Thanks to its wonderfully preserved medieval Old Town, Tallinn has a habit of easily winning over those travelers who take the time to visit. But Tallinn is not a big city and it’s possible to see the best of Tallinn in a day.
After you’ve exhausted all there is to do in Tallinn, check out all that there is to do and see in the rest of Estonia, and this part of Europe. The best places to visit from Tallinn are guaranteed to show you a great variety of exciting spots. Whether you want to spend your day exploring nature, visiting islands, or delving into local history, at least one of the best day trips from Tallinn is bound to have you covered.
How to Get Around
Although you can make many of these day trips with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. With your own four wheels, you control your time and schedule; depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out to be cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the lowest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can get the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries! We’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Lahemaa National Park
As one of the best places to visit in Estonia, a visit to Lahemaa National Park should not be missed. Balancing the country’s beautiful nature with serene rural life, Lahemaa perfectly contrasts Tallinn’s city life. Exploring the park, you’ll have the chance to experience various different environments. Take a walk down Beaver Trail for a wander in pristine forests, or venture to the Viru bog to see its fascinating wetlands. In terms of manmade landmarks, you’ll want to stop in at the historic and elegant Sagadi Manor on your way into the park. Then there’s the delightful little fishing villages like Altja that still boast architecture from before the Soviet occupation of Estonia.
Getting there: With very little in the way of public transport to get to and around Lahemaa National Park from Tallinn, your best option is to visit with a guided tour.
2. Helsinki, Finland
The opportunity to visit two capital cities in one trip is pretty tempting, which is why Helsinki is easily one of the most popular Tallinn day trips. Helsinki sits directly across the Gulf of Finland from the Estonian capital and chances are you’ll arrive in the city’s harbor. From there, it’s a short walk to the striking red-brick Uspenski Cathedral. Heading towards the center of the city you’ll pass several grand buildings including the Presidential Palace and Government Palace to reach the Senate Square, which is the city’s main square. There your focus will surely be drawn to the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral that overlooks it. Other interesting churches to visit in Helsinki include the Temppeliaukion Church that is curiously underground, and the Kamppi Chapel with its curved wooden exterior.
Getting there: Since water divides them, the obvious means of getting from Tallinn to Helsinki is to take the ferry. The trip takes 2 hours, with departures every few hours. Unfortunately, tours between the two cities usually go in the reverse direction, so you may find it hard to get one.
As Estonia’s second city, Tartu is a great pick if you want to see more of city life in Estonia. Start your Tartu visit in Raekoja Square, the main square in the city’s historic center. Not only will you find the lovely pink and red Town Hall here, but also the Kissing Students Fountain where newlyweds go to get good luck in their future. Next, take a trip up to Toome Hill which watches over Tartu’s city center. There you’ll find the open-air ruins of Tartu Cathedral, as well as the Angel’s Bridge and Devil’s Bridge, both with their own local legends. Both in the Old Town and on Toome Hill you’ll pass by buildings belonging to the historic University of Tartu, including the Old Anatomical Theatre and Old Observatory. Lastly, spend a few moments down by the lush banks of the pretty Emajõgi River.
Getting there: Tartu is one of the few easy train trips from Tallinn, as the trip takes only 2 hours from the capital. Alternatively, you can take the bus which has more frequent departures, but takes 2 ½ hours.
4. Soomaa National Park
One of the best things to see in Estonia outside of Tallinn is the bogs and wetlands of Soomaa National Park. The national park is perhaps best known for its “fifth season”, during which the park floods from snowmelt and heavy rain. On a visit to Soomaa National Park, you’ll have the chance to see the wilderness of Estonia through some of its primeval landscapes, from forests to swamps, and bogs. The park is a popular place for nature walks, with paths like the Beaver Trail, but another way to explore is to get about by canoe. Venturing around the national park you’ll spot natural and manmade landmarks alike, from the Ruunaraipe dunes to the quaint little Jõesuu suspension bridge.
Getting there: Public transport takes quite long so to realistically reach the national park for a day trip you’re better off getting a car and making the 2 ½ hour drive yourself.
To explore Estonia’s seaside and its spa culture, you’ll definitely want to visit Haapsalu, one of the best side trips from Tallinn. Haapsalu has a long and distinguished track record as a spa resort, even once being a favored summer getaway of the Russian tsars. Begin with a stroll along the Haapsalu Promenade waterfront and admire the charming wooden architecture of the Kuursaal. Next, meander through the narrow little streets of the Old Town and find your way to the impressive Haapsalu Castle which dates back to the 13th century. Of course, being a spa town, you may just want to find a mud spa and spend your day relaxing.
Getting there: There are regular buses that make the 1 ½ hour journey from Tallinn to Haapsalu.
6. Jägala Waterfall & Harju County
If you’re after day tours from Tallinn that show you a nice mix of natural and historical sights, you’ll want to explore the rest of Harju County. Beyond the capital city, this northern county has plenty for tourists, including the picturesque Jägala Waterfall. Spanning over 50 meters, it is the widest natural waterfall in Estonia. The waterfall is especially pretty in winter when the water freezes over and creates a magical wall of icicles. Other noteworthy attractions to discover in Harju include the Rebala Heritage Reserve Museum with its Bronze Age graves, and the historic recreations at the Viking Village in Saula.
Getting there: There are a limited number of buses each day that travel to Jägala Waterfall from Tallinn, but to properly explore Harju County it’s best to go with a guided tour.
Another of Estonia’s classic seaside cities, Pärnu is perfect if you’re looking for a relaxing day trip destination. Like Haapsalu, Pärnu is known for its spa resort, but is also a popular beach getaway in Estonia. Get your sightseeing under way with a walk through the city center which has typical wooden houses and uniquely painted doors. Next, head through the centuries-old Tallinn Gate to Valli Park where the former city ramparts and moat have been converted into a lovely city park. Another great park is Pärnu Beach Park, where some of the city’s classic spas can be found. It’s also not far from there to Pärnu Beach, a great long sandy beach, said to be one of the best in the whole country.
Getting there: Regular buses make the 1 hour 50 minute journey from Tallinn to Pärnu.
For an interesting look at what a blend of Estonian and Russian cultures looks like, make your way to the eastern city of Narva for the day. The third largest city of Estonia, Narva rests right up against the Russian border, making the majority of its population Russian. Take a walk down the promenade along the Narva River and you’ll see Russia on its far bank. It’s also by the river that you’ll find the city’s shining highlight, Narva Castle. Also known as Hermann Castle, this medieval castle hosts the city museum and its impressive art collection. Elsewhere in the city, there are still some attractive buildings despite the destruction Narva suffered throughout WWII, including the Town Hall and Alexander’s Cathedral.
Getting there: It’s possible to travel from Tallinn to Narva by both train or bus. The train is slightly quicker at 2 hours 50 minutes, while buses depart more frequently and take 3 ¼ hours.
9. Prangli Island
You may not know it, but Estonia is home to over 2,000 islands, and some like Prangli Island are great for a day trip. Even among those many islands, Prangli is special, as it’s the only northern island to be inhabited uninterrupted for the last 600 years. Docking at the island’s small harbor in Kelnase, you’ll immediately get a feel for the friendly and lively atmosphere of this small, untouched fishing village. Having seen the harbor area, it’s time to explore the island’s natural side, be it Prangli’s sandy beaches or the invigorating pine forests inland. Don’t miss the strange sight of the Gaasipuurauk, a flaming grill fuelled by natural gas beneath the island. Some of the few other landmarks on the island include the small Prangli Church and Prangli Museum that details the island’s history.
Getting there: You’ll need to take a ferry to get to Prangli Island which leaves from Leppneeme. That means you’ll first need to travel an hour by bus to reach the ferry terminal and then spend another hour on the ferry. If you don’t want to worry about the transport details, you can instead visit as part of an organized tour.
10. Naissaar Island
When it comes to islands close to Tallinn, few are as close to the capital as Naissaar Island. The entire island is a nature reserve which makes it ideal for those looking for a peaceful break from civilization. In fact, only two of the six families with properties on the island even reside on the island year-round, indicating just how removed it is from the world around it. Upon landing on Naissaar Island you’ll find hiking trails that lead from the harbor into the island’s forest. Besides its forest and several beaches, you’ll find some remnants of the island’s time as a naval fortress leading up to and during WWI. These include ruins of fortifications, underground tunnels, and rail tracks that appear across the island. Before leaving, be sure to climb up the island’s northern lighthouse for its superb views.
Getting there: You’ll find that ferries from Tallinn to Naissaar Island only run in the warmer months of June to September, with the trip taking around 1 hour. If you’d like to be shown around the island as well, you should look at going with a guided tour.
In a country like Estonia, located in northern Europe, you’d rightly expect it to have some pretty chilly winters. That’s why, when winter rolls around, many people choose to make their way to the winter resort town of Otepää in southern Estonia. Not only can visitors spend their day skiing, snowboarding, and ice-skating in the country’s winter capital, but there are also spa resorts in Otepää if you just want to relax. While it may be known as a winter destination, the hills, valleys, and lakes of the nature park that surround Otepää are just as picturesque in summer. Summer visitors will find plenty of opportunities for hiking and swimming in lakes, plus endless scenery to tempt photographers.
Getting there: To reach Otepää from Tallinn by public transport will take upwards of 4 hours as you’ll need to change buses in Tartu. As this doesn’t really make it an easy day trip, your better off doing the drive which takes less than 3 hours.
12. Kihnu Island
It may be a long way to travel just for a day trip, but the unique culture of Kihnu Island is definitely worth the journey. Located out in the Gulf of Riga, the small island of Kihnu is known for its culture which revolves around the women in the community. The villages on Kihnu are places of steadfast tradition, where the men spend most of their time at sea fishing, and the women handle life on the island. The women of Kihnu have become famous thanks to images of them driving about on motorbikes while fully dressed in their traditional clothes known as kört. One way to experience the island’s way of life, which earned Kihnu a place on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, is with a trip to the Metsamaa culture farm. Beyond that you can visit the Kihnu Museum to learn about the island’s history.
Getting there: To reach Kihnu Island, you first need to reach Parnu by either bus or car, that takes around 1 hour 50 minutes. Then it’s a ride to the island on a car ferry, taking another 2 ½ hours.
13. Rummu Quarry & Underwater Prison
Just a short trip from Tallinn, the Rummu Quarry and its underwater prison make for quite an unusual day trip. Once a limestone quarry that was worked by the inmates of the on-site prison during the Soviet period, the abandoned site has taken on a new life as a bizarre tourist attraction. When it was in operation, pumps kept groundwater from flooding the quarry, but once the site shutdown it soon flooded, partially submerging the prison, which is what can be seen today. Visitors can see the quarry’s strange underwater museum either by canoe or they can delve a little deeper by snorkelling and diving. The site is open daily during the summer and through advanced booking the rest of the year.
Getting there: It’s possible to get from Tallinn to the Rummu Quarry by bus, with departures every few hours and the trip out taking a little over an hour.
14. Alutaguse Brown Bear Hide
The town of Alutaguse provides the opportunity to see a bit of local wildlife. Outside the town, in northeastern Estonia, there is a nature hide perfect for those looking to see some local animals. Operated by NaTourEst and their guides, you’ll first go for a hike through the forest, before hunkering down in the bear hide. Set up with bunk beds for overnight trips, it’s also possible to visit the hide for a day trip. Besides brown bears, there’s the possibility of seeing other local wildlife including elk, raccoon dogs, eagles, and woodpeckers. As with any animal experience, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the wildlife you’re after, but the experience alone is sure to be worth it.
Getting there: With limited public transport options, your best bet to reach Alutaguse is to do the 2 ½ hour drive yourself.
15. Hara Submarine Base
No matter which former Soviet country you go to, there are opportunities for urban exploration. Thanks to places like Hara Submarine Base, Estonia is no different. Situated in Hara Bay, on the coast of Lahemaa National Park, this former Soviet base is a captivating relic of a bygone era. Having been left abandoned for decades since Estonia regained independence in 1991, the site has naturally fallen into disrepair and become littered with graffiti. A company has recently purchased the land and you can now only visit the site on guided tours which take place on weekends. While anything of value on the site was either removed by the Soviets or gutted during its years of neglect, the shell of a base is sure to intrigue those into urbex and all things Soviet.
Getting there: With tours of the site running in the morning, and buses from Tallinn arriving in the afternoon, your only option is to do the hour drive with your own set of wheels.
Those are many of the places through Estonia and beyond that you’ll want to consider when in Tallinn and thinking about making a day trip. With that breadth of options, you may find the hard part is deciding how many you can fit into your schedule and which day trips to choose.