From Tallinn’s Viru Gate to the hidden bar with 800 beers, here are 8 things you can’t miss in Estonia’s capital city.
While it’s always been on my “someday” list, I’ve never put much thought into visiting Tallinn, Estonia. The pictures are beautiful. The architecture looks surreal. And as far as I could tell, the tourist numbers seemed well under control.
But it took a family heritage trip through Lithuania to actually get me there – and thank God, because Tallinn is a beauty! I’m pretty sure I filled up half of 128GB SD card just taking photos of the quaint, colorful side streets.
Whether it’s the views from Kohtuotsa or the under-the-radar beer bars, our visit to Tallinn went well beyond expectations – so much so that I can’t wait to get back! If you’re planning a quick trip to Tallinn (we only had 48 hours), here are 8 things you can’t miss!
1. Viru Gate
If you’ve researched Tallinn at all, you’ve more than likely seen photos of the Viru Gate. These pillars are the entrance to Viru Street in Tallinn’s Old Town, and served as defense fortifications in the 14th century. While not necessarily used for defense any more, the Viru Gate stands as an icon of Tallinn – and photogenic one at that.
2. St. Catherine’s Passage
This tiny street is one of the most picturesque strips in Tallinn’s Old Town. It connects Vene Street to the store-lined Müürivahe street, which has all sorts of local souvenirs like ceramics, silk and quilts. The passage has a unique, ancient vibe, and while yes – it’s technically just a street – St. Catherine’s Passage is a great way to immerse yourself in Tallinn’s past.
3. Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin
On day two in Tallinn, we were all about hunting for views. We started the “hunt” at the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, a medieval church that has a climbable bell tower with one of my absolute favorite views of Tallinn. From the bell tower, you have an unobstructed view of the Russian Orthodox Church – a beautiful building with that quintessential Russian architecture. I spent oh so much time taking the same photo, but it was totally worth it because we had the entire viewing area to ourselves!
4. Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
Speaking of views, my second favorite vantage point – despite the end result of bird poop all over my sleeve – was Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform. You may have seen this highly photographed spot with its “The Times We Had” saying printed on the millennial pink wall, but what those photos don’t always show is how expansive the views are from up here. You can see the churches, bell towers and even the Baltic Sea – not to mention some friendly seagulls who use the ledge as their private toilet… which I didn’t realize … until my mom spotted white bird poop all over my jacket. Le sigh.
5. Raekoja Plats: Tallinn’s Town Square
Like most cities in Europe, Tallinn’s town square – known as Raekoja plats – is one of the busiest parts of town. The Raekoja plats have a handful of colorful shops and restaurants that offer outdoor dining/ drinks when it’s nice out (and heat lamps for when it’s not!). Since it’s the main town square, tourists do tend to flock to Raekoja plats, but it’s still worth a visit or two, even if it’s just a quick photo of the cute, vibrant buildings!
6. Koht Beer Bar
While tourists flock to Raekoja plats, where they don’t typically go is Koht, a hidden bar with over 800 craft beers. Located just a few blocks for the main square, Koht is tucked away in an alley with not branded signage on the storefront. That said, just look for their bottle shop – Õllepood Pot House – for the sign you’ve arrived. Once you see the beer bottles in the window, turn down the alley way and enter the first door on your right. While the bar is unassuming and limited in seating, it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort to try rare local and international beers.
7. Porgu Brasserie
A great spot for drinks and dinner, Porgu – also close to the main square – is a cellar-like setting with a wide selection of draft beers and good food. Coming off a ramen night in Copenhagen, I had a taste for warm, brothy soups, so I went with a noodle and egg dish (a great choice given the frigid temperatures!). If you visit Porgu, plan to stay for at least two drinks because the assortment of Baltics beers is that good.
8. Hell Hunt Beer
And last, in case you didn’t have enough beer in Tallinn, is Hell Hunt, a lively bar in the northern part of Old Town. This is definitely more of a party first, beer second type of bar (but then again, it’s hard to compete with Koht’s 800+ beer list). We visited while escaping a spontaneous hail storm and enjoyed people watching from the window seat over some tasty local brews.
Tallinn has plenty of great hotel or vacation rental options, but we stayed a Merchants House Hotel, which felt like a mix of both. The rooms were spacious in an apartment-style layout, and it was right across from another fun bar – Beer House – and just steps from the main square. Our stay also included free breakfast, so we were very happy campers.
Are you visiting the Baltics? Consider a stop over in Copenhagen to kickstart your trip… and here’s my Copenhagen city guide to get you started!