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There is so much to do with 24 hours in Tallinn, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
If there was a city of my dreams, Tallinn in Estonia would definitely be it! As soon as I arrived on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale. Castle towers and ramparts, church spires and colourful ancient buildings on every quaint cobbled street. It was like a fantasy that almost seemed too good to be true!
A lot of tourists choose to visit on a day trip from Helsinki to Tallinn, so I thought I’d share with you how to spend 24 hours in Tallinn Old Town. I’m well aware that Tallinn isn’t just the old part of the city, but I didn’t want to spread myself too thin only being there for only one day.
There is so much to see and do in this fairytale town. You’ll discover the most magical viewpoints, dine in medieval taverns, marvel at beautiful old buildings and climb the castle walls and towers.
Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Tallinn Old Town in Estonia!
Helsinki to Tallinn by Ferry
One of the most popular day trips from Helsinki in Finland is the ferry ride over to Tallinn for the day. It only takes two hours to reach and so it’s the perfect distance for a day exploring a new city!
Now, we’re not talking about your regular ferries here, these are like cruise liners! A resort on the seas with a business lounge, restaurants for all budgets, chic bars, a sun terrace, even Burger King and Starbuck’s. It’s also relatively affordable at around 35 Euro’s for the return passenger ferry (without a vehicle).
Once you dock up at the ferry port in Tallinn, a walk to the Old Town is only 15 minutes away. So, this gives you more time to explore!
Flying into Tallinn in Estonia
Do I need a visa to visit Tallinn?
As a UK Citizen, I didn’t need to purchase a tourist visa for my short visit to Estonia for the day. EU passports are granted free travel in EU countries (although I’m not sure for how long with Brexit looming!). This also applies to US citizens who are granted a 90 stay visa on arrival for free.
Always check before you travel. You can check your Estonia Schengen visa requirements here.
I did have to bring my passport with me on the Tallinn ferry for immigration, but this is done at check in with the Tallink Silja terminal in Helsinki. As soon as I arrived in Tallinn, I was free to disembark and explore!
How to get around Tallinn in Estonia
The Old Town of Tallinn is easily accessible on foot but if you did fancy heading out of the old part, Tallinn has a convenient public transport network that you can use. There are buses, trolleys and trams available and they run from 6am – 11pm a night.
There are also public taxis that run on a meter basis (make sure it is switched on) and Uber is also in operation here.
Why not try a Tallinn Card?
I would highly recommend that you invest in a 24 hour Tallinn Card for your stay. That way you get FREE access to the public transport network in Tallinn for the day and free entry to over 40 of the cities main attractions and museums around the city.
You can also get some amazing discounts on tours, activities and even shops and restaurants! I loved having this card in my pocket as it saved me quite a bit of money during my trip.
A Tallinn Card for 24 hours is 26 Euro’s per adult. But they also have deals on 48 hour and 72 hour passes too if you’re staying longer. You can order your Tallinn Card online, or pick one up in their visitor centre close to the Town Hall Square. It will be activated when you first use it on the public transport or an attraction.
How to spend 24 hours in Tallinn Old Town
1. Visit the Town Hall Square
This is the main hub of Old Town Tallinn and it’s a beauty! Here you’ll find a gorgeous cobbled square with quirky shaped colourful buildings, the medieval Town Hall and lot’s of restaurants with umbrellas out front to enjoy a drink or a meal.
This particular Town Hall in Tallinn is pretty special as it’s the oldest Town Hall in the Baltic Region and Scandinavia, dating all the way back in the 13th century!
This Gothic building used to be a meeting room for citizens of the town council and many criminals would to stand trial here as it acted as a court house too. It was such for 700 years until 1970 when it became listed a UNESCO world heritage building.
It’s only open a few months of the year for visitors and inside there are many treasures including the famous Tristan and Isolde carved bench! But, it’s still pretty to marvel at from the outside and you must look out for Vana Toomas’ (Old Thomas) weather vane from 1530 that still stands today!
The Town Hall Square is FREE to visit and is open 24 hours a day. The Town Hall and Tower has limited opening times and dates throughout the year, see here for more details. Entrance is free with a Tallinn Card, it’s 5 Euro’s without.
2. Marvel at Patkuli viewing platform
Patkuli viewpoint was my favourite of them all, even over ‘The Times We Had’ in Kohtuotsa. This viewing platform really does give you the best fairytale view of the whole city! It reminded me of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the Disney movie.
As I was here on a beautifully sunny day, I could see the church spires, historical buildings, castle towers and even the Baltic Sea and beyond. It was magical and took my breath away.
There are a few souvenir shops located here, a Glögg stall selling hot wine, and a telescope you can pay for so you can get a close up view. It’s packed with large tour groups in the middle of the day, but early morning it was really peaceful.
If you only go to one viewpoint in Tallinn, let this be it! But, it’s actually only three minutes away from the Kohtuotsa viewing platform so you can easily see a few of them for panoramic views in no time.
Read more about this here. The Patkuli viewing platform is FREE to visit and is open 24 hours a day.
3. Climb the city walls and visit Kiek in de Kök
Climbing the city walls should be at the top of your Tallinn bucket list! Tallinn, or known in medieval times as Reval, was a walled city that was originally built for defence against their enemies. The first wall was ordered to be built in 1265 by Margaret Sambiria, known as the Margaret Wall.
Did you know that Tallinn is nicknamed the city of towers as it has 21 defence towers still standing today? At it’s height there used to be 36 towers surrounding the Old Town but many haven’t stood the test of time!
My favourite museum was Kiek in de Kök which translates to “peek into the kitchen”. It was the most powerful defence tower of medieval Tallinn and is the mightiest defence tower of the Baltics!
Inside, as you wind your way to the top, you can learn all about the history of Reval in medieval times. There are videos and exhibits that provide all sorts of information on the era, including the tragic widespread plague which wiped out 40% of the populous (!) and famous battles that were fought to defend Tallinn. You can also climb through the secret hidden tunnels called Bastion Passages.
The Maiden’s Tower is also right next door and you can walk on the city ramparts here between them. Don’t forget to visit their café upstairs for some yummy food, coffee or a hot wine. They had an epic viewing platform right on the city ramparts too!
The Maiden’s Tower and Kiek in de Kök fortification museum is free with a Tallinn Card and 14 Euro’s per adult without. Opening times are 9-6pm daily.
4. Sip on some Glögg (hot wine)
I think hot wine became my blood type in Tallinn while I was here! Sipping a hot wine, or Glögg, in this city is almost like drinking vodka in Russia; it has to be done.
The Estonians called it Glögg which is similar to Glühwein or Mulled Wine as we call it in the UK. It’s wine heated up with spices and some strong alcohol like rum, vodka or Vana Tallinn mixed in.
As Tallinn is cold more often than not, you’ll see lot’s of hot wine or Glögg stalls dotted around the city and tourists clutching them to keep their hands and bodies warm.
Hot wine or Glögg in Tallinn costs anything between 3 – 5 Euro’s for a cup and it tastes utterly delicious!
The most amazing place that I tried hot wine was in the Maiden’s Tower café. You could actually sit on the city walls to enjoy it with the most epic views of St Nicholas Church!
You will need to buy tickets into the Kiek in de Kök fortification museum to enter the café. See above for prices and opening times.
5. Strike a pose by the ‘Times We Had Sign’ on Kohtuotsa viewing platform
Kohtuotsa viewing platform is the most Instagrammable spot in Tallinn and for good reason, its a spectacular view! Unlike Patkuli viewing platform, you can sit on the wall under ‘The Times We Had’ sign, strike a pose and get a really stunning photo as a souvenir to show for it.
Although it is busy with tourists at all times of the day, you can easily get this part of the platform free without the crowds for a selfie.
If you’re not interested in getting photos of you, then the view will not disappoint. From here, you can see all the red rooftops, church spires and the Baltic Sea. It really is worth a stop.
When you’re done with the view, you can find a souvenir shop, Glögg stall and an art gallery to wander into.
The Times We Had Sign or Kohtuotsa viewing platform is FREE and open 24 hours of the day
6. Go on a FREE ‘Tales of Reval’ medieval walking tour
If you’re here for only one day and stuck for time, you should take up a FREE walking tour by Tales of Reval. Reval was what medieval Tallinn used to be called before it was renamed Tallinn only a mere 100 years ago.
I was gutted I missed out on the tour, but I met them half way around and it looked like SO much fun. The tour guides are all dressed up in medieval garb and are in character to show you around Old Tallinn!
They’re actually guided performances that last 90 minutes and they will take you on an entertaining journey through 800 years of history! You only walk a maximum of 1.2 kilometres to the city highlights so it’s easy going and, of what I saw, it’s really funny with acting, music and lots of laughter.
Like with any free walking tour, donations are usually expected for the tour guides time. So, come prepared.
Tales of Reval run FREE walking tours at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm meeting outside the tourist information centre by the Town Hall Square.
7. Check out the Danish King’s Garden and ‘Breathe Baby’ viewpoint
The Danish King’s Garden, next to Toompea hill and St Nicholas’ church, is another viewing platform you have to check out. According to legend, during the Danish invasion, a flag descended from the sky which helped King Valdemar II win the battle. That flag then became the national flag of Denmark.
The Danish reign lasted around a century here and each year on the 15th of June, Dannebrog or Day of the Danish flag is celebrated. There are three ghoulish looking monk statues dotted around which give you more information about the area too.
Again, this is a popular spot for tour groups but for good reason. It had a nice atmosphere to it with buskers playing happy songs, a Glögg stall and it’s also where the entrance to the Maiden’s Tower and Kiek in de Kök museum is too if you fancied climbing up the city walls.
Don’t forget to strike a pose under the ‘Breathe Baby’ sign, it’s another Instagram spot! Find more of the best views of Tallinn here.
8. Marvel at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, or Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, in Tallinn can be seen for miles around with its pretty onion domed towers.
It was built on Toompea Hill in the year 1900, when Estonia was still part of the Czarist Empire of Russia. It was originally intended to show dominance and power over the city and was dedicated to Prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky.
Although originally it was a controversial monument to assert authority, it’s now a stunning architectural masterpiece to enjoy.
Not only is it pretty to look at from the outside, the inside is spectacular and is home to Tallinn’s largest church bell which weighs 15 tonnes!
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is FREE To visit and is open from 8am – 6pm Monday to Sunday. It may be closed to tourists during services.
9. Climb up Olav’s tower
For the best tower view of the whole city, I would recommend Olav’s Tower in the Gothic Olav’s Church. It get’s its name from being dedicated to King Olaf II of Norway.
Once upon a time, it used to be the tallest building in the world until 1652. It’s church spire would act like a lighthouse for ships trying to navigate their way into the harbour and I could see it from the Helsinki ferry when we pulled in. The spire used to be 159 metres tall but it also was an awesome lightning rod, which then burning down the tower three times.
It’s now 124 metres tall and It’s not an easy climb of a gruelling 300 steps, especially after all that Glögg haha. But, trust me, the view is SO worth it!
When I finally reached the top, it was almost surreal. I was standing on the top a freaking church tower! I could actually touch the spire that I had seen from the ferry and had been admiring all day. When else can you say you can do that?! See my guide about this here.
Entrance to St. Olav’s church is FREE and open 10am – 6pm. Olav’s tower is free with a Tallinn Card and 3 Euro’s without, sore legs are also free ;)
10. Sip mead at Olde Hansa
Just like Tallinn was the city of my dreams, if there was a bar of my dreams Olde Hansa is it! A medieval Hanseatic tavern, lit by candlelight, serving up their very own mead?! Count me in!
The meaning of Old Hansa is derived from Old German meaning ‘the old tribe’. It’s the home of a rich merchant who is eager to welcome you to enjoy Hansa dishes and drinks.
Yes, it’s touristy, blah blah, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun. Actually, on reflection this place is hands down EPIC.
The staff are all dressed in medieval clothes, there’s medieval music in the air, mead is plentiful, served in ceramics and it’s cosy inside when it’s frosty out!
Whereas in UK we serve mead like wine, their Hansa mead is like the vikings used to drink it as an ale. It comes in two choices; dark with honey or light with cinnamon. I chose the dark one and it was so yummy. It’s pricey at 6 Euro’s but worth every penny.
Along with their cask ales at the bar, they have a menu full of medieval platters on offer all made with authentic 15th century recipes. You can buy legs of pork, boar, fish platters, bear (!) and the Master Cook’s feast of three courses. If you come in the evening you can experience live medieval music too.
Don’t forget to check out the Olde Hansa shop!
Don’t forget to check out their shop where you can purchase your very own mead cups and bottles to take home. Make sure you sample their Gold Grüber, a strong sprit that gives you twenty flavours after you’ve sipped it for two minutes. No kidding!
Olde Hansa is open from 11am – 11pm on Sunday to Thursday and 11am – 12am on Friday’s and Saturday’s. Live music doesn’t take place on Monday’s.
11. Visit the Town Hall Pharmacy
This old apothecary, open since 1422, is the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe! The Burchart family ran this place for ten generations from the 16th to the 20th century. During the Czarist Empire, it was so famous, the Tsar himself used to order medicines from here.
It also used to be a popular for selling Marzipan and some say that it was invented there in the 15th century. They would sell it to cure broken hearts of love stricken medieval folk. I guess today the cure is no different and, although not medically advised, we trade it for chocolate and ice cream lol!
Today this is a working pharmacy selling 21st century medicine, but you can go inside to their museum and learn about cures of old. On display are things like powdered unicorn horn, snakeskin, horse dung and mummy juice, YUCK! Can you imagine swallowing that?
The Town Hall Pharmacy and museum is FREE to enter and open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 6pm.
12. Walk down the beautiful Saiakang street
This picturesque little street in Tallinn is definitely worth a mention. Saiakang, translates to “white bread” and gets its name from the bakeries that used to sell bread, cakes and pies since medieval times.
There is a café where you can treat yourself to a coffee and a cake, or have a look at the stops nearby.
I couldn’t help but admire this bright triangular shaped building that was here! It’s called the Little Red House, or Oma Asi, selling unique creations by local artists. It really is made for a postcard.
Saiakang street is FREE and open 24 hours a day. Oma Asi is open from 10am – 7pm.
13. Check out St. Catherine’s Passage or Katariina Käik
Katariina käik or St Catherine’s Passage, that used to be known as Monk’s Alley, is a photogenic lane in Old Town Tallinn that snakes behind the back of the ruin of St Catherine’s church. It’s one of the finest examples of a medieval laneway in the city and on the walls, you can find ancient tombstones.
Today, it’s home to the St. Catherine’s guild, a series of craft workshops selling clothes, ceramics, jewellery and glassware. You can stop by, check out their cute stores and buy some authentic Estonian products!
14. Visit the House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads or Mustpeade Maja
On the way over the the Old Town Square you may pass a rather interesting, red, green and gold door on the street. It’s a scene worthy of a postcard and rightly so! In fact, they sell many postcards with this door on at the gift shops.
The House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads were a group of young and unmarried medieval ship merchants which started around the 14th century. They only ran in Estonia and Latvia and this very house used to act as their headquarters. Later, it expanded and moved to Hamburg in Germany which it still runs out of today.
On doing further research, the Brotherhood of Black Heads was a military organisation that helped with the defence of Reval in medieval times. But, it also used to help out with many community efforts including the Tallinn city Christmas tree each year!
You can go inside to take a peek at the building which is now a museum. They also hold concerts here at certain times of the year.
Don’t forget to visit the famous bar Hell Hunt if you have time, it’s just down the street from here!
The House of the Brotherhood of Black heads is open on certain days but see here for details. Closed during concerts
15. Dine in the Rataskaevu district
After all that sightseeing, you’ll probably want to stop for some lunch and where better than Rataskaevu? Over the pricey medieval restaurants, It’s a popular stop for tourists and locals as they have decent prices.
The most famous restaurant here is Rataskaevu 16. It’s number one on Tripadvisor and for good reason, the food is delicious! It’s the perfect place to sample some quintessential Estonian cuisine.
From their extensive menu, I went for the fresh Baltic herring fillets to start, a scrumptious pork wing to finish and washed it down with a pint of local Saku, a popular draft beer.
It was a pretty decent price of 20 Euro’s for two courses with beer. Especially for the centre of Tallinn!
Weird tip, but don’t miss out on a visit to their bathrooms haha! During the building renovations the team found the old heating blocks under the floor and decided to creatively display them. I almost had a heart attack thinking I was going to drop in the hole.
Rataskaevu 16 is open daily from 12pm – 11pm Sunday to Thursday and 12pm – 12am Friday’s and Saturday’s.
Don’t forget to explore more attractions in Tallinn
Although this covers all the amazing highlights in Old Town and how to spend 24 hours in Tallinn, there is so much more to this city than just the medieval Reval!
There’s the picture perfect Kadriorg Palace built for Peter the Great, a baroque building which is now an art museum.
All of these are FREE with a Tallinn Card, so don’t forget to purchase one before you go!