My Wheelchair Accessible Day Trip to the Medieval City of Tallinn, Estonia

While researching for my recent visit to Finland, I saw that day trips from Helsinki were quite popular. Helsinki is in a fantastic location near the Baltic Sea, so Russia, Sweden and Estonia are just a cruise away. There are also many other great cities in Finland that would make for a fun day trip, including Porvoo which I heavily considered visiting, but I ultimately couldn’t pass up the charming medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia, especially after Lonely Planet announced Estonia as its #1 best value destination for 2016wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Tallinn is just a two and a half hour cruise from Helsinki, passing through the Gulf of Finland, and I could not resist checking off a new country from my bucket list (I’m on a mission to visit 30 countries before I turn 30. I’m at 17 currently and have 4 more years to make it happen). Before I officially decided to visit Tallinn, Estonia, I searched for wheelchair accessible tours online and came across Tallinn Shore Excursions. Their website claimed to have an accessible tour so I quickly shot them an email. Within a day, they wrote me back and described what the tour would be like. It sounded amazing so I confirmed the tour and started looking at all of the cruising options.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Snowy Tallinn <3

 

There are quite a few cruise lines that go from Helsinki to Tallinn, but I ended up choosing Eckerö Line because it cruised at the most ideal times. Our cruise departed Helsinki at 8:30am and arrived in Tallinn at 11:00am, and then left Tallinn at 6:45pm that same evening for the return to Helsinki. So we had about 7 hours to explore Tallinn, which I thought was perfect. The cruise ship was completely wheelchair accessible and was much bigger than I expected. There were a couple restaurants on the ship, a few shops (including a duty free one that had cheap liquor, which everyone seemed to be purchasing), bars, casino gaming machines, and even live singing entertainment. At only 21 euros per person round trip, this cruise was almost as good as any cruise that I’ve ever taken in the Caribbean and it was definitely a lot cheaper. I would highly recommend cruising to Tallinn with Eckerö Line if you want an entertaining and accessible experience.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

One of the dining areas on our ship.

 

After cruising across the Gulf of Finland for a couple hours, we arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. I was so excited to explore this city that I could barely contain myself. We exited the ship and darted toward the terminal, and I soon saw someone holding a sign that said “Cory Lee”. It was Maarja, our tour guide from Tallinn Shore Excursions! We hugged and headed outside to begin the tour. I felt like I already knew Maarja from emailing back and forth with her, but it was great to finally meet in Tallinn.

For the wheelchair accessible tour, we drove around in a Mercedes Viano minivan. They had a ramp for me to get in the van with and they assisted in any way that they could. After realizing that more space inside the van would make it easier for me to get in, Jüri (co-founder of the company and our driver for the day) even removed a middle seat in the van. Maarja and Jüri did everything they could to make my experience as accessible as possible, which was very nice. There were also tie-down straps to secure my powered wheelchair in the van.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

My ride for the day

 

After settling in the van, we were off to see what all Tallinn had to offer. It snowed pretty much the entire time that I was in the city, and at one point it was even difficult to see the road because it was snowing so hard. But I think that the snow made Tallinn even more beautiful. As someone that grew up in Georgia in the U.S., where it hardly ever snows, I love seeing a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. I would like to see what Estonia looks like in the summer though, as I’m sure that it’s a completely different environment… hopefully one year in the near future!

The first stop on our tour was a viewing platform in Toompea Hill (the upper Old Town). There are actually two viewing platforms in the Old Town, but this is the only wheelchair accessible one. This platform is called Kohtuotsa and has a ramp that leads to the spot where you can take in some insanely good views. When I first looked out over the city at Kohtuotsa, I was in awe. I could almost see all of Tallinn from here. I saw the red roofs and spires of the Old Town, the more modern buildings in the distance, our cruise ship and the Gulf of Finland, and several churches, including St. Olaf’s Church. St. Olaf’s is a landmark of Tallinn and it’s the biggest medieval structure in the city. Taking in the views of Tallinn from this area was probably my favorite thing that we did during the tour. It gave me such an appreciation for the beauty of the city by seeing it from above.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Check out that view!!

 

We remained in awe for about 15 minutes (and took tons of photos of course) and then got back in the van. We drove through the Old Town a bit and saw Toompea Castle, home of the Estonian parliament. We didn’t get out of the van to admire it, but we did stop and look at it, while Maarja shared some historical facts with us. One very interesting story stood out to me. Near Toompea Castle, back in 1989, a peaceful political demonstration took place where over two million people held hands stretching from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania (that’s over 370 miles!!). This massive demonstration for freedom was the beginning of each country declaring their independence. What a powerful statement!

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Toompea Castle, wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Toompea Castle

 

Across from the castle/parliament building, we saw another one of Tallinn’s beautiful churches – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This is a Russian Orthodox Church that was completed in the year 1900. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; all of the stunning churches and cathedrals are probably my favorite thing about Europe. They continue to impress me every time that I see one.

 

 wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

Until now, we had been exploring the Upper Old Town, but it was now time to go further. We drove through the Kalamaja neighborhood, which is famous for its colorful wooden houses and the Seaplane Harbour Museum. The maritime museum is completely wheelchair accessible, but we didn’t have enough time to fully check it out. We did see the outside though, where several ships were located. If you’re in Tallinn for longer than one day, please visit this museum and let me know how it is.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

We then headed back to the Old Town, which happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the way, but this time we visited the lower part of it. We got out of the van and walked/rolled around for about 30-40 minutes, taking in all the sights. It was snowing pretty hard while we walked around, but luckily we had an umbrella to cover my wheelchair. *Fun fact: my wheelchair has been known to drive itself and go crazy when it gets wet. I should also mention that the Old Town isn’t the most wheelchair friendly place in the world. Most of the restaurants and shops have steps, but if you visit in the summer then it’s possible to enjoy a nice meal out on the terrace at one of the many restaurants. There are also cobblestones in many areas, which can be a bit bumpy with a wheelchair, but our wonderful guide Maarja knew the most accessible routes to take so it wasn’t too bumpy for me.

 

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

Maarja showing me around

 

While walking around, we first stumbled upon the Passage of History. The Passage of History is an outdoor exhibition of sorts, where important dates and events related to Estonian history are marked on the sidewalk. This was a unique chance to learn about the history of the country and it is extremely convenient for any visitors to Tallinn, as you don’t even need to go inside a museum or pay an entrance fee to learn about the history. The Church of the Holy Spirit was then outside the passage. This church was built in the 14th century, which makes it one of the oldest structures in Tallinn. It also has a beautiful clock on the outside of it that has been measuring time since the 17th century.

We also walked around the Town Hall Square, which was really cool. The square is considered the social heart of Tallinn and frequently has open-air concerts, markets and more. Since we visited in the middle of winter, there wasn’t much activity going on in the square, but it was still good to see it and it’s definitely a necessity during any visit.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

Another favorite sight of mine in Tallinn was the city wall and towers. There is still over a mile of the original wall remaining and it surrounds the Old Town, giving it a medieval fairytale vibe.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

Once we finished exploring the lower Old Town by walking and wheeling around, it was time to get back in the van and see a little more on our tour. Other places that we visited included Kadriorg Park, which has two accessible art museums in it, the Song Festival Grounds, and the ruins of St. Bridget’s Convent. At the Song Festival Grounds, the gate was actually locked on the day that we visited, so we couldn’t get in. But no worries! Maarja and Jüri played us a short video inside the van that told a bit of the history of the song festival. To sum it up really quickly, the festival takes place every 5 years and the song festival began as early as 1869, but then in 1988 it became a musical demonstration against Soviet rule. If you’d like to learn more about it, watch the documentary The Singing Revolution. It’s a fantastic film that I watched after coming back home from Estonia, and it made me fall in love with the country even more.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

After exploring all the wonderful sights of Tallinn on our 4 hour driving tour, our guides were kind enough to drop us out at the Solaris Centre for some shopping and lunch. We wandered around shopping for a bit and there were quite a few great stores, including Apollo Bookstore. This was a huge bookstore and it would be easy to lose track of time in here. I hoped that there would be some type of souvenir store inside Solaris Centre so that I could get some Estonian gifts, but there wasn’t unfortunately. However, I was able to find some souvenirs in the grocery store on the bottom floor. They had Estonian candies, shot glasses, and various other items. Of course, I ended up buying way too many souvenirs as always.

Now that I had plenty of souvenirs, it was time to chow down on some lunch. My mom and I hopped on the elevator and went up to the fourth floor of the Solaris Centre. We ate at the restaurant Komeet. If you ask for a table by the window, you’ll be able to enjoy some fantastic views of Tallinn while eating delicious food. There were many tasty options on the menu, but I chose the crispy fried salmon fillet, which was served with potato-pumpkin mash. The salmon was wonderful, but the mashed potatoes were unbelievably great. I seriously need that recipe. And at only 12 euros for the dish, it was a steal (compared to the prices in Helsinki anyway). Komeet also serves many different desserts and they’re quite famous for their cakes, but after cleaning my plate, I was too full to get dessert. If you’re wanting an exceptional Estonian meal, try Komeet. I’m sure that you will find something on the menu to suit your taste.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

The view from our table at Komeet

The view from our table at Komeet

Another view from Komeet

Another view from Komeet

 

After a couple hours of shopping and enjoying some good food, Maarja and Jüri of Tallinn Shore Excursions came back to pick us up from Solaris Centre. Many other tour companies would not have waited on us to eat and everything like they did, but they are truly some of the nicest people in the world and it’s clear that they care about their customers immensely. They then drove us back to the cruise terminal and it was time to say goodbye to an unforgettable day in Tallinn.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

 

As you can probably see, this wheelchair accessible tour and day trip to Tallinn, Estonia was exceptional. While I would love to stay in Tallinn a bit longer next time, I felt like a full day was enough time to get to know the city… especially since we were on a tour. As a wheelchair user, arriving to Tallinn without a tour guide would be difficult. Luckily, we had Maarja and Jüri to show us around and we were able to make the most of our 7 hours in the city. I would highly highly highly recommend going on an accessible tour with Tallinn Shore Excursions if you find yourself in this magical and medieval city. For now, I’ll be reminiscing about my time in Tallinn, but with so much beauty in the city, it’ll be hard to resist so I’m sure that I’ll be back to explore more of Estonia in the not too distant future.

wheelchair accessible tallinn estonia

*If you would like to book a wheelchair accessible tour with Tallinn Shore Excursions, visit their website by clicking here. You can also visit their Facebook page or their other tour website (Saku Travel) by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

  • Shelly says:

    Thanks for the great overview. Even though you only had 7 hours, you were able to see quite a bit! It’s nice to hear that Tallinn Shore Excursions was so helpful.

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