While in Finland recently, we really enjoyed our quick boat ride over to the sea fortress, Suomenlinna. But on our second day in Helsinki, we decided to take an even longer boat ride, this time to Tallinn, Estonia! Tallinn is due south of Helsinki, and you can take a ferry there in just over two hours. Once you arrive, you’re greeted by a beautiful city full of fascinating history and gorgeous architecture.
How to Get to Tallinn from Helsinki
There are three main ferry lines that travel between Helsinki and Tallinn: Eckero Line, Viking Line, and Tallink Silja. When I started researching the ferries, I was surprised to discover that these “ferries” are essentially the size of cruise ships! But Tallinn and Helsinki are both popular cruise ports, so they can handle the massive size of these ships.
All of the ferries have different schedules, and they depart from different terminals in Helsinki. Some ferries depart right near Market Square where the Suomenlinna ferry departs, and others leave way over in the western part of town. We were staying in the eastern part of Helsinki, very close to where the Viking Line departs, but, unfortunately, their schedule didn’t really work for what we had planned to do in Tallinn.
We wanted to leave Helsinki around 9:00 am and as such, we chose to travel on the Eckero line based on their schedule. However, this meant that we had to take two trams (and about 30-minutes) to get to Helsinki’s West Harbour Terminal 2. Fortunately, Helsinki’s public transportation is amazing, so we had no issues making it across town to catch our ferry. (There are different terminals in Tallinn as well, but they’re all clustered together in one place.)
Our boat, Finlandia, had nine decks. It holds over 2,000 passengers, more than 600 cars, and more than 100 18-wheelers! There are multiple restaurants and cafes onboard, free Wifi, duty-free shopping, slot machines, and more. Some cafes had live music during the journey, and there was even a game of bingo happening while we enjoyed our morning coffee. There is plenty to keep you entertained on that two-hour journey!
Since we were traveling in September (not exactly peak season) our round-trip ferry tickets were only 19 Euros each. As such, on the way to Tallinn, we decided to upgrade our tickets by adding on their breakfast buffet for 14 Euros each. There were two seatings for the buffet, and we chose the later seating so that we could spend the earlier part of the trip exploring the ship and watching the journey from a cafe window. The buffet was decent, with a nice combination of both hot and cold options and plenty of coffee.
For our return trip, we upgraded again for seats in the lounge at 20 Euros each. You have a guaranteed seat in smaller, quieter space on the ship, and you also have access to a small buffet and as much wine and beer as you care to drink on the return trip to Helsinki.
As we approached Tallinn, we went up to the 9th deck so that we could stand outside during the ship’s arrival to port. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and we took in the scenery while also marveling at the captain’s very skillful maneuvering into our space at the dock. He clearly has a lot of experience on this route because the docking was as smooth as could be. As soon as the last dock line was adjusted, the crew wasted no time getting us all quickly on our way.
Exploring Old Town Tallinn
We arrived in Tallinn just after 11:00 am, and we followed the crowds and signs to “Old Town”. Similar to Suomenlinna, Old Town Tallinn also has UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Part of the reason it was designated as such is because of its well-preserved 13th-century buildings. It’s not every day you can wander through medieval cities that are in as amazing condition as Tallinn, and it was truly spectacular to see.
Upon reaching Old Town, the streets are meandering and made of cobble-stones. There were a lot of people out and about but not many cars, and people seemed to just wander freely on both streets and sidewalks. The sunshine and blue skies helped bring out all the different colors in the buildings, and literally every direction you looked was a picture-perfect sight. We positively adored this lovely little city!
Bike and Food-Tasting Tour
We spent well over an hour just wandering and taking lots of photos and as it got closer to 1:00 pm, we made our way over to a bike rental place called City Bike. From there, we were departing for a 4-hour bike and food-tasting tour of Tallinn! We enjoy both biking AND food, and this seemed like a great opportunity to see more of Tallinn in a short amount of time while also getting a bit of a feel for Estonian cuisine. (It also meant we wouldn’t need to figure out what to do for lunch!)
Our guide, Georg, helped us select a couple of bikes and got us fitted with helmets. He sent us off for a little practice ride to make sure we were comfortable with our gear and then off we went! Since Old Town is mostly covered in cobble-stones, Georg quickly got us outside of the city walls. There are excellent bike paths everywhere and he kept a comfortable pace, so it was pleasant to ride around Tallinn.
Our first bit of riding took us past the original city gates from when the city was all built inside the walls, and then we headed back down to the harbor near where our ferry had arrived. We made our first food stop at a restaurant called Kochi Aidad, where we sampled a delicious soup called solyanka. (And if you know me by now you know there will be no pictures of food here because I just dove right on in.)
I didn’t have high hopes for the soup when it first appeared because I could see both olives and pickles floating in it, and it didn’t seem remotely possible that any soup made with both of those things together could be good. Much to my surprise, it was DELICIOUS. In addition to the olives and pickles, there was also a whole lot of different bits of pork and a nice, slightly sour tomato-based broth.
Solyanka has its roots from Russia, but Georg mentioned that it was a popular soup in Estonia as well. He said most kids have grown up with it, and it’s apparently also known to be a popular hangover remedy. It was served with a big dollop of sour cream and some dense (but super soft!) black bread on the side. We ate every last drop!
Now that we were warmed up with our first “snack”, it was time to get back on our bikes. We stopped at a giant photo on a wall near the ferry terminals. Georg explained it was a photo from the Estonian Song Festival, which is a massive event that began in 1869 and that takes place in Estonia every 4-5 years. More than 30,000 members of choirs from all over Estonia come to participate and 80,000+ people join the festival as attendees.
The festival also played an important role in Estonia’s history. Estonia first declared its independence in 1918 and remained independent until the Soviet Union took over its government in 1940. The Soviet occupation lasted for about fifty years, and during that time, Estonians started testing out a new bid for independence at the Song Festival by singing a national poem that had been banned by the Soviets.
From 1986-1991 in particular, singing songs in protest became known as the “Singing Revolution” in Estonia, and these non-violent protests eventually helped Estonia regain its independence in 1991. The unifying power of music helped Estonians maintain their national pride and identity, even under Soviet occupation, which I thought was just so dang fantastic.
Obviously, it was all a bit more complicated than this nutshell explanation, but the fact that something called “The Singing Revolution” exists makes me really happy. And it just goes to show, don’t make fun of the band and choir kids, folks. You don’t know what they’re capable of!
Next, we rode over to the City Hall building. During the 1980 Moscow Olympics, some of the sailing events were actually held in Tallinn, and the building was erected along the waterfront as a viewing platform. It was also a very active cultural space and included a concert hall, sound studio, dance club, and restaurant. It was closed within the last decade, as it had begun to deteriorate pretty badly. Nowadays, you can’t access the interior spaces while they try to figure out what to do with it, but you can still climb on top of it to enjoy the views.
According to Georg, there “may” have been some raves and parties organized inside since it was closed, and he also mentioned that a Christopher Nolan film, called Tenet, was just filmed there not long ago. After our tour, we actually came back to check it out. It definitely had a Soviet-era vibe to it, and we both felt like maybe you shouldn’t even be allowed to climb on top of it…it’s in pretty rough shape up there!
After City Hall, we cycled to the Patarei Prison, which was originally built as a sea fortress in 1828. Beginning in the 1920s, it was used as a prison all the way up through the early 2000s. We were shocked and a bit aghast to see that something so medieval-looking was actually used as recently as 20 years ago. If you want to be creeped out, google ‘Patarei Prison tours’ to see some of the photos of the interior. Yikes…
Next, we rode along the waterfront through some nice new housing developments and then we reached the Seaplane Harbour and Estonian Maritime Museum. There were tons of beautiful old ships on display here, and you can buy a combo ticket that lets you visit all of them. We were bummed that we didn’t have time to stop here or come back after our tour, but if we ever go back to Tallinn, we are so going to spend hours at this place.
We rode on through the Kalamaja Park, which used to be a cemetery. During the Soviet occupation, the area of Kalamaja was mostly closed off just for military purposes and the cemetery was completely destroyed in the ‘60s and turned into a park. Georg claims that the bodies were exhumed and dumped in the sea, but I haven’t been able to confirm whether that is true. Nowadays, it’s quite a pretty park, though it did make me sad to hear about its history.
We continued to cycle through Kalamaja for another 10 minutes or so before reaching our next food stop at Torokse Talupood-Kohvik. This place was so adorable! It was basically someone’s house, complete with a piano and couches. There was even a shower in the restroom!
Here we had some herring covered in sour cream, with a side of boiled potatoes, and tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. The tomatoes were so fresh and flavorful! I wouldn’t think that a place that was already so cold in September could have tomatoes that amazing, but they did! I’m not a big fish person, so I wasn’t overly impressed with the herring, but I could have eaten those tomatoes until I turned into a tomato myself.
Georg also had us sample a drink called kvass, which is a very popular Russian beverage that reminded me a bit of root beer. It’s made with rye bread and though it’s fermented, it’s still considered a nonalcoholic drink due to its very low alcohol content. I think I still prefer root beer, but it had a very unique and interesting taste and I’m glad we got to try some.
At this point, it was nice and warm in the restaurant and I was starting to feel like I needed a nap, but we weren’t done yet! We biked on to the Balti Jaam Market, market near the train station because I guess tour guides assume tourists always want to go shopping. Mike and I personally HATE shopping, so we decided to go to the brewery, Voldi, instead. Neither of us loved our beers, but we did enjoy the little rest before getting back on the bikes.
We went back to the bike shop, dropped off our bikes, and then went upstairs to a space above the bike shop that was once used as a nightclub! Waiting for us there were two little jars of a traditional Estonian dessert called kama, which was really yummy. It’s made with several different types of grain that are roasted and ground up into a powder. The powder is then mixed with yogurt, kefir, and sugar and then topped with berries. Definitely my favorite meal of the day!
And once we were done with our dessert and tour, we had just enough time for a quick little wander back out of Old Town before heading back to the ferry terminal. I wanted to stop by the old city walls to take some photos because I was just in awe at how cool they were! It must be amazing to live in Tallinn and see such stunning scenery every day.
With no more time to explore, we started walking back to the ferry and got to the terminal shortly before the ferry had arrived. We watched the docking again and saw truck after truck being unloaded from the ferry! We still have no idea how they could possibly fit that many trucks inside.
We made our way up to the lounge, grabbed some wine and beer and settled in for the two-hour trip back to Helsinki. Tallinn was such a wonderful city, and we both felt a little sad that we didn’t have more time to spend there. If you’re ever in Helsinki for an extended period of time, definitely take the ferry to Tallinn for a couple days so that you can enjoy this spectacular city, too!
Have you already been to Tallinn? Tell me what you think about this enchanting place!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Eckero Line: Ferries depart from Helsinki West Terminal T2, Tyynenmerenkatu 14, 00220 Helsinki and arrive at Tallinn A-Terminal Passenger Port, Sadama 25-2, Tallinn 10111
- Viking Line: Ferries depart from Katajanokanlaituri 8 (Mastokatu 1), 00160 Helsinki and arrive at Tallinn A-Terminal Passenger Port, Sadama 25-2, Tallinn 10111
- Tallink Silja: Ferries depart from West Terminal 2 (T2), Tyynenmerenkatu 14, 00220 Helsinki and West Terminal 1 (Länsiterminaali 1), Länsiterminaali L4, Tyynenmerenkatu 8, 00220 Helsinki and arrive at D-Terminal, Lootsi 13, 10151 Tallinn
When to Go
- Ferries run between Helsinki and Tallinn year-round, though you’ll have the best weather from late spring through early fall. This is especially important if you want to enjoy part of the trip from the top deck without freezing.
Tips for Visiting
- Each ferry line has its own schedule, pricing, amenities, and terminals. Be sure to consult each line’s website in detail before choosing which tickets to buy (and to find the best price).
- And you’ll definitely want to be sure you double-check which terminal you’ll need to go to for your departure!
- Most of the ferries require you to check-in at least 30 minutes before your departure. Our ferry actually left 5-10 minutes early both times, so don’t think you can just stroll up a couple minutes before the scheduled departure time.
- If you travel via the Eckero Line, the lounge was worth the upgrade to our ticket. It was quieter and we definitely saved money by having food and drinks included. The only downside is that there weren’t a lot of windows. Sunset happened shortly after we departed Tallinn so it didn’t really matter, but if you want to be able to watch the journey, you’d be better off in one of the regular restaurants and cafes.
- One day really wasn’t enough to see Tallinn. There are TONS of museums and there is so much history in this city. We enjoyed getting to see what we did, but you could easily spend a few days there.
- And if you only have a day to spend in Tallinn, I can highly recommend the bike and food-tasting tour we did. We got a great overview of Tallinn and Estonia and being on bikes allowed us to get out of Old Town and see much more of the city.