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Both Tallinn and Lisbon are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Lisbon and Tallinn, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
You could be forgiven for thinking you'd been plucked from the 21st century and dropped back in the 1300s when you step foot in Old Town Tallinn. Cobblestone lanes braid their way through stooped taverns with drooping roofs, chimney stacks, and grey stone keeps that echo The Lord of the Rings.
Lisbon is a progressive and liberal city, which still retains its rich seafaring history and distinctive Portuguese heritage. The city effortlessly blends history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife into one charismatic tourist destination.
Lisbon is a city of compact variety; you can get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Alfama district, be wowed by the grandeur of the plazas in Baixa or join the hipsters and fashionistas in the Principe Real. Close to the city are glorious sandy beaches, and Lisbon boasts one of the finest climates in Europe. This is an amazing city, which you must visit.
Do you agree with us? Why not provide your own scores for Lisbon here
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Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Lisbon is a varied and fascinating city, which takes three days to fully explore. Often, people like to visit Sintra as part of their stay, but at a minimum, we recommend you dedicate two days to Lisbon itself.
For a longer stay, there are many enjoyable day trips, all of which can be reached via the inexpensive public transport. These include, the palaces of Sintra, the beach resorts of Cascais and Sesimbra and the historic towns of Obidos and Evora. In the summer, a holiday to Lisbon can also include visiting the beautiful beaches along the Estoril or Costa Caparica coastlines.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon – 48 hours in Lisbon
Tallinn might not be the biggest European capital, but it's a place that always seems to have another secret up its sleeve. Yes, two days might be enough to see the old city walls, wander Toompea Hill and sample the delights of the Estonian kitchen, but there's certainly enough to fill trips of four, five or even more nights.
Have a think about what you're after from your travels and then decide. If you're eager to squeeze in a few nights on the town (a good shout, as Tallinn is downright hedonistic), daytrips to the wonderful forests and coast swamps of Lahemaa, and a couple of the museums, you'll probably want to give yourself some extra time.
The summer is considered to be the finest time in the Tallinn. From around May onwards, the temperature picks up to the high teens and early 20s, there's more sun, and the days are longer. From June onwards, the travellers and the crowds come, lending a buzz to the bars of the Lower Town.
There's no question that Tallinn looks downright gorgeous under plumes of snow in the midwinter. Some say it's the most enchanting time of all, as the nights draw in and there's ice glinting like diamonds on the roofs of the old churches. On the main Town Hall Square, you'll also be able to enjoy the delights of the Tallinn Christmas Market from early December onwards – think handmade Estonian decorations, hot wine, and traditional pastries. Don't expect to be warm, though. The Baltic gets sub-zero and bitter winds all throughout the season.
The recommended time to visit Lisbon is in the late spring and early autumn, when the city is sunny and warm, but without the summertime crowds. Lisbon is subject to the pressures of over-tourism at times, most notably being incredibly crowded during the summer months in the popular tourist areas, such as the Belem district and Sintra.
Due to the increased popularity of Lisbon, it is becoming a year-round destination, however, be warned that the winter months can be wet and chilly. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is during the first two weeks of June, when the whole city celebrates the Santos Populares festivals with street parties and traditional dances.
Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are cultural sights, a buzzing nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away.
In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches make for a really good extension to your trip and are easily accessible from the city. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.
If you're keen to go a little off the beaten path and discover somewhere laced with rich history and culture, Tallinn is beckoning. With more and more low-cost flights now serving the local airport, a trip to this north-eastern corner of the continent isn't the chore it once was.
So, anyone eager to ditch the mainstay cities of Western Europe is in luck. Adding to that is an Old Town that's been called the best-preserved medieval quarter in the world, so there's loads for fans of original architecture and atmospheric neighborhoods.
Being so far north means there's nothing like the warmth of the Med or southern Europe up in these reaches of the Baltic. Yes, the summer months can get hot and the sea is only a stone's throw from the city, but Tallinn is hardly a beach destination.
Also remember that this is a small capital by global standards. It's certainly not the pick for anyone on the hunt for a colossal, electrifying metropolis.
There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map for what we recommend doing in a 48 hour tripto the city; day 1is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.
Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio and Rossio. In the later part of the day, start to climb the hills into the Alfama district which is a maze of medieval streets leading up to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.
For dinner, head into the Baixa district and then for a night out, head to Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and social scene which fills the streets.
The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon
For the second day, head to the scenic Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary.
For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.
48hours in Tallinn
Wander the Lower Town, see Russian-style cathedrals, taste medieval broths in immersive eateries, gaze at the frothing Baltic waves, duck under ancient fortification walls – all that and more should be a part of any two-day itinerary for the Estonian capital…
Day 1: The Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) at the very core of the city is always the perfect place to begin. Go there and the sightseeing will start immediately. The eponymous Town Hall itself is the main attraction. It's a beautiful 36-meter structure with a tower that's topped with the Old Thomas weathervane, now a symbol of the city. You're also at the perfect starting point to get lost in the Lower Town of Tallinn.
That's the largest part of the historic center, a UNESCO site, and the place where merchants and guilds would once have plied their trade. Viru Street is one not to miss within. It's a hubbub of shops and eateries, all leading to the handsome Viru Gate, which dates all the way back to the 14th century. A whisker to the north is the Hellemann Tower, offering travellers access to a high lookout point and a 200-metre stretch of the City Walls.
Once you're back on dry ground, delve into the Lower Town once again, going north via Pikk Street. At its end you'll emerge into the hipster area of Kalamaja. Boho coffee shops and Mexican eateries combine there, but the best way to spend the evening is in the block behind Tallinn's train station, where industrial-chic cocktail bars like St. Vitus mix up creative long drinks.
The Raekoja plats plaza is at the heart of Tallinn
Day 2: The early hours see you head above the Lower Town to Toompea Hill. Once the main keep and most fortified part of the historic city, it's still one of the most important postcodes in Estonia. On one side is the soaring Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, sporting onion domes and filigrees that evoke the Russian Empire.
On the other is St Mary's Cathedral, the oldest in the city. This is also the home of the modern Parliament of Estonia. On sunny days, the views across the historic town from Kohtuotsa are some of the best going, taking in the Paks Margareeta tower in the distance and Town Hall Square below.
Descend from Toompea and go back to the centre to find the immersive tavern of III Draakon. A fun-filled character pub, it's got food that mimics the diet of the 1400s and curt service to match. As evening draws in, pinpoint the nightlife hubs of Rataskaevu and Voorimehe for something a little hedonistic!
When exploring the city, all of the main tourist areas are centrally located and can be reached on foot,he only exception is the Belem district, to the west. There are a lot of steep hills in Lisbon, and sightseeing can be very draining in the intense summer sun.
Tallinn Airport is small, but it's served by low-cost carriers coming in from Scandinavia, Russia, and Western Europe. It's only a few miles from the Old Town, and the trip can be done on bus number 2 or with a private taxi – expect to pay in the region of €7-11 for that. Other travellers might come across the Baltic on ferries from Helsinki. They cost about €20 and go several times throughout the day from the port in Finland.
Tallinn is a very safe place to travel. It's got low crime rates, and, aside from the ubiquitous pickpockets and taxi scammers, there's rarely any serious issues. Some people have reported extortion scams in nightclubs, but that tends to be limited to the more unsavoury establishments that we think it's best to avoid anyway.
Tallinn is pretty compact and small for a European capital. It's long since burst the seams of its old core, but most of the main sights, bars, pubs, cafés, and museums are still hemmed in by the medieval walls. That means you'll usually be able to walk pretty much anywhere you want. Just be wary of cyclists in the narrow Lower Town streets and icy cobbles in the winter months. Both can be dangers.