Tallinn has over the last ten years been discovered by tourists from all over the world visiting the cozy city all year long. Tallinn definitely isn’t the most expensive place in Europe or even the most expensive place in the region next to its Scandinavian neighbours in Helsinki, but it really isn’t the cheapest place in the world. As a student and a fan of travelling myself, I am always keen on finding out the coolest things I can do without them being fixed to my wallet.
Luckily, Tallinn has quite a lot of things to do without even having to spend a euro. Here’s ten best things to do in Tallinn for Free.
1. Take the Tallinn Free Tour
Image credit: Tallinn Free Tour
The idea of free tours is rather common in European capitals. Luckily there’s been one in Tallinn for years. The students doing this tour give you an introduction to the city without boring you to death wearing flags as habiliments of being a tourguide, forcing you to walk in lines of two and telling you names of Estonian architects in the most monotone voice you’ve ever heard.
Students working for the fun of showing the city are knowledgable and hilarious (political correctness is like unicorns – nonexistent). The tour lasts for two hours and by the end you will know about the most important sights in the old town and around, see weird stuff, hear fun stories and know how an Estonian feels, thinks and is.
Getting to know an Estonian can otherwise be difficult because finding an Estonian willing to talk to other people without a smartphone or computer screen inbetween is almost impossible.
The tour starts every day at 12PM (yep, even Christmas and new years, there will be someone there at noon) in front of the City Tourist Information Centre at Niguliste 2. The tour is free but tips keep the tour guides happy, enthusiastic and with lunch. No pre-booking needed, just show up.
2. Find art in little galleries
Image credit: Like A Local
The old town is filled with modern art and ambition, you just have to find it! There are little galleries filled with arts from nice picturesque landscapes and portraits to modern awkward „what the hell?“ inducing weirdness spread out all in walking distance. Most of the galleries are rented out to art students presenting their creations with top-artists having their solo-projects every now and then.
The most famous gallery is the beautiful yet small Dragon gallery located at Pikk 1. Exhibitions change faster than weather, so you never know what you’re going to see. You can also buy arts at the back room. Just around the corner from the Dragon Gallery you can find the Hobusepea gallery at Hobusepea 2. This place is filled with experimental ideas of art students. The next thing is Hop which is a bit more conservative focusing on textile and understandable arts at the same address. You’ll find over a dozen of galleries only in the old town, if you keep your eyes open. They’re all for free and most of them are opened 11-18, usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
EKKM (CAME) – contemporary arts museum of Estonia located just at the start of the Culture Kilometer at Põhja pst 35 is also worth jumping by – oh, and it’s also built inside an old power plant.
3. See handicrafts being made in Katariina käik
Image credit: visittallinn
Katariina Käik (St. Catherine’s Passage) in the old town is one of the most beautiful streets of Tallinn. After you’ve located it on a map, look at it ten times again, since you’re not going to find it on your first try anyway. This is incredibly easy to miss, especially during summer, since the entrance is guarded by outdoor cafes.
Once on the street, you can find all sorts of handicraft shops where souvenirs are local handicrafts and not „Made in China“.
You can actually see most of the stuff in the making. The lucky ones can find masters blowing glass or painting cups and plates. It’s fascinating! The brave ones can try to find Masters Courtyard parallel to Katariina Käik as well, this is similarily a challenge, but the prize is once again a rather nice insight to souvenir making.
4. Listen to beautiful organ music
Image credit: Mark Harrison
The Dome Church on top of Toompea, is the oldest church of the city with its first mentions being in the 13th century. Architecturally fascinating, filled with over a hundred coats of arms of medieval families and you’ll probably step on a tomb with every second step you take inside – this is one of the most important churches of Tallinn.
The entrance to the church is free all the time but on every Saturday you can also enjoy eerie and beautiful organ music. They play the organ at noon. The church is an active church, at the same time a huge tourist attraction, so be prepared to meet other people.
5. Watch the sun rise from Patkuli platform or on the roof of Linnahall
Image credit: Brian Aslak
Kohtu platform is unarguably the best viewpoint of the city with a beautiful contrast between old and new – you can see the old town, modern skyscrapers (yes, we call those skyscrapers), the sea and church towers, basically everything. However, during daytime, it’s more difficult to get into the front row at than at a rock-concert. Bustling tour groups jumping in for a quick view make it difficult to stop and observe everything. So show up at sunrise.
You will also hear the Estonian anthem echo throughout the old town because some poor chap has to pull the Estonian flag on top of the Tall Hermann tower around the corner and play the anthem at the same time with the sun.
If this sounds too mainstream and not hipster enough, do what local students do – climb on top of the neverending stairs of the Linnahall building until you reach the roof (possibly with a bottle of wine brought along, but I don’t endorse drinking in public – it’s illegal) and enjoy the sea and the sun.
6. Feel Soviet at the train station flea market
Image credit: Kalev Külaase
Feeling nostalgic for the Soviet times? This is the place for you. Whatever you want to find from kittens to quite possibly weaponry, you can find it at the Balti Jaam Market. The train station flea market as an experience is unforgettable. Located just outside the old town, this place is a must. You don’t have to spend any money, just looking at the things will make you love this place.
Pictures of Lenin? Traditional Estonian mittens? Old tangled wires? Yeap, you can see it all here.
You can find the market just behind the the Balti Jaam train station. The normal area with fruit and vegetables is opened from 10-17, but the people with the weird stuff leave whenever their favourite soap opera is on, so go before 4PM to be safe.
7. Enjoy graffiti on Culture Kilometer
Image credit: Flintafus
Ah.. The ironicly named Culture Kilometer build for 2011 when Tallinn was the Culture Capital of Europe. The place isn’t really that much filled with culture on every step as much as it’s just a pedastrian road along the seaside with rundown factories turned museums and a bit of navy buildings here and there.
There’s quite a bit of street art to enjoy all the way through and a nice walk can’t do any harm.
The Culture Kilometer starts next to Linnahall – an old concert hall not in use anymore. The city constantly loves to clean the building up to make room for new graffiti, it’s an everlasting battle. The road is a bit longer than a kilometer and it is worth a walk at because it leads to…
8. Walk into a Prison
Image credit: Jon Shave
Well, it’s not really breaking in if the gate is opened. Along the Culture Kilometer by the seaside of Tallinn, you’ll find Patarei prison, once built as a part of fortresses to protect Tsarist Russia,then used as army barracks, a prison and now standing empty and available for sale (3 million euros, if you’re wondering), this is definitely one of the most shocking, cool, amazing things in Tallinn.
You can walk on the premises for free, but going inside the prison costs 2 euros. Still, enjoying the little beach they’ve built at the back (yes, there is a bar there, too), is free. Feel free to bring your barbeque stuff and hang out. The prison is opened 12.00-19.00 every day.
9. Promenade in Kadriorg park
Image credit: visittallinn
Kadriorg park, the gathering place for the rich and famous hasn’t changed much for 300 years. After seeing the medieval old town and the Soviet era markets, maybe it’s time to feel like a noble from tsarist times – get your best victorian dress and sunshade or ascot and topper hat to stroll around and smirk at the proletariat… or just enjoy the park and flowers and nice looking houses on a beautiful day.
This is the biggest and most beautiful park in the area. We might be keeping it all nice and clean because there’s a lot of museums here. Or maybe because the president of Estonia lives right around the corner.
Definitely visit the back-garden of the beautiful baroque-time Kadriorg Palace and check out the cool architecture of the KUMU museum. Follow along the park and you’ll make it to the song festival grounds.
10. Sing on the Song Festival Grounds
Image credit: Priit Tammets
Whenever there’s no event going on, this place is just open to the public. Lauluväljak, or the Song Festival Grounds is the end of the pilgrimage Estonians take every 5 years. If and Estonian hasn’t been here for at least once in ten years time, their passport will be taken away. This is the heart and soul of every Estonian.
We have a song festival here with roughly 25 000 people singing in a huge choir.
The people in the back rows during the Song Festival faint a lot since the stage was actually built for 15 000, but, hey, all for the beauty of choir song! The festival usually lasts for 3 days and roughly 100 000 people visit it. This was also the place Estonians imagine they sung themselves free from the Soviet Union, not true, but a nice thought, I guess. Superstars from Metallica to Madonna have had their concerts here. A yearly beer festival ÕlleSummer also shows the Estonian spirit – alcoholism and terrible pop music, that is.
Climb the stairs and sing your heart free. Or climb the hill and sit in the lap of a bronze statue of Gustav Ernesaks, the father of song-festivals while listening to a bench blasting Estonian songs. Yeah, that’s what we substitute a 25 000-people choir with during off-season – a singing bench.
For a thorough post on the best things to do in Tallinn click here.