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Estonia Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Haapsalu, Estonia
Haapsalu, Estonia

Estonia is a country where no destination is too far away – you can travel from one corner of the country to another in less than five hours. Despite this, Estonia’s domestic treasures are much bigger – the landscape’s variety, the flora and the fauna, it’s all truly unusual for such a small country. In the same time you’ll find a vast territory, because a territory that’s having Denmark’ or Netherlands’ dimensions, is inhabited by four, respectively twelve times less people.

Everything that you will see in Estonia is connected with history. The inhabitants originate from the oldest nations in Europe and they were already living on the Baltic Sea’s shores when the Egyptians were building the pyramids. Starting with the 13th century the Estonian territories were invaded by Germans, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russians, but each of these nations had left something good behind. The country declared its independence in 1918 but the Soviet Union’s occupation followed, which slowed down the natural development in many ways.

Most tourists arrive for the first time in Tallinn, this medieval Hanseatic city, Estonia’s cultural and economical center. In the country’s north you’ll find a mixture between the colourful history and the dynamic present, a contrast that is reflected in the lifestyle and the nature composed of marshy lands and romantic villages, untouched forests and limestone that offer sea sights. The country’s south is unique and mysterious – the rich nature, the lakes and the hills have forged the locals’ personality, the cities’ nostalgic atmosphere and the bohemian ambiance in the academic city of Tartu. The west is characterized through large stretches of land, peacefulness and the sea breeze.

Estonia's Tourist Attractions

  • Explore the historical and architectural monuments from the capital city of Tallinn, old Hanseatic city. Of special interest is the historical center, dominated by the Oleviste church. Climb up to the Toompea castle.

  • Cross the 3km beach in Parnu, a small town located on the river Parnu’s banks, in the place where it sheds into the RigaGulf. Founded in the 13th century, the town is known as a sea port and a spa resort.
  • Admire the old architecture in Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, on the river Emajogi. Visit the old university, the VyshgorodUniversity, the 18th century city hall and the University’s botanical garden.
  • Head towards Narva, one of the oldest cities in Estonia, located on the western bank of the river Narva. Visit the Herman castle, the oldest architectural monument and the city museum.
  • Admire the old windmills, the stone churches, the fishermen villages and the restored bishop’s castle, dating from the 13th century, in Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia. Take a leap to Hiiumaa, the second largest island in the country.
  • Find you peace in Mustvee, located on the beautiful lakes’ shore, Peipsi and Kuremae, the place where you’ll find the only active monastery in Estonia.
  • Relax in Haapsalu, a small city on the western coast, which is a renowned resort from the 19th century. With its romantic wooden houses and its tree-lined alleys, the city is ideal for a getaway.
  • Explore the wooded and marshy territories, the scenic villages and the historic manors in one of the three national parks – Lahemaa, Soomaa and Vilsandi.
  • Get a glimpse at wild animals and fowls like lynxes, bears, wolves and deer, eagles and storks in the Gulf Kaina Fowl Reserve and the Matsalu Natural Reserve.

Kadriorg Palace
Kadriorg Palace

Estonia's History

Estonia’s history, like the other Baltic nations, was a succession of battles for preserving the independence and for integrating the nations against the neighbour countries’ invasion. The Russians, that were determined to obtain a gateway to the Baltic region, gained Estonia from Sweden, after the Nystadt Treaty in 1721.

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union during the Second World War, Estonia became the 15th socialist Soviet republic. Four decades have past until Mihail Gorbachev, as a secretary of the communist party, offered the opportunity for changes in the Baltic nations.

In 1990 the Estonian communist party voted in favor for the complete independence versus the Soviet Union, but launched a six months transition period until the final separation. The international recognition of the Estonian nation was followed by the admission in the United Nations and the European Union in 2004.

Estonian Cuisine

The traditional Estonian food has its roots in the countryside families’ food, based on pork meat, potatoes and garden vegetables. The main culinary ingredients come from the Germans, which have lead Estonia for many centuries. The national specialties are Sult (calf gelatine), Taidetud vasikarind (wedged roast calf), Rosolje (herring with vinegar and beet), apple and plume stuffed goose and mushroom soup. The traditional drinks are the Saare beer, negus and Vana Tallinn.

The restaurant offer is now extremely diverse, especially in Tallinn. There are restaurants with Indian, Thai, Georgian, Hungarian, Japanese, Chinese and Greek food.

Useful Info

Estonians are usually calm and peaceful. A hand shake is the most common gesture for greeting. Estonians are very proud of their nation and of the fact that they have managed to gain their independence and to survive a history filled with wars.

The Estonians are hard workers, often called the Europe’s Japanese. If you’re invited to a local’s house you must remove your shoes upon entering. Don’t expect too many compliments from them; the Estonians are sincere and they appreciate only what they really like.

If you enter a shop ask what you want. The merchandiser won’t ask you what you want, not as a lack of good manners, but to offer you the freedom of choice.

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