A day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki

Tallinn’s glorious Town Hall Square, soaking up the sun on a busy day.

Tallinn’s glorious Town Hall Square, soaking up the sun on a busy day.

One of the great things about travelling around Europe is the close proximity of different countries and cities, giving you the opportunity to turn a simple city break into a twin-centre escape. One such country is Finland. Thanks to the strategic location of its capital and biggest city, Helsinki, on the southern coast, it is within reaching distance of places such as Turku, Saint Petersburg and Tallinn.

When I visited Tallinn, I headed over the water and spent a couple of days in Helsinki – but if you’re doing things the other way around, here’s some information on how you can get to the Estonian capital and an itinerary for a day trip there.

How to get to Tallinn

Looking out across the Port of Tallinn towards Old Town.

Looking out across the Port of Tallinn towards Old Town.

Helsinki and Tallinn are separated by 44 miles the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. There are two ways to get there – by water or air – but the shortest route takes only 30 minutes, and that is via Finnair’s daily service from Helsinki Airport to Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport. The flight operates nine times a day on weekdays and six times on both Saturday and Sunday, making it easy to leave early in the morning and return the same day.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry across the gulf. Three companies – Tallink Silja Line, Viking Line and Eckerö Line connect Finland with Estonia via their capital a combined 12 times daily, and with crossings taking only two hours each way, getting there and back in just one day is simple.

A day in Tallinn

Early morning

Get to Kohtuotsa early to avoid the masses of tourists. Image credit:  Priit N / Creative Commons

Get to Kohtuotsa early to avoid the masses of tourists. Image credit: Priit N/Creative Commons

Arrive nice and early at either Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport and get the number two bus or the number four tram to the city centre. Taxis are also pretty cheap, and Uber is also available. If you’re arriving at the Port of Tallinn, it is only a short, 20 minute walk into the centre and you’ll pass The Broken Line monument, a tribute in memory of the 852 people who lost their lives in a ferry accident on 28 September 1994 when the MS Estonia sank in a crossing from Tallinn to Stockholm.

Your first port of call should be the Kohtuotsa viewing platform – Tallinn’s premier Instagram spot with excellent views over the red roofs and towering spires of Old Town as well as the tops of the steel and glass structures from the new city. Go early to avoid the inevitable crowds so you’ll have plenty of time to get the perfect photo.

Late morning

The observation deck atop St Olaf’s church is not for the faint-hearted. The climb up is quite difficult and the platform itself feels a little ropy.

The observation deck atop St Olaf’s church is not for the faint-hearted. The climb up is quite difficult and the platform itself feels a little ropy.

Next stop it’s St Olaf’s Church – one of Tallinn’s most iconic landmarks and the city’s biggest medieval structure. Head up to the top for another spectacular view, with its observation deck perched somewhat precariously on the side of its iron roofing. The church was also believed to be the tallest building in the world between 1549 and 1625, although it remains unverified.

After clambering back down St Olaf’s tower, make a beeline for the City Wall which comprises more than half of the original defence system and have 26 defence towers and two gated. A number of the towers are open for visitors, and you can walk along a small section of the wall that connects the Nunne, Sauna and Kuldjala towers.

Early afternoon

The perfectly-manicured grounds of Kadriorg Palace are perfect for an afternoon stroll when the sun is shining.

The perfectly-manicured grounds of Kadriorg Palace are perfect for an afternoon stroll when the sun is shining.

It’s time for your first food stop of the day at Balti Jaam (Baltic Station) Market. This newly-resort market complex brings together an extraordinary items from beautiful handicrafts to tasty street food. Try treats such as Estonian baked goods, ice cream rolls and fish and chips before continuing on.

Kadriorg Palace will be your next port of call, the beautiful baroque building which was built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. The palace currently houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia, but even if you’re not there to see the paintings, you can still enjoy the elegant, ornate décor on display. If the weather permits, take a walk around the palace’s gardens which blooms bright year-round.

Late afternoon

Head back to Old Town and wander around its beautiful streets and old buildings. One of the most recognisable landmarks is the Town Hall, northern Europe’s oldest city hall, dating back to 13th century. If you’re there during July and August you’ll be able to go inside and visit everything from its basement to the attic. Outside the hall, you should be able to spot Tallinn’s symbol and guardian – Vana Toomas. Stood atop the Town Hall’s spire, this weather vane was installed in 1530 and depicts Old Thomas, an Estonian war hero who also served as city guard.

Early evening

Enjoying our beer from ceramic mugs by candlelight at III Draakon.

Enjoying our beer from ceramic mugs by candlelight at III Draakon.

It’s now time for dinner, and where better than at Rataskaevu 16 – the highest-rated restaurant in Tallinn on TripAdvisor? Offering delicious Estonian food such as fried herring fillets and elk roast, it boasts warm, friendly service with plenty of options for vegetarians, too.

Round off your day trip to Tallinn with refreshments at III Draakon – a candlelit bar in the old court room of the Town Hall which serves the cheapest beer and wine on Town Hall Square. Drinking at this watering hole is itself an experience, with its staff and interior taken straight from the Middle Ages.

After drinking up, get the tram, bus or a taxi back to the airport, or make the nice evening-time stroll to the ferry terminal ready for check-in.