Tallinn will always have a special place in my heart.
It was our first real stop as digital nomads. A new country, in the midst of a new language, surrounded completely by strangers. It was an exhilarating, fascinating, and occasionally disorienting four weeks.
Tallinn’s history is captivating, the cost of living is reasonable, and every inch of non-commercial land is covered in beautiful green forest. The medieval towers surrounding Old Town, the architectural remnants of the Soviet era, and the stunning cleanliness of the city makes it feel exotic.
Though Lauren and I loved Tallinn, we realize it may not appeal to everyone’s taste. Hopefully, this breakdown of our experience there will help you discover whether it’s a place you’ll want to visit someday.
If you want to follow along with the places I’ll mention in this brief guide, download our Tallinn for Digital Nomads Map.
The Tallinn Vibe
With just over 400,000 people who call Tallinn home, the city is full of culture and history without feeling crowded or overwhelming. Even the busiest streets during rush hour seemed to have plenty of room for walking comfortably. And since we’re not big on huge crowds, we were pleasantly surprised.
The air was warm when we first arrived in early August (80-85 F highs) but had cooled down rapidly by the end of the month (60-70 F highs). You could feel the Estonians holding onto Summer with long walks by the beach and a variety of festivals marking the turning of the season. During the Winter, it can get as low as -5 F and it rains constantly, so if you’re not used to the freezing cold, keep your visit to April through October.
Local Estonians were kind but also very reserved. We were rarely looked in the eyes at coffee shops and other stores, but not because they’re rude or disinterested. They are actually very friendly – it simply takes a little longer to close the stranger-friend gap we’re used to in Texas.
The city is very clean and polished. We never felt unsafe. In fact, Tallinn’s crime rate is far lower than our original home of Lubbock, Texas. There’s practically no police violence, terrorism has stayed far away, and things are generally peaceful.
Since the weather was fairly mild during August, there were always people out and about. People walk everywhere – which we loved! It was refreshing to be surrounded by a culture where walking daily is completely normal. It also explains why Estonians are thin, generally healthy people.
The public buses and trams were easy to use, clean, and well connected. It was completely normal to see a young barista, a white collar professional, and an elderly person sitting next to each other. Everyone uses the public transportation, which radiated a sense of equality we didn’t expect. For residents, buses and trams are free to use. We, however, had to pay 25 euro each for a 30-day transportation, but it was well worth the money.
As far as ride-sharing services go, we had a hard time finding Uber drivers in the morning hours, but the Estonian app, Taxify, always had drivers on hand.
Where To Stay
In Tallinn, you’re never more than 30 minutes from the center. That being said, there are some areas of the city that are more connected than others. And unfortunately, our apartment was farther than we anticipated from the nearest bus stop.
We stayed in the Maarjamäe neighborhood in North-East Tallinn. It was quiet, modern, and peaceful – but it was farther away from all the action than we realized. From our apartment (found on Airbnb), it took 10 minutes to walk to the nearest bus stop. It then took another 15 minutes to drive to the city center. It wasn’t awful, but getting out felt like quite the trek.
It wasn’t awful, but getting out felt like quite the trek. And since it rained every couple days, we ended up using Uber more than we wanted.
If we ever return, we’ll look into apartments closer to the center. Our top neighborhood would be Kalamaja / Teleskivi, which is considered the up-and-coming art hub of Tallinn. There’s great coffee, creative restaurants, and lots to see. We reeeaaally liked walking around this area.
We also think we would have loved staying in the neighborhoods of Kadriorg (next to a massive beautiful forest park and home to Kadriorg Palace and the president’s mansion), Kesklinn (another nice area also with several smaller parks), or Tatari / Sibulakula (the central, business hub surrounded by great coffee shops).
September Update: We returned and stayed five days in the Kristiine area. It was well connected, right next to a massive shopping mall, and positioned much better than our stay in Maarjamäe.
We would only suggest staying in Old Town if you just have a few days and want to stay close to the more touristy attractions. Otherwise, you’ll find bigger apartments at better prices just a few minutes away by bus or tram.
Things To Do
Rather than spreading out attraction visits over the course of the month, we opted to get a 48-hour Tallinn Card and spend two full days as tourists. This allowed us to see a lot in a short amount of time, which quickly introduced us to Tallinn’s history and layout early in our stay. After those two days, we felt much more comfortable finding our way around the city.
The cards were 37 euro each and we estimate that we used them to see about 110 euro worth of attractions over those two days.
Here are a few of the favorite things we did with the Tallinn Card:
- Tallinn TV Tower – A futuristic vibe eminates from the lookout area. For 10 more euro you can walk on top of the tower… outside!
- Kiek In De Kok – This one’s a well-preserved defense tower with well-designed exhibits on each floor.
- Seaplane Harbor – Easily the best maritime museum I’ve explored. There’s over 6 ships to explore and a submarine.
- St. Olaf’s Tower – If you can handle a long, thin, sweaty walk up a medieval staircase, the views are worth it.
Here are some of our favorite areas to walk around:
- Old Town Walking Tour – This free guided walk through Old Town with a history-savvy local is a no-brainer.
- Kadriorg Park – This giant forest park is beautiful and extremely well kept. We found it to be a very peaceful area.
- Teliskivi – This hip neighborhood is the heart of trendy Tallinn with unique boutiques, specialty coffee, and great food.
- The Beach – While it’s not grand, the beach between Old Town and Pirita pleasant enough for us former desert-dwellers.
We took a day-long tour to Lahemaa National Park towards the end of our stay and loved getting to see some of the countryside. Lauren and I had never walked through a true bog and we soaked up the experience. We also were able to see ancient burial grounds, a tiny tower in the middle of a village for escape civil unrest (a medieval panic room), and a waterfall.
Things To Eat
Estonian food is akin to what we consider basic country food in Texas. Lots of pork, potatoes, salad, bread. Thought it was a little blander than the food we ate at international restaurants, we were honestly very happy with it. It was simple and homey.
Estonians love their own black rye bread. Lauren and I weren’t head over heels for it, but it’s a major staple in Estonian cuisine, so you’ve got to try some. You can find it in many restaurants or any grocery store.
Eating in Old Town is fairly expensive – 10 to 30 euro per meal. There are a few exceptions: Drakon III serves elk soup for 2 euro (a delicious and immersive experience). Kompressor serves sweet and savory pancakes (crepes) for 3 to 5 euro – and they’re huge (we loved this spot).
Outside of Old Town, there are plenty of options for restaurant meals under 10 euro. Here were a few of our favorites:
- Nurri Cat Cafe – We loved chilling with the cats, but the food here was great as well.
- La Tabla – This was the closest thing we found to excellent Mexican food. Everything was delicious and freshly made.
- St. Patricks – While the food wasn’t really our favorite, it was inexpensive and came with a great view.
We had to leave Tallinn in a hurry and didn’t get to visit Lido (Estonian / Russian cuisine), but it has raving reviews online.
September Update: We visited Lido and loved it! They are constantly cooking dozens of meats, vegetables, soups, cakes, pastries and beyond. You walk through the food area, create your meal, and pay before you find a seat in the dining area, which is well-decorated to resemble an Estonian village square. In America, this style restaurant would serve low-quality food, but our selections were delicious. We would come here often if we lived in Tallinn.
Groceries are normally inexpensive, but for some reason, prices were on the rise when we were there. People from Helsinki, Finland sometimes come to Tallinn to buy groceries because they’re so cheap, but during our stay, prices were lower in Finland.
All in all, eating out in Tallinn isn’t cheap, but it’s not expensive either if you do your research and find places with a more local appeal.
We’re huge coffee fanatics. As a former barista and freelancer for coffee businesses, we checked out as many shops as we could.
Reval Cafe is a Starbucks-esque chain with locations all across the city. While the coffee was only so-so, the spaces were very nice and polished. Our favorite location was on the bottom floor of the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel. Plenty of seating, lots of natural light, and a quiet work environment.
Biorn Espresso Bar is closer to what we consider a great espresso bar. It was a small space with a small menu, but the coffee was stellar and the staff friendly. I could have gone there every day!
Renard Speed Shop features a mash-up motorcycle and coffee shop style that works well. The interior is beautiful and the coffee was incredible. Sadly, it was all the way across town from where we were staying and took 30-40 minutes to get there.
The Living Room Cafe is small and homey. They are a small-batch roaster with excellent coffee and a very friendly staff. Unfortunately, they were closed most of August while the team visited the US and Costa Rica but the owner, Katya, invited us in anyway and treated us to great coffee.
Both Gourmet Coffee locations are great working or hanging out, but the one next to Kadriorg Park is much bigger and stays open later than the location in the middle of the city.
Tallinn, Estonia is a great place for most digital nomads. It’s walkable, clean, safe, exciting, and has great weather during the Summer. We highly suggest it as an off-the-beaten-path city with a high quality of life at a reasonable cost of living.
We highly suggest visiting this city as a digital nomad or just as a traveler.
What do you think? Is Tallinn on your travel radar?
September 30th Update
Lauren and I visited Tallinn again for 5 days at the very end of September. Though the highs are only in the 50’s and it gets cold at night, it’s still pleasant to get around. We’re really loving the Fall foliage. The golden and red trees are beginning to show up and they are incredible.
The attire of the locals is very different than it was one month ago. Then, it was common to see people in shorts enjoying the sem-warm weather. Now, everyone is bundled up, even during the hottest points of the day.
This time we chose to stay quite a bit closer to the city center. We were in the Kristiine area, a bit southwest of town. There’s a huge shopping mall right across the street and multiple bus stops within a 4-5 minute walk. We’re enjoying being so connected to all parts of the city.
We loved returning to Tallinn and hope to be able to again for a longer period of time.