Whether you are visiting Tallinn on a Baltic tour throughout the three countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, or just dropping by for a long weekend, Estonia is one of the most underrated and lesser known European countries with remarkable history, beautiful landmarks, and lots of opportunities to have a memorable summer holiday.
I spent three days in Tallinn, staying at an apartment right in the Old Town and spending it in a leisurely pace with my family. It was unfortunate that I had a horrible flu during the trip and wasn’t able to spent as much time to explore the city, but overall the town gave a wonderful first impression.
Landing in the tiny airport at late-morning after a two-hour flight from Amsterdam, we took a fifteen-minute drive to our stay. The apartment was roomy and well kept – with two bedrooms, one bathroom and a living room with kitchen, dining table and washing machine, it was perfect for our family of four. After settling in we left the apartment, and it took us merely five minutes to reach the tourist information center. It was slightly drizzling but despite my runny nose, sore throat and slight fever the rain actually made everything so beautiful, with the rain adding a layer of glister and mystery to the Old Town’s cobblestoned paths and medieval buildings.
We emerged at the Town Hall square , a gorgeous plaza filled with market stand complete with a small stage where people dressed in medieval costume were playing traditional music surrounded with architecturally gorgeous buildings, including the Gothic Town Hall, various restaurants, and one of the oldest pharmacies in the country. It felt like I was stepping into a fantasy movie set, and it appeared like we were the only tourists around.
After a long lunch by the square at an Indian restaurant (not highly recommended – quite expensive, most probably because of the location. The food was great and the waiters spoke excellent English, but definitely not the Estonian experience), we proceeded to explore the Old Town, visiting random souvenir shops and admiring the overall atmosphere and vibe of the wonderful town. We ended the day with a simple dinner of sandwiches we bought at the Rimi Supermarket available all throughout the Baltic states, while enjoying Estonian beer and watching the World Cup.
The next morning we left bright and early with the promise of a less wet day in Tallinn. My mom doesn’t like to walk too much and we opted to buy the touristic Hop on Hop Off Bus, with a 48 hour ticket and two museum tickets included for free, which we already bought online. It is a great choice if you want an overview of a city without walking too much, and seeing everything from afar and later deciding which destinations you want to visit the most. With this ticket you can get on three different bus routes across the city, exploring other parts of Tallinn other than the Old Town with audio narration of the history of the city and landmarks and each of them takes about 1 hour. We sat down on the bus for a couple of hours and learned more about notable places to visit in the future.
There are a lot of places of interest in this capital of Estonia, and it really depends on your own interests. Me and my family decided to visit the Estonian Open Air Museum, which is a huge block of land where you can learn the history, culture and society of Estonia in the 18th century. They are mainly in the form of old houses, farms or clusters of huts where local Estonian people used to live. You can stop at each of them and explore how the people live, plant their crops, cook their meat, have their sauna, grow their livestock. There are cart rides with HUGE horses, special events, and even people actually walking around these old houses and farming. I highly recommend renting the bikes if you want to visit the museum, since it is quite huge and will take up a lot of your time if you walk around and visit each house one by one. It is also very lovely to download the app called NUMU to listen to the free audio guide of interesting descriptions around the premises.
We spent over two hours there, enjoying the warm, clear weather and biking around. We got quite hungry in the middle of the tour and stopped by the museum’s restaurant for a bite. Food was quite expensive: main courses ranged from €10-15, but it was our first try at Estonian cuisine. We ordered roasted pork with potatoes, a salad, fried salmon for my pescitarian father, and soup for me. They were really delicious and served with the traditional rye bread with butter. Not for everyone’s taste, but a must try if you visit there.
After the museum trip we hopped on the City Tour bus again back to the city center, and took the final bus route across a different part of Tallinn. Located by the sea, Tallinn was a major port in its area and allows a huge range of people to travel across the Baltic sea to Helsinki. Despite the fact that Estonia is not the most popular tourist destination in Europe, the country has been trying hard to improve its tourism and promoting their UNESCO heritage Old Town. We passed through the port, and before we knew it we were already back in the city center again, stopping at the final stop of Viru Square.
The evening was spent having coffee at a cafe nearby our apartment after another stroll across yet another part of the Old Town. This time we passed through the remains of the town wall built in the 13th century, and the Katariina Kaik or St. Catherine’s Passage. Finally, we ended the day with staying in, watching TV while eating fried rice from the nearby Chinese restaurant, because we are Asians and need to eat rice.
The final day of our trip in Estonia started with a free walking tour at ten in front of the tourist information center. The walk took around two and a half hours, and the guide was excellent in describing us not only the history of Tallinn and how Estonia was invaded by both the Russians and Germans over its course of independence, but also the culture of Estonian people, and the history behind a lot of the landmarks we visited. Exploring the Old Town with someone who actually knows the city was just wonderful. He was very informative, fun, and we had a lot of stops across the Kik in de Kok, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Russian Cathedral called Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and visiting two viewing platforms where we could see the city of Tallinn at a higher location, with a glimpse of the town walls.
After the tour we had lunch at the Chinese restaurant we ordered from the night before, strolled around the Old Town (again!) to buy some souvenirs, and in the afternoon I stayed in the apartment to take a rest because of my horrible flu. Meanwhile my family explored Toompea castle, which they said was also a wonderful destination.
In the evening we left at a quarter to 7 for our dinner reservation at a restaurant called Grandma’s Place, where we enjoyed delicious Estonian cuisine. Unfortunately I didn’t have any pictures because the place was dark, but I highly recommend you to visit the restaurant for dinner, and make a reservation beforehand if you intend to do it. The place was quite small and very very famous. The wine was a little too sweet because in Estonia they make them with not only grape but also other fruits like berries, but their desserts were scrumptious.
The next day we left for Riga, Latvia, but I won’t get into that in this post. All in all I had a splendid time in Estonia. Everything in general isn’t as expensive as other European countries, its people are not the friendliest in the world, but it has so many wonderful qualities as well. It is tiny and known to be a poor country that was occupied for such a long time by the Soviet Union, but despite the fact that it is a relatively young country where it only joined the EU in 2004, it is definitely rising to be come one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited, with great tourist attractions that you should not miss. Its history is rich with sadness and culture but also hope, excitedness and a sense of adventure.
However, in case you didn’t have the time to read everything I wrote in this post, here are some highlights and tips and tricks from my three days in Tallinn:
- Spend most of your time in the Old Town, and if you can try and find accommodation near the Old Town. Explore the cobbled streets and go into the souvenir shops one by one, they are just so wonderful to explore
- Visit the tourist information center, the place is filled with recommendations
- In the same note, definitely do the free walking tour! They are informative, fun, and you learn so much about a city that way. It’s also FREE, yet of course you are encouraged to submit some tips to the guide after the tour is over.
- If you want to visit the Estonian Open Air Museum, definitely download the app on your phone, and definitely rent the bikes for €3 per 1.5 hours. Unless you want to spend the entire day there and walk all throughout the premises.
- The City Tours hop on hop off bus is definitely not for everyone and it’s not the most cheap thing in the world. If you’re on a budget, don’t bother buying it, but if you have some money to spare instead of spending much effort in making an itinerary and decided which places to visit, go ahead. Like I mentioned it’s a lovely way to get around the city from a double decker point of view and know every destinations and decide which one you want to visit most.
- Try Estonian food! If you like sweet wines, try out their wines but if you don’t, opt for the beer instead. The food is typical European food: potatoes, roasted meat, sauerkraut or pickles. But they are cooked beautifully and definitely not something to miss.
- Estonians are quite introverted and do not like social contact, so don’t feel too insulted personally if they act like they hate you.
- Exploring Tallinn in the summer is great! Some days there are rains, which is actually great because it’s not too scorching hot and everything just looks beautiful. On better days definitely bring a hat or sunglasses, the sun can totally burn you up.
- And the final last tip: never ever get ill on vacation! It’s the worst thing that can ever happen :”(
Have you ever been to Tallinn? What are your thoughts on traveling in the summer, and visiting countries that are less touristic? Let me know in the comments!