Sillamäe is a town of 17,000 inhabitants in East Estonia, where the Sõtke River into the Bay of Finland. In Soviet times a closed city of nuclear scientists, the Soviet heritage is still very visible here.
A settlement named Sillamägi ("Bridge Hill") started growing in the mid-18th century, though a text from 1502 mentions a roadside tavern located here. It was a resort for the intelligentsia of the Russian imperial capital Saint Petersburg, for instance physiologist Ivan Pavlov spent some time here and a street is named after him.
In the 1920s the town was industrialized with an oil shale processing plant, a power plant and an industrial port being built. They were destroyed during WWII, but rebuilt afterwards together with a metallurgical plant for extracting uranium for the newly invented atomic bomb. As such, from 1947 onwards to the fall of the Soviet Union, Sillamäe was a closed secret military city that was even not marked on maps. Activities conducted there were mostly military industrial and included mining and refining uranium.
Sillamäe was opened up in 1991 when Estonia became independent, and the uranium plant was turned into a rare metals plant - one of the most important industries in this part of the country. The city retains a treasure trove of beautiful Stalinist architecture, and this is not the only thing Soviet about the city - indeed Sillamäe can be considered the most Soviet town in Estonia. Most of the inhabitants (88% as of 2011) are Russian speaking and even hold Russian citizenship, and even some price tags in shops are written like in the 1970s. Knowing some Russian can come in handy.
Bus and train schedules are easily available online – read more under Estonia#Get around.
- 1 Sillamäe bus station, Tallinna mnt 9. The ticket office is open from 09:00-17:30 (with a lunch break between 12-12:30). The station has a small waiting room, ATM and currency exchange. The adjacent gas station has a small shop, open 24 hours.
- 2 Vaivara railway station (Vaivara raudteejaam). The train does not run through Sillamäe. However, there is a stop along the Tallinn-Narva route, called Vaivara, which is just 2 km from Sillamäe centre. From Tallinn and Narva there are three trains a day each stopping there. There are a connecting buses (line 33B), but a taxi is your best bet, or you can walk.
Sillamäe is on Highway 1 connecting Tallinn (185 km) with Narva (30 km), which is at the Russian border - St. Petersburg is a further 150 km east of Narva.
The port is mainly for freight. Car passengers could come in with a daily freight ferry from nearby Ust-Luga in Russia with less busier border controls, but the service is probably suspended because of the pandemic and Russian attack on Ukraine with subsequent embargoes.
The town is small, for instance you can walk from the bus station to the central attractions or to the shore in about 10 minutes.
Sillamäe is divided into three parts. East of the bus station are 1980s apartment buildings reminiscent of Lasnamäe in Tallinn; itself not too interesting but it has a pleasant park along the coast. The "old town", i.e. built before the Second World War, is west of the bus station along Kesk street. Pretty much all of Sillamäe's landmarks are there. Still further west across Sõtke River are the industries and the port.
- 1 Town hall, Kesk 27. The town hall was built after the Second World War though unlike most other buildings from this era it's not entirely in Stalinist style but draws elements from Tallinn's old town too, in addition to the Kremlin in Moscow.
- 2 Monument to the peaceful atom, on the central square. Built in 1987 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which is stated on the plaque, it's one of the increasingly few Soviet monuments in independent Estonia. It depicts a worker lifting up an "atom" that is comprised of electrons but no nucleus.
- 3 Mere puiestee (Приморский бульвар/Primorski bulvar). From the central square, stairs lead down to the "boulevard to the sea" as the street is named in both Estonian and Russian. The iconic view of Sillamäe, it looks more like a place next to the Black Sea, Lake Geneva or the Mediterranean than in Northern Estonia.
- 1940s and 50s Soviet architecture is prevalent in Sillamäe, as much of the town had to be rebuilt after the war, indeed the town core can be regarded as an architectural ensemble of such buildings. The most prominent examples are the town hall mentioned above, the 4 House of culture. on the central square, the 5 Rodina cinema. (Kesk 11) faced by the 6 bath house. (Kesk 10). These buildings retain elements like balustrades and flowerbeds, but Soviet statues have been removed.
- 7 Memorial to Soviet soldiers, intersection Kesk and Ivan Pavlovi. A set of concrete blocks with metal bas-reliefs depicting faces of soldiers.
- 8 Catholic church, Ranna 20 (at the end of Mere pst). Built in 2001 in modern style.
- 9 Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, Jõe 1а. A former residential building, modified in the 1990s to become an Orthodox church. It looks a bit unusual, though it's beautifully set next to the river.
- 10 Langevoja waterfalls (Langevoja juga). A bit outside the city, the small stream of Langevoja forms two small waterfalls: 1.5 m and 4 m in height, before flowing into Sõtke. The falls can be quite impressive after rains, though they may dry up in the summer.
Take a sombre moment in remembrance of the Cold War and the unfortunate nuclear arms race, and see what used to be a puddle of uranium refining waste product now a small hill or large heap.
- 11 Sillamäe museum (Sillamäe muuseum), Kajaka 17a, ☏ . The local museum has a range of different exhibitions related to geology, oil shale and the related industry, daily life during different eras, music including radios, record players and instruments, a collection of dolls and various temporary exhibitions.
- 1 Kalev sports complex (Sillamäe Spordikompleks Kalev), Kesk 30, ☏ . Renovated in 2011, the local sports center has a swimming pool, gym, rooms for ball games and a hostel.
Shopping in Sillamäe mostly means buying groceries and other everyday goods - if you want to go to shopping malls, head to Narva. There are some supermarkets northeast of the bus station and the highway exit including a Maxima and a Coop Maksimarket, and an indoor grocery market named Sillamäe Turg. In addition there are some shops shattered around town.
- 1 Troika, Kesk 10 (downtown). Old-style grocery shop.
- Grill-bar Krunk, Kesk 23. Clean hotel restaurant with a menu similar to what one can find in Russia.
- 1 Kafe Marilyn, Viru pst. 2. Cafe restaurant with a varied menu with dishes from many corners of the world. There's also a billiards room and a hookah lounge.
- 2 Chameleon Cafe, Gagarini 13a (next to the Maxima supermarket), ☏ , Chameleonff@gmail.com. Sushi, burgers and some other fast food.
- 3 Café at the bus station. Basic eatery with hot dishes, and cakes and pastries.
- 1 Cinema Club, Viru pst. 2. Nightclub and disco.
- 2 Randevuu Baar, Kesk 26a, ☏ . Regarded as the nightlife center of of Sillamäe. The place also serves food.
- 3 Ranna baar, Ranna 32, ☏ . A nightclub at the seashore, as the name reveals.
- 1 Hotel Krunk, Kesk 23, ☏ , email@example.com. The only hotel in town, clean and modern. It has a restaurant, the Grill Bar Krunk. Free Wi-Fi. The room price includes a good breakfast. Double room €45-60.
- 2 Perjatsi Guesthouse (Perjatsi küla), ☏ . Situated in the village of Perjatsi, 1.5 km towards Narva from Sillamäe is the cheaper Perjatsi lodgings. Inexpensive, also weekly rates for longer stays.
In addition there seems to be individual apartments for rent through different online services.
- 1 Library, Kalda 12, ☏ . Free Internet access.
- 2 Youth center, Kalda 14, ☏ . Two-story building opened in 2013 with free Wi-Fi.
All three Estonian operators offer 4G coverage in Sillamäe.
- 1 Ukuoru Falls - west of the town, a waterfall 7.5 meters in height near the seashore
- The hills around the village of 2 Sinimäe, 7 km east of Sillamäe was the site of a battle between Estonians and Soviets in July 1944. The Soviets lost the battle and their advance westwards was halted for two months. Estonians remember it as a great military achievement at gather here every year at a memorial to Estonian SS fighters. The Russians nowadays forming the majority this part of the country unsurprisingly disagree and are protesting against the gatherings. Around the village there's also a Soviet military cemetery and a memorial to the 1920s Estonian War of Independence erected in the 1990s. In Sinimäe there is a small military museum too.
- 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.
- Narva-Jõesuu – The beach side town of Narva on the Narva River.
- Toila – A small coastal and historic resort town further west.
- Jõhvi – The capital of the county, but rather uninteresting from a travellers point of view.