Why Tallinn should be your next destination for a city break
Tallinn is at times described as an under-the-radar European destination. It’s definitely on our radar as Finnair’s first flight in 1924 took off to no other than the captivating capital of Estonia. Now, 99 years later, Kristiina Ojamets, a Content Designer at Finnair, wants you to also take off to Tallinn. Read her tips and discover why she compares her hometown to a perfectly packed carry-on.
Like a perfectly packed carry-on bag, Tallinn has everything you need, but thanks to its size, it is still easy to go around with. It’s ten times smaller than London, home to about 450,000 people, and the airport is only 15 minutes from downtown.
Naturally, it’s light enough while being far from hollow. Its inside is multi-layered, so you can always dress for the weather. The layers of well-preserved medieval Old Town repurposed industrial buildings and modern architecture blend into one another in Tallinn. The city radiates nostalgia and tradition as well as innovation and freshness.
Last but not least, there’s always a little space left in that carry-on so you can take souvenirs back home with you – be it memories or sustainable local design pieces that will last in time.
Visiting the best-preserved medieval Old Town in Northern Europe, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must. Mesmerising clay red rooftops, original cobblestone streets, distinct towers and churches make up a unique sight that’s best grasped from viewing platforms. Check out Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms and take time to stroll aimlessly.
Since the Old Town is packed with history, it might be easier to explore its secrets and treasures with a guide. If you prefer to fly solo, I suggest having Town Hall Square, Town Hall Pharmacy, the oldest in Europe in continuous operation, and Tallinn’s oldest café Maiasmokk dating back to 1864, on your list.
Dining out is also a great way to peek inside the Old Town houses. I’ve found the following restaurants and bars to be a treat for my eyes and my taste buds. La CUCINA di Orm Oja combines Italian cuisine with a robust medieval grandeur. Cosy and welcoming Rataskaevu 16 makes you feel at home. Renowned Botaanik bar charms with an intimate and sophisticated atmosphere. And Lee captivates with contrasts in décor and on the plate by showcasing local produce with a Japanese twist. And for those looking to time-travel to the 1920s in Tallinn Old Town, head to Parrot Mini Bar and ask for a table in their secret place – trust me, it will be splendid!
In contrast to the predominantly gothic Old Town, go to the greenery of Kadriorg for a look into a more romantic and elegant chapter of Tallinn’s history. Kadriorg, which can refer to the whole upscale district, the largest urban park in Tallinn or the art museum and the presidential palace, dates to the 18th century. Tsar Peter the Great ordered a summer palace to be built to manifest love for her wife, Katherine.
300 years later, you are guaranteed to feel the romance still when promenading past the flower beds, fountains, and historic wooden houses. Take the retro-style tram to Kadriorg, combine the stroll with a visit to KUMU Art Museum with Estonia’s most extensive art collection and top it off with a coffee in the cosy NOP café.
Many of the most popular and lively districts in Tallinn are, in fact, repurposed industrial complexes from the Soviet occupation years or before that. Abandoned buildings are now thriving hubs, homes for galleries, design shops, restaurants, events and most importantly – bubbling social life.
Telliskivi Creative City
Telliskivi Creative City, next to Balti Jaam railway station, is loved both by locals and visitors, so you can expect it to be buzzing with people. You can easily spend the whole day in Telliskivi and still feel like you saw the tip of the iceberg.
Start the day with a coffee in Fika, then explore the local design shops or head to the 2nd floor of Balti Jaama Market for vintage and second-hand finds. Grab a juicy bite in VLND Burger, listed among the TOP 10 best burgers in Europe, before heading back to the heart of Telliskivi to the international photographic art centre Fotografiska. The views don’t stop at the exhibition halls. Head to the restaurant and rooftop bar on the 6th floor for a picturesque city panorama paired with Michelin Green Star-worthy zero-waste food and drinks.
Noblessner seafront quarter
From Telliskivi, make your way through the homey yet trendy Kalamaja district to reach Noblessner, that’s taken Tallinn by storm in recent years. A former submarine factory is now a vibrant meeting point on a beautiful marina. It’s where you want to be on a sunny summer evening.
Only a short walk from Noblessner, you’ll find one of the largest maritime museums in Europe, the Seaplane Harbour. Its program is equally exciting for children and adults, and the historical seaplane hangar is a sight.
Tallinn of tomorrow
While you might come to Tallinn for a city break, you can soon start planning a working holiday instead. The capital of Estonia is often stated as the ideal destination for remote workers. Compared to other European cities, it’s more affordable. Its size means no time goes wasted for getting from A to B and meeting people.
It has excellent co-working spaces across the town, like Lift99, Workland and Spring Hub, and if you decided to get cracking outside the conventional office space, you’d have no problems with a fast internet connection even in a bog. What else to expect in a country with the most tech unicorns per capita and where access to the internet is considered a human right?
For an ultimate Estonian experience, check out Iglupark, which combines office spaces for rent with a sauna. Yes, you read right – people at Iglupark want you to have a productive day working from a sea-view hut with all the comforts of an office, and your last task of the day will be to sweat it out in a sauna.
Tallinn as a gateway
Tallinn, being the main entry point to Estonia, is well-connected to other parts of the country. Day trips in a small country like Estonia can be a real treat. Where to then?
In autumn, visit Tartu
After landing at Tallinn Airport, you can catch a bus to Tartu, the European Capital of Culture in 2024, comfortably from the airport. Buses depart to the second largest city in Estonia every hour or even half an hour. Suppose you prefer a more scenic train ride. In that case, Ülemiste station is only 1.5 km from the airport, 5–15 minutes, depending on your choice of transportation.
The charming university town is buzzing with life when students return to the city in autumn. Its crown jewel is the Estonian National Museum, which not only offers the best overview of Estonian culture and history but fascinates with award-winning architecture and location on the outskirts where once stood a manor as well as the largest Soviet military air base in the Baltics.
In winter, stay in Tallinn
This is perhaps not exactly where this paragraph was supposed to go, but considering that Tallinn Christmas Market has been voted the best in Europe, I would not want you to miss out on this fairy-tale-like sight. The Christmas Market is usually open from the beginning of December to the first week of January.
In spring, go on a day trip to Aegna island
Even though Aegna is in the administrative area of Tallinn, it can quickly feel like in the middle of nowhere. The greenery of this tiny three-square-kilometre island swallows you up and fills you with serenity. There are lovely hiking trails with information boards, but you can also rent a bicycle. Plan a picnic, get your steps in, and fully disconnect in nature. The regular service between Patarei Harbour and Aegna starts in May, and the journey takes about half an hour.
In summer, head to Pärnu
Estonians have an unofficial capital for every season, and the seaside city of Pärnu is the summer capital for a good reason. The beautiful beaches, numerous spas and a treasure trove of summer events will win you over and, quite possibly, might make you want to extend the day trip.
Relax at the day spa in Hedon Spa & Hotel, located in the historical building of Mud Baths. Enjoy the endlessly white nights by the Pärnu River in a tapas and sangria bar Baarcelona. You can reach Pärnu from Tallinn by bus or rental car – try Estonia’s own Bolt app for getting around.
On 20 March 1924, Finnair’s maiden flight departed from Helsinki to Tallinn. It has been 100 years since our journey began, and you can now fly to Tallinn with Finnair more than five times a day, every day.