Tallinn definitely isn’t among the most expensive cities in Europe. Nevertheless, it’s always good to save money while travelling. The great thing about the Estonian capital is that there are loads of interesting things to do and see for free. Here are 10 of our favourites!
1. Find St. Catherine’s Passage in the Old Town
Photo credit: Alejandro Erickson
St Catherine’s Passage is one of the most medieval-looking alleys in the whole of Tallinn, complete with giant tombstones attached to the walls and lots of artisan shops, of course. Take a peek at the various works of art and witness their birth in the open studios.
2. See where history was made at the Song Festival Grounds
Photo credit: Priit Tammets
There’s probably no other place in Tallinn that resonates with the locals as much as the Song Festival Grounds aka Lauluväljak. Aside from hosting the popular Song Festival every four years, it was the site of a pivotal event in the dissolution of Soviet power in 1988.
These days there’s less need for revolutions in Estonia, so Lauluväljak is used for concerts and festivals instead. Metallica and Madonna have drawn large crowds to the fields, but they still weren’t as big as the one of 1988. When it’s not festival season you can enjoy great views of the Bay of Tallinn from the top of the hill.
3. Wander around Telliskivi Creative City
Photo credit: Telliskivi Creative City
This complex of old warehouses and industrial buildings has become the heart of all things hip. It’s home to countless cool cafés, bars and restaurants, exhibition spaces, small local design stores and a weekly flea market, with new eateries, shops and galleries popping up all the time. It’s a great place to wander around and get inspired.
4. Enjoy the view from the roof of Linnahall
Photo credit: Tom Godber
The Soviets built this thing for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The idea was to demonstrate the superior concrete-pouring skills of the Soviet Union to the Western powers. This would have been a great idea if everybody wasn’t so busy boycotting the games.
The roof of the building is a popular place to watch the sunset, especially among the local youth. So, grab a bottle, hide it well and head out to explore the concrete jungle by the sea. In summer you can stop by after leaving a nightclub as the sun rises at around 3:30–4 am.
5. Get creeped out at Patarei Prison
Photo credit: Jon Shave
Patarei is a true hellhole. Originally built as a gun battery and fortress in 1840, it looks like it was abandoned decades ago even though the last inmates left 2005, presumably after discovering that all the guards had wandered off.
We’re not going to give you the full and terrifying history of this prison, but we must admit there’s a certain charm to lying on the sand and watching the waves crash against the rocks through the barbed-wire fence. Also, we bet you’ve never danced from dusk till noon in a prison. Yep, it’s also a rave venue in summer.
6. Get active at the Pirita River valley
Photo credit: Maasaak
Just a 10-minute bus ride from the city centre, you’ll find yourself surrounded by trees, hills, native birds and fresh forest air. Locals like to come here for a relaxing walk or a serious workout in nature. Take bus 1A, 8, 34A or 38 from the Viru bus terminal and get off at the “Pirita” stop.
7. Take enviable photos from the Kohtu viewing platform
Photo credit: Guillaume Speurt
The Kohtu viewing platform is ideal if you want to see the whole of Tallinn without having to climb the narrow stairs of a certain very tall church in the Old Town. Once you reach the high ground and manage to find the platform, you’ll witness a sea of odd-looking red rooftops, grey guard towers and beautiful spires, as well as the modern Tallinn skyline in the distance.
By the way, if you can’t see the high-rises then it means you’re on the wrong platform. But keep trying, you’ll get there. Eventually.
8. Join the amazing Tallinn Free Tour
Visiting Tallinn for the first time can be confusing. You’ll likely notice grumpy, antisocial old people and loads of students running around searching for wireless hotspots, excitedly shouting something about a place called “Levikas”. Luckily, there’s also an effervescent bunch that’ll happily show you around the hidden corners of the Old Town.
These young guides will take you through the centuries-old streets and tell you colourful tales of the city, its history and its people. Estonia’s story is a complex one, but these guys know how to lay down the wisdom without getting stuck in the dizzying world of numbers and figures. The best part is that they like to have fun while doing so.
9. Take a peaceful stroll in Kadriorg Park
Photo credit: MICⱵ^ΞL
Besides lots of beautiful trees, ponds and joggers, Kadriorg Park is where you’ll find the top Estonian art museums. If you’re lucky, you might even pass the President of Estonia. His palace is located here too.
The other thing that makes Kadriorg different is its symmetry. The Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, came to Tallinn, thought the local way of designing parks was totally wrong and, as a result, taught the local savages – the German landlords – how to use a drawing board. In fact, we can’t think of any other park in the country that’s as symmetrical as this one.
10. Be awed at the City Gallery
Photo credit: Visitestonia.com
There’s really no reason to just walk by this place. It’s situated on Harju Street, just off Tallinn’s main square, and admission is free.
The name City Gallery sounds conservative enough, but rest assured, it has little to do with what you might term conventional art. Always a treat and always provocative, this gallery colours Tallinn’s canvas with an unpredictable brush.
Opening photo credit: Mike Beales