Impressions Of Tallinn, Estonia

Filed Under: Travel

Obviously the focus of this blog is the journey rather than the destination, but when I find it interesting I like to briefly write about the destination as well.

My dad and I spent the last three days in Tallinn, Estonia. While not one of the biggest European summer travel destinations for tourists (like London, Paris, Rome, etc.), Tallinn is starting to emerge as a new hotspot for visitors.

It’s known for its beautiful old town, and in this post I wanted to share my thoughts about our three days here.

Tallinn has the most beautiful old town I’ve seen

Europe in general has so many charming “old towns,” though Tallinn has the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Period. The old town is large and adorable.

The downside to the old town…

Tallinn’s old town is beautiful, though it lost some of its charm during the day. On one day I counted six cruise ships in the port, so as you may have guessed, there were probably 10,000+ tourists in groups with headphones and signs.

That’s of course totally fine, but it does take some of the charm out of the city. Some people don’t like touristy cities, but even worse is when it’s cruise tourists, since it’s nothing but groups of dozens of people who are stumbling all over the place.

That’s a small price to pay for visiting such a beautiful old town, though I do think it’s worth acknowledging. I found the old town significantly more charming in the mornings and evenings, when the ships had left the port.

Tallinn has so much more to offer

We spent our first two days exploring the old town, which is lovely. Given how large it is, you could easily spend several days exploring it. We hadn’t done much outside of the old town prior to that, and frankly based on just looking at the city on approach to the airport and from the hotel, I figured the city didn’t have much more to offer.

Boy was I wrong. On our last day we decided to explore everything outside the old town, and this is possibly what I enjoyed most. Why? Because I was so impressed by the general quality of life that people seemed to have.

Some cities are cool because of the tourist sites they have, and other cities are cool because they’re great to live in. I of course can’t fully speak to what life is like for a local in Tallinn, but I couldn’t help but love how many funky restaurants and cafes there were, and how locals were constantly out and about, meeting for drinks outside, etc.

I especially loved Kalamaja, which had beautiful architecture and is known as having a “Bohemian” vibe.

While cool tourist activities make me like a city, fun locals who are always out and about make me love a city. In many ways I enjoyed the area outside the old town even more, since it came as such a pleasant surprise.

Tallinn is reasonably priced, friendly, and accessible

As an added bonus, it’s awesome how accessible Tallinn is. The airport is under 10 minutes from the town, and a taxi from the airport to the city costs under 10EUR.

Getting around Tallinn is cheap, and just about everything is reasonably priced. Of course you’ll pay higher prices in the old town in peak tourist season, but still, the prices were very reasonable across the board, especially compared to how much you’d pay in some other cities.

Furthermore, I found locals to mostly be friendly and welcoming. Tallinn also has more of a small town vibe — it’s a pretty big city at about 400,000 residents, but that pales in comparison to some other cities.

Bottom line

I was delighted by Tallinn. The old town is the cutest I’ve ever seen, but beyond that, the city has so much more to offer. I loved seeing how locals seemed to be out and about enjoying the summer, and there were so many restaurants and bars that just seemed plain fun, which you don’t see everywhere.

Add in the fact that the city is close to the airport, reasonably priced, and the locals are friendly, and I’d highly recommend a visit. I thought three days was the perfect amount of time to visit. I’m sure there’s a lot more to see, but it’s not a huge city, and for the way I like to travel, it was perfect.

If you’ve visited Tallinn, what was your experience like?

Comments
  1. Oh yes, Tallinn is great and from there you can easily reach Helsinki by ferry. I was there few weeks ago for the first time, I had the same impression. You haven’t mentioned, but while old town is really old and the city is rather modern, there are huge concrete somethings from communist time. How colourful this town is 🙂

  2. Visited Tallinn last month after watching world cup in Russia. It definitely was a highlight of my trip. Very glad to see you took many photos from the same spots I did. Also the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn (i think the company is called Tallink) was probably the best ferry service in the world.

  3. I took the ferry from Helsinki to do Tallinn as a day trip many years ago. I agree that the old town is quite nice. Obviously there’s only so much you can do with the limited amount of time I had though.

  4. Most European old towns are indeed very charming especially during Christmas times. There far less noisy tourists (mostly British groups with stag / bachelor’s parties). The 5 star Swiss hotel is very fine ( the last time I stayed in non-5 stars hotel while abroad was 20 years ago)

  5. These type of destination posts are a good idea I think. While I appreciate redemption articles and reviews of hotel and airline products, I think the destination posts help to provide a more complete picture and also gives me some ideas of places I may want to redeem to. I knew about Tallinn before, but its nice to be reminded of areas I still want to visit.

  6. We were just there in March 2018. Lives the small town feel and the people and building were awesome. We did the hop on hop off bus tour to get a bigger feel of the area. Food was wonderful. Highly recommend if you’re in the area.

  7. Loved Tallinn. I went last October and there was snow on the ground. A very friendly place with some excellent restaurants and bars. Worth going too

  8. Tallinn in August is good, but Tallinn in September is *great.*

    The cruise ships and cruise creatures are gone, the streets are quieter, the leaves are just starting to turn, and the sidewalk cafes are still open.

    I’ve returned to Tallinn many times over the years, and get something new out of it every time. Only place in Europe I’ve ever seriously pondered living for a while. Nice report, Ben.

  9. Really appreciate the cleanliness, at least from your pictures.
    Wish more of the US was like that.

  10. Just visited last month and while the old town is amazing, I think the Lahemaa National Park about an hour from Tallinn is really worth a visit, beautiful ponds and wetlands, and the forest was amazing as well. I spent two days in the old town and one on a day trip to Lahemaa, it was a wonderful experience.

  11. Tallinn is the only city where, after a business meeting, I have just walked from the office to the airport.

  12. We founded a company in Estonia last year thanks to their awesome e-residency program and the unparalleled level of e-government service, so I got to visit three times in different seasons.
    The Old Town is indeed lovely, though it’s funny how food prices drop the moment you step out of the tourist area

    Also, love the airport and the fact that you can now get there by tram.

    For anyone visiting, be sure to check out the TV tower to the east of downtown. It’s easily reachable by bus and the views are fantastic.

  13. Tallinn is lovely. But it’s Baltic capital city to the south Vilnius is the G-spot of Europe. No one knows where it is but when you find it it’s amazing!

  14. I actually found Tallinn and its old town a bit too big, busy and touristy.
    Of the 3 Baltic capitals I preferred Riga because it was so relaxed and chilled.

  15. Surprised at all the cruise-ship bashing in the review and comments. While an onslaught of a lot of people in a very confined time is not ideal, for many, it’s an affordable and only way to get a “taste” of a place they’ve only dreamed of visiting. Not all cruisers are “creatures”. Many have great respect for their new environment and operate in an appropriate way while visiting. And for some, like me, it gives us a reason to return for a longer visit, like the one done by Lucky and his Dad.

  16. Fair enough @Walester; I apologize for generalizing. No doubt that you and many others don’t fall into that category.

    Just more of a commentary on the way the feel of a place changes when the ships arrive, and the awful ways in which I’ve seen some cruisers treat workers and locals in various coastal cities over the years. But again, those types are likely in the minority.

    “Creatures” was too strong a word – I’m sorry.

  17. Went through the Baltic counties in 2016, and of the three capitals (Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn) we liked Tallinn the best. The other couple we were with liked Riga best. Everyone has their own opinion, of course…but doing the three countries together was a highlight of our six-week trip.

  18. Visited Talin about 8 years ago and loved it. I agree with the poster about Vilinus, another beautiful city. When in the area, you must include Riga, a treasure trove of Art Deco buildings

  19. “Europe in general has so many charming “old towns,” though Tallinn has the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Period. “.

    Full disclosure: I have not visited Tallinn. Enjoyed the post. Anyone care to offer up THE most beautiful “old town” you have ever seen? Period.

  20. SO happy to come across your post! I lived in Tallinn for almost six months and I miss it more than any city in Europe I have been to! I lived in Riga for a year and of course love it too and the people in all the Baltic countries are friends for life once you get to know them.

    There is so much to see in and out of the city of Tallinn and in the winter? It is a wonderland! So many great museums to visit. Did you know they have a working pharmacy that is over 900 years old?!

    I could go on but will close by mentioning the best coffee shops in the world are in Tallinn. Hands down.

  21. Anyone visited at Christmas? I’m trying to decide between Stockholm and Tallin between Christmas and New Year (will be in Finland for Christmas). Just can’t decide which one to do. I’ve been to both before, but back in the early 90’s.

  22. My fondest memory of a visit to Tallinn around 10 years ago is asking for a gin gimlet and getting an 8oz glass of gin, a few ice cubes and 6 chunks of squeezed limes in it at an Old Town restaurant. My husband just about had to carry me back to our hotel. Oh, and hearing the younger Estonians tell us how much they despised Russia.

  23. I’ve lived in Tallinn on and off for the last 15 years. I can actually see the back of my apartment building in one of your photos.

    It used to be a lot different 10 years ago when it was undiscovered. Instead of 5-10 cruise ships a day, it would be 5-10 cruise ships a year arriving. Back then, all the good restaurants and bars were in the old town, and that’s where locals would go also.

    Now, a lot of the good local places are not in the old town — it’s become too touristy. The place you wrote about, Kalamaja (and the neighborhood next to it, Kopli) used to be so rough that if you phoned a taxi to pick you up from there at night, many companies would refuse to do so. Then it gentrified when people realized there is cheap real estate and it’s so close to the center.

    Glad you enjoyed your time there. If people want to avoid being among too many tourists, I recommend one of these options:
    A. Go to Tartu. It’s a university town and the second largest city in the country, and a 2.5 hour bus or train ride. Buses go every hour and they’re nice.
    B. Go to Narva. It’s 3-4 hours away by bus/train, and it’s on the eastern border with Russia. It’s definitely a different feel (95% of the residents are native Russian speakers), and you can even stand on the river’s edge and wave to people on the Russian side of the river.
    C. Visit Tallinn in winter. No cruise ships, and much fewer tourists, just be ready to handle the cold. It’s typical in January for the temperature to never go above freezing. If it dips slightly above freezing during the day, watch out for falling icicles from the roofs of buildings.
    D. Visit parts of Tallinn outside the old town.

    @Pablo Tallinn has a nice Christmas market in the old town square, though again it’s touristy. There’s a big influx of Russian visitors then since they get a week-long Christmas holiday starting from New Year’s eve (Russian Christmas is January 7), so avoid going then if you can as hotel prices go up considerably.

  24. Beautiful. Reminds stupid Americans what they willingly give up in their pursuit of efficiency and more money. Give up lovely walkable promenades for big box retailers, spread out mcmansions and internet deliveries.

    Sometimes they forget so every summer they go to Europe to remind themselves to continue to with their stupid ways the next year.

    Viva efficiency and death of the neighborhood!!

  25. If you enjoyed Tallinn, I highly suggest a visit in nearby Vilnius, Lithuania.

    Tallinn’s old town is beautiful but Bruges, Krakow, and Vilnius are either on par or slightly superior. What I loved about my visit to Tallinn was the opportunity to visit a Russian-era outdoor market and a Soviet prison that is now abandoned and open to tourisits. Can’t wait to visit again!

  26. We were in the Baltic countries this summer. We liked Tallinn the best, then Vilnius, and Riga a distant third.

  27. I am glad you enjoyed Tallinn. I am an American who lives here with my Estonian wife and I love it. I don’t travel much but thanks to your blog, I figured out how to get Star Alliance Gold with Aegean (from Tallinn airport with star alliance you will always need to connect in a *a hub so you can rack up enough miles if you travel within Europe once a month with one trip to the US per year). I wish I could have shown you around! Also curious to know what you thought of our strange airport (which was much nicer before construction of the garage I swear!)

  28. Oh beautiful Tallinn. @Lucky, where did you stay? Fun fact about hotels in Tallinn: most of them do not have star ratings to be able to attract all pharmaceutical events.

  29. If anyone wants beautiful small town without hordes of tourists and good prices, I was just in Lviv, Ukraine and it was spectacular, truly. Headed to Tallinn tomorrow morning, in Vilnius now.

  30. My family is Estonian and had to escape during WWII. A year and a half after Estonia gained its freedom my grandfather took me there on his first visit home to see his sister and his homeland. His sister showed me the tiny Estonian flag she’d kept hidden in the house for many years. We traveled around the country and he shared all his memories of growing up there. There were very few hotels or restaurants but even then the people were starting to create a tourist economy little by little. It was the most precious trip of my life. I was a teenager but I recognized what a privilege I had been given. There were no cruise ships or mobs of tourists then. It was the most beautiful, untouched place. I am so glad they’ve flourished. We might want that perfect little downtown but they deserve the success that comes from those tourists. They had very hard lives under the Russians.

  31. I agree with Jim – Tallinn was a lot different 10 to 15 years ago but, sadly, all the beautiful parts of this world are now being swamped with tourists and, when the bulk of the Chinese population start touring the world, I think I will stay at home.
    Another “bottom line” to Tallinn that I did not notice being said above was that, fortunately, the Russians did not destroy the old town during their occupation from 1944 to 1991.

  32. @Ben – You and your team should do more destination reports (publish those on quiet days). People love these just as much as airline/hotel reviews and I’m sure they’ll be very popular.

  33. Go to Krakow, Poland. A mix of Vienna, Lviv, Budapest and Prague but with a lot of a local flair which puts the city well above the others. Really. The friendliest and warmest people in Central Europe, good food, high quality bars and cafes, and probably the only ORIGINAL city centre in Central Europe (it has not been destroyed during WWII so it looks virtually the same as it did 500-600 years ago). Good connectivity too.

  34. I hope you grabbed some leib either while you were there in the airport on the way out. I know it must seem silly, but what so many Estonians miss the most when we move abroad is, quite simply, the bread.

  35. The critique of cruise passengers is kind of ridiculous. As noted by someone else, some take cruises as a way to see a lot of different places. And they actually go visit these places. An odd critique by someone who sometimes never leaves the airport or has a meal other than in a lounge or hotel restaurant.

  36. We were in Tallinn last month three generations in our group of 7 – alas it was from a cruise ship and a short visit but we’ve been all over and agree with Lucky it’s a very or perhaps most charming old town and we had a lovely time – hope it stays that way per the EU …

  37. @pablo It’s a great place to visit at any time of the year (I’ve been quite a number of times now) but to be honest the Christmas market is really quite poor. I do love going in Dec/Jan though as I love being there when it’s really really cold – especially when you can watch it snowing from inside the Hilton’s pool complex.

    The old town is beautiful though and there is a really great food scene. I do agree with the poster who said that Krakow is beautiful – but it doesn’t have quite the same small town feel. I would very much recommend flying into Helsinki and getting the ferry across – there are 2 operators in the winter (Tallink and Viking) and 3 in the summer (when the high speed LindaLine catamaran service operates). I’ve tried them all over the years and enjoyed all – especially in the winter when the ferries have to break the ice on their way over!

    Separately, the level of casual racism and stereotyping in these comments is quite concerned (regardless of who it’s by or targeted at). Why can’t we all just get along….

  38. Visited number years go during January – surprisingly mild – on cheap Air France economy fare to Helsinki. Took helicopter to Tallinn – don’t remember the price but it was pretty inexpensive. Loved Tallinn and I felt the same – a very friendly and livable city. Would love to go back sometime ——— off season

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