Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this One Day in Tallinn Itinerary. As the famous old saying goes, “To see Tallinn is to fall in love with her.” I have met many travelers who have never been to Tallinn, but I have never met anyone who has tried a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary and does not rave about the city’s beauty.
And the main reason for this is Tallinn Old Town, which is simply adorable. It looks like some benign witch made a city out of cupcakes. (Don’t try to eat any of the buildings in Tallinn Old Town. They’re not made out of cupcakes; they’re made of bricks.)
With a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary, there’s plenty of time to take a walking tour, visit Tallinn’s most popular museum, and indulge in some fine Scandinavian-Russian dining! Just follow me, and I’m sure you’ll be in love with Tallinn by the end of this blog post.
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
Where to Stay?
When you’re enjoying a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary , you want to choose the most convenient location possible. That’s why I recommend staying a short walking distance from Tallinn Old Town at the Von Stackelberg Hotel. The hotel was beautiful and had a friendly staff. They even have a sauna and a spa on the premises. But my favorite thing about the hotel was the breakfast spread. I’m pretty sure it has the finest English breakfast in all of Estonia!
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
What to Pack?
The weather in Estonia can be rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Estonia.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
Morning: Tallinn Old Town
My favorite first thing to on a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary is take a walking tour. Most good companies employ local guides, so you’ll get to see the city from a local’s point of view. Plus walking tours give you a good sense of which attractions/areas you’ll enjoy seeing more of on your own. I generally avoid free walking tours because some of them engage in exploitative labor practices, and I want to support the workers of the world.
However, some cities like Tallinn don’t really seem to have affordable group walking tours available. At least there were none I could find for Tallinn Old Town when I visited. So I lined up for the free tour of Tallinn Old Town. The tour leaves several times during the day, but I suggest the 10 AM tour for this itinerary. Our guide, who spoke flawless English and looked like Hans from Frozen, led us on a merry dance around all the attractions Tallinn Old Town has to offer. There’s lots of steps involved, so put on your walking shoes and get ready for…
approximately top 5: One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
1) war of independence victory column
The first thing our guide, whom I shall call Rasmus, told us about Estonia was its long history of being conquered. It was conquered by Germans, Swedes, and Russians. Rasmus said that sometimes Estonians refer to the Swedish people as the Golden Age because they were the most benevolent colonizers. I think that won’t be surprising to anyone who’s been to Sweden. Probably they just sat around eating cinnamon buns and drinking coffee all day. Maybe they forced the Estonians to make the cinnamon buns.
By the time 1918 rolled around, Estonia was under Russian control and they wanted to be independent. So they started the War of Independence, which was eventually, though temporarily successful. Soviets came back during WWII and said (this is a direct quote from Rasmus), “HELLO ESTONIA!” The Soviets claimed that Estonia was a threat to their national security and offered to protect them from the Nazis.
Later during the war, the Nazis did the same thing, only they were offering to protect Estonia from the Soviets. I do not think any of these offers were really sincere. After World War II, Estonia became part of the USSR, so it was under Russian control until the early 1990s. The current period of independence is the longest period of independence in Estonia’s history.
2) Kiek in de Kök artillery tower
Of course, we didn’t come to Tallinn Old Town to see modern monuments. You come to an old town to see old things! And what’s older than something from the 15th century? (Don’t answer that question.)
This tower above is called Kiek in de Kok, which means “Peek in the kitchen” in German, and it dates back to the 1400s. The name comes from the fact that the tower was so tall relative to the rest of Tallinn Old Town that people thought soldiers were peeking from the tower into their kitchens. It is apparently the strongest artillery tower in the Baltics, and I’m not sure if that is damning with faint praise.
But Rasmus told us that this tower is the pride of Tallinn Old Town because when Ivan the Terrible of Russia came to invade Tallinn, he couldn’t get past these walls. Rasmus said this was the only time in Estonian history that they beat the Russians. Out of pride, the cannonballs from the Russian army are still left in the walls of the castle.
3) alexander nevsky cathedral
Speaking of Russians, how’d you like to see a Russian Orthodox church? This church was built during the Russian occupation of Estonia. Rasmus said that the Russians built the church right next to the Estonian Parliament building as a threat. I personally don’t think onion domes are very scary, but then again I am not Russian.
The church was named after Alexander Nevsky, a great Russian military hero and saint from the 13th century. In fact, Alexander Nevsky won his great military victory at the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, which is in Estonia. I don’t think I needed a guide to tell me that Russians won something called “The Battle of the Ice”. Never go in against a Russian when ice is on the line!
The free tour does give you some time to go inside Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which I strongly recommend. As with many Orthodox churches, picture taking is not permitted inside. Also, if a cruise ship is in town, the church can get really crowded. I recommend trying to find a day to do this tour when there aren’t any cruise ships in port, if that’s possible.
4) hotel viru
As I mentioned, Estonia was part of the USSR during Soviet times. This meant that any foreign guests from capitalist countries had to be monitored carefully when they visited. Foreign guests were placed in a modern looking hotel called Hotel Viru. (You can see it in the distance in my photo above.) Of course that hotel was bugged from top to bottom, and I don’t mean with bedbugs. Nowadays, if you go to the Hotel Viru, there is a KGB Museum on the top floor where you can see some of the surveillance equipment.
Rasmus told us several stories about life during the USSR, but my favorite was about a meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan told Gorbachev that what made the United States different from the USSR is that anyone could come into Reagan’s office and tell him, “Mr. Reagan, I don’t like the way you’re running the United States.” And Gorbachev responded, “But Mr. Reagan, it is the same in the Soviet Union. Anyone can come into my office and tell me that he doesn’t like the way Ronald Reagan is running the United States.” Ah, Cold War humor!
Nowadays, Estonia is a capitalist country, and it’s had a lot of success in the digital age. Its most famous product is Skype. Rasmus said that the Swedes also were involved in creating Skype and then he yelled out, “LET US HAVE THIS SWEDEN! WE’RE ESTONIA!” I personally think that phrase should be the new Estonian tourism slogan.
5) town hall square
The free tour of Tallinn Old Town ends in Town Hall Square. See what I mean about the cupcake buildings? Rasmus told us several cute stories about this square. One of them was that they placed dragons around the Town Hall to guard against corruption. I really don’t understand how that’s going to work. Unless the dragons were real and promised to eat any corrupt politicians. But maybe the dragons would just pretend a politician was corrupt to have an excuse to eat him. Dragons are kind of shady themselves. Look at all that gold they hoard.
The most interesting object in Town Hall Square is a weather vane shaped like a little dude. This dude’s actual name was Old Thomas. Thomas was a town guard who loved children. He gave candy to all the kids in town. Nowadays we would be suspicious of a person like this, but Thomas lived during the Middle Ages, which must have been a simpler time.
After Thomas died, the kids of Tallinn were all sad and wanted to know where he went. So their parents put a weather vane of Thomas up on the Town Hall and told the kids Thomas was watching for them to be good. The moral of this story is that parents love to psychologically scar their children.
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
Afternoon: Estonian Maritime Museum
How’d you like to visit the one and only official Estonian Maritime Museum on our One Day in Tallinn Itinerary? Not sure? What if I told you it was the most popular museum in Tallinn according to Tripadvisor? Whether or not you’re with kids, I’m sure you’ll have fun climbing into a real submarine and seeing the other gems of the Estonian seas. As a bonus, the cruise ship shore excursions don’t come here, so you’ll be able to avoid the crowds of Tallinn Old Town. But first, lunch!
24 hour treat: von krahli bar
When the cruise ships are in full force, it can be difficult to find a sit-down place for lunch in Tallinn Old Town. But I was easily seated at the more casual Von Krahli Bar. I got into the maritime spirit with fish soup with quail egg, which is a lot fancier than the food you can find at most bars I’ve been to back in the United States. Even though it was summer, the weather was not too hot for fish soup. I’m not sure the weather in Estonia is ever too hot for fish soup.
For dessert, try to track down a bar of local Kalev chocolate. You can find a Kalev store at the Balti Jaama Turg, a market in between Tallinn Old Town and the Maritime Museum. I recommend the white chocolate with blueberries. It’s delicious even if, like me, you usually aren’t a white chocolate fan.
And now that our bellies are full and we’ve arrived at the Maritime Museum, it’s time for…
three fun facts: estonian maritime museum
1) how can I feel like a cold war spy?
Great question! The best way to feel like a Cold War era spy is to descend into the Lembit submarine. It was launched in the year 1936, so it actually predates the Cold War. But after Estonia was absorbed into the USSR, the Lembit was sent to Russia. I feel like a lot of important Estonian things were sent to Russia during the USSR, but the exchange wasn’t always mutual.
It is pretty exciting to be able to explore the interior of the submarine. I was very tempted to start doing a bad Russian accent like Harrison Ford’s in K-19 The Widowmaker, but fortunately for my fellow tourists I decided against it. This submarine actually did see combat action during World War II because it was used by the Soviet Navy against the Germans. But after World War II, the Lembit was only used for training exercises. I feel like if you’re going to be a war submarine who only gets to fight in one conflict, you would want that conflict to be against the Nazis. Well played, Lembit.
You will get to explore all the rooms in The Lembit, which the museum information says was “very complicated” to use. I really, really don’t want to know how and why using a bathroom in a submarine would be complicated. I already have enough problems using airplane bathrooms. Just one more reason to be glad I was never in the Soviet Navy.
2) what about something older?
Would the Maasilinna suit you? This is the oldest existing Estonian ship. It dates back to the 16th century. Apparently it was lost for a long time and not rediscovered until the 1980s. So many questions! First, how do you lose a ship this big? Second, what new discovery in the 1980s helped them locate this behemoth? Was it MTV or the Rubik’s Cube?
Once last amazing fact about this ship is that it has been freeze-dried to preserve it. So not only is it basically cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney, but astronauts could take it into space and eat it. I mean, they eat freeze-dried ice cream, so this is basically the same thing.
3) are estonians good on the water?
Heck yeah! The Maritime Museum has a whole display on Estonian Olympic sailing twin brothers Tonu and Toomas Toniste. (Try saying those names ten times fast.) The Tonistes had the distinction of competing for both the Soviet Union in 1988 and for Estonia in 1992. They won silver and bronze for the USSR and bronze for Estonia. But those bronze medals, which you can see above, were a big deal for Estonia back in 1992 because it was such a new country. The Soviet Union wasn’t going to be able to steal their Olympic medals or their war submarines anymore!
One Day in Tallinn Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Tchaikovsky
I try to spend at least two full days in every city that I visit, and I like to mix up my dining experiences. Ideally I would have one night out eating at a more casual local spot and another night at an upscale fancy-pants destination. Last night we went more “Downtown”, so for this One Day in Tallinn Itinerary we will dine at Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is often called one of the best restaurants in Estonia, and it’s in the White Guide, which only lists the best restaurants in Scandinavia.
Tchaikovsky serves Russian cuisine. If you forget that, just think of the restaurant name. I had a gorgeous evening here dining on the tasting menu. Except for that one incredibly drunk Finnish guy who kept trying to talk to me, even though he was so tipsy he needed to prop himself up on my table to stop himself from falling over. Eventually his friends apologized to me and dragged him away. But I can pretty much guarantee he won’t be there when you go, so you’ll be able to concentrate on…
approximately top 5: tchaikovsky
We begin with scallops with cucumber and tarragon, a refreshing and light way to start a tasting menu. Even though the menu said Russian, I could tell we were going to get to dive right into the bounty of the Estonian waters with all the seafood on the menu.
Sea what I mean about the seafood? The next fish was langoustines with kohlrabi, orange carrot puree and golden pike caviar. I absolutely loved the complementary colors in this dish! It was almost too pretty to eat. (I said almost. I never met a langoustine I couldn’t eat.) And I had never tried golden pike caviar before. I’d be lying if I said I could tell you how it tastes different from other fish eggs. But I love all caviar. It’s the world’s classiest way to satisfy your salt cravings.
We move away from seafood for sweetbreads with quince, topinambur and black truffle. I had to Google what topinambur was, but apparently it’s just Jerusalem artichoke. Never be ashamed to Google a food you don’t know! This dish is very rich, like most sweetbread dishes. The slightly tart quince brought the perfect tang to sparkle things up a bit.
Next we have a sort of Surf and Turf light: Canadian lobster and quail stuffed with chicken with bisque and morels. I had no idea Canadians had lobster! Are they just too polite to brag about it? The quail had an amazing flavor. Apparently Estonian quail farming is a Big Deal. That would make sense because I had just eaten a quail egg with my lunch, and now I was dining on delectable quail meat. It was my very first Two Quail Day ever.
This is really more of a palette cleanser made with lime foam and mint granita. I was curious because it came before the meat course and I’m more used to palette cleansers coming before the dessert course, as a transition between savory and sweet. But when I went to a tasting menu restaurant in Moscow, they also served a palette cleanser before the meat course. Maybe this is a Russian thing like putting jam in tea and totalitarian governments?
The main course was venison with leek, celery, and must kuld sauce. I’m going to take a wild guess that you don’t know what must kuld is because I didn’t either. But it’s just the name of a local beer. What goes better with venison than a beer sauce? Considering that I had eaten elk the previous night and venison this night, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Estonia is a great destination for people who like to eat game. I think Estonia should make this the basis for a new tourism campaign, “Estonia: Game On!” or “Estonia: It’s Game Time!”
The dessert was a delicate cherry and yogurt confection with vermouth jelly. I didn’t really taste the vermouth, but I did love the flavor of summer cherries in season. The meringues added a fun crunch because the texture of yogurt is kind of blaaaaah. Also, I hope they didn’t give this dish to that smashed Finnish fellow because he didn’t need any more alcohol, even if it was only dessert vermouth. It was the perfect end to our One Day in Tallinn Itinerary.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Tallinn Itinerary!
What would you do on a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary? Why are submarine bathrooms so tricky? And did that Finnish gentleman get home safely? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY enjoy a One Day in Tallinn Itinerary. If you have time for another One Day in Tallinn Itinerary, try this one.