Heading to Tallinn, Estonia and don’t have much time to spare? Get your top attraction and food tips here before you go!
I’d been dying to go to Finland since I was about 15. Something about heavy metal bands, snow and the Northern Lights. Fortuitously, a friend moved there a number of years ago for love and we’d always talked about me visiting (read: I invited myself to her place!). That time had come when we decided to take the long route to the UK by way of Vietnam, Finland and Prague. Wait, I thought this post was about Tallinn?
It is, I’m just warming up.
My visit had just one little snag, my friend had a big event on the same week I was in town, so she suggested we go to Estonia for an overnight stay. She often visits because it’s much cheaper than Helsinki for quite a few things and it’s just two hours on the ferry to get there as Keri found out doing the trip the opposite way.
A little about Estonia
To give you an idea of what Estonia is like… think small Baltic country, with a population of only 1.3 million, once part of the Soviet Union. Think hearty meals heavy on the carbs, beer and more beer. I did read that they are one of the top tech countries in Europe though!
However, with just one full day to spare, Tallinn’s Old Town was the focus. Of course, it’s the most ‘touristy’ part of the country.
Where to stay in Tallinn’s Old Town
We stayed in a refurbished 15th Century building as recommended by my friend – Hotel St Olav. I felt like I was at Hogwarts as I walked through the common areas. I’m such a sucker for history and fantasy novels.
The room was comfortable, the amenities great and the included breakfast was fine (though, it’s very rare I rate hotel breakfasts). However, it’s very central, so you don’t have to walk far to start seeing the sights.
Tallinn’s Old Town
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best-preserved in Europe. For history nerds like me, it’s full of stunning historical buildings and cobbled streets. Every now and again, I honestly felt like I’d been whisked back in time. The town makes the most of the historical feel, with plenty of medieval-style pubs and restaurants offering tourists a chance to go back in time (some more so than others, with costumes and music).
As with any trip, I think walking around is the best way to see as much as you can. You could join a free walking tour like Keri, or you could make your own way around (which is what I did). We just wandered around looking at architecture.
Old Town Square and the Tallinn Town Wall
Squares in old towns are usually the most touristy spot in town (particularly the prices). I don’t think Tallinn was any different, but I did love that quite a few of the buildings were making the most of the medieval feel. So, of course, we stopped by Old Hansa, where the staff are in costume, for some honey beer. Perfect for an afternoon rest once you’ve wandered the whole of the Old Town on foot. Those cobblestones!
St Olav’s Church Tower
You’ve seen the memes – every old town has a tower to climb and see the view. And where there is a tower to climb, that’s where we go (it makes me feel much better about all the food and beer I intend to consume during the trip).
The important bits: It may no longer be one of the tallest buildings in the world, but it’s still 230+ steps. There is a small fee to climb the tower, but it can change seasonally.
Well, who thought going to a place called ‘Fat Margaret’ would be a good idea? Actually, me. I’m about 12 at heart, so I was curious about what Fat Margaret (or Paks Margareeta) was. Turns out it was part of Tallinn’s wall/gate system and was built in the 1500s. It’s about 25 metres in diameter and now contains the Estonian Maritime Museum, which is actually really well done (based on my museum nerd opinion).
And as a bonus, there’s a viewing platform on the roof!
The important bits: There are four levels of really interesting exhibitions and you’re looking at 10€ per person to enter.
Hotel Viru KGB Museum
Lastly, this isn’t technically in the Old Town, but it’s not far and it’s a must-visit. Hotel Viru was once the only hotel in Tallinn, so it made spying on guests very easy for the KGB, who had the whole 23rd-floor of building set up for that exact purpose. However, when the Soviet Union was no more, the KGB agents left in a hurry, leaving behind plenty of paraphernalia (but nothing useful, obviously). You can now tour the 23rd floor to see how guests were kept in check.
It was pretty cool to see how everything was left when the KGB cleared out and I found it pretty mind-blowing that it was such a smooth operation.
The important bits: It costs 11€ per person and you need to book in advance.
What to eat in Tallinn’s Old Town
All that walking made me feel a lot less guilty about all the food I had put on my Estonia food to-do list, which included mostly bread, pastries and meat.
Vanaema Juures Restoran
My highlight was stumbling across a restaurant in the basement of a building. I felt like I was in a bomb shelter that had been kitted out with my grandmother’s belongings. Looking it up later, it was on Tripadvisor with great reviews (particularly about the bread, which I totally understand!).
I think the lady who owned the restaurant liked having someone who ate what she recommended and asked questions about the food.
The food at Vanaema Juures Restoran was really simple fare, a bit heavy and there were definitely some very large portions, but it was the traditional food I was after and I genuinely enjoyed my meal.
And the bread! I’ve never tasted bread so delicious before and all I was told is that it’s ‘grandmother’s bread’. Of course, Google yielded nothing useful when I searched later that night.
We also tried one of Estonia’s traditional pastries, a kringel with poppy seeds. Crispy, not too sweet and a pleasure to eat at any time of the day. Just double-check your teeth when you’re done!
Elk ham also popped up, so we had sandwiches at a random little cafe. One was ‘raw’ elk ham (think prosciutto) and the other was normal elk ham. You could tell it wasn’t pork, but we were looking for the differences. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have noticed a difference I’d say.
Lastly, when in Rome, you try the alcoholic beverage named after the town. In this case, Vana Tallinn (which is Estonian for ‘old Tallinn’ is a rum-based liqueur that you should definitely try. Expect a very boozy shot with a little vanilla. We had ours after our KGB Museum tour, at Hotel Viru.
A very quick trip to Tallinn, Estonia – Pin for later!
I’m looking forward to heading back to Estonia one day because a day and a half just isn’t enough time and I know it’s all so much more than a little old town two hours from Helsinki.