Tallinn is relatively not a famous city as a European destination but makes the most western impression of all the Baltic capitals. When I visited Riga Latvia and Vilnius Lithuania a couple of years ago, I didn’t think there is still one country that exists. But sooner, I realize that the Baltic countries composed of three states, Estonia is the smallest country. They all have a similar history, but there are too many differences. And due to its location on the northernmost, many travelers don’t immediately think of Estonia.
The capital Tallinn is the largest city, and the beating heart of Estonia, the center of high-level culture. Tallinn’s oldest part is an excellent example of a unique preserved northern European medieval center. Therefore, no wonder that the old town of Tallinn is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In its unique mix, that makes Tallinn an ideal holiday destination.
How To Get There
There are flights available to Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. Unfortunately, flying to Tallinn is a bit pricey from my point of departure (see how to find cheap flights). Therefore, while we’re in Helsinki, we grab the chances of visiting Tallinn as we’re so close.
It takes about two hours with a ferry from Helsinki and vice versa. Helsinki Finland is also the easiest way to Tallinn and perfect for a combination trip. However, it is a venture visiting the northern part of Europe in the winter. We took a trip to Tallinn in November, and it’s so cold, but mainly we had a great sunny day during our trip. Get an idea of what to pack when visiting Tallinn in winter.
The Old Town
The old town is one of the main tourist attractions of Tallinn, which is very much like Eastern Europe. Everything is pretty much close to each other. You will have to do lots of walking – the city center is car-free and easy to navigate on foot.
The large square is an excellent example of sniffing around. Randomly surrounded by medieval buildings; therefore, a walking tour is a good idea if you want the full history. However, it is not necessary if you don’t want too. Wandering by yourselves gives a satisfactory impression.
Getting lost on alleys is something I’d like to do in a city. Tallinn is pretty small, where you never get lost compare to Fes Morocco were there were more than nine thousand alleys around. If you walk through the old Tallinn, it feels like stepping back in time. A labyrinth of small streets and alleys with impressive old buildings and hidden corners, which makes the city more interesting for the visitor.
Town Hall Square
Raekoja Plats, also called the town hall square, is a common meeting place for locals where open-air concerts and market stalls held. This beautiful square surrounded by old merchant houses and other historic buildings. Tallinn has far behind the dusty image of a boring Eastern European city. A modern business center with post-modern offices, shopping centers, and hotels has created around the historic city center.
Here you will find the most striking building Town Hall, originally dates from 1322 but was considerably renovated in the 15th century. The Gothic town hall has a pointed octagonal tower that is much older than it looks in its current appearance shows.
Upper town Toompea Hill
Tallinn divided into two parts upper and lower. The upper part of Tallinn is one of the best-preserved medieval old city centers. The section where the magistrates and religious officials resided. There you will find Toompea Castle, Tallinn Cathedral, and the striking Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It’s great to walk around and enjoy the calm and vibrant atmosphere.
There are two ways of getting there; Luhike Jalg (Short Leg Lane) or Pikk Jalg (Long Leg Lane). If I have to choose – I’m going up the short leg, it’s a staircase and less taxing. The effort you made of climbing will genuinely worth it.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The impressive Russian Orthodox Cathedral sits right at the top of Toompea Hill, in the Old Town. Easily recognizable with its five onion domes and the beautiful paintwork. The interior is gorgeous with a lot of religious arts grand carved wood door frames, icons, and an ornate high altar over-the-top with lots of gold. Admission to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is free. However, anyone entering the church is not allowed to take photos or make film recordings.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
There is a different viewing platform in the old town if you climb the tower, but Toompea Hill has the best spot to see modern Tallinn at a distance between the Old City and the churches. The red roofs remind me of Lisbon, Portugal, a fantastic view. It’s a popular site and can get crowded, especially if the guided tours arrived. Best to get there late in the afternoon or in the morning where no one else behind you.
Pikk Jalg -The Long Leg
Going down from Toompea Hill, we took a different way Pikk Jalg is called (The Long Leg) of Tallinn. Thoroughfare between the upper and the lower town. It is also one of the most famous streets in the old city. A relatively steep path up or down but not too strenuous, you walk between the two city walls. And along the way, various artists sit on low stools drawing and painting. It’s unique to watch, and most of them were happy to share their artwork displayed on the wall for viewing.
St. Catherine's Passage and Masters' Courtyard
The passage is a street with a large assortment boutique that sells traditional clothing, hand-painted ceramics, silk, linen, etc. mainly for gifts or self-used. As well various artists show their work from the beginning of the product to the end. Thus it was worth checking out as some of these shops sit underground, which is unique for its location. It is walking through the old city lane on a path of children’s heads. Furthermore, it is an enchanting street in the old town of Tallinn to discovers not far from St.Catherine’s church.
Hellemann Tower and Town Wall
The city wall is an essential part of the old town, including several towers in the center. It is well preserved and offers a good insight into history. Some of the original towers are still standing where you can climb for a panoramic city view. Hellemann tower is quite remarkable given when built and the height. On top, you will be able to walk along the city wall and have a great view of the city. However, nearly none of the tourist attractions is free in Tallinn except for walking. There’s an entrance fee of 3€ and well worth it.
One of the busiest entrances into Tallinn’s Old Town on the eastern side is through Viru Gate. A medieval city gate in the old town built from the 14th century. It was the first part of an enormous city gate with eight towers that extended to the city walls, but when a new road constructed at the end of the 19th century, most of the gate demolished. Also, the Viru street that runs from access to the city center is the famous shopping street in the old town.
Where to stay in Tallinn
There is a selection of hotels, guesthouses, and apartments. And yes, the prices lower than in Scandinavian cities. Tallinn wasn’t on the plan in the first place, and then my plan changed – I wanted to visit as a day trip from Helsinki. Then my final idea was to stay a night in Tallinn. What the heck! I wanted to see the world in brief, but not that simple. Well, I managed to arrange it at all.
As we were coming with a ferry from Helsinki, I search for a hotel within walking distance to the harbor. Rija Old Town Hotel is relatively good for the price located in the old town and the quiet area of Tallinn. I book a standard room, but we got an upgrade for some reason. Small buffet breakfast included in the room rates. Overall, with amiable and English speaking staff.
Dining in Tallinn
Restaurants scattered all over the town center. Generally, the Baltic States are known as an inexpensive destination, but to say this, avoid restaurants where many tourists go, especially on the large square Raekoja Plats. We have lunch there on the first day, as I’m starving; we don’t want to walk further away. The food isn’t bad, but it has a pricey card.
Later in the evening, we have delicious and pretty cheap food at the Lido Restaurant. A chain restaurant that only serves Baltic food. I’m picky about food – besides Italian, Baltic cuisine is my second favorite in the world. During our trip to Riga and Vilnius, this was the only restaurant where I go because they have extensive choices on buffet food. In Tallinn, there is only one Lido Restaurant – the location is inside of Solaris Centre on Estonia Avenue.