Tallinn is only a short ferry ride from Helsinki, so I spent two days and one night in the city. I quickly learned that the “ferry” is really a cruise ship with 10 floors. Don’t worry about seasickness! I didn’t want to feel rushed so I spent the night in the old city. But you can see the main sights in Old Tallinn in a day, taking a ferry in the morning and back that evening.
- When traveling from Helsinki to Tallinn, you’ll need to show your passport when you check in for the cruise even though both are in the Schengen Area. Estonia is on the Euro.
- I went with Viking Cruises because it had a 7 am ferry to Tallinn and a 5 pm return to Helsinki the next day. You can book it here.
- Catching the 7 am ferry means that you can drop your luggage off at your hotel (I recommend staying at the Old Town Hostel Alur) and catch the daily free walking tour at 12 pm. It leaves from the tourist information center. Remember to have cash for a tip.
- The walking tour covers the upper town (yes, Tallinn is split into an upper and a lower town), so I used this walking tour guide from Rick Steves to explore the lower town on my own. Alternatively, you can just follow this guide, but I liked the walking tour to get more of a local perspective on the city.
- Between April and October, you can climb St. Olav’s tower to get amazing views of the city. The stairs are steep and in a narrow spiral. There is a place to sit and take a break during the tower portion of the climb. There’s an open space with seating before you climb a ladder up to the (narrow) walkway that wraps around the tower outside. If you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights, I do not think this is for you. .
- An easier climb is Pikk Hermann tower. The views aren’t as dramatic but it’s still a fun experience.
- Make sure to catch the sunset at one of the three viewing places: Piiskopi, Patkuli, and Kohuotsa. Kohuotsa is the most well known since it has the famous “The Times We Had” graffiti on a pink wall. However, the graffiti was defaced when I went. I thought the Patkuli viewing platform had a better view of the city. All three are very close so you can wander between them at dusk.
- Eat at Tallinn’s oldest bakery, Maiasmokk Cafe.
- Learn about about the KGB’s activities in Tallinn. I went to the KGB Prison Cells which is open to the public. You need to book a tour of the KGB Museum.
It’s a fifteen minute walk from the old city to Balti Jaam Market for interesting shopping. After stopping there, head over to Telliskivi Creative City for more independent shops and cafes. I recommend a meal at F-hoone in Telliskivi.
If I had more time:
- I would have visited Kadriorg Palace. Peter the Great built it in 1718. It’s now an art museum.
- Estonia: A Modern History
- The Last Train from Estonia
- The Man Who Spoke Snakish