Falling in love with Tallinn is pretty easy. Boasting one of the best preserved medieval city centres in Europe, its old town has bags of fairytale charm. However, since breaking free from the Soviet Union in 1991 the Estonian capital has garnered some cultural clout. And it’s this mix of old and new that makes the city so special.
So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at the best sights and attractions Tallinn has to offer.
- Town Hall Square
Tallinn’s Town Hall Square has been at the heart of the city since the Middle Ages when it functioned as a marketplace. The plaza provides the perfect meeting place in the city, with each of its four sides flanked with busy bars and eateries. If architecture’s your thing, check out the traditional townhouses on the east side of the square, as well as Gothic town hall to the south.
2. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
For a Western European like myself, there’s something otherworldly about the onion domes and opulent decoration of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Completed in 1900, the Orthodox Church was built as a symbol of Russia’s power in the region. It’s little wonder then, that the building was once seen as a symbol of oppression, and almost demolished in 1924. I for one am so glad it wasn’t. I grew completely smitten with the landmark during our stay and would take any opportunity to amble past and admire its beauty.
3. Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
It may not have the skyscrapers of New York or the landmarks of London, but Tallinn’s skyline is still a sight to behold. For the best view of the city’s enchanting spires and colourful rooftops clamber up to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform. From here, you can take in the whole of the Old Town, as well as the glistening Baltic Sea beyond.
And for more awe-inspiring views of Tallinn, check out this post.
Linnahall may not be your most obvious tourist destination, but it’s certainly worth a visit. The brutalist building has an interesting history. It was built for the 1990 Moscow Olympics when Tallinn hosted the sailing events. Since then, the multi-purpose venue has housed an ice rink and a concert hall. However, Linnahall has sat unused since 2010. Despite its decline, the building still draws in locals. Many of them enjoy a sunset drink on the building’s roof, which boasts a breathtaking view across the Baltic.
5. Kumu Art Museum
Opening in 2006, Kumu is one of Tallinn’s newest attractions. The art museum is one of the largest in Northern Europe and houses a large selection of Estonian art dating from the 18th century onwards. For me, the highlight of visiting the gallery was its architecture and I also enjoyed the Socialist Realism exhibition.
6. St Catherine’s Passage
From the new to the old… St Catherine’s Passage is one of Tallinn’s most beguiling medieval passageways. The walkway was formally part of a church of the same name. However, today it is home to a number of craft workshops and stores, selling a range of wares from ceramics, jewellery, and textiles.
7. Viru Gate
The Viru Gate lies at the end of Viru Street – one of the busiest streets in Tallinn’s Old Town. The landmark hails from the 14th century and is unmissable thanks to its iconic towers, which once served as an entrance into the city on the road between Tallinn and Kadriorg.
8. House of the Blackheads
Tallinn’s Old Town is famous for its many colourful and quirky doors – so much so, that there’s a page dedicated to them on the city’s official tourism website. With its distinctive green and red stripes, the door to the House of the Blackheads (not to be confused with the building of the same name in Riga) is one of the most striking.
9. St Mary’s Cathedral
Dating from the 13th century, St. Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest church in the whole of Estonia. The structure that stands today dates from the 15th century and houses numerous coats of arms. However, it’s the church’s 18th-century spire that offers the real attraction. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the tower and enjoy one of the most beautiful views over the city.
10. Tallinn City Walls
A trip to Tallinn wouldn’t be complete without admiring the city’s ancient walls. With its many red-topped tours, the structure helps to give the Old Town it’s fairytale feel. A section of the wall is open for tourists to walk along, providing them with a unique perspective of the city.
11. Song Festival Grounds
The Song Festival Grounds may seem like a slightly off-kilter place to visit during a trip to Tallinn, but the part they played in Estonia’s recent history makes them an important monument to democracy.
The period that won Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania their independence from Soviet Rule is known as “The Singing Revolution” because of the importance music and song festivals played in reawakening a sense of national identity among the so-called Baltic states and spurring them on to push for their freedom.
Following the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991 a new tradition was born, and the Song Festival Grounds now hosts a – you guessed it – song festival every five years.
Located just to the west of the Old Town, Kalamaja is Tallinn’s prime hipster neighbourhood. The area is home to a smattering of trendy bars, eateries, and shops and boasts a slightly Scandinavian vibe with its oh-so-hygge fish houses. These cute-as-button apartment blocks popped up in the late 1800s when Kalamaja’s booming industry attracted an influx of migrants from neighbouring Russia. At the time, the buildings were cheap and quick to knock up. But when the factories closed in the 1980s they soon fell into disrepair. What happened next was the story of gentrification everywhere… cheap rents lured in artists and families, and soon enough everyone else followed.
Located in Kalamaja, Telliskivi is Tallinn’s creative quarter. The area is home to an array of start-ups, artist studios eateries, and drinking holes. To add to the hipster vibe, the businesses are housed in former factories and industrial buildings, which have been embellished with all kinds of street art. You can count on something happening in Telliskivi throughout the year, with gigs, food festivals and flea markets occurring in all seasons.
14. Kadriorg Palace
Kadriorg Palace was first built by Peter the Great of Russia for his wife Catherine. However, it was Nicholas I of Russia who is responsible for the house as we see it today. The palace used to serve as a summer house for the Russian royal family. However, today the building serves as an art museum, displaying foreign works completed between the 16th and 20th centuries.
15. Pirita Beach
When you think of the Baltics, pristine beaches probably aren’t the first thing to spring to mind. However, just because the region isn’t blessed with fine summers, that doesn’t mean it’s not blessed with coastal gems. While the beaches located near Laheema National Park are among the country’s most scenic, the Estonian capital also boasts its own seafront, located just over five miles from the city center.
For a small city, Tallinn is jam-packed with sights to see and things to do. I’ve no doubt missed some corkers off this list, so feel free to point them out in the comments below. And if you’re interested in learning more about the city’s vegan or drinking scenes, feel free to check out my posts.