Overview of Estonia
Estonia is considered a Baltic state in Northern Europe, sharing its borders with Russia and Latvia. Estonia is a proud part of the European Union. It was once under Soviet rule and remnants of the Soviet era can still be seen. The beaches which dot the extensive coastline are more for show since the swimming season is very short. Baltic Countries are famed for their short summers and harsh winters.
Estonia survived seven centuries of German, Polish, Swedish, Danish and Russian rule, finally becoming independent in 1918. However, it formed a part of the Soviet Union in 1940, again regaining its independence in 1991. As a former communist state, Estonia prospers today despite a decline in its population. This is largely due to the economic and political ties which it has formed with the rest of Western Europe.
As a holiday destination, Estonia is becoming more and more popular. Part of this reason is because of its decision to join the EU. It is one of the most popular destinations in North-Eastern Europe with a boom in tourism over the last few years. Citizens from EU, USA, New Zealand, Canada or Australia don’t need a visa to visit. Estonia uses the Euro as its currency.
Climate and Geography
Estonia has a maritime climate, with largely wet conditions, moderate winters and cool summers. Because of its position near the Baltic sea, the weather is very much dictated by the sea breezes.
Summer sees temperatures rise as high as 30°C with the summer average a cool but pleasant 16°C. In summer there can be as much as 19 hours of daylight, nicknamed the “white nights” because of the lack of dark skies at night.
Spring and autumn have lots of light rain, so be sure to bring an umbrella and waterproof jacket. In winter the rain turns to snow when the temperature drops below zero so wrap up warm and get ready for some snow sports, as there will be no shortage of snow!
Winters here also are dull and bitterly cold with temperatures plummeting to around -5°C, and only 6 hours of daylight in the months between November and January. The best time of year to visit Estonia is in July which is the warmest month and averages around 18°C.
Estonia’s terrain is characterized by marshy lowlands, and plenty of them. Over 50% of Estonia is covered in forest, and it is known for being flat in the north and hilly in the south.
The Baltic Sea lies at just 0 m and is the lowest point in Estonia.
Estonia’s mainland terrain is flat, boggy, and partly wooded. There are over 1,500 islands and islets offshore as part of Estonia’s geography. Because of the large area of woodland in Estonia, the wildlife here is very interesting with a mix of bears, lynx, elks, deers as well as some rare birds and plants. The wild animals from Estonia are exported to some EU countries for forest repopulation programmes.
Tallinn: The capital of Estonia, Tallinn has a population of around 400,000 inhabitants and is home to the most intact medieval city centre in the world. The city is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Tallinn blends medieval architecture with Scandinavian modernity and has all the comforts of a modern capital. Despite this, Tallinn is still able to retain its own identity, which makes this city so special.
Tartu: The university city of Tartu is located at the banks of the Emajõgi river. With a large student population and wealth of museums, Tartu is always different, quirky and interesting. Tourists come to Tartu to see the famous kissing sculpture and use it as a base for exploring South Estonia.
Rakvere: Located near the north coast and Lahemaa National Park, Rakvere is dominated by a medieval castle and a huge statue of ‘Tarvas’ the bull. The city itself is quite small but attracts a large number of art lovers each year, with plenty of art galleries to keep tourists happy.
Narva: Home to one of the best preserved castles in Estonia – the Hermann Fortress, Narva has a large population of Russian language speakers and the city has some great examples of Soviet architecture.
Pärnu: world renowned for being a top class spa resort, Pärnu is a beautiful, historic seaside city and is the heart of Estonia during the summer. It plays host to a large number of festivals and other events throughout the year, and it has a small harbour which is popular with tourists who love to sail the Baltic Sea.
Viljandi: An ancient hilly city in South Estonia, Viljandi is topped by the impressive ruins of a once-powerful Livonian Order castle. A quaint city with cobbled streets, ancient oak trees and a beautiful lake makes Viljandi perfect for those who love sightseeing and something special. The Viljandi Folk Festival attracts thousands of people each year who perform in over a 100 events spanning 4 days.
You can travel to Estonia by plane, train, automobile or boat (ferries and cruises).
Consider Tallinn as Estonia’s International gateway with flights coming in daily from all major European cities such as London, Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels. The local carrier is Estonian Air which provides half of the services with the rest being provided by other carriers. Easyjet is one of one of the budget carriers providing a service between Tallinn and major European cities. It costs as little as £80 to fly from London to Tallinn.
Road travel means good driving conditions and no traffic jams – the road network is very well built and serves Estonia well. You can hire a car quite reasonably in Tallinn and other main cities. It’s actually a good way to travel around.
Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of sea and air travel. The ferry routes connect Tallinn with Sweden, Helsinki in Finland and with Germany during the height of summer. The most popular route is between Tallinn and Helsinki with 20 ferry crossings daily and nearly 30 different fast-boat and hydrofoil crossings (hydrofoils don’t operate in winter).
Rail travel in Estonia isn’t as well connected as the bus service is. International services are running daily to and from Moscow. The rail network isn’t so extensive within Estonia, and if you are relying on rail to get around, you may want to reconsider and use the bus instead.
The bus network in Estonia is superbly connected all over the country. All major cities such as Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Narva are accessible by bus. There is a journey planner called peatus.ee which is available in English and should be checked in advance to help plan your journey better.
Be sure to visit the local Tourism Information Centres for more information and maps, or to help you plan your trip better.
Things to See and Do
Tallinn has a beautiful medieval old town which was built by the Germans in the Middle Ages and is perfectly preserved, being one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. The city walls and towers are almost intact and is rated as one of Europe’s best medieval old towns.
Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn was an 18th Century marvel built for Peter the Great. Today it is home to the Foreign Art Museum. The Niguliste church is a stone’s throw away from the town hall square, and although a church, is used for various concerts and exhibitions instead of worship.
Estonia has a long standing history of beautiful churches, and the Toomkirik is no exception. As the oldest church in Estonia, this Dome Church was built in the 13th Century and has fantastic views over the town and the harbour.
Kadriorg Park covers an area of around 247 acres of land, and consists of picturesque landscape gardens, a Flower Garden and a Swan Lake. The park is also home to Kadriorg Palace – a popular tourist hotspot for all visitors and locals alike. The palace has forest groves and meadows with paths running through it. Certainly worth a visit, especially in the summer months.
There are several National parks in Estonia, and one of the best is the Sooma National Park. World renowned for its extensive boglands and rivers, this National Park is for all lovers of water. Here you can see eerie mist on the bogs in the morning and learn more about elks, wolves and lynx!
Tallinn offers tourists a complete tour of around 2.5hrs and covering all major tourist hotspots in Tallinn. You’ll visit Kadriorg Park, the Song Festival Grounds and Pirita district all with full commentary in English.
The tour also allows you to go on foot with a dedicated tour guide and you’ll visit the Old Town, Toompea Hill, the Parliament Building, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Dome Church and the scenic viewpoint. You can call +372 610 8634 or visit the tour’s web page for more information.
The Estonian History Museum in the Great Guild Hall is a great place to learn more about the history of Estonia from the 18th Century onwards. There is also the Niguliste museum which covers religious artefacts and gorgeous silver work, while the Kumu art museum covers Estonian art from various eras.