Estonia Travel Guide
Washed up on the banks of the Baltic Sea, Estonia is a country of great scenic beauty with lots of forests, lakes and islands. The country’s official tourism website teases us with: ‘the dream world becomes real and the reality is unbelievable’. Indeed it is. This plucky nation suffers from an identity crisis which is half Baltic/Scandanavian and half Russian, but they’re a cool headed lot.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Blood sausages, bog walking, birch branch spanking, scorching hot saunas, Tallinn’s ancient Hanseatic city, Tartu’s medieval architecture, great wildlife, wide gauge train spotting, skinny dipping and kiek-in-de-kök – the voyeur’s dream!
What’s Not: Street sellers, roads that come to a sudden end, pickpocket gangs, slippery roads in winter, extorting taxi drivers, fake Rolex, abandoned Soviet military installations, souvenirs from Russia and UK stag groups.
When to Go
Estonia’s climate is generally temperate, but slightly cool and damp.
From May to September, days are generally pleasant, though nights can still be rather chilly.
Avoid July and August which are often rainy and very crowded.
Winter (November to March) is snowy and freezing with little daylight.
Getting There & Away
Tallinn is the main air hub, and domestic air travel is expensive. The railway links Tallinn with many towns including Pärnu, Viljandi, Valga, Tapa and Tartu. The road network is extensive and buses are affordable and reliable. Ferry services connect the mainland with the larger islands, and boats operate on Lake Peipsi and the Emajõgi River. Taxis in main towns are inexpensive. All parts of Tallinn are served by bus, trolley bus and tram.
Health & Safety
You’re more likely to fall victim to pick-pocketing than any violent crime, even though Estonia does have a relatively high murder rate. Unfortunately, petty crime is an increasing problem in Tallinn. The healthcare facilities are very good. Cases of tuberculosis have been reported.
Food & Hospitality
Traditional Estonian food is influenced by German cooking and relies heavily on pork, potatoes and vegetables. In recent years, the Estonian restaurant scene has become amazingly diverse, especially in Tallinn. Many old state-run hotels have been converted into modern Western-standard lodgings. Outside of Tallinn, the standard drops but is still acceptable.
One week is the least you can get away with to enjoy some of the highlights.
Two or three days to see the capital’s modern and medieval attractions.
One or two days in Pärnu on the banks of the Pärnu River, a 13th century seaport and health resort.
One or two days to explore Kuressaare Castle, the Baltic’s only medieval stone castle that is still intact.
One or two days by bicycle or car along Sőrve Peninsula, with magnificent views.
Two days in Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city on the Emajõgi River.
Three or four days on Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island with old windmills, stone churches, fishing villages and a restored Episcopal castle.
Tallinn: the Hanseatic capital with its Old Town center, dominated by the towering steeple of Oleviste Church.
Narva: one of Estonia’s oldest towns, located on the western banks of the River Narva.
Pärnu: with its beach and river emerging into the Gulf of Riga. Full of locals on hoiday during the summer.
Kuressaare Castle: is an intact medieval stone castle with a maze of chambers, halls, passages and stairways that will fuel your Gothic fantasies.
Vilsandi National Park: is a low, wooded island off Saaremaa’s west coast featuring a working ostrich farm. Don’t stick your head in the sand!
Sőrve Peninsula: is a thinly populated sliver of land, which saw some of the heaviest fighting of WWII, and remaining scars can still be seen.
Cultural sightseeing: is a must, with all the lovely castles and landmarks, beautiful scenery and intriguing Baltic culture.
Relaxing: in Haapsalu, a small town with romantic wooden houses and tree-lined avenues.
Bird watching: at Käina Bay Bird Reserve and Matsalu Nature Reserve for eagles and storks among a diversity of wetland.
Hiking and cycling: along unspoiled Saaremaa Island’s magnificent coastline.
Skiing: in Otepää with its lakes and forests. Otepää is also good for canoeing.
Get hot: and intimate with the locals in a sauna, then run nude to the nearest hole in the ice while being spanked with birch branches by your friendly hosts.
Festivals & Events
Estonia is known as the ‘singing nation’ and its festivals reflect this. Here are some of the best to get to.
June: Midsummer (St John’s Day) is a festival of pagan origins, marking the end of spring labors in the fields.
July: Rock Festival in Tallinn with international rock, blues, world music and classical music acts at the Song Festival Grounds.
August: International Organ Music Festival with recitals in Tallinn and throughout Estonia.
October: Jazz and Blues Festival with world-class performances.