The Ultimate guide and tips on what to do in Tallinn
Estonia has been one of my favourite destinations for years. And too few people know it then; it is still an unpopular little destination.
In this article, I will take you to visit the capital of Estonia. Tallinn is located in the north-west of Estonia, 85 kilometres from Stockholm in Sweden.
In 1219, Tallinn was invaded by the Danes before being sold in 1346 to the Teutonic Knights.
The Teutonic Knights built castles and founded towns before bringing in German merchants and artisans, thus, creating a new social system: the Germans being the Nobles, burghers, and merchants and the Estonians becoming their serfs.
The Swedes seized Tallinn in 1561; they closed trade between Russia and the West before being invaded by the Russians in 1710 to become a Russian province in 1721.
During two centuries of Russian occupation, Tallinn industrialized, and the city expanded around the medieval centre.
Estonia’s independence was proclaimed in 1918, but it was annexed in 1940 by the Soviet Union, which set out to build a large and uniform federation and carry out massive Russian immigration. In 1991, Tallinn was once again owned by Estonians.
Why Should you visit Tallinn, Estonia?
1. Admire the architectural diversity of Tallinn's Old Town
Tallinn is a beautiful city to discover. On a human scale, it can be discovered without fatigue, especially in the Old Town.
Surrounded by city walls and lined with towers, the Old Town retains a medieval charm, accentuated by cobbled streets and the abundance of architectural details of different styles and eras.
You will see the traces of the successive Danish, German, Swedish and Russian invasions. It offers an extraordinary architectural landscape, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Discover the post-Soviet heritage
The Soviet period left its mark in the landscape and the hearts of the citizens of Tallinn. Preserving historical heritage is a priority, and some historic buildings such as Linnahall or the TV Tower symbolize this period.
Additionally, the Museum of History in Tallinn provides the necessary material for understanding the painful Soviet past.
3. Experience the endless summer days and the magical snowy winter landscapes
At this latitude, Tallinn experiences strong contrasts between summer and winter. If you come in winter, temperatures can drop to -20 ° on some days.
The snowy Scandinavian winter postcard exists here. In particular, the Christmas market, an actual magical setting.
On the other hand, the days are endless in summer, and at the end of June, the night does not even fall. It is the period of barbecues, and fish smoked over a wood fire.
How to reach Tallinn from Stockolm?
In the case of a road trip between Sweden and the Baltic States, there are quite a few options for coming to Tallinn. I chose to go to Tallinn by ferry from Stockholm. I bought an overnight cruise ticket with a cabin for 39 euros.
The port of Tallinn is located 5 minutes walk from the Old Town, so no need to take a taxi or a bus when arriving. The ferry experience is excellent; I highly recommend it.
The Ultimate 3 day itinerary in Tallinn
Day 1: Kohtuotsa Observation Platform, Patkulli Viewpoint, St Olaf's church and Tallinn's Telliskivi
1) Kohtuotsa Observation Platform
To start this new adventure, I decided to visit the Kohtuotsa Observation Platform. This place is located on the north side of Toompea Hill. The Kohtuotsa Observation Platform offers a panoramic view of Tallinn. I admired the red-tiled roofs, the gates, and the five towering spires of the old town of Tallinn.
With a little bit of luck, you will find some street performers to entertain you. Regardless of the time of your visit, the Kohtuotsa Observation Platform provides a memorable experience.
2) Patkuli Viewpoint / Danish King garden
I continued my visit by going to Patkuli Viewpoint, which is an observation platform where you can see a breathtaking panoramic view of the whole city of Tallinn. The location of Patkuli Viewpoint is perfect for those who want to indulge in photography or videography.
I found the climb to the top a little bit difficult, but the whole experience was rewarding. I could see the Baltic Sea from the top.
Additionally, I advise you to arrive very early and watch the sun rays hitting all the city skyline. As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the most beautiful things to see.
At the same time, I visited the Danish King Garden, which is located near Toompea. It is one of the tourist sites which has undergone a powerful foreign influence.
Legend has it that it was in the Danish King Garden that a (Danish) flag descended from the sky in a bloody battle between Christian troops and pagans. You can learn more about this legend by visiting the Danish King Garden and the Tuli lipp sculpture.
3) St Olaf's Church
During my first day in Tallinn, I also had the opportunity to visit St Olaf’s Church. It is a large medieval structure that has gone through several historical tragedies such as lightning strikes or fires.
The tower of St Olaf’s Church is said to have been struck more than a dozen times by lightning, three of which caused severe fires and damage. I invite you to climb to the top of the church’s tower to have a breathtaking view of the town of Tallinn and discover its magnificent medieval architecture.
4) Tallinn Telliskivi
I ended my first day in Tallinn with a little visit to the hipster neighbourhood of Estonia’s capital called Telliskivi. This district is installed in a former industrial site; it was, for me, an incredible discovery.
Telliskivi is arguably the trendiest district in the capital of Estonia. It takes its name from the bricks that make up the old warehouses because Telliskivi means brick in Estonian.
Since 2009, the Telliskivi district has become the beating heart of Estonian artistic creation. This district is a street art gallery; more than 500 cultural events occur in Telliskivi every year.
Day 2: Old Town, Christmas Market, and Balti Jaama Turg market
1) Tallinn Old Town
On my second day, I decided to visit the mythical Old Town of Tallinn. This place is an actual historical treasure of Europe. Once you pass the ramparts, you will truly feel like you have stepped back in time and returned to the Middle Ages.
The Old Town of Tallinn is even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is incredibly well preserved. The Raekoja plats are surrounded by charming tiny houses and many restaurants that offer delicious local meals in the centre.
In one of the square corners, you will find the oldest pharmacy in Europe; it has been in operation since 1422. In the past, locals used to prepare the most bizarre remedies from snakeskin, mummy juice, and horn powder.
If you want to admire the magnificent view of the Old Town of Tallinn and the harbour, I advise you to go to the Kohtuotsa Observation Platform to take your best shots.
The Old Town also houses the Danish King Garden, Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, and many fascinating museums such as the Tallinn History Museum and the Torture Museum.
2) Tallinn Christmas Market
If you are going to Tallinn during the period from November to January, I invite you to visit the Christmas market, located at the Raekoja Plats.
For me, it was the ideal opportunity to immerse myself in the heart of Estonian culture by meeting artisans, hats, scarves, gloves, and thick woollen socks, and many everyday objects.
The merchants of the Tallinn Christmas market will show you around local crafts. I also invite you to discover the big star of the Christmas market. It is the first tree to have been exhibited in Europe by the Guild of the Blackheads in 1441 (there is a rivalry between Tallinn and Riga in Latvia, which also claims the Christmas tree’s birth).
3) Balti Jaama Turg Market
To end my second day, I decided to pay a visit to the Balti Jaama Turg Market. It is an excellent opportunity to get a feel for all that can be found in Estonia. Balti Jaama Turg means Baltic Station Market.
Previously, it had been installed right next to the station, just behind the tracks, and had retained a certain retro-Soviet charm. Balti Jaama Turg market is now across the street and is almost brand new.
It’s a vast place with everything you could need (Fresh products, restaurants, snacks, cafes, speciality shops, various grocery stores, wine merchants, and organic stores).
You will also find clothes, toys, cosmetics, crafts, and even antiques. I spent hours browsing the shops and discovering Estonian specialities and brands.
Day 3: Jägala Falls
During my last day in Tallinn, I decided to spend the whole day at Jägala waterfall, which is located halfway between Tallinn and Lahemaa National Park. With its 40m wide and 8m high, Jägala waterfall is also the biggest waterfall in Estonia.
In winter, the waterfall partially freezes and forms enormous stalactites. In February, an ice tunnel forms behind the waterfall, and you can use it to climb there. But the thing that impressed me the most is probably the colour of the water, dark brown.
Suddenly with the white of the snow, the contrast is quite striking. In fact, the water of Jägala waterfall takes on this dark colour as it passes through the many peatlands found in Estonia.
The next day I decided to leave Tallinn and go to Riga. There are several daily departures between the two destinations. The first bus leaves at 6:30 a.m. while the last one leaves at 6:00 p.m.
The bus price is between 12 to 19 Euros; it depends on the bus’s quality and ancillary services. The trip between Tallinn and Riga lasted 4 hours; on my way, I understood how much I loved the capital of Estonia.
You should know that you never leave Tallinn; you only plan another visit.