It’s quite a task to choose only ten things one must see in Tallinn. From the city’s many intriguing sights, these stand out because each has a unique story and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. So if you’re in Tallinn for a limited time, or are looking for something truly special, check out this list of noteworthy sights, museums, and neighbourhoods.
The streets, passages, and courtyards of the Old Town
The number one attraction of Tallinn is undoubtedly the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a unique medieval atmosphere. Take time to walk along the narrow cobbled streets, admire the centuries-old architecture, and peek into the hidden courtyards and passages – in many you’ll find a romantic café, a lovely shop, or a secret garden.
As in the Middle Ages, the Town Hall Square is the heart of the Old Town. Historically, it served as a marketplace, but today is the stage for various events, the most well-known being the Christmas Market. As you may have guessed, the square takes its name from the gothic Town Hall building. During the summer, visitors can climb the Town Hall’s tower to a 34-metre-high belfry balcony with views over the Old Town. Opposite the Town Hall is the Town Hall Pharmacy, the oldest continually operating apothecary in Europe.
Additional tip: just a few hundred metres from the Town Hall Square is Maiasmokk, tthe oldest café in Estonia and a popular meeting place since 1864 for those with a sweet tooth.
From the time the first stone fortress was built on the hill in the 13th century, Toompea has been a place of power. Even today, the parliament of Estonia operates out of Toompea Castle. The tallest tower of the castle, Pikk Hermann, is a symbol of Estonian statehood: each morning at sunrise, the Estonian flag is hoisted to its top accompanied by the national anthem. Toompea also has several romantic viewing platforms that offer spectacular views of the city as well as two important churches: St. Mary’s Cathedral (Dome Church) and St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
If you want to feel like a real medieval knight, climb towers, and explore mysterious underground passages, visit the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum. Originally built in the 1470s, it is the mightiest artillery tower in the Baltics. This complex of different towers is connected by the city wall and hidden Bastion Passages. The museum inside introduces the history of the city from its defensive structures to café culture.
Additional tip: The Maiden’s Toweris also part of the complex. You can enjoy a nice hot drink and a snack in its café along with views of the Old Town and the Danish King’s Garden.
The Tallinn City Museum, operating in a 14th-century medieval merchant’s house, introduces the history and development of the capital. The exhibits and artefacts tell about the lives of locals in the Middle Ages through the Soviet occupation to Estonia’s renewed independence today. One of visitors’ favourite items is the city model made on the basis of 19th century drawings, but there are also exciting finds for both children and adults on each floor of the historic building, from the basement to the attic.
Kadriorg Palace and Park ensemble is the most exquisite example of baroque architecture in Estonia. It was founded more than 300 years ago by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. Today, you can stroll around its well-maintained promenades, swan pond, rose garden, and Japanese Garden. There are also a handful of museums in the area, including the Estonian Art Museum’s collection of foreign art inside the palace itself, the Estonian Art Museum’s main building – Kumu, the Peter the Great House Museum, and the Miiamilla Children’s Museum.
The Seaplane Harbour is one of the most impressive maritime museums in Northern Europe. Part of its allure comes from the unique building it is located in – an authentic seaplane hangar – with tall, arched ceilings. But what makes the museum most interesting are its contents. You can climb inside the full-sized 1930s submarine Lembit, get acquainted with various sea vessels and play in interactive exhibits. Just a short walk from the Seaplane Harbour is Port oblessner, a modern residential and urban space with museums, restaurants, designer shops and a marina.
Telliskivi Creative City has become a hub of activity both for locals and visitors. It has brought together numerous design shops, eateries, bars, cafés, and cultural institutions in a former factory complex. Fotografiska Tallinn, a local branch of the world-famous Swedish photography museum, is one of the latest additions to Telliskivi. The area also regularly hosts concerts, festivals, and open-air events. There is always something new to see, hear or taste in Telliskivi.
Additional tip: just across the tramway from Telliskivi is the Kalamaja neighbourhood, which enchants visitors with its bohemian atmosphere and colourful wooden houses.
Maarjamäe Palace is a former summer manor that now houses a branch of the Estonian History Museum. The permanent exhibition ‘My Free Country’ tells the story of the Republic of Estonia from its birth to the present day, while the playroom ‘Children’s Republic’ brings democracy to life for younger kids. The Film Museum, located in the same palace complex, offers a behind-the-scenes look into the world of Estonian and international cinema. Behind the palace, you’ll find a collection of Soviet-era monuments in an outdoor exhibition.
Further up Pirita Road from Marjaamäe, you can visit two massive monuments: the new Memorial to the Victims of Communism, and the ‘Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet’ obelisk, completed in 1975.
Completed in 1980, the 314-metre Tallinn TV Tower is the tallest building in Estonia. From the top, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and sea, grab a bite to eat at the café, and check out interactive exhibits. If you’re feeling brave, you can venture outside on the observation deck or even sign up for a ‘Walk On The Edge’ experience. If you’re not a fan of heights, you can keep your feet firmly on the ground next door at the Tallinn Botanic Garden. Its exotic indoor environments and outdoor paths and rose garden make for a green outing any time of the year.
Additional tip: Tallinn Card is your all-in-one sightseeing pass to over 40 of the city’s best museums and attractions. It even includes free use of public transport and discounts at tours, shops, and restaurants.