8 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Estonia
Estonia is a small country on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Finland to the north and Latvia to the west, with Russia to the east. It is home to a fascinating history that has been characterized by conflict between the two most powerful empires of the day, the Scandinavian Vikings and the the Russian Empire. The balance of power was tipped in favor of the Nordic world by the Battle of Visby in 1461, when the city of Visby in northern Estonia was taken from the Russians.
The post-Soviet era has brought peace to this fascinating country, and its unique and ancient landmarks, the charming stone castles and cobbled lanes, and the lively cities are evidence of the rich past that Estonia's little country has had.
Discover the best places to visit in Estonia with our list of the top tourist attractions in Estonia.
With a backdrop of rugged limestone peaks and a seemingly endless coastline of broad, white beaches and safe, blue water, Kuressaare has a decidedly picturesque quality. The quaint fishing town is a world apart from the capital Tallinn. It makes an excellent destination from which to explore the island of Saaremaa, which lies to the east. An old university town in the center of the island, Kuressaare offers a good selection of cafes and restaurants. In town, the quirky old tavernas of the city center and the lively pubs in the residential area of Hiiu offer good drinking and food choices. Rannas Lighthouse is the island's best known attraction, as well as the most emblematic building in the city, where on the morning of 1 May 1919, the people of the island rose up in rebellion against the German army, and the Estonian War of Independence was declared. Although the rebellion was not supported by the majority of the islanders, it succeeded in garnering support from the islanders of Vironia (the Estonian name for Saaremaa) and of the neighboring islands. With a population of around 57,000, Saaremaa boasts nine well-run beach resorts and a tourist infrastructure that allows travelers to easily visit all the main sights of the island. There are daily buses to and from both Tallinn and Tartu.
Situated on an island in the Baltic Sea, and the country's capital city, Tallinn is one of Europe's best-preserved medieval cities. Spreading across 14th-century fortified buildings, the old town has cobblestone streets and a maze of houses with street art and huge wooden window frames above bustling cafés and trendy bars. When you visit, be sure to visit the Estonian Art Museum, showcasing the work of masters such as Gauguin and Picasso. Or travel to the island of Hiiumaa, where you can enjoy the experience of a traditional Estonian luihvuuse (log boat) in beautiful waters with islands like Jänibuss, where the "Chocolate Hills" appear to float in the sea.
Tartu, in the northwest of Estonia, is the capital of Ida-Virumaa county and one of the oldest cities in the country. Founded in the 12th century, the city walls, built in the early 17th century and protected by the ramparts and towers at the southern end, still stand today. Ideal for peaceful strolling, the city center, with its medieval townhouses, old universities, churches, and fascinating small museums, is also home to several of Tartu's best restaurants and nightspots. Not far from the center, an easy drive away is the neighboring village of Old Tartu (Vana Tartu), a charming place with a village-like atmosphere. It's renowned for the 19th century Old Castle Museum, a building with a distinctive circular central tower and iron gates that recall the Middle Ages. You will find several places to stay, including the historic Old Tartu Hotel, whose main building dates back to the 18th century. Close to Old Tartu is the Kalevi Inn, which has a fantastic restaurant.
Haapsalu is the most easterly town in Estonia, nestled in the peninsula of Saltsa that stretches north to the North Cape of Sweden. It was founded in 1198, and a fort, castle, and cathedral were built by the Russians in 1710. A visit to the Romuva Stuudios, where more than 70 dramas have been performed since 1811, is an absolute must. The productions put on here include a number of very popular music-hall plays, including "The Old Mill House" and "The Small Schoolmaster," and performances such as "The Siida Wheel," about the Swedish Troll who died when his wheel of fortune went wild. Other events include puppet shows and fashion parades. In addition to the theater, there are a number of shops, two restaurants, and a church-run coffee house. There is free Wi-Fi available throughout the town, which can be used to browse the Internet as well. As with many European towns, the center of Haapsalu is medieval, with old-fashioned buildings and narrow, winding streets.
Estonian National Museum
Proudly modeled after the legendary Palace of Versailles, the Estonian National Museum in the capital city of Tallinn is a must-see for any history buff and architecture aficionado. Its grand galleries showcase the highlights of Estonian history, which include not only a nice number of Viking items, but also thousands of paintings from the Baltic landscape.
Paldiski is a small town in north-western Estonia with beautiful beaches, a castle, and several intriguing museums. Paldiski was at one time the castle of two Russian tsars and is surrounded by a wall that was designed by French royal architect Claude Perrault. It also has one of Estonia's best-preserved artillery fortresses. Despite being much older than Tallinn, Paldiski offers a great nightlife scene. Dining out is also an option as there is a number of great restaurants and cafes along with bars. The beach at Paldiski is lined with cafes and restaurants for a great beachside atmosphere. Shopping is also a draw for visitors as Paldiski is home to many small stores selling quirky gifts and souvenirs.
Saaremaa is the largest island in Estonia and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The most important center of the island is the village of Sillamäe, which lies in a high valley north of the island's highest peak of Pirita. The 18th-century church of Sillamäe has an interesting chapel built by German architect Joachim Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. Other attractions on Saaremaa include the medieval-style Sillamäe Castle, a 19th-century country house with a park covering 48 hectares of woodland; a temple and cemetery dating back to the 14th century; and an area of marshland and meadows, home to nature reserves and an extinct volcano at Käsmu. Transportation is by ferry from the port of Rotalia on the mainland.
Narva Old Town
Set in a crescent of low hills, Old Town is characterized by a network of winding lanes with medieval churches, shady tree-lined streets, ancient fortified walls and narrow bridges. The scene that emerges is a rich collection of traditional half-timbered houses in pretty colors, some of which house workshops where the craftsman will gladly give you a lesson. Narva's history is rich and complicated, owing much to the conflicting fortunes of its large Jewish population. As a border town and European theater of warfare, Narva was often the scene of military triumph and defeat; indeed, as the last region of Lithuania to remain outside Russian control, Narva has more monuments from the Napoleonic era than almost any other town in the world. In 1992, an exhibition was organized in the town's cathedral that shed light on its tumultuous past and enabled people to discover its great beauty. The exhibition, "Narva of 1000 Years: A City of Memories," was reopened in 2005 with a commemorative celebration. Narva Old Town is easily visited on foot, but some excursions include a cruise on the Narva River to view the three golden domes of St. Nicholas Church on the opposite bank. Narva's museums include the Lithuanian National Art Museum (established in 1989), the Museum of the Revolution and the Subbotin Museum.