Estonia is a Northern European country between the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland. It has over 1,500 islands, and its diverse landscape ranges from rocky beaches and old-growth forest to rivers and lakes. For a while it was part of the Soviet Union, but it changed hands between neighboring countries, and they all left their souvenirs: castles, hilltop fortresses and churches of different denominations, some dating from 13th century. Its cities, large and small, cherish their historic monuments and combine them with the lively 21st century activities and way of life.
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Haapsalu is a small charming seaside resort town on the west coast of Estonia, about two hours from the Estonia’s capital Tallinn. Haapsalu has been a popular resort destination for the Russian aristocracy for centuries and continues to attract tourists with its pleasant atmosphere, lovely architecture, great beach, and excellent restaurants. Explore Haapsalu by strolling along its quaint narrow streets in the Old Town, a tiny but ornate town hall and ancient wooden houses. The seaside promenade is popular for long afternoon strolls. Have a look at Kuursaal, one of Estonia’s loveliest wooden buildings. Learn more about the town history at the magnificent 13th century Haapsalu Castle Museum and relax in the park featuring a famous sundial.
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Hiiumaa is an Estonian island in the Baltic Sea famous for its unspoiled and diverse nature. It is a part of the West Estonian archipelago. There are some nice sandy beaches on the Tahkuna Peninsula, located in the most northern part of Hiiumaa. The 16th century Kõpu lighthouse is one of the oldest in the world. Take a lovely hike through the wilderness of the nearby island of Kassari, sail around Hiiumaa on the ancient sailing ship Lisette, take a kayaking trip around the numerous small islets around Hiiumaa, try some Hiiumaa beer at the Kasari brewery, and hike through the unspoiled nature of the Vanajõe Valley, where you will find it all in one place: rivers, lakes, hills, and valleys.
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Kihnu is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and Estonia’s seventh largest island. For the last six centuries, the island has been home to a unique indigenous culture that has thrived off the coast of Pärnu County. There are four villages on Kihnu Island. Lemsi Village, located in the most eastern part of the island, has a harbor that provides the main connection between the island and the mainland. The Kihnu Museum is located in an old schoolhouse and a great place to learn about the island’s colorful history and to see artwork by local naïve artists. Visit Kihnu lighthouse, located on Pitkänä Cape at the southernmost end of the island, surrounded by colorful boulders and offering spectacular views.
4.Korvemaa Nature Reserve
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Korvemaa nature reserve is a popular holiday destination for people seeking a unique landscape and beautiful, unspoiled nature. It is located in northern Estonia about 50 km from Tallinn. Covered by lakes, forests, and marshes, this park is heaven for nature lovers with well-maintained wooden trails through mysterious bogs, steep hills, and sandy roads. Kõrvemaa is popular during the winter as well and has a network of excellent cross country ski trails. It is home to a number of protected and rare species of wild animals and birds. If you are lucky, you might spot bears, wolves, or wild lynx.
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Kuressaare, also known as Arensburg, is an incredibly picturesque small town on Estonia’s Saaremaa island and the country’s westernmost town. Located on the coast of the Gulf of Riga on the Baltic Sea, it is connected to the mainland via the Kuressaare Airport and two harbors – Roomassaare Harbor and Kuressaare Yacht Harbor. The medieval Kuressaare Castle built in the 14th century is today home of the Saaremaa Regional Museum and is surrounded by a wide, scenic moat. The town hall, which was built in 1654, was carefully restored to retain its baroque and classicist features. Town’s St Nicolaus Church was built in the late 18th century. In the 19th century Kuressaare was a popular seaside resort, and it is today known for its spas.
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Lake Peipus is located on the border between Russia and Estonia and is one of the largest lakes in Western Europe. Its diverse nature, traditional culture, wealth of fish, and romantic country roads make Peipus area a popular holiday destination. The lands around the lake are fascinating to explore, with a mix of mansions, traditional markets, lighthouses, and picturesque traditional cottages. The area around the lake is home to Old Believers, a religious minority of hard-working fishermen, builders, and onion cultivators. The lake’s average depth is 7.1 meters and the deepest point is 15 meters. The lake has several islands and is clear and fairly clean, since about 30 streams and rivers bring fresh water constantly. Peipus is surrounded by huge marshes, sand dunes, and hills covered in dense pine forests.
7.Matsalu National Park
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Matsalu National Park is a 48,610-hectare nature reserve and park created to protect a large number of migrating, nesting, and molting birds. The area, located in western Estonia, includes Matsalu Bay, the delta of the Kasari River, and the surrounding areas. The park is particularly important because it is located in the key part of the East Atlantic Flyway. Every spring, more than two million waterfowl pass through Matsalu. The park is a permanent home for a number of highly endangered species such the white-tailed eagle. Matsalu is famous among bird watchers, and every year people from all over Europe come to see and photograph birds and have a relaxing time in the unspoiled nature. There is a number of trails dissecting the park. Besides hiking and biking, the park can be explored by boat as well. Several birdwatching towers are scattered throughout the park to facilitate watching birds without disturbing them and their nests.
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Located at Estonia’s easternmost point at the Russian border on the Narva River, Narva is one of Estonia’s largest cities. From Narva, you can get an unobstructed view of Russia, and the best observation points are located at Narva castle on one river bank and Ivangorod fortress on the other. The nature outside the town is magnificent, and there are hiking trails that range from climbing the Sinimäe hills to the 12-kilometer hike to the Narva-Jõesuu coastal resort, with very beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by pine forests. Because of its location, Narva has always been a melting pot of cultures, which is quite obvious by the diverse architecture in the city. The 13th century castle, a baroque Town Hall, the meticulously preserved system of defence bastions, and much more make Narva a very unique tourist destination. There is also always some kind of concert, festival, or open-air show going on.
9.Nova & Noarootsi
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Located near the coastal town of Haapsalu in western Estonia, the tiny picturesque village Nõva and the beautiful Noarootsi Peninsula are popular holiday destinations for people who like kayaking, sailing, and wind surfing. In the winter, there is touring on the ice roads for those who like an adrenaline rush. Nõva is famous for the small unique wooden St. Olaf's church built in 18th century. Noarootsi is known for its lovely beaches surrounded by pine forests. That whole coastal area was almost entirely populated by Swedish-speaking people until the mid-20th century. Besides the centuries-old Swedish heritage, there are also traces of much more recent Soviet military presence in the area. Nõva is surrounded by three nature reserves, protected areas for local flora and fauna. The whole area is fantastic for watching migrating birds.
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Otepää is a town in Valga County in southern Estonia, a well-known Estonian winter holiday destination for those who enjoy the snow sports. After indulging in a day of skating, skiing, snowtubing, or snowboarding, you can relax in one of Otepaa’s luxury spas, hotels, and gourmet restaurants. It is not unusual to come across some Olympic medalists sliding down the hill during their regular training session. During the summer, visitors can explore the scenic hiking trails through the Otepää nature park, through rolling hills, and by the lakes’ shores along winding picturesque village roads. The largest lake is the nearby Pühajärve, one of the largest in Estonia. Camping by the lake in the summer is a special treat for nature lovers and romantic souls.
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Pärnu is one of the largest cities in Estonia and is considered Estonia’s summer capital. This medieval city is located on the coast of Pärnu Bay in the Baltic Sea in southwestern Estonia. The Pärnu River passes through the city on the way to the Gulf of Riga. Parnu is known for its large sandy beaches, luxury hotels, and fine restaurants. Pärnu is also known for all kinds of spas, from large water parks beloved by kids to the more intimate historic bath houses. A long wide beach is bordered by a popular promenade, great for taking a stroll, jogging, cycling, and roller skating. Next to it are several playgrounds, water fountains, and many play areas for children. For those seeking more action, there are water skiing, yachting, canoeing, or kayaking from the Pärnu river delta to the open sea and all the way to nearby islets.
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Rakvere is an old city in northern Estonia about 20 km south of the Gulf of Finland. Its landscape is dominated by the ruins of the 13th century castle that looms over the city. Close to the coast and Lahemaa national park, Rakvere is a popular holiday destination with all the modern comforts set in a picturesque rural setting. Rakvere is also developing a reputation for its alternative edge, a range of punk music festivals and events. The ruins of the castle have been developed as a theme park where visitors can spend a day dressing up as knights and medieval ladies and learn about life in the Middle Ages. There is a torture chamber, a wine cellar, a Red Lanterns Street, an old brothel, and an alchemist's workshop.
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Ruhnu is a small island in the Bay of Riga about 11.5 square kilometers in size and almost 40 kilometers off the coast of Estonia. The island was disputed between Latvia and Estonia until its residents voted to be part of Estonia. There is a small village in the heart of the island with a lovely wooden church built in the 17th century. The village is surrounded by dense old forests with many rare tree species. The whole area is heavenly for hiking, with many scenic paths crossing the island. There is always a pleasant sea breeze bringing in the smells of the ocean. The island is sparsely populated, and it is possible to hike for hours without meeting a soul. On the east end of the island is a popular Lido beach that gets crowded in the summer.
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Saaremaa is the 1,032 square mile island in the Baltic Sea just south of Hiiumaa island, a part of the West Estonian Archipelago. It is the largest island in Estonia. Saaremaa has been inhabited from at least 5,000 years BCE, and it has a turbulent history in both a natural and human sense. The meteorite Kaali fell on the island over 4,000 years ago, creating a massive crater, and the area has seen numerous invaders, Vikings being the most frequent. Today, the island is a very popular holiday destination. People from all over Estonia come for the island’s lovely, almost deserted beaches, rich folklore, and fabulous spa retreats. Quaint fishing villages, traditional Estonian cottages, an enormous castle in the capital Kuressaare, picturesque windmills, and diverse wildlife make Saaremaa a wonderful place to explore.
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Setomaa is a region shared between Russia and Estonia in southern Estonia, south of Lake Peipus. The region is inhabited by the Seto people who speak the Seto language, a variety of South Estonian. The cultural and historic center of Setomaa is Pechory. Setos managed to keep their traditions, unique lifestyle, language, culture, cuisine, and dressing customs. They are well known for the ancient polyphonic singing that the young generation inherited and embraced. The Seto Farm Museum is a great place to learn about Seto farm architecture, handicrafts, and old tools. Enjoy one of the traditional smoke saunas, visit Seto Studio/Gallery to see modern and traditional Seto art, and try trout fishing at the Piusa River.
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Sillamäe is a town in the northern part of Estonia on the coast of the Gulf of Finland at the mouth of Sõtke River. Until the 1920s, Sillamae was a charming resort village popular in the 1800s among the aristocracy for its spas and beautiful nature. In the 1920s, a Swedish company decided to establish a metallurgy plant in the area to process locally discovered oil shale. During WWII, the Germans established several concentration camps in the area and sabotaged a Swedish plant. After the war, the Russians converted the old plant to process oil shale into uranium oxides. Due to radioactive waste that was dumped into the Baltic Sea, the local ecology was seriously compromised, causing the city to be closed for many years. Sillamae is still an important industrial center, mining and processing rare metals, but is also an attractive city to visit with beautiful surrounding nature and several large waterfalls.
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Tallinn is Estonia’s old capital located on the Baltic Sea coast, a perfect mix of old and new. Today the country’s cultural heart, Tallinn was first mentioned in 1154, and still has its walled, cobblestoned Old Town, which is today full of quaint cafes and shops. Nearby are also Kiek in de Kök, a massive 15th-century tower, a Gothic 13th century Town Hall with a 64-meter-high tower, and the 13th-century St. Nicholas Church filled with priceless ecclesiastical art. And not a stone-throw away is the city’s modern, vibrant side of skyscrapers, banks, and businesses. Let’s not forget the beautiful coastline with miles of sandy beaches and a romantic promenade lined with shops and restaurants. The city is so green and beautiful that it is easy to forget that until not so long ago, it was under Soviet rule.
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Tartu is an eastern Estonian city famous for its highly prestigious, 17th-century University of Tartu. The university is the city’s beating heart with the lively atmosphere students always create, but you can also see the old town with the university’s beautiful main building in neoclassical style, and the vibrant Town Hall Square, famous for the Kissing Students fountain and a range of fun and quirky cafes. Nearby is the modern Science Centre with a 4D cinema and a range of hands-on exhibits. The hilltop Toomemägi Park above the city is home to the ruins of the Tartu Cathedral, with two restored towers and viewing platforms offering a view of the entire city. Tartu has several wonderful museums and a rich nightlife.
Although the second largest Estonian town, Tarty is fairly compact and easily explored on foot or on a bike.
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Estonia shares its southern border with Latvia, and the town of Valga sits in the middle of the border between the two countries. The town, called Valka in Latvia, is split in half, but the countries reached an agreement to dispense with the border and border formalities, so the visitors of Valga-Valka love taking a photo standing next on the border (there is a famous border statue), with one leg in Latvia and other in Estonia. Two cultures and two languages created an interesting mix that makes the town particularly memorable and its history fascinating. Valga’s Town Hall, completed in 1865, has high half-hipped roof, turrets and skylights. The 1816 Jaani Church is located in the heart of the city, the only church in Estonia that has an oval ground plan. Valga Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the city. The Military Theme Park is a museum with interesting exhibits such as military vehicles, a tank, armored vehicles, a large collection of weapons, and much more. The Pedeli River runs between the two twin cities and has a nice long hiking and biking trail that goes along it.
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Viljandi is a very old town and municipality in southern Estonia that was granted the town charter by Wilhelm von Endorpe in 1283. This charming little town is snuggled in the shady depths of dense southern Estonian forests, and its fascinating castle ruins, once a home of the ruling Livonian Order, are great fun to explore. There is also the beautiful nearby lake with a beach and boats to rent and unique wooden architecture. Viljandi has a large, lively student population from Viljandi Culture Academy, who keep alive Estonian folk music and heritage. During the summer, musicians can often be seen strolling the city streets singing. Summer is also the season for many festivals, concerts of folk music and medieval fairs, when tourists descend to Viljandi in large numbers. Just outside the city are Soomaa national park and the Olustvere manor built in 16th century.
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21.Vilsandi National Park
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Vilsandi National Park is located in Saare County at the southern part of Estonia and includes a part of the Vilsandi island, about 150 smaller islands, the Harilaid peninsula, and parts of western Saaremaa. Created in 1910, Vilsandi is the oldest Baltic protected area and one of the largest Estonia’s seal resting sites. The park has 30 species of orchids and large number of species of juniper bushes and fossils. The park is a spectacular hiking destination, and horseback riders can get a horse at the Reinu stables. As you hike, you will see numerous picturesque lighthouses, but the islands are mostly uninhabited. The park has an excellent visitor’s center with a great collection of fossils. To see the seals close up, you can join one of several boat tours.
Võru is a small traditional Estonian town in south-east of the country on the shore of Lake Tamula. The town center has a distinctive, orderly street pattern and charming low wooden houses. From the town center, scenic Katariina Alley leads to the lake, its lovely beach, and popular paved promenade. The most outstanding and most beautiful building in Voru is a former manor of the local landowner, which now houses a state secondary school. It is the oldest building in Voru. If you would like to learn about the city’s history, visit Fr. R. Kreutzwald Memorial Museum or the Võru County Culture Chamber. The Võru Culture House has a theatre, cinema, concert halls, and an art gallery. Võru is especially fun to visit during the winter since only an eight-minute drive will take you to the Kubija illuminated skiing tracks.
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22 Best Places to Visit in Estonia
- Haapsalu, Photo: Courtesy of yegorov nick - Fotolia.com
- Hiiumaa, Photo: Courtesy of Igor Groshev - Fotolia.com
- Kihnu, Photo: Courtesy of Jaak Veskimäe - Fotolia.com
- Korvemaa Nature Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of katiekk2 - Fotolia.com
- Kuressaare, Photo: Courtesy of irra irra - Fotolia.com
- Lake Peipus, Photo: Courtesy of rkuljovska - Fotolia.com
- Matsalu National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Erik Mandre - Fotolia.com
- Narva, Photo: Courtesy of sikaraha - Fotolia.com
- Nova & Noarootsi, Photo: Courtesy of sewu - Fotolia.com
- Otepaa, Photo: Courtesy of SandyS - Fotolia.com
- Parnu, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Rakvere, Photo: Courtesy of yegorov nick - Fotolia.com
- Ruhnu, Photo: Courtesy of studiomoka - Fotolia.com
- Saaremaa, Photo: Courtesy of anilah - Fotolia.com
- Setomaa, Photo: Courtesy of heitipaves - Fotolia.com
- Sillamae, Photo: Courtesy of Igor Sokolov - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Tartu, Photo: Courtesy of anilah - Fotolia.com
- Valga, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Bolte - Fotolia.com
- Viljandi, Photo: Courtesy of mendeleev - Fotolia.com
- Vilsandi National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Artenex - Fotolia.com
- Voru, Photo: Voru
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com