Tallinn and Helsinki are two capitals with only 80 kilometres (50 miles) of Baltic Sea and a two-hour ferry ride between them. The cities form a unique twin capital, sometimes referred to as Talsinki.
The cities are linked with a practically non-stop ferry connection from early in the morning until late in the evening. Every year, around 8.7 million people take the ferry from one city to another.
Estonia and Finland are close to each other also linguistically. Estonian and Finnish languages belong to a group of Finno-Ugric languages, and are very similar with each other. Some words are nearly or exactly the same, although it is very hard to master the neighbouring language without some serious learning.
To help you easily explore the two capitals in one trip, we have compiled a list of practical tips and top sights both for Tallinn and Helsinki. All aboard!
How to get from Tallinn to Helsinki or from Helsinki to Tallinn?
Ferry connections between the two capitals run almost every hour and take you from coast to coast in 2-2,5 hours.
We recommend buying the tickets in advance. You can choose between three different service providers (Tallink, Eckerö Line, and Viking Line) or, if you want to see all available connections at once, use laevapiletid.ee, an online ferry ticket search portal.
The passenger terminals of the Port of Tallinn are located just a short walk from the Old Town. The closest one is Terminal A, only 800 metres (0.5 miles) from the Fat Margaret, a medieval cannon tower marking the entry to the Old Town.
A top tip: if you plan to visit museums, use public transport, or the hop-on-hop-off tour bus, consider purchasing a Tallinn Card, a sightseeing pass that includes free entry to Tallinn’s top museums, free use of public transport, and a 50% discount on the hop-on-hop-off tour bus (free with Tallinn Card PLUS). You also get a five euro discount on the Helsinki Card!
1. Hanseatic Old Town
The Old Town of Tallinn, dating back to the Middle Ages, is one of the best-preserved Hanseatic town centres in the whole world. It is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The heart of the Old Town is the lively Town Hall Square with its gothic Town Hall, built in the early 15th century. On the other side of the square you can see the Town Hall Pharmacy, the oldest continuously running pharmacy in Europe.
The winding streets of the Old Town are covered with cobblestones and lined with fascinating architecture. One of the most unique streets is the narrow St. Catherine’s Passage - one of the most romantic places in Tallinn. It’s a cosy home to the St. Catherine's Guild, a collection of craft workshops and artists using traditional methods in their various artworks of glassware, ceramics, jewellery and much more. For a handicrafts fan, a visit to the Master's Courtyard is also a must!
The Old Town is surrounded by a medieval Town Wall, of which 1.9 kilometres and half of its towers still stand. Most of the wall’s 20 defensive towers are open to the public, offering a chance to climb up, explore and probably even visit a museum inside. The most popular tower museums are Maiden’s Tower and Kiek in de Kök, of which the latter also serves as the starting point for visitors interested in the fascinating system of hidden tunnels, the Bastion Passages, that run underneath the city.
According to a Finnish joke, the old town of Helsinki is also situated in Tallinn, so make sure to enjoy it here. If you want to see something this old, you won’t find it up north.
2. Panoramic views of Tallinn
To enjoy the beautiful views from up high, go to one of the many viewing platforms in the city. At the Toompea Hill, you will find those of Patkuli, Piiskopi and Kohtuotsa, the last one offering the most romantic views over the red-roofed Old Town.
More panoramic views can be admired from the amazing tower of St. Olav’s Church, once claimed to be the tallest building in the world. To reach even higher, take a bus trip to the 314-metre TV Tower outside the city centre. When the weather is nice, you can even see Helsinki on the horizon.
3. Arts and greenery in Kadriorg and Pirita
The neighbourhood of Kadriorg is a must for those loving fine art and greenery, and it's easy to get there by tram. Beautiful houses, some of them dating back as far as the 18th and 19th century, have been renovated, just waiting to be admired. Why not pop in for a lunch or a cup of coffee in one of their elegant cafés?
Kadriorg Park, with its romantic Swan Pond and Japanese Garden, is an ideal place for a stroll in the sun. The President of Estonia likes it here, too – the Presidential Palace is situated right next to the Kadriorg Art Museum. A bit further, you will find the nation's main art museum, Kumu, and the Song Festival Grounds, the birthplace of the Singing Revolution. The site is also home to the Estonian Song and Dance Celebration, drawing together up to 34,000 performers and 200,000 spectators every five years - the next one is planned to take place in 2024.
If you enjoy the sea and the beautiful views on the city, continue your adventure along the Pirita Promenade, a two-kilometre paved pathway stretching along the waterfront from Kadriorg to the popular Pirita Beach. Admire the ever-changing silhouette of the city, listen to the splashing of the waves, breathe in the fresh air – and do not forget your swimwear!
4. Kalamaja – a hipster heaven
Kalamaja is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Tallinn, filled with beautifully renovated wooden houses and the city’s trendiest restaurants, bars and cafés.
Not too far away lies also the Seaplane Harbour, home to a world-renowned maritime and military museum. Enjoy the informative exhibitions in the old seaplane hangars and visit historic ships, e.g. the famous submarine Lembit and the Suur Tõll, Europe's largest steam-powered icebreaker.
5. Rotermann Quarter – an architectural gem
Rotermann Quarter is an award-winning architectural pearl right in the heart of Tallinn, next to the Harbour and the Old Town. A busy-working factory area in the 19th century, then badly dilapidated during the Soviet Era, this quarter has emerged from its cocoon and become a bustling commercial and cultural centre, connecting old and brand new with good taste.
This is the place for some shopping – try Estonia’s major sweet maker Kalev, selling chocolate and other candies, or the Tallinn Design House for souvenirs with a twist. And after all that, why not sit down for a nice, refreshing smoothie, sum up your adventures and get ready for a trip to Helsinki!
Helsinki: top 5 must-see sights
Good to know in Helsinki
Tourist Information Centre
Kaivokatu 1 (in the Central Railway Station, see map)
A top tip: the Helsinki Card gives you free access to over 25 museums and attractions, the hop-on-hop-off tour, as well as several discounts, along with -10% on the Tallinn Card. The Helsinki Card CITY and Helsinki Card REGION also include free public transport.
1. Neoclassical Senate Square
The oldest part of Helsinki is situated around the Senate Square. The most spectacular of the buildings surrounding the square is the Helsinki Cathedral with its glowing white walls, sturdy granite stairs and beautiful sculptures of the twelve apostles. The cathedral celebrated its 165th anniversary in 2017 – so it’s still a youngster compared with its siblings in Tallinn's Old Town.
Just across the square stands the oldest building in Helsinki, the Sederholm House, built in 1757. It now houses the Helsinki City Museum, a must-see for families. Around the square you can also see the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. In the middle of the Senate Square stands a statue of the Russian emperor Alexander II reminding us of a time a hundred years ago, when Finland was a part of Russia.
2. Lively Market Square
Just a block away from the Senate Square lies the lively Market Square, famous for its traditional Finnish delicacies such as fried vendace with mashed potatoes and coffee with sweet bun. But beware of the seagulls – and this is not a joke! – they are very defiant, ready to snatch your food whenever you look away.
Take a ferry from the Market Square and find yourself in the unique island of Suomenlinna, one of the biggest sea fortresses in the world, only 15 minutes away from the busy life of the capital's centre.
Suomenlinna holds a historical fortress, museums and some wonderful cafés, and even though the island is small in size, you can spend a whole day there exploring and relaxing. That’s what many locals do: Suomenlinna is a popular picnic location among the Helsinkians, as well as a home for some 800 people.
On the other side of the Central Railway Station, famous for its granite sculptures holding lanterns in their muscular hands, there is one more important museum to be found: the Ateneum Art Museum, the home of Finnish art and exhibitions of famous international artists.
5. Bohemian rhapsody
The neighbourhood of Kallio is something for those who enjoy a touch of bohemian lifestyle over the stylish façade of the city centre. Being an old workers’ neighbourhood and one of the trendiest at the moment, Kallio is filled with various bars, cafés and restaurants, ranging from Finnish specialties to vegan, international, exotic and beyond. One of the area’s landmarks is the Kallio Church, which is decorated with Art Nouveau style murals and plays a bell melody from the Finnish national composer Jean Sibelius.
Not too far away is also a place for those enjoying roller coaster rides and ghost trains: Linnanmäki Amusement Park has entertained fun-loving Finns and their guests since 1950. Don’t forget the neighbouring Sea Life taking you on a fascinating underwater voyage.
Kallio is also the home of many public saunas. Try the wood-heated Kotiharjun Sauna with loads of local and international fans, and tell your new friends about your adventures in the twin city of Talsinki.