Tallinn Old Town: the city hall seen from one of the side streets

What to see in Tallinn, Estonia: from the best-preserved Old Town to the scenic nature trail

Let’s say it clear: 2020 won’t be a year of lifetime travels. We too got stuck in one place for most of the time. Luckily, this place turned out to be Tallinn, Estonia. To be honest, the coronavirus pandemic did not hit this small Baltic state hard. Life in Estonia went on as usual, with very tiny inconveniences, comparing to other European countries.

Just like most of you, we can’t wait until it is all over. We are eager to go back to our long trips, city breaks, and nature retreats. But before we hit the road again, we thought we would prepare some small, condensed guide to our beloved city, which seems to be underestimated by many.

Why visiting Tallinn, Estonia?

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, attracts millions of international tourists annually. However, most of them stay in the city for as short as a day. This happens because Tallinn is often just one leg of a short trip to all three Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). On the other hand, there are several ferries a day connecting Tallinn with Helsinki, the Finnish capital. But the largest city in Estonia deserves more than a day of stay. It has a lot to offer, and the sightseeing should not be limited to the Old Town.

Tallinn Old Town seen from one of the viewing platforms. Photo taken in spring/summer, green trees in between the red-roof buildings, and the city wall towers. St Olaf's church in the center. Blue cloudless skies above, thin line of the sea in the distance, marking the horizon.
Tallinn Old Town

Tallinn – when to go?

Tallinn weather is no different to other cities in this part of the world, like Saint Petersburg, Riga, or Helsinki. Although we don’t really enjoy visiting popular tourist locations in summer, this time of the year seems to be perfect for Tallinn. Yes, the Old Town will be crowded. But the temperature will be optimal: not too cold, and not too cold. Other than that, late spring (May-June) should work for most of you.

Pro-tip: if you want to kill two birds with one stone and have both good weather and relatively empty streets, schedule your visit to the midsummer period. June 23rd and 24th are bank holidays, and the majority of Estonians leave the cities in order to enjoy the longest days in a year in the countryside, jumping over the bonfires.

Tallinn Old Town: best-preserved Old Town in Europe

Although the oldest part of Tallinn should not be the only place you visit in the city, it definitely cannot be missed, either. After all, it is the best-preserved medieval Old Town in Europe! Divided into two parts, the lower and the upper one, it offers a wide variety of attractions.

Tallinn – what to see in the Lower Old Town: Town Hall Square and the gates

The main landmark of the lower part of Tallinn Old Town is the Town Hall Square, situated in its heart. No matter the time of day or year – it is always packed with tourists from every corner of the world. The Town Hall, with its characteristic tower, faces the merchant houses and numerous restaurants, as well as souvenir shops. But before you get there, you must enter the area of the Old Town through one of the gates. The most impressive and most photographed one is the Viru Gate.

What to see in Tallinn: Old Town square with Tallinn Town Hall seen from one of the narrow streets facing the Old Town square. Sunny day, blue skies. On both sides of the street entrances to restaurants and souvenir shops. The Town Hall with characteristic tower right in the middle of the photo, some tourists walking towards it in the background.
Tallinn Town Hall

Tallinn – what to see in the Upper Old Town: the viewing platforms

Once you reach the upper part of Tallinn Old town, head to the two viewing platforms: Patkuli and Kohtuotsa. The former offers the best view over the towers integrated with the wall surrounding the oldest part of the city. The latter faces the main landmarks of the lower Old Town and gives you the perfect photo opportunity thanks to “the times we had” graffiti painted on the wall (it was removed by vandals this year, but that already happened a few times in the past and somehow it always comes back). The view from both stretches all the way to Tallinn’s seaside.

Kalamaja neighborhood: traditional Estonian houses

Having wandered through the streets of Tallinn Old Town, take a break from the crowds and walk to the charming Kalamaja neighborhood. This is where the modern and past times meet and mix, resulting in a unique atmosphere. On one hand, there are traditional wooden houses, warmed up by fireplaces. You can smell the burning wood if you happen to be here in the wintertime. On the other hand, there are hipster cafés and industrial buildings adapted for museums and art galleries. This is the most vivid part of Tallinn, popular not only among tourists but also locals.

Street in Kalamaja neighborhood, with cars parked on both sides. Sunny day, blue skies with white clouds. Ob both sides of the street traditional wooden houses, mostly brown and light green.
Tallinn Kalamaja neighborhood

Tallinn – where to eat: Balti Jaama Turg, Tallinn street-food hub

Whenever you get hungry, come to Balti Jaama Turg, Tallinn’s most famous food market, just a stone’s throw from Kalamaja and Tallinn Old Town. It is located right next to the railway station. There are numerous stalls with fresh produce, from fruits and vegetables to meat and fish. Among them, some of the best street-food stands and small restaurants. The prices are much more affordable than in the Old Town, and the variety is huge.

What to see in Tallinn: Balti Jaama Turg - entrance to the hall. The sign with words "BALTI JAAMA TURG ALATES 1993" hanging from the wooden roof. People walking in between the stalls, in the foreground folded woolen winter clothes, scarfs, hats and socks, in the background jars with local honey.
Balti Jaama Turg

Nobody leaves this place disappointed. Upon crossing the doors of Balti Jaama Turg, you get the opportunity to taste the cuisine from distant parts of the world. Right at the entrance, there is a Japanese restaurant serving the best sushi bowls in town. Further inside, you can try Georgian, Uzbek, Indian, or Chinese specialties. Fancy a burger instead? No problem, you’re in the right place. Vegetarians and vegans will get their stomachs full, too. If you prefer a dessert, the shops selling local sweets and handmade cupcakes are ready to satisfy your taste buds. In case you were wondering where Tallinn locals eat – this is one of these places.

Kadriorg: the royal park

A trip to Tallinn wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to Kadriorg Park. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful park not only in Tallinn but also in the whole of Estonia. The most important thing to see here is the baroque Kadriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine, the Empress of Russia. Nowadays, the building serves as the Art Museum of Estonia. In front of the palace, there is a meticulously maintained garden. Nearby, you will find the gorgeous Swan Pond and some flowerbeds. One can easily spend the whole day in Kadriorg Park. The whole area is quite big, but the long walks in such beautiful surroundings are pure pleasure.

Gate to the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia. In the foreground the heavy metal gate, half open, with naked trees on both sides. In the background the front of the baroque palace, dominated by red and yellow, with white columns. In front of it, short mowed green lawn. Blue skies.
Kadriorg Palace

Tabasalu trail: spectacular coastal nature a stone’s throw from Tallinn

Although Tallinn is the most popular destination in Estonia, the unique nature of this Baltic state is noteworthy, too. In case you don’t have enough time to visit one of the National Parks or the largest island in Estonia, you still have a chance to go hiking, just outside of Tallinn. Tabasalu nature study trail is a loop of 3.5 kilometers. On the way, you will see many species of local flora and fauna, as well as amazing sites on the Baltic coast. The hike is relatively easy, though it requires some climbing. It runs on two levels: right by the sea, along the stony beach, and on the clifftop. If you like camping, there are fireplaces and picnic tables perfect for lunch with a view.

Tabasalu trail highlight: still sea with rounded stones reaching over the water surface. To the left, thick green tree crowns, blue skies above.
Tabasalu trail view

What to see in Tallinn in one day?

We hope we managed to convince you to stay in Tallinn, Estonia for a bit more than just a day. If, for whatever reason, you decide not to extend your itinerary, limit your sightseeing to Tallinn Old Town, Kalamaja, and Balti Jaama Turg.

There are many more noteworthy locations than those mentioned in this text. Although Tallinn seems small when compared to London or Paris, it is packed with attractions. It is impossible to name them all here, and it was never our intention. In case you have any questions or feel like sharing your favorite spots to see, feel free to drop a comment.

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