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Tallinn (pronounced TAL-een) sits in the north of Estonia, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It was settled more than 3,500 years ago and is one of the best destinations on a Baltic cruise itinerary.
The Old Town section of Tallinn has remained mostly unchanged throughout the years, with its narrow, cobblestone streets, medieval castles and Northern European monasteries. Many people say that entering the Old Town is like stepping into a fairy tale and they would be completely right. It has a certain charming awe about it, you feel intrigued to head deeper and deeper into the heart of it and if you do, you will truly fall in love with this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your ship will dock just outside of the town center. You could easily walk from the port to the Old Town but shuttlebus service usually is provided. You can see the beautiful buildings of the Old Town from the ship so a map to actually get there is not essential, however, we would advise that you get a map once you are in the Old Town — you don’t want to miss anything! If you do make the decision to walk, you will pass a few restaurants and a small shopping mall — these are not aimed at tourists so you may well find some great little bargains to take home, as prices will probably be slightly cheaper than in the Old Town itself.
You really can explore the Old Town in a day and without feeling like you have to rush through it. Take your time, enjoy the atmosphere and definitely stop in one of the many restaurants or cafes and enjoy a drink and some local cuisine.
If you have a smart phone that you are bringing with you, download a walking tour of Tallinn before you go. Once you're in Old Town, there are other options for guided tours.
Travelers have the option of purchasing the Tallinn Card, an all-inclusive key that provides admission to all of the main sights and museums, sightseeing tours, public transportation, discounts at restaurants and shops, as well as other free offers around town. The Tallinn Card costs $30 per day for adults, $15 for children, with discounts for additional days.
Tallinn offers something for everyone in the family; it’s not all about sightseeing if you don’t want it to be. Not too far from the port you will find the Tallinn Botanic Garden and the Tallinn Zoo, ideal options if you have children that would soon get bored with a day of walking around the Old Town. And don't forget the Theatre and Music Museum at Müürivahe 12. Here you will see more than 500 rare musical instruments, including ancient pianos and peculiar items from the 1800s. The museum welcomes families — children with parents or grandparents — and some of its features are a medieval Assauwe tower, touch screens that provide you the opportunity to listen to the sound of historical instruments or the whole symphony orchestra, theater masks, costumes and stage to explore. Tickets are $5 for adults, half for students and pensioners, free for kids 8 and under and for people with disabilities.
Estonia Open Air Museum, a forested park filled with 18th to 20th century farmhouses, windmills, churches and schools, is complete with a staff to demonstrate the ways of life in Tallinn’s past. It’s outside of the Old Town, but the excursion is worth it. Another good excursion is Kadriorg Palace, an imperial Russian summer residence built by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti for Tsar Peter the Great in 1718. It is located in a 222-acre park in the eastern part of the city. This event marked the beginning of Tallinn’s fame as a summer resort for noble and rich Russians for most of the 18th and 19th centuries. Besides the stunning architecture, the palace is home to the foreign art collection of the Estonian Art Museum. And admission is free.
Kiek in de Kök (Low German for peep into the kitchen) is an artillery tower built in 1475. It is now a museum. It gained the name Kiek in de Kök from the ability of tower occupants to see into kitchens of nearby houses. The tower is 124 feet high and has walls 13 feet thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls. The cafe on the uppermost floor of the tower offers magnificent views of the town and harbor.
For those interested in religious sites, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a classic onion-domed 19th-century Russian Orthodox church that has become a touristy symbol of the city, much to the annoyance of nationalist types who regard it as a symbol of oppression. It was almost demolished in 1924 during Estonia’s first brief spell of independence, but the Soviets left it to molder and it has been restored to its former glory.
There’s also St. Mary’s Cathedral-Toomkirik. The oldest church in Tallinn, it was originally built as a Catholic church in 1229 but renovated and expanded many times since then, becoming a Lutheran church in 1561. It was the only building to survive a 17th century fire that ravaged the rest of Toompea. Other claims to fame: More than a hundred medieval coats of arms, an impressive baroque pulpit and ancient tombstones of many Tallinn greats.
Pikk Hermann, or Tall Hermann, is a tower of the Toompea Castle, on Toompea hill. The first part was built 1360-70. It was rebuilt in the 16th century. A staircase with 215 steps leads to the top of the tower, where there’s a viewing platform.
In 1371–74 Tallinn Town Hall acquired its oldest and rarest pieces of medieval woodcarving: benches in the Gothic style. The carved side posts of the longer bench, featuring the story of Tristan and Isolde and Samson’s fight with the lion, are some of the most beautiful examples of medieval art in Estonia. The man at the top of the building is known as Old Thomas. In July and August the Town Hall is open Monday-Saturday 10 am to 4 pm; entrance through the cellar. Closed Aug. 24-26. Groups and guided tours by appointment: [email protected]. The tower is open May through mid-September every day except June 23-24, 11 am-6 pm.
For fine jewelry your best bet is A-Galerii, found at Hobusepea 8 (646-4101). De La Gardie, at Virue 13/15, is a wonderful five story complex full of fashion and apparel outlets. It was recently sold, and there's no website yet from the new owners.
Tallinn's many souvenir shops offer reasonable prices, alongside several designer boutiques and small niche family owned businesses. Shopping is not concentrated in one place — you will find quirky little stores all over the Old Town so do explore. There is also a small market at the port that is worth browsing. From your ship if you look to the right you will see a row of small white roofed huts: This is the market. Most of the stalls are open all day and offer everything from snow globes and key chains to locally made (and quite beautiful) bags and cushion covers. The units start closing around 5 pm, so make sure you head back to your ship a little sooner if you want to browse. For all you Wi-Fi lovers, you can also pick up a free Internet signal from the small shop just to the left of the market. You can’t miss it.
Tallinn’s culinary scene is largely in Old Town. The Old Town is packed with restaurants claiming to offer authentic Estonian food, particularly on and around Raekoja plats. For tasty local favorites, Vanaema Juures (Grandma’s Place) is a cozy cafe serving dishes such as sauerkraut roast pork and wild boar with wine sauce. Restaurant Kadriorg, located within the district of the same name, is known for its gourmet Italian and French fusion with an Estonian twist. Popular budget restaurants include Cafe EAT and Porgu. For the best place in the city to gorge on raw fish, try the Sushi House. For a splurge, try Kuldse Notsu Kõrts: Good traditional Estonian restaurant close to the main square. Try the house beer or vodka and fresh buckthorn and honey apertif with your blood sausage or the famous pork knuckle with extra spicy mustard. The traditional desserts are also worth a try. If you're looking for nice, affordable restaurants popular among local people, try the neighborhoods of Kalamaja and Kopli.
If your ship is in port overnight, you're in luck: Tallinn has some of the best nightlife in Europe. Some of the don't-miss spots are Club Hollywood, Venus Club, Club Prive (best music), Cafe Cubanita and the Butterfly Lounge. The Von Krahl Teater Baar, at Rataskaevu 10 (626-9090), is another diverse and entertaining nightspot in Tallinn, as is Vabank.
Another interesting option for those in port overnight would be taking a ferry from the port of Tallinn (which you can do from directly opposite your cruise ship) to Helsinki in Finland. Depending on the type of ferry, the journey time can be as short as 90 minutes. A “day cruise” may be the best option as the fare will also cover your return journey to Tallinn. The fastest and most frequent ferry link is the Linda Line (journey time from Tallinn to Helsinki is about 1.5 hours) followed by Viking Line (at 2.5 hours). If you do decide to take one of these trips it is advised to book your tickets online before you leave for your cruise as summer crossings can be busy and sell out rather quickly. The Finns love to take advantage of the cheaper eats in Tallinn.
Estonia is a wonderful country and one perfectly suited for those traveling alone, too. The Old Town is big, but easily navigated and it is incredibly safe. It really is the ideal destination for the solo traveller and for those that want to build up their confidence of exploring ashore alone. So long as you have a map with you, you can’t go wrong.
The temperate climate of Tallinn is characterized by moderately warm summers and cold, often severe winters. The average temperature in the summer months is around 70 degrees; Tallinn winters average a temperature of 18 degrees. Autumn is known to be the rainy season, whereas springtime is fairly dry and mild. The best time to go to Tallinn is during late spring and summer, when the weather starts to warm up and both locals and tourists flock to outside venues.
Cruise ships dock at the Port of Tallinn. Cruise vessels are mainly accommodated in the Old City Harbor, which is less than a mile northeast of the Old Town. Within the port area, there are several passenger terminals; free public WiFi areas are in both A and D terminals. You can walk to downtown, or you can often catch a free shuttle at the port.
Tallinn has a collection of trolleys, trams, and minibuses that operate from 6 am to midnight daily, shuttling you around the city at a nominal cost. If you’d like to take a taxi while in the city, contact Linnatakso (644-2442) and they’ll be happy to pick you up. The driver is not allowed to charge more than indicated on the meter. The driver must be paid in Euros. Ask the taxi driver for a receipt from the meter’s printer. If the meter or printer is out of order, the driver should not be in service, and you have the right to refuse from paying the fare. If you’d like to rent a car while in Tallinn, one option is to contact Avis (667-1515). There are three companies that operate hop-on sightseeing buses; they cost about $20 a day and run from about 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Document: U.S., Canadian and British citizens will need a passport.
Language: Estonian, although many locals speak English
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“In Tallinn, creativity is flourishing in the independent design shops in Telliskivi Creative City, a renovated 19th-century railway factory complex, and restaurants like Leib and Noa.”