Tallinn, Estonia with Kids in Winter – a Blast
Tallinn, Estonia completely exceeded our expectations. This city oozes charm. Despite the cold we enjoyed every moment of our three-day visit.
Tallinn is an easy 2.5 hour flight from Amsterdam. We booked on KLM but our flight was operated by Air Baltic. The kids were eager to use their CARES Flight Harnesses. They always love to carry them on board. We are seriously lucky to have such great little flyers.
Tallinn’s kid friendly charm started from the beginning. Our arrival into Tallinn set the stage for our visit. After 30 minutes on the runway in Amsterdam and a 2.5 hour flight our kids were ready to expend some energy.
When we got off the plane a children’s playground was directly across from our gate.
The kids played while we freshened up and Jeff went to collect the bags. Jeff called when he had our things and directions into town and we met him at baggage claim. On our walk out we found a fish tank, a small library and a variety of fun seating. I was honestly sad that we wouldn’t be flying out of this airport. Tallinn’s airport is just lovely. It’s small but it had everything a family would need.
We grabbed a cab into the city. We could have also taken a cheaper bus, but opted for a €8 cab ride instead.
Our hotel, The Original Sokos Hotel Viru, was fabulous. It’s nothing fancy, but the location and kids amenities were perfect. (Read our hotel review here.)
Although the city got dark around 3pm we headed into Old Town, just a two-block walk from the hotel.
We enjoyed the walk through town. Although our visit was in mid-January, the city was still full of Christmas lights. Tallinn, by the way, claims to have had the first Christmas Tree in 1441! It’s quite fitting then to see one towering over their main square.
We popped into the Marzipan Museum, which is really more of a room than a true museum. There are marzipan figurines in the windows and on glass shelves throughout the room. The kids loved looking at all the little figures.
A woman sat behind a desk painting each little detail. The kids were obsessed with watching the color permeate the sugar. I was obsessed with the lovely color palate.
Our Tallinn Card got us a free piece of chocolate covered marzipan. The kids happily ate it.
We hopped on the Tallinn Tourist Train and took a ride around the city. It was a fun way to get a lay of the land. The car is enclosed so we weren’t cold. There is no narration and the ride lasts 20 min. We were the only ones on the train.
Next we headed to dinner at The Beer House. It was also not crowded and the kids chose a table inside an old beer barrel. Jeff and I enjoyed some great beer and delicious food. Jeff ordered the goulash. I got beer cheese soup and chicken wings. The kids ordered fried cheese balls and a bratwurst. It was delicious. The beer gardens are popular here as a holdover from years of German occupation.
After hotel breakfast I, of course, still needed more coffee. (I’m traveling with three kids, what do you expect.) I popped into Caffeine, which is the Starbucks of Estonia. Yum!
With coffee in hand, we headed up the hill to Tallinn’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. While we were there the church opened for service, we poked in for a little look. The Russian Orthodox ceremony is quite different from what you may be used to. (It was for us!) This blog post was a great introduction to explain what was going on.
A few blocks away is Saint Mary’s. A visit to the church and the tower climb are covered by your Tallinn Card. Up the narrow stairs we headed, with the children complaining most of the way up.
Finally, we reached the top and the kids were quiet and in awe of the view. You won’t actually be able to see Old Town Tallinn, as the church’s roof line extends in that direction, blocking your view. However, you get a great view of the Russian Church and a view of the harbor. We watched the ferry boats from Helsinki glide across the water for a while.
It was quite cold so we opted for indoor activities to fill the rest of the morning. We headed to the Estonian Health Care Museum, which exceeded our expectations. This museum is full of hands-on exhibits that teach kids about the human body. Some of the exhibits were cool for adults too.
It’s modern, with lots of touch screen activities. Stools placed in the rooms make it easy for kids to reach those exhibits placed out of their reach. All the touch screen activities had English options as well. H loved playing a game where he matched the emotion to the face.
A section of the museum is dedicated to the senses. There were bottles to smell, and flavors to guess based on color. My kids are currently obsessed with ice cream, so the ‘guess the ice cream flavor’ was a favorite.
There is an entire room dedicated to vision. O loved giving the eye tests. Jeff was enthralled by an interactive display of optical illusions. There were several sections of the museum upstairs that were a bit above our kids’ ability level, specifically an exhibit on natural death. These sections are walled off though so it’s easy to keep kids away if you think it may bother them.
The boys’ favorite area was upstairs. There is an exhibit on pregnancy and child birth. Since we had just had a baby they were very interested in this section. They had babies for the boys to push around in carriages throughout the exhibit. Jeff and I enjoyed seeing the display showing the evolution of baby diapers and breast pumps.
Our kids also really loved the child-sized changing table. They took turns changing their babies and taking care of them. We obviously really loved the Estonian Health Care Museum.
We asked the young man at the front desk where to head for lunch and he recommended Hell Hunt. Based on the name I did do a quick Google just to make sure it was appropriate for the kids. It turned out to be a lovely local pub. I predictably had the club sandwich which was delicious! The kids split some bratwurst and cheese balls and Jeff had something local. We ordered the pear cider and dark beer that were both on tap and shared those.
We had a 2pm reservation for the Bastion Tunnel Tour, covered by the Tallinn Card. Reservations are required and English tours are limited, so call ahead. They kept telling us that the kids needed to be very well behaved on the tour, so keep that in mind. The tour starts with a 10-minute movie and then moves through the tunnels. There are recreations of each time period the tunnel was used. It’s a bit spooky due to the darkness, a ghost story, a short video of Nazi Germany and some Cold War talk. There are several sets of stairs but the tour ends somewhere different than where it starts, so we brought the stroller along with us. Jeff carried it up and down several flights of stairs.
The tour ends in the Carved Stone Museum. We honestly didn’t spend much time here because the little little woke up and started screaming. His voice echoed through the tunnels. We had been underground for 45 min and the other two kids had also had enough. We exited the tour and came up into Freedom Square.
The kids were in need of a little pick-me-up so we headed to Kehrwieder Chocolate. It sits on the lower level of a building and is candle lit even during the day. The Tallinn Card will get you a free chocolate truffle here. We also indulged in some cake, and of course coffee for me.
On the way home we popped into the Hellemann Tower and Town Wall, which is the section of wall you can walk that was closest to our hotel. (This is covered by the Tallinn Card.) The views are not particularly spectacular but it is really interesting.
We marched like soldiers down the wall looking for invaders. We also peered down at those walking through old town.
We walked back to the hotel for a bit of down time and ended up staying in the rest of the evening having dinner at the restaurant in the hotel while the children played in the attached play area. The food was fine (very small portions), but the highlight was the convenience.
It was bitterly cold the next morning. The Tallinn Card provides free public transportation (just scan it when you get on a bus or tram) so we decided to take advantage of that. We used the bus to head out to the Seaplane Harbor, which is Tallinn’s Maritime Museum.
There was so much fun stuff to do here for kids and adults. A submarine for you to explore, boats to climb on, little boats to drive, a simulated airplane flight (which completely freaked out the two year old). All the displays have interactive screens so you can get the information in multiple languages.
They have a green screen and costumes to take old time photos and e-mail them as postcards to people. (It’s all free!) We had a great time dressing up and taking photos.
Lunch snuck up on us so we grabbed something at the museum cafe. There were not a wide variety of options, but they had enough to make a meal. There were also toys for the kids to play with, so I was able to enjoy my coffee.
When we headed out of the museum snow was falling, but even that could not dissuade us from exploring the ice breaking boat they have moored behind the museum. O took a slip or two on the deck of the ship, but you mostly explore from the inside. There is also a fun looking outdoor playground, but it was too cold and snowy for us to check it out.
We caught the bus a few stops back toward the city and visited the Energy Discovery Center. This is a science museum with a focus on energy. The boys explored the main floor for a bit, exhibits showed different ways to produce electricity.
The basement was a bit more little kid friendly with lots of your typical science museum finds that our kids always enjoy.
Watching a ball float on a jet of air never gets old!
There was also a hall of mirrors and black lights that the kids thought was just the best. They ran around and around until they got a bit out of control and we decided we needed to move on.
There was a visiting exhibit that encouraged the kids to be different animals. This was by far their favorite room, and perfect for a cold day. They used the pool noodles to build a nest, put on a snail shell and crawled around and even climbed through a mole mound.
They also took a rest as bees in a hive. The only disappointment was a giant spiderweb wall made of Velcro. The suit was worn out though so, much to our children’s disappointment, we couldn’t hang them on the wall.
We walked into town and through one of the city gates, enjoying the view. We got a bit turned around but eventually found the Natural History Museum. It is small but has lots of great touches making it perfect for kids.
They have a few floors of your standard taxidermy animals, which our kids always enjoy. There are several small fish tanks full of brightly colored fish.
A room full of fossils explained the geology of Estonia. They had a meteorite, which is always Jeff’s favorite thing to find in each country! The exhibits also had little crawling holes cut out where the kids happily sat and looked at books and displays, while we explored the room.
The top floor has a shoes-off discovery room with several interactive displays. It was dark and actually sort of settled the kids down. We listened to animal sounds and tried to find where they lived, by lifting panels in the wall. It was so quiet that it turned out to be a great place to nurse the little guy too.
We left as the museum was closing and headed back to the hotel. They had graciously given us late check out so we could organize all our things before our ferry over to Helsinki.
If Tallinn isn’t already on your ‘visit with kids radar’ it should be. We left many stones in the city unturned and the more I glanced at books and brochures in the hotel lobby the more I wished we were spending some time outside of just Tallinn in some of Estonia’s natural wonderland. Ah well. . .next time!
When our time in Tallinn was at an end we hopped a ferry to Helsinki for a few days. If your looking for more of an upscale trip to Helsinki check out Megan Star’s review of the Tallink Megastar ferry.
We just wanted to let you know that Visit Tallinn provided us with Tallinn Cards and a welcome pack for our stay in return for a review. All opinions are our own.
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