We almost didn’t get to spend a day in Tallinn. Waking at 5.00am on a January morning in Helsinki, we looked outside to see flurries of snow and temperatures well below freezing.
A thirty minute walk in the dark to the ferry terminal didn’t seem like a hugely appealing activity, particularly as neither of us had slept particularly well the night before, and the thought of tramping around an unknown city in these conditions wasn’t exactly filling us with joy.
Still, we’d already paid for the ferry tickets, and it seemed a shame to let those go to waste, despite the tempting warmth of our hotel bed. So we prepared ourselves and headed out into the snow for our half hour walk to the ferry station, after which it was an easy two hour ferry ride to Tallinn.
Once there, we got off the ferry and had, well, an unexpectedly wonderful day. Here are some of the reasons Tallinn needs to be on your list, that you could use to create your own:
1 Day Tallinn Itinerary
1. The old town
We headed straight for the old town when we arrived into Tallinn, and I suggest you think about doing the same thing. Dating from around the 15th century, this medieval maze is Estonia’s only UNESCO world heritage site, and is more than worthy of the title.
A maze of cobbled streets, old buildings, city walls, turrets and churches, there is plenty to see and do here, and it can all be explored easily on foot.
Don’t miss climbing to the top of Toompea hill for excellent views across the city.
2. Ye Olde Pubs
Tallinn’s old town has fully embraced it’s medieval heritage, with a number of restaurants and pubs offering an “old world” experience, from the costumes of the waitstaff through to the decor and, of course, food options.
It may sound tacky, but somehow it manages to get away with it entirely.
We stopped in at the III Draakon Pub (Three Dragons Pub), on the town square, where we were fed on elk stew accompanied by a beer in a pewter pitcher. A lot of fun.
3. Ye Olde Pharmacy
You often visit a place which has a claim to being the oldest of something. I think I’ve lost count of the number of oldest pubs in England that I’ve visited.
Still, I’ve never found anywhere claiming to be the oldest working pharmacy in the world, which is what you’ll find on Talinn’s town square. Certainly, no-one disputes that this has to be amongst the oldest working pharmacies in the world, with the doors first opening back in the early 15th century and remaining open to the present day, although the prescriptions do appear to have modernised somewhat.
These days there is an interesting little history set up in the pharmacy, with information on the history and medicines of the old pharmacy, as well as some information on the town. It’s a fun (and free) way to spend an easy half hour of time.
4. The Nunna, Sauna, and Kuldjala Towers
Tallinn’s old town was originally surrounded by 26 towers, and during the 16th century, was the most heavily fortified city in the world. These three towers are some of the few that you can still visit and climb up inside, and even better, you can walk between them on the old city walls to get a feel for what the whole fortification would have been like.
A word of warning – these towers haven’t evolved a great deal since they were built, which means the stairs and passageways are steep, winding and narrow. If that doesn’t bother you (and it shouldn’t!), then you should definitely head up here and take in the towers and the accompanying view over the city! Entry was €3 when we visited, which was more than worth it.
5. The Town Square
There’s something about a medieval town square that is just magical. And Tallinn’s town square is no exception. A huge cobblestoned affair surrounded by colourful houses with the town hall taking pride of place.
It’s home to a number of restaurants, including the aforementioned Three Dragons Pub, and plays hosts to live music and markets throughout the year, including the famous Christmas Market. So no, you can’t miss this one.
6. St. Olaf’s Church
There are a lot of churches in Tallinn, and if you like churches you will have no shortage of options to visit. One that should definitely make your short list is St. Olaf’s church, which despite being almost 500 years old is still the tallest building in Estonia. There is a law which says no building can be higher than this, which probably explains it.
Naturally, you can climb to the top, and if you choose to tackle the 200 plus steps you will be rewarded with a quite magnificent view of the old city.
Other churches you should consider visiting include St. Mary’s, which is believed to be the oldest church in Tallinn, if not Estonia, and the magnificent orthodox Alexander Nevsky cathedral, pictured below.
7. Beyond the old town
We only visited Talinn for a day, so weren’t able to fully explore beyond the medieval town centre, which entranced us for our entire visit. However, if you are able to stay longer, there is plenty to see beyond the old walls, from the maritime museum to other interesting museums, churches and attractions.
Rather than go into great detail on places we’ve not yet visited, we would advise taking a look at the WikiVoyage entry for Tallinn, TripAdvisor’s recommendations and the Tallinn Tourism website. Between those three you should find plenty of ideas for extending your stay!
How to get to Tallinn and where to stay
We visited Tallinn as a day trip from Helsinki in Finland. Ferries run daily and cost us around €35 per person – prices vary depending on sailing time and availability. We sailed with Tallink Silja, on a two hour crossing, which was very comfortable and offered a full food and beverage service.
You can also get here by ferry from Stockholm and St. Petersburg, and of course Tallinn airport offers a great many flight routes.
If you’re coming from Helsinki, check out the Helsinki Card – as well saving you money on sight seeing in Helsinki, it also gives a discount on the ferry crossing from Helsinki. Get yours from the official site here.
When to visit Tallinn – weather and more
We visited Tallinn in January, and as you can see from the pictures, there was snow on the ground and temperatures were below freezing. The good news was that this gave us plenty of excuses to pop into cafes and pubs to warm up, plus there were very few other visitors. The bad news was that it was cold and got dark fairly early!
In addition, in winter the ferry crossing can be slower due to ice in the sea, although Tallinn is reportedly gorgeous around Christmas-time, and I can imagine the old town must be spectacular, decked out in Christmas lighting! February is usually the coldest, if driest, month.
If you prefer warmth, then the long warm days of summer are for you. The longest day of the year falls in June, so June and July are great months, although expect them to be busier (you can’t have everything!). The midsummer festival falls on the 24th of June, when there are celebrations throughout Estonia. Speaking of festivals, Tallinn has lots throughout the year – checkout the festival listings on the Tallinn Tourism portal for full details.