Have you ever considered visiting Tallinn, Estonia’s capital? It’s very close to Helsinki and easy to reach with a cruise. Keep reading to find out how to plan the perfect day trip from Helsinki to Tallinn!
We’re big fans of taking time to explore cities, but sometimes it’s very convenient to explore destinations on a day trip. Helsinki and Tallinn are two capital cities that can easily be combined on a single journey, or visited as a day trip using the other city as a base.
As the crow flies, Helsinki and Tallinn are only 80 km apart, separated by the Gulf of Finland. There are talks of building an underwater rail tunnel between the two capitals, but right now, with Russia sitting between Finland and Estonia, the most convenient way to travel between Helsinki and Tallinn is by ferry.
During our last visit to Helsinki in winter, we got the opportunity of taking a Helsinki-Tallinn cruise. I’m calling it a ‘cruise’ because the experience is so much more than a simple ferry crossing, and there are even cabins on board if you want to stay. It’s a fun and convenient way to visit Tallinn as a day trip from Helsinki – here’s how to plan your day!
Helsinki-Tallinn Ferry – Planning Info
What’s the best company for a Helsinki-Tallinn cruise?
There are three ferry companies covering the Helsinki-Tallinn route – Viking Line, Eckëro, and Tallinn Silja.
We travelled with Viking Line as we were part of a media tour. The company offers 2/3 daily departures from Helsinki to Tallinn and vice versa, depending on the season, and departure times work well for a day trip.
What are the departure and arrival times?
Departure times may vary throughout the year, with extra routes added at peak times. At the time of our visit (January 2023), the Viking Line ferry timetable between Helsinki and Tallinn was the following:
- Helsinki-Tallinn: 10:30-13, 20:30-23
- Tallinn-Helsinki: 7-9:30, 17-19.30
For a day trip to Tallinn from Helsinki, you get 4 full hours in Tallinn – enough to follow the itinerary highlighted below, or visit other attractions depending on your interests. If you are travelling between Tallinn and Helsinki, you get a whopping 11 hours in Helsinki, enough to tour the city at a leisurely pace and visit Suomenlinna or even Nuuksio.
Where do ferries depart from?
In Helsinki, ferries depart from the Viking Line terminal in Katajanokka, about 20 minutes walk from the centre. In Tallinn, the ferry terminal is at the end of Sadama, about 10/15 minutes walk from the Old City. Both cities are compact, and day trips are easy!
How much is a round-trip ticket?
Ticket prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book, but as a rough guideline, they are approximately €18/22 one way, and about €40 return. Check out the Viking Line website to get info on ticket prices and departure times.
Are there cabins available?
Yes, the Viking XPRS (the ship covering the Helsinki-Tallinn route) has different sorts of cabins, from economy ‘Inside Piccolo’ cabins to Seaside Premium superior rooms with sea views and a double bed. When purchasing your ticket, you may opt to upgrade to a cabin, paying €30/45 for economy rooms to €120 for Seaside Premium rooms.
Booking a cabin for your Helsinki-Tallinn day trip is actually a brilliant idea – you get a place to yourself, to relax, work, read, sleep, or do whatever, as common areas can get busy during high season. Even a small cabin is great to store luggage, since you’ll get to keep the same cabin for the outbound and return trip.
What is there to do on the Helsinki-Tallinn cruise?
The Viking XPRS is a huge cruise/ferry ship, with enough space for 2500 passengers, 732 beds, and 240 cars. There are several decks where you can sit and enjoy your journey, both indoors and outdoors. If you are planning your Helsinki-Tallinn cruise in winter, some outdoor decks may be closed as the weather is pretty much always below freezing!
In the morning, sailing from Helsinki to Tallinn, most passengers join the brunch buffet, with excellent hot and cold Nordic specialties – think all sorts of smoked and cured salmon, prawns, smoked herrings, eggs, sausages, pancakes, yogurts, juices, coffee… and there’s even beer on tap!
You can choose to pre-book brunch as an add-on while buying your ferry tickets, at a cost of €23.80 per person – which is actually a steal since the food is really good and you can eat as much as you want, so can just stop for a quick bite in Tallinn and have more time to enjoy the city.
In the afternoon, on the way back to Helsinki from Tallinn, most people sit at the bar – there’s karaoke on, with traditional Finnish songs, as well as a band playing ballroom music next door. You can join in the fun, or just relax on the deck or your cabin, if you booked one.
What documents do you need to take?
When travelling on a Helsinki-Tallinn day trip you’re still crossing an international border, so be sure to have your ID card or passport with you. You may be asked for ID when checking in at the Katajanokka terminal in Helsinki, or in Tallinn, but it’s also likely that you won’t be checked at any time, since both Finland and Estonia are part of the Schengen Area.
Still, you need to have your ID or passport with you, so don’t leave them behind.
Can you fly or take the train between Helsinki and Tallinn for a day trip?
You can indeed fly between Helsinki and Tallinn – Finnair has several daily departures and travel time of just 35 minutes, but prices start from approx €200 return, and when taking check-in times and getting to the airport, the ferry is probably cheaper.
Trains and buses are not an option right now between Helsinki and Tallinn, as it would be necessary to cross into Russia and visa processing times don’t make this option feasible as a day trip. A cruise is a much better option!
Tallinn Day Trip Itinerary
Morning – Explore Tallinn Old Town
After making your way down the ferry, walk the 15 minutes to the Old Town, and spend the morning walking around. Tallinn Old Town is divided into a lower and upper part, also called Toompea, which you will be exploring throughout the day.
You can basically just spend the morning getting lost in the enchanting streets surrounding Viru Gate and Town Hall Square, taking pictures and taking in the vibrant atmosphere of one of Europe’s prettiest old towns. However, I will list a few highlights here so that you make sure not to miss them.
Town Hall Square
Among the highlights, you’ll surely pass the Town Hall Square where you find several of Tallinn’s attractions. It is situated in the heart of the Lower Old Town and is surrounded by cafés and restaurants. The square is frequented by street performers and vendors creating an animated atmosphere. In December, this is home to a charming Christmas market too.
The picturesque Town Hall is the oldest one in Europe. You can visit the Town Hall and its museum where you can learn more about Tallinn’s history. For sweeping views, it is worth climbing up the 115 steps to the top of the 64-meter tall tower which is recognized by the vane on the top of the city’s guardian and emblem, Old Thomas.
Visit St Olav’s Church and climb its tower
St Olav’s Church is the tallest (and largest) building in the Lower Old Town with its 124-meter tall tower, and it was considered the world’s tallest back in medieval times. It is an enchanting Gothic building dating back to the 12th century. You can climb the 232 steps to the top of the tower for spectacular 360 views of Tallinn.
See the Old City Walls
Tallinn’s Old City Walls date back to 1265 and have undergone numerous fortifications over the centuries. They are now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Tallinn’s most prominent tourist attractions. The main gate, the Viru Gate, is elegantly flanked by two spired towers giving them a fairytale aura and it is not hard to imagine the knights riding their horses through the gate in Medieval times and onto Viru Street. This street eventually leads to Old Town Square. Right outside the gate, you will find Tallinn’s famous flower market.
Walk the length of Pikk Street (Long Street)
Pikk Street, also known as Long Street is, just as the name suggests, one of the longest streets in Tallinn. Taking you 1.2 kilometers from Town Hall Square to not far from the harbor, it is lined with delightfully colorful houses dating back to the 15th century.
Along the beautiful cobblestoned street, you find a number of unique places like the oldest café in Tallinn, Maiasmokk Café, which has been serving coffee since 1864. Marzipan lovers will enjoy a stop at the Marzipan Gallery for a treat, and the only Renaissance-style building in Estonia, the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, which boasts one of the most impressive doors and entrances in the city.
This per se is a high achievement in a city with so many enchanting doors. If you love cute doors, I can assure you that you will find a hard time putting down your camera when walking along Long Street and the rest of the UNESCO-listed old town.
On the edge of the Old Town, you find Freedom Square (Vabaduse väljak). It is a modern square as opposed to the other sites you will see on your day trip to Tallinn. Yet it is an important historical site as it is home to the Victory Column commemorating the Estonian War of Independence that lasted from 1918 to 1920.
Quick Lunch in a café
There is a wealth of cozy cafés where you can stop for a quick lunch and restaurants serving more abundant food to fuel up for the rest of the day. Here are a couple of excellent choices.
Chocolala Handmade Chocolate – If you are a chocolate lover, you will not be disappointed! Here, you can enjoy hot chocolate made with handmade Estonian chocolate with a pastry or a handmade chocolate bar, while watching the chocolate being made. You will be able to enter the chocolate museum too while you are there, so you do get a two-in-one experience.
III Draakon – If you feel like a more filling meal, III Draakon is a unique tavern situated in the old Town Hall’s courtroom. If this is not stepping back into medieval times, I do not know what is. It is thoroughly medieval-themed and will top up your Tallinn day trip experience making it truly unforgettable.
Afternoon – Step back in time
If you did not feel like you stepped back in time before lunch, you will definitely notice the mystic old-world wrapping around you with the following attractions. The magic of Tallinn sure enfolds through its old streets, and you are about to uncover the oldest and most charming Medieval street in Tallinn within the next hours.
Stroll through St. Catherine’s Passage
Next, make your way to St. Catherine’s Passage, the most iconic street in Tallinn and without a doubt the most picturesque. Get ready to be taken back in time to Medieval Tallinn with its captivating cobblestones matching the old stone walls that are home to cute little shops and cafés.
If you are looking for unique souvenirs from Tallinn, this is the place to go shopping for artisanal goods and local handicrafts – we loved visiting Dolores Hoffmann, an 85-year-old stained glass artist, who designed stained glass windows for some of Tallinn’s churches and landmarks.
Enjoy the views from Toompea Hill
Finally, head to Toompea Hill where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of Tallinn from the medieval Castle overlooking the city. If you manage to time it with sunset, you are up for a treat, but either way, you will not regret the walk.
There are multiple viewing points on the way up the limestone hill, encompassing the highest part of the Upper Old Town, so you can enjoy the walk and the views on the way. The most beautiful is probably Kohtuotsa viewing platform, made famous by the (sadly deleted) writing on the wall ‘The Times We Had’.
Toompea Castle, home to the Estonian Parliament, is open to the public Monday-Friday, but you must book in advance. If you want to visit the castle and explore the exhibitions inside, make it up to Toompea Hill right after lunch and see the other attractions after the visit, as it closes shortly after 15:00.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The beautiful domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral also sits on top of the Toompea Hill and is worth seeing even if you get there after closing time (18:00), the outside is worth a picture or two. With fairytale-like domes and decorations, it is a feast for the eye. It dates back to somewhere around the year 1900 and is the country’s main Russian Orthodox Church.
Our day trip from Helsinki to Tallinn was supported by Viking Lines, Visit Tallinn and Toolbox Consulting as part of the Discover Finland, Estonia and Sweden 2023 media tour project.