Here’s a confession: I didn’t know anything about Tallinn (or Estonia) before my 2nd Europe trip. If not for our transit in Helsinki, I wouldn’t have thought of Tallinn as a destination to visit (so soon). Oh, what would I have missed!
A former Soviet, this newly independent city of 26 years has preserved its Old Town so well that you’d thought you had walked into a fairytale book. And yet, outside of its charming walled city, expect to be greeted with modern skyscrapers, beaches, and creative hubs. A city who has blend a good mix of old and new, it’s apparently thought to be the next Silicon Valley. For the uninitiated, it’s where the Skype software was invented. Yep.
I took a cruise from Helsinki and it was just a quick 2h away. There are mainly 3 cruise companies who serve this route: Tallink Silja Line, Viking Line and Eckero Line. I went with Tallink Silja Line simply because it has the best timings left for that chosen day. There doesn’t seem to be a big difference in all 3 companies, except the Tallink Silja operates in the highest frequency per day.
Booking in advance is crucial especially if your schedule is tight and you have no room for a change of plans. We took the 7.30am ferry and returned on the same day 12h later at 7.30pm. Note that checking in online is required and that will allow you to easily scan your QR code to enter the boarding gate upon arrival. And it’s best to reach 1h earlier before your ferry departure time so that you’re all prepared!
Tips: Passport verification wasn’t needed at the cruise ports, but it’s only safe should you have another form of personal identification. Also, it’s not worth paying additional for better seats/ cabin seats or even buffet meal. You’ll be surprised by the number of seats available, varied restaurants, and even supermarkets and shops on board. Wifi is also free!
Another popular route that people take would be a cruise from Stockholm, with the option to stop by Helsinki. As far as I understand, flights into the Tallinn airport are mostly from destinations within Europe. So unless you’re coming from another further part of Europe, I would recommend you to stop by Tallinn when you’re touring the Nordic region.
WHAT TO EAT/ DO/ SEE
Outside of Old Town
1. Have breakfast at Lido Eesti and eat cakes at Kohvik Komeet
2. Explore Telliskivi Creative City and enjoy brunch at Boheem Cafe
I did #1 but #2 was on my list as well. If you’re staying a night, feel free to include both in your itinerary, and tell me what you think!
Within Old Town (I went in this order but feel free to jumble it around!)
1. Enter Old Town through the Viru Gate
2. Dine at/ Explore the area around Olde Hansa Medieval Restaurant
3. Go crazy taking photos around Tallinn Town Hall
4. You can’t miss the sight of Raekoja Plats
5. St Nicholas’ Church and Museum
6. Stroll the Danish King’s Garden
7. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St Mary’s Cathedral (Toomkirik)
Look for the lookout point around this area, it’s supposedly more beautiful than Toompea Hill!
8. Have legendary pancakes at Kompressor
These pancakes are technically crepes, and I’d advise you to head there during peak hours because the queue is insanely long.
9. Walk on the walls of Tallinn
You’ll have to pay 3 euros but this provides you with a 2 perspectives of both the old town (inside) and the modern landscapes (outside).
10. Rest your legs at Maiasmokk Cafe (Kalev Chocolate Shop)
This is the oldest cafe in Tallinn, famous for their chocolate! Never leave without buying some as souvenirs. 😉
11. St Catherine’s Passage
Where you’ll also find Tallinn’s history written on the floors.
12. End at the St Olaf’s Church
Note that this church closes at 6PM, so if you’d like to go up to its observatory deck, head there early!
*Optional: Freedom Square
Once you’re in the old town, it’s pretty safe to put away your map from time to time, and just wander wherever your heart feels like. These little points above are here to guide you around so you could cover the old town as efficiently as possible, especially if you only have a few hours to spare.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED
If you’re eager to see Tallinn from a bigger perspective, 1 full day (start early in the day, and leave late in the evening) will suffice. Otherwise, if time is on your side, staying a night in the old town could be a lovely experience. I did the former, but I’m glad I didn’t have to rush through the day because I started really early.