Visiting Tallinn on a Cruise: A 1-Day Itinerary That Works!

Tallinn is a popular port of call on Baltic Sea cruises. Founded in 1154, this historic city lies on the northern coast of Estonia and is the country’s hub for culture and tourism, as well as its capital.

But what are the best things to see if you are visiting Tallinn on a cruise?

To help you make the most of your day on-shore, here’s my tried and tested Tallinn itinerary. It includes essential practical tips, including how to get from the cruise terminal as well as my pick of what to see and where to eat.

red roofs of tallinn with church spire and cruise ship in distance

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How I Visited Tallinn on a Cruise

Tallinn was the second port of call on my 2-week Baltic Capitals cruise

  • Cruise operatorCelebrity Cruises
  • Cruise ship: Celebrity Silhouette
  • Time in port: 10 am – 6 pm

I spent the morning exploring the Old Town on a walking tour. After lunch, I walked across the railway tracks to explore Telliskivi and Kalamaja.

Language – Estonian

Currency – Euro. However, cards are widely accepted.

Tipping – Tipping is voluntary. However, if the service was satisfactory, adding a 10% tip to the bill is considered polite.

One Day Tallinn Itinerary

Think of your day in Tallinn as one of two halves.

Visitors justifiably swoon over this city for its perfectly intact medieval centre. But there is more to Tallinn’s charms than its UNESCO-listed Old Town.

Cross its railway tracks and you will discover a very different side of the city. Telliskivi Creative City with its street art, craft beer and designer studios, and the iconic wooden buildings of Kalamaja offer a refreshing alternative to the cutesy appeal of Tallinn’s medieval centre.

MORNING

I joined the Tallinn in a Nutshell free walking tour. Over two hours, Kadri showed us the highlights of Tallinn and took us through her country’s history from medieval times, through the Soviet period right up to modern Estonia.

There is no charge for this walking tour although tips are welcome.

Tallinn’s Lower Town wall

Tallinn’s Old Town is split into the Lower Town and its Upper Town, 20 – 30 meters above the Lower Town. We started our walking tour at Tallinn’s Lower Town city wall. 

Originally 2.5 km long, this once boasted 45 defensive towers. However, it fell victim to bombing raids in 1944 that destroyed more than half of Tallinn’s city centre and around 10% of its Old Town.

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Tallinn’s city wall and defensive towers

More than half of Tallinn’s Lower Town wall has been magnificently preserved as a city wall, including 26 towers and two gates.

Danish King’s Garden

According to local legend, this is where a flag descended from the sky during the Danish invasion. It was this flag that made fortune smile upon King Valdemar II, and it became the national flag of Denmark.

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Danish King’s Garden

The sculptures of three monks standing in the garden are a recent addition. They were a present to the city from an Estonian businessman who thought that Tallinn did not have enough statues.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

This elaborate Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1900 during a period of Russification across the Baltic states.

Following Estonia’s first independence in 1918, there was an intensive program of de-Russification. Although it was relatively easy to strip out statues and monuments, de-Russifying buildings such as Alexander Nevsky Cathedral wasn’t so straightforward.

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

By the time Estonia’s second independence came around, there was an acceptance that this was the country’s cultural heritage. This is the main church for Russians living in Tallinn.

  • Entry to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is free
  • Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral
  • As this is a place of worship you need to be respectful. Women are advised to dress demurely and to cover their heads if possible.

St Mary’s Lutheran Cathedral

Although Lutheranism is the main religion of Estonia, it is not the biggest. At the last count, 96% of the country’s Russian population were regular churchgoers.

This contrasts with just 10% of ethnic Estonians attending church regularly. In other news, did you know that 69% of Estonians believe that trees have souls?

Compared to the grandeur of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St Mary’s Lutheran Cathedral is plain inside and out. However, it is noted for the elaborate wooden coats of arms of Estonian nobility covering its whitewashed walls.

You can step inside for the price of a small donation.

TALLINN LOCAL’S TIP! Kalev is the largest chocolate maker in Estonia and produces a large variety of good-quality chocolate. Available from stores across Tallinn.

Tallinn’s Upper Town Wall

Linking nine of the city’s remaining 26 towers, this is the classic Tallinn photo stop. Have your camera ready for those sweeping views over the Old Town’s red rooftops.

You should also have a chance to say hello to one of Tallinn’s most famous residents, Steven Seagull (geddit?). He even has his own Instagram hashtag (#steventheseagull).

seagull perched on wall in front of church tower and red roofs of tallinn which is one of the ports of call on a baltic sea cruise

Tallinn Town Hall Square

Descending to the Lower Town, pass by enticing shops and cafes to reach Tallinn’s beating heart, its Town Hall Square.

Dating from the 14th Century, the southern side of Tallinn Town Hall Square is dominated by the Gothic town hall, the only surviving example in Northern Europe.

The Town Hall Square is also home to a market and is a great place to pick up souvenirs.

Town Hall Pharmacy

As a pharmacist, I felt that it would be unprofessional not to visit what is thought to be the oldest operating pharmacy in Europe. The Town Hall Pharmacy has concocted cures since 1422 and is still going.

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Tallinn’s Town Hall Square from the Town Hall Pharmacy

In addition to displaying historic pills and potions – black cat’s blood anyone? – it is here that you can pick up a cure for a broken heart. This candy-topped piece of marzipan is guaranteed to make the break-up pain go away. Or so they say.

LUNCHTIME

Kadri had advised us to steer clear of the tourist traps on Tallinn’s Town Hall Square. Instead, she recommended trying one of the restaurants on nearby Rataskaevu.

I recommend Von Krahli Baar, at Rataskaevu 10, a relaxed restaurant with friendly service. I enjoyed an excellent seafood crepe washed down with a local Kosk beer.

AFTERNOON

Sated from lunch, it’s time to explore a different side of Tallinn. On the other side of the train station is Kalamaja, hipster central.

This up-and-coming Bohemian district – literal translation ‘fish house’ – was founded in the 14th Century as a fishing village. Sandwiched between Tallinn’s Old Town and the coast, this contains some architectural gems.

Kalamaja’s candy-coloured wooden buildings built during Estonia’s brief first period of independence are typical Tallinn houses.

man riding bike with baby carrier past a teal coloured half timbered building
Kalamaja

At the heart of Kalamaja is Telliskivi, a former industrial area used in Soviet times to produce war equipment for trains, planes and ships. Today, the renovated old factory buildings are home to a thriving restaurant scene, shops and co-working spaces for start-ups.

This is also a great area to hunt down street art.

mural of a blue deer on a wall
Telliskivi

Getting to Tallinn’s Old Town from the Cruise Terminal

Most cruise ships dock at the Old City Harbour (Tallinn Passenger Port) in the downtown area of the city. It’s an easy 1 km walk to the edge of the Old Town.

Also, as most of Tallinn’s highlights are in a relatively compact area, it is very walkable. Your two feet are the best way to get around and see the sights.

Here are your options for getting from the cruise terminal to Tallinn’s Old Town.

high level view of red rooftops and medieval streets of tallinn

I walked from the cruise terminal to the Old Town. At an easy pace, this took me around 15 minutes.

The walk is clearly signposted and – trust me – you won’t be the only person taking this stroll.

Public transport is of limited use here.

Although Bus #2 will bring you to the city centre it does not stop at the cruise terminal. You will need to pick it up at the closest public transport stop on Sadama Street in front of Terminal A. The service runs 2 – 4 times an hour.

Most cruise lines offer a frequent shuttle service for a small charge.

Inevitably, there is also a hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) bus. Given the size of Tallinn’s Old Town, this is likely to be of value only if you plan to visit the city’s suburbs.

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Is the Tallinn Card Worth Buying?

The Tallinn Card is a discount card that gives you free admission to over 50 of Tallinn’s tourist attractions, free public transport and discounts on sightseeing tours, shops and restaurants.

As I was in Tallinn for just one day, and would not have time to visit any of the city’s museums, I felt I would not get value out of the card. However, depending on how long you are in port and your sightseeing plans, you might arrive at a different conclusion.

Think about where you might be able to visit and how much individual tickets and transport will cost compared with the cost of the Tallinn Card.

pastel coloured medieval buildings and church tower in tallinn

Enjoy your day in Tallinn

Tallinn is sightseeing heaven and was one of the highlights of my Baltic Sea cruise. Although I had just seven hours there, I felt I got a lot out of it.

With good reason, most people visit Tallinn for its rich history and perfectly preserved cobblestoned medieval centre. The streetscapes of the Old Town are ridiculously photogenic, crammed with merchants’ houses and picturesque churches.

However, in their own way, Kalamaja and Telliskivi were equally compelling and their urban cool offered a contrasting experience. In my view, they are an essential part of any 1-day Tallinn itinerary.

This hipster district wasn’t on my radar before I arrived in Tallinn and was recommended by Kadri, our walking tour guide. You can’t beat local knowledge.

But there’s one more reason to consider visiting Kalamaja and Telliskivi. Estonia is a popular stop for cruise ships and there were four in port when I visited Tallinn. That is a lot of people in the city’s historic centre.

On the other side of the railway tracks, it was a different story. I saw, at the very most, ten other tourists when I was wandering the streets of Kalamaja.

high level view of red rooftops church spires and and medieval streets of tallinn

Packing a good guidebook to allow you to explore the ports of call on a Baltic Sea cruise independently is a wise move. I can recommend the excellent Lonely Planet Cruise Ports Scandinavia & Northern Europe that I used when I visited these ports.

If you have found this itinerary helpful, take a look at my guides to the other ports of call on this cruise:

Finally, if you are new to cruising, I also have a guide to planning your first cruise and advice on which cruise cabins to avoid. If you are cruising solo, take a look at my lowdown on single cabins.

cruise packing checklist cold climate
bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.