Estonia is unique among the countries of Northern Europe. A history of struggle between neighbouring powers has resulted in a geographically Baltic country with a distinct Nordic flair, in addition to strong Russian influence. As the country modernized following the end of the Cold War, it never lost sight of where it came from – and nowhere is this more evident than the vibrant city of Tallinn. A less populated, but strikingly beautiful countryside is a great way to experience the other face of what is one of Europe’s most quickly growing tourist destinations. We’ll give you some examples of where to go in Estonia so you can start planning your next vacation today!
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Roads are generally comprehensive and drivable throughout the country, though some remote roads aren’t up to great standards. As a result, a car or bus is usually your best bet to navigate Estonia. Chances are you’ll enter the country by way of Tallinn, which serves as an ideal hub to start your journey. You can also take the train, especially if you’re close to the capital and wish to travel to another major city, though they are not comprehensive throughout the entire country. Overall, you should have little issue getting to where you want to go as long as you plan ahead.
Summer weather is generally pleasant (an average of 16.4°C), though temperatures can get hotter. It’s also worth mentioning that due to the country’s northern location, summer days last around 19 hours. While it rains a fair bit during spring and fall, don’t let that dampen your vacation plans!. During winter months, temperatures will fall below freezing, but it remains a great time to visit Tallinn or enjoy some cross-country skiing.
Where to go in Estonia
The capital of Estonia is quickly becoming one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe and is the one place you absolutely have to see in the country. Unlike some other post-Soviet locations, Tallinn feels incredibly unique and vibrant with a strong Nordic flair to boot. The Medieval Old Town is the most impressive portion of the city. A walk around the cobblestone streets winding between striking buildings, some nearly 1000 years old, transports you back to a bygone era – without losing the amenities and great restaurants you’d expect from a European capital. While the entire area within the old city wall is beautiful, expect a lot of tourists in the summer.
Beyond the Old Town, Tallinn shows a much more modern face mixed with Soviet era architecture. The city is highly developed thanks to an economic boom over the last couple decades and the amount of skyscrapers, bars, and restaurants are what you’d expect from a major city. Speaking of bars, Tallinn once had quite the reputation as a slightly seedy getaway in the region. Today, the city is much more refined and comforting to all ages, though the great party atmosphere remains. Whether it’s the pubs or beer cellars of the Old Town or one of the many modern nightclubs, the festivities are among the best on the continent and last late into the night.
Lahemaa National Park
Situated only about 50 km from Tallinn, Estonia’s oldest and largest national park showcases a drastically different side of the country. Thanks to its prime coastal location, the 725 square kilometre park is able to present an almost complete picture of the different environments in the country. Lahemaa translates to ‘Land of Bays’, and the long coastline lives up to its name with bays and beaches (both sandy and rocky) aplenty. The interior offers acres and acres of forest, lakes, rivers, bogs, rolling hills, and more. There are many guesthouses, campgrounds, and other lodgings spread throughout the region, giving visitors a wealth of options to choose from while also introducing them to rural Estonian life.
The biggest and most popular island in the country offers a landscape both picturesque and classically Estonian. During the Soviet era, no one could visit the island except in special circumstances due to military installations, so there is less evidence of the modern, changing face of the country here. Instead, visitors are treated to windmills, small villages, and untouched wilderness. There is a distinct culture and history to Saaremaa that sets it apart from the mainland. While this might sound like a rustic escape from urban life, the capital of Kuressaare especially has become world-famous for top-notch spas (which is the reason for many visits to the island). Last but certainly not least, Saaremaa has developed a reputation for great beer brewing and can’t be missed by any discerning drinker.
Welcome to Estonia’s summer capital. With a prime seaside location and great beaches, Pärnu has developed into the top destination for partygoers during the warmest months of the year. While the nightclubs and crowds are the main draw for younger visitors, the city has many other, slightly more relaxing, sights. The historical buildings and lush parks are enchanting for tourists of all ages while the many cafes and restaurants help to make any trip a rich cultural experience. Still, most people come and stay for the party scene and sandy beach. If you’re looking to let loose, you won’t be disappointed.
Estonia’s second largest city offers a significantly different experience from Tallinn or Pärnu. The city is most famous for its centuries old University of Tartu (the premier university in the country). As a result, there is a very academic and intellectual air to Tartu, seen in everything from the classrooms, to the theatres, to the museums. Of course, being a university town has its benefits, particularly when it comes to an active nightlife and cultural scene. Many of the buildings date back to before Soviet times (the era of functional architecture), which makes Tartu a very pretty city. Despite the city’s small size, the wealth of sights and sounds ensure you’ll never get bored.
Pärnu might be the summer capital of Estonia, but Otepää is the winter one. The town itself is very small (just over 2000 people live here), but it is the gateway for a wide variety of outdoor adventures. During the winter months, visitors come from all over to partake in cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and most other activities involving snow you can think of. The town is worth a visit anytime of the year, with hiking, biking, saunas, and swimming popular pastimes in the surrounding region. While the tongue in cheek nickname ‘Estonian Alps’ might suggest mountains, keep in mind the country is mostly flat so this is for cross-country excursions, not downhill.
This large (albeit shallow) lake sits right along the border of Estonia and Russia. The tourist infrastructure is largely dead, but that hasn’t changed the beautiful beaches, especially along the northern coast. While the lack of tourist accommodation can be an impediment to travel, this has resulted in a much more private getaway than some of the better-known waterside destinations in the country. There are also unique cultural communities along the side of the lake, as well as (obviously) Russia itself. While it may not be the simplest trip, the picturesque lakeshore is worth the effort.
How much does it cost?
Round trip flights to Tallinn are relatively expensive from Pearson, plus you will always have a layover in another European city. For this reason, it is often easier to visit Estonia if you are already on the continent and can take a budget airline direct to the capital. That being said, flying from Pearson will generally cost around the $1400 Canadian mark +/- $200. Be sure to adjust your arrival/departure dates as well as your airline and which European city you enter the country from in order to find the best possible rate.
Once you arrive in Estonia, expect an average day’s expenses to run about $69 with a budget of $34 for accommodation and $19 for food. A thrifty traveler could likely get by with the small sum of $28 per day while the higher end of travel styles will set you back about $162 per day. All things considered, Estonia is a relatively cheap country to visit by European standards, though prices will vary considerably depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Estonia uses the euro, so it currently remains a good time to make the trip to take advantage of the currency’s low value.
Health and Safety
Estonia is a relatively safe country, with the Canadian government recommending normal security precautions throughout (there is no nationwide advisory). There is some violent crime in the country, though foreigners are not usually targeted. However, you should be on the look out for petty crime in tourist hotspots and public areas (namely Tallinn’s Old Town). Avoid parks and areas without sufficient lighting, as well as the areas of Kopli and Lasnamäe in Tallinn after dark. Be careful out on the roads, especially in the countryside. Rules are often ignored, roads might not be lit well, and the winter can bring snow and ice. In addition, pedestrians must wear small reflective equipment at night (easily purchased) in rural areas. Lastly, use only officially marked taxis with a legit company. Overall, Estonia should be a very safe and secure getaway, and as long as you use your best judgment, there shouldn’t be anything standing in the way of a memorable trip.
These are just a few examples of where to go in Estonia, there’s tons more to see and do. If you think somewhere else should be on the list, let us know in the comments. Check out our Country of the Week for more general information about the history and culture of Estonia as well as our Currency Spotlight for information on the euro.
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