If you’re looking for a cobble-stoned storybook style European town, Tallinn is where you want to set your sights. I left thoroughly enamored with this magical town.
This article is published in partnership with Princess Cruises. All content and opinions belong to Mama Loves Food.
Table of Contents
I’ve tried to cover all the important points of visiting the city, but if you just need some quick info, feel free to use the table of contents below to jump around!
What to do | What we did | What to pack | What is the weather | Where is Tallin | What time is it | Shopping | Downtown | Where to eat | Local events | When is the best time to visit | What you should know before visiting | Fun Facts | Why you should visit | Major points of interest | Getting around town | Other ports on this trip | Where we’ve cruised with Princess | Recipes inspired by our travels | Must-read cruising tips
What to do in Tallinn
- Toompea Hill – Toompea or “Upper Town” is the home of some of Tallinn’s oldest architectural wonders and home to Palace Square.
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – Visit a historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral serves as the dominating landmark in Palace Square. Witness the cathedral’s cupolas and golden crosses rising high above the rooftops.
- Toomkirik (St. Mary’s Cathedral) – Called the “Dome Church” by the locals, St. Mary’s Cathedral is the city’s oldest church and an architectural landmark that has played a prominent role in Tallinn’s history.
- Lower Old Town – Lower Old Town boast views of Toompea Hill and the famous Town Wall dating from the 13-14th century.
- Town Hall Square – Stop in Town Hall Square for views of the Gothic Town Hall and browse the small shops. The Town Hall was built in 1402 as a meeting place and has been a highlight of the city ever since.
- Kadriorg Palace – Founded by Peter the Great, the palace’s main hall is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in all of Northern Europe. Since the Russian Revolution, the ornate palace rooms have been used as part of the Art Museum of Estonia.
- Stout Margaret Tower – One of Tallinn’s most impressive defensive structures (also known as “Fat Margaret”). The origin of the name is a mystery: some say it was named for a large cannon, while others claim a cook called Margaret once worked here.
- Rakvere – A small, provincial town halfway between Tallinn and the border at Narva, Rakvere is home to the ancient Tarvanpea Castle Ruins.
What we did in Tallinn, Estonia
In Tallin we walked in from the cruise port to the historic old town. Honestly, the kids were in moods (it happens) that day, and I think if I could do it again we would shuttle or Uber in (it’s about a 15 – 20 minute walk).
That said, wow. Wow! I could have wandered in Old Town Tallinn for days upon days. It was like being dropped into the middle of a storybook town. The architecture was spectacular, the shops were quaint, and the bakeries were so plentiful.
Definitely make sure to visit Toompea Hill and Town Hall Square. There were live street performers playing instruments and singing while we were there and it just added to that magical feeling. I could totally spend more time in Tallinn and I’m so glad it was a port on our trip!
What to pack
Estonians generally dress practical, but still fashionable. Summer will include layers of T-shirt/top or bathing suit, followed by blouse, jeans/trousers, shorts, sundress or skirt and then a top layer of a light jacket or cardigan, comfortable sneakers, flats, loafers or sandals.
As the weather can vary from sunny to rainy in the same day, a hat, sunglasses and umbrella or rain jacket are good accessories to bring along.
Winter is also layered, but with more substantial items obviously. Start with a long sleeve top or shirt (thermal if weather warrants) and tights or long johns (as needed), next have a warmer sweater or cardigan, jeans/trousers and heavy, warm socks, top the outfit off with a heavy coat, scarf, hat, gloves and warm boots/shoes.
Because of the longer rainy season, an umbrella is still recommended in winter as well. For Spring/Fall, mix and match the items above to tailor to the specific temps during these transition periods.
*Make sure to check out our comprehensive cruise packing guide, complete with a free printable checklist!*
What is the weather in Tallinn, Estonia
Summertime in Tallinn, June through August, brings highs in the upper 60s/low 70s and lows in the 40s/50s (F). November through March brings a Winter of temperatures spanning the teens to the 30s.
Tallinn, during most months, experiences significant rainfall, with the driest months falling February-May.
Where is Tallinn, Estonia
Situated on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn can be found in the north-western part of Estonia. With its location in close proximity to where the Gulf of Finland empties into the Baltic Sea, it becomes an important Estonian port.
What time is it in Tallinn, Estonia
The city of Tallinn operates on EET (Eastern European Time) and EEST (Eastern European Summer Time) in the summer.
EET (Eastern European Time) is seven hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard time), eleven hours ahead of Alaska Standard Time (AKST), ten hours ahead of PTD time zone (Pacific time zone), and nine hours ahead of MST (Mountain Standard Time).
It is important to note that Tallinn does observe daylight savings time (DST) and switches to EEST (Eastern European Summer Time) between the last Sunday in March and last Sunday of October.
Shopping in Tallinn, Estonia
For the most concentrated area and mix of shopping options, head to the Old Town. Here you find folk traditions alongside contemporary fare. Department stores mingle with boutiques and galleries.
If you’re looking for higher end fashion and elegance, Vaike-Karja, Suur-Karja and Muurivahe streets as well as the department stores are where to look. Want more authentic, handmade goods, checkout the medieval style workshops in St. Catherine’s Passage.
If you want to bring home the best souvenirs and gifts, Estonia is known for hand-crafted items, a hand-knit sweater, felt hat or utensils from juniper wood are always a good choice and easily transportable.
Downtown Tallinn, Estonia
Rather than a view of highrise buildings and trendy apartments, Tallinn’s downtown preserves the medieval heritage and culture it is famous for. Known as “Old Town”, the area is marked by Gothic spires, tradesmen markets and a still mostly intact city wall.
With all of its history and preservation, however, you can still find old and new. Amid the cobblestone streets and historic ambiance, there is still a cutting edge culture, seen in boutique shops, cafes and more.
Where to eat in Tallinn, Estonia
- Rataskaevu 16
- Estonian Burger Factory
- Restaurant Pegasus
- Tchaikovsky Restaurant
- Kolm Sibulat
- III Draakon
- Leib Restoran
- See more highly rated eateries in Tallinn!
Events in Tallinn, Estonia
- BachFest Tallinn – Estonians kick off the new year with a festival honoring the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Most of the concerts will take place at St. Nicholas’ Church as well as St. John’s Church and Estonia Concert Hall.
- Tallinn Music Week (TMW) – The biggest indoor festival and music conference in the Baltic/Nordic region, this event attracts approximately 20,000 music lovers from Estonia and surrounding areas. Line-ups include over 800 artists across genres from pop to jazz, rock to electronica. In addition to the conference/festival location, free pop-up concerts will take place throughout the city for one week in late March..
- Jazzkaar – The biggest jazz festival in the Baltic region, jazz stars from the world over fill stages to participate in an event named one of the finest festivals in Europe. Event takes place mid to late April.
- Birgitta Festival – A highlight of the summer cultural calendar, this event transforms the medieval St. Bridget’s Convent Ruins into a modern music theatre for a week of performances in August.
- Kalamaja Days – This festival turns the city into one large, family friendly block party for 2 days in May. Concerts, markets, guided tours, plays and more fill the city. Otherwise closed courtyards open for pop-up flea markets or to serve local foods.
- Tallinn Medieval Days – For a few days in July, the city truly “transforms” back to its medieval heritage. Actors and minstrels will roam the streets. Archery tournaments will take place amongst a medieval carnival.
- Tallinn Maritime Days – A family friendly, sea themed event combining concerts, boat rides, conferences races and more that takes place mid July.
When is the best time to visit Tallinn, Estonia
May through September are generally regarded as the best months to visit Talllinn. The weather, while sometimes rainy, is mild in temperature and best for outdoor festivals, walking and touring.
Peak period is during July/August for the Midsummer’s Eve Festivals specifically.
What you should know before visiting
- Respect Personal Space. Whether it’s standing in a line, on public transportation, or talking to someone, 1 meter is the acceptable space to give.
- Buy a prepaid card if using public transport. The trams are a great way to travel the city, but are much more cost effective with a prepaid card that you can reload as needed. For example, a one way journey bought individually from the driver will cost 2 EUR, while one hour on the prepaid ticket would only be 1.10 EUR.
- Join a Free Tour. No really, the city has free walking tours! Find one to join near the Tallinn Tourist Information Centre.
- Be Prepared. When they say it’s rainy, and the weather is unpredictable, take heed. Be sure to have appropriate attire and a change of clothes if not able to take cover during a heavy rain. Storms can last for days at a time. Being prepared for it means you can still continue your tours.
- They love bread. So much that in some grocery stores will carry up to 20 different kinds of Estonian bread.
- It’s considered the Silicon Valley of Europe. At first look, when viewing the preserved medieval landscape, you might not immediately think, I bet they have good wifi, but Estonia has produced companies/technology such as Skype, Taxify and Transferwise among others. Throughout the city you can even buy prepaid SIM cards with high speed internet access relatively cheap.
- A different kind of garlic bread. This is definitely not your standard recipe. Estonian garlic bread is actually a black bread, fried, and served with green mayonnaise. It might not be your usual perception, but give it a try.
- Old Town and Old Town. Old Town is actually two separate towns, specifically Upper Town and Lower Town. The division originally represented class segregation (the haves and have-nots) so if you look closely, you can see some of the differences in the two areas.
- It’s well preserved. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of it.
- Endless summer. While not a full 24 hours of sunlight, Between the months of May-July, it never gets completely dark, even at night.
- A global city. Tallinn has been ranked a global city, meaning it is among the top 10 digital cities in the world.
- A city of secrets. Underneath the Old Town runs a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the 17th century. Only as recently as 2010, were any of these passageways were opened to the public.
Why you should visit Tallinn, Estonia
Where else can you step into an almost perfectly preserved medieval city, but have wifi anywhere you go? Rich history and culture meet ingenuity and modern technology here for a truly unique experience whether you are comparing to its European or Scandinavian neighbors.
Major Points of Interest
Town Hall Square
The center of the medieval Old Town, it is the heart of the city. If there is an event going on, this is most likely the location for it.
During the summer months, visitors can climb the Town Hall tower, 34 meters up to a belfry balcony, for views over the city. Here you can also visit the Town Hall Pharmacy, which is the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe.
St. Olay’s Church
Once the tallest building in the world (during the 15th and 16th centuries), it’s towering remains now define the Tallinn skyline. Visitors can ascend to the church during the summer months to take in the magnificent views.
St. Catherine’s Passage
If Old Town alone doesn’t feel as authentically medieval as you can get, take a stroll down St. Catherine’s Passage, where you will be transported over 500 years into the past. Artisans and merchants sell produce, handmade goods and other historically accurate wares.
Getting around Tallinn
Tallinn has a good network of buses, trams and trolleybuses that run from early in the morning to late in the night. The major local bus station is located under the Viru Keskus shopping centre, although some buses terminate their routes on the surrounding streets. Definitely take advantage of public transportation if you need to get around the city.
Uber is available in Tallinn as well, if you want a quick private ride!
Ports on this trip
- Copenhagen, Denmark – Copenhagen was the starting point on our Baltic Sea cruise, and what a fabulous way to start. The capital of Denmark totally stole our hearts!
- Berlin, Germany – Berlin is a city rich with history and culture and was my 12 year-old’s absolute favorite stop on our trip. Definitely worth the drive in from port!
- Tallinn, Estonia – If you’re looking for a cobble-stoned storybook style European town, Tallinn is where you want to set your sights. I left thoroughly enamored with this magical town.
- St. Petersburg, Russia – St. Petersburg was a wonderful surprise to me! I had no idea how beautiful and rich with history the city is, and the food was so delicious too!
- Helsinki, Finland – We love Helsinki! The bright and vibrant colors along with the fun and quirky building shapes and super friendly people in Finland made it an absolute joy to tour!
- Stockholm, Sweden – Stockholm is a beautiful walkable city filled with gorgeous architecture, canals, and brightly colored buildings. I could easily have spent a week wandering around and soaking in the sites.