This year I seem to have fallen for the Baltic states, because I just can’t stop visiting! With their colourful, quaint streets in the Old Towns, their captivating history, reasonably cheap prices and noticeably less tourists than other European hotspots such as Prague or Budapest, it’s not hard to see why!
I also visited over Christmas and with their Christmas market voted the best in Europe 2019, I don’t doubt this lovely city is going to get more popular. I have to say, if you do go at Christmas their market is one of my favourites. It’s smaller than others, just in one square with stores in concentric circles which a Christmas Tree in the middle. It feels more personal and there’s a lot less tatt being sold than at other Christmas markets I’ve visited. Plus I’m convinced their version of Glögi (gluwhein/ mulled wine) is stronger!
See the city from above
The great thing about Tallinn is that it has so many viewing platforms and rooftops to see the city from that it’s beautiful from every angle. My favourite viewing spots are the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform and the Patkuli Viewing Platform. They are both right near each other in the Upper Town but have very different views. This is a great way to see the old town and orientate yourself, with the orange rooftops and city turrets I fell in love with these views. Make sure to go early for the best photo light and to avoid the late morning tour groups!
Explore the Upper Town
Since you’re already in the Upper Town (called Toompea), check out the beautiful buildings and architecture. This is where the rich merchants used to live so a lot of the buildings are very grand and are now home to embassys and the government buildings. Don’t miss the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - this Russian Orthodox Church is free to go inside. TIP: men must remove their hats inside Russian Orthodox Churches, women ideally should have their head covered.
Then head to the Lutheran Church, St Mary’s Cathedral, in the next square. It has free organ concerts and you can also go up the church tower. I’ve heard the view from there is lovely but every time I went they seemed to make up the opening times and it changed every day, so I never got to climb the tower!
Refuel with the best coffee in town
Located on Rataskaevu, a street popular with locals for it’s eateries and bars, Kompressor is a cafe which we became somewhat regulars at during our time in Tallinn! With mega filled savoury pancakes, the best coffee in town and very strong glögi at a reasonable price, we were ducking in here every few hours to get out the cold (minus 18 celsius is no joke).
Free Walking Tour
If you know me, you’ll know I love a free walking tour, especially when I’m short on time and want to learn lots quickly about a new place. We used Tallinn Free Tours, our guide was Heli and she was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic!
Spend the afternoon exploring the Old Town
If you’re here in the winter, the afternoon is the perfect time to explore the Old Town as the sun sets at 3.15pm and with all the Christmas lights on the city looks magical. If you do have more daylight hours though, getting lost in a new city is my favourite pass time. Here are my favourite streets to explore and photograph:
Pikk Street - full of shops and bars to explore. Stand at the bottom and look up the hill to get this shot.
Mundi Street - is the famous view through the pedestrian street to the Town Square and at Christmas it frames the Christmas tree perfectly.
Viru Street - more contemporary shops but a nice walk up from the old city gates.
St. Catherine’s Passage - a unique medieval alleyway, one of the oldest parts of the city.
Old Town Brews
A little quirk of mine but I love to find breweries with local beers on tap. For a rough around the edges feel I recommend Hell Hunt, for something a bit more sohpisticated head to Brewery Õlleklubi. I thoroughly enjoyed both.
Dine at F-Hoone
As much as I love the old town, i do like to get out and experience other neighbourhoods. The Kalamaja neighbourhood is the upcoming arts/hipster area of Tallinn and honestly it was right up my street! Think converted factories, restaurants in container parks and creative cultural spaces. We went for dinner at F-Hoone, a factory building converted to a restaurant and it was incredible with great veggie options too, it was our favourite meal of the trip.
Walk the city walls
There are only a few segments remaining of the city walls after the city expanded. You can walk along a section at the Danish King’s Garden which has rooftop views and is right by the Kiek in de Kök museum and Bastion Tunnels which you can visit.
On the other side of the city is Hellemann Tower and wall walkway, it will cost you 3 euros to go up here but the rooftop views are beautiful.
Learn about the KGB history in Estonia
If you’ve just been up the Hellemann tower then head over to the KGB museum which is on the 23rd floor of the Viru Hotel just outside the old town. This was a secret floor used by the KGB to spy on the western or political guests staying at the hotel in the floors below. The stories are fascinating and the rooms have been left in the same way they were left when the KGB agents left in a hurry in 1991. I would definitely recommend, especially if like me, you don’t know that much about the history of the KGB and their presence in Estonia. TIckets are 12 euros and you will need to book on a tour for your language, this can be done at the hotel reception desk.
Another option is the KGB Prison Cells in the Old Town on Pikk street. The exhibition is committed to telling the story of the crimes against humanity committed by the KGB in this house.
Visit the quaint Masters’ Courtyard
Back in the old town, tucked in a courtyard off Vene Street is the Masters’ Courtyard. This idyllic escape is covered in vines in the summer which turn red in the autumn and you can sit outside and enjoy treats from the cafes in the courtyard. My favourite was Pierre’s. This eclectic cafe has everything you need for a refreshment and is super fun with it’s quirky decor. We were in Tallinn for my Dad’s birthday and we even got his birthday cake from here!
Take a stroll through Tornide Väljak park
Covered in snow in the winter along the outside edge of the the northwest city walls this park was beautiful, so i can only imagine it’s lush and beautiful to explore in the warmer months too. From here the Estonian Maritime Museum is in one of the city wall towers. It details the 16th-century seafaring history of Estonia. For a more comprehensive exhibition and real vessels to explore and go inside, head to the Martime Museum on the seafront.
I hope this has helped you with some ideas for your trip to Tallinn! I’d love to know if you’re planning a trip to Tallinn in the comments below or you can check out more photo locations on my Instagram and send me a message with any questions