Tallinn is crowded when the cruise ships come to town, but you can have it mostly to yourself when the ships leave. Travelers from all corners of the globe make their way over land and sea (and of course air) to discover this charming city with almost 900 years of history. You can get a sense of the layers of history as you walk up and down the narrow cobbled streets of this beautiful city.
The Estonian capital, Tallinn, was ruled by the Danes, Swedes, Germans, and Russians for hundreds of years. These days there’s hardly a trace of the dark past. What you’ll see amongst the steeples, spires, ancient walls, and cobbled alleyways are trendy stores, cozy coffee shops, and hundreds of restaurants serving traditional and modern creative dishes.
And if you want to visit soon, make sure you take a look at these five things to do in Tallinn:
1. Wander the old town and take in the sights
Tallinn has one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe. Partially bordered by ramparts, with bell towers, spires, and steeples, this alluring medieval city will take your breath away literally when you walk up the steps and upwards towards Toompea (upper town). And figuratively when you see the magnificent views from the top over.
Start your walk at the town hall square, the heart of Tallinn’s old town. Climb to the top of the Town Hall’s tower, visit Town Hall Pharmacy (oldest operating pharmacy in Europe), check out St Olav’s Church, walk Tallinn’s town wall, stroll along Catherine’s Passage, and more. Catherine’s Passage showcases the city’s artisans. It’s the best place to buy locally made products.
After exploring lower town, walk on the narrow cobbled streets and stairs to upper town or Toompea. The upper town has a few lookout points offering a picturesque view of lower town’s towers and colorful rooftops. Check out Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral (Dome Church) and Toompea Castle.
Built in 1900 by Mikhail Preobrazhenski, a Russian architect from St Petersburg, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn’s architectural masterpiece. It’s a great example of Russian revival architecture and when you walk inside, you’ll see the magnificent mosaic filled interior.
At St. Mary’s Cathedral you can climb up the 226-foot Baroque bell tower and get a better view of Tallinn. The church is also known as Dome Church and Toomkirik by the locals.
2. Try modern Estonian cuisine
Rye bread, obviously is a staple in Estonia, alongside potatoes dishes, a variety of fresh, smoked or pickled fish, cheeses and game meat. But in recent years, contemporary Estonian chefs are putting modern spins on traditional ingredients and recipes, creating innovative modern Estonian dishes that are incredibly good.
Here are 5 restaurants you should go to experience modern Estonian cuisine when visiting Tallinn:
- Ribe – try the fish dishes, mushroom ravioli, or the tasting menu
- Vaike and Rataskaevu 16 – both restaurants have the same menu – everything is good there but try elk mushroom soup, fish or meat dishes
- Mekk – another place for fish dishes or duck
- Farm – check out their grilled lamb or game meatballs
- Von Krahli Aed – known for their fish dishes and grilled aubergine
3. Explore Kadriorg Palace and Park
Make time to explore Kadriorg Palace and Park located in the northern part of Tallinn, just under two miles from the old town. Kadriorg Palace and Park was the summer home of Catherine I and Peter the Great. This outstanding palace was built in the 1700s as a gift to Catherine I. It’s now an art museum showcasing 16th to 20th century Russian and European paintings. Apart from the art pieces, you get a chance to see the interior of this Baroque palace, stroll the gardens and discover the Kadriorg neighborhood.
Kardiorg boasts of 19th-century wooden villas and The Presidential Palace. Just a few minutes away is the famous Song Festival Grounds, the venue for the National Song Festival that occurs every five years. The amphitheater is a sight to behold. On top of the hill overlooking the amphitheater is a large sculpture of Gustav Ernesaks, the father of National Song Festival.
4. Enjoy ballet or opera at the Estonian National Ballet Theater- Estonian National Opera
For 17 Euros you can enjoy top-class ballet performance at the Estonian National Ballet Theater. On some days you don’t even have to book in advance. Just go to the box office and if you’re lucky you may get tickets for the same day.
It’s best to get your seats in advance. Check a list of performances, prices, and availability on Estonian National Opera. The Estonian National Ballet and Estonian National Opera are located side by side.
5. Visit Kalamaja
The Bohemian and trendy Kalamaja is the coolest place to be in Tallinn. It was home to fishermen in the Middle Ages and factory workers during the Soviet era, today it’s the most desirable neighborhood for young Estonians. While you’re there, visit the following places:
- Tallinn Creative Hub – located in an old power plant
- Telliskivi Creative City – a huge selection of places to eat and shop
- Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia
- Kalju Church – a Neo-Gothic church built in 1902, the only remaining church in Kalamaja
- Salme Cultural Centre – Stalinist architecture
- Seaplane Harbor – historic ships, replica seaplane and more