This post may contains affiliate links. All recommendations and opinions remain my own. For more information, check out my disclaimer.
I am not gonna lie, I knew nothing about Tallinn and had never really thought about travelling to Tallinn (or Estonia as a whole) until my brother and I booked up to go for the weekend. We decided… “Let’s go somewhere random” … and then Tallinn appeared. Without fully knowing what it had to offer, the flights were booked and the research into things to do in Tallinn began.
This was one of the best travel decisions I have ever made, as this trip was one of my all-time favourites. Tallinn itself is beautiful with an amazing Medieval vibe in the Old Town.
We decided to travel in January. This was a double-edged sword. On one hand, the streets were quiet, there were no queues, and all-round the place had a very chilled and relaxed vibe. On the other hand, the nightlife and restaurants had little atmosphere. During our trip, we discovered this was because all the locals were staying out the cold (who could blame them?!) and were cash-strapped after the festive period. As an indication of how cold it was, here’s a frozen Christmas tree in one of the street…
The weather floated around -6°C, with some days feeling much colder. But personally I think that added to the experience!
Unlike other capital cities, like Berlin, the touristy part of Tallinn is incredibly small. This is a blessing as you are never far from your next attraction. The majority of the main things to do revolve in or around the old town, which in itself is incredible. For that reason alone, I would recommend you stay in the Old Town. Another advantage is the Old Town is visually spectacular.
So, if you fancy a slightly more unusual city break, here is a quick round-up of the top things to do in Tallinn.
Things To Do In Tallinn
Since the middle ages, Tallinn’s Town Square has been a market place and the centre of the old town. During the warmer months, this square is packed with outdoor cafes, and during Winter it becomes a magical Christmas market. The town hall itself is the oldest city hall in North-Europe.
Danish King’s Garden
Now, I think around the Danish King’s Garden was one of the cooler places in Tallinn that we visited. The black-cloaked figures make this place feel pretty sinister at night, so I would recommend seeing this area both by day and by night.
According to an old legend, this is the spot where a flag (red with a white cross) descended from the sky during Danish invasion led by King Valdemar II. The flag boosted the troops’ morale and led Denmark to conquer Toompea. This is the birthplace of the Danish flag. There are three sculptures of faceless monks in the garden. It is said that during the battle, monks prayed for divine intervention before the flag descended from above. Around this are is also said to be haunted.
Hellemann Tower and Town Walls
Transport yourself back in time and climb a 14th-century tower and stroll along the 200 meter stretch of wall. The Tower, now restored, was built during 15th century as protection to Viru Gates. It is the longest remaining section of the wall. This offers fantastic views of Tallinn’s medieval defences and gives you a sense of what it would have been like all those years ago. Nowadays, this is also an excellent photo opportunity too!
St Nicholas’ Church
St. Nicholas’ Church was one of the two churches in Tallinn during the medieval period. The church was originally designed by German settlers and also acted as a fortress, prior to the construction of the town walls. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors.
Originally built in the 13th century, it was partially destroyed in the Soviet bombing of Tallinn in World War II. It has since been restored and today houses the Niguliste Museum. It remains one of the standout buildings that you will see during a trip to the Estonian capital.
Not to be confused with the Town Hall Square, Towers’ Square is a park just outside the old town walls. Its gets its name from the many towers of the town wall which face the park. This area is a lovely picturesque location to explore the old city in Tallinn and enjoy the historic view. Every Summer, the park hosts the Tallinn International Flower Festival.
The Viru Gate is the main entrance into Old Town and consists of these beautiful twin gate towers. The gate was built in the 14th century, and the towers still standing today are only a part of the original structure. Most of the gate was pulled down in the 1880s to make room for traffic, but these two towers remain. The gate also paves the way to Viru Street which is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the Old Town due to the many shops and restaurants here.
Patkuli Viewing Platform
Situated in one of the most ancient parts of Tallinn, the Patkuli Viewing Platform offers up one of the best views of Tallinn. From here you can see the orange towers of the Town Wall, St. Olaf’s Church, the bay of Tallinn along with most of the Old Town buildings.
Kiek in de Kök Museum and Bastion Tunnels
Built in 1475, Kiek in de Kök is a German artillery tower. Nowadays, this tower is a museum where you can learn about the historic city of Tallinn. The Kiek in de Kök tower, the Maiden’s Tower, the Stable Tower, the Gate Tower, the bastion tunnels and the Carved Stone Museum are all included within this museum.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This is probably my favourite building in Tallinn. As you may be able to guess, this Russian Orthodox Church was built based on a Russian-inspired design by Mikhail Preobrazhensky in a typical Russian Revival style between 1894 and 1900. The interior, which is decorated with mosaics and icons, is worth a visit. There were actually plans to demolish this building in the 1900s but the plans fell through due to lack of funding (thankfully for the visitors of Tallinn).
St. Catherine’s Passage
St. Catherine’s Passage is a great example of how Tallinn has kept its medieval feel. Located near the Viru Gate, the passage is an ancient alleyway lined with stone walls, covered with cobblestones and topped by small stone arches, the path takes you by exquisite craft shops in little enclosures selling wood carvings, ceramics, glassware, jewellery and more (many created using traditional methods), as well as cafes, galleries, a Dominican Monastery, and 14th-15th century inscribed tombstones from the Monastery. You can observe the artisans at work in their studios as well.
A superb place to wander through a medieval world and to seek your Tallinn memory souvenir.
Seaplane Harbour Museum
For any aeroplane or nautical fans, the Seaplane Harbour Museum is a must. About 200 authentic items are on display at the historical seaplane hangar: a submarine called Lembit, a century-old icebreaker Suur Tõll, a seaplane called Short 184, remains of the oldest ship found in Estonia, and much more. There is plenty to keep both young and old entertained!
Kadriorg Park and Palace
Kadriorg Palace was founded by Russian Tsar Peter I in 1718 and took its name in honour of his wife. The palace is currently an art museum containing many pieces between the 16th and 20th century. The park around the palace is just as appealing as the palace itself. The stunning palace is encapsulated by a garden containing fountains and flowerbeds modelled on Versailles.
As you can see from my photo below, there was an immaculate white sheet of snow hiding all this greenery, which produced an equally beautiful view.
In contrast to the elegance that Kadriorg Palace provides, Telliskivi is the creative district of Tallinn, set in an old industrial area. Catch the flea market here every Saturday. This area has loads of cool cafes and boutiques to chill, relax or do some shopping for something unique. Some of the graffiti dotted around here has to be admired.
Balti Jaam Market
This a traditional clothing and food market but with a modern feel as it is relatively new in opening. There’s also a sports club and hair salon located here! There is more of a community centre vibe here than your traditional market place. There are almost 300 different merchants and shops in the market. Trading takes place on three different levels and in the kiosks and stands outside the buildings. The street food area is open daily.
Olde Hansa (Restaurant)
Olde Hansa was one of the restaurants I fancied trying before we even stepped foot in Tallinn. This is a restaurant which “bring you all the wonders of medieval“. The layout is very much what you would expect; dark, candlelit, wooden tables. The staff are dressed in medieval outfits and you get your beer delivered in a clay jug. They offer up some more exotic meats than just your average chicken and beef. My brother and I got the Wild Boar and also the Game Sausages made of Bear, Wild Boar and Elk. The food is served in a very thrown together way, as part of the medieval experience I would expect.
Although I will admit, the food itself was the only disappointment. It was by no means a top-quality meal, but for the experience and memories, Olde Hansa is well worth a try!
Rataskaevu 16 (Restaurant)
Rataskaevu 16 serves typical Estonian cuisine. The name is actually simply the address of the restaurant, as they claim “all the decent names had been taken”. The restaurant has a cosy, homely feel to it with super friendly staff. I had the Fried Baltic herring fillets followed by the braised elk roast. Both were presented beautifully and tasted fantastic.
As this place is very popular, it would be wise to make a reservation.
Põrgu Beer Cellar (Bar)
Despite the name Põrgu (meaning ‘Hell’ in English), this may feel like heaven to the beer lovers out there! Põrgu has a massive selection of beers from all around the world, meaning you will be guaranteed to find one you love. The bar itself is very traditional, selling some simple budget-friendly meals to enjoy.
Labor Baar (Bar)
This bar is visually stunning as it is a chemistry-themed bar that goes all the way. You will find chemistry sets, drinks served from test tube racks and amazing luminescent wall art. The later the night gets, the livelier the bar gets. Our table had motion-sensor LEDs which lit as you moved your drink (which was served in a laboratory beaker). What’s not to love?!
Tallinn in winter is truly incredible! Have you ever been to the Baltic? Let me know what you think below!