What to see in Tallinn in one day
After my first trip to Tallinn, I decided that I wouldn’t go there again: I was bored. Then I accidentally ended up there again and fell in love with the city.
Now I’m ready to come to the Estonian capital every year: it’s a very comfortable city for travelers. You can wander around the center for hours. There are districts where you can admire medieval architecture, modern design and art.
I’ve been to Tallinn three times and have put together an itinerary that allows you to see a different city: medieval, designer and hipster. The walk starts in the Rotermanni quarter, goes through the Old Town and ends in the Telliskivi district. On the way you will see Viru Street, Town Hall Square, St. Katharina Alley, sculptures of monks in the Danish King’s Garden, the Dome Cathedral and look at Tallinn from Patkuli Lookout. I advise you to save the route in your Tripadvisor account.
It looks small, only 4 km, but you’ll actually walk a lot: you’ll probably want to turn into alleyways in each neighborhood. Google says it will take you about an hour to get there, but I’d put at least 5 hours on the route. Almost every geo-point is a few sights or interesting buildings nearby that will take time to see.
Tallinn is often visited by ferries from St. Petersburg and Helsinki. The port is a seven-minute walk from the Old Town and five minutes from the start of the route. Public transport is not necessary.
The Baltic Station, where trains from St. Petersburg and Moscow arrive, is a three-minute walk from the Old Town.
The Rotermann Quarter is a former industrial quarter with boilers, mills and warehouses, which can now be called an example of modern architecture. Rotermanni is an example of how beautiful a city can be when old and new architecture are skillfully combined. The warehouses and production facilities have been restored and redesigned. Now there are expensive offices, stores, and restaurants.
It’s a pleasure to walk around the block. There are only eight lanes, and you can walk around in 10 minutes. But I always want to linger in Rotermanni at least for a cup of coffee. On one of my visits, I stayed here on purpose.
Viru Gate. There are about a dozen entrances to the Old Town, but the Viru Gate is the most beautiful and ceremonial. Once it was the main gate in the fortress wall, which protected medieval Tallinn. Now it’s a real time portal. Just now you were on a modern street, which is swarming with traffic, and in two steps you find yourself in mysterious alleys with stone sidewalk and houses that are 400-500 years old .
Old Town is the most famous and oldest part of Tallinn. The medieval center was built more than 600 years ago and remained intact: there are houses, squares, churches, stone-paved streets, 18 fortress towers.
The concentration of attractions in the Old City is like in a museum. It is a ready setting for fairy tales and historical movies – dozens of movies were shot here. Among them are “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “The Snow Queen” and “The Three Fat Men”.
From Viru Gate to the center of the Old Town runs Viru Street – unprecedentedly wide for old Tallinn. There are many stores and bars.
St. Catherine’s Alley. There are dozens of alleyways in the Old Town, but this one is probably the most famous. The small alley, only 135 meters long, is decorated with small arched ceilings. They give St. Catherine’s Alley an original look and photogenic.
The entrance to St. Catherine’s Alley is easy to miss: it’s small and inconspicuous. It’s better to peek at the map.
The alleyway is bounded on the left by the wall of the former Dominican monastery of St. Katharina. The monastery now operates as a museum. It is open from May to September. Entrance costs 1 €
On the walls of the alley are tombstones of former burials. Why they were placed there, I never understood. Perhaps for more atmosphere.
Town Hall Square is the most famous square in Tallinn, the central place of the Old Town. In the center is the medieval city hall, along the perimeter – old houses and many cafes, which are always crowded with tourists. As in Moscow, all the tourists go to Red Square, so in Tallinn, all seek Town Hall Square. For Christmas there is a fair with Christmas trees, lights, souvenirs and mulled wine. The square is said to look especially atmospheric and fabulous at that time.
For me, Town Hall is too crowded, but on every visit to Tallinn I go there anyway. It always has a festive and at the same time peaceful atmosphere. Medieval Tallinn and idle touristy modernity in the form of hundreds of gawkers in cafes balance each other out.
You can get inside the Town Hall with a guided tour. There is a burger hall, where ceremonial receptions were held, and the hall of the magistrate, where medieval officials met. Tourists can also see the kitchen and basement hall, where the magistrate kept wine to control the sale of alcohol.
Also on the square is the famous Town Hall Pharmacy. It works since the 15th century. It is easy to miss it – I advise you to look for the pharmacy on the map.
The pharmacy works as a medical store and museum. Admission is free. In the museum section, vials of dried deer penis, dog feces, burnt hedgehogs, and other witchcraft ingredients with which medicine men supposedly cured illnesses are on display. I don’t know if the exhibits are real, but they look quite authentic.
Costs a tour of an old pharmacy for a group of up to 30 people
The Danish King’s Garden is a small park in the upper part of the Old Town. People come there for the large statues of monks. They look mysterious and spooky. There is a 13th-century legend about a battle during the Danish rule associated with the place. When the Danish troops began to lose, the bishops prayed to God and a red and white Danish flag descended from heaven. God’s sign encouraged the soldiers and helped them to victory. Admission to the garden is free.
It is customary for monks to throw a coin and make a wish. In my opinion, they make great selfies. It’s particularly colourful there in the evening, with the city covered in darkness and the sculptures lit up from inside.
Toompea Castle and Long Hermann. Toompea Castle is the seat of the Estonian parliament. Tourists can get inside with a free guided tour by appointment. Tours are conducted in Estonian, English or Russian, Monday through Thursday from 10:00 to 16:00 and on Fridays from 10:00 to 15:00 . To visit will need a passport or driver’s license.
Most tourists do not go to the castle for the Parliament, but for the tower of its fortress wall. It is called Long Hermann. This is the standard name for buildings in the Old Town: there is both the Fat Margaret Tower and the Long Leg Street.
The tower was built in the 14th and 15th centuries but it is well preserved. Now it is considered a symbol of independence of Estonia. Every morning the national flag is raised on the tower.
you can get into the Long Hermann Tower
Long Hermann is almost always closed to the public. Tourists and citizens are allowed there only once a year – on the national flag day, June 4. You can see the tower up close from the Governor’s Garden, which is open to all.
Lookout points Kohtuots and Patkuli. In the upper part of the Old Town, Vyshgorod, there are two observation decks within a three-minute walk of each other.
Both offer a view of half of the Old Town, the Baltic Sea and the ferries at the port. But the views are a bit different: from Kohtuotsa you can see the business center with high-rises, but not from Patkula.
View from Patkuli. The tallest tower is the Church of St. Olaf. It is not on the itinerary: since September 2019 it is closed for restoration
On the way to the viewpoints of Kohtuotsa and Patkuli you will see the Dome Cathedral. Admission costs 2 €. On Saturdays there are organ concerts, admission also costs 2 €
Telliskivi is a hipster neighborhood with lots of cafes, workshops and design stores. It’s a territory for two kinds of art: contemporary street art and gastronomy. Such neighborhoods are often referred to as creative spaces. Tourists come to Telliskivi to see the beautiful graffiti and eat at local cafes. In warm weather, you can swing in hammocks there.
Like Rotermanni, Telliskivi was also once an industrial area. Now it’s home to modern theaters, an independent choreographic scene, music groups, and designer stores – seemingly less expensive than those in Rotermanni. There are also fairs, concerts, exhibitions, and a flea market on Saturdays.
There’s also the Fotografiska photography center in Telliskivi, a franchise of the famous Stockholm museum. In September, it hosted the exhibition “Truth is Dead” by London photographer Alison Jackson, with scandalous photos allegedly from the lives of celebrities. In reality all the pictures were of look-alikes, and the exhibition hints that we live in the post-truth world, where it is difficult to distinguish reality from lies.
Kumu Art Museum. The modern high-tech museum building was opened in 2006. Objects of Estonian art of the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 20th century and the works of art of the Soviet period are exposed there. Exhibitions of modern Estonian artists and sculptors are also regularly held in the museum.
costs a ticket to the Kumu Museum
costs a kilo of smoked octopus
Next door to Telliskivi is the street food district Depo. There used to be a train depot there, and almost all the establishments are located in former carriages or shipping containers. Unusual, but as a kid I often rode in a flatbed car, so I preferred to eat at Telliskiwi to The Depot.
10 things to do in Tallinn
Tallinn is the kind of city that is fully revealed when viewed from a high vantage point. Kohtuotsa, one of the best vantage points, is located in the Upper Town on Toompea Hill. From this spot, in addition to the tiled roofs, you can see a piece of the sea, and the views of evening Tallinn are especially delightful. A few more places with great views: the observation platform at Patkulja Stairs, the Dome Cathedral, the City Hall Tower, the bell tower of the oldest church in Tallinn, Oleviste (it is said that on a clear day you can see Helsinki from there). From the observation deck of Fat Margaret Tower you have a great view of the port and Old Town. You can walk along a section of the fortress wall of the Lower Town and look inside the towers.
2. Wander through the streets of the Old Town
The streets of old Tallinn are full of coziness and charm of the Middle Ages, they conceal many secrets and mystical stories. The legend of the house on Rataskaevu tn. where the devil himself once had a wedding. It can be recognized by the painted window on the top floor – that is where the festivities took place. According to legend, a gambling addict asked a stranger to lend him a room for one night for a large sum of money, but on one condition – no one must see what will happen there. The servant could not overcome his curiosity and dared to look upstairs – in the morning he died, and the window in the house mysteriously disappeared.
On the same street is another mystical place of the city – the Cat’s Well. It is said that in the Middle Ages people threw cats into the well to placate the evil spirit that lived there. Now there is a copy of the medieval well, installed in 1980. The original was torn down back in the 19th century for fear of outbreaks of epidemics.
Two more iconic streets of Tallinn – Lühike jalg and Pikk jalg (streets of short and long legs), because of them Tallinn is called the limping city. The streets connect the Lower and Upper City. Lühike jalg is a pedestrian street, Pikk jalg smoothly passes into one of the longest streets in Tallinn, Pikk tn.
One of the most attractive places in old Tallinn is Katarina Alley and the Craftsmen’s Yard. Here you can see the work of artisans (potters, glassblowers, painters, jewelers), buy unusual designer souvenirs, as well as take some beautiful and atmospheric photos.
3. Buy a souvenir at the Town Hall Square
The soul of the old city is Town Hall Square. Here is the main attraction – the Town Hall, whose spire is crowned with a figure of Old Thomas, who is considered the guardian of the city. The town hall square is a famous place for fair festivities and celebrations. Fairs take place here at any time of the year, but the largest and most colorful are held on Christmas Eve. Christmas fair on Town Hall Square has long been a symbol of winter Tallinn. On frosty days, it’s especially nice to warm up with hot mulled wine, taste roasted almonds and the famous pepper cookies, and buy warm and lovely knitted souvenirs: hats, mittens, socks, scarves and sweaters with reindeer and national ornaments.
Also on Town Hall Square there is an old pharmacy Raeapteek. It was opened in the fifteenth century and is now the oldest working pharmacy in Europe. It used to sell potions, medicinal herbs and miraculous elixirs. The most exotic are the snake potion, bat powder and mummy juice. On the first floor of the pharmacy there is a museum exposition, where ancient medical instruments, documents and other exhibits are exhibited.
4. Take a walk in the Kadriorg Park
Kadriorg Park is one of the best places in the center of the city for leisurely walks in nature. Here is the Catherine Palace, built in the baroque style by Peter the Great for his beloved wife. The initiator of the park is also the Russian emperor – on his initiative in the first half of the XVIII century, the park appeared. Peter I planned to arrange here one of his summer residences and for some time lived in the palace with his wife.
In the walls of the palace is now a museum of foreign art. There are several other museums in the park, including the Miiamilla Children’s Museum and the house of Peter the Great with a small collection of personal belongings of the emperor. The park is decorated with sculptures and fountains, in the Swan pond in the summer you can feed the black swans. There is also a rose garden and a very beautiful Japanese garden, the creator of which is a famous landscape designer from Japan.
5. Experience rural life in the Ethnographic Museum
The reconstructed eighteenth-century Estonian village under the strange for these places Mediterranean name “Rocca al Mare” is located on the outskirts of Tallinn. In the village you can recreate the rural life of that time: a small church, water and windmills, school, store and tavern, where you can try national Estonian cuisine. There is also a shed for drying fishing nets, because the museum is located on the beach. On the territory you can see examples of wooden architecture characteristic of various regions of Estonia. The museum often hosts a variety of master classes and folklore festivals. Here you can rent a bicycle, ride a horse or carriage.
6. To eat chocolate
Kalev is Estonia’s most famous chocolate. In the brand store in Rotermanni you will find different kinds of chocolates with all sorts of fillings and can try and buy delicious chocolates as well as handmade marzipan and figurines. In the workshop you can learn the confectionery craft and try your hand at making signature sweets – candies, chocolate truffles and marzipan.
Tallinn’s Rottermanni neighborhood is one of the best places to shop. During the Soviet era, the neighborhood was a dismal industrial zone, and then it fell into disrepair. Today Rottermanni is a modern, trendy neighborhood with famous brand-name stores, restaurants, cafes, design bureaus, and advertising agencies. The neighborhood is decorated with modern models of Estonian architecture-a glass and concrete building with a strange, intricate form and flamboyant architectural accents.
7. Learn all about marzipan
Estonians are sincerely convinced that they invented the sweet dessert made of almonds and sugar (Germany, France, Italy and Hungary also claim this role). There are several marzipan places in Tallinn, one of them is on Pikk Street, 16. It is a small museum of marzipan, where you can buy marzipan bars by Kalev and cute figures made of marzipan. In the museum guided tours, where you can learn about the history of the appearance of this sweet in Tallinn, as well as the ancient traditions of the preparation.
In Tallinn, there is also a gallery of marzipan, located on the same street (exact address: Pikk, 40). Here children and adults can participate in master classes to model and paint marzipan, listen to an entertaining story of the guide and, of course, have a cup of coffee. Downstairs is a mini-museum, where the works of art made by real masters of confectionery.
8. See the ruins of St. Brigitta’s monastery
The ruins of the monastery of Saint Brigitta are near the beach of Pirita, its foundation dates back to the first half of the fifteenth century. It was once one of the largest monasteries, but now only the walls and the gable of the church remain. These remains look very impressive, like the setting for a Gothic movie with ghosts and other mystical characters. In the XVII century peasants were buried here, in front of the monastery are preserved graves marked with ancient crosses.
The majestic ruins of the monastery could not but attract the attention of creative people – artists, musicians and filmmakers. In Soviet times, famous children’s movie “City of Masters” was shot there, as well as some scenes from movies “Laughter Sold” and “The Musketeers 20 Years Later”. Now the monastery grounds serve as the site of an annual music festival. St. Brigitta (a Swedish Catholic saint), in whose honor the monastery was named, is directly related to Tallinn’s most popular beach, Pirita – so Estonians have transformed her name.
9. Enjoy the sunset at Pirita beach
Pirita is the most resort-like part of old Tallinn, the place where the city ends and the sea begins. Pirita Beach has a long shoreline and fine golden sand. On a nice day in the summer, you can take a swim here and let the cool Baltic water wash over your busy sightseeing program. The most suitable time for swimming in the Baltic Sea – July and early August, though the water is quite cool, about 18 degrees, but the locals do not scare it in the slightest. On the beach you can rent a bike and ride along the coast or just take a walk, enjoying the clean pine and sea air.
A special ritual for residents is saying goodbye to the sun on the beach, here it is called “rolling the sun into the sea”. On the beach of Pirita specially come at sunset for spectacular photo shoots or just to admire the beautiful sunset against the backdrop of the city.
10. Climb the TV Tower
The most spectacular viewing platform is located in the TV Tower – it is the highest building in Tallinn and Estonia with a height of 314 meters. The tower offers a magnificent panoramic view of Tallinn and the Baltic Sea (360° view) and when the weather is nice, you can see the Finnish coastline. There are special windows built into the floor of the observation deck – when you press the button, you can see what’s going on below you. There are also rides for the brave – a walk along the very edge on a fastened rope. The TV Tower serves as a platform for various exhibitions, photo projects and other cultural events. A wonderful finishing touch to your stay in Tallinn will be a romantic dinner in a restaurant on the 22nd floor with breathtaking views of the evening city.