29 reasons to visit Tallinn with kids
Exploring Tallinn’s fairytale old town is like stepping into a storybook – and that’s equally tempting whether you’re five or 40. But there’s plenty for families beyond the beautifully preserved Old Town in Estonia’s capital, many perfect for primary school age, some darker experiences for teens.
From our AirBNB base* just outside the walls of the historic heart of Tallinn, we found beach escapes, a palace fit for a Tsarina, fortified walls and towers, museums and puppets among a string of reasons to visit Tallinn with kids. Here’s my pick.
1. Scale the walls
Once the medieval walls encircled the whole old town, linked by tower after tower after tower. And while you can’t do the entire loop any more (or see all the towers these days), you can still explore a few sections, some of which date back to the 13th century.
Head over to the section linking the nun’s (or Nunne), Sauna and Kuljala towers and you can still see the fortifications, climb narrow stone steps into some of the towers, stand in niches pretending to be a statue (possibly just my family) and generally pretend you’re a guard/invading force/other character from history. It’s only two euros for adults: fun enough my daughter wanted to go up twice.
2. Take a walk
I never got tired of wandering through the streets of the Old Town – there are signs everywhere but even after a couple of days, I found that I never got too lost for long. Pikk Street – or long street – is a great place to start, with dragons on Draakoni House and the ornate door to the House of the Blackheads (actually a medieval guild but hilarious to a certain age group).
Keep on to the Town Hall Pharmacy, one of the oldest in Europe, with a small museum but still working today – plus plenty of churches and old buildings to spot along the way, depending on interest levels. Across the main square itself, check out Viru Gate, one of the city’s old gateways. If you prefer, you can take child-friendly walking tours of the Old Town or download an audio guide too
3. Stroll Town Hall Square
All roads lead to the main square, with its picturesque buildings, inevitably crowds of tourists and celebrations – we stumbled across a summer music festival, the Christmas market takes place here, and year-round, you can spot the actors dressed up as medieval plague doctors…
4. Ride the City train
Replacing former little train Old Tomas and running year-round, the new City Train is a hit with little ones – bright blue, it trundles around the Old Town in a 20-minute loop. Suspension is minimal and there’s no commentary, plus you could probably walk it faster, but for a five-year-old, there was literally nothing she wanted to do more – and the grin on her face afterwards was worth the equally painful price tag. Catch it in the main square.
5. Or the Hop on hop off bus
A great way to explore further afield without tiring smaller legs, there are several hop on hop off bus tours in Tallinn and various different routes.
There’s the usual audio guide in various languages, but unlike most cities where the bus takes you through the historic centre, this tour ventures further afield to the coast and other attractions – there are no buses in the medieval Old Town, unsurprisingly.
6. Lounge on Pirita Beach
Set on the coast, you don’t have to venture far to find Tallinn’s beaches – once you’ve navigated out of the city proper, there are paths along the seafront too for bikes and walking, taking you through woodland, past smaller stony beaches and to the sands of Pirita Beach.
Spot the windsurfers, paddle in the warm shallows (in summer at least!), grab an ice cream or just relax. We hired bikes from City Bikes, including a trailer for my non-cycling daughter and it’s a lovely way to explore outside the city.
7. See the Open air museum
The Estonian Open Air Museum is set a little way outside Tallinn, with more than 100 traditional buildings from around the country, to show both Estonian traditions, from homes to crafts, as well as the differences across the country, including its islands.
Sprawled across an open area, there are maps suggesting different routes to take or you can hire bikes by the entrance to cycle around.
8. Visit Tallinn Zoo
There’s more than simply an array of animals to spot at Tallinn’s zoo – tempting though that always is for kids – with different experiences targeted at different ages. There’s the children’s zoo, home to farmyard animals and small furry things, along with the Smartzoos trail (also at Helsinki and Stockholm zoos) where you solve different tasks on your phone or tablet, learning more about the animals along the way.
Not to mention big cats, marmosets, snakes, polar bears and raptors among other animals.
9. Discover the KGB Museum tour
For many years, Tallinn’s Hotel Viru held a secret – its top floor was home to a KGB listening post, with agents working in the hotel and bugs scattered around to catch anything incriminating the mainly Western European guests might say.
After Estonia declared independence, the KGB left in such a hurry, they didn’t manage to take everything with them: what they left is now on display as part of a fascinating tour. Not as dark as the Museum of Occupations (itself closed until summer 2018), it’s still not one for younger children, but is an illuminating introduction to life in the Soviet Union for teens.
10. Explore Toompea Hill
Towering over the Old Town, Toompea was the site of the original fortress built by the city’s then rulers – the country has changed hands a number of times over the years, but the Parliament still has its home up here, along with two cathedrals.
More twisting lanes (with helpful ice cream shops dotted among the souvenir stalls if you’re visiting in summer), onion domes, spires and brightly painted buildings make it a lovely place to wander.
11. Enjoy the view
Toompea is also home to several viewing platforms for a fabulous panorama across those red roofs, towers and spires of the Old Town. Kohtuotsa or Toom Kooli are two of the best – although some graffiti near the latter suggested: ‘Save the camera honey, enjoy the view’.
Something to ponder among the selfie fans.
12. Go up Tallinn TV Tower
Tallinn is not short of fantastic views, but if you want to look down on the city from on high, make a beeline for the city’s TV Tower. Renovated in 2012, it rises 314 metres high with an observation deck at 170 metres.
Tickets have time slots – turn up in advance, and there are some exhibits on display while you wait, as well as a 3D movie to watch. It’s a little way outside the city, but buses run to the tower or Uber is cheap in the city.
13. Wander the Botanic Gardens
Tropical plants flourish inside the greenhouses (tempting as temperatures drop during winter), while the shady gardens with their exotic flowers are lovely to wander during the long days of summer.
Stroll through the rose garden and discover the different theme of the month; audioguides for the Botanic Gardens also come in English.
Tallinn with kids money saving tip: Many attractions are free for children, especially younger ones. But the city’s Tallinn Card also gives free entry to some tours and attractions, while there’s a museum pass (valid for three months) which gives you access to up to six museums too.
14. Promenade in Kadriorg Park
Wander the tranquil paths of the Japanese garden, flowers reflecting in the still water, before strolling through woodland and discovering the formal gardens of the Kadriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great for Catherine I – today it’s an art gallery, featuring foreign artists.
Or not far away, towards the fountains, there’s a playground with sandpit and several different areas for kids.
15. Play in the MiiaMilla museum
Set in Kadriorg Park, the museum is aimed at kids aged three to 11 – although the emphasis is on younger ones, with the chance to play at real life, such as posting toys from a Post Office.
16. Or the Nuku Museum of Puppet Arts
There’s something about puppets which transcends all language, and this lovely little museum has a mix of intricate marionettes from various cultures on display, plus the chance to grab various different types of puppet and stage your own performance.
There are shadow puppets, hand puppets, puppets on sticks, even dressing up, plus a scary ‘horror’ section downstairs that’s easy to skip with little ones but is unlikely to give anyone nightmares. The museum building also houses a theatre so you can stop in for performances as well.
17. Step into The City Museum
Inside the house of a medieval merchant, there are exhibits showing Tallinn’s history as a trading city – from ships to old coins, plus a scale model of old Tallinn and a portrait of a former ruler.
The museum also has also more recent – and darker – history, as Estonia found itself torn between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, but focusing on propaganda posters, it’s more child-friendly than elsewhere. In fact, the City Museum is split over 10 sites, including MiiaMilla and Kiek in de Kok, but this site focuses on the city’s history.
18. Tour the Kiek in de Kok tower
If you only visit one of the city museums with kids, make it the 15th century Kiek in de Kok – home to a moveable set of towers, armour and weapons, plus other historical paraphernalia all tucked inside one of the old towers (the name means ‘peek in the kitchen’, for the views from its windows), even short attention spans are entertained.
It’s laid out with a clear panel in the middle of each floor/ceiling, so you can peer up or down on the other levels as well. And you can also wander along the defensive passageway to the neighbouring Maiden Tower (mostly a cafe although with a few small exhibits too).
19. Descend into the Bastion passages
For older kids, there are two extra sections to visit alongside Kiek in de Kok – a tour of the Bastion tunnels, with a guide to lead you through the passageway and to the Carved stone museum. There are several English tours and it’s advised to book in advance, although we could have got a space on the day.
There are some steep steps, and it’s suggested for seven-year-olds and up – not so much because of the difficulty of getting around, according to the staff at the ticket desk, but because there’s a lot of standing listening to a guide. Definitely more interesting for me than my five-year-old so I reluctantly abandoned that idea.
20. Try a medieval meal
It’s easy to feel that you’ve stepped back in time when you explore Tallinn – so while it’s enormously kitschy, why not go for the full experience and eat at one of the medieval themed restaurants.
Olde Hansa is the most famous: it’s not cheap (certainly by Estonian standards) and the dishes are a way from most child menus, with dried elk and bear sausages featuring, but with kids who would enjoy the theatre of it all, it’s a fun way to finish the day. You can also visit The Beer House which brews its beer based on medieval recipes – but also has pizza on the menu.
If you don’t, Restoran Pegasus has a more modern take on Estonian food and is very child-friendly.
21. Visit the Marzipan Museum
Sweets usually beat bear sausages hands down, and marzipan has been made in Tallinn for centuries – there are several places where you can see it being made, or even try taking a marzipan workshop (for groups of five plus).
Take a wander into the Marzipan Museum – book in advance and you can also have a chance to model your own. On the day we visited, there was a kids’ party there but we still had time to look around the marzipan creations downstairs, and buy a few sweet souvenirs upstairs before we left.
22. Take a break at Maiasmokk cafe
You can also watch marzipan being painted here but its main claim to fame is being the oldest cafe in Estonia, opened in 1864. Despite that, a coffee and juice isn’t as pricy as such historic spots usually are – and if you have a reluctant historian, there’s ice cream on the menu to prove not all old things are bad…
23. See the cool Rotermann Quarter
The edgier architecture here is a world away from fairytale spires but if you feel a bit chocolate boxed out by historic prettiness, it’s a great contrast. Set between the Old Town, the port, and Viru Square, the quarter was once home to factories, mills and warehouses
Today the Rotermann Quarter features to shops (chain and boutique), restaurants, cafes, plus festivals and outdoor performances. You’ll spot some street art too – and if you’re missing the history, it’s also got famous Estonian candy shop, Kalev.
24. See street art
Tallinn doesn’t have the street art scene of other capitals, but if your kids love urban art, there’s some to be found by following the Cultural Kilometre (actually 2km) cycle and footpath linking the coast with the Kalamaja neighbourhood.
Starting near the Linnahall and Kultuurikattel concert venues, the latter once a power station, you’ll pass the Estonian Design House and finish at the Seaplane Harbour. Keep going for another kilometre or two and you’ll rach the Telliskivi Creative City in Kalamaja as well, dubbed hipster heaven.
25. Visit the Kumu art museum
The country’s national art museum is another one that’s more likely to appeal to teens than toddlers, but with guided art walks (in English) and other activities to appeal to kids, it’s a fun option for mini artists – especially during colder/rainy weather.
With a mission to educate and entertain, plus a contemporary art section which aims to inspire, the Kumu Art Museum is perfect to get you all thinking too.
26. Plunge into Kalev Water Park
One of the largest indoor water parks in Estonia, this might be attached to a spa but with a kids’ pool and three slides (plus saunas and a hot tub for grown-ups) it’s perfect to let off some steam between museums.
27. Voyage through the Seaplane Harbour Museun
A museum on maritime history could be dull. Or it could be as fascinating as this, especially for kids fascinated by transport – discover the underwater world of submarines (including a ‘voyage around the world’ in the Yellow Submarine) plus simulators and activities including how to make and throw the perfect paper plane.
The children’s corner also includes drawing equipment and building blocks, but the Seaplane Harbour Museum also houses an ice breaker, seaplane, cannons, mines and plenty more in the huge hangars.
28. Ice skate in winter
Tallinn is like an illustration from a fairytale at any time, but it’s especially magical (if cold!) in winter, with snow on the ground – and a pop-up ice rink during the winter months, on Harju street in the Old Town.
Kids are welcome and there are family tickets – skate rental starts from boot size 24 (around a UK infant size 7).
29. Ferry to Helsinki
My lists of the top things to do in a city doesn’t normally involve leaving it… but with the Finnish capital just a couple of hours away by regular ferry, it’s possible to do a day tour, or as we did, to city hop on and explore Finland once you’ve visited Estonia.
It’s a popular booze cruise route with Finns looking for cheap alcohol in Tallinn but taking an early/morning ferry to Helsinki and catching a later afternoon/evening one back means you shoudl miss this entirely. Our sailing was packed with families and in glorious summer sunshine was a fantastic way to get between the two capitals.
PIN FOR LATER: TALLINN WITH KIDS
*Disclosure: Contains some affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a few pennies. If you take your first trip using my AirBNB link, we both receive some credit towards a stay.
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