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Bird's Eye View of Tallinn Estonia

7 Fun Things to Do during a Tallinn Holiday

In Estonia, Europe by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch32 Comments

Wondering what to do in Tallin Estonia? Check out the seven fun things to do in Tallinn that we loved the most during our Tallinn holiday.

7 Fun Things to Do during a Tallinn Holiday

A Tallinn holiday doesn’t often come to mind when planning a European trip. Instead, most people opt for popular spots like Paris, Rome or the Greek Islands. Don’t get us wrong, those are great European destinations. But they’re not the only great European destinations – Europe is full of hidden treasures like Tallinn. We say this because we had an awesome time in Tallinn during our recent week-long visit and highly recommend the city for a European city break or vacation. Most people back west have probably never heard of the Estonian capital. In fact, most people we know probably have no idea where Estonia is at all.

For the uninitiated, Estonia is a European country in the Baltics. Nearby countries include Finland, Latvia, Russia and Sweden. The country’s valuable position and rich resources left it open to conquest by the Danes, Russians and Germans over the years, with the country annexed by the former Soviet Union for much of the 20th century. Since Estonia gained its freedom from the USSR in the early 1990s, the country has been on the rise and is currently a member of NATO and the European Union.  Luckily, Tallin’s medieval Old Town has been left relatively intact despite the many occupations, and its rusting Soviet manufacturing infrastructure has been converted into a burgeoning hipster center.

Mindi in Tallinn Estonia

We fell in love with Tallinn right away during our Tallinn holiday. The Estonian city offers an excellent blend of old charm and modern culture.

Truth be told, we didn’t have high expectations for Tallinn. Actually, we didn’t have any expectations at all when we planned our Tallinn holiday. We chose to visit Tallinn because we needed a place to spend a week between Helsinki and Naples, and Tallinn fit the bill based on its proximity to Helsinki and the international Tallinn airport. However, our expectations started to rise as we researched the city. We soon realized that Tallinn has a vibrant food scene, not to mention over 60 museums and galleries. Tallinn is a happening place – and it’s growing!

Old Town Tallinn Architecture

With buildings spanning the past century, Tallinn’s Old Town is a fascinating European city to explore.

Perhaps Tallinn has been under the radar because it was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Or maybe it’s because of the city’s Baltic location at the farthest East end of the continent. Whatever the reason, we’re so glad that we ended our year with a week-long Tallinn holiday. Although the daylight was limited during our visit, we got to experience Tallinn’s festive Christmas market, not to mention an awesome New Year’s Eve celebration. Plus, now we know that we want to spend time in Tallinn during the summer when the days are longer.

Check Tallinn Hotel Rates

7 Fun Things to Do During A Tallinn Holiday

Don’t worry about being bored during a Tallinn city break at all times of the year – even in the winter. Here are our favorites things to do in Tallinn.

Explore Old Town

Old Town Tallinn Selfie

We couldn’t get enough of the views in Tallinn’s Old Town. Every corner provided a new photo opportunity.

It’s no shock that Tallinn’s Old Town has been designated an official UNESCO world heritage site – it’s the quintessential European city with rambling cobblestone streets dotted with perfectly preserved old buildings, some of them dating back over 1,000 years. Despite its many charms and an abundance of churches (many used for other purposes now), Tallinn Old Town is a thriving neighborhood with trendy shops, excellent restaurants and even schools.

Tour Guide Margit Raud in Tallinn Estonia

Tour guide Margit Raud brought Tallinn history to life during our Old Town walking tour. Born during the Soviet occupation and fluent in multiple languages, Raud shared many interesting stories as we wandered the cobblestone streets.

Pro Tip: Take a walking tour of Old Town. If you have a good tour guide like we did, you will learn so much about Tallinn’s rich history. Plus, you’ll have no trouble finding cool spots like Raeapteek, one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe going back to the 15th century. Big thanks to Margit Raud for being our awesome tour guide!

Hang Out in the Telliskivi Neighborhood

Telliskivi Street Art in Tallinn Estonia

The Telliskivi neighborhood is filled with street art, coffee shops and cafes.

Many people who visit Tallinn for just a day as a stop on a cruise or a side trip from Helsinki never get beyond Old Town’s walls, and that’s a shame. Tallinn has so much more to offer. Home to companies like Skype, Tallinn is a city that attracts digital nomads and young professionals, resulting in a lot of cool things to do in Tallinn beyond the touristic center. We loved exploring newer neighborhoods like Telliskivi, a vibrant neighborhood that reminded us of Portland with its hipster vibe and varied culinary offerings. We liked Telliskivi so much that we filmed a YouTube video during our lunch at F-hoone in the Telliskivi Creative Campus complex.

Visit Museums & Sites

Street Performer in Tallinn Estonia

Culture is everywhere in Tallinn, even on the city streets.

Tallinn has an inordinate number of museums and sites for its size, with museum themes ranging from music to art to marzipan. We were inspired to check out several Tallinn attractions during our week-long visit. These are the three that we enjoyed the most:

KGB Museum

Daryl at the KGB Museum in Tallinn Estonia

Always working, Daryl took an important call during our KGB tour.

Located on in the Viru Hotel, the KGB Museum provides a fascinating peek into life in Tallinn during the USSR years when the hidden 23rd floor of the hotel was used by the KGB to spy on foreign guests. Locals like to joke that the Viru, constructed in 1972, was built using a special substance called micro-concrete which contained 60% concrete and 40% microphones. Conversations were so closely monitored that guests who ran out of toilet paper would complain in the ‘privacy’ of their rooms only to be greeted the next moment by a ‘coincidental’ knock on the door by the housekeeping staff with a replacement roll in hand.

Since the KGB had to scramble to leave when the USSR regime crumbled, they left the office space relatively intact with an array of reel to reel recorders, mysterious red phones and bugging equipment. Tour guide Margit Raud (yes, the same tour guide as our walking tour) expertly led the KGB Museum tour and showed us some of the devices that the Soviets used on the 23rd floor to spy on hotel guests. As part of the epic propaganda facade, the hotel hosted lavish nightly entertainment with multiple employees assigned to every guest. As we learned, the Soviets used the hotel as propaganda to show the country’s prosperity. We also learned about the strict control and monitoring of all hotel guests, both foreign and Soviet, who flowed in and out of the hotel.

Interestingly, the workers used the hotel as a conduit for western goods. Guests would leave items like American blue jeans on their beds when they exited their rooms and find cash on the beds once they returned. 

Pro Tip:  You must purchase tickets in advance for the KGB Museum. Be sure to specify the preferred language (i.e. English) when you make the reservation.

Kumu

Daryl at the KUMU in Tallinn Estonia

Maybe it’s our Eastern European heritage, but we felt at home in Tallinn. Here, Daryl poses next to a painting at the Kumu art museum.

The impressive Kumu, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, greets visitors with its sleek building designed by Pekka Vapaavuori and dazzles with its vast art collection of Estonian art dating from the 18th century until today. Although our visit was cut short due to an early holiday closing, we had just enough time to whiz through the Socialist Realism wing before we were chased out by the overly efficient guards barking “hello!?” when they should have been saying ‘goodbye.’

Pro Tip:  Plan to spend a good bit of time at Kumu. The art collection, with its snapshot of communist history, is both extensive and fascinating.

Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour

Maritime Museum at the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour in Tallinn Estonia

The maritime museum at the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour is fun for kids of all ages.

Situated in repurposed airplane hangars and located on the waterfront, this interactive Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour museum focuses on Estonian maritime history over the centuries. The three-story museum is chock full of educational displays and has several historic ships to explore just outside of the museum walls. We especially enjoyed the Viking exhibit that was on display during our visit.

Pro Tip:  Buy a Tallinn Card to get free entry to 40+ museums and sites as well as unlimited public transportation and additional discounts. Click here to buy a Tallinn Card for 24, 48 or 72 hours. Note, you must purchase your Tallinn Card at least three days in advance of your visit.

Eat Estonian Food

Cuisine in Tallinn Estonia

Chefs in Tallinn embrace local products and ingredients as showcased in this colorfully decorated dessert at Fabrik.

The food in Tallinn delighted us at every meal. This is a city where chefs embrace Estonian food traditions, many with a Russian twist, while also integrating global culinary trends. During our week in Tallinn, our favorite dishes blended locally sourced meat with the bounty of wild mushrooms and berries. As a bonus, Tallinn restaurants are less expensive than those in most European cities including nearby Helsinki.

Moon Restaurant in Tallinn Estonia

At Moon, Chef Roman Zastserinski combines Estonian products and Russian cuisine to create exciting dishes like this smoked eel braised in apple wine with eggs and beets.

We ate standout meals at restaurants like Moon and MEKK as well as consistently solid food at cute eateries both inside and beyond the Old Town walls. We found great coffee both at traditional cafes and at third wave coffee shops. And we can’t forget Vana Tallinn. This flavorful dark rum liqueur provided a satisfying end to many of our Tallinn dinners.

Check out our Tallinn Food Guide with our recommended restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars.

Tallin Holiday Lunch Video

Watch our video for more inside scoop about our visit to Tallinn. In the video, we dish about Tallinn while we eat bellinis and borscht.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more meals and conversation with the 2foodtrippers.

Drink Craft Beer

Pohjala Oo Porter Beer in Tallinn Estonia

This was our first glass of Pohjala Oo porter but not our last.

Like most cities, Tallinn has a booming craft beer scene. The surprise, at least to us, is that Tallinn’s craft beer is exceptionally good. We enjoyed the suds from local brewer Põhjala – especially their Öö porter which we drank on our very first night in town. In fact, the dark, rich beer became our go-to for the entire week. We loved Põhjala beer so much that we made arrangements to visit the brewery and meet head brewer Chris Pilkington. Pilkington moved to Tallinn from Scotland and is new happy to call Tallinn his home. Be sure to watch our YouTube video to see our brewery tour and interview with Pilkington.

Celebrate at the Christmas Market

Christmas Market in Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn’s Christmas market is one of the best European Christmas markets. This festive market is open from late November until early January each year.

Rumored to be the city that invented the Christmas tree tradition back in the 15th century, Tallinn takes the holiday season very seriously. Old Town sparkles with colorful lights starting in late November, with the main attraction located in Town Hall Square – a huge festively decorated Christmas tree surrounded by over 50 vendors selling a variety of local crafts, tasty treats and hot mulled wine. Santa Claus often makes appearances at the Tallinn Christmas Market, and savvy folks can find him among the throng of holiday shoppers or at the aptly named Santa Claus Cabin.

Colorful Christmas Candy in Tallinn Estonia

We had a tough choice between this colorful candy and cherry glögi, a local twist on mulled wine. We took this photo of the candy but drank the cherry glögi.

Although the Tallinn Christmas Market is especially pretty when the city is covered with snow, we were perfectly happy to enjoy the market during an abnormally warm holiday season without snow. The relatively balmy Tallinn weather did not stop people from having holiday fun, and we were thrilled to leave our gloves and hats in the hotel room while we enjoyed the best of the holidays in Tallinn.

Tallinn may be famous throughout Europe for its Christmas Market, but the city is also a fun destination for New Year’s Eve. On the last night of the year, revelers celebrate at parties all over the city like the one that we attended at the Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Hotel. Our party even had a Las Vegas style cabaret! Like most people, we ended the night and year with fireworks at Freedom Square which is free to attend.

But wait! There are more activities in Tallinn. With some good advance planning, you definitely won’t be bored when you visit Tallinn.


Hungry for more? Check out our Helsinki Food Guide with great spots to eat and drink in nearby Helsinki.


Book Your Tallinn Hotel

We stayed at two wonderful Tallinn hotels and loved both of them for different reasons.

Solos Sokos Hotel Estoria

Viru Hotel in Tallinn Estonia

Nestled inside the historic Viru Hotel, the Solos Sokos Hotel Estoria is a charming boutique hotel just meters from the Tallinn Old Town wall.

Just beyond the Old Town walls, the Solos Sokos Hotel Estoria is a unique gem of a hotel nestled in an adjacent wing of the larger Viru Hotel (the hotel that houses the KGB Museum described above). We were a little confused about the hotel’s location when we arrived, but our confusion quickly went away once the genuinely warm staff greeted us and showed us to our spacious room with a view. Each of the hotel’s 93 rooms tells a unique Estonian story, and our room was no exception. In addition to loving the hotel’s central convenience, we also loved the colorful room design, the overflowing breakfast buffet and the 24/7 cappuccino machine just steps away from our room.

Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Tallinn

Sauna at Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Tallinn in Tallinn Estonia

As much as we loved our room at Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Tallinn, the sauna was our happy place at this full-service hotel.

The Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Tallinn is a large hotel with 465 rooms, but it feels smaller thanks to its attentive staff and their attention to details. We felt comfortable in our cozy room, and we enjoyed the extensive breakfast buffet each morning as well as the free high-speed internet. However, our favorite part of staying at this hotel was the huge spa area with saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs. We could have stayed in the spa for hours, so that’s exactly what we did.

Click here to research the best rates for these two 2foodtrippers approved hotels in Tallinn Estonia.

Getting to Tallinn

Tallink Superstar Selfie

We were all smiles during our two-hour ferry ride on the Tallink Superstar.

Why not combine a trip to Tallinn with a trip to Helsinki? Although both cities are located on the Gulf of Finland, they couldn’t be more different if they tried. It’s just a short two-hour ferry ride between the two capital cities, and we found our comfort class seats on the Tallink Superstar ferry to be comfortable as advertised. Plus, time goes by quickly on the short journey on the ride fHelsinkisink to Tallinn thanks to the ferry’s numerous restaurants and duty-free shops.

Click here to book a Tallink ferry ticket between Helsinki and Tallinn.

Book a Tour

There’s so much to do in Tallinn! Click here to find an awesome Tallinn tour or try one of these tours:

Buy a Travel Guide

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We thank Visit Tallinn and their partners (especially Solos Sokos Hotel Estoria and Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Tallinn) for supporting our visit to Tallinn. We also thank Tallink Silja for sponsoring our ferry ride.

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Comments

  1. This was wonderful learning about a new place to travel in Europe. I would love to see the old city and visit the KGB museum I was amazed by the story of monitoring the hotel guests.

    1. Author

      We were amazed by so many stories at the KGB Museum. When you visit Tallinn, you should definitely stop by for the fascinating tour.

  2. Looks like you had quite a fun time in Tallinn! The architectures in the old town are fascinating! KGB Museum seems like a great place to learn more about the history!

    1. Author

      We were sad to leave Tallinn after a week. The city is indeed fun and has lots of wonderful food.

  3. Yes! Tallinn is a pretty amazing city, isn’t it? Next time I’m there, I’m definitely heading to the Sokos Hotel. I find it fascinating..the whole 23rd floor? I do think Tallinn falls way under the tourist radar, but maybe that’s part of the charm!

    1. Author

      We’re not surprised that you love Tallinn. You and Jim must check out the KGB museum during your next visit – it’s a fascinating slice of history, and the hotel is pretty awesome too.

  4. Tallin old town looks really pretty and my favourite sight has got to be that cathedral with the black onion domes. KGB museum will definitely be on my list too! Thanks for this post.

    1. Author

      Tallinn is even prettier in person. You will love the architecture in Old Town when you visit.

  5. Your article starts with an epic pigeon photo? Love it. also love the photos of the porter and candy. Tallin has eluded me but maybe in 2017!

    1. Author

      Perhaps we have a thing for pigeons since our Basel article also starts with an epic pigeon photo. And, yes, you really need to try to get to Tallinn this year!

  6. We visited Tallinn in September of 2013 and have always harboured a desire to return to this amazing baltic city. Your pictures and words have only made that desire stronger. Tallinn is a beautiful city

    1. Author

      We want to return to Tallinn too. It really is a wonderful city.

  7. I visited Tallinn during spring so there was no Christmas market, but did just about everything else on this list. We loved Tallinn!! I really enjoy eastern European countries as they’re a bit more off the beaten path.

    1. Author

      Although you missed the Christmas market, you surely enjoyed having longer days. We’d like to visit Tallinn in the spring time ourselves.

  8. I have always heard wonderful things about Tallinn, and your post supports that. I had no idea the Christmas tree was invented here, nor can I imagine mushrooms and berries on the same plate. I am pleased that the food was good. After having been to Russia, that would not have been my expectation.

    1. Author

      You will certainly be surprised by the food in Tallinn. We were surprised too, in a very positive way.

  9. I had never heard of Tallinn before. But now that I have seen the pictures and read about the amazing things that Tallinn has to offer , i am smitten. The pictures are beautiful! Talinn is indeed a revelation.

    1. Author

      We’re so glad to introduce you to Tallinn! The city won’t be a hidden gem forever, so hopefully you can visit Tallinn soon.

  10. I would love to do all of these things! This is the kind of place that my husband and I live for because it’s a small town with lots of history. We try to visit as many UNESCO sites as we can so I’ll definitely add this one to the list. The food looks incredible and the craft beer sounds good too. Are there many vacation rental properties in the Old Town? We’d love to stay in a place right in town so we could walk to everything and enjoy the city day or night.

    1. Author

      We ended up staying in hotels, but there are definitely accommodation options (including apartments) at all price points in Tallinn.

  11. We spent a quality few days in Tallin years ago. Such a beautiful city although I don’t remember the food scene being as vibrant as what it seems to be now. We did have a bit of a night with Vana Tallin as well which didn’t end that well. Ha ha. Thanks for sharing such a great article!

    1. Author

      It sounds like you’re due for a return visit to check out the new food options in Tallinn.

  12. I always tend to eat my way through a country, so I’d love to give Estonian food a try! Especially if you can find good deals in a place like Tallinn. Locally sourced meat with wild mushrooms is one of my favorite things, hope to get there and try some!

  13. I’ll admit, I didn’t know where Tallinn was. But after reading your post, I’d really love to get to know the city. The architecture looks great and it’s good to know they have such a great food scene as well.

  14. I love visiting European capital cities, so vibrant and full of culture. The ‘Old Towns’ are the best place, in my opinion, to explore. I haven’t made it to Tallinn yet. Nice post.

  15. The craft beer and the food are the real attraction for me, but that KGB Museum sounds badass too.

    Hopefully, I can squeeze Estonia into my European trip this October.

    1. Author

      You must go to Tallinn – you will love it. We hope to return ourselves.

  16. We will be there for Christmas……any recommendations on where to eat Christmas Day? Anything a “must due” while we are there ?

    1. Author

      We arrived in Tallinn on Christmas Day last year. Since we had enjoyed a big holiday dinner the night before in Helsinki, we were happy to wander into a local pub on Christmas Day for a non-celebratory dinner. However, many Tallinn restaurants are open on Christmas Eve unlike in the United States. If you’re looking for a big holiday meal with all of the traditional Estonian foods, your best bet may be a dining at one of the big hotels.

      During the week between Christmas and New Years Day, we found that most restaurants were open with normal hours except on New Year’s Eve. Our Tallinn Food Guide has info and photos for our favorite Tallinn restaurants, all of which we fully recommend. We also recommend that you call (or email) ahead for restaurant reservations especially on the holiday.

      As for what to do, definitely spend time wandering around Old Town including the Christmas Market, but also go to the Telliskivi neighborhood if you want to experience the city’s less touristy, hipster vibe. As for museums, our favorites were the KGB Museum and the Kumu.

      You should also check the official Visit Tallinn website for information on special holiday events and closures. Have fun!

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