The northernmost and smallest of the Baltic states, the country has charming old towns and heritage back to the Hanseatic League. Tallinn's medieval old town was built by the Germans in Middle Ages and is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost completely intact, and it rates as one of Europe's best medieval old towns. Visitors can also experience an ex-Soviet republic that is now part of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet era are still there to be seen, e.g. Paldiski, a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves, can easily be visited on a day trip from the capital, Tallinn. Estonia is renowned for its bucolic islands and extensive bogs that are now national parks with easy access for tourists. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short—after all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather.
Estonia is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond). To bring out the unique characteristics of Estonia, we use 4 regions in this guide. As the country is small, most destinations can be reached within a couple of hours from Tallinn.
|North Estonia |
The most industrialized region with over 1/3 of the population. Tallinn, with its nightlife and UNESCO-protected medieval Old Town, is a well-known tourist attraction. There are many beautiful small beach villages, such as Kaberneeme, Laulasmaa, Nõva, Käsmu and Võsu. Lahemaa National Park can be reached within an hour from Tallinn.
|East Estonia |
Ida-Viru county, adjacent to Russia. Narva, with its many landmarks, is the easternmost point of the country. Seaside resorts, such as Toila and Narva-Jõesuu, are among the best in Estonia.
|West Estonia and Islands |
Known for its resorts, Haapsalu and Pärnu (the summer capital of Estonia), and its islands (Saaremaa and Hiiumaa the biggest). The region has historical significance. Noarootsi and the islands of Ruhnu and Vormsi are inhabited by coastal Swedes. Other unique places include the islands Kihnu and Muhu with their rich cultural heritage and the national parks of Vilsandi and Matsalu.
|South Estonia |
Centred around the lively university city of Tartu. Further south and south-east are Mulgimaa, Võromaa and Setomaa with a unique cultural heritage that's still visible today. Karula National Park, Soomaa National Park and the ski resorts near Otepää are in the region.
- 1 Tallinn – The capital, and financial and cosmopolitan centre of Estonia, with a medieval Old Town. Beautiful and expensive (compared to other Estonian towns).
- 2 Tartu – Museum-rich and hanseatic city on the banks of the Emajõgi River. Also, Estonia's second-largest and oldest city, intellectual hub famous for its universities, and a lively student city.
- 3 Narva – Estonia's eastern-most and third largest city, on the Narva River, which is the border with Russia. Famous for the Hermann castle, right opposite of the Ivangorod's castle, and the Kreenholm factories. Even though it might seem grey and dull.
- 4 Pärnu – Estonia's 4th largest city and the summer capital of Estonia, popular for its balneo-therapy complexes and spa centres, surrounded by numerous beaches.
- 5 Rakvere – Estonia's fifth largest city, east of Tallinn, famous for its Punk and Rock festivals and spirit.
- 6 Haapsalu – "Venice of the north", and a major seaside resort and medium-sized port city, good for visiting spas, taking mud baths, sailing, swimming, interesting monuments of the middle ages, like the cathedral and the Ruins of Haapsalu Castle, and the picturesque Railway Museum.
- 7 Viljandi – A beautiful, ancient and hilly city, known for its annual Viljandi Folk Music Festival, beautiful old town and overwhelming and picturesque park around the old castle.
- 8 Kuressaare – The capital of the island of Saaremaa, the only town on the island, and home of the Kuressaare castle. It also has many spas, water parks and one beach.
- 9 Valga – A town on the border with Latvia, where it literally grows into the Latvian town of Valka.
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 Sea islands provide a splendid getaway to nature.
- 1 Lahemaa National Park – On the coast within an hour east (50 km) of Tallinn. Given its size it is the largest park in Estonia and one of Europe's biggest national parks, with 1,000 km2 of bogs, trails, and forests.
- 2 Soomaa National Park – The second largest national park in Estonia, famous for its "fifth season". A peat bog formed from a glacier melt from around 11,000 years ago.
- 3 Matsalu National Park – One of the largest and most important autumn stopping grounds for migratory birds in Europe. Excellent for birdwatchers, due it is rich ornithological species.
- 4 Vilsandi National Park – Rich in marine fauna, and international bird sanctuary with over 250 recorded bird species, on the west coast of Saaremaa. Covers 238 km2, including 163 km2 of sea and 75 km2 of land, plus 160 islands and islets.
- 5 Karula National Park – The hilly landscapes of Southern Estonia. Estonian’s smallest national park between Valga and Võru.
- Meenikunno Nature Park – A 5 km hike and wooden trail with an observation platform in the middle of the swamps.
- 6 Otepää Nature Park and Lake Pühajärve – Part of the Otepää recreational region with an area beyond 3,000 km². Trails along the lake and paths in the hilly forests.
- 7 Saaremaa – The largest Estonian and wild seaside character island with castles and fortresses, one perfectly preserved, a beach, a spa and famous mills. Saaremaa is even sometimes called Sparemaa. Furthermore, the island is surrounded by a myriad of tiny islands including Abruka with its nudist camps.
- 8 Hiiumaa – The second largest Estonian island. Popular for its lighthouses, ancient churches, historical values and the sense of humour of its inhabitants, but scarcely populated. In winter, it can sometimes be reached by car via an ice bridge on the Baltic Sea.
- 9 Kihnu – The southernmost group of islands, Kihnu, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Cosy and warm yet exotic – folk costumes are worn here every day and the handicraft of older generations remains highly valued.
- 10 Muhu – The third largest Estonian island, and a rural municipality connected to the nearby Saaremaa by an artificial embankment, where ferries to the harbour of Virtsu arrive. Has an open air museum, and its locals are known for still sewing woollen clothes. Sleepy fishing villages, working windmills, thatched cottages, plenty of deer, moose and birds.
- 11 Ruhnu – The communal territory corresponds to that of the homonymous island, formerly known as Runö.
- 12 Vormsi – The fourth largest Estonian island, very close to the mainland. Vormsi is a small island covered with forests and a Swedish community. A unique blend of Soviet and Swedish history mixed with unspoilt nature.
- Osmussaare – A small and mostly inaccessible island in the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, 7.5 km off the mainland, and part of the Noarootsi Parish.
- Pakri – Two islands in the Gulf of Finland: Suur-Pakri and Väike-Pakri (Swedish: Stora Rågö and Lilla Rågö), administratively part of Paldiski.
- Naissaar – An island mostly covered by forest northwest of Tallinn with about 35 residents.
- Prangli – A small island with, harbour (for ferries to Leppneeme on the mainland), mainly fir trees, and a lighthouse from 1923.
|Population||1.3 million (2019)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Some visitors tend to see the Baltic states as being similar countries with regional differences. They share a common recent history: the three countries declared independence in 1918 at the collapse of the Russian Empire, were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, conquered by Nazi Germany in 1941, and incorporated into the Soviet Union from 1944 until independence was restored in 1991. However, there are differences between the countries' languages (Estonians speak Finnic language unlike Latvia or Lithuania) and religion (Estonians are irreligious, Latvians are mostly Lutherans, and Lithuanians are Catholics). Also, Estonia is more oriented towards Northern Europe, while Lithuania is oriented towards Central Europe).
Tourism to Estonia has been growing. According to Statistics Estonia, 1.3 million foreigners visited Estonia in 2000, and that number climbed 38 percent to 1.8 million foreigners in 2005 and up to 6 million in 2015.
After seven centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it re-gained independence in 1991 through its "Singing Revolution", a non-violent movement that overthrew an initially violent occupation. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia moved to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a high-tech environment, an open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita (in a European Union context), and long term population decline, period 2008-2018 decline was 1,5%. From 1991 to 2007 the country saw rapid economic expansion, leading it to be among one of the wealthiest and the most developed of the former Soviet Republics. However, its economy was badly damaged during the global recession that started in 2008, although it recovered by 2013. In 2011, the euro was adopted as the official currency.
Since accession to the European Union (EU) in 2004, Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in north-eastern Europe with a 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.
Estonia is bigger than the Netherlands or Denmark by area, but is one of the least densely populated countries in the EU, with 1.3 million people. Ethnic Estonians make up 69% of the population, and Russians 26%. The heaviest concentrations of Russians are in the north-east (Ida-Viru County) and Tallinn. Many ethnic Estonians consider themselves Nordic, as they are not Balts, and regard Estonia's classification as a Baltic state as mainly a geographical convenience.
Estonia has the least religious population in the European Union: 14% are Lutherans (mostly ethnic Estonians) and 13% are Eastern Orthodox (mostly ethnic Russians, although there is a small Estonian Orthodox population). The native Estonian attitude towards Christianity may differ from the other Europeans attitude (Finns and Russians are good example) since Christianity was forced on native Estonians in 13th century by German crusader conquest and used to consolidate the German nobility's power over native Estonians for the next 700 years.
- Maritime, wet, moderate winters, short and cool summers.
- Marshy, lowlands; flat in the north, hilly in the south
- Highest point
- Suur Munamägi (literally Big Egg Mountain) 318 m above sea level, in the south east, 20 km north of the main highway that runs from Riga in Latvia to Russia, close to the borders with both countries. It is the highest point in the Baltic states.
- The mainland terrain is flat, boggy, and partly wooded; offshore lie more than 1,500 islands and islets.
- World War II and the subsequent occupation were devastating on humans, but the destruction and the closure of large areas for military use actually increased Estonia's forest coverage from about 25% before the war to more than 50% by 1991. Wolves, bears, lynx, elk and deer as well as some rare bird and plant species are abundant. Wild animals are exported to some EU countries for forest re-population programmes. Most animals can be hunted, subject to annual quotas.
- National holiday : Independence Day, 24 February; this day in 1918 was the first date of independence from Soviet Russia (20 August 1991 was the date of re-independence from the Soviet Union). Each 24 February, a grand ball is held by the president for the prominent and important members of society and foreign dignitaries.
- Jaanipäev : St John's Day or Midsummer Day held on the night of 23–24 June. The evening of the 23rd and well into the morning of the 24th is celebrated with bonfires and a traditional festive menu concentrating on barbeques and drinking.
- Võidupüha (Victory Day) : 23 June is celebrated to commemorate the decisive victory over Baltic German forces in 1919 during the War of Independence.
- Christmas or Jõulud : Celebrated strictly as a family event.
- New Year's Eve : As a Soviet province, the authorities sought to promote the New Year holiday, as Christmas was all but forbidden for its alleged "religious" and "nationalist" character. After the restoration of independence, the significance of the New Year decreased, but it is still a day off and celebrated. This day is used by the leaders of the country to address the nation.
Estonia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Tallinn (TLL IATA) is Estonia's main international gateway. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Stockholm Arlanda, Copenhagen Airport, and Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga and Vilnius), there are direct flights from many major European hubs like London, Frankfurt Airport, Munich Airport, Brussels and Amsterdam Schiphol, and Warsaw. Eastward connections are from Moscow, Minsk, and Kiev. AirBaltic provides the majority of the service, with the rest being provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, Aeroflot, and others. Easyjet, Ryanair, and Wizzair provide low-cost options to Tallinn, albeit from far fewer places than most international airports in neighbouring countries.
Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel. Riga is only 2-3 hr bus ride from southern Estonia and may be another good option.
Good road connections are to the south (Via Baltica routing Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Warsaw) and east (Tallinn-Saint Petersburg, Tallinn-Pskov). Any car travel to Russia involves unpredictable delays at the border. The Narva/Ivangorod border crossing is notorious for its half-day-long queues, so use the southern crossing in Pechory whenever possible and pay special attention to the ticketing system that books you a place in the queue on the Estonian side. Baltic Sea ferries often also take cars.
Lots of good and cheap connections from Riga and Saint Petersburg to Tallinn. Long-distance service from Vilnius, Kaunas, Kaliningrad, and even Warsaw or Kiev is also available. The most popular regular service provider is Luxexpress Group, others include Ecolines and Hansabuss.
Since, the available bus companies might change over time, use bus comparison sites like this one: https://www.busradar.com
Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm) and Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn). Tallinn-Helsinki is one of the busiest sea routes in Europe and has daily 11 ferry crossings and 6-7 different fast-boat crossings (not during the winter) in each direction. Ferries are operated by Tallink, Viking Line and Eckerö Line and the fast boats by Linda Line. Ferry tickets can be as low as €19 for a single or return (usually the return is free if returning the same day; they want day cruisers who supposedly spend more on board).
With your own boat or yacht you can visit State Port Register and the Estonian Maritime Administration webpage for Recreational Craft.
International train services between Tallinn on the one hand and Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia on the other have been suspended several times in the past. The Russian Railways (RZD) runs the connection Moscow-Tallinn (via St. Petersburg) with daily night trains. Trains depart from Moscow at 21:20 and arrive in Tallinn at 13.38. Services from Tallinn depart at 15:20 and arrive in Moscow at 09:32. The widely (and somewhat blatantly) advertised Riga-to-Tallinn train connection is anything but reasonable, because it makes a long detour and takes you nearly a whole day for a simple trip between the neighbouring Baltic capitals. However, local trains from northern Latvia to southern Estonia (connection in Valka/Valga) may be useful.
In Estonia, the public transport system is well-developed.
As of July 1, 2018, Estonia will have created the largest 24/7 free public transit zone in the world.
Estonia has a comprehensive bus network all over the country. Nearly every city can be accessed by a direct bus from Tallinn or Tartu. Other big cities have their own bus routes, such as Narva–Pärnu. Beside that, most of the towns and villages have regular bus connections to the nearby larger cities and towns. Smaller places are often only served in the morning or noon, and late afternoon (17:00/18:00). City connections generally operate up to 21:00. Make sure not to miss the last bus, or not to get stuck during daytime in a smaller town or village.
All connections are available online through Tpilet.ee (for long distance connections) and Peatus.ee (for short distances and local connections – enter/choose the exact station name to get meaningful results; e.g. "Tallinna bussijaam" and not "Tallinn"). The websites are mostly available in Estonian, English, and Russian. You can always buy tickets from the driver.
You can also buy tickets for many connections online with Tpilet.ee. Sometimes the mobile site does not show the purchase option, and you might want to switch your smartphone web browser to "Desktop mode". It is sometimes more preferable to buy a bus ticket online, especially with Simple Express or Eesti Buss buses. So check ahead, and if there is still time, buy right before the trip, or even in advance if you have a specific plan. This even applies to short distances, where instead of €2.50 the online price is €1.50 (or so) with Simple Express. If the purchase is not displayed with Tpilet.ee, check directly with Simple Express, Eesti Buss or Lux Express.
Nevertheless, tickets bought online are only cheaper with certain companies, like Simple Express, which also allows e-tickets on your mobile. For other companies, online tickets need to be printed and cannot be used on your mobile (like for Go Bus). But there are self-service terminals in the city bus terminal to print out such tickets. Some buses do not have power, in case you want to charge you phone (Simple Express has, Go Bus does not).
Regarding finding the right bus stop, especially for longer distances, buses do not go into each and every town but rather stop at the nearest point along the highway. These stops are denoted with "... tee", like "Loksa tee" instead of Loksa the town. Make sure you know where to enter and where to get off the bus, considering this. Also, an online search for a connection might not come up with any connection because you simple chose the wrong bus stops.
Estonia's train network does not cover the whole country. The quality of railway tracks and services is steadily improving, thanks to substantial EU funding. The old Soviet diesel machines have been replaced with modern European trains.
Since 2014 all domestic passenger rail operations have been taken over by Elron, whose website does offer timetables, journey planner and prices. Tickets are sold on board. You can also buy them online, at major stations, or in one of the rare ticket machines, but this makes sense mostly for 1st class tickets that are limited in number and may be sold out. All ticket prices are discounted -10% when purchased from the Internet.
Train connection and price information is also available through Peatus.ee.
Most roads have two lanes, but some national highways (Tallinn-Tartu, Tallinn-Pärnu, Tallinn-Narva and Tallinn ring road) have 4 lanes in some segments (mainly closer to Tallinn). All national highways are of very good road quality (wide 1+1 roads with lane markings). The road quality on other roads varies. As of 2019, out of 16,600 km of highways in Estonia, 4,900 km were paved and another 3,600 km were chipsealed.
The speed limit is 90 km/h in the countryside and 50 km/h in cities, unless specified otherwise.
Only in summer is 110 km/h introduced on selected highways (generally dual carriageways with at least 2 lanes in each direction), and the scope is reconsidered every summer. Motorway signs are not present in winter.
Stationary speed cameras are frequent on major highways. Waze mobile app has a decent coverage of speed limits and stationary cameras, which is most helpful on long drives.
Unlike Russia and some other countries, urban areas are always marked with an "urban area" sign. Conversely, a road sign with a settlement name on blue blackground is not necessarily an indicator of an urban area.
Fines for exceeding the limit by 20 km/h is up to €120, for +21-40 km/h up to €400 and risk of license withdrawn; up to €1200 for more. Ignoring red traffic signal is up to €800. Violating the no-overtaking is up to €800.
Drunk driving is not tolerated and has hefty fines. Driving under the influence of alcohol is fined up to €800 for exceeding 0.2‰. Beware of drunk pedestrians, as they are not uncommon.
Lights must always be switched on. All passengers are expected to wear seat belts.
Parking should be paid for in the central areas of bigger cities. In central Tallinn paid parking applies 24/7. Parking is normally paid over phone, either in app (the most convenient method) or by a text message (may not be available on international phone numbers). There is a limited number of pay and display machines available. Prepare coins in advance, as credit cards and paper money are only accepted by parking machines in large indoor parkings, while breaking money can be difficult to find nearby.
Estonia has lots of car rental companies, and the level of English spoken by their representatives is generally very high. Rental is somewhat cheaper than in Western Europe.
Driving in Estonia is fairly easy. Drivers are generally polite (with some exceptions so stay alert), and obeying speed limits and other traffic rules.
There isn't very much traffic on the Estonian highways compared to Western Europe or for example Poland. Traffic jams with minimal delays may occur in Tallinn during rush hours.
Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally possible. Where in the past it was more common, people are quite reserved nowadays, especially when seeing tourists that they expect to only speak English, which middle aged or older Estonians may not understand.
Hence, success is very volatile. You might be lucky within 10 min, or you might just wait 1½ hr without anyone stopping, especially in remote areas with less traffic. Do not count on getting picked up eventually, but be sure to know when the last bus departs.
- See also: Hitchhiking
Estonia has several domestic flights, mainly between the mainland and islands. Transaviabaltica operates regular services between Tallinn and Kuressaare or Kärdla. Luftverkehr Friesland-Harle [dead link] flies from Pärnu to Ruhnu and further to Kuressaare.
The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle may provide you with a lot of information and help.
Estonia has many picturesque 1-3 day hiking trails, like in and around the Lahemaa National Park. For reliable and comprehensive (offline) maps of these trails and full map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).
- See also: Estonian phrasebook
The official language is Estonian, which is very closely linguistically related to Finnish, and thus unrelated to other regional languages. Many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English very well. Many older Estonians can speak some Russian, although this is declining overall since it has become increasingly uncommon among the ethnic Estonian youth. Russian is often described as Estonia's unofficial second language, with about 40% of Tallinn residents having Russian as their native language, and 30% of the total population being native Russian speakers.
With regards to other foreign languages, Finnish is also spoken quite well by many people in Tallinn and major tourist spots, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf during the 1990s. As both languages are similar, it can be possible to hold a basic conversation if you speak slowly. German was once a popular language to learn at school in Estonia, and a large number of people (estimates vary from 10% to 25% of the population) can speak some. However, this is increasingly debatable. According to the Goethe institute branch in Estonia, German language learning is on a decline, despite heavy tourism from Germany and important trade between the two countries. Though still rather uncommon, French and Spanish have gained popularity in the 2010s, especially among Tallinn's upper class.
It might be tempting to practise your Russian, but most of Estonian population are not native Russian speakers. Also the historical relationship between Estonia and Russia has often been difficult. A foreigner starting a conversation in Russian can be seen as disrespectful by native Estonians towards their language and culture. Many under-40 Estonians have learned no Russian because it is not mandatory in school. Whether they had to learn Russian in school is a different discussion and depends mostly on the options school can offer on the pupils. Always try to start conversation in any language other than Russian and then you might ask whether the other person speaks Russian. After first greetings, Estonians may be willing to interact in Russian with a tourist, but many are reluctant to converse in Russian with a local Russian. However one can even witness cases where only Russian speaking customer, will not get served, since the staff are not able to understand them but these are rare examples and in many places in Ida Virumaa, this is vice versa for the native Estonians. In Tallinn and north-east Estonia, Ida-Virumaa county, there is quite a big chance that you will meet a native Russian speaker, for example as a barman or a bank teller. The Russian minority in Estonia lives mostly in towns such as Tallinn, Narva and Kohtla-Järve. The countryside around these towns is more mixed, if not fully inhabited by Estonians.
There is a large Slavic minority, particularly Russians, about 30%, and Ukrainians, about 4.3%, living in Estonia in 2019.
Estonia's top tourist attractions
- Tallinn's Medieval Old Town, Tallinn, Architecture and History
- Kadrioru Park, Tallinn, Architecture
- Lahemaa National Park, North Estonia, Nature
- Tartu Jaani (St. John's) Church, Tartu, Architecture
- Pärnu Beach, Pärnu, Recreational
- Lighthouses, Hiiumaa, Architecture
- Narva Hermann Castle, Narva, Museum
- The Kaali meteorite craters, Saaremaa, Nature
- Setomaa, South Estonia, Culture
- Otepää Winter Centre, Otepää, Sports
Medieval history and manors
The Old Town of Tallinn is the most intact and best protected medieval city in Europe, and is Estonia's première attraction. Its unique value is its well-preserved (intact) medieval milieu and structure, which has been lost in most of the capitals of northern Europe. Since 1997, the Old Town has been on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Living under the rule of Scandinavian kings, Russian empire and Teutonic Knights has left Estonia with unique and rich blend of historic landmarks. Over one thousand manors were built across Estonia from the 13th century onwards. Some of the manors have perished or fallen into ruins but a lot have been reconstructed and are favourite attractions with tourists. There are about 200 manor houses under state protection as architectural monuments and 100 in active use.
Islands and coastline
Estonia has over 1,500 islands. The nature is essentially untouched and offers quite a different beach experience with their remoter rustic feel. Most of the public beaches are sandy and the average water temperature is 18°C in summer. Inland waters and some shallow bays' waters are even warmer.
The largest island is Saaremaa with an intact and well-restored medieval castle in its only city, Kuressaare. Stone fences, thatched roofs, working windmills and home-made beer are all distinctive to Saaremaa. Hiiumaa, on the other hand, is well known for its lighthouses, unspoilt nature, the Hill of Crosses and the sense of humour of its inhabitants. Both islands have an airport and so can be quickly reached from Tallinn.
Other important islands include Kihnu, Ruhnu (with its "singing sand" beach), Muhu and Vormsi, each with its own unique characteristics. Most of the other tiny Estonian islands don't carry much cultural significance, but can be appealing for bird watching, canoeing, sailing or fishing etc.
In July and August, Pärnu, Estonia's summer capital, is the main attraction. The coastline itself has loads of untouched beaches and a tour from Narva-Jõesuu (in the east) towards Tallinn is great for exploring the coastline. Some of the well known places include Toila, Võsu, Käsmu and Kaberneeme.
- Frisbee – Frisbee seems to be the secret sport of Estonians. You will find many places, especially in rural areas, where the disc golf baskets can be found. So, bring a Frisbee.
- Hiking – There are at least three national parks in Estonia worth a day or two days hike. Check them out. Otherwise, there are many areas where hiking and putting up a tent near the sea can be worth it. The forest administration has marked several hiking trails spanning North to South and East to West. Much like in the Nordic countries, in Estonia you can freely roam in the nature but the rules are slightly more strict here. For instance camping outside designated camping areas always requires permission from the land owner (private land) or local forest surveillance officer (public land). See Hiking in Estonia for more info.
- Birdwatching – Especially in West Estonia and Islands, there are numerous viewing platform to enjoy bird watching in spring or fall when birds move from one continent to the other.
- Self-guided tours – A good way to discover Estonia by yourself. For more information visit the interactive maps sections on the official tourism website.
- Swim in the bogs – Nature parks like the Lahemaa National Park are full of black and beautiful bogs that are also possible to swim in. Take a dip if you dare and it is warm enough, but always know how to get out again.
There's quite a good list of various events in Estonia at Visitestonia.com.
- Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF). November/December. The festival combines a feature film festival with the sub-festivals of animated films, student films and children/youth films.
- Tallinn Music Week, Tallinn. Spring. Showcase festival, aiming to stage the best and most outstanding Estonian talent on two nights in Tallinn's most vibrant live venues, as well as a networking event for the music industry professionals.
- Tallinn International Festival Jazzkaar. April. In addition to Tallinn jazz concerts also take place in Tartu and Pärnu.
- Tallinn Old Town Days, Tallinn. May/June. free.
- The Estonian Song Celebration (In Estonian: Laulupidu), Tallinn. First held in 1869, takes place every five years. In 2009, 35,000 choral singers gathered to perform for an audience of 90,000 people. It is recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
- [dead link] Õllesummer Festival, Tallinn. July. Approx 70,000 people attend the festival each year over the course of 4 days.
- Viljandi Folk Music Festival, Viljandi. July. The festival runs for 4 days on the last weekend in July. More than 100 concerts take place in Viljandi castle's ruins, churches, and other venues throughout Viljandi County. It is the largest annual music festival in Estonia. Each year the festival draws over 20,000 visitors.
- Saaremaa Opera Days, Saaremaa. July.
- Leigo Lake Music Festival, near Otepää. August. Open-air concerts are held in completely natural venues on the hilly landscapes of the Otepää highland. The musicians' stage is on an island in the lake, surrounded by thousands of listeners on the sloping shore.
- [dead link] Birgitta Festival, Tallinn. August. Music and theatre festival, held at the ruins of the historical Pirita (St. Bridget's) convent.
- Simpel Session, Tallinn. Summer/Winter. International skateboarding and BMX event.
Exchange rates for euros
As of 02 January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Estonia uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on one side and a national country-specific design on the other. The latter side is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design on the national side does not affect the use of the coin.
The Estonian kroon (EEK) ceased to be legal tender on 15 Jan 2011, but any kroons you have left over can be changed into euro at the Bank of Estonia at a fixed rate of 15.6466 kroon to €1.
Banking and cards
ATMs and currency exchange offices (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia. Avoid changing money in the airport or port as the rates are lower.
Credit cards are accepted most of the time, exception are limited with parking machines, countryside farms and the like. Contactless payment with credit cards (Paypass/Paywave and Android/Apple Pay) is supported by roughly half of terminals in use.
Tipping has been common in Estonia only after the restoration of independence, and therefore isn't always requested. A 10% tip is usually added to the price in restaurants and taxi drivers often keep the change. Some restaurants and pubs have a jar or box on the counter labelled 'Tip' on it, where customers can put their change.
Estonia is overall much cheaper than Western Europe, but it is no longer the bargain it used to be in 1990s; in touristy areas (like Tallinn's Old Town), prices are comparable to those found in Germany and Scandinavia. It is still possible to spend less when you go off the beaten track.
Here are some prices of regular goods: 1 kg of apples – €0.80, regional dish in a café – €3-5, 30 km (19 mi) by bus – €2, hostel – €10+, local beer at the shop – €1.20. But when it comes to touristy places, suddenly prices sky-rocket: Rakvere Castle – €9, tour to National Park Lahemaa from Tallinn – €55, beer at a touristy bar – €3-4.5. Try to avoid this touristy ripoff – there is enough to see and do even without a big budget.
Estonian food draws heavily from German and Nordic cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, black pudding, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.
Many types of food are similar to Russian dishes and have their equivalents almost exclusively in the former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".
As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of the USSR, some of its foods, unknown to Westerners, are still well-recognized in the lands of the CIS. This is also true the other way around; in Estonian grocery stores products from countries of the former Soviet Union like Georgian mineral water are widely available.
Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.
For those with a sweet tooth, the national chocolate manufacturer is "Kalev", with many specialist stores around the country as well as supermarkets retailing the product.
The more adventurous may want to try "kohuke", a flavoured milk-curd sweet covered with chocolate and available at every supermarket.
Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku, or A. Le Coq, the local vodka brands Viru Valge (Vironian White) and Saaremaa Vodka and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn), famous in the countries of former USSR.
A local soft drink is "Kali" (the Estonian equivalent of "kvass"), made from fermented brown bread. It can be described as an acquired taste.
Many locals also swear by "keefir", a fermented milk concoction.
The number of hotels has exploded from a few to tens and hundreds after the reestablishment of Estonian independence. In 2004, Tallinn achieved first place among the Baltic Sea cities in the number of overnight stays in hotels, though still behind Stockholm and Helsinki in the number of total overnight stays.
As Soviet collective farms were disbanded, many farmers switched to running "turismitalud," or tourism farms, which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in the nature, usually in a former farm house. A site on Estonian Rural Tourism provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Hostels are another popular option for budget-sensitive travellers; see the website of the Estonian Youth Hostel Association.
Often accommodations give a discount if you book with them directly (e.g. phone) instead of using one of the monopolistic online middle men. This is due to the reason that most accommodations in Estonia can be booked without credit card anyhow. So, there is no real guarantee that someone does turn up. Just that via phone owners are at least not stuck with an online fee without receiving the room rent.
Camping is allowed virtually anywhere, except for private grounds. Some tourists have even camped in the city parks of Tartu because locals told them so. Otherwise, if you do not have a tent, some national parks (like Lahemaa) have observation towers with roof and thus space for up to 10 people at night and protection against the rain.
Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its universities, especially from Nordic countries, as Estonian diplomas are recognized throughout the EU. See the articles for university town Tartu and capital Tallinn for details.
No obstacles exist to citizens of EU countries to come to invest and work in Estonia. Citizens of developed non-EU countries are exempt from short-term tourist visas. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia. Estonia may have had rocket-like growth from 2001 to 2008, but it was from a very low base as a former Soviet republic, and according to Statistics Estonia the average local monthly salary was around €1220 in 2017.
Education is highly valued in Estonia because as a small nation with no exceptional natural resources, they believe that the only way to be competitive is to absorb knowledge. There are so many highly educated people in Estonia that it has become a problem for the labour market - there just aren't enough workers for jobs that require minimal education.
Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.
Police and Border Guard Board is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.
CV Keskus.ee is the most popular job portal in Estonia that holds the biggest number of job ads.
CV Online is one of the oldest Estonian recruitment and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).
Estonia has managed to avoid much of the crime and insecurity that has plagued many former Soviet Republics following the collapse of the USSR, and today it is among the safest European countries. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas, modest petty crime in urban areas, and a considerable rate of drug dealing in the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East.
In Tallinn, petty crime is a problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing (especially in the markets). However, nowadays Tallinn's Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.
Many Estonians drive carelessly. The number of deaths in traffic related accidents per 100,000 people are similar to South-European countries like Portugal or Italy. Estonia has strict drink-driving laws with a policy of zero tolerance, but accidents involving intoxicated drivers are nevertheless a major problem. Estonian traffic laws requires headlight use at all times while driving and use of a seat belts by all passengers is mandatory.
Estonian law requires pedestrians to wear small reflectors, which people generally pin to their coats or handbags. Although this law is rarely enforced in cities, reflectors are very important in rural areas where it may be difficult for motorists to see pedestrians, especially in winter months. Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of around €30-50, or a higher fine up to around €400-500 if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and you should be able to find them at many supermarkets, kiosks, and other shops.
The police are very effective, and they are not corrupt.
The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices. When driving, make sure you have had absolutely no alcohol beforehand.
The single emergency number 112 is valid all over Estonia for rescue and ambulance outcalls.
It has been mentioned that ordinary Estonians are unlikely to approach a complete stranger or a tourist on their own. If somebody suddenly turns to you in the street (with questions or matters of small business) keeping a cautious eye on your belongings would be wise. As it is a rather homogeneous country, Estonians may look intrigued if you are not white. With that said, racist acts are not common.
Public displays of affection between partners of the same gender may be met with stares, although violence is very unlikely.
For an Estonian, it is considered mauvais ton not to criticize the Estonian healthcare system. EU studies have shown, however, that Estonia occupies a healthy 4th place in the block by the basic public health service indicators, on the same level as Sweden. Around 1998-2000, the Estonian healthcare system was remodelled from the obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war and made more up-to-date by the experts from Sweden. Estonia has harmonized its rules on travellers' health insurance with EU requirements. Information about health care in Estonia is provided by the government agency Eesti Haigekassa.
For fast aid or rescue, dial 112.
Estonia has Europe's second highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS infections, over 1.3% or 1 in 77 adults (2013). Generally, the rate is much higher in Russian-speaking regions like Narva or Sillamäe. Don't make the situation worse by not protecting yourself and others.
Ticks spread diseases like viral encephalitis and Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to humans, their season usually starts in April and lasts till October.
Beware of poisonous plants like Sosnowsky's Hogweed and Giant Hogweed. Wear protective clothes and goggles. If burned, clean your skin with water and soap and protect it from the sun for at least 48 hours.
Tap water is usually drinkable, though some people prefer bottled water.
Estonians in general, when meeting a stranger, are remarkably reserved to start with. Don't expect them to deliver too many social niceties or small talk; they only say what's seasonable. Once you have broken the ice, you will find them open and candid.
Estonians tend to keep their physical distance. If there is a "long time - no see" situation, then a hug may be suitable.
Do not raise your voice in a conversation. A decent, quiet conversation is the Estonian way of doing business and is much appreciated.
Estonians are usually very proud of their nation and their country. As a small nation they have managed to gain independence and survived all the rough times that centuries filled with wars have served up to them. With that said, younger generations of Estonians might be more critical, and it is not uncommon for them to point out flaws quickly.
As a small nation, its souvenir shops are often filled with characteristic items from neighbouring countries, for example with Russian matryoshka (nesting) dolls or Baltic amber. While both of them are popular among tourists, it is worthwhile to understand that neither of them have any historical or cultural connection with Estonia.
Contemporary history may be a sensitive subject. Any positive talk about the USSR (or today's Russia) around Estonians will be anything but a good idea although they will tell you all about it if you only ask.
25% of the population of Estonia are ethnic Russians, and even more people understand at least some Russian. Still some people suggest not starting conversations in Russian with strangers, as this may be seen as disrespectful by many native Estonians towards their language and culture. Be aware that especially younger ethnic Estonians or minorities there cannot always speak any Russian to avoid unpleasant situations. See the Talk section for more info.
- Access to wireless, free internet is widespread in Tallinn and Tartu.
- On the open road you will often find petrol stations which offer wireless internet access too
- If you do not have a laptop, public libraries offer free computers
- The number of internet cafes is dropping but you will find several open almost all night in Tallinn and Tartu (expect to pay around €2-3 per hour)
- Most hotels also have a computer with internet access available
- The departure lounge at Tallinn airport has several free internet access points for passengers
- For local calls, dial the 7 or 8 digit number given. There is no "0" dialled before local numbers
- For international calls from Estonia, dial "00" then the country code and number
- For international calls to Estonia, dial "00" from most countries or consult your operator, the country code "372" and the 7 or 8 digit number
- For emergencies and police dial "112"
- "Everyone" has a mobile phone in Estonia
- To ring Estonia from abroad, dial +372 before the number
- Mobile access is available everywhere, even on the smaller islands and at sea
- Prepaid (pay-as-you-go) SIM cards and their top up cards can be bought from R-kiosks (ask for a "kõnekaart" - calling card in English). Popular brands are Smart, Simpel, Diil and Zen. Start-up packages are in a range of €1.55-10. 1GB is typically €1, cheaper in prepaid packages.
- Within Estonia, the postage cost for a letter up to 250 g (8.8 oz) is €0.65. You can send a letter in a convenient way electronically in the e-service also, in case you have ID-card or Mobile-ID or contract with a Bank (Swedbank, SEB, Danske or Nordea).
- To other EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine the cost is €1.40 and to the rest of the world €1.50.
- Be sure to mark all air mail pieces with "Prioritaire/Par Avion" stickers available at the post office, or clearly print it on the mail if needed.
- Stamps are sold at post offices usually open during normal shopping hours, and also at news stands.
- Post offices open on Saturday but for shorter hours than during the week, and are closed on Sundays; locations and opening hours of post offices and parcel machines.
- one of the less-obvious destinations is having a day cruise to Stockholm or Helsinki, see Cruising the Baltic Sea