Whether you’re looking to wander among the medieval graces of Old Town or discover why the stunning capital of Estonia is one Europe’s new hipster hotspots, the best things to do in Tallinn will quickly put everything in perspective.
Among the top tourist attractions in Tallinn you’ll find everything from Northern Europe’s finest medieval architecture samples to some of the region’s coolest restaurants and best nightlife.
If you’re on the fence about visiting Tallinn, I’ll contend here that it’s best to just pack your bags and find a way to visit before the next mega tourism wave sweeps upon the it. (And it is coming; I assure you.)
Not sure where to go in Tallinn? Plan out your Tallinn trip with this quick guide to the best places to visit in Tallinn…
What to do in Tallinn: Top attractions & best places to visit
Trot around Old Town Tallinn
When I first briefly wrote about what to do in Tallinn, I remember getting criticized for expressing by undying love for Old Town Tallinn.
The commenter went on to throw the lame “traveller vs. tourist” demoralization into my face, claiming that Old Town was nothing more than a tourist wonderland with no real value.
For all the naysayers, I’ll say this: If you can’t enjoy Old Town Tallinn, you can’t enjoy life.
Sure, it’s getting more crowded with tourists by the day, and well on pace to become the next European cultural vacation hotspot. But even in a continent blessed with historical brilliance, Old Town Tallinn got a whole barrage of its own tricks up its sleeve.
To throw in another cliché: There’s truly no place like Tallinn in all of Europe.
And that I’ll say with conviction.
Old Town Tallinn is unique in its architectural palette, showcasing the continent’s best-preserved medieval buildings. It’s no wonder that wandering about here is atop of every list of things to do in Tallinn.
It’s hardly a stretch in walking about Old Town to imagine blacksmiths hammering away horseshoes from hole-in-the-wall workshops or knights in chain-link armour mounting upon their steeds to disappear into the sunset through the city gates.
Needless to say, if you’re visiting, especially if you’ve only got one day in Tallinn, you simply need to spend time getting to know all the nooks and crannies of Old Town. I guarantee (despite the whiny musings of that one ungrounded certified travel snob) that you’ll quickly fall in love with Old Town Tallinn.
For an extra special experience in the ancient quarter, visit Town Hall Square in November and December when Tallinn puts on its world-famous Christmas markets. Although it’s not your typical “fun-in-the-sun,” the festive spirit in the Estonian capital truly makes the city one of the best winter destinations in Europe.
Woo at the panoramic views from Toompea Hill
One of my favourite things to do in any city is to check it out from above. And in Tallinn, there’s no better place to gaze upon the city than from Toompea Hill in Upper Town.
Dating back to the 10th-century, Toompea Hill features several viewing platforms that each offer stunning views of Old Town, the Baltic Sea, and the surrounding modern city.
Even beyond its panorama points, Toompea is a delight to wander around on its own.
Like Old Town, Toompea’s a maze of cobblestoned alleyways lined with show-stopping historical architecture that counts itself among the top places to see in Tallinn.
A few places to keep on the lookout for in Toompea include Riigikogu (Estonia Parliament), Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Enjoy an Estonia craft beer at Hell Hunt
Walking along Pikk, one of the main drags of Old Town, there was no way I could avoid stopping in to quench my thirst at the outlandishly named Hell Hunt.
Now, you might be a little disappointed to find out that the pub’s badass moniker echoes something more akin “gentle wolf” than referring to a demonic elk-searching expedition.
What won’t disappoint, though, is the fantastic selection of Estonia craft beers & pub food.
Fans of lighter brews should try the pub’s own Hell Hunt Nisuõlu, a springy wheat beer, while those craving something a little heavier will love Hell Hunt Tume, a slightly darker ale.
Satisfy your inner tourist with a hearty meal at Olde Hansa
If you’re not against throwing at little kitsch into your Tallinn sightseeing, don’t miss out eating a meal at Olde Hansa, a popular medieval-themed restaurant in the heart of Old Town.
Situated in an 15th-century merchant house, Olde Hansa is hardly like your run-of-the-mill Medieval Times.
It’s all about atmosphere at Olde Hansa. Everything from the decor to the servers to the food & drink attempts to recapture the spirit of Tallinn from the Middle Ages.
Even with all its kitschiness, the ambiance alone puts Olde Hansa among the best places to visit in Tallinn.
For an insanely popular tourist haunt, Olde Hansa’s meals are surprisingly good even if a little expensive for Tallinn.
(Remember: you’re paying for the prime location and the ambiance).
Choose between hearty mains like wild game, duck, and salmon, all prepared to mimic the cooking methods & tastes of the bygone era. Don’t forget to pair it off with suggestions from Olde Hansa’s comprehensive international wine menu or with a local spiced beer.
Peer back into the Cold War at Hotel Viru and the KGB Museum
Maybe you’ve noticed from my previous writing that I’ve got a habit of recommending places that evoke Cold War nostalgia.
While I can’t quite explain my borderline obsessive fascination, I can push you towards visiting Hotel Viru, the most infamous hotel during Estonia’s Soviet era and one of the coolest places to go in Tallinn.
While the hotel is still in operation (rebranded as the Sokos Hotel Viru) and is actually now quite lovely, the real reason for a visit here is the 23rd floor KGB Museum.
Under Soviet occupation, Hotel Viru offered the only official accommodations for foreigners visiting Tallinn.
The KGB, being the untrusting & paranoid bunch that they so famously were, set up a surveillance operation on the 23rd floor to ensure any “enemies” of the state wouldn’t be able to spread their propaganda in the newly “acquired” Baltic state.
Although not large by any means, the KGB Museum provides a ton of insight into the clandestine spy agency’s operation in Tallinn with more than a dash of Soviet nostalgia to go with it.
To get your spot on a tour, you’ll need to book in advance at the Tallinn Tourist Information Office (€7).
(And as a completely unrelated side note to fellow Toronto Maple Leafs fan: If you choose to stay in the Sokos Hotel Viru, set your sights on The Hockey Lions theme room featuring decor that pays homage to former Maple Leaf and everyone’s favourite Estonian agitator, Leo Komorov.)
Chill out on Pirita Beach
Although beaches might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you dream of Estonia, one of the best ways to add a dose of relaxation to your quest for the best things to do in Tallinn is heading for the coast.
Of all the beach trips from Tallinn, Pirita Beach, located just 15 minutes from the city centre in the suburb of Pirita, is the quickest and easiest way for travellers to experience some of Estonia’s coastal charms.
The white sands of Pirita Beach stretch out over three kilometres onto the Gulf of Finland.
In summer, it’s undoubtedly one of the top places to visit in Tallinn for locals looking to shed their Estonia winter blues. (In other words, don’t expect peace & quiet in peak season!)
Aside from the beach itself and its various amenities (including a bowling alley, bar, and mini-golf course), the coast is fringed with a forested area featuring a handful of paved walking & biking paths.
Where to stay in Tallinn: The best hotels for sightseeing
Thanks to its relatively compact size, choosing where to stay in Tallinn isn’t as difficult as in other larger European destinations.
Since many of the top points of interest in Tallinn revolve in & around Old Town, this is a good place to start your accommodations search.
- Hotel Imperial: One of the most budget-friendly choices in Old Town, this lovely hotel offers spacious rooms with a classic Baltic vibe. In true Northern European fashion, there’s also an on-site sauna and hot tub to take your relaxation up a notch.
- Savoy Boutique by TallinnHotels: Delightful inside and out, this superb boutique hotel showcases an Art Deco design with a barrage of modern amenities. Foodies will love the popular on-site restaurant, MEKK, serving up delicious local & international dishes.
- Hotel Telegraff, Autograph Collection: Occupying a 19th-century heritage building, this 5-star luxury hotel is one of the finest in the entire city. Extra amenities like an on-site Russian & French restaurant and spa (including a sauna, hot tub & steam bath) add significant value.
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