To know Tallinn best, one must walk. Whether you have a meager 24 hours to explore, or several days to do it justice, get on your feet and go outside. For me, one of the best discoveries of my visit was Müürivahe Street. Take tram 4 to Viru and walk down to Viru Street. Head toward the Town Hall, and this is one of the first intersections that you’ll hit. You’ll definitely look to the right, as the street opens up to a long row of vendors lined up along the city wall. You’ll spot sweaters, scarves, and other knitted goods in every color, a variety of lovely patterns. If you’re there in the winter,
you’ll already be bundled up, but you may be tempted to buy something more. Right across from the vendors you’ll see the sign for the restaurant Farm (deliciously explored here).
Heading left down Müürivahe, you’re immediately embraced by the pastel-colored walls on either side of this much narrower stretch of road. The rippling cobblestones between these buildings are largely overlooked, providing a much quieter, cozier sliver of touristy Tallinn. Epic Café was undergoing renovation, cardboard piled up against its windows, so someone will have to check back later to see just how epic it is. Riga may be known for its love of cats, but Tallinn loves them no less! Look for the yellow sign with the black feline silhouette for an inspired little gift shop—Kassmaania is stocked with every cat-related item you could need, from bookbags to giant decorative cat eyes. And yes, the soundtrack playing inside is indeed a continuous purr. August Café on the corner of Müürivahe and Väike-
Karja is full of retro and artsy décor. Enjoy a slice of chocolate cake packed with nuts and cherries while taking in the chess piece chairs, cat paintings, and disco ball. The cake is topped with golden pearls, the tables are topped with happy yellow candles.
There are numerous attractions to explore once you stray from this particular street. Here are a few to pack into your weekend. (And be sure to look out for the city’s many colorful doors wherever you go!)
Tallinna Linnamuuseum (Tallinn City Museum)
A detailed peek into Tallinn’s history. The story begins centuries ago in a now-hazy past; visitors can explore ancient artifacts vital to various key trades in the region. An interesting tidbit worthy of additional research is the fact that Tallinn was once split into two towns. Heading up a floor, the city starts to take on its modern form. A model map with buttons and lights showcases the most significant surviving structures, making this a great stop at the beginning of your Tallinn visit. Entire 20th century rooms have been reconstructed to show off the elites’ daily life. Several rooms feature heavy photo albums filled with memories of Tallinn’s most notable residents. A dark room dedicated to the Soviet occupation shifts the narrative’s perspective—the labels here are written in the first person, reflecting a time that is still remembered by many. This space gives way to lighter rooms documenting the Singing Revolution, restoration of independence, and the future ahead. The final surprise was in the basement, which houses a surprisingly large collection of fine china and pottery spanning the centuries. (Located at Vene 17, Tallinn. Open 10:00-17:30 TUES-SUN, closed MON.)
Fotomuusuem (Photography Museum)
Small, but worth a photography enthusiast’s time. Located in a 15th century jail, the museum houses examples of Tallinn’s earliest photography, developed on a range of materials, including glass (quite rare in Estonia’s past), metal, leather, and of course paper. The museum showcases photographers who had a local impact and also documents technological advances. In the corner of the ground floor exhibition room there is a tiny door revealing a steep staircase. When contractors renovated the building, part of this wall collapsed to expose the bricked-up, long-forgotten passage. Contemporary photos taken in Siberia guide you as you slowly inch your way up the stony blocks to the upper level. The next room houses an impressive array of cameras, from homemade leather models to giant wooden studio cameras which, at first glance, almost seem to resemble farming equipment. Next up is a special aerodrome exhibit, complete with vintage aerial photos of Tallinn shot from the seats of military jets. (Located at Raekoja 4, 10146, Tallinn. Open 10:30-18:00 WED-MON, closed TUES.)
An unexpected assortment of family-friendly interactive anatomical exhibits and vintage medicine and medical devices. Much of the décor is red, giving the impression that visitors are somewhere inside of the human body. One of the most notable exceptions is the vision room, lined with distorted mirrors. A giant eyeball will greet you as you enter, and most of the other people in the room are actually plastic replicas; their reflections are arranged at precise angles to trick you into thinking that you’re not alone. There are many touchscreen presentations and plastic models for younger visitors to investigate. Numerous preserved organs are on display, as well as an adult cadaver. His skin and internal tissues have been stripped away to varying degrees to provide an organic peek into his anatomical structure. Most of the more serious and mature aspects of human health reside on the upper floors of the museum, such as pregnancy and cancer. There’s a giant sculptural egg with dozens of surrounding sperm nosing it. One of the most memorable rooms is tucked into a far back corner. You’ll see the tall white walls and curtains painted with shadowy figures. You may feel uneasy even before determining that it’s the death room. Perhaps music is supposed to play, but when I was there, only a static hum filled the air. The texts distinguishing clinical, brain, and biological death aren’t eerie on their own, nor is the container of ashes or looped decomposition video. Something about the total composition of the room and the faint chemical smell draws upon our instinctive fear of death. It’s fascinating, but you can’t leave soon enough. (Located at Lai 30, 10133 Tallinn. Open from 10:00-18:00 TUES-SUN, closed MON.)
Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy)
The warmth inside is enough to heal anyone who’s been out in the frigid winter air (or quick cool-down in summer). This is the oldest pharmacy in Tallinn and, in fact, the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe, first mentioned as far back as the 1420s. There is a long counter of remedies that visitors can purchase, including a garlic bar, which resembles a chocolate bar in shape. Various antiquated pots, bowls, and scales line the shelves in the neighboring room; several jarred animals intended as treatments remind us of how far medicine has come in the last several hundred years. A small crocodile hangs from the painted, wood-beamed ceiling. (Located at Raekoja plats 11, Tallinn. Open MON-SAT 10:00-18:00, closed SUN.)
If you can’t find the mini-Rimis tucked away within Old Town, keep an eye out for this pink, wedge-shaped mart for your snack food and bottled water needs. Kalev chocolate bars in a variety of flavors sit behind the counter; just mime to the cashier if you can’t explain in Estonian which ones you want. (Located at Rataskaevu 2, Tallinn.)
Have more Tallinn tips and hideaways? Visited these locations? Let us know!