Tallinn, Estonia is a medieval waterfront town in the Baltics that seems to be torn straight out of the pages of a storybook. It’s a city that most visitors seem to fall in love with. And, if you’ve ever viewed photos of the city, it’s easy to see why.
Here are 5 Reasons to Love Tallinn, Estonia:
1. Tallinn has an interesting and sordid history.
The city’s medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with winding cobblestone roads and brimming with beautiful historic buildings. I’d recommend that you join a walking tour of Old Town where your guide will fill you in on the city’s interesting medieval history. Traveller Tours offers a free walking tour daily starting at noon. While in Tallinn, I chose the to explore all things that “go bump in the night” and chose the Ghost Tour with Traveller. I wouldn’t consider the tour super spooky, but I enjoyed it and found the mix of history and folklore that the guide shared with us to be interesting and entertaining.
Although most visitors come to Tallinn to discover the city’s medieval history, it’s recent history what most shapes the city’s current residents. Tallinn was part of Soviet Russia until 1920 when Russia acknowledged Estonia’s independence. However, during World War II, Tallinn was annexed by the USSR, but was then occupied by Nazi Germany before again being annexed by the USSR until the independent democratic Estonian state was re-established in 1991. The Museum of Occupations is filled with information pertaining to this time period and illustrates the hardships that Tallinn endured during five decades of occupation.
I would also highly recommend a trip to the KGB Museum in Hotel Viru. The hotel’s 23rd floor is where the KGB set up their spy base before the fall of communism. Although the term “museum” is somewhat misleading since there are only a couple rooms visitors are able to visit, the guided tour is a “must-do.” Our guide explained how the hotel became the KGB’s spy base and the spy techniques used, which were fascinating!
Tip: The KGB museum is only open to visitors through a guided tour. I learned the hard way that the tour is only given a couple times a day in English and these time slots fill up in advance. Make sure to reserve your spot at least several days in ahead of time.
2. Old Town is BEAUTIFUL.
It’s no wonder that Tallinn has become such a popular tourist destination – its Old Town is absolutely stunning! Each bend in the narrow roads seems to afford more beautiful views than the last. Make sure to head to Toompea for sweeping views of Lower Old Town and the sea. I would also recommend you climb St. Olaf’s tower for 360 degree views of the city’s rooftops. You’ll experience some of the best views in Europe from Tallinn’s Old Town. So. ridiculously. gorgeous.
Tip: Much like climbing the tower of Notre Dame in Paris, St. Olaf’s isn’t an easy feat. You’ll need to climb the tiny, winding staircase up 258 steps to reach the top of the tower. I’d recommend that you make the trek on a weekday and first thing in the morning or late in the day to avoid the heat and the hordes of tourists.
3. But, the city has a lot more to offer than just it’s Old Town.
With Tallinn’s Old Town being as enchanting as it is, it would be pretty easy to spend all your time within the city walls. Don’t. Just outside of Old Town you’ll find the artsy Rottermann Quarter, a quirky collection of shops, galleries and restaurants built into an old factory complex which is certainly worth a few hours to explore. The KGB Museum and Kadriorg Park are also located outside Old Town’s walls.
Tip: I’d recommend that you grab lunch at Safaar, an establishment in Rottermann that’s half wine bar/restaurant and half boutique. Order the baked goat cheese with beets and quinoa and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
4. Tallinn offers an awesome array of restaurant choices.
When I travel to a new destination, I can’t wait to try the food! Since Old Town is a tourist favorite, the area has a ton of eclectic restaurant choices, and I didn’t have a bad meal while in Tallinn. For a hipster vibe, try Safaar in Rottermann, Tchaikovsky if you like glitz and glamour or head to La Bottega for fantastic Italian cuisine. If you’re interested in ghost stories and folklore, grab a meal at Rataskaevu Restron whose historic building was rumored to be owned by the devil. (Yes, the devil). If you’re a sucker for views like me, head to the cafe in the Dannish King’s Garden which very well may offer the best scenery in the city.
Now, I feel somewhat obligated to mention Olde Hansa, a medieval themed restaurant which is popular with tourists. I was skeptical of the cheese-factor when I first heard about the restaurant, but after reading a review recommending the place by one of my favorite travel bloggers, I decided to give it a shot. The verdict? Eh. I will say this, they do have the medieval thing down – the decor, glassware and menu was all “very medieval” and you’ll find the menu spatted with delicacies such as elk, wild boar and bear. But, my friends and I found our waiter to be over the top cheesy (to the point he became annoying) and all of our (pricey) dishes were good, but not great. This said, we may have been a bit jaded since just a few days earlier we had eaten at an amazing medieval restaurant in Riga that we loved. I wouldn’t by any means characterize Olde Hansa as a “must,” but if Tallinn is your only stop in the Baltics, you’re not on a budget and the concept seems like fun to you, you could give the place a whirl.
Aside from these restaurants, don’t leave without trying Estonian cuisine, particularly the rye bread and traditional pork and potato dishes. I’d also recommend sipping some creamy Vana Tallinn, a local liquor served over ice.
5. Where else can you find a beach bar at a prison?
I know what you’re thinking – what?! When I first heard of the Patarei Sea Fortress Prison, I thought the very same thing. Patarei is probably the strangest, quirkiest “tourist attraction” I’ve ever experienced. Honestly, it’s just bizarre, but in a kind of awesome way. The prison is now abandoned and is open for tourists to explore. But, when I say “open for tourists” don’t expect a polished museum setting – far from it! The prison looks as though nothing has changed since the inmates moved out (aside from the paintings on the walls and art installations throughout).
The place is a mess with dirt, debris, trash and broken glass everywhere. I’m no priss, but I made sure not to touch anything while there (partly because the place looked so dirty and partly because I was afraid I would cut myself on something and contract tetanus). Also, when I say “explore,” I mean it. Nothing is roped off. You can basically access every cell and walkway, the operation room (pictured above) and nooks and crannies that should probably be condemned. Patarei is a “tourist attraction” which would never exist in the USA…
The best part? After you’re finished in the prison, head outside to the bar. Yes, the bar. Patarei has a waterfront BEACH bar. Again, like the prison itself, drinking proscecco there was a completely different experience from any other I’ve had in the past. Plus, I really lucked out when I visited – there was also a Harley Davidson motorcycle meet-up taking place… complete with a pop-up tattoo parlor. Now that’s what I would call a “prison tat.”
Tip: Patarei wasn’t offering guided tours on the day I was there, but I would recommend that you look into one if you plan to visit. Although I haven’t experienced the tour and can’t necessarily recommend the quality of it, it would have been interesting to hear the history of the prison and explanation of what I was looking at.
Where to stay in Tallinn:
While in Tallinn I chose to stay at the PK Ilmarine Hotel, a modern hotel with spacious rooms. Just steps outside the Old Town’s walls, PK Ilmarine hotel offered a super comfortable base to come back to after my long days of sightseeing. The hotel houses amenities such as a restaurant (which served a delicious breakfast), bar, salon and gym, and is a great value for it’s excellent location. (As an added bonus, the hotel is also close to the ferry terminal which was convenient for catching my early morning ferry to Helsinki).
Have you traveled to Tallinn? What did you think? Anything else you would add to this list? If not, would like to visit Tallinn?
If you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments section or by sharing it with the social media with the social media links. You can also follow Flirting with the Globe on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Pin It for Later!