Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn is a delightful place for a short break. I found it to be a very walkable city, reasonably priced and quite safe for solo female travellers. In fact, Estonia is one of the best solo female travel destinations I’ve come across.
For other destinations in Estonia and detailed planning tips, check out my Visiting Estonia post. For a look at how Estonia has become one of the most successful post-soviet countries, check out my Impressions of Estonia post.
WHAT TO DO IN TALLINN
In a nutshell, eat, drink and sightsee. Estonia’s cuisine is highly under-rated and discovering it in Tallinn’s excellent restaurants and cafes was one of the highlights of my trip.
Estonia is equally under-rated when it comes to alcoholic drinks. I found a wide variety of warming liquors to counteract Estonia’s bitterly cold Autumnal breezes.
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the nicest in Europe and perfect for sightseeing. But Kadriorg Park and Pirita beach are also worth visiting.
DAY 1: The must-see in terms of what to do in Tallinn is the Old Town. Spend the first day entirely here and in the immediate surroundings. If you’re staying in the Old Town, then head for the Town Hall Square, the focal point of the Old Town and a great people-watching place.
However, if staying in the suburbs your tram or bus will deposit you at the bus station/tram stop east of the city. From here, you will enter the city through the impressive fortress-like Viru Gate.
The Town Hall Square is lined with cafes and restaurants. It’s possible to enter the Town Hall and climb the Town Hall Tower but opening hours are limited. Another quaint building on the Town Hall Square is the Town Council Pharmacy (Raeapteek). Dating back several centuries, this is actually a functioning pharmacy so possible to pop in for some medication.
For a country that has a large atheist population, Tallinn has an extraordinary amount of religious buildings such as the Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, St Olaf’s Church and the ornate Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
In front of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral lies the Toompea Castle area on top of the hill. Iconic photos of Tallinn’s horizon are taken from Patkuli Platform in this area. A number of foreign embassies are located in this unmissable part of Tallinn.
Other worthy sites to visit in and around the Old Town are the Town Wall (dotted on the outskirts) and Freedom Square.
DAY 2: Outside the Old Town near Viru Gate, on the east of the city, is the Hotel Viru. One of the tallest buildings in Tallinn, 22 storeys of this 23 storey complex were used to house tourists during Soviet times, the only place in Tallinn to do so. Floor 23 was used by the KGB to keep an eye on those tourists. Tours are given of the facility.
Head 2-3 miles east on Trams 1 or 3 to Kadriorg Park. This is a beautiful place to explore and the grounds contain a number of interesting sites. The regal Kadriorg Palace houses an art museum of well-known international artists whereas contemporary designed Kumu houses Estonian art. Anyone interested in art through Soviet times needs to visit Kumu’s excellent collection. The rigidity and claustrophobia of that era is plain to see in the works.
Estonians sang their way to freedom and the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds is a shrine to their independence. With a stage that can fit 15,000 singers and grounds that can fit 75,000, it was here in the late 1980s that Estonians voiced their unhappiness with the status quo.
Pirita beach, Tallinn’s largest beach, is 2-3 miles east of Kadriorg Park. It’s possible to get a bus from Kadriorg (near the Festival Grounds) to Pirita. I visited in early October and it was literally Baltic, temperature-wise, with a strong breeze. Locals told me it’s where they go in the summer. I’ll take their word for it!
If you have an extra day in Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park is a popular day trip from Tallinn. The journey time is less than one hour. It’s possible to reach the park by public bus from Tallinn but a car would be of huge benefit. Tour companies also offer trips from Tallinn to Lahemaa.
TALLINN TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Tallinn is a transport hub and is easily reached from its neighbouring countries, Latvia and Russia. Frequent ferries ply the Tallinn-Helsinki route, a trip popular with Finns in search of cheap booze (according to the Finnish people I met in Tallinn).
I flew to Tallinn from Dublin with Ryanair. Tallinn airport (Tallinna Lennujaam) is not a large airport so more customer-friendly than other capital city airports. Getting from the airport to the city centre is possible by tram and bus. The airport is located in the south east of the city.
Tallinn has two bus stations: The terminus underneath the Viru shopping centre serves local Tallinn routes whereas Tallinna bussijaam (Central Station) serves national and international routes and it was from here that I started and finished my journey to St. Petersburg in Russia. Tallinna bussijaam is on Lastekodu street in the south east of the city and is reached by airport trams 2 and 4.