Up by the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe lies a sorely overlooked city that’s jampacked with history and charming scenery – Tallinn, the capital city and crowning gem of Estonia. As this part of Europe has opened up over the recent decades, many travelers have realized just how photogenic and pleasant this walled coastal city is.
With a Tallinn itinerary like this, you can find out what to do in Tallinn in one day. While more time would allow you to dig deep into what makes this city special, a day is enough time to take in Tallinn’s highlights. Perhaps seeing Tallinn will even convince you to explore further within Estonia, such as islands like Saaremaa or other picturesque cities like Tartu.
Best Time to Visit Tallinn
As Estonia’s most popular destination, Tallinn is busiest during the summer. With warm temperatures and long days, summer really is the best time to visit Tallinn for sightseeing.
The months on either side of summer (May and September) are also good times to visit, as the weather is still relatively warm and there are far fewer tourists around. Unfortunately, even in summer, there’s no guarantee of good weather in Tallinn – or anywhere in the Baltic states, really.
On the other hand, while you may get pretty chilly visiting Tallinn in the winter, the city looks quite enchanting when transformed by ice and snow. The Tallinn Old Town has one of Europe’s best Christmas markets, and what better place to soak up the festive spirit than a snowy medieval square in Estonia?
How to Get Around Tallinn
Tallinn is an easy destination to get around. You’ll find all the best of Tallinn either within or directly outside the Old Town, so walking is the best way to get around for sightseeing. With just 24 hours in Tallinn, you’ll probably only need to use public transportation when you arrive and leave. Tickets for Tallinn’s public transport system come in four varieties, but the most straightforward method is to purchase a €2 paper ticket from the vehicle’s driver.
If you’re taking the ferry to and from Helsinki, you can walk from the terminal into the Old Town in about 25 minutes or take the No. 2 bus. While the city’s train station is close to the Old Town, the bus station is probably the farthest entry point from the town center. However, you can hop on a tram between the two, which takes only about 12 minutes.
Recommendation: Another great way to get around Tallinn is on a hop-on hop-off bus. The route is specifically planned to show the city’s main sights and attractions, and your ticket lets you hop on and off at as many of these points as you like. You can book your hop-on hop-off bus ticket click here.
Accommodation in Tallinn
Unless you only visit as a day trip, you should figure out where to stay in Tallinn in advance. Based on where the main sights are, the best places to stay in Tallinn are within walking distance of the Old Town. Ideally, this means staying somewhere within the Old Town walls. Though neighboring areas like the Rotermann Quarter are also suitable and convenient, it’s hard to pass up the ambience of the Old Town, especially areas like the Masters’ Courtyard.
If you’re looking for luxury, Schlössle Hotel is bound to deliver. You can dine in the ornate brick cellars of its 13th- and 14th-century buildings, unwind in the free sauna, and look out from the big window benches to the center of the Old Town.
Just a short walk from the Old Town, Metropol Hotel is a great midrange option in the up-and-coming Rotermann Quarter. This hotel benefits from attentive staff, spacious rooms, and even an on-site beauty salon.
For a budget experience that doesn’t take you far away from the Old Town, Viru Backpackers Hostel hits the spot. This lovely little hostel is right near the town hall, offering a convenient yet peaceful location – not to mention some great pancakes for breakfast.
For more accommodation options in Tallinn, check out Booking.com. This site consistently offers the best rates, and its customer service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Tallinn Itinerary
With just one day in the Estonian capital, this Tallinn travel itinerary will take you around the best places to visit in Tallinn. Focusing strongly on the Old Town, you’ll venture from the Lower Town to the nearby Upper Town. By the end of the day, you’ll feel like you’ve thoroughly explored the city center.
However, before we get to our Tallinn itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
SafetyWing offers travel insurance for only about $10 a week, making it a no-brainer to get. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Now that you’re organized, get ready to explore Tallinn and fall hard for this Baltic delight.
Recommendation: Get to know Tallinn through the eyes of a passionate local and learn about the city’s best-kept secrets on this amazing private walking tour.
The perfect place to start your visit to Tallinn is the adorably medieval lower part of the UNESCO-listed Old Town. Making up most of the Old Town, the Lower Town features quaint, meandering cobblestone streets and picture-perfect gabled houses. You’ll be happy to get lost wandering around the admirably preserved town center, given how easy it is to find your way back.
Town Hall Square
As you roam the medieval streets of the Lower Town, find your way to Town Hall Square (Raekoja Plats), the main plaza at the core of the Old Town. Plenty of pretty buildings call this square home, including the statuesque Tallinn Town Hall.
With its various merchant houses, this marketplace has been the center of commerce in Tallinn for many centuries – and the site of the city’s famous Christmas markets for almost as long. With nice market stalls, a beautiful central Christmas tree, and a good chance of snow, Town Hall Square certainly delivers on the festive atmosphere around the holidays.
Old Town Walls
The medieval town walls work their way around the entire Old Town, as well as dividing the Upper Town and Lower Town. Looking exactly as you’d probably picture them, these walls are a major feature of the town center’s transformative old-world atmosphere.
The 1.9-kilometer stretch of walls is broken up with impressive gates and towers, such as the Viru Gate and Fat Margaret Tower. You can walk along part of the wall’s ramparts over by the Hellemann Tower on the Old Town’s eastern edge.
St. Nicholas Church
One of the most noticeable towers emerging from the city’s rooftops is the spire of St. Nicholas Church. Sadly, this 13th-century church was almost completely destroyed during World War II. It was restored under Soviet rule and, most impressively, remained standing despite the Soviet Union’s stance on religion.
The church now houses the Niguliste Museum, which focuses on religious art and is also a concert venue. The museum’s most famous artwork is Bernt Notke’s “Danse Macabre” from the 15th century.
Sitting on the southern edge of the Lower Town, Freedom Square is worth visiting for a few reasons. Not only does it show the difference between the Old Town and the rest of Tallinn, but you can actually climb into the Upper Town from Freedom Square.
As for the square itself, its main attraction is the War of Independence Victory Column, honoring Estonia’s fight for independence from 1918 to 1920. This memorial actually caused quite a stir with locals, due to delays and defects in construction along with its sociopolitical implications. Made from a series of glass plates in the shape of the Cross of Liberty, the monument glows from within at night.
Upper Town – Toompea
Tallinn’s Upper Town is perched upon Toompea, a limestone hill overlooking the Lower Town. Not just another part of the Old Town, Toompea is home to some of the best things to do in Tallinn, including some of its most striking and significant landmarks. The easiest way to reach this part of the city center is to take the scenic Pikk Jalg pathway up or slip through a gap in the town walls past the curiously named Kiek in de Kök Tower.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
As you reach Toompea, you’ll find one of Tallinn’s most iconic landmarks, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This Russian Orthodox church dates back to the era of the old Russian empire, and its eclectic mix of architectural styles makes it quite the sight. While its bells are a treat for the ears, the cathedral’s inner mosaics and icons are the true highlight that make this Tallinn’s most impressive religious building.
Directly opposite the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands Toompea Castle, the centerpiece of the Upper Town. This castle has been the seat of power for the region of Estonia ever since it was raised in the early 13th century. Tradition states that the owner of the flag flying from the castle’s Tall Hermann Tower rules the region, so it’s no surprise that Toompea Castle is now home to Estonia’s parliament and the Estonian flag is raised daily.
Depending on where you admire the castle from, you’ll see what it may have looked like at a certain point in its history. For instance, it has quite a medieval appearance from below the hill, while its main facade more reflects its 18th-century look up close.
Kohtuotsa and Patkuli Viewpoints
Want to see the city from above? Then find your way to the balcony viewing platforms of Kohtuotsa and Patkuli along Toompea. The Kohtuotsa platform offers views squarely across the Lower Town’s rooftops and Tallinn beyond the Old Town walls. The Patkuli platform shows the towers along the town walls holding back the lush trees of the Towers Square Park (Tornide Väljak).
To cap off the day, find the KGB Museum inside Hotel Viru. In what was once the secret offices of the KGB, you’ll learn what Tallinn was like under USSR rule. With a guided tour booked in advance, you can learn what information the KGB kept on citizens and how it would spy on foreign guests of this hotel.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Tallinn?
If you have more than one day in Tallinn or finish the itinerary early, you can always explore more of the city. With more time, you can take your Tallinn trip beyond the historic center to some other interesting parts of the city.
Just east of the Old Town lies the Rotermann Quarter. Long an industrial area, the area has been renewed with fascinating modern architecture. With its converted and redesigned buildings, this commercial area is becoming a cultural hotspot. Whether you’re interested in some retail therapy or adventurous restaurants, the Rotermann Quarter is a fun new space in Tallinn.
Tallinn’s history extends way beyond the Old Town, with the peaceful neighborhood of Kalamaja being the perfect example. Sitting just northwest of the Old Town, this area is home to quaint wooden houses built for the working class in the 1920s and ’30s. Compared to the grand old houses in the city center, their colorful and humble nature gives a clearer idea of everyday life in Tallinn almost a century ago.
Kadriorg Palace is well worth the journey from the city center. A Baroque summer palace built for the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, Kadriorg Palace combines a beautiful facade, elegant interior, and stately gardens. Today, it houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, Estonia’s only museum dedicated to early Western European and Russian artworks.
You could also do a day trip outside the city. For some ideas check out our guide of the best day trips from Tallinn.
Well, there you have it – the ultimate Tallinn itinerary with everything you need to know to comfortably explore the best of Tallinn in a day! It should be clear now what you can look forward to and what to do in Tallinn in one day.