Getting out of Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia

There is no question that Old Town has a lot to offer any tourist – from backpacker to cruiser just in port for the day.  We arrived in Tallinn at the end of Summer, still in the height of the tourist season.   And while all of Tallinn travel can be rewarding, we found the true gems to be outside the UNESCO-listed Old Town.

View of St. Nicholas Church from Toompea Hill.
View of St. Nicholas Church from Toompea Hill.

A view of one of Tallinn's famous watchtowers.
A view of one of Tallinn’s famous watchtowers.

However, despite the hordes of -ahem- large, American cruise tourists we found in every nook and cranny of Old Town, once we stepped outside, into the surrounding areas, we found that we were often the only tourists present – which, while a welcome surprise for us, was shocking.  In fact, while we stayed in, and loved our time in Old Town Tallinn, it was what lay outside it that charmed us the most.

Here’s a rundown of our favorite things to see, outside the Viru Gates and off Toompea Hill:

Patarei Prison6 Patarei Prison2 Patarei Prison2 Patarei Prison4 Patarei Prison5

  • Patarei Prisonan old Imperial Russian cum Soviet cum Estonian  prison that visitors are free to walk through (entrance fee – 3EUR).  It’s right on the harbor, and less of a curated experience than the Karosta Cietums in Liepaja, Latvia, or the various KGB museums of the three nations.  There’s also a great cafe on the water outside the gates of the prison where you can enjoy a snack or a beer overlooking the water.  On a clear day you can see Finland!Linnahall1 Linnahall3 Linnahall5 Linnahall6 Linnahall2
  • a former Soviet concert and event venue (built in 1980 as a place to watch the sailing events in the Moscow Olympics), is a concrete monolith fitting for Aztec style human sacrifice.  It has great views and looks almost as if it has some sort of cosmic orientation the way it is laid out in such perfect geometric symmetry.  It’s also where kids and bums go to drink – so best to go there while it’s light out.Balti Jaam1 Balti Jaam2 Balti Jaam3 Balti Jaam4 Balti Jaam5
  • Balti Jaama Turg – the Russian Market.  It’s no secret that David and I love visiting the sketchier markets of the former Soviet Union.  Balti Jaam was a great example of one such market.  Decidedly less sketchy (and therefore a bit more expensive) than the Latgales Market in Riga, it was a great place to load up on Soviet memorabilia, and to take in some of the darker underbelly of Tallinn – quite a contrast to the Disney-like setting of Old Town, even though it’s only a ten minute walk from the top of Toompea Hill!  You may have to walk around a bit to find the souvenirs/antiques, but take your time and you’ll be rewarded.  I had read before coming that this market was “sketchy” and that I should “watch my wallet”, but this seems like sensasionalist hoopla to me.  Just don’t be any less aware here than you would be anywhere else, and you’ll be fine.

Some honorable mentions go to the Kalamaja District as a whole (I am a sucker for original wooden architecture), and the Lennusadam Seaplane Museum (especially the Surr Toll ice breaker ship still moored in the harbor next to the museum) – but the three sights listed above really did it for us.honeymoon-jpegs-177_21287643210_o Kalamaja1 Patarei Prison7

We stayed in a lovely airbnb (as we do most everywhere we travel nowadays) in the Old Town – actually, the exposed stone in our apartment is actual Old Town city wall! – but were we to do it over, we’d probably stay in the more affordable Kalamaja District.  

Logistically speaking, we walked literally everywhere in Tallinn, within Old Town and outside.  If you don’t mind hoofing five or more miles, you should be fine to walk – but a taxi to the furthest point we visited, the Lennusadam Seaplane Musem, should cost less than 10 EUR from the center of Old Town.

8 thoughts on “Getting out of Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia

  • September 20, 2015, 10:53 pm

    I enjoyed visiting outside of the Old Town as well. I think I’ll be going back again in the spring and hope to spend a bit more time wandering the Kalamaja District – I got hopelessly lost in there, which is pretty unusual for me. I’m also hoping to visit the Genocide Museum

    • September 21, 2015, 2:02 pm

      I’m so jealous that you’re so close! I think I’d up and move to Riga or Vilnius in a heartbeat if the right job opportunity were there. Love both of those cities.

  • October 5, 2015, 10:02 am

    Found your blog from a comment you left on Megan’s Ohrid post. I wrote something similar about Tallinn. I loved Tallinn but loved getting out of the old town even more. Saw some incredible sights around the whole country. I’m a huge fan of Estonia and the Baltic States.

    • October 5, 2015, 11:54 am

      Great to know you, Andrea! I’ll have to check out your blog and compare notes. 🙂

      And I’m with you on the love for the Baltics – loved the whole region, and was pleasantly surprised at how distinct each nation’s culture was from the others!

  • October 5, 2015, 10:23 am

    ive been to tallinn twice and im so lame (my way of saying i got so drunk both times) that i never really visited anywhere there. such a shame. but my boyfriend is dying to go back to tartu so i suppose the third time in tallinn (because obviously we will have to fly in there) will be a charm! i did eat at a really cool cafe there one time called sfaar that brewed their own beer. i felt very cultured that day as i got a little taste of the local scene haha (and it was not in old towne).

    ps: the reason i got so drunk was they have a good craft beer scene there. i have an article i have half written about it and never published. maybe ill feel inspired to do so soon 🙂

    • October 5, 2015, 11:48 am

      You know, I nearly fell off the wagon there because I wanted to try the local “live beers.” I am all about gut health and probiotics, clearly! 🙂

      But yeah, I honestly wasn’t too captivated by Tallinn’s Old Town, but walking around away from the American cruise tourists in port for the day amongst the newer ruins was way up my alley!

      I’ll keep a look out for your craft beer article! Did you try the Vana Tallinn? I hear it’s good in coffee!

      • October 5, 2015, 1:52 pm

        oh yes i tried the stuff. i had some dangerous nights in tallinn. im surprised the city even let me come back a second time 🙂

        i really should get around to writing more (or publishing half written articles i have in queue) over the next few months. i hope at least!

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