Just Go Exploring uses affiliate links. If you purchase something through them, I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. See my disclosures page for more info.

Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town: Estonia’s Beautiful Medieval Capital (2024)

Tallinn is one of my favourite cities in Europe. It’s clean, affordable, safe, relatively compact, and packed full of history and culture.

Add to that the fantastic food and the many excellent bars and cafes, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect alternative city break.

At the very centre, Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world. It’s incredibly atmospheric, with beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets, and ancient city walls.

Walking through its cobbled streets, surrounded by ancient city walls and historic buildings, is like stepping into a fairytale. The skyline is dotted with castle towers and old church spires. It’s ridiculously picturesque.

I think Tallinn is every bit as impressive as Prague – and I’d say even more atmospheric – but with a fraction of the number of tourists. It is slowly gaining popularity though, so I recommend visiting soon, before the secret’s fully out!

View of the towers, spires, and rooftops of Tallinn Old Town from Toompea Hill
Northern Europe’s medieval fairytale city

Where is Tallinn?

Tallinn is located in the north of Estonia, the northernmost of the Baltic States.  The city lies on the Baltic Sea, just across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki.

Today, Tallinn’s Old Town sits at the heart of the modern-day city.

Things To See & Do In Tallinn

The old city of Tallinn – Estonia’s medieval capital

Ever since 1997, the entirety of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Historic Centre is an “exceptionally complete and well-preserved medieval northern European trading city” (UNESCO).

The Old Town of Tallinn is split into two levels.  The upper town sits on a steep limestone hill (called Toompea) and has been the administrative centre of Estonia for over 1,000 years.

Here you’ll find many governmental buildings, an imposing castle, St Mary’s Cathedral, and the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Surrounding Toompea Hill, the lower town is a maze of winding medieval streets, colourful buildings, towers, marketplaces, squares, and churches, all protected by the city’s towering walls.

Here are some of the top things to do and see in Tallinn’s beautiful Old Town:

1. Town Hall Square / Old Town Square, Tallinn (Raekoja Plats)

Sunset in Tallinn's Town Hall Square
Beautiful Tallinn Town Hall in the early evening

Town Hall Square (also known as Old Town Square / Raekoja Plats) is the beating heart of the lower half of Tallinn’s Old Town.

A central marketplace and meeting point for centuries, this lively square is surrounded by colourful old buildings.  Here you’ll find many cafes and restaurants, shops and the odd street performer.

The gothic Tallinn Town Hall was built in the 1370s and is the oldest surviving one in Northern Europe.  Today, it hosts concerts and houses a museum about medieval Tallinn.

2. Toompea Hill

Night time view over Tallinn's Old Town from Toompea Hill
Night-time view from Toompea Hill

Toompea Hill (also known as Cathedral Hill) splits Tallinn’s Old Town into its upper and lower halves.

The hill itself is only about 50 metres tall, but there are several viewpoints which offer fantastic views over the city and out to sea.

Toompea lies at the very centre of Estonian politics and history.  It is where the rulers of Tallinn and Estonia have lived for centuries.

Here you’ll find the Estonian Parliament, administrative buildings, two cathedrals (one Lutheran, one Russian Orthodox), an 800-year-old castle, immaculately manicured gardens, and several sections of the city’s impressive walls.

I’d definitely recommend checking out Toompea Hill in both the daytime and at night.

During the day, many of the buildings are open to visit, although it can get a little crowded – especially around the viewpoints.

At night time, the whole place empties out and becomes incredibly atmospheric.  You might just have the whole place to yourself – I did.

3. Walk the City Walls

View from a window in a tower overlooking Tallinn's old city walls
A covered walkway runs along the top of the wall

Tallinn’s medieval defensive walls are some of the largest and strongest in Europe.  The oldest sections date from the 13th century and range from 3-5 metres thick.

Covered walkway built into Tallinn's old city walls
Some sections of Tallinn’s old city walls have been incredibly well-restored

Several sections of the city walls are open to the public.  Walkways running along the top offer great views over both Toompea and the lower town.

It costs €3 to enter each section, and most are reached via a narrow spiral staircase (best avoid any large bags etc.).

View though a stone window of a medieval tower in Tallinn
There are many towers

Primarily built for defence, the many towers dotted along the walls also served as storehouses and prisons.  Today, some have been converted into museums and art galleries.

4. Great Coastal Gate

One of Old Town Tallinn’s original entrances

The Great Coastal Gate, on Pikk Street, is one of the best-preserved and (in my opinion) most beautiful of all of the city’s gates.

This impressive structure controlled access to Tallinn’s medieval Old Town for hundreds of years.

On one side of the gate, the large round fortified tower (called “Fat Margaret” after one of its giant cannons) helped to protect the city from invasion by sea.

Today, the tower houses the Estonian Maritime Museum.  It’s worth climbing up to the top – the views are great.

5. Danish King’s Garden (Taani Kuninga Aed)

Danish King’s Garden

On the slopes of Toompea Hill, the Danish King’s Garden is a pleasant landscaped garden enclosed by a section of the city walls and two towers.

Named following the Danish invasion in 1219, the garden is a peaceful, slightly secluded corner of the Old Town of Tallinn.

It’s a pretty place to rest, sitting on one of the benches and admiring the view out over the city.  You can also climb up and walk along a section of the city walls from here.

Fun fact:  Legend has it that this is the birthplace of the Danish flag – the oldest continuously used national flag in the world.

6. Kiek in de Kök Museum and the Bastion Tunnels

Creepy silhouette of a monk sculpture outside Kiek in de Kök at night with an old medieval archway illuminated by warm yellow lamps
Very creepy monk sculpture outside Kiek in de Kök

Next to the Danish King’s Garden is a large round artillery tower called Kiek in de Kök.

Built in the late 15th century, this six-storey tower was another of the city’s key defensive structures.  On the outside, you can see several cannonballs embedded in the tower which date from a battle in 1577.

Today, the tower contains a museum and photography exhibition.

In the basement of Kiek in de Kök is the entrance to the Bastion Tunnels.

These were originally built by the Swedes in the 17th century to hide and transport troops, supplies and ammunition in case of a Russian invasion.

Since then, the tunnels have served many purposes, including as a bomb shelter during World War II, and a hangout for punks and other “dissidents” during the Soviet times.

You take a guided tour of certain sections of the Bastion Tunnels.  They also have an audio guide if you’d prefer to explore at your own pace.

See here for more info on admissions, times, and guided tours.

7. Cat’s Well

Cat’s Well – in the heart of Old Town Tallinn

This well used to be an important source of drinking water for the city during medieval times.

However, certain superstitious townsfolk came to fear that an evil spirit lived inside the well.

To pacify the spirit and prevent it from flooding the city, people threw sacrifices into the well – often stray cats. 🙁

Eventually, the well became so contaminated that people could no longer drink its water (go figure), so it was boarded up. Today, it’s a famous landmark in Tallinn.

8. Enjoy Traditional Estonian Food

Rataskaevu 16 – one of my favourite Tallinn restaurants in the Old Town

Traditional Estonian food is both unique and delicious.  With certain similarities to both Scandinavian/Nordic and Russian cuisine, there’s a strong focus on locally sourced ingredients.

Typical dishes feature venison and elk, fresh fish from the Baltic Sea, sausages, fresh fruits and berries, and lots of dark rye bread.

You’ll find many excellent restaurants in Tallinn’s Old Town, catering to all budgets and tastes.

Rataskaevu 16 is one of the best (try to book in advance) and serves a range of traditional and contemporary Estonian dishes.

Their menu changes seasonally, although braised elk is one of their specialities – it’s incredible.

Tallinn also has a few medieval-themed restaurants. Olde Hansa is the best-known of these.

Here, you can enjoy a medieval feast of hearty food made from 700-year-old recipes, served by waiters wearing medieval costumes, in an atmospheric old chamber lit by candlelight.

Think piles of boar and other roasted meats, sausages, barley, lentils, cheeses and jams, all washed down with flagons of traditional local beer.

It’s a little touristy, but still a fun and unique experience in Tallinn.

Traditionally, Estonian cuisine features quite a lot of meat.  However, there is a growing number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants offering tasty and inventive takes on local classics.

Vegan Restoran V (next to Rataskaevu 16) is a great option.

As an aside, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with restaurant staff quite as friendly as Tallinn.  Everywhere I ate, the people were incredibly welcoming and hospitable.  Good job, Tallinn.

9. Churches and Cathedrals

The colourful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Tallinn has many beautiful churches and cathedrals.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – on Toompea Hill – is one of the newest (built in 1894), and arguably the prettiest.

Named after a 13th-century Russian prince, this impressive Russian Orthodox cathedral has a colourful, ornate exterior with iconic onion domes.

St. Mary’s Cathedral – also on Toompea Hill – is the oldest church in Estonia.  It has been modified and transformed several times over the centuries.

Originally built as a Roman Catholic cathedral in the 13th century, it was subsequently converted to the Estonian Lutheran Church and features a Baroque bell tower built in 1779.

Atmospheric streets of Toompea at night with the onion domes of the orthodox cathedral in the distance
Toompea is super atmospheric at night

The tall tower and sharp spire of St. Olav’s Church dominate Tallinn’s skyline.  Visible from most parts of the city, this iconic church was (reportedly) the tallest building in Europe between 1549 and 1625.

During the Soviet era, the KGB used the spire as a radio tower.

St. Nicholas’ Church was first built in 1230 but was largely destroyed during World War II.  The building was subsequently restored, and today houses a fantastic art exhibition.

Here you can see the only surviving fragment of the late fifteenth-century painting Danse Macabre (by Bernt Notke).

The church also has excellent acoustics and regularly hosts concerts and recitals.

Practical Info & Tips For Visiting Tallinn

Tallinn's old city walls with four round stone towers with orange triangular tops
More awesome towers and walls surrounding the Old Town


Virtually everyone I met in Tallinn spoke excellent English. However, speaking even a few words of Estonian will go a long way with the locals and will help make your visit even more enjoyable.

Best time to visit Tallinn

Tallinn in the snow
Estonian winter wonderland

Tallinn is a beautiful city to visit at any time of year.

Summer (June-August) is when the weather in Tallinn is most pleasant  – with daytime temperatures of around 20°C.  I think this is the best time to visit Tallinn.

However, this is also the busiest season for tourism.  Whilst it’s never exactly heaving (compared with other European tourist hotspots), more and more people are discovering this fantastic city.

If you want to avoid crowds as much as possible, come midweek.

Spring and Autumn (April-May / September-October) can also be good times to visit.  Visitor numbers are much lower during these months, which is a bonus – although the evenings get fairly chilly.

Winters in Estonia can be very cold (Tallinn is only a 5-hour drive west of Saint Petersburg).  But if you’re happy to wrap up warm, Tallinn looks especially magical in the snow.

Accommodation is often cheaper during the winter months too (except during the Christmas-New Year period).

How to get to Tallinn, Estonia

The Tallinn-Helsinki ferry

Tallinn is a perfect destination for a city break.  Located just across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki, it’s really easy to get to.

Both cities are well served by the major European airlines and are linked by regular ferries (which take about 2.5 hours).

If you have more time, I’d also definitely recommend spending a day or two in Helsinki, which is another fantastic city to explore on foot.

View of Tallinn’s skyline from the sea
Tallinn Airport is only 3.5 kilometres southeast of the Old Town.  Frequent buses and trams link the two.  Alternatively, grab an Uber/Bolt taxi (or walk!).

I use – and recommend – Aviasales to find the best deals on flights.  Their search engine is really easy to use and often picks up on promotions and discounted fares that are missed by other comparison sites.

You can search across a range of dates, and it suggests the best dates and times for you. Give it a try!  Click here to compare the cheapest flights available.

If you’re already in the Baltic region, Tallinn is connected to the other major cities (e.g. Riga in Latvia, or Vilnius in Lithuania) by regular bus services.

There are also trains, although these tend to be slower and often require you to change trains mid-journey.

Also, see my guide to the best things to do in Riga.

How to get around Tallinn’s Old Town

Cobbled streets in the historical centre of Tallinn
On foot!

Tallinn’s Old Town is fairly small and easily explorable on foot.  Much of it is pedestrianised, and the best way to experience it is just to wander and see what you find.

It’s easy (and fun) to get lost in the winding backstreets and alleyways of the Old Town.

You can use the various towers and church spires to orient yourself, though if you keep walking in one direction you’ll eventually reach the city walls.

To get to Toompea, just walk uphill!

If you’re keen to explore other parts of the city, there’s an efficient network of trams and buses which operate between about 6 am and 11 pm.

Check out the maps located at tram stops for details of which line to take.

Public transport is free for residents of Tallinn (again, good job Tallinn), but visitors pay €1.60 for a ride (or €3 for the day).  You can buy a ticket from the driver or at a kiosk.

The ferry terminal is less than 1 kilometre from the edge of the Old Town, so easily walkable.

Where to stay in Tallinn

Tallinn's atmospheric backstreets at night illuminated by an old street lamp
Atmospheric backstreets

There are many excellent places to stay in Tallinn – with something to suit all budgets and preferences.

You’ll find Airbnb properties in and around the Old Town.  Most of these are high quality and relatively affordable.

Prices tend to be a bit lower outside of the Old Town. I stayed in a great place in the Rotermanni Kvartal district, just east of the Old Town (sub-5 minute walk).

If you’re looking for a hotel, good options include the St. Petersbourg Hotel (fairly pricey but excellent) and the St. Olav Hotel (mid-range, very atmospheric).

Click here for the latest prices and more details.

Tours of Tallinn

Tallinn (and Estonia more generally) is a very safe destination and is easy to explore independently.

However, if you would prefer a guided tour to see the highlights, there are many excellent tour companies to choose from.

Click here for more information.

Car hire in Tallinn

If you’d like to see more of Estonia, hiring a car is straightforward and fairly affordable.  Estonian roads are, generally, in very good condition and the driving is easy.

The best deals on car hire in Estonia are usually found on rentalcars.com.

Click here for the latest prices.

Most countries’ driving licences are recognised in Estonia.  If you’re coming from the UK, you can drive with your UK driving licence, without the need for an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Car hire companies may impose their own requirements, so it’s always best to check with them before arriving if you need to hire a car.

** Love road trips?  Me too.  Check out some of my road trip-related posts, including:


Estonia is in the Schengen Area.  Many nationalities can visit visa-free for up to 90 days.

If you need a visa, I recommend using iVisa.com.  Their online visa processing service is quick, secure, and easy to use.

Further info & useful links

(Very Brief) History Of Tallinn

Steps leading up to a narrow stone arch in a backstreet in Tallinn, Estonia
You can feel the history in the air

The area around Tallinn has been inhabited for thousands of years.

Between the 13th and 16th centuries, Tallinn (then called Reval) was a major trading outpost of the Hanseatic League.  Its strategic location on the Baltic Sea made it an important city in the region.

During this period, the city changed hands several times.

Once a Danish fief, it was later sold to the Teutonic Order, and subsequently incorporated into the Swedish Empire.

There are many beautiful medieval buildings in Tallinn’s Old Town that date from this period, including the town hall, pharmacy, several churches, guilds, houses, and the city walls.

Buildings and spires in the heart of old tallinn

Tallinn was captured by the Russian Empire in 1710.  It remained a Russian city from then until 1918 when Estonia declared its independence during the Russian Revolution.

Estonia was later annexed to the USSR from 1940 to 1991, during which time it was called the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Post-1991, Estonia has flourished as an independent country, joining both the EU and NATO in 2004.

Today, Tallinn is a modern, high-tech city, often described as the Silicon Valley of Europe due to the huge number of start-ups and tech firms based there.

Final Thoughts

Tallinn is a fantastic city. I could even see myself living at some point in the future. And with its convenient location and easy access to other Baltic countries, it’s a great base for exploring more of Northern Europe.

If you have a little more time, consider extending your trip by a few days. Several other great places in Estonia are well worth a visit too.

* If you’re looking for other alternative destinations, check out some of my other posts, including:

Like This Article? Pin it!

IMPORTANT: Never travel without travel insurance!

Here are three companies that I’ve used, and thoroughly recommend:

  • HeyMondo – the best value travel insurance provider on the market. They cover virtually every country in the world, they have an easy-to-use app, and their policies are straightforward and upfront, with minimal (often no) deductibles and excesses.
  • SafetyWing – if you’re a digital nomad like me, it’s essential that you have suitable insurance. It’s super flexible and affordable, you can sign up for as little or as long as you want, and can activate and deactivate it whenever you need to.
  • World Nomads – for adventurous travellers, covers 200+ activities that many other insurers won’t, such as skydiving, heli-skiing, rock climbing, rafting, scuba diving, cliff jumping, and kiteboarding (not available for residents of every country – check here).

Want to start your own blog?

I believe in transparency: Please note that some links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through them, I might earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. (For example, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of these links.) However, I only link to products and companies that I trust and honestly recommend. See my disclosures page for more information. The income goes towards keeping this site up and running. Thanks for your support.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Who Am I?


  • I’m Alex Tiffany.  Former corporate city robot; lifelong travel addict.


  • I’m on a mission to make adventurous travel accessible to all.


  • I created this site to inspire, encourage and enable as many people to get outside and explore as much of our beautiful world as possible.