14 Unique Things To See In Tallinn Estonia
Imagine a place of artistic freedom and a creative cocoon where the odd, beautiful and inventive are encouraged and celebrated. Outside the medieval city, you will find some incredibly unique things to see in Tallinn Estonia. Start at the Telliskivi Creative City Center, enter into the immersive Fotografiska Museum and Sustainable Restaurant, tickle your imagination at the Proto Invention Factory along the modern Noblessner Seafront Quarter. Walk the Bastion Tunnels at the Kiek in de Kok from the 14th century, step foot into the oldest Pharmacy in Europe or gaze from the TV Tower of Tallinn.
The list goes on and on, and you need at least a week in Tallinn alone to see everything both on and off the beaten path. I personally spent a week here in 2021 and still wish I had more time. I have updated this article with the most recent information with the places listed here.
There are a few things you need to be aware of before visiting though, especially if you are going alone vs with children - so keep reading so you can craft your perfect vacation.
Quick itinerary/Key Takeaways
Tallinn has some amazing things to see apart from the old town, castle walls, incredible restaurants and day trips outside of Tallinn. There are plenty of unique things to see in Tallinn if you like something a little more off the beaten path like a Seaplane harbor turned VR Museum, incredible collection called Fotografiska (only a few of these in the world), an entire creative arts district at Telliskivi, the old Kadriorg Palace and Park, and the Bastion Tunnels near Kik in de Kok where citizens would take refuge from sieges and bombings on this important port city.
These are just touching the surface of the unique and incredibly artistic city of Tallinn, so make sure to keep reading below.
Tallinn Christmas Market (THE BEST)
While I realize Christmas Markets are seasonal, this is one of the BEST European markets I've been to and feel is highly underrated. There are other seasonal events throughout the year, but this is one that I would highly suggest seeing if you can plan your time there accordingly.
The Christmas Market in Tallinn takes place in the historic Old Town, right outside of town hall and near the Raeapteek Pharmacy. It was named the Best Christmas European Christmas Market in fact in 2019. The market runs from about noon to 7 pm nightly.
There are about 30 Christmas stalls in a circular pattern in the square selling Amber jewlery, artisan treats, plenty of wool, merino wool, fur hats and about 20 different flavors of non-alcoholic and alcoholic Glogg. For those who haven't been to a European Christmas Market, Glogg is a Nordic spiced mulled wine that can be quite strong - so get a hotel within walking distance like the Telegraff Hotel I stayed at.
If you are here on a weekend and it snows, locals break out their hockey sticks and have an impromptu game of hockey right on the side of the square! It was so fun to watch them play and get so into it. There is also a carousel for kids, concerts that sell out at the Town Hall and each shop in the alleys seems to participate in some way in the Christmas festivities.
Throw on a pair of skates right up the street from the Old Town Hall, and go Ice Skating in this UNESCO site! It is located right along Arju Street right next to St. Nicholas Church and runs from December until April. It costs about 9 Euros to get in, and you can rent skates right on the spot.
There are snacks like pretzels and sugar buns and cinnamon rolls here, as well as plenty of dried meats you can eat. If you want a real meal though, I would head out of the city center - the restaurants in the town hall center aren't as good as the ones down the medieval alleys.
I suggest getting a reservation at the essential Olde Hansa, a medieval restaurant that uses 15th century methods and recipes to cook your food. They even dress up, act like they are from medieval times, and even take the magic money card to pay for you meal :)
Seaplane Harbor Museum
You wouldn't expect a former submarine housing to hold such treasures. See the oldest sunken shop discovered in Estonian waters, old sailing ships, seaplanes, and naval mines. The old submarine was Lembit, built in the 1930's, you can take a little stroll through maritime history and try your hand at the gismos and gadgets inside - it is a highly interactive museum which I LOVED.
They also have the old steam powered icebreaker Surr Toll. There is a restaurant on site called MARU I wasn't able to get to check out, but you can eat there while your kids play at the outdoor playground. They have tours through the museum in several different languages, and stunning views of the sea.
To get to the Noblessner Seafront and Seaplane harbor, I would call a Bolt, it is quite the walk and in the winter is slippery and COLD. The sidewalks kind of zigzag to the seafront and sometimes through some pretty dark neighborhoods. Tallinn does have Uber, but I found it to be more expensive than Bolt.
Maritime Museum & Rooftop
The Seaplane Harbor Museum and the Maritime Museum are two different sites, but both worthwhile visiting. The Seaplane Harbor Museum is down by the Noblessner Seafront, and the Maritime Museum is about an 8 minute walk from the historic Town Hall.
The museum was established in 1935 by former Sea Captains and sailors who wanted to preserve the dying art of sailing without technology and preserve the important port history. You can still see the old steps that sailors would walk down to get onto the smaller ships, and see old sailing wheels, one of the first Scuba suits used in the area and small models of ships as they would have been built throughout the ages.
Inside is where you will find the 700-year-old Koge wreck found in Kadriorg that required a crane to carefully lower it into the museum. The ship takes up the entire ceiling when you enter the museum and entranced my imagination for about 30 minutes. It is well worth the time to stop into this important museum just to see this ancient ship.
This museum is also VERY interactive and would be great to bring kids to, I even had fun with some of the wooden blocks and the mock sailing boat set up.
This original Maritime Museum is housed in the Fat Margret tower dating from the 16th Century, and if you go all the way to the top floor you can get some pretty stellar 270 degree views of the entire city of Tallinn all the way to the Port where the ferries to Helsinki and neighboring countries depart from.
Noblessner Seafront Quarter
If you are looking for the younger crowds, artistic vibes, and cutting edge cultural experiences in Tallinn then Noblessner Seafront Quarter is where it's at. I really believe this is the next great city/area for digital nomads. The housing here is much cheaper and a lot more trendy, with the latest technologies and home comforts built in.
This is also where you will find incredible restaurants and Sommelier experiences like Lore - I still salivate about this restaurant and wish I could visit every weekend. Lest I digress on the best places to eat in Tallinn, the Noblessner Seafront Quarter is really where it's at.
This is where you have the Kai Art Center, the Proto Invention Factory, the Techno Club Hall, the seafront promenade, the marina where you can go sailing the coastline in the summer, and some of the best artistic galleries and outdoor leisure spaces in Tallinn.
For seasonal events check out the Noblessner website to get dates on the Advent Sunday, Tallinn Maritime Days, Ironman in Tallinn, and other cultural events. During Christmas, the main square has the BEST Christmas tree in Tallinn. David Beckham also bought the same igloo-style sauna you can see at the Proto Patarei Sea Fortress Iglu Park.
Proto Invention Factory
The Proto Invention Factory is a children's VR videogame haven that takes you into the different areas of life that aren't often explored without significant training. It is a mix of reality and inventive prototypes to tickle the imagination and spur curiosity. You can fly a Hot Air Balloon, defend your submarine against invaders, drive a motorized cart down the street, or fly like a bird over the lands of Estonia.
Truly you could spend an entire day here, especially on a rainy or snowy day. I had so much fun here, and wish I could have stayed a few more hours, they have a trendy cafe, plenty of interactive spaces - especially for children. This is where history comes to life and dreams become reality.
Kadriorg Palace & Park
Walking through this snowy paradise, with giant trees, you wouldn't expect to see a bright red palace lined with white trimming like a gingerbread house. Nor would you expect to walk inside and see the beautiful Baroque architecture with fountains, hedges, and flowerbeds like those found in Versaille in France....but we are in Tallinn Estonia.
Kadriorg Palace was founded by Russian Tsar Peter I in 1718, and now houses the greatest collection of Estonian foreign art from Western Europe and Russia. Catherine the Great is said to have visited this palace several times. The art pieces inside include the Burning of Troy, the Holy Family, Hunter on Horseback, Soldiers Tale and many other beautifully moving pieces that capture the surrounding areas and the history.
Baltic Station Market
While I personally didn't get to visit the Baltic Station Market it was one that was suggested by Visit Estonia. It is a unique architectural open plan space filled with local produce in the summers, and every kind of Estonian delicacy you could dream of.
The market is made of three, two-storey limestone warehouse from the 1870s that has been complete refurbished. The first floor has antique shops, Estonian crafts, household goods, eateries and breweries. The ground floor has all the meat stalls, diary products, vegetables and produce. They have two outdoor areas specifically designed to be enjoyed either in the morning (Hommikuväljak) with children's playgrounds and cafes, or in the evening (Õhtuväljak) because of the use of space and the open air design vs cozy evening feel with terraces.
Telliskivi Creative City
This is the artsy and outspoken side of Tallinn, a former industrial center turned high-design creative district. It houses small shops, start-ups shops, restaurants, Fotografiska Museum, the Soltumatu Tantsu Lava Theatre, Contemporary Dance Theatre, and several other creative shops.
If you have the time, walk around and see the snarky, daring, and creative street art designs. See if you can find all twenty. Walking through this area can take an entire day in and of itself, it really awakened my creative side and made me feel so alive and like my creative dominant brain had a 'place to belong'- really cannot recommend this area enough.
Fotografiska is an immersive photographic museum is an experience like no other. It is internationally renowned and each photographer just doesn't display their work, they also help to design the space to allow you to experience their art as they would have wanted it to be experienced.
They lay out the sequence, provide explanations and video where necessary, and even suggest music to be played, maybe smells to be wafting out of the vents in the different areas, even down to how you enter each space.
The way that it is laid out with a high quality like experience allows your mind to be freed from the hustle and bustle of the old town, and amplifies the emotions you can experience by viewing this art.
I wouldn't say this is an experience for children per say, but well worth the time to go and allow art to help tell powerful stories of the human condition, the changing landscape of the world through poverty and climate change and different classes of society as seen around the world.
They do have guided tours available in many different languages by the staff who know the artists and their intentions - I highly suggest trying to arrange this as it really elevates the experience even more.
At the end of your visit, reserve a seat at the Fotografiska's food and beverage cultural experience - knowing everything that crosses the table is sustainably sourced. They also hold brunches on Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm if you have limited time in the area. You can also find live music, weddings, parties and other events commonly held here on the weekends.
Kumu Art Museum
If you want to experience a wild ride of emotions and modern art in all of its forms - Kumu Art is for you. This shows (in my opinion) the emergence of Estonian expression from the Soviet Occupation - when opinions, art, and any celebration of the independent Estonian history was repressed. Hundreds if not thousands of art pieces were destroyed during the Russian occupation.
This museum contains the art that emerged after the generational trauma from the Russian occupation from the 19th century on. I would not recommend this to people who are sensitive to disturbing images, complex traumatic emotions, or have health conditions that make them sensitive to flashing lights.
I also wouldn't classify this as a family friendly museum. That being said, I think it does capture the confusion, anger, rage, pain, and loss that the people here experienced under Russian rule and is important to experience if you feel you are up to it.
When I first heard of the underground tunnels in Tallinn, I KNEW I had to visit. What a better place to experience the creepy crawly, haunted feeling that is perfect for the Halloween spirit. What I didn't expect was the reverse nature the tunnels were laid out in, starting with the Soviet occupation, through WWII, the information on the terror the citizens experienced, all the way back to ancient Roman artifacts at the end.
Fair warning to those visiting, and maybe too much information to share, but there are no bathrooms or non-emergency exits in this tunnel. I have never in my life had to pee so badly as when I did in those tunnels, truly, I nearly didn't make it.
From my frantic bathroom haze, the tunnels had creepy statues lurking around corners, darkly lit rooms with manicans in gas masks, information cards of what to do during a bomb or nuclear bomb - how to keep you and your family safe and more. If you want to get creeped out then this is the place to visit, it is bizarre to think how far underground and isolated you are in these tunnels.
You can enter the tunnels with a dual ticket to Kiek in de Kok and the Bastion tunnels ticket. Originally the tunnels were built along with the Bastions in the 17th & 18th century to help fortify the city and hide the city troops movements and ammunition from the enemies.
All in all, I do think the Fortifications and tunnels are well worth the visit as the history spans back to the 1200's and gives you a great overview of how much Tallinn has been through. I love stories of emerging from dark places in history to something fantastic, it really gives me so much hope that no matter how many bad patches we each may face, beauty can still be born from the darkness.
Kiek in de Kök
This tower makes part of the city fortifications of Tallinn that are so characteristic of this medieval turned modern city. The Hanseatic League and Teutonic Order (powerful groups) ruled this area prior to the Soviet Occupation and this was the artillery tower built in 1475.
There are four levels to this tower, I highly suggest going all the way to the top to see the galaxy clock in the ceiling and the incredible views from the windows of the city at night. The windows perfectly frame some of the best views of the nearby churches and buildings.
The ground floor has a rotating exhibit, when I was there the ground floor showcased the Pagan lore that once was heavily believed by the people in this area. The second and third floors exhibit the artillery once housed here complete with spears, armor, and old cannons. If you look closely when you go outside you can still see the cannon balls embedded in the 13 ft (4m) walls dating from 1577.
I already talked about Raeapteek Pharmacy in my guide on the best things to see in Tallinn, but had to include it again in this guide because of how unique it is. This is the oldest pharmacy in Europe that has been continuously operating in the same location since 1422. You enter the pharmacy just as those in medieval times would have.
The main room in the pharmacy houses much of the modern medicine you can get over the counter in the USA. The medication is in Estonian, but the staff are there to help you get what you need (although you may need Google translate to accurately get what you need). If you turn left and look out the window, you can see the old pharmacy books, old bottles that were filled once with medications like Atropine.
Head further into the back room and you will find preserved hedgehogs, unicorn dust, medieval remedies and old instrumentation that was once used to cure all sorts of ailments.
Tallinn TV Tower
Take an 18 minute drive outside the city to visit the 1030 ft (313 m) Tallinn TV tower to get 360 views of the countryside all the way out to the Baltic Sea on a clear day. Built in 1980 as better way for telecommunication services for the Moscow Summer Olympics.
It was the 1991 event that lives in the minds of the Estonian people though. A handful of radio operators risked their lives to protect the tower from Russia, just after the rebirth of the free Republic of Estonia. They used matchboxes to decommission the elevator, making the Russian troops walk 1,000 tower steps in order to reach them.
vIf the Russians would have started a fire, they had the means to remove all oxygen from the tower. The act would have asphyxiated everyone inside, but would have save the vital communication necessary to save the country from reoccupation.
Check out the movie, August 1991, documentary or The Singing Revolution for the moving story of these brave souls.
If you have the time, there is a restaurant at the TV tower, but I wasn't personally able to try it out.
My Takeaway Of Unique Things To See In Tallinn Estonia
I was genuinely surprised about how quirky, modern and artsy Tallinn got outside of Old Town. The other Baltic States like Latvia and Lithuania had their own charms, but Tallinn is truly a city I could see myself living in the future. From the ancient history, medieval and modern mix of the city streets, the push for expressive art and safe haven for creatives really checks all the boxes for me personally.
I cannot say enough good things about the varied landscapes, wild adventures available, and the kindness of the people I met. I don't often say I will return to a city, but Tallinn is certainly one I would visit again and again and know I would find something incredible each time I visit.
Guided Tours of Tallinn
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Where to stay in Tallinn Estonia
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