I actually spent three days in Tallinn, but it was a work trip so the time I got to myself was pretty short. I wasn’t keen on wandering about by myself in the dark, so what I learned about Tallinn Old Town was in the one – two hours of evening daylight left after work. You might have read my post – What I Learned about Tallinn Old Town recently, so with all that in mind I’ve put the hours I got together to make this small itinerary for Tallinn Old Town in 24 hours.
Tallinn Old Town – Where to stay
I stayed at the Radisson Blu, just on the outskirts of the Old Town. There were plenty of little Inn’s and guest houses within the Old Town that had a lot more character, but the Radisson was very nice and comfortable. It was a ten minute walk to the Old Town square, and a 15 minute taxi ride to the airport.
Although most of the places I saw to stay in the Old Town were little Inn’s, I did come across the more luxurious Telegraph Hotel in the Old Town too, which looked lovely and still had the old town charm about it. The more typical chain hotels like the Radisson and the Hilton were just outside.
You’ll be really surprised how much of Tallinn Old Town you will actually see in one go, so while this itinerary might seem like a lot for one day, it’s so small that you can easily get around the whole place within a day. It’s worth noting though that I didn’t go in anywhere, some places were closed for winter like the Town Hall Tower, and the city walls, but I also just didn’t have time.
Tallinn Itinerary – Breakfast
I’m sure most places you could stay would all provide breakfast, but if you’re like me and prefer to get out into the area for most meals, Tallinn is full of unique options. They’re dotted about, and many of the best can be found down side alleys and through archways.
I google’d a few before going, and if I hadn’t I think I’d have given up the search, as many are found behind small doorways and in courtyards that look like nothing from the outside. You feel like you must have the wrong place, until you get inside and a whole new world of hot coffee, quirky decor, and flaky pastries line the counters.
Tallinn Itinerary. AM – Town Hall Square and Upper Tallinn
Town Hall Square
Start your day at Tallinn City Hall square, in the heart of the Old Town. A huge open square right in the middle, with the City Hall stood along the length of one side, and picturesque, timbered coloured buildings making up the three other sides. It looked like a storybook.
Tallinn City Hall is the oldest of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, and in the summer you can go inside and climb the tower. It stands in the square which is the centre spot of Lower Tallinn. The square was pretty empty, and covered in snow so it looked beautiful.
The old coloured buildings that surround it are mainly bars and cafes, which spill out into outdoor tables and seating areas in the summer. When I visited though, they glowing insides and signs promising roaring fires were much more inviting. I can imagine it would be a different place in the summer, when I’m told they also have open air performances and medieval festivals.
In winter, the square hosts the giant Christmas market, with the huge Christmas tree in the centre. The market was long gone but the tree was still standing, and I found that quite a few shops and bars still had their Christmas decorations up too. Apparently they keep them up until after Chinese New Year. It did make me want to visit in December in future, I bet it’s beautiful and so festive.
The Oldest Pharmacy in Europe
In the corner to the left of the City Hall as you look at it, is the oldest pharmacy in Europe, named Raeapteek. It is still a working pharmacy today, but the back room is more of a museum display of medicines and remedies from over the centuries.
The front room is a more modern area, to pick up subscriptions, but in the basement you can test out herbs, and recipes of more modern times. It still looked like Professor Snape’s potion classroom.
From the square, head towards the signs for Toompea Hill along a street called ‘Kinga’, and turn up ‘Pikk’ street. Tallinn Old Town is made up of Upper and Lower Tallinn, but it’s still all easily walkable. Wear comfy shoes though because it is all cobbled streets, potentially snowy, and uphill.
The walk up to the top of the hill was just as picturesque as the Town Hall square. All the houses are pastel colours, the shops are the same with pretty little displays and fairy lights outside, and nearly every doorway is more decorated and elaborate than the last. Have a look at my photo post of some of Tallinn’s doorways for the full collection.
On your way to the top of the hill you’ll pass under a city wall tower, and then up a high walled street with the university high up above you on your right.
Essentially you’re winding your way up the hill in a zig zag, and turning the corner at the top of the first hairpin bend you will see the back of the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral ahead of you.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The huge and brightly coloured St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, is the Russian Orthodox church with big onion shaped domes and spires on it’s roof. It sits almost at the top of Toompea Hill. Go inside and see the mosaic designs on the walls, and hear the bells ring, but watch your bags I spotted a number of beggars hiding in the shadows as you enter. They seemed harmless but better to be safe than sorry.
The Cathedral sits directly opposite the bright pink Toompea Castle, so this is your next stop.
The idea of upper and lower Tallinn, is that Upper Tallinn is seen as the place of power, overlooking the rest of the city. Toompea Castle dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, and has housed the city rulers over the many years since then.
Today the Palace is where the Estonian parliament holds court, and visitors can go inside without a cost and sit in the public gallery.
Coming back onto the path up to the very top of the hill, you’ll find a cafe and a couple of pubs next to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral if you want a pit stop, but keep going and you’ll find some more buildings of power.
As you wander on the path will level out, and wind it’s way through all the political buildings and so many embassies. Each one is a different colour with a different flag draped out of it’s front door, and it makes a lovely change to the big grey concrete embassies you usually find in capital cities.
You will find yourself coming out into another square at the top of the hill, called Kiriku Platz, and in the middle of it the giant white St Mary’s Cathedral of Tallinn. It looked very surreal when I was there, due to the entire scene being white with the snow.
Walking off the square down a street called Kohtu, it got pretty quiet and I was starting to wonder where I was or what I was going to come across. Some little doorways were boarded up, but the odd one was open selling Estonian souvenirs like amber and Russian dolls.
I came across a medieval looking cart, with two women draped in shawls and hooded capes, literally it was like being back in time. They were serving roast chestnuts. For them to be out in the freezing cold I thought surely I must be on the right path, and turning the next corner I found the most popular tourist spot in Tallinn.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
The view suddenly opens up in front of you, with the large open platform overlooking the entirety of lower Old Town Tallinn. The pink walls surround you, but the city sprawls out ahead and you realise just how small it is. All of the iconic church spires are looming out from the sea of red rooftops, that were all dusted with snow.
On the left wall of the platform is the most photographed spot in the city ‘The Times We Had…’, which they say means something different to everyone who reads it.
I visited this spot twice in my time in Tallinn, the first time it was a pretty snowy cold day, but on the advice of some of my colleagues I returned in the evening the following night which was a really clear day.
The view on the clear evening was absolutely breathtaking. You can see as far as the sea and the port, and as the skies turn a deep blue the little lights of all the old Tallinn Buildings switch on and start twinkling. It’s a beautiful sight and one I’ve not known anywhere else I’ve been to. It would be truly magical at Christmas time with a hot coffee from one of the little stalls, and all of the fairy lights twinkling in the snow.
Whenever you visit Tallinn, really try to get to this spot in both the day and the evening for both beautiful views.
Retracing your steps back down the hill into the lower Old Town, take a different turn down a street called Piiskopi. You will come out through the old city wall and onto other hidden viewing platform. It’s smaller and the view isn’t as good, but this little platform is the gardens of the church, and is known as Bishops Garden. This explains the strange and slightly scary looking statues!
By the time you get to the bottom of the hill again it will be lunchtime. Find a cafe and enjoy the huge array of sandwiches, filled croissants, sweet treats and coffee that seemed to be in every one. They’re dotted all around the Old Town, and I’m not sure which one I ate at but you won’t struggle to find one.
Tallinn Itinerary. PM: Lower Tallinn, The Town Wall, Freedom Square and Patkuli Viewing Platform
Once you’ve refuelled, wander through the lower old town. One of the main sights to see here is St Olav’s church, which dates back to the 12th Century and was once even the tallest building in the world. You wouldn’t believe it really nowadays, but it it impressive and recognisable from almost everywhere in the city.
My favourite bit of wandering through Tallinn Old Town were the streets themselves, which were lined with cafes, museums, galleries and old buildings but that were all different colours. It really is the prettiest place.
I came across the train stop, which will take you on a tour of the city, and the most medieval looking pub I’ve ever seen called Olde Hanse. Local town folk were stood outside trying to lure you in, and I think they were dressed up in their big fur shawls but sometimes it was hard to tell.
This square at the far end of the old town is probably the grandest spot of the lower town, and certainly the most modern. There is a monument to the War of Independence, a LOT of Estonian flags, and St Johns Church. It was nice to see it, especially is this year Estonia will celebrate 100 years of Independence, but when there aren’t parades or celebrations there isn’t much else to see.
Continue up past the War of Independence Monument, and you will come across a stretch of the old city wall, and some of the defence towers including Kiek in de Kok.
Kiek in de Kok
This is one of the biggest defence towers still in tact, and is also now a museum of the old weaponry, canons and the structure of the city walls. You can also access the network of underground passages that run right under Toompea Hill.
The towers name is translated into ‘Peek into the kitchen’ because it is the tallest one in tower and the joke was that guards could look down from it into the kitchens of the houses below. It still has the marks of ancient battles, with old canon balls still lodged in it’s walls.
Tallinn City Walls and Viru Gate
The Tallinn Town Walls are amazing to see, and with 20 towers still in tact they form such a unique part of the city skyline. Three of the towers give access to the public up onto the walls themselves, where you can walk around and see the city from all angles, as they were intended. These towers are called Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala towers, but sadly for me they were closed for winter.
If you visit when the walls are open definitely go up and wander round, they look fabulous and will undoubtedly offer more great views of the city. Instead I walked around the base of them, and came back around into the bottom of the old town at Viru Gate.
To one side of the gate there is quite a stretch of the wall, that also houses some locals and their market stalls through the day. It was like an old fashioned flea market, selling clothe and scarves.
This passage along the old wall is called Muurivahe Street and it was a bit spooky at night, looking like a scene from Game of Thrones but really atmospheric for one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.
Leading off from this street is Catherine’s Passage, a narrow old stone passage, with a colourful end that connects Muurivage street with Vene Street.
This ancient lane is named Catherine’s Passage as it runs behind what was St Catherine’s Church, but it is now an area of craft shops and art workrooms. You can see glass blowing and pottery making as it happens, as well as purchase your own from the galleries.
Before your final uphill hike of the day, you might want a sugar rush and there’s no better place than Pierre Chocolaterie cafe. Everything here has chocolate in it, every drink, every bit of cake, and obviously all of the handmade truffles in all sort of flavours in the cabinet. Walking down the alley into a snow covered courtyard, I wasn’t entirely sure I was in the right place, but that’s pretty normal in Tallinn Old Town.
Old fashioned music was playing through speakers I couldn’t see, and it sounded a bit like the tunes you would get in a wind up jewellery box. I saw the door labelled up as the cafe so climbed the tiny wooden stairs and went inside.
It’s like an Aladdins cave crossed with a Moulin Rouge bohemian boudoir and an old granny’s living room. It’s frilly and velvet and plush all in one, with quaint tiny tables and quirky dimly lit lights on each one. It’s totally surreal but the entire menu is chocolate and I strongly recommend you sample the white chocolate and the mint chocolate truffles – amazing.
Patkuli Viewing Platform
Your final location of the day before getting some food should be Patkuli Viewing Platform, located on the side of Toompea Hill. It isn’t as far to walk as Kohtuotsa, but it is over 150 steps to the top. In the snow it was a bit precarious, but as you climb higher the view just gets better.
Before you reach the top there is a level which will definitely make you want to take a photo, but as the graffiti says, put your camera away and enjoy the view! Quite ironic that I took a photo of it really but never mind.
Keep going because the view at the top is even better. Another fabulous sight of Tallinn Old Town awaits you, with an even better view of the old walls, some of the towers, and many of the Church spires.
Tallinn Itinerary: Dinner
Once you’ve had your fill of yet another beautiful view, round off your day with a good hearty meal. The food in Tallinn is very meat based, but I did spy a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants too. Tallinn Old Town might be small, but you will have walked a good distance especially if you’ve walked the walls and up to all of the viewing platforms.
Traditional Estonian food can be found at Kuldse Notsu Korts, in the centre of lower Old Town near the square, which serves dishes like boar, pheasant, fish, and beef.
You could also eat at Olde Hanse, which is more of a pub style environment as I mentioned earlier. From the outside it looked like the atmosphere in there would take you well into the night with more than just a pint or two.
I ate at Controvento, which was a really amazing little Italian that I was recommended by a local, and it’s about halfway down Catherine’s Passage. If I hadn’t been down there in the day I’m not sure I’d have ventured down in the dark, but it was worth it. The food and wine were really good, and the service was great and very friendly.
For a more upmarket meal the Lounge 24 restaurant at the Radisson was also really nice, with an outdoor terrace and views right over Tallinn.
This might seem like a huge amount of things to see in one day, but because of the size of Tallinn it is totally doable. I retraced my steps a number of times in the days I spent there, and each time I did come across new places and little streets to explore, so while you can see a lot in one day, it is definitely somewhere you could spend three or four days easily to explore it further.
This itinerary covers the main sights, without actually going in to museums or the many galleries and ancient walls in more detail. It’s also based on visiting in the winter, which was amazing in the snow, but I’d love to see it in the summer too. I can imagine it’s a completely different place with open air cafes and people crowding all the best viewing spots.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and if you’re visiting I hope it offers some tips!
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