Top Things to do in Old Town Tallinn, Estonia with Kids
Estonia may not be on many people’s radar when visiting Europe’s Baltic region. However, its capital city of Tallinn is full of history, interesting culture, family-friendly attractions and beautiful architecture. Many tourists visit Tallinn for a day during a cruise ship stop, or like us, on a day trip from Helsinki. Most congregate in the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Old Town area. It was well-preserved with winding cobblestone streets and colorful, historic buildings enclosed inside a defense wall. It looked like a fairy tale village come to life. See our favorite things to do in Old Town Tallinn.
5 Fun Things to do in Tallinn, Estonia
The best way to explore the Old Town is by walking around its cobblestone streets. Wear comfortable walking shoes with a lot of cushion. It is divided into Lower Town where the merchants and artisans live and Toompea Hill which is the city’s administrative center. If you’re short on time, we highly recommend following this self-guided walking tour from Rick Steves that covers many attractions. We stopped at a gelaterie, souvenir shops and bakeries to minimize the complaints of hunger and achy feet from the kids doing this tour.
Don’t miss the magnificent St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the pink Toompea Castle (house of Parliament) nearby. We loved peeking inside the many churches and spotting the colorful and unique doors around the town. It’s one of the best European cities to explore with its many picturesque streets and remarkable architecture.
Old Town is the city’s cultural center and filled with many interesting museums. A good starting point is the Great Guild Hall showing Estonia’s history. The Germans, Danes, Swedes and Russians once ruled Estonia, but the country finally declared independence in 1991. The kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. We learned a lot about the area’s history that made us appreciate the attractions more.
The city museum nearby shows Tallinn’s rich history. Many of the museums were small but informative. Stop by these gems that kids will enjoy like the Maritime Museum, Museum of Puppet Arts, Children’s Museum, Kiek in de Kok (for weapons and cannons) and a family favorite, Kalev Marzipan Museum Room (try their marzipans and chocolates).
Climb Towers and Platforms
A defensive wall with over 40 towers surrounds Old Town. Some of the towers are open for climbing to enjoy the panoramic views, and this activity is guaranteed to be a kid’s favorite. Some like Fat Margaret Tower are even free. Several church bell towers are also open and worth the climb.
We loved the two viewing platforms at Toompea Hill. These offer some of the best views of Old Town Tallinn. The Patkuli platform is a wonderful area to see the town’s towers, spires and red rooftops. Narrow streets filled with unique shops make for an interesting stroll along the way. The Kohtu street platform shows a contrast of the Medieval neighborhood against the newer part of the city along with the harbor area.
Tour Hidden Tunnels
Who wouldn’t want to explore hidden tunnels underneath Old Town Tallinn? We took a guided tour of the Bastion Passages and it was a fantastic experience. The Swedes originally built these defense tunnel systems in the 17th and 18th centuries under the walls for ammunition and troop movement and to spy on enemies. Some of these tunnels were eventually renovated into bomb shelters during World War II and later became a refuge for punk rockers and a sanctuary for the homeless in the 1990s.
The tour took us back in time to explain the tunnels’ many past uses over the centuries. It was an interesting look at history. Some areas still have that medieval look and feel. We ended at the Carved Stone Museum that showcased 15th century stonework used for building and home decorations. There is still a labyrinth of tunnels underneath Tallinn so who knows what interesting things they’ll discover in the future.
Tours can be booked at Kiek in de Kok tower and are held Tuesday through Sunday. We walked in and were able to go on the next tour. It was a little cold underneath the town, but blankets were provided.
Explore Town Hall Square
The historic square at Old Town’s center is an activity hub worth spending some time in and exploring. Many restaurants, outdoor cafés and shops surround it. The 15th century Town Hall tower dominates the square. This is the best-preserved Gothic town hall in Northern Europe. Climb 115 spiral steps to the top for some amazing views. The Town Hall also houses interesting exhibits of Estonian costumes and incredible tapestries. I love public squares like these, especially one as photogenic as Tallinn. This is the site of many festivals and concerts all year and the town’s Christmas market.
Tips for Visiting Tallinn
- Getting there: Tallinn was an easy two-hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland. We took the Tallink ferry, but Viking, Linda Line and Eckerö Line also offer the same route. Eckero is the cheapest and Linda Line is the fastest but tends to get cancelled often. Our ferry looked more like a cruise ship than other ferries we experienced. Prices vary based on dates and times, and tickets were easy to book online.
- Save money! Get the 24-, 48- or 72-hour Tallinn Card for admission to over 40 attractions and museums, a city tour, discounts on shopping and dining, and unlimited public transportation rides. Buy online or at various points around the city.
- Where to eat? If you’re a bit adventurous, try some elk stew by the Town Hall. We also loved our lunch at Grillhaus Daube with authentic Estonian dishes.
I wish we had more time to explore beyond the Old Town area. Tallinn looks like such a fun city. If you decide to spend a few days here, Hilton Tallinn Park would be a great base.
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Visit Tallinn provided Mary’s family 24-hour Tallinn Cards. She used it in many attractions throughout the city and could see its overall value to visitors.
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Mary lives in San Diego, California with her husband, 13 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son. She was born in the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. territory…