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Tallinn – the capital of Estonia, one of the three Baltic States, and arguably the most charming capital of the three. A mix of the medieval old town, tragic history and contemporary architecture make Tallinn a great weekend getaway destination and an interesting bucket list item for travellers of all ages and types.
If you’re planning a visit to Tallinn soon or just looking for some travel inspiration, in this article you’ll find a list of top experiences that you should add to your Tallinn itinerary. From delicious traditional bites in the oldest cafe to the most haunting visit to former KGB prison, I’ve covered it all in this article.
The best time to visit Tallinn
Tallinn has a lot to offer during all four seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. However, the most pleasant temperature and weather are between April – October. July and August are usually peak times, meaning more tourists and longer lines at popular sights. Similarly, expect more crowds than usual during Christmas time due to school holidays.
Winters can get quite harsh and cold in Estonia, so you need to keep that in mind if you plan on visiting the city during wintertime. But Christmas markets in Tallinn are considered one of the best in Baltic states, so they are definitely worth freezing a finger or two.
How to get around Tallinn
Tallinn is a relatively easy and small city to navigate, especially the old town. So you can easily reach the most popular objects and sights within the walking distance. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that the streets of the old town are cobblestone, so a pair of walking shoes with a good grip is needed as it can get slippery sometimes.
If you plan on visiting places that are a bit further away, you can always rely on Tallinn’s public transport. It is very affordable and reliable which is all you can want when it comes to transportation. The city doesn’t have a metro but you can choose from buses, trolleys and trams. You can find all the information you need (prices, timetables, maps) about Tallinn’s public transport in this article.
Best historic experiences in Tallinn
1. Spend an afternoon in Patarei prison
You simply can’t miss this enormous building complex if you walk alongside port or Kalamaja district. This seaside complex used to be an artillery battery back in late 19th century. However, it turned to prison from 1919 and housed prisoners up until 2002. Today you can walk around the complex and even have a look inside if the prison is open for visitors.
The best part is that the place itself was left untouched as it were back in 2002, meaning you get a full experience of what it was like to be a prisoner in Soviet-era. You can visit inside from May to September. During that period, the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open on other days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You can find out more about you can expect on Patarei Prison official website.
2. See Kiek in de Kök Fortifications
Kiek in de Kök is a 15th-century tower which acts as a museum nowadays. The tower was used for artillery and defence of city walls. If you are interested in warfare and Tallinn’s defences during different centuries, this museum is a definite must. Plus, there is a stunning view of the city on the final flour of the tower.
Also, the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum consists of four medieval defence towers and underground passages: the Kiek in de Kök artillery tower, the Maiden’s Tower (Neitsitorn), Stable Tower (Tallitorn) and Gate Tower (Väravatorn), the bastion passages and the Carved Stone Museum. All parts can be visited separately or together.
Asides from Kiek in de Kök tower, the bastion passages are the second most interesting part of the whole museum. It is a hidden tunnel system dating back to 17th-18th century that runs underneath the bastions of Toompea hill. You can read more about the whole museum complex on their website.
3. Go back in time at Estonian Open Air Museum
If you want to learn more about Estonian history and culture, there is no better place to experience the feel of it than the Estonian Open Air Museum. The museum was built to showcase the everyday life of villages of 18th-20th century in Estonia. During the visit, you can enter the old village tavern, taste traditional Estonian dishes prepared by locals or buy handicrafts.
The museum is just 15-minutes drive away from the city centre and is open all year-round.
4. Oldest pharmacy in Europe
Located right in the Town Hall Square stands the oldest pharmacy in Europe. It was first opened in 1422 and is still operating to this day. You can see what people used for medicine a few centuries ago or simply admire the architecture.
You can test various herbal tea blends picked from local fields in the basement of the Town Hall Pharmacy (or Raeapteek) or explore the exposition of the 17th to the 20th-century medicine in the back room.
Best cultural experiences in Tallinn
5. Relax like a local in Kalma saun
Kalma Saun is one of the oldest saunas in town which was built in 1928. Although it is not as impressive as famous thermal baths of Budapest, the sauna offers an exquisite local experience. If you’re looking for a bit more relaxing cultural experience in Tallinn, you need to include Kalma Saun in your itinerary.
6. Listen to live music at Kultuurikatel
The creative hub of Tallinn is where all the cool kids can be found. No, really. If you want to immerse yourself into Estonian nightlife, this is the place. Although the venue is often used for exhibitions, various events and festivals, during the evenings and nighttime you can attend concerts of local musicians and bands. If you have a soft spot for industrial design and good music, this place is everything you could ever want.
7. Explore Telliskivi Creative City
Telliskivi Creative City is a creative centre of Tallinn which is located just on the border of Old Town and Kalamaja districts. The industrial complex turned creative centre is home of Estonian studios, NGOs and different creative companies. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering around Telliskivi.
Today there are several unique cafes and restaurants where you can grab a meal during the day. You can also visit small boutiques, designer and craft stores and get yourself some unique and handmade souvenirs that you won’t find anywhere else. If you happen to visit Telliskivi on Saturday, you’ll have a chance to explore their flea market as well.
8. Learn about Estonian art at Kumu Art Museum
Kumu Art Museum has a largest exhibition of local artists and is thought to be one of the biggest art museums in northern Europe. KUMU offers permanent and temporary exhibitions of Estonian art from 18th century onwards. The gallery often hosts contemporary pieces from foreign artists as well.
If you’re art lover, you definitely can’t miss KUMU Art Museum.
Best views in Tallinn
9. See the old town from St. Olav church tower
St. Olav Church Tower could easily be considered a symbol of Tallinn as you can spot it from anywhere. This gothic building is a sight itself but the most visited part is its tower’s observation deck. To reach the deck, you have to climb 232 steps of the winding staircase which is quite a task. But the view is breath-taking!
10. Enjoy the view at Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platform
The best free views of Tallinn can definitely be found at Patkuli and Kohtousa viewing platforms which are both situated on Toompea hill side by side. Patkuli can be reached by climbing 157 steps from the old town to Toompea but the climb is worth it. If the weather is nice, expect quite a lot of tourists and longer queues for photos.
Kohtuotsa viewing platform is just around the corner of Patkuli and is known for the phrase “The times we had” on a nearby wall which you might have seen on Instagram posts. However, quite recently the said wall was painted over with some graffiti. But the platform still overs a lovely view of the city. Plus, it is a perfect spot for the sunset.
11. Tallinn TV tower
If you want a real 360 view of the city, the TV tower is the best option. The 314-meter high tower has a glass-floored viewing platform on the 21st floor. You’ll definitely need a camera for this panoramic view of the city which includes not only city buildings but Baltic sea and beautiful green parks. You might even have a peek at Finland!
If you’re a fan of heights, you can even go on the walk around the highest open deck in northern Europe – 175 meters! You’ll have to wear a safety harness but an adrenaline jolt is guaranteed.
Best culinary experiences in Tallinn
12. Eat a delicious pastry at the oldest Estonian cafe
You can’t say that you’ve been to Tallinn if you haven’t stopped by Maiasmokk, the oldest cafe in town. This cafe is operating since 1864 and once you enter it, you definitely can feel the atmosphere of that time. The interior of the cafe is simply beautiful and pastries are just as good.
Although the cafe is quite small in size, it is still one of the highlights of Tallinn. When you stop by, definitely visit Marzipan room in which you can see over 200 marzipan figures made from molds by local artist.
13. Kalev Chocolate Shop
Kalev is Estonia’s well-loved chocolate factory which is quite popular in Europe. So if you end up in Tallinn, you just can’t go home without buying a bar or two of the famous Kalev chocolate. In one of the Kalev shops you can find most popular Kalev sweets, handmade candies, marzipan desserts and much more. You can even participate in one of their candy making workshops and make a sweet of your own.
14. Indulge in pancakes at Kompressor
Belowed by locals and slowly beginning to be recognized by tourists, Kompressor pancake bar can be found near the town hall square. If you are a fan of pancakes (of any kind) you have to come here. Kompressor offers all kinds of pancakes – sweet and savoury – for a very affordable price and exquisite taste. It can get quite busy during the lunch time, so be prepared for wait longer. But if anything, these pancakes are worth all the time in world. Trust me.
15. Have a drink at The Lounge24 Radisson Blue Sky Bar
If you want a drink with a view, this sky bar is all you need for a nice evening. The lounge offer incredible panoramic view of Tallinn’s old town and quite affordable cocktails as well.
The atmosphere of the bar is rather laid back than posh which is a nice sign for those who are travelling more on a budget.
16. Grab a bite at Baltic Station Market
Baltic Station Market is a newly renovated market which is well loved by locals and tourists. In here you can find a high-quality produce, coffee, dinning places, cafes and much more in one place. If you a fan of street food, this is the place to go.
Also, if you have a bit of time on your hand, definitely check out the second floor of the market where you’ll find a collection of old Soviet-era items, second hand antiques and a whole lot of other interesting things that you can buy as souvenirs or decor pieces for your home.
Best free experiences in Tallinn
17. Have a picnic at Kadriog Palace park
Kadriog park which you can find near Kadriog palace is easily one of the biggest and most beautiful parks in Europe. You can relax surrounded by nature and escape the busy streets of Tallinn here by having a picnic. Simply grab a takeaway or bring a selection of food from a local market and enjoy your afternoon.
18. Watch a sunset from Linnahall
Linnahall is a relic from Soviet times which now has become an urban spot for street artists and younger people. Although the structure is very dreary from the looks of it, its location makes up for a perfect sunset watching spot. If you want to embrace the local culture, grab a bottle of beer or wine and come here in the evening to see how the sun sets into the Baltic sea.
19. Walk around the neighborhood of Kalamaja
Although Tallinn is mostly known for its medieval history and buildings, there is so much more to the city than old buildings. If you ever want something more alternative, Kalamaja neighbourhood is where you should go. The bohemian district is famous for its colourful wooden buildings, quiet streets and creative atmosphere.
The best way to explore Kalamaja is simply to just wander around and get lost in the streets. You’ll definitely get the most authentic experience and feeling of what it’s like to live in Tallinn as a local.
20. Observe street art at Culture Kilometer
Don’t know about you but I love finding street art in each place I visit. So if you are anything like me, you simply can’t miss the Cultural Kilometer, a pedestrian and bicycle path which showcases some of the best Estonian street art. The path is 2 km long (not one as the name suggests!) starting from the old Olympic venue Linnahall and ending at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
21. Hike at Paaskula bog
This is a bit of a cheat idea but I just couldn’t NOT include it in this list. Pääsküla bog is a 4km long hiking trail which is only 30-minutes away from the city centre. If you want to escape from the city for a bit and enjoy nature, this trail is a perfect option for a nice day trip with a picnic. Trails are suitable for all ages and don’t require any special footwear or preparation.
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