A day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki is one of the easiest day trips I have probably ever taken! This post will give you all the details for spending the perfect day in this charming Estonian town.
When I started planning our adventures in Finland, I was hoping to have the time to spend two nights in Tallinn, Estonia.
And even though our entire trip was 15 days long – 5 of those were actually mostly travel days between destinations (Finland is quite a ways away from Southern California unfortunately!).
And technically Lapland, Finland was the main focus of our winter 2023 trip so I did not want to take any time away from seeing as much as that region as we could in one week.
However – jet lag is real for us 50+ travelers and honestly, our priorities while traveling have shifted tremendously. We no longer feel the need to wake up at the crack of dawn to fit everything we can into our sightseeing days.
We now sleep in when we are just too tired to wake up and we allow our bodies all the time they need to adjust to the time changes.
So I decided to not make another hotel/city change for us in the first days of our vacation.
But in my research about what to do in Helsinki (read that post here) – I quickly realized that all you really need is one day in Tallinn to enjoy it!
And enjoy it we did!!
In a rush?
A Day Trip to Tallinn
- How to Get to Tallinn from Helsinki
- Top Things to See and Do in Tallinn
- Pikk Jalg
- St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral via The Long Leg Gate
- Patkuli Viewing Platform
- The Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin (The Dome Church)
- Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform & St Nicholas Church
- Upper Old Town Streets and Luhike Jalg
- Town Hall Square
- Town Hall Pharmacy
- The Little Red House Shop (Oma Asi) on Saiakang
- St Catherine’s Passage
- Master’s Courtyard
- Aida street
- KGB Prison Cells
- Town Wall
- Freedom Square
- What to Wear in Winter in Tallinn
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
How to Get to Tallinn from Helsinki
The Tallink Megastar shuttle boat is like no other “ferry” ride I have ever taken! We have officially been spoiled with this luxury two hour ride between cities.
Even the terminals in Helsinki and Tallinn are stunning!
Tallink actually has two ships that run the Helsinki-Tallinn route but after doing some extensive research – I deduced that the Megastar is the much nicer/newer ship.
We took the 7:30am Megastar to Tallinn and the 4:30pm return ship to Helsinki. It is a two hour trip each way which allowed us a little over six hours to explore Tallinn which was the perfect amount of time!
We also upgraded to the Business Lounge; and for our Saturday February 25th, 2023 trip had the entire section to ourselves to Tallinn and shared this section with about ten other passengers returning to Helsinki.
In fact, the food was so good in the Megastar business lounge that we ended up having both breakfast and dinner on the boat!
If you can swing the extra money – I 1000% recommend getting yourself a Business Lounge ticket ;).
But even if you decide to not upgrade to the business lounge – there are multiple dining options on this ship. So many in fact, that I am not including a “where to eat in Tallinn” section in this post as we did not eat anything while on shore ;0.
There is a Burger King (!!), a coffee shop, a cafeteria, duty free shopping for snacks, clothing, toys, you name it!
Trust me – the two hours flies by!
And as far as getting seasick?
You won’t even know you are moving – I swear! And take it from a girl that gets queazy a little too easily ;).
Even though the Megastar boats are HUGE and can carry up to 2800 passengers, it never hurts to purchase as far in advance as you can as soon as you know your plans ;).
Top Things to See and Do in Tallinn
Everything on this list is in Tallinn Old Town however Old Town is split into Upper and Lower Old Town.
So this list is in the order of how we spent our day.
We took Pikk straight up to Upper Old Town first (so that the heavy hill climbing was out of the way when we were still fresh and energetic off our 9:30am boat!).
The oldest and longest street in Tallinn will take you all the way from Lower to Upper Old Town as mentioned above ;).
In the Middle Ages, Pikk street was the main street and is still a beautiful street to wander and explore on.
Since our boat docked at 9:30am – all the stores on Pikk were still closed but that was okay with us because it meant we pretty much had the entire street all to ourselves which made for some stunning photos ;).
St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral via The Long Leg Gate
As I mentioned above, we continued to walk Pikk all the way to Upper Old Town straight to this majestic cathedral.
Since it was earlier in the day too – it was helpful to get our blood flowing (ie – warm us up) on this cold February day ;).
Our trek up to Upper Old Town led us through The Long Leg Gate which is one of the many gates of the Tallinn city wall from the 14th century used for defense.
Patkuli Viewing Platform
Funny story – we only walked to this platform because we needed to find a bathroom and we were told there was a public toilet here.
It was locked up.
Just be aware, these public toilets charged for use. And cash only (needless to say – we would not have been able to use the toilets we were looking for even if they weren’t locked up ;0)!.
But at least we saw a pretty view ;).
You can also arrive to Patkuli viewing platform via the Toompea Hill Stairway which is 157 steps up from Snelli Park in Lower Old Town…
The Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin (The Dome Church)
Across from Patkuli viewing platform is one of more medieval churches we saw on this trip. I loved all the old family crests on the interior walls of this church.
If you only go inside one church in Tallinn – make it this one!
But also – this is the only church we went inside in Tallinn 😂.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform & St Nicholas Church
In my own personal opinion, this overlook has the best view of Tallinn from above.
We also stopped at a cute little glog cart to get some hot mulled wine after enjoying the views here which may or may not have made this part of Upper Old Town even more enjoyable for us ;)!
Upper Old Town Streets and Luhike Jalg
After taking in the views at the platform, we slowly made our way back down to Lower Old Town by wandering the quiet residential streets.
I swear, every corner we turned in Tallinn was picture perfect!
I’m pretty sure I took 100’s of photos of beautiful Tallinn, Estonia streets and neighborhoods!!
Luhike Jalg is one of the most popular photo spots in Tallinn. You see it on postcards and most Tallinn websites- it is most certainly a must walk spot ;).
The large wooden door entertained my husband for a solid five minutes even…
Town Hall Square
This is where all the “crowds” of a late Saturday in February could be found.
It was kinda funny – we had gotten used to (and enjoyed) exploring the city with so few people around for our first few hours in town, it was a little bit of a surprise to finally see more people wandering around in this medieval city once we made it down to Lower Old Town and the Town Hall Square ;0.
Town Hall Square is where the Tallinn Christmas Market is held every year if you are planning a trip here for that festive time of year.
And since I have seen photos of their Christmas market, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is on my Christmas market bucket list!!!
In fact, this capital city of Estonia’s Christmas market was recently named the no. 1 Christmas market in all of Europe by European Best Destinations!
Town Hall Pharmacy
Hidden in a corner of Town Hall Square is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has continually operated on the same premises.
It honestly took us a few walk-bys to finally realize the pharmacy is the building with the sign “Antiik” in large letters to the right of the entrance door ;0.
Look for the word “Raeapteek” above the doorway and that is where you will enter…
As my husband is an emergency room physician, he always loves seeing the ways medicine was practiced in medieval times (and is quite grateful for the drastic improvements in the industry in the last 600 years 😂).
This 600 year old plus pharmacy has a small museum inside – as well as still being a working pharmacy!!
The Little Red House Shop (Oma Asi) on Saiakang
Another extremely popular viewpoint in Tallinn is this shop on a street right off of Town Hall Square (same side as the old pharmacy – look for an archway a couple doors to the left of that building with a sign saying Raekoja plats!).
St Catherine’s Passage
A quaint medieval alley with many handicraft workshops located here – this is a not miss if you are looking for a photo op spot.
Actually – pretty much everywhere you look in Tallinn is a photo op spot – but the above mentioned little red shop and Luhike Jalg, this alley, and the courtyard mentioned below are my favorites ;).
Most of the buildings in this alley are predominantly from the 15th-17th centuries!
I honestly could have stayed in Master’s Courtyard for hours! There is even an adorable little cafe here where we would have sat and had a cup of hot chocolate if there were any seats. Unfortunately for us – there was a big bridal shower event being attended the day we were there…
Master’s Courtyard has a handful of handicraft shops as well that are worth perusing.
One of the more photographed streets in Tallinn, Aida street is another pretty street to stroll along looking at all the buildings!
KGB Prison Cells
Being children of the 70’s, my husband and I were raised during the Cold War. My own dad’s job involved working with the US Department of Defense during this war.
Therefore visiting the KGB Prison Cells was highly interesting to both of us.
But really, if you have watched any movies or read any books about Russia’s relationship with most non-Communist countries in the last 80+ years, I imagine you would be just as interested in this museum as we were.
It was quite a somber experience for both of us…
With 100 meters of wall and three towers remaining to visit in modern times, it is a fascinating sight to see of a medieval defense system preserved as a city wall.
After visiting the KGB prison cells, we walked along this portion of the wall and were awestruck with its size!
You can walk along a small portion of the top of the wall but we ultimately decided to keep wandering the quaint streets instead.
Our last stop that was on our way back to the ferry terminal was Freedom Square.
On the day we were there in late February 2023, there was a public exhibition declaring unity with Ukraine in their current war against Russia.
I have to be honest, it was quite sobering visiting a country that borders Russia and seeing how much this war is affecting all of the citizens of those countries.
It can be easy to forget that other places around the world are really struggling to keep their freedoms and independence :(.
What to Wear in Winter in Tallinn
Obviously there was snow on the ground for our day trip to Tallinn, Estonia ;).
In fact, gentle snowflakes started coming down when we exited the KGB prison cells museum.
As I mentioned in my Helsinki travel guide, our winter coats are pretty much all we were photographed in therefore our (mainly mine ;0) hat/gloves/scarves accessories were of the utmost importance for changing up my outfits in photos 🤪.
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
As mentioned above (and clearly in the title of this post), our day trip to Tallinn, Estonia was from Helsinki, Finland after spending three days in Helsinki adjusting to the drastic time change and exploring that unique city.
As you will see below, the next week of our two week trip was spent up in the Lapland region of Finland before flying to London for two nights on our way back to San Diego.
I have read blog posts that have detailed spending a day in Tallinn from Stockholm, Sweden as well as from many other countries surrounding Estonia.
Many cruise itineraries include Tallinn on their dockets as well ;)!
Day 1 Fly San Diego to Helsinki via London on British Airways
Day 2 Arrive Helsinki 9pm local time
Day 3 Helsinki
Day 4 Helsinki
Day 5 Helsinki
Day 6 Day trip to Tallinn, Estonia
Day 7 Fly Helsinki to Rovaniemi on Finnair
Day 8 Rovaniemi
Day 9 Rovaniemi
Day 10 Rovaniemi
Day 11 Bus to Saariselka (4 hours)
Day 12 Saariselka
Day 13 Fly Ivalo to London via Helsinki on British Airways
Day 14 London
Day 15 Fly London to San Diego on British Airways
I hope you found this post helpful in planning your ideal day trip to Tallinn no matter where your starting point is!
Tallinn has so much to offer as far as history goes and of course as you can see above – hits all my old European town requirements with the cobblestone streets and old buildings.
The dusting of snow on the ground and tops of buildings just made it a million times more magical ;).
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I want to make some memories.
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).