The breathtaking capital of Estonia — Tallinn — is possibly one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe. The encompassing medieval stone walls, sky-scraping church bell towers, and winding cobblestone streets opening into squares and courtyards will certainly cause visitors’ jaws to drop in awe. Continue reading to learn the top sights to enjoy during an escape to Tallinn.
Enter Tallinn’s marvelous old town through Viru Gate, which was part of the city’s 14th-century extensive defense system. Though a portion of the Viru Gate was demolished to allow for horse-drawn traffic, the towers of the gate remain. The area around Viru Gate is now home to market stalls selling woolen mittens, sweet smelling roasted nuts, and numerous restaurants.
The Old Town has to be the top draw for visitors to Tallinn. Featuring beautiful architecture and locals dressed in medieval clothing, the Old Town somehow escapes feeling overly touristy or kitschy that other cities with costumed workers might experience.
For the best view of Tallinn, and to take your own stunning photo for Instagram (don’t forget to add the hashtag #visitestonia), head to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform. Located on Toompea Hill, visitors will be treated to unobstructed views of the harbor, bell towers, and the terra-cotta colored roof tiles. This is also a popular spot for local musicians to hang out, providing some background music to the view.
Also located on Toompea Hill, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is relatively recent addition to the medieval old town — it was completed only in 1900. This Russian Orthodox church has distinct, black onion domes that can be easily spotted towering above Tallinn. The interior of the church can be visited, although visitors should first check service times and be respectful of private services as this is an active church. Visiting the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is free of charge.
St. Olaf’s Church is one of the most important structures in Tallinn, and is the city’s largest medieval building. This well-preserved church was likely built in the 1200s and is notable due to its high church tower that has been struck by lightening numerous times throughout its history. St. Olaf’s Church is not open for visitors during the winter (open from April until October) and is free of charge. Visitors can climb the narrow stairs to the top of the church for a beautiful view over Tallinn’s Old Town.
Stunning in every season, but particularly during the annual Christmas market, Town Hall Square has been the heart of Tallinn since the 13th century. Though no longer acting as the city’s marketplace, the Town Hall Square sees bustling activity with café chairs and tables spilling into the square in the summer, numerous tour groups, and occasional festivals. The surrounding architecture is also stunning; keep an eye out for dragons on the Town Hall!
Boasting some of the best restaurants in the three Baltic states, eating out is certainly one of the best activities offered in Tallinn. Visitors can indulge in anything from traditional Estonian cuisine to Indian or medieval fare. Some of our top restaurant suggestions include Ribe, Rataskaevu 16, and Olde Hansa.
The Free Walking Tours by Traveller are the best way to learn about Tallinn’s best sights, get local insight, and uncover Old Town’s myths. Friendly guides provide excellent tips for where to eat cheap and must-sees, all while learning about the history of some of Tallinn’s top sights. Free Walking Tours take place every day at 12 pm and last for approximately two hours.
Promenade along the Tallinn Town Wall
Visitors can climb a portion of Tallinn’s wall to explore the towers and enjoy beautiful city views. The wall was formerly 2.4-km long and had 46 towers; while not as magnificent as it once was, it still is impressive at approximately 1.9-km long with around 20 towers remaining. It really is a privilege to walk these ancient defensive walls. Opening hours for the Tallinn Town Wall vary depending on the season.
Located next to Alexander Nevsky Church, the present Toompea Castle was built in the late 1700s. This understated castle features a salmon pink exterior, white details, and the national flag and crest. The castle can be visited on weekdays, but visitors must book ahead of time. A large park can be found next to Toompea Castle, providing visitors with a bit of a green reprieve from city life.
The Baltics are well-known for their ever expanding craft beer scene, with Estonia leading the pack. Delicious craft beer can be enjoyed throughout the city and during specialty craft beer events. One of the most beloved Estonian craft breweries is Põhjala Brewery. SIP Wine and Beer Shop, and Porgu Beer Cellar are also great options for beer lovers in Tallinn.
Located a bit off-the-beaten-path, Telliskivi Creative City should be visited by those interested in seeing the creative side of Tallinn. Telliskivi is a complex of former warehouses turned into boutiques, restaurants, live music venues, and cafés, and all are beautifully decorated with street art.
The Baltic States have faced a challenging recent history, with Estonia only regaining its freedom from Soviet occupation in 1991. Located in Viru Hotel, the KGB Museum illustrates the secret headquarters kept by the KGB in numerous hotels throughout the former Soviet Union. The museum displays spy equipment and other objects from the Soviet times. Visitors must book in advance, and the museum can be visited from Tuesday through Sunday.
Though previously a closed border zone, the Kalamaja District has enjoyed rejuvenation in recent years as Tallinn’s hipster neighborhood. Excellent restaurants and shops can be found among traditional wooden homes. Visitors looking for a meal while in Kalamaja should stop by Cafe Moon for perfect Nordic dishes.
Visitors arriving to Tallinn via ship will likely spend at least some time walking through the Port of Tallinn. The Sadama District (harbor district) is a bustling area of Tallinn with travelers coming from and going to boats. Several affordable hotels and restaurants can be found in this area, as well as the Museum of Estonian Architecture (located in the Rotermanni Quarter). The Museum of Estonian Architecture focuses on contemporary architecture and has frequently changing exhibitions.