One of Europe’s best kept secrets, Estonia is a small coastal country with a lot of heart. The land takes visitors back in time to a fairytale-like atmosphere filled with castles, fortifications, medieval houses, and winding alleyways and paths that take visitors on an unforgettable adventure. While many of the attractions are entertaining and fun-filled, the legends behind them make for an even more exciting vacation. Some of the must-see places while in Estonia include the Estonian History Museum, Haapsalu Castle, and one of Europe’s biggest national parks – Lahemaa. Younger visitors can head straight to the Tartu Toy Museum or the AHHAA Science Center for a day of interactive, educational fun.
Established in 1997 as a project by the University of Tartu, the AHHAA Science Center has grown to become one of the largest of its kind the Baltic States. Visitors of all ages are invited to discover the joys of science through various exhibits and events. There are also workshops, hands-on interactive exhibitions, programs, and science theater shows that visitors can be a part of. There are three exhibition halls: the Hall of Technology where visitors can journey to the center of the Earth, the Hall of Nature, which allows visitors to explore fungi and mold in a safe environment, and the Hall of Temporary Exhibitions, which is constantly changing and has activities such as dissection, making chocolate, or building engines. Other aspects of the center include mini-labs, a planetarium, and a 4D adventure cinema.
Sadama 1, 51004, Tartu, Estonia, Phone: +37-27-45-67-89
2.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
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Built around the late 1800s by architect Mikhail Preobrazhensky, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn Old Town is the town’s grandest and largest orthodox cupola cathedral. It is built in a distinctive Russian Revival style, mostly because it was constructed while Estonia was a part of the Russian Empire. Visitors will find a lot of exciting details in the interior and the exterior of the cathedral; there are also eleven richly decorated bells in the cathedral, with the largest one weighing nearly 16 tons. Other aspects of the cathedral that shouldn’t be missed include its religious mosaics, stained glass windows, and the three gilded and carved wooden iconostases.
Lossi plats 10, 10130 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-44-34-84
3.Estonian History Museum
© Estonian History Museum
Though the Estonian History Museum wasn’t officially named so until 1989, its origin goes back to 1802 when Johann Burchard, the town hall pharmacist, started a collection of marbled Easter eggs called Mon Faible, or “My Weakness.” Over the years, the museum grew exponentially, and visitors will find many exhibits that explain Estonia’s history visually. Some of the exhibits include recreations of domestic interiors, historically dressed mannequins, and a collection of army uniforms and weapons from the 1940s and 50s. One of the more popular exhibitions is an original hut that was used by the Forest Brothers, partisans who waged guerilla war during the Soviet invasion.
10133, Pikk 17, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-96-86-90
4.Estonian National Museum
© Estonian National Museum
Founded in 1909, the Estonian National Museum is the only one of its kind in the country. The museum is dedicated to Estonian ethnography, folklore heritage, and folk art. Visitors will be able to learn so much about the life and traditions of Estonian people and their history through the many detailed exhibits at the museum. There is a comprehensive display of traditional Estonian national costumes from all regions, including the Finno-Ugric peoples and other minorities. Visitors will also come across an interesting collection of hand-woven carpets, linen tablecloths, and other handcrafts. One of the more unique exhibits is the collection of wood-carved beer tankards that were used during traditional holidays and feasts.
Muuseumi tee 2, 60532 Tartu, Estonia, Phone: +37-27-35-04-00
5.Estonian Open Air Museum
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The Estonian Open Air Museum was planned and discussed for many years by Estonian literati before finally opening in 1957. The museum takes visitors back in time to an 18th century rural village with life-sized reconstructions of the entire village. Some aspects include farmhouses, farmyards, sheds, several mills, a schoolhouse, church, an inn, a fire station, and other public buildings. Visitors are encouraged to explore the 72-hectare land and all of the buildings in it, which are arranged to represent Estonian vernacular architecture. There are many events and activities held at the museum for visitors to participate in, including those focused on traditional weaving, dance performances, and a Midsummer Day’s bonfire.
Vabaohumuuseumi tee 12, 13521 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-54-91-01
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Founded in the thirteenth century, Haapsalu Castle is one of Estonia’s architectural treasures. The castle was the residence of local authorities until the 17th century. Now, visitors will find that the castle’s main building houses a museum dedicated to the castle’s history, medieval weaponry, and much more. One of the more popular aspects of the castle is the cathedral of the former Oesel-Wiek Bishopric; it is the biggest single-nave church in the Baltic States. Other aspects include the main fortress, which offers stunning views of the surroundings, the watchtower now used as a belfry, and the castle grounds, which have been converted to a park for visitors to enjoy.
Lossiplats 3, Haapsalu, 90502 Lääne maakond, Estonia, Phone: +37-24-72-43-46
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The Jagala Waterfall holds the record for being Estonia’s highest and widest natural waterfall with a height of eight meters and a width of fifty meters. The waterfall forms from the Jagala River and eventually flows into the Gulf of Finland. Visitors will have an amazing view no matter which time of the year they decide to visit Jagala Waterfall; during the summer the waterfall flows into the lush greenery that surrounds it. But visitors who go during the winter season will find the large waterfall frozen solid and filled with large, glistening icicles. One of the more interesting aspects of the waterfall during winter is that the water frozen into icicles from the waterfall and the frozen water on the wall of the waterfall creates a unique tunnel of ice that is absolutely stunning.
74224 Harju County, Estonia
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Built in Petrine Baroque style, Kadriorg Palace was constructed from 1718 to 1725 by the ruler of the Russian Empire Peter the Great for his second wife Catherine I of Russia. The palace, the name of which literally translates to “Catherine’s Valley,” is currently home to the Art Museum of Estonia. Visitors will be able to see various foreign arts from the 16th to the 20th century ranging from paintings and graphics to sculptures and applied arts. The palace also houses various events throughout the year such as excursions, art studios, and concerts.
A. Weizenbergi 37, 10127 Tallinn, Estonia
9.Karula National Park
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Karula National Park, or Kalia Rout as it is locally known, is the smallest national park in Estonia but it is filled with a great amount of biodiversity. The land was established as a protected area in 1979 and then a national park in 1993. Visitors can explore the park’s beautiful hills, lakes, and cultural landscapes while getting up close and personal with the rich flora and fauna that are present there. Some of the more unique species that are red-listed or threatened include the daisyleaf grape fern, Baltic orchid, pond bat, the lesser spotted eagle, and the black stork.
Kumu, short for Kunstimuuseum, was established in 2006 and since then has grown to be one of the largest art museums in Northern Europe. It is one of the five branches of the Art Museum of Estonia and houses its main office. The museum displays permanent exhibitions of Estonian art from the 18th century onwards as well as temporary exhibitions with Estonian and foreign contemporary art. Visitors will find that the more unique works of art are those from Estonia’s occupations period, which show Socialist Realism and what was then Nonconformist Art. There are many lectures, performances, and events scheduled at the museum throughout the year.
A. Weizenbergi 34, 10127 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-02-60-00
11.Lahemaa National Park
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Established in 1971, Lahemaa National Park was the first area to be designated a national park of the former Soviet Union. The park is over 280 square miles, making it one of the largest parks in Estonia as well as one of Europe’s biggest national parks. Visitors can go on one of the many tour packages available to explore the park thoroughly. The park is filled with flora and fauna since over 70% of the park is covered in dense forests. Some of the most interesting aspects of the park include the 7,000-year-old Laukasoo Reserve and four picturesque manors.
12.Museum of Occupations
© Museum of Occupations
The Museum of Occupations is a memorial museum established in 2003 and dedicated to Estonia’s history from 1940 to 1991 – a time in which Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union and then Nazi Germany. Visitors can see a comprehensive collection of displays that exhibit what was then the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Exhibits include photos, audio-visual displays, and many artifacts that have been collected over the years. There are many events held at the museum throughout the year, especially the openings of various exhibitions such as Miranda - The Roma Holocaust.
10142 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-68-02-50
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A visit to Narva Museum is an exciting adventure for the entire family as it allows them to go back in time and see how the people of Estonia lived in the past. Narva Museum is a part of Narva Castle and comprises various aspects such as the Narva stronghold, the Northern Courtyard, and an art gallery. The Danes founded the medieval fortification in 1256 though the age of the castle is still unknown. A unique aspect of the grounds that shouldn’t be missed are the special cannon towers, which can be seen in the corners of the castle’s western court.
Peterburi maantee 2, 20308 Narva, Estonia, Phone: +37-23-59-92-30
14.NUKU Theatre, Museum and Centre for Puppet Arts
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NUKU Theatre and Museum is one of the more entertaining attractions in Tallinn, Estonia. No matter if they’re young or old, visitors will love the many things they can see and do at the museum such as trying on different costumes in the Costume Room, making their way through the Cellar of Horrors, or exploring the many masks in the Tunnel of Masks. The interactive puppetry museum lets visitors get really hands-on so they can better understanding an old Estonian art form. There are many shows played at the museum and theatre throughout the year.
Lai 1, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-67-95-00
© Seaplane Harbour
Seaplane Harbour is a maritime museum that opened in 2012 in the location of an actual hangar for seaplanes. Found in Peter the Great’s Naval Fortress, the museum has numerous exhibits. One of the most famed is the 1936 submarine Lembit, a pre-World War II Kalev-class mine-laying submarine. Visitors can also get into a full-scale replica of a seaplane, familiarize themselves with piloting a submarine, or see the wreck of the wooden ship Maasilinn. The museum exhibits take visitors through various stages of an actual seaplane: in the air, on the sea, and below the sea. It is a fun place for the entire family to explore.
Vesilennuki 6, Tallinn, Estonia
16.Soomaa National Park
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Created in 1993, Soomaa National Park literally translates to “the land of bogs.” Visitors come from all over the world to explore the giant bogs and the beauty that surrounds them. There are many trails for visitors to explore, including the Hupassaare Study Trail, Beaver Trail, and the Riisa Bog Trail, which takes visitors through stunning rivers, meadows, and unspoiled nature. Many of the trails are wheelchair accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or families with children in strollers. Visitors will be able to take some amazing photographs while hiking, exploring, and coming face to face with exquisite flora and fauna.
17.St. Nicholas' Church
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St. Nicholas’ used to be a medieval church dedicated to the patron of fisherman and sailors, Saint Nicholas. It was built in the 13th century and then destroyed by a bomb during World War II. Restored to its original structure, the building now houses a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia. Visitors will find many pieces of ecclesiastical art from the Middle Ages to present day. Some of the more famed pieces include Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke, the epitaph of Antonius van der Busch, and several medieval woodcarvings depicting the Virgin Mary and others by Henning von der Heide.
Niguliste 3, 10146 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-31-43-30
18.Tallinn Botanic Garden
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Spanning over 300 acres, the Tallinn Botanic Gardencan be found in the Kloostrimetsa Forest by the Pirita River. It is the largest botanical garden in Estonia and took almost 100 years in the making. The systematically arranged botanical garden includes an outdoor collection, greenhouses, a rock garden, a herbarium, an arboretum, and a dedicated rose garden. There is everything from indigenous plants to rare species of flowers, and visitors will find that the botanical garden is filled with interesting flora species and is a great place to relax and spend the day with the family.
Kloostrimetsa tee 52, 11913 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-06-26-66
19.Tallinn Song Festival Grounds
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Dedicated to the Estonian Song Festival, the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds isn’t just a concert venue. The grounds play an important role in the country’s history as the festival that originated there started an age of awakening for the nation; in 1988 Estonians gathered at the grounds to sing hymns in what is now known as the “Singing Revolution,” which led to Estonia’s independence. Though visitors can attend the Estonian Song Festival, which is held once every five years, there are also a number of other events scheduled there. Some of the ground’s most notable performers include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Elton John, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson.
Narva maantee 95, 10127 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-11-21-02
20.Tallinn Town Hall
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The Tallinn Town Hall is the oldest town hall in the entire Baltic region and can be found next to Estonia’s Town Hall Square. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tallinn Town Hall has been recognized over the years as “the last surviving Gothic Town Hall in Northern Europe.” Visitors can explore the stunning 13th century architecture and its many aspects such as the Citizens Hall, Town Hall Parlor, and the Town Hall tower, which visitors can climb to the top of. A part of Tallinn Town Hall that shouldn’t be missed is the Old Thomas, a vane depicting a famous soldier that has now become an important symbol of Tallinn.
Raekoja plats 1, 10114 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-45-79-06
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Tallinn Zoo was founded in 1939 and is now one of the most visited zoos in the Baltic States. It is the only zoo in all of Estonia and is home to over 13,000 animals from nearly 550 species. Visitors from all over the world come to see the many mammals, reptiles, birds, and others that are there throughout the year. Tallinn Zoo has a large collection of owls and eagles as well as the world’s largest collection of sheep and mountain goats. Visitors of all ages will love visiting the animals in the zoo’s tropic houses, elephant house, Alpinarium, and the Middle Asia Complex, which has camels, bison, and Przewalski’s horses.
Paldiski maantee 145, 13522 Tallinn, Estonia
22.Tartu Toy Museum
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The Tartu Toy Museum has over 5,000 toys in its collection, making it the biggest toy museum in the Baltic States. The museum was founded in 1994, and since then visitors from all over have come to see the extensive collection and even play with the many interactive toys themselves. The museum has a playroom for children, but more often than not, adult visitors can be seen having the time of their lives. The museum also has a theatre hall, a film puppets exhibition, a children’s studio for theatre programs, and much more. Visitors are able to not only play with the many toys at the museum, but also try out creating their own puppet or other handicrafts.
Lutsu 8, 51006 Tartu, Estonia, Phone: +37-27-46-17-77
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Toompea Castle is now the home of the Parliament of Estonia, but at one point it was a stunning 9th century fortress. Visitors can book one of the free castle excursions ahead of time and learn more about its history, which includes the legend of it being built by a character from Estonian mythology, Linda. The castle’s history also tells stories of Valdemar II and his Danish crusaders taking over the castle, as well as the Order of the Brethren of the Sword taking it over. Visitors can explore the Baroque and neo-Classical style architecture inside and out, walk the stunning castle complex, or relax in the park on the castle grounds. Visitors can also sit in on sessions of parliament in the public gallery.
Lossi plats 1a, 15165 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-31-63-31
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Valaste Waterfall is a popular attraction throughout the year, but especially during the winter months. This is because the spray from the fall freezes over in the cold weather and creates a stunning formation of icicles. A stream that flows over the Baltic Klint near the Gulf of Finland forms the waterfall. One of the main reasons it is a popular place to visit is because of the site amenities that make it easier to access; these include a designated parking area, carved stairways and trails to get there, and useful signs along the way.
41556 Ida-Viru County, Estonia, Phone: +3-72-53-91-21-20
25.Walls of Tallinn
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Founded in the 13th century, the Walls of Tallinn were built as a defense for the city by Queen Consort, Margaret Sambiria. The medieval defensive walls surrounded the city, and many parts of the wall, as well as the gates, still exist today. The Walls of Tallinn hold within it Tallinn’s Old Town, making both the town and the walls a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortifications and take in its fairytale charm while walking the distance of the wall and viewing the twenty defensive towers that still stand today.
Väike-Kloostri 1, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia, Phone: +37-26-44-98-67
25 Best Things to Do in Estonia
- AHHAA, Photo: AHHAA
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of TTstudio - Fotolia.com
- Estonian History Museum, Photo: Estonian History Museum
- Estonian National Museum, Photo: Estonian National Museum
- Estonian Open Air Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Alexandr Chernyshov - Fotolia.com
- Haapsalu Castle, Photo: Courtesy of nupsik284 - Fotolia.com
- Jägala Waterfall, Photo: Courtesy of Dreef - Fotolia.com
- Kadriorg Palace, Photo: Courtesy of jcg oida - Fotolia.com
- Karula National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Andres Ello - Fotolia.com
- Kumu, Photo: Kumu
- Lahemaa National Park, Photo: Courtesy of mkoppel - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Occupations, Photo: Museum of Occupations
- Narva Museum, Photo: Courtesy of tuulijumala - Fotolia.com
- NUKU Theatre, Museum and Centre for Puppet Arts, Photo: Courtesy of misterbike - Fotolia.com
- Seaplane Harbour, Photo: Seaplane Harbour
- Soomaa National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Bolte - Fotolia.com
- St. Nicholas' Church, Photo: Courtesy of konstan - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn Botanic Garden, Photo: Courtesy of bokstaz - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, Photo: Courtesy of tannujannu - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn Town Hall, Photo: Courtesy of Konstantin Kulikov - Fotolia.com
- Tallinn Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of nowwearesix - Fotolia.com
- Tartu Toy Museum, Photo: Courtesy of photofranz56 - Fotolia.com
- Toompea Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Valaste Waterfall, Photo: Courtesy of lic0001 - Fotolia.com
- Walls of Tallinn, Photo: Courtesy of Malin - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com