Exploring Eastern Europe has been a passion for us for the last few years. There are so many countries that we’ve tended to overlook in the past. We just keep going back to the same ones over and over again. So, we made a conscious decision to explore these countries and have fallen in love. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is one of the cities we couldn’t wait to visit, and just like so many other Eastern European Capitals we’ve written about, it’s quaint, charming, and welcoming. We wandered around for a few days and came up with this list of 30 things to do in Tallinn. If you go, you will have so much fun trying them out.
Tallinn did not disappoint us. It is just as fairytale-like, just as magical, as I was expecting. Red tile roofed buildings interspersed with high stone defensive towers and intricate church steeples makes for a really quaint old town. The first day we were there, we overheard a tour guide recounting the day’s weather…gale force winds and maybe some rain. Yes, it was cold! Within minutes our ears and cheeks were red. It was the first day after such a warm summer that we really felt the chill. No worries, though, the Estonians are ready to sell you some beautiful woolen items. I couldn’t resist a nice new knit cap with a built in scarf.
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30+ Things to Do in Tallinn
1 – Eat the black rye bread that Estonians are famous for. You will be offered it with most meals in many restaurants and you can even pick up a loaf in a shop at the airport to take home with you.
2 – Climb one of the towers, like St. Olav’s or the old town hall, to get great views overlooking the town and its iconic red-brick roofs. Also, so many of the old town’s defensive towers have been rebuilt and re-purposed into museums or cafes offering birds-eye views of the town.
3 – Walk around the old town square, Raekoja Plats, and look for the intricate details that can be found around you like the dragons for the rain spouts on the old town hall. You’ll also find a variety of cafes and restaurants with outside seating just perfect for coffee and some people watching.
4 – Take the hop on hop off bus to get your bearings — there are three routes. The most common route, the red circle, takes you around the edges of the old town pointing out all of the historical sites along the way.
5 – Bask in the splendor of the 19th century Russian Orthodox St. Aleksander Nevsky’s Cathedral. The onion dome towers and shining gold crosses will draw your eye and your camera, guaranteed.
6 – Use public transportation to get around. The Old Town is great, but see more by utilizing the trams and buses that cover the city so well. You don’t really need to walk anywhere outside of the old town.
7 – Visit the Great Guild, and find out what it meant to be middle class in the middle ages. You’ll also find one of the best sword and weapon displays to be found anywhere.
8- Visit the Sea Plane Hangar Museum and harbor for a fascinating glimpse of maritime life in and around Tallinn. This is certainly one of the most definitive buoy collections we’ve ever seen! You can also take a shot at defending the coast from marauding fighters using the life sized anti-aircraft guns. This is a must see museum!
9 – Climb another tower turned museum and learn about vikings in Fat Margaret tower. The displays here include silver hoards from the Viking age with coins from as far away as Baghdad! Another must see museum!
10 – Watch the fire spinners while you have a sit down in the old town square at one of the cafes. The display is put on at night by the restaurant at the top of the square but can be seen all around the plaza.
11- Visit the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe. The Town Hall Apothecary, Raeapteek, has been operating in the same building since before 1422. You can still pop in for a dose of aspirin or walk through to check out the old displays in its free museum.
12 – Have lunch or a dinner in the old railroad area. This cool, hipster neighborhood houses coffee shops, music venues, art galleries, a restaurant in two old railway carriages and even a cupcake shop built in some old shipping containers.
13 – Try Kama, a traditional dessert. You can find the fixings for this delicious, soupy treat in any supermarket but not too many restuarants have it. This unique dish combines berries, rye flour, and keffir for a tangy taste that is sure to please.
14 – Learn the history of marzipan and paint your own in a unique candy lesson at Kalev in the Rotterman District.
15 – Check out all the handmade items at one of the outdoor markets found around the city. We bought some beautiful woolen hats!
16 – Walk around the up and coming Kalamaja neighborhood where the old wooden houses are being renovated. The juxtaposition of the old dilapidated building sitting right next to the newly renovated ones is striking.
17 – Have a beer in the Old Town Hall at the III Dragons, or try a honey beer at the Olde Hanse House, or go for a delicious modern beer in Tallinns original brew pub, the Beer House.
18 – Pick out a pretty marzipan at Maiasmokk Cafe. Tallinn makes a claim for being the European originator of marzipan. Whether that’s true or not can’t really be proven but they have been making and painting it here for hundreds of years. You can find the tasty almondy sweet treat in a variety of shapes and sizes.
19 – Take a boat ride, if the weather permits. We had a gale blowing when we were there so the old steamer, Katharina, that runs out to Naissaar island wasn’t running but we’re adding it to the list since we’ll definitely be on it on our next visit.
20 – Check out the Rotermann District with its refurbishment of the old factory buildings. One of the Kalev outlets is located here in a repurposed saw mill. The buildings out here are just so photogenic. Bring your camera on this shopping trip.
21 – Take a walk or run along the coastal path near Pirita Beach. Hey, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting in some exercise, and what better place to do it then out near the water?
22- Climb the tower and walk along the city walk in Kiek in de kok. I just love the name of this tower and the chic cafe on the top floor has some of the best views looking out over the town. You can also take a tour of the underground in the old defensive tunnels.
23 – View the famous Dance of Death at the Niguliste Museum (an impressive 13th century church worth a visit in its own right). Both the painting, also called Danse Macabre, and the ancient altar piece are incredible works of art surviving from the 15th century.
24 – Spy on Estonia’s recent history in the Museum of Occupations where you’ll find the whole roller coaster story of Estonian occupation, independence, reoccupation, and independence again. There are some very interesting cold war pieces to be found here and the museum is planning an expansion that promises to be even better.
25 – Climb the hill and walk through the haunted monk’s gate at the top of Lühike jalg street on your way to take a gander at the pink palace where Estonia’s parliament now meets. The whole strip of city wall along the Danish King’s Garden is said to be inhabited with a number of ghosts including the former executioner turned monk, a fire-spitting dog, and a prostitute.
26 – Get in the spirit of Medieval fun as you see all the touts in costume plying their wares. III Dragon, Olde Hanse House, and the Pepper Sack are all good examples of medieval buildings turned out to give the visitor the feeling of what it might have been like to visit Tallinn in the good old days.
27 – Indulge in some excellent cuisine at any number of restaurants. Our favorites were the elk at Rataskaevu 16 and the Grandma’s Sunday Roast at Restoran Vanaema Juures, while you’re there this is a good place to try the Kama (see #15 above). Be advised, Rataskaevu 16 is one of the best restaurants in town and you really should make a reservation. We were lucky to walk in on a Saturday afternoon and get a table, but we watched them turn away group after group while we were there.
28 – Rent a bike and get out of the old town and go explore the coastal trails or the harbor. The area around town is fairly flat and easy to ride, especially down by the water. One great ride is out the peninsula towards the Viimsi Open Air Museum, a former seaside village turned into a museum showcasing life in a fishing village over 150 years old.
29 – Pick and eat the sweet bliss of chocolate at Kalev. They’ve been making chocolate and other sweets in Tallinn since the 19th century and you’re sure to find a favorite among their many choices. Mine is the coconut, mmm, delicious!
30 – Go out for a night on the town in one of the many hot spots, and dance the night away.
31 – Go on a picnic. Pick up some good, cheap food from the local Rimi supermarket and head out to one of the many parks for a relaxing picnic.
32- Search for that perfect gift among the handicrafts and artwork in the Meistrite Hoov (Master’s Courtyard) or down nearby Katharina kaik.
When is the Best Time to Visit Tallinn?
Going to northern Europe can be tricky time-wise. The best weather is probably during summer, but that’s when everyone is visiting. In some places a high tourist season can be miserable for other visitors. Not only is it crowded, but the prices go up dramatically and the touts are that much more relentless. I’d been wanting to get to Tallinn for a number of years, but the timing just never worked out. Last spring, we got some great prices on fall tickets and without thinking twice, booked them. So, we headed to Tallinn in October, and it was definitely starting to get cold and it was certainly wet. If you look at the charts, it would seem that May and June, although still chilly, at least would have the least rain. No matter when you go, though, Tallinn’s charm will warm you up!
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, should be on your Eastern Europe bucket list. With its many gated stone wall encircling the Old Town, and its medieval feel, great restaurants, hands-on museums, and charming atmosphere, you can’t go wrong. There’s so much to do, you can really have a great long weekend in the city and never get bored.
Have you ever been to Tallinn? What are your recommendations?
We were sponsored by Visit Estonia for some of our activities, but of course our opinions are our own. Thanks to Visit Estonia.
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