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Tallinn or Helsinki? Time for one but not both

On our upcoming trip to Europe, it looks like we will have time in either Helsinki or Tallinn. Could someone describe the highlights of one verses the other? We would have two or three days there in August.

Posted by
1248 posts

I loved both, but I would select Tallinn over Helsinki. But you're not going to go wrong either way. They are both places you could enjoy immensely in 2-3 days.

The old town of Tallinn is compact and delightful (though it can be crowded). Helsinki doesn't really have an old town. Its points of interest are scattered, though many are within easy walking distance of the train station and waterfront area.

Helsinki has many architectural delights, especially quite a few in the Art Deco style. And the sights that aren't within walking distance are easily accessible via hop-on-hop-off tour bus or regular public bus. It's a very pleasant city with a lovely park. It's significantly more expense than Tallinn.

Tallinn does have some very worthwhile points of interest that require you to take a public bus, streetcar, or taxi: The Kumu Museum, the song festival grounds, and Kadriorg Park are all absolutely worth visiting.

By the way, the Song Festival is held every five years, and this year is the 150th anniversary in early July, before you'll be there. But it's worth seeing the place and imagining the experience of the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered to sing for their freedom in the early 1990s.

Posted by
1167 posts

We visited both and I also vote for Tallin. More compact, interesting and we liked the food better.

Posted by
564 posts

Have you seen Rick's recommendations for the two towns?

Helsinki: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/finland/helsinki

Tallinn: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/estonia/tallinn

Looks like overall he gives Helsinki more 3-star sights, but I have also heard that Tallinn is really walkable.

Will you be flying home from or to/from either of those places? If so, have you looked at the price of flights? That may be a deciding factor. Also, how are you getting there? Flying? Ferry? Driving? I hear the ferries can be "interesting" as far as choppy water, so that might be a factor too.

Posted by
115 posts

Thanks for all the replies. We are leaning in favor of Tallinn because we love walking everywhere, and love old towns and an old town atmosphere. We are going to be flying in from Krakow, and then afterwards flying to Stockholm.

I am glad for the warning of choppy water. Just good to figure that in as a possibility if taking a ferry.

Posted by
12635 posts

Tallinn's old town was never destroyed, it is gorgeous.

Posted by
11241 posts

It depends on your personal tastes.

I prefer Tallinn because I'm a history buff for things predating 1492, preferably 14th century or older. Tallinn has an outstanding medieval center. I found it interesting that the old center is essentially two walled towns with a gate between the two. The walls, towers, public squares and medieval buildings represent what I enjoy most in Europe.

Helsinki is a relatively new town, so less interesting to me personally. It was founded in 1550, by Sweden, but didn't become a capital until Russia's Alexander the first in 1812, so virtually everything has been built after that. If you like deer meat, antlers, skins, etc., Helsinki is right up your alley (didn't try packing anything home). The Finns stand out as the nicest people in the region (not that others aren't at all nice).

The only thing relatively medieval is the island fortress of Suomenlinna, so my favorite place there. The fortress has been redesigned/rebuilt so many times over the years, however, it looks newer (anti cannon style fortifications, star shaped, etc.) but was a nice visit by boat from the central market.

Posted by
115 posts

Thank you everyone, and Brad, I also love being immersed in history by walking in old towns with their great architecture. Sounds like Tallin is more what we are looking for. The island with Suomenlinna sounds very interesting!

Posted by
513 posts

I'll be the dissenting vote. We have been to both and like Helsinki much better. We though Tallinn was worth maybe 1/2 day and could have spent 3 days in Helsinki. The "farmers" market in Helsinki is great. We had the best lunches there. Easy to get around with local buses. It does have a very "Russian" feeling but I don't think that is a negative.

Posted by
96 posts

I have been to both and find Tallin more interesting. It is very walkable. Helsinki was nice and we enjoyed the park, the farmers market, the waterfront and church, but other than that it was a large, more modern city with lots of stores. Maybe if I were a shopper!