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Both Stockholm and Tallinn 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 Tallinn and Stockholm, 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?)
Magical, mystical Stockholm spreads over a speckling of islets surrounded by the icy Baltic Sea. At its centre is the fairy-tale Gamla Stan. Cobbled lanes wiggle and writhe around medieval rowhouses in those parts, opening onto a kitschy plaza filled with gingerbread cafés and grand Neo-Classical palaces.
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.
Aged Toompea Hill is the anchor of it all, erupting above the capital with its muscular castles and onion-domed churches. Below, the Lower Town buzzes with energy, pitting beer bars next to Baltic eateries and church steeples.
Tallinn has also established itself as one of Europe's most cutting-edge cities in recent years. It's a digital powerhouse with start-ups and creative agencies galore. They fuel areas like Kalamaja, which is all roaster coffee joints in Soviet tenements and funky bars in rundown prisons that spill into the Baltic Sea, proving it's not all about the history in these parts…
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
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!
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.
Stockholm is a perfect city break spot. Two or three days is a great amount of time to while away between the historic Gamla Stan and the museums of Östermalm. What's more, planning a fly-in, fly-out jaunt has never been easier. There are no fewer than four airports serving the town, from big Stockholm-Arlanda to low-cost favourite Skavsta Airport. The advantage? It should be a cinch to find affordable connections in and out, say 72 hours apart.
If you've got a little more time to spare, then use it. Stockholm has secrets that aren't on the main tourist menu. For example, you could venture out to the rugged islands of the outer Stockholm Archipelago. They're for sailing, swimming, fishing, and wandering quaint villages. There are also the Viking relics of Birka and the idyllic forests and lake lands of Bornsjön. All those will require more than just a weekend.
Wrap up warm if you're heading north in the winter months. Stockholm is a cold capital, but it comes with hefty sides of festive charm. At Christmas, you'll find lovely markets on Stortorget square in the middle of the Gamla Stan, the scents of mulled wine and hot chocolate floating up through the pastel-painted guild mansions. On the flip side, November to March also means uber-short days (think sunset as early as 3pm!) and lots of rain and snowfall.
If you prefer a dose of Vitamin D, consider the white nights of summer. It doesn't get dark until well into the evening between June and August. What's more, the weather is usually warm and mild, with daily averages in the low 20s. Of course, this is also the most popular time to come, so expect hotel rates to be inflated.
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.
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.
If you're a fan of culture-brimming capitals and enchanting old towns, then Stockholm is sure to impress. Whole days of wandering between waterside parks, centuries-old terraces, cobbled squares and stooped taverns are on the menu. And so are visits to places like the Vasa Museum, with its 17th-century Swedish warship pulled up from the deep.
In addition to all that, districts like Södermalm are there to entertain the foodie and the art lover. It's a vibrant mix of multicultural cafés and restaurants. On one corner you'll see a Bahian curry stall, on the next you'll catch a Lebanese rice kitchen. And that's not even mentioning the wealth of fair-trade coffee shops and roasteries that make an appearance.
It's also quite pricy, so we'd recommend anyone on a budget to steer well clear.
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!
48hours in Stockholm
Let's get stuck into Stockholm with this curated 48-hour itinerary. It whisks you from the aged heart of the town to some of its lived-in outer areas, and passes acclaimed museums and eateries as it goes…
Day 1: Hop out at Gamla Stan station in the early morning. Doing that puts you right at the meeting point of the Free Walking Tour Stockholm. Their trips typically take around two hours from start to finish, but they're a fine intro to all the secrets and monuments of the amazing district.
You'll probably encounter the bustling shopping thoroughfare of Stora Nygatan, the narrow alley of Prästgatan, and the handsome Stortorget square, all topped off with the stunning Royal Palace of Stockholm to learn about the boundary-breaking monarchy of Sweden. Once it's finished, be sure to stroll down cobbled Österlånggatan between the toyshops and Nordic taverns.
Have something to eat there and then move south across the water to Södermalm. One of the first things you'll encounter is the Katarina Elevator, with its high lookout points gazing across the old town. A few blocks to the south and you'll be in SoFo. This is the hipster hub of the city. If you can get a place, be sure to dine at quirky Meatballs for the People – expect modern twists on Scandi staples. If not, there are oodles of ramen places and Indian joints to boot.
Day 2: Breakfast at the Hötorgshallen. A colossal, two-floor food court, it's bursting with pretzels, smoked-salmon outlets, New Yorker delis, and more. It's also on the edge of Norrmalm's chic shopping area. Wander that to see designer outlets galore before emerging onto the salt-washed quays around Berzelii Park.
From there, you'll be able to see the forested island of Djurgården – your next destination. It's a short walk, with a few riverside cafes like the Sjöcafeet to enjoy en route. Then you delve straight into the Vasa Museum. Simply not to be missed, it's a chart-topper of Stockholm. The whole exhibit revolves around a mighty warship that sunk in Stockholm harbour just minutes after launching in the 17th century.
If time allows, ABBA the Museum is also next door, complete with glitzy pop paraphernalia and the piano on which some of the band's hit tracks were written. Behind all that is the vast open-air museum come park of Skansen. It's got living history that'll transport you back to medieval Sweden, along with a fun funicular train ride and even enclosures with brown bears.
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.
Stockholm has four individual airports. Stockholm-Arlanda is the largest. That's where you're likely to land on long-haul connections. The direct Flygbussarna transfer can get you back and forth in just 45 minutes, but there's also express rail straight to the terminal.
Skavsta Airport is a hub for low-cost carriers like Ryanair and is linked to the city by private coach transfers (travel time: 1.2 hours). Bromma Airport is mainly for domestic links and also has buses straight to the city. Finally, there's Västerås Airport. Over 60 miles to the west, it's popular for Sweden-UK flights. A coach transfer there takes around 80 minutes in total.
If you're struggling on deciding where to stay in Stockholm, look no further than the northern quarters of Södermalm. That's a good balance between affordability, convenience, and proximity to the Gamla Stan. Of course, there are also hotels in the middle of the old town, but you'll usually need to fork out more for the immersion.
Stockholm is one of the safest capital cities in Europe, though problems are not unheard of. There are still pickpockets and muggings but stay sensible and calm and they are very unlikely to affect your trip. The most common places to fall victim to these sorts of crimes are on the subway, in the Gamla Stan, and in busy food halls..
Never stand on the cycle lane in Stockholm. Getting around on two wheels is an important mode of commuting for many locals. They don't take kindly to folk who get in their way!