When John and I were planning our hiking trip to Norway and Sweden, we started looking at the region in some depth. Because we were already in the “area”, we decided to add a visit to Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia at the end of the hiking trip. Tallinn was a big surprise – in the best way possible. Over a weekend in Tallinn, you can walk through the old city (“the best preserved medieval city in northern Europe“), visit trendy art galleries, check out the redeveloped Noblesser area by the sea, and perhaps even enjoy a sauna and a dip in the Baltic Sea.
In Tallinn, you can count on eating really well without sticker shock. The same goes for accommodation. After Norway and Sweden, everything in Tallinn felt very reasonably priced. In Estonia, all prices are in Euros.
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Beautiful squares and public places in Tallinn Old Town
Best time of year to visit Tallinn
Summer is peak season for visiting Tallinn because of the good weather, long days, and many festivals. But that also means more people.
I was happy we were there in mid-September as we were still able to enjoy warm days and cool nights, but without the crowds. It was easy to get restaurant reservations and hotel prices were reasonable. One gentleman we met at breakfast in our hotel made the comment that “Tallinn has it all but without the crazy crowds of Paris and Rome. I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the city.”
I also understand a winter weekend in Tallinn is also a great choice, particularly on the first Sunday of Advent (December 3 in 2023). That’s when the Christmas Tree in the Town Hall Square is lit, and the famous Christmas market opens.
Fresh flowers for sale in Balti Jaama Turg
Getting to Tallinn
There are lots of inexpensive flights into Tallinn – and the airport is only a 15-minute drive from Tallinn Old Town. You’ll be easily able to connect to flights all over Europe.
Ferries to Tallinn
We took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. You have a choice of three ferries if you come from Helsinki – and there are loads of sailings. Count on 2.25 – 2.5 hours to cross. The price was good too – around $US23 per person. There are also ferries from many cities in Sweden. I used Direct Ferries to book. Just be sure to arrive in time to pick up your ticket (a seamless experience) in the ferry terminal.
From the ferry terminal in Tallinn, we were able to walk to our hotel in Tallinn Old Town in about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it was foggy on the ferry ride to Tallinn, so we couldn’t see a thing.
Location map of things to do, see and where to eat on a weekend in Tallinn
A weekend in Tallinn Itinerary
Arrival in Tallinn
Check into your hotel. We stayed at Hotel Schlosse in Tallinn Old Town. It’s a five-star hotel that’s much less expensive than what you’d spend in other large European cities. The hotel is housed in beautiful renovated 13th and 14th century buildings, so the place oozes history. If you have any mobility issues, be sure you get a room that doesn’t require negotiating a narrow, spiral staircase. We didn’t mind, but I know some people wouldn’t like that. Breakfasts are included – and are divine.
Another excellent hotel choice is the Telegraaf Hotel, located in the former post office, only 100 metres from the Town Hall Square. One of the highlights is a swimming pool under a glass roof.
The middle photo is our breakfast in a “cave” in Hotel Schlosse; food from Lee Restoran on bottom left and bottom right; top left and right from Rataskaevu 16
Day 1 on a weekend in Tallinn
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s time to walk Tallinn’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its “exceptionally intact 13th century city plan.”
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an area with charming cobblestone streets, hidden laneways, and beautiful old buildings, I prefer to follow my feet and not my head. The Old Town in Tallinn isn’t large, so while you might get turned around, you’ll never truly get lost. We found most people speak some English, so ask for directions if you need to. The Old Town is easily walkable over the course of a day with breaks for coffee, lunch, shopping, and museums.
John and I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the Old Town – following whatever street looked interesting
I loved the simple cafes you come across on the quiet streets
Don’t miss Toompea Hill
If you climb the cobblestone streets, you’ll eventually reach Toompea Hill – home to Toompea Castle, which houses the Estonian Parliament and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a fantastic example of Russian Revival architecture.
There are free excursions of the castle on a Monday to Friday basis if you reserve in advance. You can also watch parliament in session from a public gallery.
Another option is a two – hour walking tour of Old Town Tallinn.
Check out Kohtuotsa and Patkuli for panoramic vistas of the Old Town’s red-roofed houses, the spires of St. Olaf’s Church, and Tallinn’s modern skyline.
You can also reach Toompea Hill via the Patkuli Stairs. What I would suggest is that you explore the Old Town over the better part of a day, enjoying lunch at Rataskaevu 16. Finish with a descent on the Patkuli Stairs from the Patkuli Lookout. Wander along Snelli Tik, the pond you can’t miss – and return to the bottom of Old Town to complete a loop.
The fantastic domes of the Alexander Nefsky Cathedral
Look for restaurants spilling out onto the cobblestone streets in Old Town Tallinn
Expect to climb some stairs ion a weekend in Tallinn
Wander along either side of Snelli Tik – the name of the pond
The Patkuli Stairs are another way into and out of Old Town Tallinn
Lunch at Rataskaevu 16
I cannot say enough good things about our meal at Rataskaevu 16. The restaurant, near the top of Old Town Tallinn, boasts a warm and inviting interior. One thing you must do is visit the bathroom because inside there’s a hung glass floor looking down into the old workings of the building.
The restaurant is a favourite of locals, and I can see why. Vegetable forward meals like the spinach risotto is memorable. (Pictured to the right in the food collage above.) John had the breaded chicken fillet with pumpkin and marinated cauliflower – an interesting and delicious mingling of flavours. We shared a rhubarb bread pudding with berries and salted caramel – a decadent lunch in my books but one I’ll never forget.
When you get your bill, you’ll get a nice note from your waitperson – a touch you don’t see often.
Dinner at Fotografiska
Make reservations well in advance – and head for the rooftop restaurant in the Fotografiska photo museum. It has won a Michelin green star because of its zero waste policy. While we couldn’t get in, the restaurant focuses on local ingredients. Look for mushroom rösti, pike perch with grilled cabbage and pinecone sauce, or try the four course menu based on the season.
The interior of Rataskaevu16 is warm and inviting
Day 2 on your weekend in Tallinn
Walk from charming Old Town Tallinn to the very cool and trendy Telliskivi Creative City via historic Pikk Street. Visit Balti Jaama Turg, where you can shop (lots of caviar for sale), eat and buy market produce. In September local mushrooms and pomegranates were in abundance.
Lots of local mushrooms for sale at Balti Jaami Turg
From there, continue to Telliskivi Creative City, a vibrant hub for art, design, and entrepreneurship. This repurposed industrial complex is home to numerous art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and studios.
We spent about 75 minutes in Fotografiska Tallinn, a famous photography museum – and a real highlight of our weekend in Tallinn. After wandering through the exhibits, we stopped at the cafe on the main floor to enjoy a coffee and soak up the ambiance. From there, I recommend a stop at Reet Aus clothing store across the plaza- before continuing to explore. Look for over 20 examples of vibrant street art adorning the walls of Telliskivi.
It’s an interesting walk to Telliskivi Creative City
Really enjoyed the welcoming space in the photography museum
Colourful self-portraiture by Omar Diop at Fotografiska Tallinn
Fantastic murals in Telliskivi Creative City
Shadows on the open space across from the photography museum look s like old film
Interesting stores in Telliskivi Creative City
Next stop – Port Noblessner
Continue walking, this time heading towards Port Noblessner, a revitalized waterfront district that mixes a rich maritime heritage with modern development.
If you’re into museums, check out Proto Invention Factory, offering adventures in virtual reality. John and I spent about an hour in here until we started to feel nauseous from wearing the VR gear. Kids however will think this is very cool.
By now, you’re probably hungry, so head to nearby Lore Bistroo featuring comfort food for all – with a twist.
Inside the Proto Invention Factory
Before you start walking again, check out the wonderful open space with public art around the corner from the Proto Invention Factory. Note the modern apartments and trendy restaurants. Continue for a stroll along the promenade, admiring the contemporary architecture, and enjoying some of the best views of the Tallinn Bay.
It would be fun to dine in the geodesic dome by the Proto Invention Factory
Strolling the promenade in Port Noblessner
Lessner’s ship propeller – an authentic bronze ship’s propeller weighing 33 tonnes
How about a sauna and a dip in the Baltic Sea?
Reserve a private igloo sauna with a terrace and ladder access to the Baltic Sea at Iglupark – before you arrive in Tallinn. Heat up and then take the plunge into the cold sea. What an invigorating way to spend a few hours on your weekend in Tallinn.
Igluhuts in Iglupark
Walk back to your hotel in Old Town Tallinn
It’s a couple of kilometres, so perhaps 30 minutes to walk back to your hotel in Old Town – but it’s all flat. Stick to the coast for as long as you can soaking in the last of the Baltic Sea views.
Put your feet up and rest before heading out for your last dinner in Tallinn.
On our way back to Old Town Tallinn via a path by the sea
Dinner at Lee Restoran
Lee Restoran should be on your must-eat-here list. Tucked away off the busy streets in Old Town is an oasis of calm, that has been given a thumbs up by Michelin. Enjoy food creatively prepared by Canadian-born chef Hiro Takeda, who ended up in Tallinn after a stint in Copenhagen.
John and I were lucky to score a reservation at the last minute. We took our time, relishing the dining experience and the range of flavours.
The pretty entrance to Lee Restoran, the finale to our weekend in Tallinn
Final thoughts on a weekend in Tallinn
I know a few people who visited Tallinn shortly after independence in 1991. Their collective experiences in no way mirror the ones John and I enjoyed in 2023. Back then, Tallinn and the country itself was run down, poor, and the food was terrible. ‘
What has happened since then is remarkable. The country has gone digital – so nearly everything can be done online. English is widely spoken and you’ll find most restaurants have English menus.
Locals we met on our weekend in Tallinn were friendly and engaging. And if we had more time, we would certainly explore the countryside as over 50% of the country is forest.
Interested in visiting more of Europe?
These are a selection of stunning hikes we did in the Lofoten Islands in August 2023.
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