Founded in 1248, Tallinn is one of the oldest capitals in Europe, being a major trade hub from the 14th to the 16th century when it was an important part of the Hanseatic League. Nowadays Tallinn Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the birthplace of Skype.
Since I have been living in Helsinki, Tallinn is one of my favorite places to visit, whether for a day or a weekend, or longer if I get the chance. My first visit to Tallinn was back in April 2013 and my love of this beautiful and ancient city remains. I never tire of wandering through its timeless cobbled streets or discovering new places to eat or visit to experience what living in Tallinn must have been like.
Since relocating to Helsinki full-time, I think we have already made 3 or 4 visits to Tallinn in the last year. It is so convenient and cheap to catch a ferry over, especially for a day trip. Recently we have switched from traveling on the Viking Line to using the Tallink Silja Line, as the sailing times give us more time in Tallinn than the 4 hours you get on a Viking Line day trip. Tallink Silja have a sailing that leaves as early at 7:30 am and returns at 8:30pm so gives us a good 10 hours approximately to wander the city and is very affordable at around 16 – 24 Euro’s each depending on when we travel. As mentioned in my last post on making the most of your travel dollars, if you book through the local site (.fi instead of .com) you can save yourself a few Euros.
The ferry trip takes approximately 2 hours and the terminal in Tallinn is a short walk (10 – 15 mins) to the Old City or alternatively you can catch a taxi, which are (like all things in Estonia) a lot less expensive then in Helsinki, a bus or even a rickshaw for about 3 Euros. If you want to get a good introduction to Tallinn then grab the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus that leaves from near the terminal, it is a great way to cover a lot of ground in the day and see sights both in the city and around the fringes.
On our recent trips we have discovered a really neat little place to eat and enjoy the authentic medievel atmosphere of Old Tallinn at III Draakon, not a place for the faint hearted or those who are a little precious about themselves. III Draakon is located on the tower side of the Old Town Hall and is true to its medievel heritage. The menu is basic and consists of Elkmeat Soup, Oxmeat Sausages and a range of pastries filled with vegetables and wild meats. The restaurant itself is dark and pokie and the service is basic at its best (there are no airs and graces here…) keeping with the authentic feel. Food is served in crockery that has seen better days, there is no cutlery and you better not forget to clean up after yourself…. If you dare muck around at the counter, can’t make up your mind or hold other customers up, well then you better expect a mouthful from the lady of the house. The food is delicious, nutritious and very well priced and is an excellent choice for lunch while wandering the Old City.
As I have mentioned previously the Old Town is full of beautiful buildings and has a rich history, so if this is your first visit it would be worth doing a guided tour to get a full background on the history and events that have shaped this wonderful city. There are plenty of museums, churches and other places of interest within the walls of the Old Town to keep you amused for a day without having to go too much further. If you do however run out of things to do in the Old Town then the first place I would head is The Seaplane Harbor which is an excellent museum of Estonian maritime history and is as good as any museum we have visited in our travels (admission is included in this guided tour of the Old Town).
If you are happy to explore the city on your own it might be worth getting a Tallinn Card which costs 32 Euros each adult for a 24 hour card or 42 Euros for a 48 hour card. Unless you are planning on doing one of the sightseeing bus tours which are included in the card, I wouldn’t think you would get much saving out of a 1 day card as it would take a trip to the Seaplane Harbour and 4 other museums to start saving you any money, but if you are planning on spending 2 or more days exploring the city then definitely get one as you will save a lot. Besides free entry to over 40 of Tallinn’s top attractions you also get priority entry to some attractions, free public transport and special offers and discounts at many other places.
After a day wandering the streets of the Old Town it is time to head back to the terminal for the ferry home. If you are staying in Finland for any period of time afterwards, make sure you check out the duty free liquor stores, the savings you make there on just 1-2 boxes of beer will cover the cost of your ticket. Don’t worry though if you miss the shore side shops, there is a large duty free store on the boat home, although the range is not as large, there is still plenty of money to be saved.
If you are overnighting in Tallinn, then maybe you could check out the Haunted Tallinn Tour.