We often visit Estonia’s capital Tallinn whilst we are staying in Helsinki as it makes for a pleasant day out or overnight stay. Several ferry companies ply the route taking between 90 minutes on the fast ferry to two and a half hours on the larger, more comfortable car ferries.
This summer we spotted an offer on Viking XPRS leaving Helsinki at 8.00 p.m. including an overnight stay on board and then returning the next evening allowing a full day to explore Tallinn for little more than the price of a standard return ticket. The outbound boat was full of Estonian under 11 football teams returning from a day of matches in Helsinki but they were very well behaved and seemed to have more interest buying chocolate and crisps in the shop rather than watching the evening entertainment. We settled down near the stage and listened to the house band ‘No Mercy’ who were of a good standard and watched people enjoying a whirl around the dance floor. Surprisingly, when the boat docked in Tallinn at 10.30 p.m. almost everyone disembarked but the band kept playing for another hour and we had the lounge almost to ourselves, there appeared to be as many crew around as overnight passengers.
We found our cabin which we knew would be small but was even tinier than we had expected, in fact the bathroom was almost as large as the sleeping area. However, it wasn’t a problem, our beds were narrow but comfortable and we had a good night’s sleep as the boat was in its moorings. We were slightly later leaving than the designated 6.45 a.m. time for vacating our cabin and had to rush as the chambermaid was knocking on our door. Breakfast was available on board until 7.30 a.m. but at the excessive cost of €10 for dubious quality we decided to go ashore where we found a pleasant cafe for early morning warm croissants and cappuccinos which brought us back to life.
It was a dull morning with occasional spots of rain but we continued with our original plan to visit areas of Tallinn beyond the historic old town. The first place on our list was Kadriorg Palace and park just outside the city centre. We started off to walk but as the route appeared to be along a boring main road we changed our minds and bought two travel cards at a cost of €2 each and loaded day tickets on to them costing an additional €3 each. This enabled us to catch a No.3 tram to Kadriorg allowing us to rest a short time before exploring the park and its buildings.
Kadriorg Palace was constructed in 1725 for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. The palace now forms part of the Estonian Art Museum displaying overseas art from the 16th to 20th centuries. The museum is closed each Monday (the day of our visit) so we were unable to take a look inside.
Located just behind Kadriorg Palace lies the Presidential Palace constructed in 1938. During Estonia’s first period of independence between 1918 and 1940 the Head of State was based at Kadriorg Palace but it was felt that a purpose built palace was needed. The Presidential Palace is closed to visitors but it’s interesting to take a walk in the grounds and watch the Changing of the Guard.
Leaving the palace we boarded a tram back into the city centre where we stopped off for our mid morning cups of coffee before taking a bus to the Cultural Kilometre. Starting from just north of the old town this footpath passes through a stretch of post-Soviet post-industrial Tallinn.
Our walk started at a former power station known as the Creative Hub which is now an arts venue. The building has retained its distinctive large chimney and is usually open to the public but was closed when we visited as an event was taking place related to the start of Estonia’s rotating presidency of the EU. The path then starts off along the water’s edge but veers inland after a short distance. We thought the signposting was vague and at times we were unsure which way to go but I think we were still able to locate most points of interest.
The route passed the former Patarei prison, a nineteenth century fortress that became a prison in 1920 and after being abandoned in 2004 opened as a museum. We had hoped to take a look inside but the entire site was cordoned off which was a disappointment. Continuing, we passed more abandoned buildings from the Soviet era that had been left to ruin.
Moving on further around the bay we came to the Estonian Maritime Museum at the Seaplane harbour. This museum is open daily and is located inside the historical Seaplane hangar which at one time held 21 seaplanes. Now it is home to over 200 exhibits including the Lembit submarine built in 1937. Numerous boats are on display outdoors including Europe’s oldest steam powered icebreaker Suur Töll which was built in Germany in 1914. Further details can be found on the museum’s website here.
After an enjoyable time spent viewing the historic ships we rejoined the Cultural Kilometre route to view the delightful old wooden houses in the Kalamaja district. This used to be Tallinn’s main fishing harbour and the surrounding neighbourhood of pastel painted homes remains. It was very tranquil strolling along these tree lined streets admiring the collection of well preserved houses of various shapes and sizes.
Our stroll along the Cultural Kilometre ended at Tööstuse Street but we still had more places to explore. Walking back towards the centre we arrived at Telliskivi Creative City, a hipster hub that sprang up in several old industrial buildings close to the railway station. It’s home to locally made crafts, small boutiques, pop up shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Old locomotives and shipping containers have been transformed into cafes and bars helping to make the creative city a vibrant part of town. It was certainly buzzing with activity on our visit and we were unable to get a table at one of the restaurants and had to go elsewhere.
Before returning to the old town we found time to take a look inside the new market hall located just behind Balti Jaam railway station. Known as Turg, it’s built in a contemporary style with lots of natural light and seems to sell everything from fruit and vegetables to antiques, gifts and clothes.
Before returning to Helsinki on the early evening crossing we walked through the cobbled squares of the quaint old town reminding ourselves of how beautiful it really is. We were pleased though to have spent the day beyond the old city walls exploring some parts of Tallinn that were new to us. Back at the ferry terminal we returned our travel cards and obtained a refund of €2 on each card making our day’s travelling good value. The return ferry had similar entertainment to the previous evening and was of a reasonable standard but overall we preferred the Eckerö Line ferry company that we had travelled on previously for comfort and service.
On previous visits to Tallinn we have explored the historic centre and for more details on the old town you can read my previous post here.