a little confusing to get to because of the small winding streets. If you have access to Google Maps you'll be able to figure it out eventually though. This view makes it easy to see why Tallinn is one of the top cities in northern Europe to visit.
Unique Places to Eat in Tallinn
Tallinn has a lot of fantastic restaurants to choose from, but only one does garlic ice cream. Yes you read right. Garlic ice cream. Balthasar overlooks town hall square, and is the city's first garlic restaurant! So naturally, garlic ice cream is a thing there. It's a unique experience to say the least, and after the initial taste test it's actually pretty good! Balthasar is also considered one of the best restaurants in Tallinn too, so why not make a meal out of it?
DEPOO is a huge area full of amazing food trucks, shops, and train carriages made into restaurants (very cool). It's neighbours to Telliskivi Creative City, and the Balti Jaam Market. The whole area is a hipster's dream, and definitely has some of the best places to eat in the city. We actually came back several times to try out the different food stalls. It's a great way to save money too!
No garlic ice cream here, but Gelato Ladies comes highly recommended as having the best gelato in the city! It's located quite close to the Viru Gate, and is surrounded by quaint shops and cafes.
The Estonian Burger Factory is a little bit of a walk from the old town but so worth it. They have a unique selection of burgers and side dishes, for very budget friendly prices. When we were looking up places to eat, it topped a number of websites as having Tallinn's best burgers.
Located around the corner from the Viru Gate, Manna la Roosa is a great spot to stop for a cocktail. In the summer you can sit outside, or take in the unique decor inside. The cocktails are bizarre to say the least, but taste amazing! Although we didn't manage to experience Tallinn's nightlife in full, we read that this cocktail bar is always buzzing.
Maiasmokk Cafe is the oldest operating cafe in the city, and probably in Estonia. It's not far from from the town square either. If you're in need of a break from exploring the city, what better way to rest up than inside one of the best cafes in Tallinn.
Where To Stay in Tallinn
There are lots of accommodation options in Tallinn, but we chose to stay at the brand new (in July 2019) Ibis Tallinn Center for the four nights we were in the city. It's a short walk from the old town (or a 5 minute Uber ride), and you can include their amazing buffet breakfast in your booking too so you save some time and money. You can read more about my recommendation on where to stay in Tallinn here.
Price range: €48 +
Tallinn is a magical city to visit, bursting with unique things to do and incredible places to see. It's a city that I would love to go back to and explore more.
Wondering what your options are for day trips from Tallinn? One of the most popular day trips is to Helsinki. You can catch the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki in just over 2 hours, and there are a few different time options throughout the day. Click here to read about our next destination, St Petersburg, and don't forget to follow me on Instagram!