Old Town Tallinn, Estonia
Hey friends! Welcome back to our 2017 Europe trip, for the second installment of the Baltics. Today, we’ll be talking about Tallinn, Estonia and why it N E E D S to be on your next Euro trip destination list. When we were planning, we found very little info on the Baltics so we really hope this guide to the city helps out our fellow planners. We’re gonna break this up into two parts, Old Town Tallinn and the Hip New Town in the second installment. We have mad love for the Baltic countries, especially Tallinn – and we’re so excited to show you why.
Estonia itself is quite progressive, dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe and even the birthplace of Skype. Its Old Town is one of the most well preserved medieval cities of Europe and has earned itself a place on the World Unesco Heritage Site list. There are many things to see within the fortress walls and outside, and we are pretty confident that you will fall in love with this place as much as we did!
I’ll mention again the best way to get between the 3 Baltic countries is Lux Express. This is the coach service I talked about in the post about Riga, that you can find here. The bus station is located a bit outside of the Old Town, so you will have to take a tram into the OT area dependent of where you’re staying since it will be a bit of a trek. Because of where we stayed, we took the tram that would drop us off at the station of Balti Jaam (#4, 5, 7). You can also take the tram to the other side of the town from the coach station that will drop you at Viru Valjak (#2, 4). The info desk at the bus station is extremely helpful and the people speak great English so make sure to utilize them if you come from here, since the tram stop is about a block down from the station. You can also arrive by train at the Balti Jaam station that was just redone and no longer looks like a Soviet war area relic. These two are the easiest ways to get there in our opinion, since the flights into Tallinn are few – although you could also find yourself on a ferry in from the sea.
Tram Tickets – we actually didn’t purchase tickets to get on our tram because we had no idea where we were supposed to and we got lucky that we didn’t get caught. However, inspectors will get on between scheduled stops to check that people have tickets. You can purchase a single ride ticket by the driver for €2, otherwise getting caught will cost you a €40 fine for “Riding like a rabbit” as locals call it.
when to visit
The best time to visit Tallinn is in the summertime, which happens to be pretty short – from mid June to late August. We thought we would get fairly decent weather visiting at the end of April/beginning of May and it was miserably
COLD. Make sure to pack your raincoat here because even in summer it will rain on you in the evenings.
where to stay
We actually didn’t find too many Airbnb’s in Tallinn at the time that we went, so instead we chose a hostel. We stayed at an interesting little place near Toompea Hill called Tabinoya Travellers House. It was a cute little upstairs hostel with a basic free breakfast and close to everything we did in Old Town. There are private apartment style rooms although we stayed in the dorms and had a nice comfortable stay.
things to do
Tallinn’s Old Town history dates back to the 13th century so you can imagine all the beautiful sites to see here! Old Town is divided into two parts – Toompea Hill and Lower Town, both areas chalk full of beautiful medieval buildings and magical stories.
get lost in Old Town
This one is pretty self explanatory, with picture perfect alleyways and cobblestone streets there is magic happening around every bend of the Old Town.
hang in the Town Square; day or night
All across Europe, the town square is usually the heartbeat of the city. It’s where the townspeople used to congregate in many of these medieval towns and just like back then, there’s always something happening in present day. There are many patio restaurants and cafes around the Tallinn Town Square, although they are a bit more pricey than the outlying streets. You have got to check it out during the day…
AND the evening, where you will find street performers, trinket sellers, and photo opportunities.
walk through Master’s Courtyard
This little courtyard is easily the most beautiful one in Old Town, dubbed this by locals and tourists alike. The entrance is easy to miss if you walk past it too fast, but its worth going back to see in case you miss it. This serene courtyard houses artisan shops and in the warm weather, a patio cafe.
take a free walking tour
If you fancy to learn some history about Tallinn, the best way to do this is a walking tour hosted by local guides. They are free, however the guides work off tips so make sure to have some small bills! You will get to see some of Tallinn’s most well known tourist attractions and also some off the beaten path ones loved by locals. Some of the things we saw were the Freedom Monument – for all the soldiers who lost their lives during the Estonian’s war for independence, Kiek in the Kok tower – a cannon tower that played a key role in the Livonian War and has nine cannonballs embedded in its walls, and the Dome Church’s coat of arms display – you will have to pay to actually marvel at these up close but we snapped a pic to give you an idea of what you’d be seeing! You can also pay to go up into the tower of the Dome Church to get a nice view from above, but we decided to do the tower of St. Olaf’s church since it is higher.
walk the fortress walls
In it’s heyday, Tallinn’s fortress consisted of 46 towers making it known as one of the most fortified burgs in all Northern Europe. Now there are 20 towers and most of them are open to the public to start your city wall journey. One of the most popular is the one that we chose, called Hellemann Tower. The admission fee is about €4 and allows you entrance to the tower and walking some of the original fortress.
This is the area where you will find the Castle Square, the Toompea Castle, and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This area offers incredible viewing platforms of the city and a look into the history of and start of Tallinn as a nation.
get a bird’s eye view atop St. Olaf’s Church
One of our favorite things to do is see a city from above so of course we had to climb the 406 foot tower to catch the views of Tallinn! St. Olaf’s was the tallest building in all of Europe from 1549 to 1625. Admission is €2 to get up to the viewing platform at the very top of the tower and there is a very tight, steep staircase with lots of stairs so if you have issues with small spaces this is probably not for you. If you can brave all that though, it is totally worth it for full 360 views of Tallinn.
things we missed
◊ Museum Hotel Viru and the KGB – If you are interested in the spy history of the KGB, you can check out this quirky museum on the 23rd floor of the Hotel Viru. This is where the KGB wired the rooms where foreign and local guests would stay so they could listen in on conversations.
◊ Museum of Occupation – From 1940 to 1991, Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany and then the USSR. You can learn all about that history in this museum just on the edge of the Old Town.
In case you guys haven’t noticed yet, we are big beer connoisseurs and we love a good local brew wherever we visit. I’ll get to all the foodie places soon, but first I have to talk about the most important ingredient of a great day – a good beer break.
◊ Katusekohvik – This cool patio bar is located on the top floor of one of the buildings on Viru Street, one of the main shopping streets in Old Town. It is a lunch cafe by day and hookah bar by night and also offers a great 2 for 1 happy hour starting at 2 pm. It offers a great view of the Viru Gates and the shopping street below.
◊ Nimeta: The Pub With No Name – This sports bar is loved by backpackers, expats, and locals alike but we found ourselves here for the beauty in the back, the pool table. It was pretty quiet when we were there but apparently this place can get loud and fun during the night when the DJ comes out or a big game is on.
◊ Art Cafe – True to its name, Art Cafe houses local art on its walls and is open for coffee, beer and food. We enjoyed a couple crisp beers here waiting for our walking tour that was starting right across the street.
◊ Red Emperor – This very unique bar is located within a party hostel in the southern part of Old Town, just outside the city walls. It’s a great place to grab some cheap craft beer and play a game of pool in the afternoon but it can get WILD later in the night, it is Aussie owned after all!
◊ KwakInn – We stopped at this place since we tried Kwak for the first time in Riga, and LOVE all things Belgian related. Although they do have quite a good selection of Belgian beers, they are pricey. Apparently they have pretty good lunch special but it was just a bit too expensive for our taste, especially since we had gotten used to buying cheap beer in the Baltics!
◊ Hell Hunt – This local Estonian pub is a great place to grab a beer and hang out, they even have their own light and dark beers brewed from a local brewery.
◊ Olleklubi – This brewery/restaurant was very close to our hostel and we found ourselves here when we were waiting for our overnight bus down to Latvia. They actually have a great beer selection and a decent food selection although we didn’t eat here.
where to eat
◊ Kompressor – You cannot visit Old Town Tallinn without eating at Kompressor, we loved this place so much we are here twice in our 3 day stay. They serve massive sweet and savory pancakes and you will be filled for less than $5 a plate! You might have to wait a few minutes for a table because it is a favorite local spot but trust us when we say it is WORTH THE WAIT!
◊ Vanaema Juures – Meaning “Grandma’s Place”, this cozy restaurant is true to its name offering exactly what you think of when you want some of grandma’s cooking. We got lucky that there was table open when we walked in, but reservations are recommended. If you find yourself here, try the Elk roast paired with a glass of red wine!
◊ Beer House – This German beer hall is the only micro brewery in Old Town and offers six different kinds of sausage along with all kinds of different “beer hall” food, like pretzels and pizza. Its got a very fun ambience and great German beer!
◊ Popular – We found this cute patio cafe after our Tower Lookout experience and had a very yummy, cheap lunch. Their menu includes very fresh items like salads and wraps, but also has delicious pastas and heartier dishes. Like many of the other cafes in Tallinn, during the evening Popular opens up as a hookah lounge.
◊ Spice Indian Restaurant – We LOVE Indian food and I swear that Europe has some of the best. We stumbled upon this restaurant while waiting for our bus down to Latvia and it did not disappoint. They actually serve a breakfast until noon, and are open for dinner until 11 pm so you can enjoy Indian food all day long.
In our 3 days in Tallinn, we felt like we got to see all of the Old Town and experienced much of the Tallinn culture. We loved our time in this beautiful city and can’t wait to have more fun in the Estonian capital, hopefully we’ll be back sooner than later.
Have you ever been to Old Town, Tallinn? Tell us your favorite spots in the comments below and stay tuned for our recommendations in the New Tallinn – coming out soon!
The Traveling Taveners
*at the current date, the conversion of Euro to USD is 1 to 1.17