Tallinn

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, lies on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, only 70 km (43 mi) south of Helsinki. A city of over 400,000 inhabitants, it is home to a third of the country's population, and besides serving as the national capital, it is also the capital of Harju County in Northern Estonia.

Tallinn has been and continues to be an important port of the Baltic Sea, with the busy passenger section of the port reaching the foothill of the picturesque medieval Old Town, which has been astonishingly well preserved and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. In a striking contrast, the immediate outskirts thereof are filled with a cluster of modern office towers, with intermittent architectural monuments to the Soviet era. Further out, you will find a bewildering variety of historic and modern neighbourhoods, religious, civic, industrial and maritime heritage. This all provides for the city seeing very sizeable tourist traffic given its size, which in turn means the infrastructure is robust and extensive.

Understand

History

Tallinn in a painting from 1816

Tallinn is a historic city dating back to medieval times. The first fortress on Toompea was built in 1050 and Tallinn was first recorded on a world map in 1154. In 1219, the city was conquered by Valdemar II of Denmark, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285. The city, known as Reval at the time, prospered as a trading town in the 14th century, and much of Tallinn's historic centre was built at this time.

Tallinn then became a pawn in the geopolitical games of its big neighbours, passing into Swedish hands in 1561 and then to Russia under Peter the Great in 1710. By World War I and the ensuing brief Estonian independence (starting 1918) Tallinn's population had reached 150,000.

Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to be conquered by Nazi Germany (1941–44) and then retaken by the Soviets. In World War II, the city was quite extensively bombed by the Soviets, although luckily the medieval town remains. The Soviet Union undertook a program of massive Slavic migration, and just over 40% of Tallinn's current inhabitants are Slavic (compared to an average of 28% for the entire country). On 20 August 1991, Estonia declared independence and Tallinn became its capital once again.

Present day

View from the Old Town towards the modern skyline of Tallinn

Today Tallinn is a bustling, gleaming city of more than 400,000 inhabitants. However, among the tall glassy buildings and corporate headquarters, Tallinn retains an inner charm seldom found elsewhere. Estonia considers itself a Northern European/Nordic country, with very close ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties to Finland, and visiting Tallinn you will find a mix of at least three architectures in this very visual city—old Europe (the city walls with rustic buildings and charming living areas with well-preserved and colourful wooden houses of bourgeois taste of 1920s), Soviet brutalist (concrete apartment blocks), and modern Europe (including McDonald's next to the city walls!).

Tourism is important for Tallinn and this is especially visible in the old town where almost every door leads into a souvenir shop, restaurant or bar. Unsurprisingly the majority of visitors are day trippers from Finland. The neighbours from across the bay usually know their way around without a map and have already seen the sights of Tallinn a couple of times. They come to enjoy low prices on practically all goods and services from restaurant meals to fuel and even plastic surgeries, not to forget as much alcohol as the customs regulations allow you to bring into Finland!

Districts

The districts of Tallinn - tourists will probably spend most of their time in Kesklinn (the city centre), which includes the Old Town

Tallinn is made up of 8 administrative districts (linnaosa), which are further divided into numerous quarters (asum). Most of the points of interest to tourists are located in the seaside districts. The districts of Tallinn are:

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) -1.2 -1.6 2.3 9.2 15.2 18.8 21.8 20.4 15.2 9.4 3.4 0.3
Nightly lows (°C) -5.8 -7.0 -4.2 0.6 5.2 9.6 12.7 12.0 7.8 3.8 -0.8 -4.2
Precipitation (mm) 49 32 31 30 36 57 74 73 60 65 61 49
Sunshine (hrs/day) 7 9 12 14.5 17 18.5 18 15.5 13 10 7.5 6

At these latitudes winters are dark and cold and temperatures under -20°C are not unheard of from December to February. Thankfully, the sea moderates the winter temperatures a bit compared to continental cities with similar temperatures like Moscow. Spring is the driest season and while there are often sub-zero temperatures at night until well into May, the snow usually disappears towards the end of March and the days are getting gradually warmer. Summer months are pleasant with day temperatures between +20°C and +30°C in July and August, however if it's raining, temperatures are lower. The summer is the best time of the year to visit Tallinn. Although Tallinn doesn't technically experience the Midnight Sun, in the middle of the summer it doesn't get really dark at night. Usually you will need your jacket again towards the latter half of September. The autumn is the "rain season" and with both temperatures and the leaves falling, Tallinn doesn't look very attractive this time of the year. However the greyness is covered up by the snow that usually arrives in early December. Visiting Tallinn in December when the Old town is beautifully covered in snow and Christmas decorations is not a bad idea.

Tourist office

Get in

By boat

Tallinn's port at night

By ferry from Helsinki

The most common ferry route is from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn Port, which has upwards of 20 departures daily. Depending on the ferry, journey time is anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 hours. Prices average €16-30 one way, depending on operator, season (summer costs more), day of week (Fridays and Saturdays cost more) and time of day (to Tallinn in the morning and back in the evening is popular and hence more expensive). Particularly popular are day cruises, which can go for as little as €19 return. All ferries except Linda Line's catamarans can also carry cars, from €25 one way.

Cruise ships moored in Tallinn harbour

The following companies operate ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki:

Eckerö and Viking usually have the cheaper fares, as they are more geared towards day-trippers and the party crowd who come to have a great time on board and tend to spend more in the bars, restaurants and shops on board. On the other hand Tallink and especially Linda Line are more geared towards frequent travellers such as Estonians working in Finland.

Boats and yachts in the Tallinn Port marina

Other regular ferry routes

Passenger ferry terminals in Tallinn Port

All ferries except Linda Line dock at Reisisadam port, to the north of the center. Tallink uses   Terminal D at the south-eastern side of the bay and Eckerö and Viking the   Terminal A/B at the northwestern side. At Terminal A/B you can grab a useful free city map just before exiting the terminal. From there, city bus #2 and commercial bus #90K operate to both the city centre (A. Laikmaa stop), inter-city bus station (Autobussijaam stop) and the airport (Lennujaam stop). Alternatively, you can take a leisurely 15 min walk toward the Old Town that is easily visible from the terminals. View a map of route 2.

Linda Line uses the   Linnahall terminal, a short distance to the west from Reisisadam, and is also within walking distance, with a stop for bus #2. The journey from the port to the city centre is not all that impressive but don't be shocked - this isn't the real Tallinn! As of late 2015, construction of a new, glitzy shopping area is underway, something that will cover much of the ugly sand and mud fields (on the downside these buildings will reportedly partially cover the view to the old town).

If you are travelling with your car on the ferry, be aware that the traffic in the harbour can be a bit chaotic as everyone tries to get out from the area as quickly as possible and lanes are not clearly marked, especially around Terminal D.

By your own boat

You can sail with a yacht to Old Town Marina, the special harbour for recreational vessels.

Tallinn Airport is a relatively small one, serving around 2 million passengers annually

By plane

  Tallinn Airport (IATA: TLL), also known as Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport or Ülemiste Airport, is 2km south-east of the city centre on the eastern shore of Lake Ülemiste. A pleasantly quiet airport, it has a good choice of cafes and free Wi-Fi throughout the terminal building. Car rental desks are located on the bottom floor next to the terminal entrance. Lennart Meri sees a quite limited number of connections for an airport serving a national capital in Europe, so planning your travel to Tallinn may be tricky depending on your origin or next destination. On balance, the possible need to change at an intermediate airport may lead to a more interesting itinerary.

Airlines and destinations

Tallinn has an international airport, the Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport, within the city limits in the district of Ülemiste. The airport sees no intercontinental flights and is not among Europe's best-connected. The most connections out of the airport are operated by the Latvian flag carrier Air Baltic, who has a base there, and, somewhat surprisingly, the Slovenian Adria Airways, who took over the routes of the late Estonian Air. Further connections are offered by several other major flag carriers, mostly from the Star Alliance, and low-fare airlines.

Travel between the airport and the city

Thinking of taking the tram to or from the airport?

Tram lines 2 and 4 have their eastern terminus at the Ülemiste tram stop, located in the Ülemiste district, where the airport is too. Does this mean that the tram will drop you off at the terminal? Nope, the tram is not going anywhere near the airport. Ülemiste tram stop is about a kilometer from the airport terminal as the crow flies, but in practice you would need to walk almost three km, as you would need to cross the railway.

You can also hop on one of the hourly Sebe buses to Tartu. They stop in front of the terminal. Tickets can be bought from the driver or from the ticket machine installed on the ground floor of the terminal building. Buses to other Estonian destinations depart from the city bus station (see below) and do not stop at the airport.

By train

Balti Jaam at night

  Tallinn train station (Balti jaam) is immediately west of the Old Town. It is the hub of local Estonian trains operated by Elron in the directions of Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi, Paldiski, and a few other Estonian cities. RZD provides daily international services to Saint Petersburg (7h) and Moscow (~15h) in Russia.

By bus

The big neon sign makes the Bussijaam easy to find at night

The   intercity bus station (Bussijaam) is on Tartu mnt. halfway between the city center and the airport. You can easily walk here from the Old Town in 15-20 min, or use public transport (buses #2, 17, 23; trams #2, 4).

Frequent buses operate between Tallinn and other cities in Estonia. Domestic bus schedules and prices can be found at Tpilet.ee and Peatus.ee (a good trip planner as well).

International buses run frequently between Tallinn and Riga, Latvia (4.5 hr) with continuing service to Vilnius, Lithuania and the rest of Europe. Another popular route is between Tallinn and St. Petersburg, Russia (€25-30, 8 hr). Free Wi-Fi is usually available on board.

The following bus companies operate international bus service to/from Tallinn:

Get around

The Old Town is best navigated on foot, not that you have much choice. A network of buses, trams and trolleybuses covers the rest of the city. There is an abundance of relatively cheap taxis. Before you jump in a random taxi car make sure you check the price on the window of the car. In Tallinn there are more than 20 different taxi companies and some can be a rip-off.

A tram passes by the Old Town

By public transport

TLT operates frequent bus, trolley and tram services daily 06:00-23:59. Timetables and maps are available in English.

Public transport is free for residents of Tallinn. Unless you are registered as a resident, remember to buy your ticket from the driver (€1.60, no change given; the ticket is valid for exactly one trip, no transfer) or get the rechargeable "green card" (Ühiskaart), which is a brand new, cash-free, and smart way of payment. Use your card to touch a bright orange box every time you enter the bus: a single 1-hour ticket (€1.10, transfer allowed) will be charged automatically and on each day individual tickets will total until the price of the day ticket (€3) is reached. Alternatively, the card can be charged for unlimited travel for 3 days, 5 days, or one month. Get this card from one of the abundant R-kiosks for €2, a refundable deposit which, in practice, is very difficult to get refunded. You can charge the card immediately or do it later on-line (major credit cards accepted).

The Tallinn Card includes unlimited use of public transport.

Bus, trams, and trolleybuses form an extensive network with the major bus hub at Viru Hotel (underground bus station). Some trolleybuses terminate at the nearby stop Kaubamaja, which is adjacent to the main department store (Kaubamaja). Vehicles may have different colours depending on their age and model: some old trolleybuses from the time of the USSR can be still seen in the streets of Tallinn. The level of comfort varies greatly. If you want to avoid steps, look out for special yellow markings in timetables: these denote newer vehicles that are friendly to baby prams and people with reduced mobility.

By taxi

Taxis in Tallinn come in all sorts and sizes, and have no particular colour or unifying features apart from the taxi sign on the roof and the stickers on the doors

Tallinn has many different taxi companies and independent taxis. There is no standardised base price or price per km. Some tourist scam taxis have absurdly high prices, and as long as those prices are displayed on the sticker in the window and on the dashboard, they are completely legal. Needless to say the locals never take those taxis, their sole modus operandi is to prey on ignorant tourists. Do as the locals do and order a taxi by phone.

Do not accept offers from taxi drivers waiting at the harbour or train station. Do not accept offers from taxi drivers who approach you at the airport. Same goes for any taxi that looks shabby or does not carry the logo of one of the reputable companies. Also be wary of taxis that look overly luxurious: large Mercedes, TV-screens inside, usually only a very small and vague logo on the door. If you're obviously drunk and are taking one of those questionable taxis from the harbour, you might be driven to some bar/strip club the taxi driver is collaborating with. Usually you will proceed to have a few drinks there without asking for the price and will then be presented with a huge bill. Taxis hanging out in front of nightclubs often have the highest prices.

Reputable taxi companies are:

By car

Traffic in Tallinn

The road rules and driving style in Tallinn can be confusing to tourists. The one and two way roads change frequently and some signposts are not descriptive. Another peculiarity to be found are roads with three lanes where you need to be a local to know if the lane in the middle is meant for traffic going in your direction or in the opposite direction. That being said, traffic jams in Tallinn clear very quickly. The speed limit in Tallinn is 50km/h, except some major streets such as Laagna tee, Pärnu mnt., Paldiski mnt., Peterburi tee etc., which have a speed limit of 70km/h.

Parking

There is an abundance of parking, but you have to pay for it. In some cases you can park free of charge for 15 minutes, but if going for sightseeing or for some major shopping that's of course not enough. The locations of ticket machines, and other methods for paying for parking, aren't always obvious. The ticket machines are not posted clearly, however they are the easiest way of paying for your parking if you have exact change; just pay the price for the time you wish to park, push the green button, take the ticket and put it inside the windscreen where the parking attendant can see it.

Here are a few helpful tips to avoid being fined:

  1. Each rental car should come with a plastic mock clock on the dashboard that should be clearly visible from the outside of the car. Every car in Tallinn gets 15 minutes free parking in paid parking areas. This clock is used to indicate when you first park at a location. For example if you park at 05:30, your plastic clock should be set to show 05:30. You can then park for free until 05:45.
  2. Find a bright-orange vested parking inspector in order to determine what type of parking ticket you need.. To ask for a parking ticket, say "Palun, üks parkimispilet" in Estonian. It will help to use a combination of sign language and a phrasebook if your Estonian is limited or non-existent. You may want to simply buy the €1.50 parking ticket to be safe.
  3. Scratch the correct date and length of time you'll be parking. In kiosks and some grocery stores you can buy parking tickets that look like lottery tickets. The ticket is split into sections and they are written in both Estonian and English. Scratch off the date of usage. Then scratch off the time you wish the ticket to start. Make sure it is clearly visible next to the clock on the dashboard.
  4. Mobile phone payment is very popular, but you will need a local mobile contract to use it.
  5. Prices and additional information regarding parking in Tallinn are available on-line.

Signs prohibiting parking are not always well visible, one example is the area between the Terminal D in the port and the Norde Centrum shopping centre. One thing to look out for is signs in a form or another with the word Eramaa - this is Estonian for "private" and means that parking is either prohibited or available against a fee.

By bike

A bicycle trail between Stroomi beach and Rocca al Mare

There are more than 180 km of bicycle roads in Tallinn. The Eurovelo international route goes from West to East, giving you a good chance to ride comfortably through the city. Many bicycle roads are located in green parts of the city and are meant more for recreation, although suitable for commuting. If you do decide to use a bike to get around, you can ride on every road. Usage of the side-walk for biking is also allowed, though naturally you need to heed the pedestrians.

On foot

The Old Town of Tallinn is very comfortably covered on foot.

Audio guides in several languages are available for small charge at the tourist centres.

See

Toompea hill seen from the tower of St. Olof's church

Kesklinn (city centre)

Toompea Hill

According to myth, the hill was built on top of the grave of legendary Estonian king Kalev, but more historically, it's solid limestone and the site of the Danish castle that founded the city in 1219. Toompea was the home of the Danish aristocracy and relations between the toffs and the plebs were often inflamed, which is why it's surrounded by thick walls and there's a gate tower (1380) guarding the entrance. Check out the viewpoints, some of which give great views over the city. There's also a cluster of amber (merevaik) shops around here (no Estonian origin but popular among cruise tourists).

Toompea Castle in wintertime
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Viru Gate

Vanalinn (Old Town)

The medieval Old Town (Vanalinn) of Tallinn was built in the 15-17th centuries.and is excellently preserved. It contains a large part of Tallinn's sights and is the only UNESCO world heritage site located entirely in Estonia. As clichéd it may sound — you can't say you've been to Tallinn if you haven't visited the old town. This compact area is best explored on foot.

The Town Hall
St. Nicholas Church
The city wall

Outside the Old Town

Rottermann Quarter
Linnahall

Kadriorg quarter

Kadriorg palace and park

A beautiful and rich seaside resort district with mostly wooden buildings from the 18th to 20th centuries, as well as 20th century Art Deco and Functionalist structures. It also includes the baroque pearl of Estonia, the Kadriorg Palace and Garden.

The KUMU

Pirita

The Botanical Gardens seen from the TV Tower

Includes forest parks, Botanic Gardens and Metsakalmistu (the last resting place of well-known Estonians). A few km east of the city centre along the seaside road.

Põhja-Tallinn

One of the wooden houses of Kalamaja
Inside the Seaplane Harbour hangars

Haabersti

At the Estonian Open Air Museum

Do

Beaches

A beach on the Baltic Sea shore.

A flag system that regulates swimming. A green flag means it is safe swim, a yellow flag means you can swim, but it isn't recommended and a red flag means swimming is not advised, go in at your own risk.

Sporting & Relaxation

Tallinn offers a lot of sporting opportunities - from ATV rentals to ice skating .

Tourists from European countries often opt for spa holidays in the city.

Film Festivals

Music Festivals

Estonian Song and Dance Celebration in 2009 Photo: Egon Tintse
Saku suurhall

Sport events

Freedom Square

Learn

Work

English language teachers with TEFL certificates or equivalent are in demand. Especially during periods of Summer School and/or TOEFL test times, teachers have good opportunities.

Jobs for non-Estonian speakers are less common in other fields, although several IT companies (e.g. Skype) have English based job openings. Compared to Finland or other Scandic countries salaries are lower, so it could make sense to utilize job opportunities in nearby areas. Estonia is part of the EU and Eurozone, so work permits are easy for EU member states and associated countries. All other will need to apply for work permits.

Buy

Viru Keskus

Department Stores & Shopping Malls

Stockmann

Boutiques and Souvenirs

For boutiques and souvenirs, your best choice is Viru street in the Old Town and its side streets. There are many stalls selling traditional items like woolen pullovers, crystal and amber. Be prepared to bargain in order to get a reasonable price.

Christmas market in December 2010

Markets

Records

Eat

Restaurants and cafes on Raekoja plats

The Old Town is packed with restaurants claiming to offer authentic Estonian food, particularly on and around Raekoja plats. Prices at restaurants near the Raekoja Plats are generally more expensive, yet offer the same quality of food, as restaurants off this main square. Prices are steep by Estonian standards, but still much cheaper than neighbouring Helsinki, which explains why on weekends they're always packed with day tripping Finns.

Budget

Old Europe meets New Globalisation

Mid-range

Kohvik Moon
Sfäär
Vanaema Juures, a typical Old Town cellar restaurant

Splurge

Vanaturu Kael street in the Old Town

Drink

Fire dancer in Tallinn

Tallinn's crazy nightlife is out of proportion to the city's small size. The days of armed mafiosos are over and these days any drunken fights tend to involve stag parties. Exercise some caution in choosing your venue, as some strip clubs and regular clubs make their money by fleecing tourists who come in for a drink. In local places, beers cost €2.5-4.0.

Bars and pubs

Freedom square at night

Nightclubs

Double vision in Tallinn


Save for the spire, the towers of St.Olaf's church in the northern corner of the Old Town and Niguliste (St. Nicholas') church almost exactly at the opposite side of the Old Towm look very similar.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget up to €50 a night
Mid-range €50-€100
Splurge over €100 a night

Budget

Sokos Hotel Viru is a surviving landmark and memorial of the Soviet times, complete with a KGB museum on the top floor

Hostels

Hotels

Mid-range

Hotel Euroopa seen from the Marina of the Port of Tallinn

Splurge

View of downtown Tallinn at night, including the Swissotel and Radisson towers

Stay safe

Old Town Walls

While Tallinn is generally safe, various governments warn against the dangers of being pickpocketed or mugged, particularly in the Old Town. Watch your valuables closely, especially on public transport and at Viru Street. The stigmatized outskirts of Kopli and Lasnamäe are probably best to be avoided after dark, although both are a lot safer than the "bad neighbourhoods" in Western-European or North-American cities.

The biggest trap to tourists in Tallinn is getting ripped off by taxi drivers or in "gentlemen's clubs". Many of the latter are known for their exorbitant prices and hidden "fees". Credit card skimming and other similar scams are common practice in those establishments. Stay away, unless you particularly enjoy losing your month's pay in a few hours.

People who arrive to Tallinn by camper van or just by car should be careful and not leave valuables in their vehicles. Unfortunately it's not rare that cars with foreign plates are looted. Those crimes are committed mainly in the area of Tallinn's passenger port and nearby streets where many camper vans stop. There are safer official parking lots, but they are often harder to find, their location might not be very good, and you have to pay quite a lot of money to park in there.

Respect

The Soviet relict spelling form Tallin is a transcription from Russian Таллин and should be avoided.

Connect

Wi-Fi are available in many public areas as well as restaurants, hotels and bars, many of them can be used free of charge. The site wifi.ee maintains a list of wireless networks.

If you want to send a post card, almost every place selling something also has post cards. However they seldom have stamps. Check the web page of the Estonian Post for post office locations, this is where you can purchase stamps.

Cope

Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) tower and the Estonian Parliament building (Riigikogu)

Embassies

Go next

Estonia is not particularly large, and daytrips are possible to anywhere in the country especially if you have a car.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, March 15, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.