Travel in Estonia: The Cheap and Charming Capital of Tallinn

I recently spent two days exploring the cheap and charming capital of Tallinn, Estonia.DSC_0019I’ll admit, before I took this trip, the only time I had heard of Estonia was in the 90s film, Encino Man.

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Stoney, an exchange student from Estonia. Weazin’ on some grindage! 😜

Getting There: Now I call Tallinn cheap, considering it neighbors the costly countries of Scandinavia. The best evidence of this price difference can be seen when taking the Tallink Silja Line ferry from Finland to Estonia- a journey I’ve nicknamed, “the budget booze cruise!” 🍾 ⛴️Untitled collageYou see, because of Estonia’s cheap liquor prices, Finns frequently make the journey on this ferry as a round-trip booze cruise. They come on board, purchase cheap, duty-free alcohol by the shopping cart-full, and in return, get the pleasure of partying the night away on this budget-style cruise boat. The ferry has cabins available for sleeping, and they provide plenty of entertainment, like karaoke, live music, and a gambling casino. After some liquid courage, you could see that everyone was having a good ol’ time! 🍷🍺🍸🎵

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T: dance hall; BL: caricaturist; BR: lounge bar
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a range of duty-free items, including clothes, candy, perfume, makeup, and of course, alcohol

The most popular Estonian liquor is Vana Tallin, a rum-based liquor, with notes of cinnamon, toffee and citrus, that is often bottled with a sweet cream.
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Cost: 21 Euro for the four-hour, one-way trip.

Anyway, after taking this unexpectedly fun and entertaining ferry ride to Tallinn, I walked from the ferry port to my hostel, to tuck in for the night.

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entering Tallinn’s Old Town, which is surrounded by medieval defensive walls

The next day I set out to explore this charming capital city! 😍DSC_0080

What to Do in Tallinn:

To learn a few facts about Estonia, my first activity was a free walking tour in Tallinn’s historic city center.

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our one guide could really command a crowd, considering there had to be about 40 people on our tour

Estonia is a small country, with a population of only 1.3 million people.

Fun fact: More tourists visit Estonia each year than its total population! 😲DSC_0081Fun fact: Although there are many gorgeous cathedrals and churches in Tallinn, Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world.

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

It’s no wonder why so many tourists are flocking here though.DSC_0051From the unique carvings on each door…DSC_0020DSC_0056

to the hand-painted touches on each outer facade…

DSC_9991…it would be easy to spend a whole day here, just ogling at the unique features found in these medieval streets.

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St. Catherine’s Passageway- a picturesque street filled with craft workshops, where artists use traditional methods from the 17th century to produce ceramics, jewelry, and quilts.
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Much of Tallinn’s Old Town was built from the 14th to the 17th century. The prevalent, well-maintained medieval structures in the city have given it its nickname, “the city of towers and tunnels.”
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There is a labyrinth of 17th century tunnels below Tallinn, and during WWII, they were often used as bomb shelters.

Aside from admiring the small details, to get the best birds-eye view of this city, head to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform.DSC_0016DSC_0017

Now aside from its medieval history, Estonia has a long history of Nazi and Soviet rule, which persisted through most of the 20th century, and ended in 1991.

Fun fact: The country declared independence twice from the Soviet Union; therefore, they have two Independence Days. Their break from Soviet Rule was also called the “Singing Revolution”, since they sang traditional folk songs during many of their peaceful protests.

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Tallinn’s Independence Monument

Now to learn more about the harsh Soviet Rule in Estonia, it’s possible to visit the old KGB prison cells.

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the KGB were the Soviet secret police

Personally, I went to visit the Patarei Prison, which was used to victimize people during Nazi and communist rule.  DSC_0035It’s no longer possible to enter the complex, but it’s still nice to walk around the exterior of this abandoned site, with a rather cruel and twisted history.

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prison watch tower

Anyway, one great thing about Tallinn is that there are numerous informative plaques around the city, which describe most of the historic sites and important historical events. Self-guided sightseeing at its best!

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stepping stone on Börsi Kaik

Now aside from sightseeing, during this holiday time, I really enjoyed the city’s cozy holiday market, which had many warm delights to keep me nice and toasty during these chilly nights. DSC_0085

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glögg a.k.a hot spiced wine
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cured meats

It’s really an ideal place to feel festive this time of year!

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Börsi Kaik, an alleyway lined with twinkling Christmas trees

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festive transport in Tallinn

As for shopping in Tallinn, you’ll find many souvenir shops selling handmade outfits and crafts, antique shops selling cool Soviet artifacts, and oodles of quaint and charming cafes.

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sign saying ‘Suvenir’ a.k.a souvenir
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Estonian Viking souvenirs
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heavy and warm, knit shalls
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antique dolls in Tallinn
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antique matches and flasks

One of my favorite spots to warm up was the historic Maiasmokk Café. The smell of sugar and holiday spices from the cafe wafted into the streets, and rightfully beckoned my call.DSC_0059Not only are they the oldest cafe in Tallinn, but they make delicious, strong cappuccinos, and they also serve homemade pastries and marzipan. ☕DSC_9989DSC_0064DSC_0063For a cheap meal in Tallin, I visited Ill Drakon, a traditional medieval-themed tavern.
DSC_0086I highly recommended the elk soup, mushroom pastry, and my personal favorite, homemade pickles. Yum!illdrakYou can even spear them yourself! Just make sure to clean up after yourself before you leave. 😉

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L: the landlady says, “clean your own table”; R: homemade pickles *drool*

On my second day, I wandered a bit off-beaten-path. I visited Kalamaja, an old fisherman’s village, which has some traditional wooden homes that are unlike the standard Soviet-style housing in most of Tallinn.DSC_0043

I also visited the hip and trendy Telliskivi District, which has lots of funky restaurants and pop-up shops. DSC_0089DSC_0095

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old train cars converted into a restaurant

Overall, it looks like a super fun place to hang out in the summer, but maybe not in the winter, when the weather is quite harsh, and most people are trying to escape the cold.

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Here I am super bundled, with just enough skin showing to see where I’m going!

Fun fact: Estonia would also be a great place to visit in summer, considering half of the country is covered in forest. A hiker’s paradise! 🌲

Also, en route to Telliskivi, I found some cool street art. My favorite piece was this colorful rendition of Estonian legend, Koit & Hämarik, which depicts an epic Viking love story. 💙💜DSC_0030DSC_0029Wandering over here, outside of the historic city center, also gave me a better look at modern Estonian housing. It’s nice to see how normal people live now-a-days. Obviously the medieval times are long gone!

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modern apartment complex in Tallinn

Anyway, that wraps up my two-day journey through Tallinn. Up next I headed to Riga, Latvia. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then!

Where to Stay:

While in Tallinn, I stayed at Alur Old Town Hostel. The staff was friendly and they had clean facilities, plus they offer a great value for your money! Cost: 10 Euro/night

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8 thoughts on “Travel in Estonia: The Cheap and Charming Capital of Tallinn

  1. Oh wow! The Baltic republics would be the next place we’d sure like to touch!
    Mel recalled his Finnish colleagues joke: Finlandia ships Vodka to Estonia in large seafreight containers and the Finns carry it all back in shopping bags!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post on Tallin. Beautiful pictures and I loved the fun facts. Could please recommend some coffee house in old town. I will be traveling there in a couple of weeks time.

    Liked by 1 person

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