Toompea Castle pink building

How to Spend a Day in Tallinn

Estonia‘s capital Tallinn, along with the rest of the Baltic region, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers. With its well-preserved mediaeval old town and its up-and-coming creative district, Tallinn offers a unique blend of history and modernity. It’s a great destination to explore, either on a day trip from the Finnish capital of Helsinki (less than 90 kilometres across the Gulf of Finland) or as a stopover on a tour or cruise of Northern Europe.

Whether you’re planning a day trip from Helsinki to Tallinn or simply looking for inspiration for your next city break, this guide will help you make the most of your time in this charming city. We’ve come up with three itineraries; the first is aimed at history enthusiasts, the second is aimed at culture lovers, and the third is for families with children. The itineraries are flexible, containing a few options and advice on how to structure your day.

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Planning your day in Tallinn

Before embarking on your day trip to Tallinn, it’s important to plan ahead. If you’re planning a day trip from Helsinki, there are several ferry companies that operate between the Finnish and Estonian capitals, offering a quick and comfortable journey across the Gulf of Finland. It’s recommended to book your ferry tickets in advance, especially during peak tourist season.

Once you arrive in Tallinn, you can easily explore the city on foot. The old town is compact and easily navigable, allowing you to see all the major sights in just one day. You can also use both Uber and Bolt to get around easily; these options are great if you’re travelling with kids or have limited mobility. Make sure you download the app before your day trip, as that will be one less thing to worry about. Once there, just open the app when you need a ride and it will pinpoint your location in order to send you a vehicle.

If on a day trip from Helsinki, we recommend planning two activities if you select the 6.5 hour day trip, and three activities for the 9.5 hour day trip. This should leave you time to explore at your own pace and allow for some flexibility. You can book Helsinki: Return Day Trip Ferry to Tallinn tickets here.

It’s also important to book your main activity in advance, especially during peak tourist season (May- August and December). We recommend using Get Your Guide and Tiqets to book attractions (Tiqets is particularly good for booking last minute, as it lets you know if attractions have same-day availability).

Dining options in Tallinn

This guide will suggest three itineraries, but we haven’t included dining options. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, Tallinn has far too many options to list, and you have your own preferences and dietary requirements. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the Old Town, so you can just stop for a snack or lunch whenever you feel like it.

Being a metropolitan city, Tallinn offers both traditional Estonian food as well as well as cosmopolitan cuisine and fast food options (which may be a safer choice with kids). You could also join a food tour- check out Get Your Guide’s options here.

If you’d like multiple options in one place, Viru Food Hall in the city centre has fifteen restaurants and a range of international restaurants. Meanwhile, Balti Jaam Market is a local favourite; less than fifteen minutes walk from the Old Town, the market is spread over three floors and has multiple food and souvenir options.

How to start your day in Tallinn

We recommend starting your day in Tallinn in the historic Old Town. Surrounded by medieval city walls, the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a treasure trove of architectural wonders. You’ll find many of the city’s landmarks, including Toompea Castle, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Fat Margaret and Freedom Square.

Guided tours are are great way to discover more about the Old Town’s history, and they also give you a great place to start of you don’t want to commit to an itinerary in advance. Local guides are a great source of knowledge, and will give good suggestions for how to spend the rest of your day. You can check out guided tour options at Get Your Guide, or on Free Tour if you’re on a budget.

Itinerary 1: A Day in Tallinn for History Buffs

If you’re interested in history, we recommend spending the day in the Old Town, where there are multiple landmarks and museums to keep you entertained. We also recommend a themed tour, such as this Medieval Tallinn 2-Hour Old Town Walking Tour or this Tallinn: Time Travel Experience “VR Tallinn 1939/44”. Both are great for insight in Tallinn’s past, particularly the VR tour, where you can actually see what Tallinn looked like both before and during the Second World War.

You’ll discover numerous landmarks in the Old Town, including the following highlights:

  • Toompea, a limestone hill that offers panoramic views of the city. Here, you’ll find the impressive Toompea Castle (pictured at the beginning of the article) which houses the Estonian Parliament. It’s open to the public year-round, and guided tours are available.
  • The iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a stunning Russian Orthodox church with distinctive onion domes.
  • Fat Margaret, a medieval defensive tower that now houses the Estonian Maritime Museum. For breathtaking views of the old town and the sea, climb to the top of the tower.
  • Kiek in de Kök Museum and Bastion Tunnels. Once part of the city’s military fortifications, the complex has four towers, as well as the underground tunnels which you’re able to explore. You can join a guided tour, or explore the exhibits independently.

If you’re interested in Tallinn’s more recent history, particularly life under Sovietism, then the KGB Prison Cells and the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom both offer excellent insight into this period. The KGB Prison Cells are located in the northern part of the Old Town, while the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom is located in the southern part of the Old Town, towards the city centre.

Itinerary 2: A Day in Tallinn for Culture Vultures

Tallinn is a city steeped in history and culture, and there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in its fascinating past. One of the best places to do so is at Kadriorg Park and Palace. Built by Peter the Great in the 18th century, the palace is a stunning example of Baroque architecture. Inside, you’ll find two of the Art Museum of Estonia’s five branches, the Kadriorg Art Museum and the Mikkel Museum. They feature an impressive collection of European and Russian art, as well as the private collection of Johannes Mikkel.

For a taste of Tallinn’s contemporary cultural scene, head to Telliskivi Creative City. Located in the Kalamaja District, this former industrial complex has been transformed into a vibrant hub for artists, designers, and entrepreneurs. Spend a few hours exploring the galleries and eateries housed in former factories, and if you visit during winter, rent a pair of skates and have fun on the outdoor ice rink.

Elsewhere in the Kalamaja district, you’ll find numerous bars and restaurants, as well as the previously mentioned Balti Jaam market. The district is located between the Old Town and the coast, and is famous for its well-preserved, colourful wooden house.

The district is also home to a few saunas, which are a great way to relax if you’ve been walking around all day. We recommend Iglupark in the neighbouring Noblessner district. Iglupark has excellent facilities, including a private terrace over the Gulf of Finland for you to take a dip in the sea before warming up in one of the iglu style saunas.

Itinerary 3: A Day in Tallinn for Families

Tallinn is not just a destination for adults – it also offers plenty of family-friendly activities that will keep the little ones entertained. If you have very young children, we recommend Skypark. Located in T1 Mall in the city centre, this indoor play centre has multiple slides, ball pits, climbing walls and obstacle courses, as well as a toddler area. It also has a trampoline area and a bumper car arena, and is suitable for the whole family.

Located in the same building as the Skypark is the Skylab, an interactive science centre with multiple hand-on activities. Additionally, on the roof of the building is the Skywheel, a giant Ferris wheel that offers panoramic views of the city. From the top, you’ll be able to see the old town, the sea, and the surrounding countryside.

After visiting the Skypark, we recommend Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour in the Kalamaja district. Housed in a former seaplane hangar, this branch of the Estonian Maritime Museum showcases Estonia’s rich maritime heritage. Here, you can explore historic ships, submarines, and even try your hand at piloting a virtual ship.

For kids interested in innovation and technology, the PROTO Invention Factory is a winner. This interactive museum, located less than ten minutes walk from Lennusadam, allows you to explore the world of science and invention through hands-on exhibits. It’s a great place for kids to unleash their creativity and learn something new, with the added thrill of virtual reality experiences.

Mixing and Matching Itineraries

Obviously the above itineraries won’t cater to everyone’s tastes, so feel free to mix and match activities. History lovers will also appreciate Kadriorg Palace, and those interested in maritime history will of course appreciate Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.

Culture enthusiasts may choose to spend the entire day in the Old Town, exploring all of its offerings. Alternatively, you could go beyond the city. Recommended day trips from Tallinn include Lahemaa National Park, Jägala Waterfall and Rummu Quarry. However, if you intend to go on a day trip, we recommend opting for the 9.5 hour ferry ticket option from Helsinki (if coming from the Finnish capital). This will ensure you have enough time to explore and enjoy your chosen destination, without worrying about making it back to Tallinn in time for the return trip to Helsinki.

For families with children, there are also options besides those recommended in itinerary 3. Kadriorg Palace and Park is also home to Kadriorg Carousel, an outdoor amusement park featuring various games, rides and a ferris wheel, which is a great option during summer. During winter, the ice rink in Telliskivi Creative City is also a good option.

Depending on your children’s ages and maturity levels, you may feel comfortable leaving them in the amusement park while you explore Kadriorg Palace and its art galleries. Similarly, Telliskivi is home to plenty of galleries; you could explore them while the kids are on the ice, or watch from the side of the rink with a hot drink. Estonia is a very safe country, and depending on your comfortability levels, older children and teenagers should be fine alone in public spaces for short periods of time.

Tips for a safe and enjoyable day in Tallinn

To make the most of your day in Tallinn, here are a few tips to keep in mind. Firstly, dress appropriately for the weather, as Tallinn can be quite cold, especially during the winter months. Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking on uneven surfaces (the Old Town has cobblestones).

It’s also a good idea to carry a map or use a navigation app on your phone, as the old town can be a bit maze-like. Finally, be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings, as pickpocketing can be an issue in crowded tourist areas.

If you require emergency assistance in Tallinn, dial 112 to contact emergency services.

Conclusion

Spending a day in Tallinn is the perfect way to experience the beauty and charm of this historic city. From exploring the old town and immersing yourself in Tallinn’s rich history and culture to enjoying family-friendly activities, hopefully our itineraries have demonstrated that there are numerous options to enjoy in the vibrant Estonian capital. Whether you’re planning a quick day trip from Helsinki or an extended tour of the Baltics, Tallinn has the potential to be a standout destination.

CTA: Check out the links we’ve included throughout the article so you can start planning your activities. You can also check out our other articles on Northern Europe for more inspiration!

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