Tallinn and Helsinki are two fantastic cities that are only separated by a simple two hour ferry. However, they are drastically different in size and scope. Tallinn is an old city with modern touches. Helsinki is a modern city that has old world charm in places. Both are great cities to visit and the fact that they’re so easy to reach from each other makes visiting both a no brainer. Here is a quick five day itinerary to visit both Tallinn and Helsinki.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Tallinn
- Day 2 – Tallinn Old Town and neighboring areas
- Day 3 – Pirita Church
- Day 4 – Helsinki
- Day 5 – Suomenlinna Island
- Day 6 – On to your next adventure!
Day 1 – Arrive in Tallinn
Tallinn is an incredibly easy city to get to and has flight connections from all over the world. Depending on where you’re from, you’ll have to transit through Europe and enter the Schengen area. If that’s the case, you’ll get our passport stamped at the port of entry into the Schengen area so the connecting flight and subsequent arrival will be incredibly easy.
The airport is really small and has the feel for a small domestic airport. That said, it’s also incredibly well designed and if you’re departing Tallinn, it has play areas for kids, bright windows, and is incredibly easy to navigate.
As you depart the airport, you can take the tram, bus, or taxi. However, depending on where you’re staying, the tram will probably be the easiest option. It takes 2 Euros to ride and you can either pay the driver directly or go into the R Kiosk store (their version of a 7-11) to buy a metro pass. You can’t miss the tram station because it’s connected to the airport and is right outside as you exit the airport. If you’re staying in the city center, it might take 15 minutes to get there from the airport.
When choosing a place to stay, you’ll want to figure out how much walking you’ll want to do. I stayed at the Tallinn Hilton (and you can read my review of it here). The Hilton is located a little out of the city center so it is a bit of a walk there. If walking isn’t an option, you’ll want to stay in the city center. Although it’ll be right in the middle of the tourist center, it’ll certainly save you the walk.
Once you get to Tallinn, you’ll want to walk around and get used to the area. Try to find food spots because I really didn’t see too many places that were open outside of fast food joints. This won’t be a problem if general but if you’re looking for a late night snack or a late dinner for whatever reason, you’ll want to keep an eye open for places that serve food.
Day 2 – Tallinn Old Town and surrounding areas
Try to get an early start to you get to a couple sites early. Linnahall is just outside of the city center and the tram will stop at Linnahall. This is an old abandoned arena of sorts and it’s a pretty magnificent site in an eerie sort of way. It’s now turned into a slight tourist attraction and people come to take photos and walk around where they can. When I was there during the winter, there was a thick sheet of ice all along the ground which made walking around the grounds pretty unsafe but it should be fine during the summer.
Right next to it (or more like a 10 minute walk) is Patarei Prison. This is an old abandoned prison and although there were tours of the site available in the past, there weren’t any available when I was there. The grounds are patrolled by security guards but I don’t think it would be too difficult to find a way in if you were determined. I did peek into a few of the windows and it looked like whomever was there before just left one day and never came back. You can still see papers on desks and writing on blackboards.
From there you’ll want to head into town and walk around. The old town isn’t that large and so if you really wanted to rush it, you could certainly do it in a day. The best place to take a picture of the cityscape is from the Patkuli viewing platform which is 15 min stroll from the prison. From there, you can easily walk around and not really get lost. Since you’ll be at the highest point of the town, as long as you’re walking downhill, you’ll be walking back toward the city center.
There are multiple churches and old fort areas you can visit. However, if you purchase the Tallinn card, you’ll want to make sure if the attraction you want to visit is one of the included attractions. There are a number of places that aren’t part of the Tallinn card so if you want to visit those, you’ll have to pay separately. I didn’t purchase a Tallinn card because I didn’t find the value in it but you may find different museums more appealing than me.
Day 3 – Pirita Church
About a 20 minute bus ride outside of town is Pirita Church. This is an old church ruin that I just found fascinating. Maybe it was because it was in the winter and the snow covered grounds just made the site so photogenic but I really enjoyed myself here. Although there was a ticket booth, there was no one in it to take fees and the entire time I was there, I was never stopped or asked. Actually I didn’t even see anyone else while I was there.
If you’re here during the summer months, there is a beach and coastline you can check out on the other side of the road opposite the church. It seems like it might be a fun place to walk around but it was way too cold when I was there. If you took the bus there, you have to cross the road to get to the bus stop anyways so it might be worth it to check out and walk around.
After visiting in the morning, you should go back into the city and see if there are any places you missed. If you’re looking for a place to eat, I’d recommend the Golden Piglet Inn for some Estonian food. You could argue that it’s a little touristy but food is really good and the service was friendly.
If you’re looking for a more casual coffee shop with food, try Kompressor. It honestly looks like it’s on the bottom floor of a hostel and the atmosphere fits. The staff were very friendly, and the food was filling and cheap. It’s a great place to stop in for a coffee and a snack for sure.
Also, if you’d like to find gifts for those back home, you should try to find a local Kalev store. There are a few locations throughout the city and although you can buy Kalev chocolate at almost any store, you’ll have a much wider selection of choices by going to the store. Your biggest problem will be trying to make sure you don’t eat it all before you get back.
Day 4 – Helsinki
Take the bus to the port for the ferry ride across to Helsinki. The bus will drop you off right in front of the terminal so there really is no need for a taxi but you could also take a taxi as well. You can either wait in line or just go to the kiosk and purchase your ferry ticket with a credit card. Just note that once you scan your ticket to enter the boarding area, there are no vendors there so if you want to grab something to eat or drink, make sure you do it before entering the boarding area.
Make sure you’re ready to board about 45 mins ahead of departure because boarding I thought boarding began unusually early, especially for a ferry. Also, if the ferry is scheduled to depart at 10, make sure you’re onboard by 9:45. I was really impressed by the timeliness and the ferry departed exactly on time. It didn’t look like late boarding was even considered.
Once you’re in Helsinki, you’ll have to figure out where you need to go. Luckily the tram stop is right outside the ferry terminal. There are 2 tram stops at the terminal so you’ll want to see which one you need to get on. You can easily purchase a ticket at the stop and hop on the tram. The tram will take you directly into the city and you’ll be able to change trams in the city. To read more about Helsinki, please see my post here.
The one thing I would absolutely recommend is that you purchase a metro pass for the number of days you plan on being there. Helsinki is an incredibly expensive city so if money is an issue, you’ll want to limit your time in Helsinki to just a couple days (thus the longer stay in Tallinn vs. Helsinki in this itinerary). By getting the metro pass, at least you’ll be able to ride the tram around the city and it’ll get you anywhere you need to go.
Since your time is limited, you’ll want to start moving as soon as you get into the city. If you want to check out Temppeliaukion Church, you’ll want to do that first since it does have hours of operation. It’s a little outside the main drag of Helsinki but it’s certainly interesting to see. I don’t know if I’d say it’s worth the price of admission but you can make that determination yourself.
You can then head over to the bay where the main cathedral is located. It actually looks amazing at night when there is no one there and the place is all lit up. And since you can visit it whenever you want, it doesn’t need to be on the top of your list of places to see immediately. Right next to bay is the market square. Depending on the time, it could be closed but you’ll definitely want to stop in and eat some of the food while you’re there. Obviously seafood is a big deal here so that’s pretty much the main item on the menu.
Day 5 – Suomenlinna Island
Wake up early and take the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. Yes you’ll want to get up early and try to time your ride to coincide with the sunrise. It is a really cool ride to watch the sunrise over the bay and the little islands. The ferry is about 10 mins and is totally worth the ride even if you don’t want to get off and look around.
Once there, this UNESCO site is wonderful to walk around. It’s an old fort and by getting there early, you’ll not only beat all the crowds but also most of the island’s inhabitants will also be asleep. The downside is that all the museums will be closed when you get there but they’ll eventually open so you’ll be able to see all the attractions.
The island is fun to walk around and you’ll be able to see all the different aspects of the old fort. It’s actually really fun and if you’re there during the summer, you can even enjoy the water. Also, during the summer, there are different ferry ports that are open so you can get to different parts of the island without having to walk all of it. During winter, only the main ferry port is open.
Once you get back to Helsinki (and if you’re up for it) you can visit Allas Sea Pool. It’s located right next to the ferris wheel so as you get off the ferry, just walk toward the ferris wheel and you’ll run right into it. Supposedly there are 2 pools, one warm and one that is sea temp. Considering there was ice in the sea, I couldn’t imagine diving into a pool but maybe that’s more manageable when it’s warmer. The thought to go in didn’t even cross my mind so I honestly don’t know. But if you’d like to go in, it’s right there.
If you’re in the mood to go search for another locals market, head over to Hakaniemi Market. It’s about the same size as the market in the square but it’s much more of a market than just food stalls. You can find a lot of locally made goods here as well as local ingredients and food stalls. I’d recommend trying the meat pie that has potatoes and eggs in it. It’s delicious, cheap, and pretty much the perfect street food since you can walk and eat it easily.
Day 6 – On to your next adventure!
Head over to the airport and you’re on your way to your next adventure.
Getting to the airport is easy as there are multiple trains that leave the central train station towards the airport. You can’t purchase a ticket from the kiosks (at least not the regular metro kiosks) and you’ll have to go either the ticket booth or the convenience store to purchase a ticket.
I thought the way they have the trains labeled was brilliant especially for tourists. All the trains that stop at the airport have an image of a plane on the screen of the train (the screen that’s on the outside of the train that notes the final destination). It’s also noted with a plane on the departures board so it’s really easy to find. Also, since there are so many trains leaving in that direction, if you miss one (which can easily happen) getting on the next train is really simple and there should be one departing within 5-10 minutes.
Tallinn and Helsinki are great cities to visit and if you’re in one, you should definitely take the time to visit the other. I would strongly recommend that you spend more time in Tallinn because it is much cheaper than Helsinki. However, you’re going to find more flight in and out of Helsinki since it’s a much larger airport and city. Wherever you decide to start your trip, you won’t regret checking out these cities if only for a few days.