Tallinn is one of those cities people rave about. It’s not as well known as Rome or Paris or Prague, but for Eastern Europe, it’s one of the more popular places to visit. And yet, I just couldn’t get into it. It’s cute, and I loved the medieval look of the old town, but it also had a bit of a theme park vibe to it that just didn’t grab me. Here’s a look at how we spent 3 days in Tallinn, Estonia.
Helsinki to Tallinn Ferry
Helsinki and Tallinn are so close to each other that you can actually do it as a day trip, and many people do. After spending a few days in Finland, this seemed like the best option to get to Tallinn.
We booked tickets on the Tallink MegaStar ferry and decided to upgrade to the comfort lounge. From what we had read online, it sounded like the normal areas of the ship were often crowded and noisy, and we thought it was worth spending a little extra for a more relaxing experience. The lounge had comfortable seats, decent (but not great) wifi, and free snacks, sodas, and coffee. Well worth it for the two hour journey.
Off to a rough start
After checking into our hotel, we went wandering around in the city. There was some kind of football (soccer) championship game going on between two Madrid teams, and that brought in tons of people from Spain. So combine the normal tourist crowds with a few thousand extra football fans, and it was one packed city. Loud, drunk people were everywhere, and we were losing our patience only a few hours after we arrived.
We mostly looked for restaurants where we might want to eat dinner, but everything looked super touristy and cheesy and overpriced. Many of the places we saw weren’t even selling local food. Ultimately we decided we were burnt out on eating out after weeks of traveling, so we opted for a pile of food from a grocery store to split over a couple of nights in our hotel room.
Climbing the Town Hall Tower
The next day we set out hoping for a fresh start. After walking around for a few minutes, we came across the old town hall building, which had a tower to climb. Just our thing! So we paid our small fee (3 euros per person) and started climbing.
Now, there were only 115 stairs to get to the top of the belfry. I’ve climbed much taller towers in many other cities, so I thought 115 stairs wasn’t a big deal. But once we got started, we realized these were no ordinary stairs. They were giant. Some were close to two feet tall!
I have really short legs, so I was stretched to the limit to get from one step to the next. Even Andy struggled with his long legs. The view was great, but my legs were in agony for days afterwards.
Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town
Tallinn’s old town is pretty big with lots of streets to wind through. Since we were looking to get away from the crowds, we decided to simply wander with no destination in mind and to mostly get away from the main sights. Surely there had to be real life somewhere in the old town.
It did seem that there were some slightly hidden corners of the old town, places where locals went about their day without needing tourism to sustain them. But certainly if we had more time to explore entirely different neighborhoods, we would’ve seen more. The old town is charming, but with so much tourism centered in one place, I felt like I was in a theme park version of Tallinn. Old town Prague feels a bit like this to me, too.
Tallinn’s Medieval Walls
Much of old town Tallinn is surrounded by old medieval walls and towers, which is pretty cool to see. I probably took more pictures of the walls and the towers than anything else during our 3 days in Tallinn. There was one part of town where the road went uphill and you could get a good view of the old town from the top of a section of wall.
Some sections merge into parks while others form one side of a road. Some sections had lots of people, others almost no one was around. Take some time to walk along different parts of the walls in Tallinn.
Should you visit Tallinn?
Tallinn is one of those cities people still claim is under the radar, not-so-touristy, and doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Well, even after those soccer fans left, the old town was still packed. Tallinn is on the sea and has become a cruise ship destination, which means thousands of passengers being dumped into the city for just a few short hours several days a week. I think it’s also gotten plenty of attention as an “under the radar” city, and that draws people in, too.
I also think this is part of the problem with cities where so much of the tourism is focused in one small area. If the sights are spread out more, no one area gets too saturated with tourists, and local life still thrives nearby. But in places like Tallinn, there’s no focus anywhere besides the old town, and eventually locals don’t want to be (or can’t afford to be) in the center. What remains feels almost lifeless and fake.
That said, it was a nice place. I loved the medieval walls, and overall it’s a really pretty city. I think if you visit in the shoulder season (instead of August like we did) it’ll feel a lot more pleasant, though not as warm. And I think you should go for a few days, not just hop off a cruise and go for a few hours. And if at all possible, go explore other neighborhoods. We really should have done that, but we were burnt out and got lazy. Sometimes I’m a bad travel blogger.
Where to stay in Tallinn, Estonia
Just like in Helsinki, we booked another Radisson Blu. It was located just a couple blocks from the old town, so it was easy for us to walk to the attractions and to find food. The room was spacious with a comfortable bed and extra seating. We’re finding more and more that it’s important to have somewhere in the room to sit that’s not on the bed.
We also had a mini fridge, which was great for a few nights when we bought groceries and had a picnic dinner in our room. The bathroom was pretty standard with a decent walk-in shower. The hotel’s breakfast was decent and still had a few gluten free and lactose free items, but I’m not sure anything can live up to the one we had in Helsinki.
One of the best parts of the hotel was the view. The sky bar patio had a fantastic view of Tallinn’s old town, which we enjoyed with a drink one afternoon after some sightseeing. The service wasn’t great, but it was a trade-off we endured to soak up the views.
If you’re planning a trip to Tallinn, Estonia, I recommend you check out the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel.
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