Travel Diaries – Tallinn

Gap Year Days 336 – 339

We stepped off the ferry in Tallinn to blue skies and temperatures that were cold, but not brutal. I managed to keep my gloves off for most of the walk to our hostel and Simon even lamented at the lack of snow. Works out we were just in the wrong area for snow, as there was still plenty around as we walked around the corner.

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We had our usual quiet afternoon on arrival, buying groceries and cooking in again to take advantage of the great kitchen at our hostel. We were also taking care of the budget since it had taken a bit of a beating during the preceding weeks in Scandinavia.

We had this cosy little room right up under the roof, and the window was one of those cut into the slope of the roof. It had a roller shutter that came down over it during the night.

This made our room pitch black, and I was absolutely astounded when I woke and looked at the clock in the morning to see that I had slept until 9:38 am!

I am an early riser, usually well awake before 7 am. Simon is the opposite and would sleep until lunchtime each day given the choice, so I can usually have an hour or two of productive time before he is awake.

Our plan for the morning had been to explore the Old Town of Tallinn, before meeting up with a free walking tour at 12 pm to learn some of the history of the town. Now we only had about half an hour to look around once we got into the Old Town.

It was probably a good thing in the end because it was freezing cold. While there were lovely blue skies, there was also a bitterly cold wind, and my phone was telling me it was minus 6 out!

Tallinn Estonia
Looks so lovely, but was so cold!

I was starting to doubt the wisdom of a walking tour. I mean. I could barely handle being outside for fifteen minutes, how was I going to go for two hours?

Well, I survived, but it wasn’t the most comfortable two hours of my life. I have to admit the thought of disappearing somewhere – anywhere! – inside did cross my mind.

But the tour guide Lena (whose name probably has a few extra vowels in it) was fantastic! I would easily rate her in the top two or three guides we have had for this whole year. She was interesting, knowledgeable and funny, poking fun at the Estonians, the Fins and nearly every other nation that has had anything to do with Estonian history.

Views across red rooftops of Tallinn to the sea beyond
The view over the rooftops to the Baltic Sea
A corner of a wall with "Save the camera honey, enjoy the view" written on it. Beyond is a view of red rooftops
“Save the camera honey, enjoy the view”

The old town of Tallinn is a lovely walled city, one of the most preserved anywhere in Europe. Not everything is the same age though, because until the Dutch turn up, the Estonians built everything out of wood. Nearly all of which has inevitably burnt down or fallen over!

Apparently, back in the day, the Estonians were so clueless about using stone for building that they came across a stone castle, and to attack it, built a fire underneath it and tried to burn it down!

A well preserved section of the town walls

I didn’t get a whole lot of photos through our walk – it was just too cold to take off my gloves! And now that I don’t have a working camera, I have to remove at least one glove to work my phone.

As soon as the tour was over, we bolted for the nearest coffee shop to warm up. It was quite a weird sensation. You how when your toes are really cold and you put them into a hot bath it kinda hurts? Well, it had that feeling in my hands and feet, and even my legs felt a little tingly at now being in the warmth!

It took a few goes before I could curl my hands around my coffee cup, but once the thawing started, we forgot about our extremities and started thinking of our stomachs instead. We had a late breakfast, but it was now 2 pm and we hadn’t yet had lunch. So I started Googling and eventually, we found a place to eat.

Back outside again Tallinn hadn’t gotten any warmer, and by the time we made the fifteen-minute walk to the cafe we had chosen, we were pretty cold again. Even the lure of photographing all the street art in the area didn’t distract me from just getting inside again.

Tallinn street art
Colours abound in an industrial area
Tallinn Street Art
Is this a Banksy or not?
Tallinn Street Art
3D street art
Rustic but picturesque doors. Beauty can be found even in the more industrial area outside the town walls

F-Hoone is an industrial-looking cafe in the Telliskivi area of Tallinn. We had heard previously that the neighbouring Kalamaja district was the place to find all the hipster bars and cafes and cool street art, but there was a good amount in this area too.

Just down the road was a place called “Depoo” which consisted of a whole pile of shipping containers made into small takeaway food places with outdoor cranes for tables. There were also a few rail cars with seating outside that were also used as food venues. These were all closed when we went past, so I am guessing this is more of a summer area.

A bowl filled with dumplings
Varenyky with potato filling, fried onion and sour cream from F-Hoone. So tasty.

After and absolutely delicious meal – with possibly the best cheesecake I had ever eaten – we were feeling brave again so thought we would walk towards the Kalamaja area in Tallinn for a bit more of a look around.

Well, we did walk that way, checking out some of the old timber houses this area is known for, but we were soon again realising our limitations so started back towards our hostel.

We detoured into the supermarket, picking up supplies for dinner, including a multicoloured camouflage cheese, some of the favourite Estonian snacks called kohuke, and the local liqueur, Vana Tallinn.

It was a bit of a patchy dinner with some salami, but good all the same. Not 100% sold on the Kohuke, but the ice-cream-flavoured Vana Tallinn was very easy to drink.

A red, green and yellow wedge of cheese and some slice of salami
I’m not sure the flavour, but the cheese was delicious

The next day we found a much nicer day outside. Oh, it was still cold (minus 4 my weather app said) but the sun was shining and there was no wind. We made our way down to the seafront and walked along the shore towards the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour. We didn’t get very far before I spotted yet another wall covered in street art. There is some seriously good work here.

Tallinn Street Art
Not quite the land of the vikings, but not far away
Tallinn Street Art
A laneway wall

We survived our perilous walk over icy paths (I will never get used to walking on ice) and made our way into the  Seaplane Museum. It was one of those wow moments as it all opens up before you, because it is pretty impressive. It’s one big open space, housing, amongst other things, Estonia’s only submarine.

Although it’s the seaplane harbour, there isn’t a lot here about planes, it’s all about boats. While not entirely my thing, Simon really enjoyed looking around. Going into the submarine was a bit of an eye-opener. It’s tiny, and I cannot fathom how 28 people could live together in this space. I need my alone time, so I would last about five minutes I think!

The cavernous Seaplane Museum – one end of the subnmarine can be seen in the centre
Estonia’s only submarine on display. They did have two, but the other one was sunk during war and lays at the bottom of the sea.
The small inside of a submarine
Living quarters for at least eight people.

There were plenty of interactive displays throughout the hangar – a “video” game to shoot down enemy planes in your tank, a plane you could “fly”, model boats to captain around a pond, a kids activity area, a dress up area for adults and kids, various touchscreen-type displays and video rooms.

There were models of many boats over the years, as well as real boats, from historical fishing craft to ice yachts. There were buoys and mines and tanks and guns. We were here for about two hours, and still didn’t get to everything.

The museum design was brilliant. Look at those paper boats.

And then we went outside! Either sitting on the wharf or tied up dockside are another half a dozen boats of different types that can be visited. Some of them are ex-navy boats, others were passenger/cargo boats. We spent almost another hour looking around out here.

Tallinn Estonia
Buoys and boats outside the museum
A sail boat and a steam boat at a dock with snow on the ground
Boats outside of the museum

We had to get a move on back into the old town, because I wanted to retrace some of our steps from the tour the day before and take some photos. Seriously, this place is so pretty, I was taking photos every few steps. My fingers were getting frozen again from my glove being continuously off.

We made a quick stop into Tallinn’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (not to be confused with the more well known one in Sofia, Bulgaria) which, while stunning on the outside, is not as amazing as many of the other Orthodox churches we have seen on the inside. Sorry, no photos allowed, so I can’t even prove it to you – you will just have to go see it for yourself!

An ornate cathedral with black onion-shaped domes
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Across the road is the Estonian Parliament. It’s a huge, well, pink, building. But no one is allowed to call it pink! The official colour is salmon. Estonia is 100 years old this year as the dates on the building announce.

But I can sense your puzzlement at that, since I am sure you are thinking “but wasn’t it part of the Soviet Union?” Yes, it was, but the first time Estonia declared itself as an independent state was in 1918.

After hundreds of years of being ruled by Swedes, Russians, Danish, and Poles they finally governed themselves – for one whole day! The very next day the Germans marched in and took over again! It’s been back and forth a bit over the years, but they have been independent now since 1991 – the longest ever in their entire history.

A grand pink and white building
The salmon Parliament building

We finally made it to our next museum, the Kiek in de Kök museum. I kid you not, that is the name! This museum is housed in one of the towers of the city walls and contains medieval weaponry and armour.

On the lower floor is also currently a photographic exhibition showing the history of the main town square, currently called Freedom Square. This looks like a temporary exhibition, although I didn’t see any information on how long it will be there.

Tallinn Estonia
Yes, that really is the name! I tried to Google translate it and got gobbledegook, so it must have a particular meaning in Estonian.
Inside a museum with a model on the floor of many towers that make up the city walls of Tallinn
The museum is in one of the towers of the walls. This model shows all the towers as they were in the past
Kiek in de Kok
The photographic display in the basement of the tower

Adjoining the tower are some underground passages and a carved stone museum that can only be visited with a guided tour. We had missed the one in English for the day (it was at 11 am) so we didn’t get to see those parts.

I kind of wish we had, even though there was an extra fee involved because I found the rest of the museum a little disappointing. It’s nice to look at from the outside, but I wouldn’t waste the €6 entry fee without doing the tour of the passages.

We went back towards Freedom Square to take a photo of the huge monument that the people had been trying to get built for years. Once finally built, many of the people were disappointed. The idea of a monument was great, but the actual monument itself – not so much.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone can tell what it is! As our guide went around the group the day before asking what we saw, some of the answers were hilarious (“entrails” was the best!) but not even close. It is actually a bravery medal given out during the wars, and the symbols are an “E” for Estonia and an arm holding a sword.

My photo doesn’t show them well because the light was in the wrong direction, but that’s what is on the top disk. As our guide says, the monument is growing on the people as they get used to it, and in 50 years’ time, it will be the symbol of Estonia like the Eiffel Tower is for France!

A tall monument with a cross on the top
Freedom Square Monument

It was late afternoon by now, and we were starting to think about our stomachs. I needed to sit down with wifi and do some research, so we found a nice warm coffee shop to relax in again while we made plans. They have some lovely coffee shops here, so really this was no chore!

Yellow, red and green buildings
Some of the pretty buildings around the main square

Having not come up with any better ideas, I vaguely remembered a pub not far from the city gate near our hostel that looked to have reasonable prices when I was glancing at the menus on the way past the day before.

It was clearly meant to be because we slowly made our way back (taking yet more photos of the cute streets and old buildings!) and discovered the pub was called St Patricks – and it was St Patricks Day! We ended up having a crazy cheap three-course meal, extra beer because it was happy hour, and being given silly St Patricks Day leprechaun hats! I have no idea what we are going to do with those.

We eventually made our way back to our hostel for a relatively early night. We had to be out of here earlier than we had been awake over the last two mornings. We had a bus to catch!

The Verdict

Tallinn is so pretty! I think I said that multiple times each hour during our visit, even when it was freezing me to death. So many people also said that the city is the worst part of Estonia, and the countryside is really beautiful. Looks like yet another country on the list to visit again – in summer!

Wifi was everywhere and fast. Tallinn has a reputation as a digital hub city with great internet and it did not disappoint.

We did not use public transport at all while we were in Tallinn. Everything is so walkable that it’s not really necessary. There is a wide range of buses and trams available though, with fares starting at €1.10 if bought in advance on the local transport card.

Tallinn is certainly more affordable than the Scandinavian countries we have been in recently, but still not dirt cheap. We paid around €3.50 for a latte and the main meals were around €7-10. We did see plenty of places in the centre of the old town with main meals in the €15-€20 range but thought this was overpriced tourist rates.


Fat Margaret’s Hostel
Põhja pst 27, 10415 Tallinn, Estonia
€37 ($59AUD/$46USD) per night

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4 thoughts on “Travel Diaries – Tallinn”

  1. Josiej
    Josie, I have just loved reading your post from Tallin because one of our two Half French grandsons has just spent what I think is a whole term studying in Estonia. He is undertaking one posting as part of a science degree – I think it is equivalent to a Civil engineering degree focusing on timber.
    We have not heard much about it so we read your descriptions with great interest. Thanks.

    • Thanks Jan. I really liked Tallinn. If I get to Finland in 2021 then I will likely pop over the water for another visit. Hopefully it will be slightly warmer.

  2. Josie I read this earlier this morning on my phone and saved it. We are heading to Tallinn in July on our cruise. So looking forward to visiting it even if only for a few hours.

    • That’s so exciting! One day I hope to get back to Tallinn, it was such a great place. Like you, I want to visit in summer next time 🙂

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