The Baltic States are a budget traveller’s dream both in terms of accommodations and paying for travel between sights. For those who are really watching the pennies, Estonia has many free or very cheap things to do and see. Most of the attractions are in or around the capital with a few cool castles in some of the other cities.
Tallinn Free Tours
This is the best deal in the city; not only do you get a quick tour of where all the sights are, you also learn a lot of history and get to have a little fun. Your tour guides are students who love showing off their city and having the chance to speak English. There’s no need to make a reservation – just show up at the City Tourist Information Centre at noon and look for the cheerful guide waiting for customers. There is no charge but the guides will be thrilled if you offer them a tip at the end of the tour.
St Catherine’s Passage is an interesting street in the Old Town that can be a little tricky to find. It’s very medieval-looking with giant tombstones lining one wall and bumpy cobblestones underfoot. The tombstones are part of what used to be St. Catherine’s Church and if you look closely you’ll spot other remnants of the old building. Along this passage are a number of artists at work that don’t mind spectators as they create their works. Look for glass blowing in progress, hand-painted ceramics.
Balti Jaam turg
Baltic Station is the name of the main railway station in Tallinn and the market (turg) takes its name from this. It’s in the historic centre of the city and is where the locals go to shop for everything. You can pick up some new clothes, old medals and dinner all in the same place! The remnants of the soviet era are the most fun to paw through although walking past lingerie displayed on the street is entertaining in its own way. If you plan to take home some gifts, you will find some unique – and unexpected – presents here.
There are two great vantage points that overlook the city and are popular for watching the day begin and end. Kohtu platform (also known as kohtuotsa platform) is on the corner of Toompea hill and has the best view of both the old and new towns. It’s popular with tour groups and can be crowded during the day when picture-taking light is at its prime. Arrive very early or late in the day, however, and you’ll be there with few locals and maybe a couple well-informed Canadians.
The Linnahall building also has excellent views and the endless stairs discourage all but the most determined visitors. Linnahall was built to showcase Soviet skills during the 1980 Olympics but was barely used because of the boycott. Now it’s a favorite spot for youth (all those stairs!) and couples wanting a romantic picnic.
From the outside the building is imposing and intimidating. It’s even worse inside. The sea fortress was built in 1840, the building has been a barracks, a prison, and now a park. There’s a small fee to get in but the chance to tour an old Soviet prison is a remarkable thing. You can hire a guide or just wander through on your own and wonder what those curious chairs were used for. Even more curious, the building has rooms that can be rented for events and catered by the prison. Summer nights often find the walls shaking with music blasting out of rave parties as people dance the night away in prison.
There are many small galleries around the city that are open to visitors. Many are rented out to students but occasional exhibits from national artists are displayed. The exhibits change constantly and if you are looking for a particular art style it may be helpful to call around and see what’s being shown. More fun, of course, is to just wander around see what you find. The old town has a large collection of galleries that are conveniently within walking distance. The City Gallery (Talinna Kunstihoone Fond) is the most well known in the old town and easiest to find.