Tallinn and Finland. A great way to combine two separate countries, and learn two different cultures, in just one trip.
Tallinn, a city rising in popularity, as tourists tend to flock here for a day-trip from Helsinki. What people don’t know, however, is that Tallinn should be held as a destination of its own accord. A medieval city that can stand up to the likes of some of the more popular tourist destinations, and a city oozing with charm. The people who write Tallinn off or only come for a few hours are missing the true entity of what makes Tallinn, Tallinn. Tallinn deserves more than a day, and on this trip you’ll be spending two nights in the capital of Estonia.
Where is that again? A question I would get asked over and over by friends and family when I told them “I want to chase the Northern Lights in Finland!” Or you very well might have heard of Finland from Confessions of a Shopaholic. Regardless, the country lies above Estonia and to the right of Russia in northeastern Europe. A fascinating country with beautiful landscape and an incredible culture; Finland often ranks as one of the happiest places to live. While the capital, Helsinki, is big and beautiful, the true gem of this country lies north – in Lapland to be exact. On this trip you’ll spend two nights in Helsinki, and two nights in Rovaniemi.
Note: I recommend taking this particular trip in the winter. While Finland is beautiful all year around, I find it particularly charming during the cold months and most of my suggestions include wintertime activities. Plus if you time it right you’ll be able to see the Christmas markets in Tallinn, which got voted best markets for the year 2019.
WEDNESDAY – Depart from the USA, fly in to Tallinn, Estonia
Leave Wednesday for arrival into Tallinn on Thursday. Book this as a one-way ticket; I suggest flying in to Tallinn and out of Rovaniemi.
If you’re on the west coast your flight can take anywhere from 15-30 hours depending how long your layovers are. It is unlikely you will get a direct flight, expect to stop 1+ times before reaching TLL. There is a 10-hour time difference between the west coast and Tallinn (Europe ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Los Angeles, LAX to Tallinn, TLL
If you’re in Middle America your flight can take anywhere from 12-20 hours depending on how long your layovers are. It is unlikely you will get a direct flight, expect to stop 1+ times before reaching TLL. There is an eight-hour time difference between Middle America and Tallinn (Europe ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Chicago, ORD to Tallinn, TLL
If you’re on the east coast your flight can take anywhere from 12-20 hours depending on how long your layovers are. It is unlikely you will get a direct flight, expect to stop 1+ times before reaching TLL. There is a seven-hour time difference between the east coast and Tallinn (Europe ahead of the US), depending on daylight savings.
Example was taken from Boston, BOS to Tallinn, TLL
I prefer to use Kayak for finding flights
THURSDAY – Arrival in to Tallinn
Transportation from the airport: Tallinn is incredibly cheap and Uber operates in the area. I suggest getting an Uber seeing as it will cost you approximately $5 from the airport into the main city centre. If you choose to take a taxi, it will cost approximately $10 from the airport into the main city centre.
Stay: I would recommend to stay in an Airbnb or hotel in old town
Price: Expect to pay on average $87/night
I prefer to use booking.com to find hotels
You have just made the long trek across The US, the Atlantic Ocean, AND Europe! You have arrived to a country that is far away from home both distance wise and culturally. Grab your bags, hop in a car, and make your way to where you’re staying.
Start your trip by seeing what makes Tallinn so unique by exploring the medieval old town. Make your way straight to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Cathedral that was supposed to be torn down, but the people of Tallinn were too poor to do so. Now it is a symbol to Tallinn and stands tall and proud at the top of a hill. Entrance is free so I definitely recommend checking it out. The Cathedral was built in 1894 and is of Russian Revival architecture.
Weave your way throughout old town making sure to walk through St. Catherine’s Passage towards the Tallinn Town Wall. Walking the passage is free while walking the walls will costs two Euros, cash only.
If you don’t mind a type of “touristy” Tallinn experience I recommend eating dinner at Olde Hansa. While it is “touristy”, I quite enjoyed it! Think of eating dinner by candlelight, your server dressed in clothes that you would find back in the day. Plus, it is located right in the middle of old town so you won’t have to trek far.
FRIDAY – Tallinn
Get an early start to the city by waking up early and heading to Telliskivi. Telliskivi is about a ten-minute walk outside of old town and is considered the more hipster, funk area of Tallinn. If you’re looking for a sit down restaurant, eat at F Hoone. Both tasty, and cheap, plus located in a quirky part of town.
If you’re looking for an “eat on the go” option, head straight to Balti Jaama Turg. Even if you eat beforehand, make sure to make the trek to Balti Jaama Turg. An incredibly unique market full of restaurants, produce, and souvenirs. Some of the restaurants take on an open-air feel, while others are housed in little boxes, seating just a few people at a time.
By noon make your way back to old town to participate in the free walking tour. The downside is that there is only one tour a day, which means that it can be packed, but I truly thought that it offered great insight into the city of Tallinn and takes you places that I wouldn’t have necessarily seen on my own. The tour is free, but tips are expected.
The walking tour will last you approximately two hours and you’ll end in the main town square. If you happen to be in Tallinn in the warmer months, head to St. Olaf’s Church and make your way to the top-viewing tower for views of the city. Be advised that the viewing tower is closed during the winter.
Stop for a coffee and cake break at Rukis, before heading to dinner. And for dinner? Dine at one of Tallinn’s more upscale restaurants – Leib Resto ja Aed. I would recommend making reservations beforehand.
For more on Tallinn…
SATURDAY – Depart Tallinn, arrive in Helsinki
Transportation: Take a ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. There are three different ferry companies that take this route, Tallink Silja Line, Viking Line 3, and Eckero Line. You can find tickets and times here. Expect to pay around $30.
Price: Expect to pay on average approximately $89/night
After checking in to your place, set out to see the sights of Helsinki. Begin at Old Market Hall where you can find a bite to eat and a drink before walking the city. If you’re adventurous, make sure to try the local food – reindeer. If not, salmon is a popular dish in Finland, although not local. The salmon typically comes from Norway.
Old Market Hall – Opened in 1889, a popular indoor place to shop from a variety of food and drinks.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 0800-1800; closed on Sundays
Esplanadi Park – From Old Market Hall walk 240 m (approx three minutes) north to this park where you can relax, or explore the surrounding streets.
Helsinki Cathedral – From Esplanadi Park walk 350 m (approx four minutes) north to the Kruununhaka neighborhood where you’ll find Helsinki Cathedral. Helsinki Cathedral is a Lutheran church that was built starting in 1830.
Hours: Open seven days/week 0900-1800
Upsenski Cathedral – From Helsinki Cathedral walk 850 m (approx 11 minutes) east to the Katajanokka neighborhood. This Eastern Orthodox Church originally opened its doors in 1868 and has since represented Helsinki by being the main cathedral in town.
Hours: Sunday 1200-1500; closed Mondays; Tuesday-Friday 0930-1900; Saturday 1000-1500
For dinner find yourself at the artisan restaurant, BasBas. Best known for the wine, cocktails, and small plates to share.
SUNDAY – Helsinki
I recommend diving into the Finish culture by visiting a sauna. There are enough saunas in Finland to fit one local. Sauna culture is so big here because “you are born and die in a sauna”. Legend has it that back in the day women gave birth in saunas and after someone passed away their body was placed in a sauna. Loyly sauna is a highly rated sauna in Helsinki, where you can spend the day relaxing and swimming. Or you can visit the restaurant. Plan on spending an entire day by visiting both facilities. Reservations aren’t required, but recommended. If you choose to book ahead of time, you can do so by clicking here.
If you’re not interested in a sauna, or looking for more to do, check out Suomenlinna, an island off of Helsinki.
MONDAY and TUESDAY – Depart Helsinki, arrive in Rovaniemi
Transportation: An hour and a half flight north will bring you to Finish Lapland. There are two airlines that operate from Helsinki to Rovaniemi – Norwegian and Finnair. Comparatively, Norwegian will be the budget option. Compare prices on Kayak.
Stay: Arctic Treehouse Hotel – I totally splurged on this destination. The Arctic Treehouse was incredibly expensive, but I loved it and would stay again in a heartbeat. If you are looking for something cheaper, check out Airbnb or booking.com.
If you are coming to northern Finland in the winter, the main point of your travels might just as well be to… SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS! Yes, Finland is a great destination to see this majestic light show that nature puts on. I do have to warn you, however, that this should not be the only reason you are visiting. The lights are unpredictable and you very well might miss them.
If you’re aiming to see the Northern Lights, the best option would be to give yourself the chance to see them both nights. I would book a tour for Monday night, and that way if you don’t see them, you can book a tour for Tuesday night as well. There are tons of tours that operate here, however, I used Alex from All About Lapland. He was fantastic and would recommend him every time. Beware of companies that only want your money and don’t care about your overall experience.
Rovaniemi is the capital of Finish Lapland and best known as being the home of Santa Claus. That’s right; Santa Claus officially resides in the Arctic Circle at Santa Claus Village. A quiche attraction that you can’t miss if you’re in the area. Plus if you stay at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel this village is only about a 20-minute walk away.
While Santa Claus Village is a fun attraction, don’t expect to be doing too much. Make sure you visit Santa’s official post office, where you can send signed letters out for Christmas. If you like salmon there is also a fun little restaurant, Santa’s Salmon Place, that grills salmon over an open fire in front of you. It lacks variety, but again, if you like salmon it is delicious.
Rovaniemi is a place where you can spend a lot of time outdoors. You can go sledding with reindeer, or take a husky ride. You can rent snowmobiles or ice float. If you’re visiting during the summer you can take a boat cruise or see the midnight sun. These would be the activities that I would suggest filling your days with on Monday and Tuesday. This area is so unique and special; it has so much nature to be explored, so why not take advantage? The best website I have found that shows what is going on around town is Visit Rovaniemi.
WEDNESDAY – Depart Rovaniemi fly back to the USA
Leave Wednesday for arrival back into the USA on Wednesday.
If you are heading to the west coast your flight can take anywhere from 17-35 hours (please keep in mind that if you choose the longer flight, you won’t make it back to the states until Thursday), depending on how long your layovers are. You won’t get a direct flight; expect to stop 1+ times before reaching the states.
Example was taken from Rovaniemi, RVN to Los Angeles, LAX
If you are heading to Middle America your flight can take anywhere from 15-45 hours (please keep in mind that if you choose the longer flight, you won’t make it back to the sates until Thursday), depending on how long your layovers are. You won’t get a direct flight; expect to stop 1+ times before reaching the states.
Example was taken from Rovaniemi, RVN to Chicago, ORD
If you are heading to the east coast your flight can take anywhere from 14-22 hours (please keep in mind that if you choose the longer flight, you won’t make it back to the states until Thursday), depending on how long your layovers are. You won’t get a direct flight; expect to stop 1+ times before reaching the states.
Example was taken from Rovaniemi, RVN to Boston, BOS
Important Notes About Tallinn
Most people also speak English
At time of writing 1 USD = 0.88 Euro – making the Euro stronger than the Dollar
112 – European emergency number
Insurance – World Nomads
When traveling abroad I always book travel insurance to ensure I’m covered in case of emergency. This puts me at ease and allows me to more thoroughly enjoy my trip.
While part of the EU, Estonia is a relatively cheap country
Important Notes About Finland
Finnish (sister language is Hungarian)
Most people also speak English
112 – European emergency number
While you’ll need a passport to get in and out of Europe, you don’t need to show your passport when traveling between Estonia and Finland
Your dollar won’t go as far as it did in Estonia. Finland is very expensive, especially the further north you get
Uber operates in Helsinki, but not in Lapland
Lapland refers to two separate countries – Finland and Sweden. So you might hear someone refer to it as “Finnish Lapland”
What to Pack
Tennis shoes for walking long distances
European power adapter to charge your devices – The one I use is called TravelSmart, which I found from Target
Swimsuit for the Finnish sauna
*If you choose to check a bag, don’t forget to pack an extra outfit in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost*
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