Tallinn, Estonia may not be on every traveler’s wish list, but the ones that choose to visit this unique destination are in for a surprise!
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Tallinn offers a perfect combination of Scandinavian cool, medieval charm, and Eastern European hospitality and is a great destination for an eco-conscious traveler. Estonia has committed many facets of ecotourism through community-based development, opportunities for local interaction, and protection of its cultural heritage and environment.
During our visit sightseeing Tallinn and Estonia, we discovered that Estonia is home to many organic farms, green events, sustainable activities, and eco-friendly hotels. And while many of Estonia’s green initiatives and experiences are located outside of the capital, Tallinn, itself, offers a lot to the responsible traveler.
Here are the best of our tips and advice for a sustainable trip to Tallinn!
BEST TIME TO VISIT TALLINN
There is a certain appeal to visiting Tallinn any time of the year. Summer is the most popular season for visitors wanting to explore the top Tallinn Estonia attractions, thanks to the warm weather (temperatures in the summer hover around 20-25°C) and over 18 hours of daylight.
Winter is the least popular time to visit. Temperatures often plummet to -5 and -10°C and daylight hours diminish to just 6 hours in Tallinn in January and February.
Spring and Fall offer a pleasant balance of warm weather, longer daylight hours, and a beautiful landscape thanks to new blooms in the spring and a kaleidoscope of colours in the fall.
If you want to do your part in helping avoid over tourism and avoid putting extra pressure on the city’s resources, plan your visit outside of the summer months.
We’ve visited Tallinn a couple of times before. Once in the winter, over Christmas in Tallinn and the other time in March, on the cusp of Spring.
While the weather was cold in Tallinn in December, and the daylight hours were very limited, we found Estonia in winter to be VERY charming. There were lots of things to do in Tallinn in December. Christmas lights, markets, cozy little restaurants and bars scattered all over the city kept our spirits high throughout our visit of Tallinn in winter.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN TALLINN
Tallinn’s city center is compact, easy to navigate, and packed with Tallinn activities. Getting around on foot via self made walking tours is the prefered way to explore the city for conscious travelers.
For longer distances, there are many cycling paths connecting Tallinn tourist attractions and a sophisticated mobile bike rental system.
In 2013, Tallinn became the first European capital to offer free public transport to its residents. Public buses, trams, trolleys, and trains are not free for visitors, a free pass to all public transport is included with the purchase of the Tallinn Card. You can buy it online for when you visit Tallinn or at the Tallinn Tourist Information Center.
Visit Tallinn Old Town
There is no better way to start exploring Tallinn than by visiting it’s most picturesque part – Old Town, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1997. The town is small but has many Tallinn Estonia, points of interest that are worth a visit.
It is really well preserved, oozing with medieval charm and offering plenty of adorable nooks and crannies to explore during your visit. If you have limited time in the city and are wondering what to see in Tallinn in one day, this is it!
Start your Tallinn sightseeing exploration at Viru Gate. This historical landmark is a Tallinn must see! Viru Gate was built in the 14th century and has become a symbol of the town. The twin watchtowers were once a gateway to the city, as they are part of the medieval wall which protected the town.
Visit Town Hall Square
Town Hall Square is the heart and soul of Tallinn Old Town. Built in the 15th century, this historical piece of Estonia is the only Town Hall in Northern Europe that is still intact. It is one of the main Tallinn attractions you shouldn’t miss.
Town Hall Square is the site of Tallinn’s famous Christmas Market, which is open from November to January. The market has been voted the #1 Christmas market in Europe many times over. There is not much in the way of Tallinn nightlife at the Christmas Market, but it is definitely the answer to what to do in Tallinn at night. The square comes alive with twinkle lights, hot servings of mulled wine and holiday spirit.
Peruse the Masters Courtyard – a quiet area of the Tallinn Old Town with cafes and small shops where artisans showcase their finest handiwork. It’s one of the most picturesque places to see in Tallinn and a great place to pick up a few unique gifts that support local craftsmen.
St. Catherine’s Passage
Continue on your exploration of Tallinn sights to St. Catherine’s Passage, a semi-hidden walkway with well preserved medieval architecture, that connects two streets and runs behind what used to be St. Catherine’s church. It is one of the more unique things to do in Estonia, Tallinn.
Speaking of churches, the city’s biggest medieval structure, St Olaf’s Church is probably one of the city’s most iconic buildings and among the must-see places to visit in Tallinn.
Back in the day, it used to hold a congregation of mainly craftsmen and merchants, but today it’s opened to the public.
Tallinn Town Wall
From there, head over to the Tallinn Town Wall that once guarded the town against unwanted guests. Much of the original wall and its 20 watchtowers are still standing to this day. Tallinn allows visitors to walk the walls for a unique perspective of Old Town and Tallinn top attractions.
Patkuli Viewing Platform
Located along the Town Wall, Patkuli Viewing Platform is a must do in Tallinn Old Town if you want to snap some nice photos of the Old Town. It offers up panoramic views of the city, which stretch from the historical center to the bay. There are 157 steps from the bottom to the top of the viewing platform.
Many visitors to the Estonia capital spend the majority of their time in the city exploring Tallinn Old Town, and while it’s charm can’t be denied, there are lots of other spots worth visiting outside of the historical center if you have more than 1 day in Tallinn.
Visit Balti Jaama Turg Market
For a taste of local life, a must see in Tallinn is Balti Jaam Turg (Baltic Station Market). It is the biggest market in Tallinn and home to over 300 vendors.
Spread over 3 levels, it has some of the best shopping in Tallinn, with vendors selling everything from homegoods to produce and antiques. Plus, the many food trucks and street food merchants offer up some of the best food in Tallinn. It’s an excellent lunch spot.
Telliskivi Creative City
Art enthusiasts will love visiting Telliskivi Creative City – an open outdoor area full of street art and modern designs. Walkthrough the former industrial complex and pop into its 30 design stores and 12 unique restaurants and eateries.
Looking for what to do in Tallinn, Estonia on a Sunday?
Make sure to check out the Telliskivi Creative City flea market!
This creative area is the result of a neighbourhood revitalization program and prohibits any international franchises from renting space. It seeks to promote Estonian art and creative industries and is known for its bohemian energy and lively events which regularly take place here.
One of our favourite places at Telliskivi Creative City was Fotografiska – a gallery, shop, cafe, and great restaurant! They regularly hold interactive events and their restaurant has floor to ceiling windows which offer up great views of the city.
For a quick drink, pop into Pudel Bar. It is Estonia’s first gourmet craft beer bar which serves unique and quirky craft beer from around the country and other Baltic states. The prices are a little higher than the regular cost of beer in Tallinn but it’s worth it to sample their wide craft beer selection.
Visit Kadriorg Park
Kadriorg Park is part park, part museum and one of the best things to do in Tallinn. It is the most popular green space in Tallinn and an ideal place for a stroll in the summer. It also contains some of the city’s most prominent museums and historic buildings.
There is over 70 hectares of land to explore in Kadriorg Park and interesting nooks and crannies to appease any kind of traveler. There is Concert Square where you will typically find live events, People’s Park which is popular with picnickers and nearby Swan Pond and Youth Park which is a hit with the little ones.
For more traditional gardens you can visit the rosarium or Japanese gardens.
While you are strolling through the park, don’t miss some of the famous monuments like Russalka which commemorates the sinking of the Russian ship of the same name. At the time of its unveiling, it was the first monument by an Estonian to be showcased in a public space.
Museums & Historical Buildings
The jewel of the park is undoubtedly Peter the Great’s baroque-style palace. He built it for his wife Catherine in 1718 and today it houses Kadriorg Art Museum.
Inside the art museum, you can find an eclectic collection of classic Western European and Russian art. The interior architecture of the building is something special as well.
On the grounds of Kadriorg Park you will find other historical buildings like the Old Guard House which houses the visitor centre, The Office of the President of the Republic which functions as such today and Drenteln’s Summer Manor which is also known as the Peter the Great House Museum.
You can also find some more modern buildings like the nearby Art Museum of Estonia. It is the most prominent art museum in the nation and showcases a much larger collection of works from international and local artists.
The majority of Tallinn’s museums are located inside Kadriorg Park however a couple can be found outside the park. If you love museums, they should be added to your list of what to see in Tallinn.
The Seaplane Harbour Museum
Estonia has a rich maritime history so it is fitting that the Seaplane Harbour Museum was opened in 2012. The building it is held in, was originally constructed as part of Peter The Great’s Naval Fortress but today the seaplane hangar showcases an interesting array of exhibits including a 1936 submarine.
If you are wondering what to see in Tallinn for history buffs, add the KGB Museum to your list of Tallinn things to do. This quaint museum is located inside the Hotel Viru where KGB agents regularly stayed. Access to the KGB museum is available with a guided tour only, but it provides excellent insight into the daily lives and workings of the agents.
Day Trips from Tallinn
Outdoor Day Trips
Visit the Bogs and Wetlands
Located about an hour from the city centre, Mukri bog is one of the oldest bogs in Estonia and a thriving ecosystem. For visitors, there is a 14-metre tall lookout tower, boardwalks looping around the park and a lake of the same name which is safe to swim in.
Pääsküla raba is another popular bog, located 20 minutes by car from Tallinn. It is a bit easier to access and offers a perfect quick outdoor escape from the city. At 4 kilometres in length, the bog boasts the perfect length trail. It snakes through the forest and wetlands and passes a 10-metre observation tower along the way. However, for something a little bit longer, the Jussi Nature Trail is an 8-kilometre loop. It is located just up the road from Pääsküla raba.
Keava Bog’s claim to fame is that it was featured on the 15th season of the Amazing Race yet it is somewhat off the beaten path. It is located about an hour inland from Tallinn and is part of the Kõnnumaa Landscape Reserve. It features some great boardwalks and has a bird-watching platform.
Take the Nature Trail at Keila Joa Park
The 3-kilometre nature trail, at Keila Joa Park, passes over stairs, suspension bridges, and by one of Estonia’s most picturesque waterfalls. It is located just 30 minutes from the city making it the perfect half-day adventure. If you want to stretch it into a full day, stop by the Keila Joa Manor and Old Hydro Station too.
Saula Blue Springs
The Saula Bluesprings are three large, freshwater springs whose waters flow into the Pirita River. They are vibrant in colour and considered sacred by many. It is said that if you “sacrifice” money, silver jewelry, or beads the spring waters will heal any ailment.
The Saula Blue Springs are a natural monument and a cultural heritage site. They are located about 20 minutes from Tallinn.
Horseback Riding with Estonian Native Horses
One of the fun things to do in Tallinn in the countryside is to take a short ride with Estonian Native horses. They are known for their amazing personalities and versatility for all levels of riders. We would recommend Vihterpalu Tall Stable which is a horseback riding centre located an hour from the city. It has amazing trails which meander through the forest and by the sea.
Stop By Jagala Waterfall
A short 25-minute drive from the city, you’ll find Jägala Waterfall, one of the particularly impressive Tallinn places to visit in the winter since the water freezes mid-fall. Jagala Waterfall is the highest natural waterfall in Estonia.
Lahemaa National Park
Located 70 kilometres east of Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park is another great destination for an outdoor escape. Many large animals live in the park, making it one of Estonia’s most important forest conservation areas. The park offers lots of hiking paths and is one of the best places in Estonia to experience the traditional Estonian bog walking.
Cultural Day Trips
Estonian Open Air Museum
For a cultural outdoor experience, take a short 15-minute drive out of the city center to the Estonian Open Air Museum, where you can check out a reconstruction of a rural village and how the villagers once lived. The village comprises 14 farms, a church, a schoolhouse – everything that you would typically find in an 18th-20th-century village.
Mooska Smoke Sauna
The Mooska Smoke Sauna was one of the most memorable experiences from our recent Tallinn trip. Unfortunately, Mooska is located 3 hours from the capital but, trust us, the experience is well worth the drive!
Mooska Smoke Sauna offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the traditional smoke sauna experience. The lovely host, Eda, welcomed us with open arms and guided us through the elaborate smoke sauna experience. This was not a typical sauna experience. There was chanting, meditation, whisking, honey scrubs, and even an option ice-cold lake dips!
The sauna offered us an amazing opportunity to learn more about local traditions associated with the smoke sauna and to get fully immersed in the experience. After you have a good long steam, we were treated to an amazing lunch and had a chance to sample some of their famous smoke cured meats!
Located 30 minutes from the city center, the Pakri Peninsula plays an important role in the history of Estonia, as it was occupied by the Soviets until the early 1990s. It was used as a nuclear submarine training centre and was the most powerful Soviet naval base in the country. Today, you can see remnants of its history while exploring the area.
On the peninsula, you can take a day trip to see Pakri lighthouse, the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, the old quarry, soviet planes and cemeteries, and the Pakri wind park. However, locals tend to come for the stunning natural beauty. The area is characterized by sheer limestone cliffs which lead to the ocean.
Tallinn boasts over 45 km of coastline and is also a popular beach destination in the summer. The four beaches, Stroomi, Kakumäe, Pirita, and Pikakari, are popular not only with international visitors but also locals. Pirita and Pikakari have flown a Blue Flag since 2014, which makes them clean and safe beach options for the whole family.
Pirita beach is not only a beach, but also an adventure park, and yacht harbour. Nature lovers will find plenty of outdoor activities to partake in here including canoeing, water bicycling, or simply nature observing.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Tallinn
The capital offers 20 Green Key Program certified eco-friendly accommodation options for you to use as your base while exploring activities in Tallinn. Here are just a few examples of these options.
Selected as one of the five best hotels in Tallinn, Solo Sokos Hotel Estonia is a unique hotel because each one of its 93 guest rooms tells a different story about Estonia. Their focus on eco-practices aims to reduce food waste, improve energy efficiency, and relationships with local partners in the community. Room rates start at $104 USD/night.
Radisson Blu Sky Hotel is located in the city center of Tallinn. It boasts 280 contemporary style rooms ranging from standard rooms to presidential suites.
When it comes to sustainable practices, Radisson believes in reducing the negative impact on the environment. They work to reduce the consumption of energy, water, and chemicals and have a robust waste management program in place. Radisson also ensures that its customers are able to easily participate in environmentally friendly activities of the hotel, such as taking part in the annual Earth Hour. Room rates start at $148 USD/night.
Located just steps away from Old Town, Nordic Hotel Forum offers 267 rooms, all elegantly designed with the eco-conscious traveler in mind.
The hotel follows eco-friendly principles for both their guests and staff. This includes consuming water and energy as economically as possible; reducing waste in every possible way; shopping consciously, ordering items made of recycled paper; and using locally sourced ingredients in the hotel restaurant. Room rates begin at $110 USD/night.
Another alternative to hotels in Tallinn is apartment rental, which is available through sites like Booking.com as well as Airbnb. Renting an apartment from a local will allow you to contribute to the local economy and give you an opportunity to experience Tallinn in a local way.
During our visit to Tallinn, we stayed in a brand new apartment complex just outside the Old Town and loved the ability to cook our own meals (fresh ingredients in Tallinn are so easy to find)! It has lots of space and all the amenities for a comfortable stay.
Where to Eat: Best Restaurants in Tallinn
During our visit to Estonia in December, we stayed in a brand new apartment complex just outside the Old Town. We love the ability to cook our own meals (fresh ingredients in Tallinn are so easy to find)! It had lots of space, all the amenities for a comfortable stay, and overall was a great base for us to explore all the things to do in Tallinn in winter.
Golden Piglet Inn specializes in crafting true, authentic Estonian dishes with fresh products from local farms. As they say, their recipes have been passed down through the generations. It is one of the best places to eat in Tallinn to sample traditional food. Vegetarian options are little at this traditional establishment, but meat-eaters will enjoy a sample of some traditional cuisine.
Hours of Operation: Mon-Sun 12:00pm – 11:00pm
This award winning restaurant has a relaxing atmosphere and a medieval charm. The menu consists of European style food and features a long wine list. It’s a great place to pop into for dinner. Hours of Operation: Mon- Sat 12:00pm -11:00pm | Sun 12:00pm – 10:00pm
Located in Creative City, Fotografiska restaurant has a zero waste mindset. It focuses on using local produce whenever possible, and bases their business operations on what they call “sustainable pleasure”. They offer a European style menu which changes often. Hours of Operation: Mon – Sun 12:00pm – 11:00 pm
Vegan foodies – your paradise awaits! As the name suggests, this cozy restaurant is completely vegan. This means no animal meats or by-products. Hours of operation: Sun-Thu 12:00 – 11:00 p.m. | Fri-Sat 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Go back in time and get a full traditional medieval experience at Olde Hansa. Every little detail is brought to life from the servants and kitchen staff who are sure to make you feel as though you’re living in the 15th century. Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 11:00 a.m – 12:00 p.m.
Located in Tallinn Town Hall Square, Liisa Juures is a comfortable family-owned restaurant. It provides delectable Estonian cuisine that is sure to please any palate. Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
For those who are gluten-free, Kivi Paber Kaarid (meaning Rock, Paper, Scissors) is the restaurant for you! The menu also provides lactose-free, casein and vegan-friendly foods – making it a great choice for the sustainable traveler. Hours of operation: Mon-Thurs, Sun: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. | Fri: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m. | Sat: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sometimes you just need to step away from the hustle and bustle and relax in a quiet corner. Rukis Cakes can provide that tranquillity while serving some of the most delicious breakfast dishes to fuel you for a full day of sightseeing. Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Live like a pirate and climb aboard this ship-style restaurant for a feast for the senses. Restauran Korsaar offers delectable dining and specializes in unique sustainable seafood creations. Hours of operation: Mon-Sun 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Get a little taste of Italy at the family-owned/run Enoteca Lucca that serves up delicious pasta and meat dishes, as well as an extensive wine list and dessert menu for those with a sweet tooth! Hours of operation: Tues-Sun 12:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
How Much Time do you Need in Tallinn
When it comes to how long to spend in Tallinn, we would say you can comfortably see the majority of Tallinn in 2-3 days since most of the sites are close in proximity. For those who have more than 2 days in Tallinn or who like to slow travel, we recommend you explore the things to do in Estonia outside of Tallinn by adding a few extra days to visit destinations, like the Lahemaa National Park or Pirita Beach.
Given the fact that Estonia is one of the pretty tiny Baltic states (it takes only 3-4 hours to cross the country), it is possible to stay in Tallinn for a few weeks and use it as a base to explore the rest of the country through multi-day trips, especially in the summer!
Is Tallinn a destination you have considered visiting before? What surprised you the most about our description of Tallinn?
Disclaimer: We visited Tallinn as guests of the Estonia Tourism Board, but all of our experiences in Tallinn and recommendations above are, as always, our own.