As mentioned previously, we took a bus from Riga to Tallinn and it was great. This is what the seat backs looked like:
We booked our tickets in advance online and were able to select our seats during the booking process. Amazing!
The leg room was plentiful and the bus was equipped with wifi. The journey time from Riga to Tallinn was about four hours long and had a handful of stops along the way (three, I think). We arrived in Tallinn late on a Saturday night took a taxi to our hotel, checked in and then made a beeline for the medieval old town for dinner and beers with a side of antique stationary bike.
I was happy to be in a new city but not happy that the temperatures were even colder than they were in Riga. It even snowed during part of our bus journey!
We did not book a tour or excursion in Tallinn which was a bit out of the norm for us. Instead we did some light research online and came up with a short list of must-sees (in no particular order).
- Medieval old town
- Old town walls
- Views from Toompea Hill
- Kiek in de Kok
- St. Catherine’s passage + ancient tombstones
- Stone pigeons
- Beer halls/pubs
The old town walls
Our first item of business was to climb on top of the old town walls and take some photos of the medieval old town. The price to access the old town walls was 5€/person which was way too expensive!
The section of old town walls that you can walk on is short and narrow and would be an absolute nightmare in high tourist season or when a cruise ship has docked at the port. I wouldn’t recommend ascending the old town walls in low or regular season and I would say to avoid them at all costs during high season.
Some obstructed photos of the old town from the old town walls:
If you decide to go against my advice and access the old town walls, then skip the wooden bridge (first landing point from the spiral staircase) and continue to the top of the tower because the views are a bit less obstructed from there but they are still not great.
Protip: The windows in the tower open, so open them and then take your photos.
Our second item of business was to traverse the old town to Toompea Hill and, hopefully, take some better panoramic photos of the old medieval town. We soberly struggled to find good spots for panoramic views but we persisted and eventually found a map in a small square which noted the best viewing spots and then we were good to go (frozen hands and all!).
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is very big, meticulously painted and very Russian looking.
Kiek in de Kok
We read that another good spot for panoramic views was atop of the Kiek in de Kok. Kiek in de Kok is loosely translated in German as “peep into the kitchen” because tower occupants could see into the kitchens of surrounding houses. To our dismay, Kiek in de Kok was closed when we arrived, so all I have is a photo of Kiek in de Kok which originally was an artillery tower built in 1475.
The beer halls/pubs
Our third item of business was to get out of the cold for a little bit, so we entered a pub and emerged several hours later. We ordered various appetizers during our extended stay at the pub, one of which was a plate of pickled cucumbers which were served with honey and sour cream.
Fish, sour cream and beer in this neck of the woods is really beloved. Side note: Tallinn had a very Scandinavian feel to it which is sort of weird because it’s more eastern than Riga yet Riga felt very Eastern European and not at all Scandinavian. Perhaps the proximity to Helsinki, Finland gives Tallinn it’s Scandinavian feel?
By the way, pickles dipped in honey is unnecessary and pickles dipped in sour cream is just ridiculous.
The old town
After we had sufficiently thawed out in the pub, we stumbled around the old town and took some more photos and froze our asses off.
We were so bored that we even took photos of ourselves.
Tallinn’s old medieval town is very small. Have I mentioned that yet? No? Well, it is very small. I think Bruges is larger than Tallinn’s old town. Anyway, we stayed one day too long in Tallinn and I don’t think that it’s any stretch of the truth to say that we got bored. Not even beer could help our boredom.
We spent Easter in Tallinn and dined in the rafters of Tallinn Town Hall on actual Easter. The restaurant was medieval themed and our table happened to be on the same floor as a Canadian teenage hockey team’s table which sort of destroyed the experience because they were loud and blew out the candles on their tables (the entire floor was lit by candles only, giving it that authentic medieval feel). No candles meant that the dining area was very, very dark.
The meal was meh. It was a tourist meal and was one of the only restaurants open on Easter so, yeah, meh. The building was very cool though!
St. Catherine’s Passage
Our last item of business was to skip over to St. Catherine’s Passage and see what it was all about. We’d read that St. Catherine’s Passage was an interesting photo-op and it was but it was sort of anticlimactic. Also it was so cold.
The closing thoughts
The best way to visit Tallinn is probably via a Baltic cruise. As with Riga, Tallinn is small and if you are organized with your time and even if you are map illiterate, seeing and doing all of the above can be accomplished in one full day.