Best things to do in Tallinn
Find out more about those top places in Tallinn
Of all the post-Soviet capital cities, Tallinn is undoubtedly the most European in outlook. While the city has been shaped by 1000 years of Russian, Swedish, German and Polish influence, today it is a thoroughly Estonian city – that is besides the immense numbers of Finns who arrive daily to stock up on cheap alcohol. The center of Tallinn is the UNESCO-listed walled old town, which thankfully escaped the bombs of World War Two. At its core are the enchanting Raekoja Plats, the historic market square, and the domineering fortress Toompea, from which the Teutonic Knights ruled vast swathes of the Baltic littoral. Today, Estonia’s capital is shaking off its reputation as a down-at-heel Soviet city with buzzing nightlife and a Scandinavian-influenced gastronomical revolution.
Built by the Teutonic Knights during their 14th century Baltic Crusade, Toompea is certainly Tallinn’s most imposing sight. However, first impressions can be deceptive as despite its gloomy façade the castle’s baroque interior, which was built in the 17th century, is a gorgeous pastel-pink. Today, it houses the Estonian National Council and can be explored on guided tours throughout the day.
Right in the heart of Tallinn is the awe-inspiring Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which stands as a testament to tsarist attempts to Russify their Baltic territories. From the outside, the cathedral’s onion-domes are breathtaking and the inside is if anything more impressive: frescoes cover the walls; mystic icon paintings watch over worshipers; and nearly everything is laced with gold.
Just east of Tallinn’s picture-perfect old town is Kadriorg Park, which was once sprawling gardens belonging to the baroque palace of the same name. The palace, which was commissioned by none other than Peter the Great, now houses Tallinn’s premier art gallery while the tree-lined gardens are a joy to explore.
Perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, it can be hard to tell what Linnahall, known in English as the Lenin Hall, is from a distance. Looking like a cross between a World War Two fortification and an industrial complex, it was in fact built as the water-sports center for 1980 Moscow Olympics. While the interior is inaccessible to visitors, the vast brutalist building can be explored with the help of local guides who will give you an insight into life in Soviet-era Tallinn.
If you do not have time for a day trip from Tallinn but want to experience the best the country’s countryside has to offer head to the Open-Air Museum. At risk buildings from across the country have been rebuilt stone by stone in the vast pine-clad park, including traditional windmills, a chapel dating from the 17th century and a tavern serving traditional Estonian cuisine. The museum is at its most enchanting during the summer months when tour guides dress up in traditional folk costumes.
Raekoja Plats, known simply in English as Town Hall Square, is the bustling heart of Tallinn’s old town. First laid out as a market in the 11th century, the square is today home to a host of the city’s architectural gems, including the only surviving medieval gothic town hall in Northern Europe. To get to grips with the area’s fascinating history take a guided tour.
At 314 meters tall, Tallinn’s TV Tower is the tallest building in Northern Europe. Guided tours can take you to the top of this spectacular structure, which was completed in 1980 to broadcast the Moscow Olympics, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the entire city and the rugged Baltic coastline.
For a trip through Estonia’s art and design history KUMU is the place to visit. Housed in a striking piece of modern architecture, the gallery has various floors devoted to different eras in the country’s history, including works from the Soviet-era. To get a better understanding of the collection guided tours are available regularly.