Inviting and mysterious, the medieval old town of Tallinn is a welcoming balance of intrigue and a picture perfect postcard. The old town is so well preserved that you’d be forgiven for pinching yourself and questioning reality – it really is too cute! Whether you’re spending a few days in the city or visiting on a day trip from Helsinki, here are the absolute best 10 things to do in Tallinn!
1. Start in the Market Square (Raekoja Plats)
As the central point of the old town, the Market Square is a great place to commence your meanderings through the cobblestone streets. From here you can already get a great idea of the vibrancy this city offers and within a 360 degree turn you will see the set of Game of Thrones come to life (minus the tourists, of course).
2. Check out the view from Toompea
Many will tell you that the best view of Tallinn is found on top of Toompea. While this is a beautiful view, sure, it isn’t quite the best view of the city from above (read on to find out where you’ll find the very best view!) Toompea is a neighbourhood overlooking the old town and it is here where you will also find the St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
3. Step inside St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Located high on the hill of Toompea, St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a beautiful church of the traditional Orthodox faith. The cathedral was built in 1900, when Estonia was still a part of the Russian Empire. Although photographs aren’t allowed inside, you should take the time to step inside the cathedral and look around to marvel at the ornate architecture, mosaics and gold candelabras (besides, entrance is free!)
4. Take in the view from St Olav’s Church
It surprises me how many visitors to Tallinn don’t make their way up the 258 stairs to the top of St Olav’s Church, which arguably has the best view of the old town. The tower dates back to 1267 and has previously been used to beacon approaching ships and as a KGB watch tower, though nowadays it is one of the must do tourist attractions in the city. It will cost you 3 euros to enter – a small price to pay for those picture perfect photographs!
5. Stroll the cobblestone Streets
One of Tallinn’s greatest pleasures is just to wander for hours through the winding cobblestone streets. The old streets are incredibly photogenic with their pastel coloured buildings, unique shapes and my personal favourite: the colourful doors of Tallinn! The prettiest streets I stumbled upon were Pikk (the longest street in the old town) and Katariina käik.
6. Purchase yourself some powdered unicorn horn
The beauty of Tallinn is often found in its ability to remain in another era. Located in the market square, the town hall pharmacy is where you will find powdered unicorn horn, mummy juice, and all kinds of quirkiness. The pharmacy is believed to be Europe’s longest running pharmacy and was once a favourite of the Russian tsars. Keep in mind the pharmacy is unfortunately closed on Sundays.
7. Walk the Town Walls
Another great view over the city is found when wandering along the medieval walls surrounding the old town. Once you have finished walking the walls, make your way over to kiek in de kök to learn about Tallinn’s defence history. To this day you can view the cannonballs left behind by Ivan the Terrible during the Livonian War.
8. Indulge at the cutest pastry shop in town
After a long day of wandering the streets of the old town, make your way to the cutest (and tastiest) pastry shop in town, Rukis. Located on Viru Street, this pastry shop is full of temptations and at 2 and 3 euros a piece, its difficult to say no!
9. Toompea Castle
Located opposite St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Toompea Castle, which now houses the Parliament of Estonia but was once an ancient stronghold, used since the 9th century.
10. Take the Day Ferry to Helsinki
If you’re visiting more of Estonia and haven’t arrived by ferry from Helsinki, then be sure to make a day trip two hours north to Finland! Helsinki is the complete opposite to Tallinn and offers a more urban experience, particularly appealing to design lovers and cafe hunters.
I flew to Europe with Finnair, arriving in Helsinki (capital of Finland) at 6:00am, before taking the two hour morning ferry to Tallinn. Purchasing a ticket at the ferry port cost me 35 euros return on the Viking Line, which is the easiest/most accessible port if you are staying in the centre of Helsinki. The ferry offers free wi-fi and affordable food options (though they do leave a little to be desired!)