Read on to see how I spent my 4 days in Tallinn in winter last March - the complete list of all the places I visited and where I stopped to stuff my face!
Tallinn is one of the most popular places for a city trip in Europe right now, with most visitors roaming the narrow streets of Tallinn’s old town in the summer months when also thousands of cruise ship visitors arrive each day.
While I can totally see the charm of this beautiful city in the summer, it just so happened that I got to visit Tallinn in winter (late-March to be precise, which is still considered winter by local standards), but if you’ve followed along on Instagram, you know that I had a blast anyway!
Tallinn is just one of those cities that keeps you busy no matter the season, and being able to explore without having to stand in line and waste time is always a huge plus in my opinion, so here’s how you can also make the most of a trip to Tallinn in winter!
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How to Get There
I combined my trip to Tallinn with a visit to Finland, and it seems as though that’s a very popular way of visiting the Baltic region (though, you can also get to Tallinn by overnight-ferry from Stockholm and the Åland Islands). After all, Tallinn is situated only a 2-hour journey from Helsinki by ferry, which also means that a lot of people only visit for the day.
I really wanted to experience the Estonian culture and way of life, however, so after a couple of days in Turku in South-West Finland and a weekend spent in Helsinki, I made my way to Tallinn early on a Monday morning.
There are several ferry lines and departure times to choose from, but I chose to go with Eckerö Line as they offer the cheapest tickets (I paid 10€) and the next fastest journey (2 hours and 15 minutes). From what I’ve gathered by looking at the two other ferry providers, tickets often cost 25€ to 50€ and the journey takes 2 hours and 30 minutes with Viking Line and 2 hours with Tallink Silja Line - the 15 minutes I would have saved with the latter did not make up for the price in my view, though Tallink Silja comes with the most modern ferry fleet.
My ferry departed from Länsiterminaali T2 in Helsinki at 9 am and we arrived to Tallinn at 11.15 am. On board the ferry, there were plenty of lockers for luggage, a duty free store, a casino, as well as several bars, cafes and a restaurant. I’m usually busy staring out onto the horizon in an attempt to not get sea-sick whenever I’m on board of a ferry, but from what I’ve seen, there are plenty of options to keep you entertained in the 2 hours of the ferry crossing.
Tallinn also has an airport if you’re travelling from outside the Baltic region. It’s tiny (it’s one of those airports where you can’t drop off your luggage until it’s precisely 2 hours until departure) but there are plenty of cheap flights to be found to all major European airports with Norwegian, WizzAir, Ryanair or Air Baltic.
What to See and Do
Find my detailed itinerary with all the sights I experienced below, and keep reading to find more information on possible day trips to take from Tallinn - even in winter!
I was fortunate enough to be able to check into my Airbnb right away, so I had plenty of time left to explore the city on my first day.
The Old Town of Tallinn
Of course, I went straight to the old town first! The old town of Tallinn is definitely a must when visiting, and while this is also where most cruise ship and day tourists flock in summer, it’s relatively peaceful in winter - except for the viewing platforms at Patkuli and Kohtuotsa; I only ever experienced them peaceful and empty early in the morning.
I had breakfast and an early lunch on the ferry but I needed a little pick me up when I was exploring the old town, so I made my way to Gelato Ladies in Uus. They have plenty of fresh and delicious sorbets (and dairy ice-cream, but I can’t have that) to choose from and honestly? Nothing beats eating ice-cream with a view of pastel buildings - not even the cold of winter!
All in all, I ventured through the entire old town and got to see all the major sights - from the two popular viewing platforms Patkuli and Kohtuotsa to the Town Hall Square, St. Catherine's Passage, the Danish King's Garden and Neitsitorni Tower, to Toompea Castle and Aleksander Nevski Cathedral (the Orthodox Cathedral of Tallinn).
As it was getting a little chilly at one point, I thought about visiting Vabamu (The Museum of Occupations and Freedom) just down the road of the Orthodox Cathedral, but unfortunately, it was closed. Visiting Tallinn in winter does come with limited opening hours of most attractions, so make sure to double check before finalizing your itinerary! Fortunately, my Airbnb was just 10 minutes from the old town by foot, which meant I could head “home” to have a snack and warm up, before heading back to the old town for dinner.
I had dinner at the vegan restaurant V in the heart of Tallinn’s old town. It’s a small place, so regardless of whether you’re visiting Tallinn in winter or summer, you should definitely reserve a table beforehand!
I had the Thai yellow vegetable curry with jasmine rice as my main course and the mini Pavlova with avocado cream and strawberry sorbet for dessert, and left the restaurant very happy and full. It was delightful!
Pro tip: If you only have one day in Tallinn, it might pay off to book a guided tour, for instance to see the Old Town and Jägala Waterfall or to go for a hike in an Estonian bog and explore the old town afterwards.
On my second day in Tallinn, I made my way out of the city centre to get some culture on. The first stop of the day was Kadriorg Palace. Originally built by Tsar Peter the Great as a gift for his beloved Catherine, Catherine showed no interest in the place whatsoever, and today, Kadriorg is used as an art museum.
Entrance costs 6,50€ and you can get there by taking tram 1 or 3 from the city center.
The palace is seriously impressive - both, from the inside and out - and I spent a good 2,5 hours to take it all in.
Afterwards I made my way through the palace garden, where you can also find the former residence of Peter the Great. Apparently, he lived in this pretty humble abode while overseeing the construction work of Kadriorg Palace. His former home can be visited, but again, it was unfortunately closed while I went past.
KUMU - Tallinn’s Art Museum
Instead, I made my way to KUMU - Tallinn’s Art Museum. I realize that not everyone is as into art as I am, but there are so many different exhibitions on display at KUMU and some of them also portray Estonian culture in a very interesting and insightful way (there’s even an entire exhibit on Estonian fashion!), so definitely consider visiting even if you’re not into art!
Entrance costs 8€.
Viimsi Open Air Museum
Afterwards, I left Tallinn for a couple of hours and hopped on the bus to Viimsi Open Air Museum. If you’re following me on Instagram, you already know that the bus ride itself was a rather traumatic adventure. Basically, I didn’t anticipate being yelled at in Estonian simply because the bus driver was unable to tell me how much the bus ticket cost - yelling “money money money” at me like a bank robber certainly didn’t make it more clear as to how much I should pay exactly (2€ as it turns out).
Viimsi Open Air Museum, however, is well worth a potentially stressful bus ride. The museum exhibits old coastal farms from the area and gives information on how the coastal people of Estonia lived back in the day. While all those stories (especially those on how people used to smuggle alcohol during prohibition) were super interesting, I fell in love with Viimsi for its views alone. The museum is situated right by the beach and you have an amazing view of all the incoming ferries, as well as Tallinn from afar, from there!
Entrance is only 3€ and the easiest way to get there is by taking bus 114 from Tallinn Train Station or J. Poska (close to Kadriorg) to either Tamme or Ranna in Viimsi (the stops aren’t announced, so I’d recommend following attention to your position on Google Maps along the way - having a data plan is vital for this). The bus only goes about once an hour, so make sure to plan your departure from the museum back to the city in advance!
If you don't feel comfortable navigating your way to Viimsi on your own (totally understandable!), you could also go on a guided tour. GetYourGuide offers a 6-hour tour covering the highlights of Tallinn (the Old Town, Kadriorg, Viimsi Open Air Museum, Pirita and Tallinn TV tower), that seems like a good alternative!
Lunch and Dinner:
I survived the day by bringing a packed lunch and snacks that I savoured on the bus ride, but you can also find a cafe at KUMU, as well as a seafood and grill restaurant right next to Viimsi Open Air Museum, called PAAT. Their menu looks quite divine, so it might very well be worth stopping by after visiting the open air museum!
I started my third day in Tallinn with another stroll around the old town, this time early in the morning before the day trippers hit, on my way to Vabamu (The Museum of Occupations and Freedom). Of course, I got the opening hours all wrong as instead of 10 am, the museum only opens at 11 am in winter, which resulted in a little further stroll along Lindamäe Park and the Freedom Square.
Good thing I was dressed in several layers of wool - absolutely vital if you suddenly end up spending more time outside than you had originally planned for.
Vabamu - The Museum of Occupations and Freedom
Vabamu Museum portrays the occupation history of Estonia, from WWII to being part of the USSR. The exhibitions are chronological and start with eye-witness stories of those who had to flee the country during WWII. There are several videos showing interviews with eye-witnesses of the time and you can listen in your preferred language via the audio guide that will be handed out upon arrival.
The exhibition then splits up into several smaller parts - from the items people brought on their journey when they were forced to leave the country, to the journey itself, and lastly, to emigration to the US and the new life exile-Estonians had to build from scratch.
Afterwards, the exhibition shifts focus to the post-war years when Estonia was part of the USSR. What was it like to live behind the Iron Curtain? And what happened when Estonia finally became a free country?
The exhibition continues upstairs and in the lobby, with more videos of Estonians telling their story and their opinions on how freedom is characterized. These interviews are the most interesting feature of the museum and definitely make you think.
Overall, I spent a good 2 hours at Vabamu, before heading to Telliskivi Creative City for lunch. Entrance is 11€ and the museum is situated just down the road from Aleksander Nevski Cathedral and the old town.
Telliskivi Creative City
Telliskivi Creative City is the hippest neighbourhood of Tallinn at the moment, with tons of restaurants, bars and cafes, as well as plenty of street food trucks and over 600 concerts/cultural events hosted every year. What once was a former industrial neighbourhood has now been completely transformed into a space where tourists and locals alike can gather and spend time doing what they love - whether that’s browsing independent stores and flea markets, band practice, street art or just indulging in all the food!
Telliskivi attracts almost a million yearly visitors nowadays and should definitely also be on your itinerary - no matter whether you’re visiting Tallinn in winter or summer, and even if you’re just visiting for one day as well.
I had lunch at Kivi Paber Käärid - a 100% gluten free restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan options. I went for the rice noodle salad with chicken (super spicy but oh, so good!) and the chocolate mud cake with raspberry for dessert (heaven!).
As if that weren’t enough (it actually was more than enough but there’s always space for ice-cream), I went for 2 scoops of fruit sorbet at La Muu just across the street.
Kivi Paber Käärid and La Muu are two of many options when it comes to food at Telliskivi, and there even is an entire street dedicated to street food on the way to Telliskivi Creative City from the train station.
I had a wander around the creative city afterwards to try and spot and capture as much street art as possible, before heading to Balti Jaama Turg - following up on the recommendation of my Airbnb host!
Balti Jaama Turg
Balti Jaama Turg is an indoor market hall next to Tallinn’s train station that’s jam-packed with all kinds of food stalls, vintage clothing, as well as antiques. Basically, it’s heaven for any collector and you can find the weirdest things at the market. Stalin figures? WWII uniforms? Trust me, those aren’t even the oddest items available...
Despite all the truly weird items, Balti Jaama market is amazing when it comes to Estonian handicraft and souvenirs that aren’t mass-produced in China, as well as vegan/gluten-free/organic food (there’s a shop called Biomarket right at the entrance of the market hall when coming from the train station, that’s entirely dedicated to healthy food).
I spent a good 1 1/2 hours browsing all the different shops and stalls - the perfect thing to do when visiting Tallinn in winter as it’s super warm inside the market hall!
On my way back to my Airbnb, I then made a detour through the Kalamaja neighbourhood. It’s basically a neighbourhood that still features loads of the old, traditional Estonian wooden buildings, and it’s a place that not many tourists venture into. In fact, there are so many smaller streets and little alleyways that I got lost/stuck and had to go back the way I came from twice!
The buildings are incredibly charming, though, and I can only imagine what the area must be like when covered in snow in the midst of winter!
If wandering an unknown neighbourhood on your own sounds a bit risky to you or you'd just like to make new friends on your trip, you could also book a guided walking tour of Tallinn, that takes you to see the Old Town, Kalamaja, as well as Telliskivi.
I had originally intended to go on 2 day trips from Tallinn to explore more of Estonia, but the winter shutdown, as well as my health, proved to be an absolute hindrance, so instead I took it easy on my last day in Tallinn with a visit to the Estonian Open Air Museum in the morning, a last ice-cream at Gelato Ladies in the afternoon, and an evening stroll at Linnahall.
Estonian Open Air Museum
Granted, after having been to Viimsi Open Air Museum on my second day in Tallinn, I did ask myself whether or not it would even be worth heading to yet another open air museum. Good thing I decided to go anyway as Viimsi Open Air Museum and the Estonian Open Air Museum are 2 very different institutions.
While the one at Viimsi focuses on life at the coast, the Estonian Open Air Museum portrays life in all corners of Estonia and throughout different periods of time. There are 74 buildings on show, and quite a lot of them are also open to the public in winter. My personal highlight was definitely Härjapea farm (#interiorgoals), as well as the school Kuie, the candy/village shop Lau and the pub Kolu inn.
The staff at the museum is even dressed time-appropriately, so that you really feel as though you’ve travelled back in time when visiting!
Entrance to the Estonian Open Air Museum is 8€ in winter and 10€ in summer, and you can get there by taking bus 21 or 41 from the city centre to Rocca al Mare.
Another last stop before heading back to my Airbnb for the night was the old V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sports, also known as Linnahall. It was built for the sailing competition of the 1980 Summer Olympics that were held in Moscow (but Moscow is nowhere by the sea, hence why Tallinn co-hosted the event), but has since stood empty (though, they seem to perform some kind of construction work there at the moment).
It’s nothing but a big old block of concrete but seemed like a nice enough spot to watch the sunset, judging by looking at Google Maps, and it turned out to actually be a really popular spot for couples and Instagrammers to enjoy and take advantage of the evening light.
While I’m pretty sure that the viewing platforms of the old town provide an even nicer sunset view, Linnahall gives you a much more local experience as I didn’t encounter any tourists, let alone crowds.
The next morning I then checked out of my Airbnb and took an Uber to the airport. Now, unless you stay along tram line 4, taking an Uber is the easiest way of getting to the airport. The trams in Tallinn are still pretty old school in that you have to climb stairs when boarding, which isn’t exactly convenient if you’ve got luggage with you.
Day Trip Options from Tallinn in Winter
As I said, I originally intended to go on day trips to explore more of Estonia than just Tallinn, but it turned out to be quite a hassle for me, so I didn’t actually end up anywhere. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go on any day trips while visiting Tallinn in winter, though!
The one tour that I really really really wanted to go on but then didn’t due to health issues, was the visit to Laheema National Park. It’s a full-day tour (which is why I didn’t do it in the end to save some energy for later) with stops at Jägala Waterfall, the seaside village Altia, and a hike on the so-called Beaver’s Trail in Laheema.
There are also tours available that head to Jägala Waterfall and the Bronze Age graves in Rebala, which sounded really interesting.
If you’d rather go and explore on your own, you can also take the bus or train to any of the other Estonian cities and seaside towns. In the Travel to Eastern Europe group on Facebook, for instance, I was recommended to go to Haapsalu, which seems to be a really charming seaside town that would be great to explore in the summer. In winter, however, most sights and attractions (the castle, railway museum and history museum, for instance) are closed or only have limited opening hours, which is why I decided against a visit in the end.
I think your safest bet when going on an independent day trip from Tallinn in winter would be Tartu - the country’s second largest city. As such, it offers a good selection of museums and sights (for instance: Le Coq Beer Museum, the science centre AHHAA, KBG Cells Museum, the Estonian Sports and Olympic Museum and the Estonian National Museum, to name a few), and if you’re getting cold, you could always pop into a local cafe.
Accommodation in Tallinn
Due to my health condition, I booked an Airbnb as that’s just the easiest way for me to prepare meals that I can eat without consequences. Had I only stayed in Tallinn for 1 or 2 nights, however, I would have totally booked a room at Marta Guesthouse.
I’ve discovered this little guesthouse via Visit Tallinn and immediately fell in love! I mean, staying on a budget in a traditional Estonian wooden building? Yes, please! Marta Guesthouse have double and single rooms, as well as rooms with and without private bathroom, and also offer vegan breakfast (for an additional 7€) at the little cafe downstairs.
Another place I would have loved to stay at is the Original Sokos Hotel Viru. I’ve had such a great experience with the Solo Sokos in Lahti, Finland, last year (basically, their breakfast selection is to die for!), and this particular Sokos Hotel in Tallinn used to be the only hotel in Tallinn that foreign tourists were allowed to stay in back in the days of the Soviet Union. The KGB had to keep tabs on all foreign visitors, of course, so forcing everyone to stay at one hotel made it easier to spy on them.
The KGB even had their own headquarters at the hotel back in the day, which has now been transformed into a museum, should you be interested in learning what a stay at the Sokos Hotel would have been like back in the day!
What to Pack for Tallinn in Winter
Tallinn is super cold in winter! While I had spent quite a lot of time sunbathing in my garden in Western Norway prior to my trip, Tallinn forced me to take my winter clothes out of storage again.
During my time in the city in late March, I experienced sunshine on every single day (which I realize is not exactly the norm), but temperatures between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius, as well as a pretty icy wind. Layers should therefore be the way to go when packing for Tallinn in winter - preferably woollen layers!
Make sure to also factor in the ever-changing weather conditions of the Baltic region. A wind- and waterproof, padded jacket should be part of your outfit the same way as waterproof shoes should be.
Other than that, don’t forget:
a scarf, gloves and hat
a waterproof backpack to carry your gear for the day
a foldable umbrella
a pair of lighter hiking shoes and jeans you don’t care about getting dirty (specifically if you plan to visit any of the open air museums - they tend to be quite muddy)
a data plan for when you have to navigate Tallinn’s (not exactly straightforward) public transport system and don’t have free WiFi nearby
some cash for the bus (the Tallinn card isn’t valid on busses going to Viimsi)
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