What’s the perfect day trip from Helsinki? Tallinn of course! If you need a break from expensive Finland, hop on a ferry and head over to Estonia for a day of cheap food, drinks, history, and plenty of views.
It’s about a two hour journey from Finland to Estonia via ferry and boats depart several times throughout the day. This was my first trip on a ferry, it felt like a mini cruise. You get all of the luxuries of a cruise but none of that crap where you have to live on a boat for a week (can you tell I am not a fan of cruises?)
There was a bar, a Burger King, a cafeteria, a band playing early 90’s slow jams, slot machines, and a duty free shopping area. They even had free wifi! Yay! I didn’t take advantage of any of the amenities, the sway of the boat put me fast to sleep. Two hours later I was in Estonia!
Old Town Tallinn is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, so you know it is going to be rich with history and beauty. Old Town Tallinn is broken up in two sections, upper town and lower town.Upper town, often referred to as Toompea, is the administrative sector. It houses Estonia’s parliament, government buildings, embassies, and has fantastic views of the the lower section of Old Town.
Lower town, is where Tallinn’s history comes alive. Meandering about the cobblestone streets made me feel as if I were back in the middle ages. Back in the day, peasants would sell their goods in the streets. Today, tourists and Estonians come to lower Old Town for the shopping, restaurants, and bars.
You can easily take in all the wonders of Tallinn in a day to day and a half. Once your ferry arrives at port head to Old Town by taxi or walk 20 minutes from the harbor. Old Town is easy to find as it is enclosed by the medieval wall.
Explore Hellemann Tower and Town Hall
Upon entering Old Town head to Hellemann tower to get a view of the stunning red tiles that adorn many of the city’s roofs.
This is a two-fer (you know, two for the price of one), for 3 euros you walk along the town wall to a 14th-century tower overlooking the city.
Join a Free Walking Tour
Tallinn’s Old Town is very walk-able, and this tour is a great introduction to the main sights in town. The tour guide made will make you chuckle, gave you a history lesson on Estonia, and take you to one of the best views of the famous red tile roofs. The tour is two hours and leaves from the Tourist Information Center in Old Town at 12PM daily. Also, who doesn’t love free? Well…sort of free, make sure you tip your guide. Get more info here.
Eat Savory Pancakes and Fried Potato Balls
A trip to Tallinn isn’t complete until you’ve enjoyed some hearty pancakes. After the walking tour head to Kompressor, ask anyone in Tallinn and they will know the place. Every time I walked by it was packed with not only tourists but locals as well. The service is quick, so if you have to wait a bit it shouldn’t too long before a table opens up.
Kompressor is known for their sweet and savory pancakes. You can also get fried potato balls, which of course I indulged in because who doesn’t love potatoes fried in the shape of balls? You aren’t going to break the bank here.
Insider tip: go to the bar to order food and drinks, you will be waiting a while if you are expecting a waitress to come around and take your order. This is true for most restaurants in Tallinn.
The Nevsky Cathedral
After shoving your face with pancakes you will either want a nap or you want to walk off your food baby. Since you only have a day in Tallinn you don’t get a nap, head to Nevsky Cathedral and take a closer look at the architecture. You will pass the cathedral on the walking tour, but it deserves more time to explore.
This Russian orthodox cathedral was built in 1900 when Estonia was under Russian rule. The cathedral was set to be demolished in 1924, however due to a lack of funds the cathedral remained and was left to decline until 1991 when Estonia gained its independence. It was then restored to its former glory. It is free to go inside and look around.
Sip on wine and take in the views
All of this sightseeing can be draining. I think you need a break, a break for some vino! This quirky restaurant/wine shop is nestled into the town wall. Yes, that ancient wall that surrounds the city. Head to the hooded monk statues and you will find Dannebrog Cafe.
In order to get to the tasty wine you have to climb a treacherous winding stone staircase that I can only assume was built when the wall was created in the 14th century. There is a sign that says, “if you slip you die”. Ok, I made that part up. There was a sign saying “slippery when wet” but they should add “if you slip you die” at the end because there is no way someone can survive slipping down those stairs.
Alas, once you make it to the top there is a walkway with a few tables overlooking the city. Just don’t drink too much, because you are going to need to navigate those stairs on the way down.
Bonus – Christmas Market in Town Hall Square
If you are in Tallinn around the holidays go to the Christmas market at dusk; there are several outdoor stalls that sell everything from jerky, to hats and scarves, to the tasty glögg (mulled wine). With the lights twinkling on the grand Christmas tree in the center of the square, the smell of pine and mulled wine wafting about, and the setting sun in the background make for a picture perfect moment.
Wrap up your adventure by heading to the local Beer House and getting a hotel for the night or head back to Helsinki on one of the later ferries.
Have you been to Tallinn? What was your favorite part? I’d love to hear from you!