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9 Top Attractions & Things to Do in Tallinn, Estonia

Written by Joni Sweet
Jan 13, 2020

With surprises around every corner, Tallinn bursts with charm like no other European city. The capital of Estonia is steeped in history, yet has all the modern offerings tourists expect from a destination in the 21st century.

The city is exceptionally photogenic, especially during the midnight sunsets in the summer. And if you want to see the city at its very best, plan your visit during the Estonian Song Festival. It brings together 30,000 of the best singers in Estonia onto one stage every five years to create music that vibrates throughout the city.

Tallinn's Old Town has managed to preserve its medieval heritage throughout centuries of domination by foreign rulers, rightfully earning a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. You can still strut through the ivy-covered Viru Gate, explore the gothic Town Hall, and walk along the town walls like others have done for hundreds of years.

But you should spend equal time exploring Tallinn's modern-day offerings, as well. The city boasts Scandinavian-inspired restaurants, viewing platforms, lush parks, and sweets shops.

Plan your sightseeing around this alluring city with our list of the things to do in Tallinn.

1. Tallinn's Old Town

View of Tallinn's Old Town

Tallinn's Old Town encompasses endless treasures for history buffs and culture hounds alike. Known for being one of the world's best-preserved Hanseatic town centers, the vibrant village-like area features cobblestone streets, lively cafés, and architecture from long-ago centuries.

Start your experience at the Town Hall Square. While you might be tempted to keep your eyes cast up at the colorful buildings, look down until you find the distinctive circular stone marked with a compass. Standing atop it gives you the unique vantage point to see the steeples of five historic churches around Tallinn. Then, make your way inside the church-like Town Hall. Erected in 1404, the oldest town hall in Northern Europe boasts magnificent Gothic arches and precious artworks.

Then, head across the square to one of Europe's oldest continually running pharmacies, Raeapteek. The establishment celebrates its history with a mini museum focusing on antique medical tools and early healthcare techniques. You can also sample herbal tea blends created from local ingredients in the pharmacy's basement.

Another prominent spot in Tallinn's Old Town is the Viru Gate. Once part of the city wall's defense system, this 14th-century structure features fairy-tale-esque, round towers topped with coned roofs fit for a princess. Nearly two kilometers of the original city wall is still standing. You can get a good look at this historic structure from the Patkuli viewing platform on Toompea Hill.

Consider booking a guided walking tour of Tallinn's Old Town. Knowledgable guides can share the legends that abound in this area of the city, adding a lot more color to your sightseeing trip.

2. Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour

Aerial view of the Suur Tõll icebreaker at the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour

With more than 2,300 islands in its territory, Estonia has developed a strong maritime culture, and there's no better place to experience it than at the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.

This fascinating museum invites tourists to step inside Submarine EML Lembit, a 1930s-era vessel that is one of the few remaining submarines of its time. You can also hop aboard the Suur Tõll icebreaker and explore the powerful steamer's captain's cabin, crew rooms, and officers' mess hall. Hundreds of other artifacts displayed throughout the museum continue to tell the story of maritime history in Estonia.

The structure of the museum itself is just as interesting as its contents. Originally built to house seaplanes in Peter the Great's Naval Fortress, the hangar features "the world's first columnless thin-shell concrete domes of such volume." It remained in use until World War II. It's amazing that the cavernous space requires no vertical supports to hold its weight.

Address: Vesilennuki tänav 6, Põhja-Tallinna linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: http://meremuuseum.ee/lennusadam/en/

3. Tallinn TV Tower

Tallin TV Tower

Proudly standing 314 meters in the clouds, the Tallinn TV Tower is a must-visit attraction in Estonia. Tourists can get panoramic views of Tallinn and the Gulf of Finland from the tower's observation deck on the 21st floor. You won't want to forget your camera when sightseeing here.

Craving an adrenaline rush? Check out the Tallinn TV Tower's Walk on the Edge experience. It will strap you into a harness and let you walk along the ledge of the tower's outdoor terrace. You can even dangle your feet over the 175-meter drop. Don't look down!

This Tallinn attraction also features a number of other less fear-inducing attractions that prove fun for every type of traveler. There's a high-speed elevator that whisks tourists to the observation deck in just 49 seconds. Try out a career in broadcast journalism and record your very own news clip at the TV studio on the first floor. And learn more about the history of Estonia's tallest building, including its construction for the 1980 Summer Olympics, at the TV Tower history exhibition.

Buy your tickets online in advance to avoid wasting time in a long line.

Address: Kloostrimetsa tee 58a, Pirita linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: https://www.teletorn.ee/en/

4. Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle

Toompea Hill has always been the core of power in Estonia. Various rulers of Estonia have changed the Toompea Castle to their liking over the last 800 years, starting with the initial stone structure built by the German Knights of the Sword in the 13th century and eventually turning into a tickle-me-pink Baroque palace, courtesy of Catherine the Great. It's now home to the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament), which commemorates the country's independence by raising the national flag atop the 14th-century Tall Hermann tower every morning.

Tourists can take free guided tours of the Toompea Castle in English, Russian, or Estonian on weekdays, with advance reservations. You'll get to explore the inside of the rosy building, hear about its storied past, and learn about the structure of the Riigikolu.

After your tour, walk 500 meters northeast to the Patkuli viewing platform for an epic panoramic vista of Tallinn. From here, you can see straight down to the port.

Address: Lossi plats 1a, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: https://www.riigikogu.ee/en/visit-us/toompea-castle/

5. Aleksander Nevski Katedraali

Aleksander Nevski Katedraali

Take one look at the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, and you might think you've somehow stumbled into St. Petersburg. The 120-year-old cathedral, located directly across from the Toompea Castle, exudes sacred Russian Orthodox style, with five bulbous onion domes crowned by gilded iron crosses and an ornate brown and white exterior. It also houses 11 bells, including the largest one in Tallinn, which clocks in at a whopping 15 tons. You can hear their sounds ringing through the city for most of the day.

While beautiful and well-maintained, the cathedral hasn't always received a warm welcome from Tallinn. Many Estonians saw it as an oppressive symbol from Russia in the early- to mid-20th century and demanded it be demolished. However, that proposal didn't move forward, and the cathedral still stands today.

Address: Lossi plats 10, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn

6. Kadriorg Park

Kadriorg Palace

Aleksander Nevski Katedraali isn't the only remaining artifact of Russian influence in Tallinn. You can also see it at Kadriorg Park and the palace within it, both commissioned by Czar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine, in 1718.

About four kilometers east of Tallinn's Old Town, the lush 70-hectare expanse is the go-to place for a heavy dose of nature therapy in the city. Tourists will see blooming flower beds laid out in geometric patterns, a luxurious swan pond, a serene Japanese garden, and an English landscape park with an oak grove.

More than just nature, the park is also home to a few impressive structures, the most notable of which is the Kadriorg Palace. Built as an imperial summer palace in the early 18th century, the elegant three-level building was inspired by Italian palaces of the time and now houses the Estonian Art Museum's collection of foreign works from the 16th to the 20th centuries. North of the palace, you can see the Office of the President of the Republic, a salmon-pink, Neo-Baroque building where the Estonian president works.

Address: August Weizenbergi tänav 10, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: http://www.kadriorupark.ee/park-eng/areas-of-the-park

7. Kumu Art Museum

Sculptures at the Kumu Art Museum

After you've had your fill of Kadriorg Park, stroll over to the Kumu Art Museum, an award-winning institution that serves as the headquarters of the Estonian Art Museum. It houses a vast collection of contemporary art and serves as a multifunctional space for educational programs and events.

The main permanent exhibition on the third floor offers tourists the opportunity to see Estonian art classics from the 18th century to the conclusion of World War II. Featured artists include Johann Köler, Kristjan Raud, and Konrad Mägi. The works are laid out in such a way that tourists can see how local art styles changed in parallel with the Estonian mentality.

On the fourth floor, a more recently opened part of the permanent exhibition focuses on Estonian Art during the Soviet Era. The collection dives into the many complexities of producing creative works under the strict rules of the Communist Party, as well as the changes that occurred as restrictions on art eased toward the 1980s.

The permanent collections give tourists plenty to ponder, but should you want an even deeper immersion in local art, check out the museum's fascinating temporary exhibits, which explore a variety of mediums and expressions.

Address: August Weizenbergi tänav 34, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: https://kumu.ekm.ee/en/

8. Estonian Open Air Museum

Traditional wooden windmill at the Estonian Open Air Museum

Experience the lifestyles of Estonians from hundreds of years ago at the Estonian Open Air Museum. Located in the seaside area Rocca al Mare, a 20-minute drive from the heart of Tallinn, this year-round, outdoor, educational attraction includes 14 farms that recreate the way rural Estonian villagers and fishing communities lived from the 18th century to the 20th century.

Tourists can wander through many of the 74 buildings scattered around the 72-hectare property. You'll see a traditional school house, seaside fishing sheds, historic homes, a fire station, and windmills, many of which were plucked from their home villages and brought to Tallinn.

When you work up an appetite, head to the authentic inn to refuel with national dishes, like forest mushroom soup, grits with turnip, and salt herring salad. Tourists can also take part in fun activities from yesteryear, including folk dances, midsummer bonfires, and horse rides.

Address: Vabaõhumuuseumi tee 12, Haabersti linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: https://evm.ee/eng/home

9. Kalev Chocolate Shop and Workshop

Kalev Chocolate Shop and Workshop | Maria Rantanen / photo modified

Marzipan, as with many traditional foods, has a disputed history. While some point to Germany as the birthplace of the almond sweet, others believe it was invented in Tallinn by a man who worked at the Raeapteek pharmacy.

What's not up for debate, however, is the best place to try marzipan in Estonia today: Kalev Chocolate Shop and Workshop. Located in the historic Rotermann Quarter, this sweets shop puts together tempting gift boxes of marzipan and handmade chocolates, along with quirky marzipan figures in animal shapes.

The shop also invites tourists to strap on an apron and try their hand at making their own treats in the workshop. This is a fun thing to do in Tallin if you have the time. The two-hour hands-on classes are guided by a master confectioner who will show you how to make chocolate truffles and mold and paint marzipan using centuries-old techniques. Don't be surprised if you eat as many sweets as you end up taking home at the end of this creative experience.

The Kalev Chocolate Shop and Workshop is just a short walk from the Port of Tallinn. If you're just visiting the Estonian capital on a cruise or day trip from Helsinki, you can easily squeeze in a class at the sweets shop, making your short experience even sweeter.

Address: Roseni tänav 7, Kesklinna linnaosa, Tallinn

Official site: https://kalev.eu/#73382

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