Short of time? You're in luck. Tallinn is a compact city, in which you can cover multiple sights without the need to travel far.
There are many historic and fun sights in the Old Town
, which are very easy to access on foot and that you cannot miss. Still, Tallinn has a lot more to be discovered besides the Old Town. You should definitely spare some time to visit one of the other cool areas of Tallinn, like the green and beautiful Kadriorg
or the trendy up-and-coming hipster suburb Kalamaja
. Plan which you'd like to see, as you probably won't be able to make it to both in six hours.
Many visitors of Tallinn arrive by ship. One of the first things you see coming from the sea are the towers of Tallinn’s Old Town - seeming like little red spikes lining the town. These landmarks are the remaining defensive towers and the city wall
. They're also some of the coolest things in our town.
So, like any visitor to Tallinn's Old Town, you need to get past this wall first. There's no need to state your business these days, but it is easy to imagine armed guards up on the walls, looking down at you. The wall, originally almost 2.4 km in length and made of limestone, came with 8 gates, 46 towers, and an impressive moat. Now what is left of the moat camouflages as a pond in a park, but amazingly 1.9 km of wall is still there, along with half of the towers.
Tallinn's City Wall is one of the best preserved in the whole northern European region and thus a must-see. So get up on it! Walk up on the wall and imagine all the wars that have involved Tallinn. There are several sections of the wall where you can climb up, for example at Hellemann Tower
on Müürivahe street, or you can also visit three towers in quick succession: Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala
are all connected. However the most famous sections of the wall is in the Danish King's Garden
and leads to the Maiden's Tower
. Don't miss it! Also visit some of the towers that have become museums like Kiek in de Kök
, the aforementioned Maiden’s Tower, or Fat Margaret Tower
, to learn about the history of this region. And following the narrow streets running behind the walls will bring a truly medieval feel to your walk.
2. Explore the city's religious history
Aside from the city wall's towers, there are tall, imposing church spires. Tallinn's skyline is so beautiful that no skyscraper is allowed ever to ruin it, there is even a law making sure of this, and ensuring nothing can be built higher than the highest church spire. St. Olav gets this honour, at 123.7 metres in height. Estonians are in general very private about their religion, though we do like to show off our old churches, and the Old Town has many to choose from.
Start with St. Olav's Church
, the highest tower you can climb to get an unparalleled view of Tallinn that takes the breath away. Not far from St. Olav Church lies the Holy Spirit Church
that housed the poor in medieval times and led the way to writing books in Estonian. A must-see is St. Nicholas' (Niguliste) Church
, a building that was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War and now houses the Niguliste Museum, one of the branches of the Art Museum of Estonia.
The oldest church of all is to be found up on the hill: the Dome Church
(also called as Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin) from the early 13th century; this church has seen its share of fighting and fire in the region but still nothing really compares to the beautiful coats of arms decorating the walls, never mind the view from the top of the tower. And finally, do not miss St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
that stands imposingly over the old town, especially because admission is free.
4. Get lost on the streets of Old Tallinn
The Old Town is perfect for getting lost in; even the locals end up having to turn round every now and again. The small alleys, courtyards, and winding side streets all make for a confusing but pretty mess, so enjoy it.
Go looking for the lovely St. Catherine's Passage
(Katariina käik) with artisan shops and the Masters' Courtyard
where local romantics go for hot chocolate even in the warm summer nights. Strike out for hidden antiques and design shops for that essential souvenir but avoid the overpriced amber-selling establishments. Explore some interesting museums in the old town like the Estonian History Museum
or the quirky NUKU Museum for Puppet Arts
, which provides fun for children and adults alike.
When your feet are hurting from the cobblestone streets and museums then sit down for something to eat, away from the main streets and squares. The shortest street in the Old Town, Saiakang, has some cute cafes, while Rataskaevu street is a place where locals often go for a nice meal, and Vene and Müürivahe are two long streets that hide many good places for a bite to eat.
And if you get really lost then just stop someone and ask for directions. You can tell locals by the way they walk (faster than everyone else) and the way they look down or straight ahead, not up at the houses and towers.
5. High up on Toompea Hill
Toompea aka the upper town is from where Estonia is ruled: both the parliament and the government are located up there. Toompea Castle
houses the Estonian parliament - Riigikogu. Here are several houses wrapped together in history - the medieval crusader castle fuses with the early classical palace and hides the world's only expressionist-style parliament building in the courtyard. You can actually enter the Parliament building if you plan ahead, gain security clearance, and bring a passport.
Across the square, in front of the castle, is the St. Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox Cathedral
. Step into this impressive sacred building, smell a hint of incense in the air, and be dazzled by all the gold. The most historically-important church up there is not actually Nevsky, but Dome Church, aka the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin
(also sometimes called Toomkirik). Don't let the sparse white walls of this Lutheran church put you off; the main interest is on the inside, as the church has seen more history than any other in Tallinn.
Finally, don't forget the viewing platforms! There are three platforms (Kohtuotsa
) overlooking the city with great photo opportunities. At Kohtuotsa you will also find a seagull called Steven walking on the edge of the platform posing for photos like a true supermodel. Those seagulls must be some of the most pictured birds out there... #Tallinnseagull and #Steventheseagull
6. Walk around beautiful Kadriorg or hipster Kalamaja
The Old Town is not everything in Tallinn; there is so much more to see. Take a small walk or a quick tram ride (hop on no. 3) over to Kadriorg
, perhaps the most beautiful area in Tallinn. In Kadriorg, you will find Peter the Great's gorgeous summer palace, built for his wife Catherine, that is now Kadriorg Art Museum. Kadriorg Palace
, with its surrounding park, is already 300 years old and the park is the biggest one in Tallinn. As this museum is located right next to the President's Palace, you might be lucky enough to see the changing of the guards or the president herself.
There are also many other museums nearby, but most important of them all is Kumu. Kumu Art Museum
houses an interesting and varied collection of Estonian art dating from the 18th century to the present day. This art museum is the perfect size in order to see everything in one trip.
If you are not that into art, and are more of a nature lover, then just sit down on the grass, have a picnic and enjoy the day. Something delicious for your picnic can be found from local cafes like Katherinenthal
, Gourmet Coffee
, Dereku Burger
, all of which bake and cook their dishes on the premises. You can easily follow the seaside back towards the port from Kadriorg if need be.
As an alternative, you can visit Kalamaja
, the coolest area in Tallinn right now. Kalamaja consists of two sides: the industrial heritage left behind by the 20th century, and quaint wooden housing which used to be for the workers. Today many young families have made this area their home, so walking around Kalamaja gives you a good look at what is some of the most desirable housing in Tallinn.
The most popular area is Telliskivi Creative City
. Telliskivi has turned an old industrial compound into studio spaces, creative companies' offices, cool restaurants, artsy coffee shops, and fancy beer bars specialising in local and international craft beer. Telliskivi Creative City, once considered a risky investment during the depths of the global recession, has since developed, matured and become a golden opportunity for innovative companies.
Don't miss out on some really cool street art decorating the houses and walls of the former factory. The Telliskivi area is quite big and something new always crops up, be it pop-up shops, galleries, or flea markets. This place is very close to the Old Town, just a short walk away, and gives tourists a view of the modern side of Tallinn, where old buildings become home to new ideas.