Estonia is one of my favourite countries in Europe to visit and it has always been a real surprise packet, with all kinds of interesting towns in each corner and even relaxing island resorts – plus a whole lot of interesting history and culture to discover. Outside of the capital city of Tallinn, there is a lot to see and here are my travel tips for things to do in Estonia.
The south-east city of Tartu is the biggest Estonian city after Tallinn, and it’s considered aÂ universityÂ town – which makes it both an interesting and fun place to be. There are a lot of literary highlights of Tartu, related both to Estonian and to international writers; a great art gallery in a particularly interesting leaning building, and visitors can also explore parts of the University of Tartu – including my favourite part, the Student Lock-Up, where in times past students were “imprisoned” for such crimes as not returning their library books on time!
Oscar and Eduard Wilde statues in TartuÂ byÂ Alastair Rae
PÃ¤rnu is the “summer capital” of Estonia, a small town on the south-west coast with lots of sandy beaches and a full calendar of summer attractions. These include numerous music festivals, a medieval arts and crafts festival, various concerts and fun fairs near the beach.
PÃ¤rnu beachesÂ byÂ Antonio BonannoÂ
Saaremaa and Other Islands
A big surprise to me was how summery the islands of Saaremaa Â and those surrounding them felt, for such a northern European country! The usually quiet Saaremaa, the largest of the Estonian islands, gets quite busy over summer but is still a relaxed place to visit. There are numerous other large and small islands nearby if it is too busy for you – I spent a day on Abruka, population at the time just fourteen.
Old windmills on Saaremaa by Camera on autopilot
The eastern border town of Narva, directly on the Russian border, was the first place I set foot in on my initial visit to Estonia. I felt instantly welcome (the tourist office back then – in 2003, when few tourists visited – was pleased to see me, and the contrast in friendliness after spending a month in Russia was quite high!). You can see the fortress and Narva Castle on the river which forms the border with Russia and the Russian influence around the town is interesting to observe, too.
Narva Castle byÂ sludgegulper
Lahemaa National Park
Nature is thriving in Estonia (it even exports wild animals to support reforestation efforts in other European countries!) and the Lahemaa National Park, a short drive from Tallinn, is a nice place to experience some of it. There are numerous hiking trails and it is also popular to make a bike tour around Lahemaa.
Waterfall in Lahemaa by hanspoldoja
OtepÃ¤Ã¤ in southern Estonia is the place to head if your trip takes place in winter – it’s the ski capital of Estonia. Skiing – both regular and cross-country – is popular around here and there is even an annual ice fishing competition. It’s also picturesque in summer with plenty of hiking through the national park.
Snowy road toÂ OtepÃ¤Ã¤ byÂ Tanukik
The small town of Paide rates a mention in tourist circles because it’s geographically right in the middle of the country – so they tag it “the heart of Estonia”. Its most famous sight is the eight-sided tower named Paide Vallitorn and because it’s so central and easy to reach from all the major cities, it also holds numerous festivals of all kinds throughout the year.
Paide Vallitorn byÂ carlosj
TheÂ JÃ¤gala Waterfall, while not huge by waterfall standards, is probably the most scenic in Estonia (the largest are the Valaste Falls). The falls are in the northern part of the country on theÂ JÃ¤gala River.
JÃ¤gala WaterfallÂ by rene j
Towns that spill over two country’s borders always fascinate me and Valga is part of a bigger town on the border between Estonia and Latvia – the Latvian part is called Valka, very close! You can visit the Valga Museum and the Jaani Church and it’s an obvious stopover point if you’re headed for Riga in Latvia after exploring Estonia.
Valga byÂ Jens-Olaf
The north-eastern town of Rakvere is rapidly becoming a popular spot for visitors, mostly due to its festivals. It hosted the first ever Estonian Punk Song festival and is also the location for an international rock music festival called “Green Christmas”; plus the Baltoscandal international theatre festival takes place in Rakvere every second year.
Baltoscandal in Rakvere by Villehoo