Why everyone needs a trip to Tallinn.
Things to know about Tallinn
Tallinn, Estonia, forever now in my mind known as Fairytale Land, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. It’s a country according to its citizens that is covered in forest and obsessed with saunas. It’s an advanced country and is very technologically advanced, with the likes of the man who invented Skype hailing from here. Its economy is one of the fastest-growing in Europe and it ranks very high in the Human Development Index and does well in measures of economic freedom, civil liberties, education and press freedom.
Tallinn is the country’s hub. Its 13th Century Tallinn old town remains perfectly preserved and this fairytale, chocolate box centre mixes with the recently redeveloped Telliskivi Creative City.
Tallinn Old Town
Tallinn old town is charming and some say it is one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe; I can’t attest to this but it certainly looks like a real-life Disney. It has medieval walls, architecturally incredible churches, cobblestoned streets leading to squares, pretty pink buildings and courtyards that would not be out of place in a retelling of Snow White or Cinderella. This city knocked my socks off; I found it beguiling and comforting. And I’ve never seen so many interesting doors. It has atmosphere in droves and photo spots that can match anywhere else in the world. It is one of Europe’s most complete walled cities and is UNESCO-listed.
Tallinn has a somewhat fraught past and the influences from the Danes, Swedes, Poles, Germans and Russians, all who have laid a claim to it at some point, can be seen around every corner.
The people in Tallinn describe themselves as unfriendly, or at least many did to me; however, I didn’t find them unfriendly at all. I think they seemed serious, introverted perhaps, but I kind of liked the fact that this place looked like Disney without any of the Americanisms that go with that.
I found the place and the people just delightful and would go back there in a heartbeat.
Things to do in Tallinn
This was a press trip with Ibis Hotels and to be honest, up until that point I didn’t even know where Estonia was! In putting this guide together, I’ve written extensively about this press trip as well as including some of the attractions and areas that we didn’t see.
Things to see in Tallinn.
Top of your list has to be the Old Town and I honestly feel you could wander around the town for hours, just happily wasting time. Be were aware though that a lot of shops have straw dummy people outside; they scared the life out of me a few times and I even found myself apologising and having a conversation with a few of them.
So what must you see in the Tallinn Old Town?
While there we took a private guided walking tour, which was well worth it and took a couple of hours. There is a lot of history to see in this small city and you will glad you took the time. The walking tours take place every day at 2pm or you can book a private tour here.
Make sure you see:
The Viru Gates
These guard the old town and were part of the earlier defense system. The gate has long gone but the tower still remains.
Town Hall Square
We went near Christmas and the Christmas market was in place and it was beautiful. It’s also a place to explore the pretty-as-a-picture streets that runoff from it.
A street with a lovely view towards the square and apparently one of the best chocolate shops around that unfortunately I didn’t go in.
When I searched for pictures of Estonia, the pictures of Pikk Street were the ones that came up the most. I stumbled across it from the town square and honestly fell in love.
St Catherine’s Passage
For me this was a little disappointing; it’s just a passage and so many people referred to it as a picturesque photo spot. I personally didn’t see this, but each to their own. Other than the fact it’s the oldest part of Tallinn dating back to medieval times I didn’t find it particularly inspiring.
As far as I’m aware I didn’t go here unless I stumbled across it without knowing. Apparently it’s full of master craftsmen and has a Chocolatiere Café, so I’m kind of sad I missed it.
The Wes Anderson building
One of the most Wes Anderson style buildings I have personally ever seen sits off the town square. It was yellow and pretty but was sloping so, unfortunately, would not make a good picture, but just standing and looking at it was enough for me.
House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads
You know I was talking about doors? there are so many amazing doors. Apparently behind one lays a beautiful, Renaissance-style guild hall; perhaps I was too busy with door envy to notice that. It was the historic home of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, a medieval guild made up of young, single merchants and foreigners. You can go inside but I just looked at the door because it was very pretty.
I walked around many of these streets and found so many nooks, alleyways and crannies but as the great travel blogger I am I can’t remember where they were, but then I think that is part of the charm of Tallinn, it opens up before you and demands to be explored.
Oh, and if you are wondering why are there big concrete birds in the roads, no one knows!
A little bit out of the main square and surrounding streets that I got lost in for hours, you can find…
Two Tallinn viewing platforms
I only went to Kohtuotsa viewing platform; the view was amazing and well worth it. I especially loved the saying on the wall – in fact you find these little sayings all over the place and I found them enchanting.
There is also another viewing platform called Patkuli but I didn’t go there and it offers a slightly different view. They are both located on Toompea hill and we got there via some strange ghost like statues.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This is one impressive and beautiful building. I only did a quick walk past and I personally don’t take pictures in front of religious places, but it was a beautiful spot. Built it 1900 it is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cathedral but according to our guide is not the main one used for worship.
The pretty pink Estonia Parliament Building is also worth seeing and it seems from my research that the beautiful pink wing is an addition to Toompea Castle. I really must listen more on guided tours. Anyway, the pink bit was very pretty.
A part of the city I walked through and didn’t know I was in. It’s essentially a park with the town walls bordering one side. It’s very picturesque and comes alive with flowers in the spring and summer.
There are so many towers and old walls in this city it’s well worth talking a look at them.
You can also walk some of the old walls of Tallinn, which I didn’t do. I just looked at them, as you do.
But to be honest I wouldn’t plan that much for this city I would just walk and see where the mood took, it’s not large and you can’t get too lost.
Outside of the town you can visit Telliskivi Creative City. I have to say I didn’t know I was there until someone told me. It resembled some of the streets in Shoreditch and I found myself on edge, old habits die hard I guess. It’s a complex of former warehouses turned into boutiques, restaurants, live music venues, and cafés, and all are beautifully decorated with street art, so you can forgive me for not knowing. Once I knew where I was I didn’t find the hustle and bustle I expected and I suspect that an evening visit perhaps shows this place in a different light.
I also didn’t get time to visit the port but I’ve heard that it is worth a visit. The Sadama District (harbour district) also houses the Museum of Estonian Architecture.
Places to eat in Tallinn
I ate at two divine restaurants when I was there. I had lunch at the Lei restaurant, a traditionally-styled Estonian restaurant, which apart from being beautiful serves delicious, locally-sourced food, matching it with excellent wines. They really do love their food in this country. This was a real experience and one I wish I had had longer to savour. I spent a dinner at the Manna La Rosa restaurant, an eclectic restaurant that I could have spent all day in. The food was wonderful and the atmosphere out of this world. It’s a really hard place to describe; I heard it describe as Salvador Dali-themed and it certainly was as crazy.
Places to drink in Tallinn
While there I spent an amazing evening at The Parrot Bar, a speakeasy which I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend. The cocktails were great and the staff amazing.
We also ate and drank at the Ibis Tallinn restaurant and bar, where we were staying, and I loved the laid-back atmosphere.
What I found about Tallinn:
I had the most amazing trip to a place I knew nothing about and fell in love, and I’m dying to go back.
What I did learn is that all Estonians learn English in school, coding is considered another language and they are a techie country, even voting online. Skype was actually invented by an Estonian. The country is clean and ordered and the Estonians often refer to themselves as unfriendly, which I didn’t find; they were certainly serious in nature and not into small talk but I didn’t see that as unfriendly, in fact, it was a pleasant relief after all my visits to the States. It also seems that Estonia is very proud of its beer as it should be; a beer tasting at the hotel was a joy and they are clearly passionate about what they produce.
All in all, it felt like a country that didn’t have to announce itself loudly, but just let itself unfold before you. The people are happy to be there if needed but don’t push themselves upon you, and they are proud of their heritage, their county, their achievements and their black bread (which was mentioned to me many times and was delicious!).
I fell in love with this introverted, beautiful and noble country and it has made me realise that perhaps Europe has more to offer than I first thought.
My Tallinn recommendations
I always think about what I would do if I revisited a place as I think that gives you the best recommendations for others. I would definitely stay at the IBIS Tallinn, it was a walk to the old town but I really did love the laid back atmosphere and the food and beer was very good. I would book myself lunch at the Lei restaurant and Manna la Roosa and then spend my days exploring and getting lost in Talinn old town, because I really did fall in love with it.
And I would without a shadow of a doubt take another trip to the Parrott Bar. And that is why I think I loved this place so much, it almost demands you take it easy and wander and enjoy.
Oh, and I would give axe throwing a go again. This was the highlight for me on the first trip because who wouldn’t want to go axe-throwing? It turns out though that I’m quite bad at it, but it’s the taking part that counts, right?
The photo spots in Tallinn.
For me, the two photo spots I loved were:
I arrived here about midday and while there were a few people in the back of the pictures, had I got my act together quicker I could have got this empty.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
There was a line for this one and I waited maybe 10 minutes. I would have preferred to go early as I don’t really like being watched having my photo taken, but it wasn’t that bad.
If I was to go again I would definitely get up early and get a photo by these gates and get some pictures in one of the Old Town streets in front of some of the many beautiful doors or the pretty pastel shops, but this trip didn’t allow that.
For me, these were the best shots that fit in with me and my feed. When I travel I try to be so careful not to tread on people’s toes, so I tend not to take pictures in front of parliamentary or religious places. I’m not saying this is wrong; it’s just not my preference, so if this is something you don’t have a hang-up about there will be many more photo opportunities for you.
Where you go in Tallinn I’m sure you will love it and I can’t wait to hear all about it.