Estonia travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
If you're entering Estonia expecting queues around the block and Ladas belching smoke then forget it. Estonia is a modern European country with a healthy outlook both in its cities and preserved wilderness areas, such as Lahemaa, Soomaa and Matsalu National Parks. Estonia's capital city, Tallinn, isn't infested with invading revellers (that was so last decade), and the UNESCO listed Old Town retains its medieval charm despite the deluge of cultural sightseers. The seaside town of Pärnu, on the southwest coast, and Lake Peipus, straddling the border with Russia, are popular summer spots with the western islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa abound with authentic Estonian ambience emanating from thatched roofs, wooden windmills and slumbering fishing villages.
If you're looking for a walk on the wild side then bogs or birdwatching will do the trick, although getting flayed in a smoke filled sauna often refreshes parts of the Baltics that other activities simply cannot reach.
Find out more in our Estonia travel guide.
the smallest country in the Baltics but knocking on the Nordic door like it wants to get out.
going to be overshadowed by Soviets, stag dos or Swedish saunas.
Estonia map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
The journey from Tallinn, on the north coast, to Tartu, just south of centre, takes about two hours and from there you're half an hour from Lake Peipus to the east or a couple of hours from Pärnu on the southwest coast. Day trips to Lahemaa National Park work well from Tallinn, and if you're looking to travel south into Latvia and on to Lithuania, the lack of visa controls and shared currency make border crossings no problem at all. Heading to the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu is accomplished via a short ferry ride, with ancient Angla windmills, stone sculptured churches and one of Estonia's best preserved medieval castles, Kuressaare, adding to salty sea air and a more simplistic pace of life.
Tallinn's Old Town is like stepping into a medieval fairytale of Gothic spires and clattering horses’ hooves. Enter via the original walled arch and you'll find cobbled streets leading to pedestrianised squares aligned with pastel coloured buildings bearing craftsmen guilds signs and topped with red tiled, conical roofs. Open air cafés, bars and market stalls add to an ambience that's a bit like a mini-Prague.
Estonia’s second largest city is home to the country’s intellectuals with the university playing a large part in the concentration of student haunts, including the Gunpowder Cellar which boasts the world’s highest pub ceiling. A stroll around Tartu’s historic Supilinn district, on the banks of the Emajõgi River, leads to ramshackle wooden buildings, streets named after vegetables and a less than salubrious past.
Shifting sand dunes and uncrowded beaches make Lake Peipus an excellent option during the summer with villages such as Alajõe, Kolkja and the lakeside town of Mustvee promising picturesque picnic spots and places of worship for Russian Old Believers. Straddling Estonia and Russia, Lake Peipus was once the preserve of the Soviets but now more in tune with walkers and waders than with Radio KGB.
Lahemaa National Park
One of Europe’s largest national parks, Lahemaa preserves the wetlands and forests of northern Estonia. Viru bog is one of the country’s most accessible with a 3.5km boardwalk leading to a viewing tower from where to survey marsh, heath and bogs from above. Hidden within the forests are four impressive manor houses and Käsmu, on the coast, offers pretty bays and maritime heritage.
Saaremaa is the largest island in the west Estonian archipelago and slap bang in the middle of the migratory bird flight path, meaning it’s festooned with feathers either side of summer. A ferry takes travelers from the mainland to neighbouring islands where forested and coastal cycle tracks lead to lighthouses, meteorite craters and beaches, accompanied by pungent junipers and traditionally smoked plaice.
If you do like to be beside the seaside then the promenades of Pärnu are just perfect with chances to cycle, swim or go kayaking adding to the 'day at the beach' ambience. Summers can be busy with numerous restaurants, festivals and night clubs drawing in the crowds, however, visit in any other season and you’ll discover a deserted stretch of coastline, ideal for uninterrupted nature walks.