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How to Spend One Day in Tallinn Estonia

Just a ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland, Tallinn is the perfect day trip from Helsinki. Or, if you are planning a city-hopping break around the Baltic countries in Northern Europe, you really can’t miss spending at least one day in Tallinn. It’s the cultural hub and capital of Estonia, after all!

how to spend one day in tallinn estonia - KIDS ARE A TRIP

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The history of Tallinn, Estonia dates back to the Middle Ages and many of its charming medieval streets are lined with centuries-old buildings like the Town Hall, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the Old Town Walls.

Despite being a capital city, Tallinn has a small, walkable city center which is ideal if you only have a little time to spend on the highlights. This one-day Tallinn itinerary will help families plan a fantastic one day in Tallinn including all the best things to do there.

How To Travel To Tallinn

If you’re traveling to Tallinn from Helsinki, it’s a super easy two-hour ferry ride, non-stop, across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki Ferry Terminal to Tallinn Port. Several boats depart every day year-round, with more services in the summer months. You can book tickets through the boat company, Tallink Silja.

Estonia ferry

Book your ferry tickets well in advance. Local Tallinn and Helsinki residents travel on this ferry a lot (it’s much cheaper for them!) so boats are often full days before sailing. Last-minute tickets are also much more expensive, so that’s another good reason to be organized.

When traveling to Tallinn from Riga in Latvia, note that the distance between both cities is around 186 miles/300 km. This will take you about four and a half hours to drive one-way, so if you’re taking a day trip you will need to set off first thing in the morning. You can either rent a car or take the bus. Buses depart from Riga Bus Station in Riga and arrive at Tallinn Bus Station and you can book your tickets through AS Lux Express Estonia.

How To Get Around Tallinn

Tallinn’s city center, especially its Medieval Old Town, is compact. If you don’t have any mobility issues, the best way to get around is to walk. For example, Tallinn Town Hall is just a 10-minute walk from the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform and you could even visit the cathedral en route on this short walk.

If you need to use public transport to get around, Tallinn has a bus, trolley bus, and tram network. Permanent Tallinn residents can ride public transport free so they’re very proud of this service.

You can buy a one-day ticket which will allow you to use all types of public transport during your visit. Just don’t forget to validate your pass before your first journey! 

Consider getting the Tallinn card for your trip as it includes the use of all public transport in Tallinn and is a great way to save money if you are visiting multiple attractions. There is a 24-hour version of the card which is perfect since you’ll only be spending one day in Tallinn.

Where To Eat in Tallinn

Start your Tallinn day trip by enjoying a modern Estonian breakfast at RUKIS. It’s a café/bakery serving pastries, international favorites like bagels, and traditional dishes like pickled herring on black rye bread.

Enjoy a light lunch at a traditional pancake restaurant, Pub Kompressor, which serves both sweet and savory Estonian-style crêpes. It’s a popular spot, so be prepared to wait 15 or so minutes before sitting down.

Babka Brioche Wreath

Stay long enough to dine at an eatery the whole family will love, Restaurant Rataskaevu 16. They have a kid’s menu and are centrally located in the heart of Old Town.

But you can’t forget about snacks to keep the whole family energized! Stop by Pulla Bakery for fresh cinnamon buns, hazelnut chocolate rolls, and other delicious treats.

Top Things To Do With One Day in Tallinn

1. Tallinn Town Hall and Square

Tallinn’s 13th-century town hall is the perfect place to begin your one day in Tallinn! This is the oldest surviving town hall in Northern Europe. It’s a striking Gothic building with a tower is located at the very heart of the Old Town. 

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This is a multipurpose venue that hosts tours, concerts, and the Town Hall Pharmacy. While that last one might sound a little odd, it is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has never changed its location. It’s worth a peak inside, at least!

Old Town Square Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn Town Hall is the main building on the Town Hall Square, otherwise known as the Raekoja Plats. This square dates back to the 15th century. 

The large, cobblestone square is home to street performers year-round, but the Christmas Market is when it comes alive. It was crowned the Best Christmas Market in 2019 and boasts tons of wooden market stalls selling locally-made Christmas ornaments and seasonal sweet treats as well as twinkly decorations and visits from Santa Claus himself. The festive season is arguably the best time to visit Tallinn!

2. Join a City Walking Tour

The entirety of Tallinn’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an incredibly well-preserved example of how Northern European trading cities looked during medieval times.

Since you only have one day, the best way to learn about and explore as much of Tallinn Old Town as possible is by taking a guided tour through the cobblestone streets. Luckily, this insightful medieval walking tour of Tallinn starts right by the Town Square.

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This guided tour will take you up Toompea Hill where you will find Toompea Castle. It’s a 14th-century medieval castle where the current Estonian parliament is seated.

You will also visit the 14th century St. Olaf’s Church which boasts church towers that have survived several lightning strikes. Freedom Square is also a great place to visit on a city tour to learn more about Estonia’s history with Russia.

3. Kadriorg Park

Despite it being a 20-minute bus ride out of the city center, Kadriorg Park is a popular place to visit on a day trip to Tallinn because it’s just so beautiful.

This 18th-century city park isn’t just somewhere to take a walk through thick woodland or look at beautiful blooming gardens, but it’s also where you’ll find some pretty important cultural and historic buildings.

Kadriorg Park

Kadriorg Palace is now the Kadriorg Art Museum, showcasing the best of foreign art inside a stunning example of baroque architecture. Although it has a pretty dull name, the Kadriorg Administrative Building is now the presidential palace and home to the current state leader of Estonia.

There are many other museums, ponds, and fun sculptures to see as you wander around the park. You can pick and choose what to see depending on the interests of you and your kids!

4. Estonian Open Air Museum

This museum is also a short 20-minute bus ride from the city center, but’s well worth the effort. The Estonian Open Air Museum is an immersive experience and a great place to visit with older kids.

This is a reconstructed fishing village that resembles what life may have looked like on the coast for Estonians in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It features a schoolhouse, a tavern, a fire station, and several mills and farms. You can explore inside the buildings and there are numerous walking trails around the open-air museum. If you had more than one day in Tallinn, you could spend all afternoon here!

5. Bastion Passages

Head to the Kiek in de Kök Fortification Museum and you’ll be able to explore the Bastion Passages, which are by far the best part of the museum.

These secret tunnels were built in the earth underneath the city during the 17th and 18th centuries. Their purpose was to conceal soldiers transporting equipment between fortresses and to keep a closer eye on enemy activity. 

They were abandoned by the military in 1857, but today they’re one of Tallinn’s best attractions. Kids will absolutely love visiting the Bastion Passages!

You can either use an audio guide to navigate around the tunnels or join a guided tour. Don’t forget to check out the small museum (yet still fascinating!) inside the tunnels called the Carved Stone Museum.

6. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Funded by public donations, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built at the turn of the 20th century when Estonia was still part of the Russian Empire.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

This Eastern Orthodox Church with a Russian Revival architectural style, features textured dome towers, and a warm color palette. It’s just as beautiful inside as it is out. Even better, it’s completely free to visit!

7. Kalev Chocolate Shop

While Switzerland and Belgium are known for their chocolate producers, Estonia has its own chocolate industry. Kalev is a confectionery company dating back to 1806 and is the largest producer of sweets in the country.

Kalev Cafe

They have a huge, mouthwatering chocolate shop on the edge of town in the Rotermann Quarter that you have to visit.

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Kalev is famous for their intricate marzipan figurines but they sell handmade chocolate boxes in all different shapes, tastes, and sizes. You can pick up some treat bags to enjoy throughout your one day in Tallinn and some chocolate boxes to take home as souvenirs.

8. Tallinn Town Wall

When the Old City Walls were first built during the 13th century, Tallinn boasted one of the largest and strongest defenses in Northern Europe. The walls wrapped around ‘Lower Town’ Tallinn which used to be called Revel and is where the Town Hall is located. ‘Upper Town’ Tallinn used to be a completely different town called Domberg, which is where you’ll find Toompea Castle.

Tallinn Town Walls

Around one mile of the original city wall still stands in Lower Old Town along Müürivahe Street. One of the best parts of the walls is the main gate which is called Viru Gate. You’ll find it bookended by two imposing watchtowers on Viru Street.

Hellemann Tower is just one of 26 towers still standing and you can even walk on the part of the wall that connects Nunne, Sauna, and Kuldjala Towers. 

Your kids will love walking along this medieval structure with beautiful views across the city. Kids also get free admission to the Tallinn Town Wall!

9. St. Catherine’s Monastery

Hidden in a neighborhood of warehouses and tucked down a covered street called St. Catherine’s Passage lined with small shops, cafés, and art studios is St. Catherine’s Monastery. Dating back to 1246, it’s one of the oldest buildings in the city and somewhere you need to visit on your one day in Tallinn.

In the Middle Ages, it was a Dominican monastery that brewed beer and sold fish up until the Reformation in 1524. It has never fully reclaimed its original purpose as a place of worship but is now a multipurpose building for exhibitions, concerts, and other industrial uses.

While it might be difficult to find in this labyrinthine part of town, it’s the closest you’ll feel to being in medieval Tallinn.

10. Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform

There are a few viewing platforms on Toompea Hill like Bishop’s Garden Viewing Platform and Patkuli Viewing Platform. Since you only have one day in Tallinn and might only have time to check out one great view, head to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform.

Tallinn Estonia Baltic itinerary

From here, you’ll get the best views of Tallinn’s Old Town including the burnt orange roofs and many beautiful churches.

This is where you could find the Instagrammable quote ‘The Times We Had’ painted on a wall at the observation deck. However, the quote has been subject to graffiti and painted over several times, so it may not be there when you are! Thankfully, you still have the incredible views.

11. Tallinn TV Tower

Measuring 1,030 ft, the Tallinn TV Tower is the tallest building in Tallinn and has been since it was built in 1980. This communications tower is a great example of modern architecture in Tallinn and is just a 30-minute bus ride from the city center. 

One of the best reasons to visit the TV Tower with your family is to take the elevator up to the 21st floor and check out the glass-floored viewing platform. If you dare!

There’s also an open-viewing platform around 575 ft up the tower (the highest in the Nordic countries) that will enable you to see out to Helsinki in good weather.

Bonus Tips For Spending One Day in Tallinn

Taking a city tour is the best option to see and learn a lot about Tallinn in a short time, but you won’t be able to see everything! Its narrow, cobbled streets and pastel-colored buildings are so beautiful that it’s a great place to stroll around and enjoy the atmosphere.

Note that Estonians have a reputation for following rules. Don’t cross roads unless the traffic light at the pedestrian crossing is green. If in doubt, follow the locals.

There is a reason why some countries use ‘Baltic’ as a synonym for ‘cold’ when talking about the weather. Expect snow if you are visiting in winter and rain if you are visiting in summer. Waterproof, comfy boots and rain jackets all around are essential!

Enjoy Spending One Day in Tallinn on a Baltic Day Trip

Spending one day in Tallinn is just enough time to see all the best places in the Estonian capital. You and your family will enjoy wandering around the Medieval Old Town as well as exploring churches, parks, and museums. If you’re already planning a trip to visit European cities on the Baltic Sea nearby like Helsinki or Riga, finding a short time in your itinerary to visit Tallinn is 100% worth it!