Why Tallinn is More Than a City Break Destination

Tallinn Travel Guide

Estonia entered my travel radar two years ago when I met an Estonian in London. His pride and enthusiasm for his country rubbed off on me and even though I knew I was going to visit all three Baltic States in the one trip, Estonia was going to be given priority.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that his attitude was typical of Estonians. Not only was I welcomed in the capital and tourist hub Tallinn but I was met with warm smiles and conversation, help at every turn and surprise when I told the locals of my plans to drive around the entire country. I was given friendly advice on where to go and tips on hidden away places your average tourist doesn’t get to see. If I said I couldn’t make it to their favourite spot, they were disappointed for me, worried I would miss out on something special.

Medieval Tallinn

Watching the cruise ship day trippers dutifully follow the flag of their tour group leader, I was thankful I had time to wander the streets at my own pace and to be able to reach the city’s vantage points at the best time of the day. The classic evening spot for looking out over Tallinn’s rooftops is from the viewing platform Patkuli Vaateplatvorm.

Medieval Tallinn

For a view of the city from the other direction, looking over to Toompea (Cathedral Hill), walk the narrow, steep steps up to the spire of St. Olaf’s church. This is a tough climb if you’re not fit and impossible if you have limited mobility but the view is worth it in the end. Visit in the morning (unlike me) for the best light.

Toompea from St Olaf's Church

Tallinn is a Medieval city, hemmed in by its old city walls which are 4 metres thick at some points. You can walk the walls and visit some of the towers, hang out in the Town Hall Square and visit the gorgeous Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

Tallinn Town Hall Square

Tallinn City Gate

The entire Old Town is paved in cobblestones and every street lined with colourful buildings. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. It’s not surprising it’s UNESCO listed.

Outside of the Old Town

Tallinn’s beauty isn’t confined to the city walls. A few tram stops away is Kadriorg Palace, a baroque palace built by Peter the Great, the Tsar of Russia. He built the palace for Catherine I, an illiterate Lithuanian of Polish origin who worked as a maid for the best friend of the Tsar. She later married the Tsar and upon his death became the ruler of Imperial Russia. Her story illustrates the importance of networking in becoming successful. The palace is now an art museum and the gardens are free to visit.

Peter The Great's Kadriorg Palace

Coming across Tallinn’s memorial to the 852 people who died in the sinking of MS Estonia was quite a shock. I don’t know if it’s my terrible memory or if I somehow missed the tragic news of the 1994 sinking. It’s an horrific story of a passenger ferry on a regular route from Tallinn to Stockhom which sunk within 50 minutes of coming under distress. You can read the full story here.

Part of the MS Estonia Memorial in Tallinn

Tallinn is full of sad histories and one of the worst can be witnessed at Estonia’s notorious Pratarei Prison. It’s located on the sea in the trendy Kalamaja district and for €3 you can wander the damp, dark abandoned prison on your own. It’s a gruesome place which housed mostly political prisoners during the Soviet occupation and includes a hanging chamber, narrow cells and a nasty looking prison hospital. It’s hard to believe this prison was still in operation in 2004.

Praterai Prison Toilet

Day Trips from Tallinn

Estonia is the smallest of the Baltic States and you can drive from Tallinn to almost anywhere in the country within a couple of hours. This means your day trip opportunities are almost endless.

Jagala Waterfall

If you don’t want to go too far, Jagala Waterfall is only 30 minutes drive from Tallinn. It’s not an unknown destination but we were the only people there when we stopped by. The wide waterfall pours over the karst landscape and you can expect it to be gushing in spring and early summer and almost frozen over in February.

Jagala Waterfall Day Trip

Eastern Estonia – Narva and Soviet Sillamae

Eastern Estonia is a fascinating part of the country which deserves more than a day trip but if you’re interested in Soviet history and Russia it’s worth the long trip. The population in this part of Estonia is 95% Russian and on the river border at Narva you have a beautiful view of Russia’s Ivangorod Fortress.

Ivangorod Fortress on the Russia/Narva Border

On the same trip you can stop at the coastal town of Sillamae which was closed off during Soviet times when the main industry was producing nuclear weapons. The town is quite rundown now but the beautiful Stalinist architecture still stands.

Stalinist Architecture in Sillamae

The West Coast

Haapsalu may not be the most exciting place in Estonia, it has a sleepy, hippy vibe to it, but it’s only 90 minutes from Tallinn and an option if Tallinn’s beauty becomes too much for you. Don’t expect to swim though, leave that for the sandy beaches at Parnu.

Sandy Parnu Beach


I had hoped to visit Helsinki while I was in Tallinn but having to catch the ferry very early in the morning and arrive back late at night was a little off-putting. I decided to leave that for another trip when I could spend more time in Finland. It’s definitely doable and I know this is one of the top day trips from Tallinn but it just depends on how you feel about rushing around to see Helsinki in a day.

Where to Stay in Tallinn

In Tallinn I stayed in the historic wing of the Hotel Telegraaf. The Telegraaf is a luxury hotel located on the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and if you’re looking for a beautiful place to stay, this is it. It has all the top amenities and services you’d expect of a 5 star hotel including a pool and spa, which you won’t find elsewhere in the Old Town. My stay was complimentary but if you would like to book you can read more about it and find prices here.

Hotel Telegraaf Twin Room5 Star Hotel in Tallinn

Eating Out

Tallinn is a cosmopolitan European capital where you can find all of the world’s most popular cuisines. The very centre in and around the Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats) mostly consists of tourist restaurants I suggest avoiding but there are some great cafes and restaurants not far from there yet still in the Old Town.

Eating Out in Tallinn

For a taste of modern Russian and Estonian cuisine, linger over a meal on the terrace at Restaurant Tchaikovsky. The menu changes regularly but the pelmeni (a kind of dumpling) and borsch are two of their specialities and I personally loved my roasted halibut.

Restaurant Tchaikovsky Lunch in TallinnRestaurant Tchaikovsky Dessert

For a more low key meal, hidden away from the crowds in a courtyard off Sulevimägi is Mull. At this peaceful family restaurant you can try the Estonian classic mushrooms and potatoes followed by their wonderful pavlova with berries.

Mull Restaurant TallinnPavlova in Tallinn

One of my favourite places to get away from the crowds and update my Facebook was Sinilind Cafe. It’s a very cute retro styled cafe with cheery staff. If you’re feeling the heat, stop here for a break and a mint and strawberry infused iced tea.

Visit Estonia!

I spent two weeks driving around Estonia, not enough to see everything and not enough to judge the people but from my brief experience I would say Estonians are the nicest, friendliest people I have met anywhere in the world. Tourism may still be a developing industry, at least outside of Tallinn, but I want to encourage everyone to visit, to see the beautiful nature, castles, vibrant city life and to meet the people who will make your stay a memorable one. Visit medieval Tallinn of course but take a few extra days to see and support the rest of the country.

About Andrea

Andrea Anastasakis is the founder and author of road trip blog Rear View Mirror. She is currently driving her Fiat 500 around Europe. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram.


  1. This post is making me look forward to my visit to Tallinn. Also planning to combine the day trip to Helsinki.

    • I have a feeling I’m going to regret not going to Helsinki. I’m interested to hear what you think about Tallinn. I’m completely in love with it and all of Estonia. Are you going to visit other places in Estonia? The Seto area in Varska is really interesting.

    • Sinimeri Niinikoski says:

      Hi Steve!
      I am a Finn, living in Tallinn Kesklinn= Center Town= about 15 minutes by walk to the old town.
      I am an artist, (a designer and business woman in my past).
      Tallinn is sucking and so Helsinki! In Helsinki, one need to know a bit more about its soul. = A bit different as in Tallinn. Which I love as my home town.
      Wellcome to Tallinn- and-further to Helsinki!
      Sinimeri Niinikoski

  2. Fantastic post — informative and so evocative — wondering if you’re going to choose Talinn as ‘your’ European city!

    Cheers and happy travels.

    • Probably not but only because it’s so far from everywhere else. I truly loved it though and I did consider moving there!

  3. Wonderful photos! Estonia is definitely on our travel list while we live in Poland. Interestingly enough, we are spending the 15th holiday weekend in Lodz and Wroclaw too. I’ll try and tweet or post what we get up to there. Lodz is supposed to have a fantastic street art scene!

    And the Kadriorg Palace looks an awful like the Wilanow Palace in Warsaw or vice versa! 🙂

    • Kadriorg is very much like Wilanow, that’s true! I love both. 🙂

      Lodz and Wroclaw are on our list for this month but we’ll probably be there after you. Can’t wait! Both look amazing.

  4. Hi Andrea not a place I have thought about to visit but it does seem very interesting . If I do go I will definitely be in touch with you 🙂 thanks for the great review ..certainly something to contemplate ..get out of comfort zone 🙂 .

    • Tallinn is absolutely gorgeous, I guarantee you’ll love it. It’s not at all about getting out of your comfort zone, it’s very much like Western Europe, everyone is incredibly friendly, they speak English, the food is fantastic. There are some places in Estonia which I wouldn’t recommend to you but Tallinn is not one of them. I promise you, it’s amazing.

  5. I can’t wait for my upcoming visit to Tallinn!! We’ll have just three days to explore so probably won’t take any day trips, but that’s the great thing about living nearby. I can just go back again 🙂

    Thanks for the restaurant recs and viewing tips!

  6. The President of Estonia just shared your guide on his facebook page. Thank you for such a informative and positive post. Loved it! 🙂

  7. Our president is very social-networky, sharing stuff on Twitter and Facebook. I found your article like this, I’m following Toomas.

  8. Hi, Andrea 🙂
    I found this guide thanks to our president and I’d like to thank you for writing this, or coming to Estonia in general. I couldn’t stop smiling while I read it. I’m really glad you liked it here 🙂

  9. Hi!
    Thanks for saying such good words about our country! 🙂 Really glad you had a good time. Hope you had the time to visit Tartu and Pärnu. They are awsome too. I have lived in all of them 🙂
    Have a good trip in the Baltics !

    • Yes I did get to visit Tartu and Pärnu and I loved both of them, especially Tartu. I’ll be writing about them in an upcoming post.

  10. I too found your blog through President Ilves’s Facebook post. Love your writing. Both my parents were born in Estonia, and emigrated to America as children before the war. I visited Estonia for the first time in 2010 (and met dozens of relatives) and have been back twice since. I’m glad you liked it as well.

  11. What about South Estonia and islands? Saaremaa and Hiiumaa? I can show you around 🙂

    • Thank you for the kind offer! I did visit South Estonia including Tartu and down to Värska. I also made a quick visit to the islands which I’ll be writing about in a future blog post.

  12. Alan Johnson says:

    Hi. Nice guide! It has been posted on facebook by Visit Estonia. I am lucky enough to be married to an Estonian and we visit there at least every year. As an English man it always surprises me how quiet all the sightseeing places are (except the big cities). It’s great! Although, it is a good thing to share the word and let people know what a lovely country Estonia is.

    • That’s so true, half the time it seemed like we were the only tourists around, except for the Finns who were everywhere. 😉

      I don’t think Tallinn needs much promotion, it’s already a well known destination but I’d love to see more people visit the rest of the country. There’s so much to see and the people are lovely.

  13. Kristiina says:

    Oh how lovely! We really are so full of national pride 🙂
    If in 5 years time from now you wish to experience something absolutely breathtaking (I took my Irish boyfriend this year and he said it was unlike anything he’d ever seen and probably the most amazing thing he’d ever seen) come to the next Laulupidu.

  14. I have lived in Tallinn from January until May (did my Erasmus there) and I can only confirm what you write about the people, Tallinn and Estonia in general.
    Even in winter it’s amazing there. I fell in love with Tallinn and Estonia. It’s one of the most beautiful and adorable countries I have ever been to.
    There is so many beautiful places outside Tallinn. Lahemaa National Park is one of my favorites. Have you been there?

    • I haven’t been to Lahemaa National Park, sorry I missed it. I agree with you about Estonia being adorable. The country has so much to offer and I really hope I can return in winter when I imagine it’s even more beautiful.

  15. Heili Nellis says:

    Hi Andrea!

    Thank you! It was so nice to read something positive and nice about Estonia! Brought a tear to my eye and made me miss Tallinn.
    Last 4, 5 years I have lived in Edinburgh, Scotland.
    I am Estonian (and proud of it 🙂 ) and Tallinn is my hometown. Years go buy and I miss Estonia less and less. But when asked, I have always answered that what I miss the most is the Old Town and some food.

    • Thank you for the sweet comment, I’m glad I could bring back some memories for you. I hope you at least get to go back to visit every now and then.

  16. What a wonderful piece on Tallinn! I’ll be there for a few months on exchange in September and can’t wait to do some of the day trips you suggested! Great work

  17. Great article Andrea and even better photos!! One of the best ways to see Tallinn and get the most out of the experience is with a private tour. The guides offer insight, experience, and knowledge about the city and its’ history which is missing from an excursion on your own. I always recommend taking a private tour in any city I travel to.

    One place not mentioned in the article which is really worth a visit is Kiek in de Kök & Bastion Tunnels. Kiek in de Kök is the old medieval tower defense that is a great photo stop destination. The Bastion Tunnels are the secret medieval tunnels under Tallinn which have been used throughout history. You have to book a tour of the tunnels in advance but it is one of the best attractions in Tallinn, especially if you enjoy the medieval aspect of the city.

    Lastly, another great restaurant (sticking with the medieval theme) is Old Hansa Restaurant in Old Town which features traditional Estonian cuisine from medieval times.

    • I agree a tour can provide insight into a destination you might not get otherwise. Thanks for the tips, I’ll add them to my list for next time.

  18. Kristjan Ojari says:

    Hey, i as well found this post through my president. Don’t come again next summer, come sooner, at the winter. When Old Town is truly magical and a sight to see. And don’t forget to visit other parts of Estonia as well. And really liked you’re post. Thank You 🙂

  19. Just returned from Tallinn this was my third visit and truly love all of what Estonia has to offer.

  20. Leeno Andreson says:

    Thank you Andrea for such a positive article. I have been 13 years away from Estonia. What a wonderful exchange. I left behind so called grey communist era and now coming back I see everything is blooming: people hugging each other, houses look nicer and colorful. Many manors are renovated-restored. Strongly suggest next time take a tour of Estonian manors. I spent my vacation in Estonia, visited Sagadi, Palmse and Vihula manors. Me and my grandkids had good time at Lottemaa theme park and at Haapsalu on steam boat and little train. I didn´t get enough of my home country. Next time going to explore northeast part. Estonia is most beautiful country in the world with the best people. BTW I found your article thanks to our president (I am proud of) too!

    • I’m so glad to hear things have improved in Estonia and I’m sure they will continue to do so. I did visit one manor house, Kau Manor, but I’d like to see more next time. Thanks for the tips!

  21. I’ll be here soon with my parents (unfortunately on a cruise but I’ll take what I can get)!

  22. What a beautiful city! Makes me want to visit, although after I left Romania I have less and less desire to head back to the East… Great photos, Andrea.

  23. I’ve always wanted to go to Talinn, it strikes me as something a little different to your normal weekend breaks, and seems to have such an air of mystery.

  24. Muhammad Abdullah says:

    Ahh! so want to be there, Nice collection of pictures. Thanks for sharing and keep writing!

  25. For those of you who might be interested, I’ve published a new blog post on my experience in Estonia. I spent a lot of time on the post so I hope you’ll read it and let me know your thoughts. http://www.rearviewmirror.tv/soviet-estonia/