If you find yourself in Helsinki and not knowing what to do, you can always hop on a cruise ship and go over the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn. It only takes 2,5 hours, and the Estonian capital has much to offer to entertain you for several days.
Several boats are cruising between these two cities, but most of the people use either Tallink or Eckerö Line, the former being slightly quicker to cross the sea.
You can do lots of fun things in Tallinn, depend on what you prefer, but here some of the best picks, if you ask me.
1. Don’t Be Late at the Harbour and Buy Your Ticket Online
Don’t do like we usually do when Niina and I are going to Tallinn: we are taking the last possible tram to get to the harbor in time. Thus, we are always second guessing are we going to hit or miss the boat. Instead, go to Olympiaterminaali (the harbor from where the boats are leaving) in time!
You have to be there at 8 AM – the latest, if you’re traveling with Eckerö Line. If you’re late, you’ve missed your check-in and boarding, and they won’t let you in anymore. And they are strict about this! Take the tram number 9, it goes right to the front of the terminal and takes about 15 minutes from the main Railway Station in the center of Helsinki.
If you’re going with Tallink, you have a bit more flexibility. But don’t push your luck too much.
A convenient way is to buy your ticket online – but i.e. Eckerö Line still demands that you have a printed confirmation of your reservation to show at the check-in desk. So, in some cases, it may be better to just walk in the terminal and buy your tickets from the counter.
2. Have Your Own Snacks Onboard
The buffets onboard are over-priced, so do yourself a favor and take some snacks with you. If you pack i.e. some beef jerky, raw snack bars, and bananas into your backpack, your journey will be a breeze.
These boats are also notoriously famous for people getting drunk, unfortunately. Many people are going to Tallinn just to buy some cheaper booze, and onboard you can certainly notice it by just looking around. There are also more quiet areas on the boats, so grab a seat in one of those places and you’ll be better off.
3. Walk to the Old Town at the Center of Tallinn
When arriving in Tallinn, you can just walk from the harbor to the heart of the town. It only takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll arrive at the beautiful, historical center of Tallinn – the Old Town.
Medieval walls still surround most of the Old Town, and when you’re zig-zagging through the narrow streets, you’ll feel like you would be in the middle of some fairytale.
4. Take a Bite of Tallinn’s Flourishing Food Scene
There are lots of great and trendy restaurants in Tallinn, serving delicious and moderately priced food. New places are born all the time, but to mention some of the best ones we’ve eaten in, I’d recommend stopping by to F-Hoone, Von Krahli Aed, or Rataskaevu 16.
The first represents a bit more modern cooking, while the other two serve pretty traditional, but extremely good-quality food.
The latter, Rataskaevu 16 (which is also its address) is located in a building which has absolutely intriguing – yet also maybe a bit hair-raising – story. If you look closely at its uppermost floor’s windows, you’ll notice that one of them is not a real window, it’s just a painted replicate.
The legend goes that the actual window was bricked shut, after the Devil himself had had a wedding party in the room behind that very window. This house is also still said to be one of the most haunted ones in Tallinn. You can see the window on the picture below, the upper left-hand corner one.
6. Breathe the Medieval Atmosphere of the Old Town and Sip Craft Beer
The picturesque Old Town surrounded by the medieval “Walls of Tallinn” holds most of the restaurants and bars and attracts the tourist hoards, but you can still find peaceful parts along the narrow streets if you just venture a bit further away from the central square.
At the central square there are usually people dressed in Medieval costumes, selling crafts, and handing out flyers of the nearby, Middle Age -themed restaurants. If you have to visit one, stop by at the III Draakon, a little Medieval Bar to sip a pint of local brew.
Then you can continue to have another pint to the world-famous Depeche Mode Baar. As the name suggests, they’re playing only Depeche Mode music and the decoration is made accordingly.
Craft breweries have taken some wind beneath their wings in Tallinn lately, and you can taste the results in various bars around the town. I’d encourage trying out the small brews instead of the big, industry ones; you can find some real gems among beers.
But if it’s just coffee that you want, one of the most atmospheric cafés with good coffee is called Kehrwieder.
Also, at Christmas time, there is a cozy and atmospheric Christmas market at the Old Town Square.
7. Go Out of the Center and Visit an Old, Haunted, Soviet-Era Prison: Patarei
Take tram number 2 and get off at the Kalaranna 2 stop. Alternatively, you can walk here from the center, though it’ll take more than 30 minutes. Admission is just 3€, if you go independently, and you can spend all the time you want in the middle of crumbling walls, rotting furniture, and cells of which some still bear their former inmate’s stuff.
Eerie? Oh, yes! You can check out all the most shivering rooms and daunting pictures from our detailed adventure report from the Patarei prison in here.
8. Visit the Trendy Neighborhood – Kalamaja
And since you’re already almost there, just continue a bit further, and you’ll come to Kalamaja. This neighborhood is one of the trendiest in Tallinn and has lots of great restaurants and bars.
You’ll have a feeling of the days gone by amidst the wooden houses, some in great shape, some in a more or less crumbling state, creating a kind of romantic atmosphere.
Board Your Boat Back to Helsinki or Book a Hotel and Stay Another Day
Again, be on time at the harbor – at least 45 minutes before your boat’s scheduled departure!
But if you’d like to spend another day exploring Tallinn, you can always book an excellent hotel from the center and regain your strength. You can also book cheap boat&hotel combos beforehand from many travel agencies.
These deals usually offer great value for your money, and pretty nice hotels are included. Many times these deals offer the hotel really cheaply, compared to rates when booked separately. You can book one or several nights’ stays this way.
These are some of the best things to do in Tallinn, according to us. But if we have missed something, don’t hesitate to comment and tell us what would you like to see in Tallinn!