10 Fun Ways To Spend 24 or 48 Hours In Tallinn
Here at CityXplora we're often asked whether our sightseeing bus tours are good for short stay cruise excursions, and if they have stops close to the ship terminals. The Tallinn City Bus Tour is one such sightseeing service where we're happy to say that not only is it a perfect way to experience the Estonian capital, but is one in which the buses stop extremely close to the gangway.
As visitors who arrive in Tallinn by cruise ship are likely to have a day or two at the most to explore the city, we've put together a list of sights and attractions that you're sure to enjoy within a short space of time. They're arranged in an order that corresponds to the bus routes, so if you find you're lacking time to visit them all then you can pick and choose sections at will. Take panoramic snaps of the ancient city centre, discover Estonia's rural heritage, and stroll through some of Northern Europe's most stunning gardens.
What's clear about Estonia's capital is that it's a place of highly underrated beauty. Few other cities in Europe so tactfully straddle the fine line between modern, developed metropolis and charming, old-world relic. Give yourself at least 24 or 48 hours and make them unforgettable.
For excellent Tallinn dining suggestions, see the 'Travel Community Recommendations' at the bottom of the page.
1, Estonian Maritime Museum (Pikk 70, 10133 Tallinn)
We'll assume for simplicities sake that you're going to be disembarking at cruise terminals A or B, two of the city's busiest. What to do is catch the next 'red line' bus at stop 9 and ride until you reach stop 11. This will place you within short walking distance of the Estonian Maritime Museum.
This attraction is located within Fat Margaret Tower, a city gate constructed during the early 16th century as an elaboration on the original medieval city gate. So not only are you starting your journey at a well-renowned museum, but at the main entrance to Tallinn's historic heart.
Inside the Maritime Museum itself you'll be greeted by a plethora of nautical artefacts. Some of these date back to ancient times and many more from as recently as the Soviet Occupation. What's also great about this place is its modern, eye-catching displays. Everything from scaled-down models and ships anchors, to early diving suits and cannons are arranged chronologically throughout the circular exhibition spaces. If the Maritime Museum sounds like your thing then just before heading to stop 11 you might want to first check out stop 10.
Here is where you'll find the Seaplane Harbour, a recent extension to the museum that houses full-sized vessels such as a 1930s mine-laying submarine, a steam-powered icebreaker, and a reconstructed wreck from the 16th century.
Once you're done in the old Maritime Museum take a stroll down Pikk Street, which extends south of Fat Margaret Tower, until you reach Mündi, a narrow boutique-lined close that opens out onto Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square).
Raekoja plats is a classic medieval square, beautifully maintained and packed with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops as well as market stalls during certain times of the week. Either grab something to eat here or continue down one of the various south-eastern streets towards St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste Museum), the Kiek in de Kök, Toompea Castle, and our 2nd highlight.
2, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Lossi plats 10, 10130 Tallinn)
Constructed during a time when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire and ironically left to rot during the Soviet era, the restored Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is today the most striking piece of Russian Orthodox architecture in Tallinn. Outside it sports five beautiful onion domes topped with Orthodox crosses and exterior mosaic panels. Venture inside and you'll encounter three stunningly gilded iconostases as well as copper chandeliers modelled after those in the Moscow Kremlin's court church.
3, Museum Of Occupations (Toompea 8, 10142 Tallinn)
After admiring the Alexander Nevsky we'd recommend two things: catching a 'blue line' bus at stop 2 and visiting highlights 4 & 5, or venturing down Toompea Street towards the Museum of Occupations. Do whichever you'd like first, or miss one out altogether, the choice is yours.
During its long history Estonia has seen more than its fair share of invaders, and never more so than during the first half of the 20th century. The Museum of the Occupations examines three tumultuous stages in Estonia's recent history: the first Soviet occupation (1940-41), Nazi occupation (1941–44), and the second Soviet occupation (1944–91). Pay a visit and receive fascinating insights into the nation's social history and learn about how people's daily lives were affected. A few of the most eye-opening artefacts in the collection include original weapons and uniforms of the occupation forces, larger-than-life busts of Russian figure heads, and original prison doors used by Soviet police.
Museum of Occupations pictures © Museum of Occupations.
4, Estonian Open Air Museum (Vabaõhumuuseumi tee 12, 13521 Tallinn)
A visit to the Estonian Open Air Museum will take you on a journey east of the Old Town towards the western district of Rocca al Mare. Here you'll encounter an extensively reconstructed 18th-century rural village. Featuring live reenactors and life-sized facilities the aim of this place is to give visitors fun, hands-on insights into a way of life long since passed. Old building, farming and finishing techniques are just a few of the site's daily activities, along with handicrafts and husbandry.
5, Tallinn Zoo (Paldiski maantee 145, Tallinn)
Occupying some 210 acres west of central Tallinn, Estonia's only zoo is a treat for all ages. It's home to the world's most northerly herd of captive African Elephants, as well as a young family of Amur Leopards and a number of Polar Bears. The zoo is also notable for holding the world's largest collection of mountain goats and wild sheep in a custom built enclosure. The European Mink, once extinct in the wild, has recently been reintroduced back into its native Estonian habit thanks to the organisation's painstaking conservancy program. A few of these minks are still on display to the public, as are two other highly endangered beasts, a pair of young Black Rhinos.
Tallinn Zoo pictures © Christina Daous & Signe Kalgan.
6, Kadriorg Palace & Grounds (A. Weizenbergi 37, 10127 Tallinn)
Once you're done at highlights 4 & 5 hop back aboard the buses and follow the blue line back to its 11th stop. Here you'll be able to exchange over to the green line, which after a brief pass of Viru Square travels on towards Kadriorg Palace.
Kadriorg Palace and its adjoining grounds were constructed between 1718 and 1725 as a summer residence for Tsarina Catherine I by her husband Peter the Great. As western European architectural styles were very much in vogue amongst the Russian nobility of the era, Kadriorg has survived into modern times as one of the finest Petrine Baroque structures in the world. Today its main function is that of an art museum, with Estonian pieces ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day. If you're just looking for a place to stroll then they don't come much more spectacular than the ornate gardens.
7, Estonian History Museum (Pirita tee 56, 10127 Tallinn)
If you enjoyed the Museum of the Occupations and want to learn even more about Estonia's history then the History Museum is the place to be. Located within the medieval Great Guild Hall this illustrious institution charts the development of Estonia from neolithic times to the modern day.
8, Tallinn Botanic Garden (Kloostrimetsa tee 52, 11913 Tallinn)
The 300-acre Tallinn Botanic Garden is easily the capital's pièce de résistance when it comes to public green spaces. Arriving by tour bus you'll be set down close to the Winter Garden, from which point the rest of the park stretches out down forested trails. You can either set out on your own and discover the Palm House, Rock Garden, Rose Garden and central picnic areas, or you can take a guided tour for a few extra Euros. Be sure to skirt along the banks of the Pirita River during a warm summer's day.
9, Tallinn TV Tower (Kloostrimetsa tee 58 A, 11913 Tallinn)
If you chose to stop off at Tallinn Botanic Garden then you won't need a bus to reach Tallinn TV Tower, it lies just a few hundred meters to the east and looms high, 312 meters to be exact. Its crowning glory is the 170 meter observation deck. By looking out from its 360 degree panoramic windows you'll be able to enjoy unrestricted views of Pirita's leafy landscape, the town of Maardu, the Baltic Sea, and Tallinn itself. The tower is also equipped with telescopes, interactive displays, a café-restaurant, and an exhibition on Estonia's national achievements.
Something extra fun to note about Tallinn TV Tower is that it utilises its open air observation deck (the highest in the Nordics) for what it calls 'EdgeWalks'. If you're feeling brave why not don a harness and lean over the 22nd floor's heart-racing precipice. You won't find a much safer place to take selfies at the bleeding edge of a 175 metre drop.
10, Pirita Convent (Merivälja tee 18, 11911 Tallinn)
At some point during your 24-48 hour trip around Tallinn you might want to visit the Pirita Convent. Its defining feature is the ruined medieval Monastery of St. Bridget and its adjoining cemetery. Both of these are a treat to explore, especially during the warmer seasons given their grand scale and luscious surrounds. Don't expect anything that'll knock you off your feet, but do expect to be wowed by the scenery.
24-48 Hours In Tallinn, Travel Community Recommendations:
Above are the 10 attractions that we'd attempt to fit into either 24 or 48 hours, but don't just take our word for it. Below are a few ideas chipped in by helpful members of the travel blog community that are sure make your time in Tallinn all the better.
Henrik | Henrik Travel:
"Tallinn is one of my favourite cities in Europe. I love the people, the charming old town and food. Don't forget to dine at Telegraaf and Schlössle".
Henrik's dining recommendations came in the form two of Tallinn's finest hotels: Telegraaf (Restaurant Tchaikovsky) and Schlössle. Both are 5 star luxury establishments, but the quality and atmosphere of their respective restaurants are something to which he can strongly attest. If you're up for spoiling yourself a little and happen to be spending at least one night in the city then seek these places out.
We think it's also worth noting that out of the 260 (or thereabouts) countries that Henrik has visited, Tallinn occupies a high spot on his top 10 list. Now that must be saying something.
Audrey | That Backpacker:
"Located in Tallinn's historic town centre is a restaurant by the name of Olde Hansa that will transport you back to medieval times. This is a place where the menus look like they've been written on parchment paper, servers dress like they belong in a king's court, and the live music includes the greatest hits from centuries long gone. So what should you order? When it comes to main courses, my favourite meal was "Neptune’s Feast", which included Adalusian fish, smoke-grilled salmon, herring, anchovies, salmon eggs, quail eggs, fresh cheese, pickles, herb bread with nuts, and rye bread with chunks of smoked ham. It was a feast fit for a king (or queen)! As for beverages, you really can't go wrong with the "Monk's Bride", which is the house schnapps - sweet like syrup and it'll warm your insides right away. You can either dine in the dim candle-lit interior, or grab a seat on the sunny terrace. They even have warm wool blankets if you want to dine all fresco on a cool evening's day".
Fantastic suggestion by Audrey, who runs the 'That Backpacker' travel blog site. Certainly if one of your future destinations happens to be in East/South-East Asia then look up her copious articles for top tips and advice while travelling.