Estonia is a Baltic gem offering visitors the chance to see a tiny dynamic land on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short.
One of the few countries to have emerged out of the Soviet set-up and learned quickly to pull its own weight, Estonia is, without doubt, the showcase story. In the early part of the last decade, the country got its first taste of independence – sweet and bitter though it was – the euphoria of freedom foiled by long lines to get rations, fuel in addition to skyrocketing inflation. Today Estonia is catching up with the rest of Europe but is luckily still affordable for the budget traveller. If you are fascinated by the thought of blood sausages on your dinner plate, love crisp sea breezes and lush forests, are adventurous enough to go bog walking, and willing to try a syrupy liquor of dubious distillation, Estonia is waiting for you.
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ESTONIA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Tallinn
- Currency: Euro
- Area: total: 45,227 km²
- Population: 1,329 million (2020)
- Language: Estonian (official)
- Religion: Evangelical Lutheran, Estonian Traditional/Native Belief, Russian Orthodox, Estonian Orthodox
- Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)
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ESTONIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 24 February, Independence Day (1918)
- 1 May, Spring Day
- 23 June, Victory Day
- 24 June, St. John’s Day
- 20 August, Restoration of Independence (1991)
- 26 December, 2nd Day of Christmas
Holidays falling on a weekend are not moved.
Business openings and work schedules may be significantly affected by Christian holidays.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ESTONIA
The best time to visit the Baltic States is late spring or summer when there’s usually enough fine weather to allow you to stroll around the cities and make significant forays into the great outdoors. On the whole, though, the only thing that’s predictable about the Baltic climate is the deep, dark winters – in all other seasons, the weather can be changeable in the extreme.
Summers are relatively short (roughly mid-June to late August), and although you may well experience a string of hot, dry days during this period, showers and chilly nights are equally likely. Remember to pack a waterproof jacket and warm sweater alongside your T-shirts.
Temperatures cool down rapidly from mid-September onwards, although autumn can be an extraordinarily beautiful season in which to visit, with the golden brown leaves of deciduous trees contrasting with the dark-green pines.
The first snowfalls can come as early as mid-November and by early to mid-December winter sets in with a vengeance. Average daytime temperatures can remain below zero right through until March, plummeting to minus 15–20°C in particularly cold spells. Winter can of course be a magical time, with lakes, rivers, and large expanses of the Baltic Sea freezing over, and crunchy snow cover adding an air of enchantment to medieval city centers.
Even when the spring thaw sets in, the countryside can remain grey and barren until well into April (or even May in northern Estonia), when a sudden explosion of colour transforms the landscape. The countryside takes on a green lushness, drawing cattle and horses out from their winter barns, while city-dwellers indulge in a frenzied stampede for the pavement cafés.
April & May - See the country shake off winter’s gloom.
June to August - White nights, beach parties, and loads of summer festivals.
December - Christmas markets, mulled wine, and long, cozy nights.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN ESTONIA
The snow sports season in Estonia can start in November and last until the end of March. The best time for fresh snow is often mid-March.
HIKING & CYCLING IN ESTONIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Estonia is from May to October.
BEACH OPTIONS IN ESTONIA
Estonia has some beautiful beaches with their short summer beach season stretching from the beginning of June to the end of August.
SURFING IN ESTONIA
The surf season in Estonia is anytime from September to May, with the best surfing conditions during the colder months of September to December.
KITESURF IN ESTONIA
Estonia can have good winds for both windsurfing and kitesurfing almost all year round, except when it's snowing! May to October are the best months.
For more details on kite surfing in Estonia expand this section!
ESTONIA TRAVEL COSTS
Estonia is generally cheaper than Western Europe, but it is no longer the bargain it used to be in the 1990s; and in touristy areas (like Tallinn's Old Town), prices are at Scandinavian levels.
In 2019 bottle of local beer (0,5l) costs around 1€ in shops and 2,5-3,5€ in modest pubs. Hard liquor, especially vodka is cheap compared to Western standards, with a 0.5l bottle of local mid-range vodka going for around 10€ in supermarkets. Food prices are close to Western European standards, usually somewhat cheaper but with some being paradoxically more expensive and can even closer to Finnish prices. Western goods like clothes and electronics are as expensive or even more so than in the actual West. In general, Estonia is more expensive than the 2 other Baltic states and far more expensive than Russia.
ESTONIA TRAVEL TIPS
Buses are a good option domestically, as they're more frequent than trains and cover many destinations not serviced by the limited rail network. TPilet (www.tpilet.ee) has schedules and prices for all services. For comfortable, low-cost bus travel you can also have a look at FlixBus who runs the largest bus network in Europe.
Trains are handy for getting between Tallinn and Tartu, but services to Pärnu are extremely limited
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF ESTONIA
North Estonia - The most industrialized region containing over 1/3 of the population of Estonia. Tallinn, with its nightlife and UNESCO-protected medieval Old Town, is a well-known tourist attraction. You will find are many small and beautiful beach villages along the coastline as well with Lahemaa National Park an hour away from Tallinn.
East Estonia - As close as you can get to Russia! The seaside resorts, of Toila and Narva-Jõesuu, are considered to be among the best in the country.
West Estonia and Islands - well known for its resorts, Haapsalu and Pärnu (the summer capital of Estonia), and its islands (Saaremaa and Hiiumaa being the biggest). This region also has historical significance. Noarootsi and the islands of Ruhnu and Vormsi have been (and are) inhabited by coastal Swedes. Other unique places include the islands Kihnu and Muhu with their rich cultural heritage and the national parks — Vilsandi National Park and Matsalu National Park.
South Estonia - This region is centered around the lively university city of Tartu. Further south and south-east are Setomaa and Mulgimaa with their unique cultural heritage that's still visible today. Karula National Park and Soomaa National Park are also part of the region, as are the ski resorts near Otepää.
Tallinn — The capital city with an enchanting medieval core. If you’re labouring under the misconception that ‘former Soviet’ means dull and grey and that all tourist traps are soulless, Tallinn will delight in proving you wrong. This city has charm by the bucket load, fusing the modern and medieval to come up with a vibrant vibe all of its own. It’s an intoxicating mix of church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces, appealing eateries, brooding battlements, shiny shopping malls, run-down wooden houses, and cafes set on sunny squares – with a few Soviet throwbacks in the mix.
Tartu — Estonia's second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities. Tartu was the cradle of Estonia’s 19th-century national revival and lays claim to being the nation's cultural capital. Locals talk about a special Tartu vaim (spirit), created by the time-stands-still feel of its wooden houses and stately buildings, and by the beauty of its parks and riverfront. It's also Estonia’s premier university town, with students making up nearly one-fifth of the population – guaranteeing a vibrant nightlife for a city of its size.
Pärnu — historical resort seaside city with a small harbor, Estonia's summer capital. Local families, young party-goers, and German, Swedish and Finnish holidaymakers join together in a collective prayer for sunny weather while strolling the golden-sand beaches, sprawling parks, and picturesque historic center of Pärnu (pair-nu), Estonia's premier seaside resort. The main thoroughfare of the old town is Rüütli, lined with splendid buildings dating back to the 17th century.
Haapsalu — A seaside resort town.
Kuressaare — Home of the Kuressaare castle.
Narva — The easternmost point of the mainland European Union.
Rakvere — Known for its castle ruins and unique character.
Viljandi — Home of the annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival.
Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else. Estonia's tranquil, laidback and unspoiled Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature.
Lahemaa National Park — 50km east of Tallinn, with 1000km² of bays, peninsulas, and forests. The perfect country retreat from the capital, Lahemaa takes in a stretch of coast indented with peninsulas and bays, plus 475 sq km of pine-fresh forested hinterland. Visitors are looked after with cozy guesthouses, remote seaside campgrounds, and a network of pine-scented forest trails.
Hiiumaa — The second largest island of Estonia.
Saaremaa — including the town of Kuressaare and one of few well-preserved medieval castles in the Baltics.
Soomaa National Park — a peat bog formed from a glacier melt from around 11,000 years ago.
Vilsandi National Park — covers 238km², including 163km² of sea and 75km² of land, plus 160 islands and islets.
WHAT TO EAT IN ESTONIA
Estonian gastronomy mixes Nordic, Russian and German influences, and prizes local and seasonal produce. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, black pudding, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.
Pork and potatoes -The traditional stodgy standbys, prepared a hundred different ways.
Other favourites - Black bread, sauerkraut, black pudding, smoked meat and fish, creamy salted butter and sour cream, which is served with almost everything.
Desserts - On the sweet side, you'll find delicious chocolates, marzipan and cakes.
Seasonal In summer - Berries enter the menu in both sweet and savoury dishes, while everyone goes crazy for forest mushrooms in the autumn.
Favourite drinks - Õlu (beer) is the favourite alcoholic drink. Popular brands include Saku and A Le Coq, and aficionados should seek out the product of the local microbreweries such as Tallinn's Põhjala. Other tipples include vodka (Viru Valge and Saremaa are the best-known local brands) and Vana Tallinn, a syrupy sweet liqueur, also available in a cream version.
LGBTQ IN ESTONIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Estonia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Estonia. Since 1 January 2016, same-sex couples may register their relationship as a cohabitation agreement, which gives them almost all the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, same-sex couples are unable to marry or jointly adopt.
Estonia is considered, by most, to be the most liberal former-Soviet country when it comes to LGBT rights. Acceptance of LGBT people has grown significantly since the early 21st century, though there is a notable age gap, as younger people tend to be more tolerant and liberal, while older people tend to be more socially conservative. Although there is still not an overwhelming majority who accept same-sex relationships, Estonia does host an annual Baltic Pride Parade.
WHERE TO STAY IN ESTONIA
In the budget category you'll find hostels, basic guesthouses (many with shared bathrooms) and camping grounds (generally open from mid-May to September). A dorm bed usually costs €12 to €15, and is can be a couple of euro more expensive over the weekends. Midrange options include family-run guesthouses and hotel rooms (private bathroom and breakfast generally included). At the top end there are spa resorts, historic hotels and modern tower blocks catering to the business set.
During the peak tourist season (June to August) you should try to book well in advance, particularly if you're looking for a bed in Tallinn on the weekend.