“Unfortunately we’ve missed our take off window and will be delayed one hour here on the tarmac,” the pilot announced on the runway at Gatwick Airport.
*Cue the collective groan of over 100 disgruntled passengers*
Town Hall Square, Old Town Tallinn
I was bound for Oslo, where I only had an hour connection between my next flight to Tallinn so this now meant my chances of making my second flight were slim to none.
By some miracle though, we managed to take off after 30 minutes, instead of the predicted one hour.
Cobblestone streets of Old Town
Fast forward to Oslo Airport where myself and a few others high tailed our butts at full speed through security, running for the connection gate while bored transit passengers stared intrigued as we huffed and puffed our way past them.
Streets of Old Town
“I was just about to close the door too,” the check in woman exclaimed to us all.
Severely winded, I fell into my seat relieved that Oslo Airport was not the size of say Changi, Heathrow or JFK and also happy I wouldn’t be stuck in Norway until the next flight for Estonia was scheduled – whenever that might’ve been!
Wooden house on the walk to Kadriorg Park
The best part of this stressful experience though was meeting a lovely girl called Kristina during our marathon effort of changing planes. She had been living in Australia on a working holiday and was going home to visit family. We had lots to talk about and she invited me to hang out with her while I was in town, which of course I accepted!
Gate, found in Old Town
Arriving in Tallinn around 10pm I was surprised to see that the sun was just going down. Having landed with no luggage (as it hadn’t been able to change aircraft in time) I decided to take the bus into town where I was supposed to then swap to a tram line. Since being backpack free is a rarity I ditched the tram idea and instead walked to my hostel, enjoying the scenery without 14kg weighing me down.
Masters Courtyard, Old Town
As I walked I tried to forget about how the hell I was going to survive until my clothes and toiletries arrived. Having left London during sunny weather, (so rare) I only boarded the plane with flip flops, thin gypsy pants and a t-shirt for maximum plane comfort. I did have one jacket, but besides my carry on (mostly tech gadgets) I had nothing else!
Beautifully detailed doorway, Old Town
Despite my luggage turning up TWO DAYS later, I had a fabulous time in Tallinn and it has to be one of my all time favourite European cities.
Here is a suggestion of some things to do while you’re in town to keep busy!
Tallinn, as seen from a viewing flatform
The obvious starting point, Old Town
Chances are that pictures from this part of Tallinn are what drew you to visiting in the first place – it definitely was true for me.
With cobblestone streets adorned with century old buildings, this area oozes charm and you shouldn’t even bother putting your camera away to be honest because basically everything is photo worthy.
St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral
Old town is not that big so even without a map you can usually find your way back to the main square and I never once bothered looking at one – wandering around aimlessly was the point. Although, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the viewing platforms.
There are a few of these platforms to choose from and you’ll get some great views out over the city walls from such locations!
When you’re ready for a bite to eat, check out III Draakon, which is literally on the side of the Town Hall in the main square.
A newly made hostel friend and I walked past it so many times because there is only one small door to get in.
Once you step through though, it is the very picture of what I imagine a medieval tavern to look like – it is seriously different!
The menu is limited to only a few choices, take it or leave it. Think elk soup, traditional pastries and lots of varieties of meat. The lady serving you in her period costume will likely be no nonsense and kinda scary but this also adds to the vibes.
Statues, Old Town
While this is pretty touristy the prices weren’t too bad, the beer was really good and the ceramic jugs they serve it in are super cool.
Craft beer is gaining popularity in Estonia, this is one variety I tried at Hell Hunt bar
There’s also a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from in old town that are underground and make for an nice atmosphere while enjoying a meal or drink, in addition to being a practical way to escape the cold during the winter months.
Lastly, when it comes to the a great view from upon high, you can also pay a few euro to climb St. Olav’s Church (built in the 12th century) and see Tallinn from above upon its roof.
Bask in beautiful nature in Kadriorg Park
About half an hour’s walk from old town will take you to this lovely site.
The palace here was commissioned by Russian tsar, Peter the Great and the gardens belonging to it are just perfect.
Next door you’ll find the President of Estonia’s residence and I even caught the changing of the guard outside of it.
There’s a good deal of greenery and park land around here which is nice to simply walk amongst and this is also where you’ll find a few museums, including KUMU for art.
Learn about Soviet occupation at the KGB Museum
Not too far from the old town is the Hotel Viru.
I’m always fascinated to hear stories of how life was under communism because it couldn’t be further from that of mine in modern Australia today.
If you too are interested in history then a visit to the KGB museum is worth a look into, even though the exhibited parts are small and there isn’t necessarily a lot to see. The cost when I went in 2016 was 11 euro per person.
This is made up for by the guide, who will tell you great stories of how the Soviets spied on all foreigners who were required to stay in this hotel when they visited this part of the former USSR, prior to the collapse of communism in the region.
You also get fantastic views and pictures over Old Town from the top floor of the hotel!
See the Linnahall at sunset & venture over to hipster Kalamaja
I probably wouldn’t have discovered this one for myself but I met up with a friend of a friend’s from back home and they took me to this gem.
Built by the Soviets in the 1980s, apparently this ginormous structure was barely used before it was abandoned.
People start showing up in time for sunset
Today, you’ll find it covered in graffiti and a popular hang out for the local youngsters to have a drink and watch the sun go down.
It’s definitely worth joining them and doing the same since the views from here are really nice and it’s an impressive building to check out.
Yes, that is a man in a bunny one-sie
Afterwards have a walk on over to nearby hipster-vibing Kalamaja, which used to simply be an industrial area according to my local friends, but now is a happening place which has been transformed by quirky street art, new cafés and dining options that are popping up constantly.
When to go:
I visited during summer and was super lucky that it didn’t rain and was mostly sunny. It was still a little cool but I found that July was great if you want to avoid the brutal winds of the Baltic Sea. That being said, I imagine Tallinn would look gorgeous with snow covering its old town – just probably a bit more challenging to walk on the cobblestones in winter!
Where to stay:
There’s every kind of accommodation available in modern Tallinn. I stayed at The Monk’s Bunk hostel which is just outside of the old town, near Freedom Square. It’s popular with the young backpacker crowd, think pub crawls every night run by rowdy Australians. Since I was either hanging with locals or on my own I didn’t spend much time here to be honest but it was clean, comfortable, had all the amenities you need and the staff were friendly.
How to get there:
I flew from London to Tallinn via Oslo with Norwegian Airlines, however if you’re already in Europe there are many other low cost carriers that will get you there.
Many tourists visit for the day via ferry from Helsinki too, I feel Tallinn is worth exploring over a few days though if you can spare the time!
If you’re travelling through the Baltics and coming from Riga, there are many bus companies that will get you there in about 4.5 hours for cheap. Going by train is possible too but seems much more of a hassle. Flying is an option also, factoring in airport wait times though would result in the journey being close to around three hours anyway and a larger carbon footprint – not worth it in my opinion.