Located on the Estonian shores of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea you’ll find the walkable city of Tallinn. As you start exploring the city, you’ll see connections to the many countries that once ruled over Tallinn — from Denmark to Sweden and even Russia — especially in charming Old Town, the historic district of Estonia’s capital.
The city’s compact size and the location of its must-visit sites make Tallinn a great place to get out and explore during your Baltic cruise. Here are a few things you’ll want to do and see.
Balti Jaama Turg is a very cool Russian market set up across from Tallinn’s main railway station. It’s frequented by locals, and you’ll find numerous items, including antiques, homemade food products, beautiful plates and other local gems.
How to get there: The market is about a 20-minute walk from the cruise port. You can also catch the bus line No. 3, but it only minimally reduces walking.
Old Town, the historic district of Tallinn, is quite gorgeous and one of the best places to visit in the city. Developed between the 13th to 16th centuries and protected by the wall and 26 defense towers that sit along it. Look out for sites such as Toompea Castle, the Dominican St. Catherine's Monastery, the Town Hall and a famous church that was the world's tallest structure in the 16th century.
As with much of Tallinn, it’s easy to get to the Old Town section by walking, but you can also take the bus line No. 2. Catch it at the Reisisadam bus stop and get off two stops later at A. Laikmaa. Just follow the signs or walk toward the big hill. You really can’t miss it.
The highest point in Tallinn, Toompea Hill rises about 70 to 100 feet higher than anything in the area. There are a few different access points, but the easiest way to get to the top is to follow the roads leading up. It isn’t a particularly strenuous walk, if you approach the hill from the fort area, you will encounter a series of steps, some of which are fairly steep.
In addition to providing spectacular aerial views of the city, you’ll also find a few important historic sites located here. Today, the seat of the Estonian government and its parliament are located on the hill. You can find these buildings near the scenic viewpoint of Pikk Hermann. Toompea Hill has been a significant part of local history since the ninth century.
A big hit if you’re traveling with children, this maritime museum is filled with fascinating interactive exhibits. Try out the simulated submarine ride and an airplane flight or have your photos taken in a naval uniform and learn how to make and throw a paper airplane with precision. Outdoors, you’ll find historic marine vessels still floating in the water and perhaps some of the current Estonian naval ships. History buffs will love the war memorabilia.
How to get there: The museum is located a short walk (about a mile) from the Old Town and the cruise port; if you don’t want to walk, a taxi will be your best option.
The Town Hall Square has been used as a market since the 11th century, housing a pharmacy in use since the early 1400s. The town hall is the oldest town hall in the Baltics and Scandinavia, and it has won awards for historical preservation. Its architecture is peculiar to Estonia, having not been influenced by other types of styles at the time. You can tour it between September and June.
The square itself is a great place to enjoy some of the most colorful buildings in the city, and the previously mentioned pharmacy has a small museum. In the summer, the square is home to open-air concerts, street performers, festivals and al fresco cafes. Around Christmas, it is filled with a Christmas market.
The Orthodox cathedral is one of the younger buildings in Old Town, consecrated in 1900. The Estonians did not care for the cathedral because they saw it as a symbol of Russian oppression. It was scheduled to be demolished in the 1920s, but due to lack of funds it remained standing and was essentially abandoned. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the church underwent a restoration and is back in use as a center for worship. Inside the cathedral are found beautiful Orthodox iconography, gilt designs and adornments, and floor-to-ceiling artwork.
Okay, that isn’t their official name, but it sounds so much more dramatic than Kuldjala, Nunna and Sauna. At one time, Tallinn was the most fortified city in the world, with 26 towers along the city wall. Some of the towers have been lost over the years and others are just off-limits, but these three towers are some of the remaining few that you can still climb up and walk around. In fact, there are some areas where you can walk along the old city wall between the towers.
This two-hour tour departs from the tourist information center on the corner of Harju and Niguliste streets and covers the best sights in the Old Town district. English tours begin at noon. As Estonia has a very complex history, these tours can be invaluable for gaining insights into culture, history, buildings and daily life. Make sure to wear a sturdy a pair of shoes. Usually, you can just arrive and begin the tour, but if you’re in a large group (eight people or more), you’ll need to book in advance (email@example.com).
This huge (about the size of 35 football fields) park dates back to the 1700s. In addition to gorgeous surroundings, a Japanese garden, etc., you’ll also find multiple museums dedicated to history and art, including modern art. The various buildings range from between the 18th to the 20th century and include the home built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great.
The official presidential palace for the president of Estonia is located next to Catherine’s palace.
The park is also home to the Russalka Memorial, which commemorates the sinking of the Russian warship, Mermaid. The angel on the statue holds an Orthodox cross pointing to the supposed location of the wreck in the Gulf of Finland.
It’s easiest to get to the park if coming from Old Town. Multiple public transportation services provide routes to the park, but trolleybus line No. 5 is probably the easiest. It’s about a 35-minute walk from the historic district.
The church dates back to the 12th century and was believed to be the tallest building in the world for a short while from the mid-1500s. It may also be one of the unluckiest churches: It has been hit by lightning at least 10 times, and the church has been on fire three times.
While the interior is rather plain, the big attraction is the tower. It's a long climb up a very narrow stairway, but the view from the top makes the ascent worth it.
If there's a storm brewing, though, you may want to avoid this particular site.
In English, this essentially translates to “Creative City.” It’s a great example of revitalizing a former railway depot and industrial complex. Each business is responsible for designing its own space. In addition to impressive street art and murals, you’ll find wonderful cafes and restaurants. On weekends, there are often concerts, performances, and/or a flea market. The site also hosts the annual Tallinn Street Food Festival, which usually occurs around mid-June. Some of the best restaurants in the city are located here.
There is a guided urban walk tour as well. It lasts about two hours and you should book in advance.
Telliskivi is about a 15-minute walk from Old Town, or cut that time in half by taking trolleybus line 1 or bus line 2.