The West of Estonia and the islands are well known for its Baltic Sea resorts. Administratively, it is defined by the territory of the four counties: Pärnumaa, Lääne County, Hiiumaa and Saaremaa.
Cities, towns and villages
- 1 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.
- 2 Haapsalu – "Venice of the north", and a major seaside resort and medium-sized port city, good for visiting spas, taking mud baths, sailing and swimming. But also interesting monuments of the Middle Ages, like the cathedral and the Ruins of Haapsalu Castle, and a famous and picturesque Railway Museum can be seen here.
- 3 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.
- 4 Kärdla – Major and only town on Hiiumaa and potential starting point for trips around the island.
- 5 Kabli – A quiet seaside village on the Gulf of Riga with bird-ringing centre and rural beaches.
- 6 Noarootsi – A bilingual municipality: Estonian and Swedish. Step into Swedish and Soviet history.
- 7 Valgeranna – Village with large beaches and an amusement park.
- 8 Nõva – A beautiful village with untouched pine forests and clean beach, between Haapsalu and Paldiski.
- 1 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 itself is surrounded by a myriad of tiny islands including Abruka with its nudist camps.
- 2 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.
- 3 Kihnu – The southernmost group of islands, Khinu, 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.
- 4 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.
- 5 Ruhnu – The communal territory corresponds to that of the homonymous island, formerly known as Runö.
- 6 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.
- 7 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.
- 8 Vilsandi National Park (Vilsandi rahvuspark) – Rich in marine fauna, and international bird sanctuary with over 250 recorded bird species, on the west coast of Saaremaa.
Western Estonia is known for its seaside resorts Pärnu (Estonia's summer capital) and Haapsalu, and its numerous and partly large islands – Saaremaa and Hiiumaa are the largest ones. Other notable islands are Kihnu and Muhu, known for their rich cultural heritage and national parks.
See Estonia#Get around on how to get the latest bus and train schedules.
The parts on Estonia's mainland can easily be reached by road. Buses from all over the country can be taken, even directly onto the two biggest islands.
The ferry needs to be used for all islands, except for Hiiumaa in winter, which can be reached by an "ice bridge" then.
Various ferries depart from Haapsalu, Pärnu or Virtsu, see below.
There are regular flights between Tallinn and Kärdla, on Hiiumaa, operated by Transaviabaltika.
Bus and train schedules are easily available online – read more under Estonia#Get around.
Inside the large cities there is a good urban bus service. Between them there are bus connections, even though in this part of Estonia connections are sparse and infrequent, especially on islands like Hiiumaa, between the islands, and even between Haapsalu and Pärnu. Hence, you will probably have to stick to one set of destinations and potentially go back to Tallinn, Pärnu or Tartu from there. But check the schedules to be sure.
- Pärnumaa Public Transport Centre. Public transport authority in West Estonia.
From Pärnu flights depart to various islands.
Most of the important islands can be reached by ferry. The two main ferries are from the mainland to Saaremaa and to Hiiumaa. Both work all year round and fairly regularly, although the first one is often, because it is shorter, just 25 min for Saaremaa compared to 1 h 15 min for Hiiumaa. Either way, a modern and comfortable ferry awaits you, with the cars on the ground floor, and on the second floor, a salon with sofas, comfortable chairs and a large dining-cafeteria with an impressive selection of food and drinks, as well as a shop selling souvenirs, basic food and alcohol (at restaurant prices). Above all an open deck. Prices for food are average, from €6 for hot dishes. The ferries are equipped with free WiFi.
A ferry ride costs €8.40 or €10 for the car and another €3 or €3.40, for Hiiumaa or Saaremaa respectively, for each adult – discounted at half price, both people (senior, student, etc.) and cars (residents). On journeys from the mainland to the island on Fridays from 13:00 and on journeys from the island to the mainland on Sundays from 13:00 vehicle ticket price is 50% higher, except for residents.
It is better to buy a ticket in advance via the Internet. This way you will avoid additional port dues and be able to get to the right ferry. Otherwise in the summer on weekends, the queue can be long. When buying a ticket through the Internet, you need to specify the licence number of the car and the number of passengers. Even though the latter is not that critical, because one can always board as pedestrian. Then all this information, as well as the departure time can be changed, if necessary. However, if you reduce the number of passengers, the money will not be returned. An unused ticket is valid for two days on any ferry, but using the regular queue.
If you have a ticket, drive to the automatic gate (not kassa) and simply scan the printout of the ticket. Another way is the so-called mobile check-in, where you call from your number to the number indicated on the gate, and it will open automatically.
The ferry from Saaremaa to Hiiumaa is similar to the previous ones, only smaller in size and less regular (2-3 times a day). Here, everything is simple: no cash registers, no mobile identification, and no WiFi. You can still buy the ticket in advance via the Internet – be sure to print it. Or buy it at the bar.
Ferries to smaller islands often carry only passengers, and if they take on board cars, then in very limited fashion. For details, see the relevant websites.
Tickets and timetables:
- North Estonia – Famous for the financial centre of the country, Tallinn, and the Lahemaa National Park.
- South Estonia – Famous for the intellectual hub, ancient city and university town Tartu, and many picturesque town like Viljandi.