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What to do in Estonia: discover medieval Tallinn and unique nature

Tallinn will blow you away! As soon as you set foot into the inner city you will feel like you entered a time machine and were spat out in the medieval times: you find yourself standing in front of impressive watchtowers and a massive city wall. Wooden booths line the streets of the historical town center and vendors in medieval clothing offer delicious smelling goodies.

And not only Tallinn’s historical flair will win you over. In the creative neighborhood of Kalamaja for instance there are a few very stylish restaurants in old industrial buildings. If you want to relax you can cycle out to one of Tallinn’s beaches.

Tallinn also is the city for technology. You find free wifi almost everywhere and pretty much everything is done online in Tallinn – even public administration is taken care of online. No wonder that Skype for example was founded in Tallinn! And thanks to the 3D app you can even go on a virtual tour of Tallinn.

Tallinn also is perfect for combining your trip with a stop in Helsinki. Only 83 kilometers or two hours on the ferry separate the two cities.

In the next paragraphs I will let you in on the adventures that Tallinn and the surrounding nature have to offer!

What to do in Estonia: Tallinn and its surroundings!

The capital Tallinn

Getting there and moving around

The easiest and most comfortable way to get to Tallinn is by plane. Air Baltic for instance flies to Tallinn daily from Berlin and Vienna. Flying with a carry on only you can get tickets from Berlin Tegel to Tallinn for as little as 80 € including carry on. Departing from other German cities you can fly straight to Estonia’s capital with Lufthansa, Air Berlin or Ryanair.

Air Baltic

The airport is only 15 kilometers from the city center so for around 12 € you can even treat yourself to a taxi. Bus number 2 takes you to the city even cheaper. A single fare costs 1,60 €, you can buy the ticket right from the driver.

If you are in town for a few days then it is worthwhile getting the Tallinn Card. With this card you can use public transportation as much as you like for 24, 48 or 72 hours and receive free admission to many museums and attractions. Even a free tour of the city is included!

For all information on the costs and benefits of the Tallinn Card as well as where it is sold check out this site.

The medieval city center

The historical city is also Tallinn’s center and one of the classic Estonian sights. Let yourself wander here and you are bound to come across the most beautiful areas. Many different routes lead to the central town square which is a little touristy. When coming from the South of the city you will be greeted by the round towers of the Viru city gate, and even more towers adorn the square of towers. The Kiek in de Kök, a watchtower from where the tunnels under the cathedral hill depart is also worth having a look at.

Tallinn / what to do in Estonia

View points

There are several viewing platforms around the historical center, one for instance is on the cathedral hill. The platforms offer you great views of the roofs of the medieval town and its narrow alleyways, but also of the new modern Tallinn. One of these platforms is Kohtuotsa, Piiskopi aed is a little more hidden and from Patkuli you can also see Kalamaja from above.

view point Tallinn / what to do in Estonia

On cathedral hill you also have the impressive Toompea castle where the parliament now presides and the Orthodox Alexander Newski Cathedral with its four onion towers.

old town Tallinn / what to do in Estonia

St. Olav’s Church

In medieval times this church was the highest building in the world, towering 159 meters high. Because of this legacy the church still is an important landmark to the town and you should definitely have a look at it up close.

Today Tallinn’s highest building is the TV tower where you can marvel at Estonia’s newest technological innovation.

Walking the city wall

You can access the city wall through Hellemann tower which was built in the 14th century and served as a prison and arsenal then. Walk a stretch of 200 meters on the wall and watch the alleys, peer into the inhabitants’ windows and enjoy the view of cathedral hill. Today there is a museum in the tower and in Eppinger tower there are old armors on display.

Bicycle tour

You will have the most fun discovering Tallinn’s hidden corners by bicycle! Be it in summer or in snow, the tours start daily at 11 o’clock. In around 2,5 hours you explore the neighborhoods around the historical center, you cycle to the presidential palace, to the place where the famous Song Festival takes place and to the beach. You learn why old Estonians long for the Soviet times and why Finnish people like to come over to Tallinn for a couple of hours just to go back home on the same day. At 3 pm the guide takes you to Kalamaja where you get to know interesting facts about the neighborhood, its people and its history. Book the tour here!

Song Festival / what to do in Estonia

KGB Museum

On the upper level of the historic Viru Hotel you enter the world of the Soviet occupation and oppression. The KGB, the Russian secret service, used to have its offices here, they confiscated the hotel to use for their surveillance activities. Until 1981 everyone was being surveilled here, there were microphones under the guests’ bread plates or ashtrays, the staff was tempted with hidden bags of money in which a color bomb exploded if they were touched.

Tallinn KGB museum / what to do in Estonia

One room on the upper level was kept exactly the way it was left behind by the KGB – with gas masks, phones for eavesdropping and other scary devices. You should definitely book a tour here and learn more about this part of Estonian history! From the terrace you also have a great view of the city.

Museums

If the weather does not play along simply visit one of Tallinn’s many museums! Some of them are really interesting and will tell you more about the city’s history. The Tallinn city museum which is located in an old merchant building from the 14th century illustrates Tallinn’s history up to its independence in 1991. The house of Estonian design presents Estonian designers and their creations, at the occupation museum you will learn more about the life of the Estonians during times of the German and Russian occupation.

Kalev marzipan room

If you like marzipan then you will start drooling here. This historical shop really looks like a good old grandma’s place, all kinds of marzipan figurines are created and painted here. You can even watch the woman with the skillful hands at work! By the way, marzipan was a remedy back in the day and was sold in pharmacies.

marzipan room Tallinn

Creative Kalamaja

The Kalamaja neighborhood is one of the oldest in Tallinn and should definitely be on your list of things to visit! It used to house the fishermen because this is where the largest harbor in Estonia was and in the 20s and 30s the wooden houses that are so typical for Estonia were built here. Kalamaja declined a bit in the 40s but has been on a steady rebound since the beginning of the 21st century. Nowadays it is a place for art and creativity which shows especially in the Telliskivi Creative City.

Telliskivi Tallinn / what to do in Estonia

Tallinn houses

The afore-mentioned typical houses are called ‘Tallinn houses’, they are made of wood and are two to three stories high. The most beautiful ones of their kind are in Salme, Kungla, Valgavase and Kevi street.

Harbor of water planes

If you are interested in planes and ships then this museum is paradise for you. Here you find historical ships such as Europe’s largest steam icebreaker and replicas of water planes. The old harbor is great for a little stroll around!

Telliskivi Creative City

The Telliskivi is an old industrial area close to the central train station. Among other things the Telliskivi Creative City houses little Estonian designers’ shops for anything from fashion to interior design to cosmetics. You also have the coolest and comfiest restaurant in Tallinn here that offers predominantly healthy creations. In summer there also are concerts and other events between the buildings. So check the Telliskivi website before your visit!

Telliskivi Tallinn / what to do in Estonia

Markets

Every Saturday there is a fish market right by the water where you can get the freshest fish in Tallinn. If you enjoy flea markets then the one in Telliskivi is something for you: furniture, books, clothing – here you find everything your second-hand-heart desires! Here you find more information.

Prison museum Partarei

Beauty and depression collide here: on the one hand you have the view of the sea from the former sea fortress which really is beautiful. On the other hand you are in a former prison which recounts a part of Soviet history. Partarei is only open in summer from May to September but is definitely worth a visit! Nothing here is adorned or prepared for tourists, it looks more like it was left in a rush. A bizarre and somewhat spooky place!

Food and drink in Tallinn

Estonian cuisine traditionally is hearty and consists mostly of fish dishes, sauerkraut, herring and often black pudding for Christmas. German, Scandinavian and Slavic influences come together here. Apart from these rather heavy foods you will also find modern restaurants in Tallinn and its surroundings which create delicious healthy dishes with local ingredients. And even vegetarians will be fine without having to order any special requests.

The local drink is Vana Tallinn, a sweet liquor that tastes of vanilla, cinnamon and rum. Estonians in general like drinking spirits, many of them self-distilled.

Quaint cafes for an afternoon break

Café Mademoiselle

Nice cafe if you need a place to warm up. The interiors are modern and pretty hip. There are sweet pastries and sandwiches to go with the coffee or tea. Perfect if you want to treat your feet to a few minutes of rest!

Cafe Tallinn

Address: Pikk 29 (Meriton Old Town Garden Hotel), historical center

Chocolaterie Pierre

You are craving for chocolate? Then head to Chocolaterie Pierre’s adjoined cafe. It is situated in the historical center and comfortably furnished in the style of the 19th century. As soon as you open the door you are greeted by the smell of fine coffee and chocolate. In summer you can sit outside on the patio. Definitely try the homemade truffles – they melt in your mouth!

Address: Vene 6, historical center

Popular & Köök Boheem

This place is especially nice for people-watching in summer and the inside too is nice with a couple of comfy corners with sofas and homely grandma atmosphere. There are fine salads, crepes and other goodies. The cafe is pretty popular among locals too!

Address: Kopli 18

Typical medieval and modern Estonian cuisine for lunch and dinner

Ole Hansa

Here you travel through time to the middle ages. The food here really is an experience! The house is one of the oldest in Tallinn and is prominently located on one of the historical center’s street corners. When entering you are submerged in another world: the waiters and waitresses wear medieval clothing, you drink from mugs and eat from plates of pottery. There hardly is any unnatural light, candles make up for that. The whole medieval experience is accompanied by a small group of musicians with traditional instruments that wander between the three stories.

The menu is as traditional as back in the day with lots of meat, elk meat for example. Delicious warm bread is served with that. Ole Hansa definitely is not a secret and many other travelers come here but locals also go here in large groups to fill up on the big plates. This really resembles a medieval feast or somewhat of a big binge!

Ole Hanse Tallinn

Address: Vana Turg 1

F Hoone

Really cool restaurant with excellent food – my favorite restaurant in Tallinn! It lies right in the Telliskivi in a 100 year old industrial building which has been touched up very stylishly on the inside. There is lots of healthy vegetarian food like falafels, but good burgers too. All meals have a special twist to them and are definitely not standard. And the prices are pretty low.

F Hoone Tallinn

Address: Telliskivi 60, Kalamaja

Kukete

The Kukete bistro is housed in an old train station and is really nice and comfortably furnished. The staff is super friendly and takes great care of you at any given time of the day. The menu is rather simple but the dishes are good and use local ingredients fresh from the market. Smoothies, egg dishes, salads, pasta, burgers, fish – you will definitely find something here and at a price that can’t be beat!

Address: Telliskivi 57, Kalamaja

Café Moon

A family restaurant that serves traditional Russian cuisine. From Siberian dumplings to classical Blinis to Borschtsch. Everything is delicious, you can really taste the love for tradition here. If you are lucky you might be able to get a seat on the little patio if the weather is good!

Address: Vorgu 3

Rataskaevu

The restaurant Rataskaevu really is super inviting and comfortable with open brick walls, lots of wood and warm lighting. The people of Tallinn love it too! In summer you can enjoy the tasty food on the terrace: the homemade bread has to be especially highlighted – it is delicious! If you are curious to try new things then here you have the opportunity to sample elk meat, but there also are several kinds of fish, beef or vegetarian options.

Address: Rataskaevu 16

Bars with the best beer

Tops Bar

The retro bar lies hidden in the Kalamaja neighborhood and is very popular with the locals. If you are looking for something different than the typical bars downtown and don’t mind things being a little dirtier then check this place out! There are local products (snacks and beer) and the prices are super cheap!

Address: Soo 15, Kalamaja

Pudel Baar

At Pudel Baar you find the largest selection of beers in Tallinn, there are beers from the well-known international breweries, as well as beers from smaller local breweries. In accord with the Telliskivi location the interiors are industrial. Definitely stop by for a nightcap after maybe having had dinner at F-Hoone!

Address: Telliskivi 60a, Kalamaja

Manna La Roosa

If you went to the historical center for dinner then Manna La Roosa is ideal for a good cocktail after eating, where the drinks are served in very unusual glasses. This bar has crazy decorations, leaning a bit towards the trendy Boho style but at the same time it simply is clustered and random and you would not expect that at all from the outside. Definitely stop by and get a glimpse – it is fascinating!

Address: Vana-Viru 15, historical center

Recreation and feel-good places to spend the night

Solo Sokos Estoria

The Estoria was built as a modern pendant to the traditional Viru Hotel next door. The name combines Estonia and stories as every room depicts Estonia’s interesting history. And in every room extraordinary customer requests have been realized. The bedding for instance is colorful rather than plain old white, the beds are incredibly comfortable and the towels are huge, perfect to wrap yourself into. You will sleep like a baby here!

You also have the option of making coffee and tea in your room and if you are lucky you get to enjoy it with a view of the historical city center when hanging out in your seating area. You can also do so in the quaint living room area at the entrance where you can nibble on free snacks such as nuts, cookies or Estonian sweets while you sip your drink. Speaking of eating, the breakfast is superb!

The location is also perfect, right on the perimeter of the historical center and with a mall and supermarket next door. You don’t even have to go outside to get there, you can access it right from the hotel. Very convenient!

A double room costs around 100 to 150 €, depending on the season.

L’Ermitage Hotel

When staying at the L’Ermitage you are sleeping at Tallinn’s upper side. You only have to cross the street and a few minutes walking distance away you have the most beautiful view of the historical city center. And Telliskivi is not far so you can head over for a good dinner. The rooms are kept simple and breakfast is not as elaborate as at the Estoria. It is cheaper though, a double room comes in at around 80 €.

Modern apartment right in the city center

This apartment has been newly renovated and is modern yet comfortably furnished. It is ideal for two people but you can make space for two more. You can have your morning coffee with a view of the National Opera Theatre and then head off to the historical center which is pretty close.

Trips around Tallinn

Estonians love driving out to their summer houses and spending the weekend in nature, which is all too understandable, Estonia really has lovely areas and extraordinary natural spectacles to offer!

If the ice is thick enough in winter then you can even drive out to the offshore islands – taking the car on the ice! At Sooma national park you have the sheer quiet of the upland moor and the fifth season when everything is flooded. In summer Pärnu and Haapsalu offer beautiful beaches and boardwalks where you can take in the healthy sea air. In winter there are great spas for relaxing.

The white nights in June are an extraordinary experience, you have daylight from 4 in the morning until 11 at night.

You’re still wondering what to do in Estonia? Here are three great suggestions!

Sooma national park

From Tallinn you need around two hours to the Sooma National Park where you can witness a very special natural spectacle: after the snow melts in Spring, sometimes as early as January or February, the meadows and forests are flooded with the water rising so high that you can only get around in boats.

Book a canoe tour and experience this fifth season as Estonians call it! Past trees and bushes half submerged in the water, over meadows where you see the dried grass shimmering through the water. An unforgettable way to explore the national park! A hike to one of the most beautiful and untouched bogs is also part of the tour. Altogether you have to plan around 4-5 hours. The whole thing only costs 30 €. Sooma National Park definitely is one of the most beautiful natural sights in Estonia and you should definitely go see it!

Sooma national park / what to do in Estonia

The best way to end the day is in a warm sauna. You will find that at the Ponka holiday farm. Raivo, the owner, will introduce you to the traditional sauna rituals. Among them is jumping into the pond which depending on the season will be ice cold! Idyllically located right in the national park this is the perfect place to watch the world at peace and fall asleep in utter relaxation.

Ponka holiday farm

Haapsalu

If you continue driving from Sooma towards Haapsalu you can stop at Pärnu. This place is considered the summer capital and on hot days it can get pretty crowded here. In winter however you can relax in one of the many spas and will feel like a whole new person after one of the traditional mud treatments!

Another hour of driving and you reach Haapsalu. No matter what time of the year you come you can go for a long walk here at Paralepa beach and enjoy the sunshine. There also is a nice boardwalk along the water in the town itself. In winter there are tours with a standing sled on which you can whiz around the bay.

Haapsalu / what to do in Estonia

After that you should treat yourself to homemade cake at the quaint Müüriääre which is famous among Estonians well beyond the city limits. Right behind it you have the impressive old bishops castle of Haapsalu. Don’t forget to stop by the old train station! The grass growing on the tracks, the platform and the trains in front of it look like they came from a museum and the whole place has a deserted eerie and somehow exciting feel to it.

train station Haapsalu / what to do in Estonia

I can recommend the apartment at Väike Villa guest house for a cozy place to spend the night. Nordic decorations, a large veranda, a well-equipped kitchen where you are fully self-sufficient and to top it off you can even see the sea beyond all the rooftops. If you prefer to have dinner prepared for you then go over to the Hapsal Dietrich in Haapsalu’s old city center. You should try the fresh fish and not to forget the cake selection if you come during the day!

Hiking in the bog

A hike through the bog should be part of any visit to Estonia, even if it is only a short trip to the moor. There are several bogs in the country, the one at Sooma in fact is the largest in Europe. For a bog shoe hike you are equipped with either bog or snowshoes depending on the season and then can easily walk through the bog, the ponds and the flat soft ground.

A hike ranges anywhere from two to four hours and starts close to Palavere. Hikes only take place in the Fall and Winter and I have to admit that it really was an extraordinary experience to hike through the snow and crossing small frozen lakes. In winter you can also follow the tracks of wolves, foxes, etc. in the woods. And if it is really cold you can go ice skating on the lakes. What an outing!

Tours start at 33 €. You can schedule a pickup in Tallinn if you don’t want to rent a car.

bog shoe hike / what to do in Estonia

The tour operator also has other great adventures to choose from, there is for example a two day canoe tour to Pakri island, staying overnight and getting to know all of the island’s six inhabitants included.

What to do in Estonia: you will fall in love with medieval Tallinn and the surrounding nature!

Estonia has favorite country potential and you will feel like you are in Scandinavia but it’s easier on your wallet, compared to Sweden, Finland etc. since prices are much lower. In Tallinn you get to experience Estonia’s history up close and in the surroundings you can get your share of adventures like canoe tours, sled tours or hikes in the bog. And there are spas and saunas waiting for you at the end of the day, the perfect balance if you are looking for a bit of relaxation and recreation!

Have you ever been to Estonia? Which are your favorite places there?

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One comment on “What to do in Estonia: discover medieval Tallinn and unique nature

  1. Lennart on

    Hey there,

    Great article. I was in Tallinn in December and have to admit I was really surprised by the beautiful Old Town. I loved all the old buildings and cool Restaurants. I think my favorite one was the III Draakon in the basement of the town hall. They have great Elk Soup.

    Another thing I loved was the Patarei Prison. An old prison that was used until a couple of years ago and gives great insights into how the prisoners were handled in the past. It is a place to go for me in Tallinn.

    Greetings

    Lennart

    Reply