Up by the Baltic Sea in northern Europe lies a sorely overlooked city that’s jam-packed with history and charming scenery. I’m speaking, of course, of Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia and its crowning gem. As this part of Europe has opened up over the recent decades, many travelers have realized just how photogenic and pretty this walled, coastal city is.
While having more than 24 hours in Tallinn would be nice, a day will give you enough time to take in Tallinn’s highlights. Perhaps seeing Tallinn will even convince you to explore further within Estonia, whether it’s the 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. But that makes sense, since summer really is the best time to visit Tallinn and go sightseeing.
The months on either side of summer in May and September are also good times to visit, since the weather hasn’t quite cooled off yet and there are far fewer tourists around. Unfortunately, even in summer there’s no guarantee of good weather in Tallinn, or really anywhere in the Baltic states.
Also, while it may be pretty chilly visiting Tallinn in the winter, the city can look quite enchanting when it’s transformed by ice and snow. The city’s old town is known to have one of Europe’s best Christmas markets, and what better way to soak in the festive spirit than in a snowy medieval square in Estonia.
How to Get Around Tallinn
Visitors to Tallinn will be pleased to hear that the city is an easy destination to get around. The best of Tallinn is found within the city’s Old Town or immediately outside, so ultimately walking is the best way to get around when sightseeing. With only 24 hours in Tallinn, it may just be when you arrive and leave that you need to use the city’s public transport.
If you’re taking the ferry to and from Helsinki, the good news is that it is possible to walk from the terminal into Tallinn’s Old Town. If the 25-minute walk to the centre of Old Town is too much though, the No. 2 bus will get you much closer.
While the city train station is close to Old Town, the Tallinn Bus Station is probably the furthest entry point from the centre. However, it’s possible to hop on a tram between the two, taking only about 12 minutes of your time. Tickets for Tallinn’s public transport system come in four different varieties, with purchasing a €2 paper ticket from the vehicle’s driver being the most straightforward.
Recommendation: Another great way to get around the Tallinn is on a hop-on hop-off bus. With your ticket you can hop on and off the bus as often as you like on a route specifically designed to show the main sights and attractions of the city. To book your hop-on hop-off bus ticket click here.
Accommodation in Tallinn
Unless you’re only planning to visit Tallinn as a day trip, you’ll need to know where to stay in Tallinn. Based on where the main sights are, the best places to stay in Tallinn are all within walking distance of the city’s historic Old Town. While ideally this means finding somewhere within the Old Town walls, neighboring areas like Rotermanni would also be suitable and convenient. It’s hard to pass up the Old Town’s ambience though, especially somewhere like the Masters’ Courtyard.
If you’re looking to spend your time in Tallinn surrounded by comfort and luxury, Schlössle Hotel is bound to deliver. Dine in the ornate brick cellars of the 13th and 14th century buildings, unwind in the free sauna and look out the window from great big window bench seats to the centre of Tallinn’s Old Town.
Positioned in the chic, up and coming Rotermanni quarter, Metropol Hotel is a great choice for a mid-range option. A short walk to Old Town, this hotel benefits from attentive staff, spacious rooms and even an on-site beauty salon.
For a budget experience that doesn’t mean staying well away from Old Town, Viru Backpackers Hostel perfectly hits the spot. This lovely little hostel is right near the town hall and offers peace and quiet, not to mention some great pancakes for breakfast.
For more accommodation options in Tallinn check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Tallinn Itinerary
Even 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 myriad of sights in Tallinn’s Old Town, you’ll venture from Lower Town to nearby Upper Town. By the end you should feel like you’ve nearly lapped the entire city centre.
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 don’t wanna 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. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now that we’re organized, get ready to explore Tallinn with this itinerary 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 many tips, tricks and best-kept secrets on this amazing private walking tour.
The perfect place to start your visit of Tallinn is with the adorably medieval lower part of the UNESCO heritage-listed Old Town. Making up most of Tallinn’s Old Town, Lower Town features quaint, meandering cobblestone streets and picture-perfect gabled houses, such as the iconic Three Sisters Boutique Hotel. You’ll be happy to get lost wandering around the admirably preserved town centre, given how easy it is to find your way back.
Town Hall Square
With your wanderings along the medieval streets of Lower Town, it’s best to find your way to Raekoja plats or Town Hall Square. The main square at the core of Tallinn’s Old Town, you’ll find plenty of pretty buildings that call the square home, including Tallinn’s statuesque Town Hall.
Between the various merchant houses, this market place has been the centre of life in Tallinn for many centuries. For almost as long, Town Hall Square has also been the home to Tallinn’s famous Christmas markets. With market stalls centering on a nice Christmas tree and a good chance of snow, Tallinn and Town Hall square certainly delivers on the festive atmosphere.
Old Town Walls
Working its way around the entirety of Tallinn’s Old Town, as well as dividing the Upper and Lower Towns, you’ll find medieval town walls. Looking exactly as you probably would picture them, these walls are the final piece of the puzzle that sells the transformative old world atmosphere in the centre of Tallinn.
The 1.9km long run of walls is broken up by great gates and towers like the Viru Gate and Fat Margaret Tower. Visitors can walk along part of the wall’s ramparts over by the Hellemann Tower on Old Town’s eastern edge.
St. Nicholas’ Church
One of the most noticeable towers to emerge from the rooftops of Tallinn is the spire of St. Nicholas’ Church. This medieval church from the 13th century sadly was nearly completely destroyed during World War II. What’s impressive is that it was restored under Soviet rule, which firmly stood against the Soviet Union’s stance on religion. Now it houses the Niguliste Museum which focuses on religious art and is also a concert venue. The museum’s most famous piece of artwork is the Danse Macabre from the 15th century.
Sitting on the southern edge of Tallinn’s Lower Town, Freedom Square is worth visiting for a few reasons. First of all, it shows the difference between the Old Town and the rest of Tallinn. Then there’s the fact that from Freedom Square you can climb up into Tallinn’s Upper Town.
But as for the square itself, its main attraction is the War of Independence Victory Column, honoring Estonia’s fight for independence from 1918-1920. This memorial actually caused quite a stir with locals as I understand it, due to construction delays and defects, plus the social and political implications behind it. Made from a series of glass plates, this memorial, in the shape of the Cross of Liberty, glows from within at nighttime.
Upper Town – Toompea
Perched over Lower Town, Upper Town sits upon Toompea Hill. Not just another part of Old Town, Toompea is home to some of the best things to do in Tallinn and some of the city’s most striking and significant landmarks.
The easiest ways to reach this part of the city centre are taking the scenic Pikk Jalg path up or slipping through a gap in the town walls past the curiously named Kiek in de Kök Tower.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
One of Tallinn’s most iconic landmarks is found as you reach Toompea – the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This Russian Orthodox church dates from the era of the old Russian empire and its eclectic mix of architectural styles makes it quite the sight. While its carillon and special church bells are a treat to the ears, the cathedral’s inner mosaics and icons are the true highlight and make this Tallinn’s most impressive religious building.
Sitting directly opposite the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Toompea Castle, the centrepiece of Upper Town. This castle has always been the seat of power for the region of Estonia ever since it was raised in the early 13th century. Tradition states that whoever’s flag flies from the Tall Hermann Tower of the castle rules the region. No surprise then that Toompea Castle is the home to Estonia’s parliament today and the Estonian flag is raised daily.
Depending on where you admire the castle from, you’ll see what the castle may have looked like at a certain point in its history. For instance, from below the hill Toompea Castle has quite a medieval appearance, while its main façade up close more reflects its 18th-century look.
Kohtuotsa and Patkuli Viewpoints
Want to see the city of Tallinn from above? Then find your way to the balcony viewing platforms of Kohtuotsa and Patkuli that run along Toompea Hill. Kohtuotsa platform squarely offers views across the rooftops of Lower Town as well as Tallinn beyond the Old Town walls. Patkuli platform, on the other hand, shows the towers along the town walls holding back the lush trees of Tornide väljak park.
Last but not least, the KGB Museum is found inside the Viru Hotel. Learn what it was like in Tallinn under USSR rule, in what was once the secret offices of the KGB. With a guided tour booked in advance, you can learn what information the KGB kept on citizens and how they would spy on foreign guests who had to stay at this very hotel.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Tallinn?
If you do have more than 1 day in Tallinn or find yourself done with the above itinerary early, there’s more of the city to explore. With more time, you can take your Tallinn trip beyond the historic city centre and explore some different, interesting parts of the city.
Just to the east of Old Town lies the recently renewed Rotermann Quarter. Long an industrial area with factories, the area has been gentrified 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, Rotermann is a fun, new space in Tallinn.
Tallinn’s history extends way beyond the city’s Old Town, and the peaceful neighbourhood of Kalamaja is the perfect example. Sitting just outside Old Town to the northwest, this area is home to quaint wooden houses that were built for the working class in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Compared to the old houses in the centre, their colorful and humble nature feel like they give you a better idea of what life was like for people almost a hundred years ago.
Even though it’s removed from the centre of Tallinn, Kadriorg Palace is well worth the journey. A baroque summer palace built for the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, Kadriorg Palace combines a beautiful façade, elegant interior and stately gardens. Today though, it houses the Kadriorg Art Museum.
You could also do a day trip outside the city. For some ideas check out our guide to the best day trips from Tallinn.
So there you go – the best of Tallinn in 1 day! It should be clear now what you can look forward to and what to do in Tallinn in 1 day.