Tallinn, known for its dreamy old town, is a historic center full of magnificent examples of baroque and medieval architecture in the most beautiful cobbled streets, castles and churches’ spires. The capital of Estonia, located in the extreme northeast of Europe, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, is sometimes described as the new Silicon Valley and well worth a visit even if you have to do only one day in Tallinn.
Tallinn was under the Soviet rule until 1991, but since its independence that same year, it has changed a great deal. Its official founding year is 1248, but the first human settlements discovered in the area date back as far as 5,000 years, making it one of the oldest capitals in northern Europe.
Due to its strategic location, the city became an important commercial center, especially between the 14th and 16th centuries, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best-preserved medieval remains in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, if are after recommendations on what to do in Tallinn in one day, you are in luck!
The New Silicon Valley
Today, Tallinn is the main political, financial, cultural and educational center of Estonia. Often called Europe’s Silicon Valley, it has the highest number of startups per person in Europe and is the birthplace of many international companies, including Skype. The city is also home to the headquarters of the European Union IT agency. Providing to Global Cybersecurity it houses the NATO Center of Excellence for Cyber Defense. Unsurprisingly, it is classified as a global city and has been included among the 10 most important digital cities in the world.
The city boasts a rich mix of architecture and culture in a small geographic area, which makes it a perfect destination for a short trip. Its Old Town was almost untouched by war and remains perfectly preserved. And outside the city walls, there are beguiling districts of brightly painted wooden houses, parks, redeveloped docks, beaches and forests.
Best Time To Visit Tallinn
The best time to visit Tallinn in Estonia is from June until September, when you will have a soft or pleasant temperature and limited until little rainfall. The highest average temperature in Tallinn is 22°C in July and the lowest is -2°C in January. Our visit was in August but as you can see from the pictures, we pretty overcast. We had a bit of sunshine and then showers hit but it fizzled out a few minutes later.
Getting Around Tallinn
Tallinn is pretty much a large village (when it comes to size), meaning that it doesn’t take too long to get from one place to another. The best way to move around is to walk, as it also allows you to discover parts of the city that you wouldn’t normally pay attention to if you were on the bus.
However, if walking is not for you, or if it’s chilly and rainy outside, there are other ways to reach places.
Buses, trolley-buses and trams, all of which use the same ticketing-system. Trams provide the simplest way to get around downtown areas. From the centre, most major bus routes leave from the terminal under the Viru Centre, or from Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square).
Routes and schedules are listed in English here, where you can also find a route planner to help you navigate your way through Tallinn’s pubic transport system. When it comes to tickets, the simplest version is the 1-hour ticket which can be bought from the driver for €2.
Now that you’ve got some basic information, we reveal to you a full 1 day Tallin itinerary that will guide you through the city to make the most out of your time in Tallinn in one day.
How To Get To Tallinn
Flight Into Tallinn: I travel from London so this is based on that. There are plenty of flights from London to Tallinn from FinAir, SAS, Turkish Air, and many others. You can check Expedia or Ebookers for slight deals.
Ferry From Helsinki To Tallinn: We took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn via Direct Ferries. We booked it in advance online. The journey is only 1 hour and 45 minutes. If you have an EU passport you will breeze through security but if you have a Schengen visa, and better yet have an African passport prepare for a little more scrutiny as many in passport don’t seem familiar African passports.
This considering, how we had some rather less than pleasant interaction with not only Finland’s passport control and security the airport, but the passport control at the ferry terminal both leaving and coming back from Russia via Finland. Other than that, the travel experience in the country wasn’t bad. The ferry from Helsinki to Tallin was 64 Euros for a return for 2 people. When you arrive at the Tallinn cruise terminal, getting from the terminal to Tallinn city centre, is a short walk into the old town.
Ferry From St Petersburg To Tallin: Before visiting Tallinn, we had been to St Petersburg on a short cruise, which also operates an option to do Helsinki to St Petersburg for 3 days and then on to Tallin. This is operated by St Peter Line. You can book this online as well as gives you the option to visit Russia without a visa.
Instead of heading to Tallinn from Russia we got off in Helsinki and explored a few days before heading to visiting Tallinn from Helsinki as detailed above. We paid 300 Euros for the overnight cruise from Helsinki to St Petersburg without the Tallin option. Prices will depend on the cabin you get and cruise length.
What To See In Tallin In One Day
Below is a quick guide and recommendation on things to do in Tallinn in one day or if you are short on time and only able to do one day in Tallinn. There are also plenty of tours in Tallinn that would compliment any Tallinn itinerary.
Old Town and the surroundings
There is no better way to start this route through Tallinn than entering the old city through the Viru Gate. Several of the gates that gave access to the medieval city of Tallinn are still preserved. But without a doubt, the most beautiful is the Viru Gate. As you walk through the gate, you will likely travel in time. This gate was part of the fortification that surrounded the city in the 14th century. Tallinn was the most protected city in Europe after the Middle Ages, and some of the 26 towers on the wall can still be seen and visited. The best known are Nuna and Sauna.
St. Catherine’s Passage
If you pass through the Viru gate and turn right, in 5 minutes you will encounter of the most special places in the capital. St. Catherine’s Passage is a small cobbled street, almost “secret”, which will make you feel like you’re a part of some sort of fairytale. Of course, keep in mind that, being small and quite touristy, it may attract some other visitors too, meaning you may not be alone there. If you want some quiet time there, or a perfect photo, go early in the morning… or in the middle of winter! Along this historic street, you will find also find a plenty of craft shops, which is a perfect if you want to bring home something unique.
Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak)
At the edge of the Tallinn Old Town, where the old buildings connect with the new ones, proudly stands the Freedom Square, a symbol of liberty. In the Soviet times, it was known as the Victory Square that used to host parades during the holidays like the Victory Dayand the October Revolution. Now, it is a popular meeting spot and a place to relax. You can sit on a bench or in a cafe, enjoy the lively atmosphere, visit open-air concerts in the summertime, or have a look at the monuments, art galleries and the churches surrounding the square.
Town Hall Square
Whether you visit Tallinn in one day or over a few days, this place is not to be missed. Tallinn’s Town Hall Square is spectacular. It is the heart of the Old Town. Apart from the obvious town hall, the square is surrounded by beautiful colorful houses of former merchants that add a precious touch to the square. In fact, since the medieval period, the town hall square has been the main meeting place of the locals. And it continues being one. Sit on one of the terraces to have a drink and simply enjoy the atmosphere.
If you exit the square through Mündi street, you will find yourself in another interesting location:
On the pavement is a timeline from prehistoric times with important dates and events (in English). The timeline, somewhat optimistically, stretches to the year 2418 and the 500th anniversary of Estonian independence. It’s well worth a detour, and there is a nice museum shops half way down too.
This quiet courtyard in the Old Town is a little piece of Tallinn as it was centuries ago, when people appreciated the work of craftsmen, who put their heart and soul into everything they made. You can still see the medieval architecture and enjoy the cozy atmosphere. There are different arts and crafts workshops, guest rooms for accommodation, and the famous café Chocolaterie in the yard.
It can be a little tricky to find it. You need to be walking north on Vene street while scanning the walls to your right for a small gateway. Grab a bite to eat, have a drink, relax, and get ready to continue your tour of Tallinn.
Lunch at Rataskaevu 16
If you hadn’t considered a food tour in Tallinn, then perhaps now would be food for food stop. Considered to be a top restaurant in Tallinn, and reasonably priced. Everything on the menu is exquisite. Servers leave personalized notes on the napkins, butter, and freshly baked bread is brought to the table along with compliments from the chef. The whole experience is an absolute delight. Book a table one week in advance. It will be worth it. The doors open at 12:00 and that’s the only time you might be able to get a table without reservation.
If you’re unable to make the reservation, check out the 2nd restaurant under the same proprietors:
Niguliste 6, which offers the same quality of service and delicious food at reasonable prices.
St. Olaf’s Church tower and observation platform
The gothic steeple of this church, which was completed in the early 16th century, once made the church one of the tallest buildings in the world (soaring to 159 metres, according to some sources). Historians disagree, however, on the details and interpretation of the measurements, and some even think that the steeple has never been higher than 115–125 metres. Nevertheless, the church has always been a grand structure, and its 124-metre tower is considered one of the icons of Tallinn. In summer, visitors can climb a winding staircase to the tower’s observation platform to enjoy views of the city. The church and observation platform are closed in winter.
Gelato ladies – coffee and ice cream
To keep your energy levels right for the rest of the day, we recommend popping into ‘Gelato ladies’ for a cup of coffee or some ice cream on a warm day. Gelato ladies brings joy to all ice cream lovers with its broad selection of quality Italian ice cream or gelato, which is made in-house. Up to 18 different flavours of ice cream and sorbet are offered every day. The menu also contains waffles, pancakes and drinks suitable for an Italian-themed café, starting from quality coffee. The café welcomes children and pets.
If you feel like venturing outside of the city center – we recommend
Kadriorg Palace – Best in Summer
Originally built by Tsar Peter the Great as a gift for his beloved Catherine, Catherine showed no interest in the place whatsoever, and today, Kadriorg is used as an art museum, which is open until 6pm on most days, apart from Mondays. The palace is surrounded by large green areas and flowers, perfect for those looking to relax and enjoy some quiet time.
You can get to the palace from the Old Town in about 30-40mins if you walk, or jump on a tram, which will take about 20mins. For that, you will need to walk to Linnahall station (4mins away from St. Olaf’s Church and Gelato ladies), and wait for Tram 1. Drive for 6 stops and get off at Kadriorg.
Alternatively, or if you have enough time:
It is a tourist attraction in a form of theatrical and interactive museum in Tallinn, Estonia. The museum recreates historical events and legends that have contributed to the folklore of medieval Tallinn.
Toompea hill and places to visit
Toompea Hill has always occupied a special place in the conscience of Tallinn townsfolk and it is from here that the city has traditionally been ruled – from the first wooden fort constructed in the 9th Century to today’s incarnation of Toompea Castle, which houses the Estonian Parliament. Definitely worth a visit.
On the Lossi Plats (Castle Square) stands the impressive Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral. Constructed in 1900 by the Russians, in imitation of St. Basil’s in Moscow, the project was a crude attempt to stamp Russian identity on the city and to suppress Estonian national spirit. Whatever its political meaning however, its aesthetics are beyond reproach.
Kiriku Plats (Dome Square) and the Finnish Embassy
Here, you will find the magnificent Gothic church of Toomkirik. This ‘Dome Church’ miraculously survived a 17th Century fire that ravaged the rest of Toompea and stands as fine example of an Estonian Lutheran church, complete with a floor paved with tombstones.
Before you think about heading back down to the Lower Old Town, one essential thing remains to be done – and that’s take advantage of the superb views on offer from Toompea’s lofty vantage point. The Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms are a highlight of the Upper Old Town offer a spectacular view of the city, especially magical at sunset, but also awe-inducing at night time.
Provides excellent views over the red roofs and towering spires of the Old Town as well as of the gleaming highrise buildings in the new part of the city. In the background is the Gulf of Finland, the port and the Pirita district.
Unforgettable views are guaranteed all year round, whatever the weather.
From Patkuli viewpoint you can have a magnificient view over the old town of Tallinn, the Baltic Sea and the harbour. You can also spot the biggest train station in Estonia – Balti Jaam. Also TV tower and Song Festival Grounds can be spotted from here. This is the second most well-known viewpoint in Toompea and is a little bit less crowded than Kohtuotsa viewpoint.
Dinner – perfect way to end your day with a well-deserved meal
Third Dragon restaurant
No Tallinn one day tour would be complete without checking out the local food. This place was recommended to as among unique places to eat in Tallinn. According to their website, it is a place “is intended for those who value a decent sense of humour and wish to experience something completely different from a regular visit to a restaurant. In addition, the Third Dragon is a public house for city people of a simpler kind, free of snobbery, allowing you to feel free and relaxed!”
A homely retro cafe with a cosy courtyard offers the following selection from its à la carte menu: gluten and lactose free, as well as vegan meals (soups, salads, mains, desserts), a children’s menu, special menu for breakfast, daily offers and a wide selection of cakes. Open till late on most days.
Where to stay Tallinn
If you are choosing to stay beyond one day in Tallinn, there are plenty of amazing hotels in Tallinn but below are 3 to get your search started.
The Knight House: The 700-year old building in which The Knight House bed & breakfast is situated is a UNESCO listed monument. It is in the centre of Tallinn’s Old Town and Balti Jaam Train Station is 700 m away. Price range £8 – £50
Nordic Design Apartment: An accommodation with city views, just less than 1 km from Tallinn International Bus Station and a 20-minute walk from Estonian National Opera. Housed in a building dating from 1975, this apartment is 2.3 km from Maiden Tower and 2.4 km from Niguliste Museum-Concert Hall. Price £32 per night.
Savoy Boutique: Featuring Art Deco interiors and carpeted floors, the hotel’s rooms and suites come fitted with a minibar, a laptop safe and a hairdryer. Each private bathroom comes with either a shower or a bath. Bathrobes and slippers are provided. The hotel is home to the esteemed MEKK restaurant, where guests can enjoy modern Estonian and international dishes. A breakfast buffet is available each morning. The property offers shuttle service at an extra charge. There is a direct public connection to the airport.
Raekoja Plats and Tallinn Town Hall are only 300 m away from the Savoy. Kiek in de Kök, a defense tower that has been converted into a museum, is only 280 m away. Price range £114 – £200
There you have it, what to see in Tallinn Estonia in one day, so have you been before or visiting for the first time?
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