Estonia’s charm is determined by the wonderful mixture of medieval flair, unspoilt nature and young, lively cities. There is hardly a country that is so original, so traditional and at the same time so modern as Estonia, a country located in northern Europe featured by Countryaah.
In the following we present our TOP 10 to you. These are not always the most famous stations, the most famous buildings or the most visited sights. Neither does it have to, because beautiful travel experiences are sometimes hidden in the unknown. And of course, the fantastic nature is often the focus of our very personal TOP 10.
10TH PLACE: MEDIEVAL FLAIR: RAKVERE CASTLE (WESENBERG)
Rakvere is best known for the Ordensburg. The first settlements at this point can be traced back to the 2nd to 5th centuries. In the 13th century, a wooden castle was first mentioned, which stood on a mountain near the settlement. The fortress was replaced by a mighty stone castle after the Livonian War.
Wesenberg Castle is worth a visit: Visitors can immerse themselves fully in the Middle Ages. If you want, you can try your hand at archery and crossbow shooting, visit the torture chamber, blacksmithing and pottery. In the adjoining restaurant you can try historical dishes. An adventure for the whole family!
9TH PLACE: PÜHITSA MONASTERY IN KUREMÄE
The Pühitsa Monastery from the late 19th century is located in the Estonian solitude – in Kuremäe north of Lake Peipus. A place with a mysterious atmosphere. The main church and the monastery building with the distinctive architecture look like from another world. It is inhabited by Russian Orthodox nuns. The gates are open to visitors.
8TH PLACE: HANSEATIC LEAGUE AND UNIVERSITY: TARTU
A pretty town that is worth a stopover! Tartu, the former Hanseatic city of Dorpat, was mentioned in a document as early as 1030 and is located on the banks of the Emajõgi. Art and science are omnipresent in the university city. In 1869 the first Estonian song festival took place in Tartu.
A walk on Toompea is nice. From here there is a wonderful view of the lower town. There are monuments of famous citizens in the park. The observatory and the anatomical theater can be reached via the Angel’s Bridge or the Devil’s Bridge.
The market square with the town hall from 1786 is the center of the city. Here is also the fountain where you meet the kissing students – the sculpture is Tartu’s landmark. Restaurants and cafes are lined up along the market square. The Café Pierre Chocolaterie, for example, offers delicious cakes in a wonderful, historic coffee house ambience. Those who like to experiment will get their money’s worth with unusual chocolate compositions.
7TH PLACE: ONION VILLAGES ON THE WATER: LAKE PEIPUS
The huge Lake Peipsi (Peipsi järv) is the largest lake in the Baltic States. It is 3,555 square kilometers – eight times larger than Lake Constance -, 140 km long and measures 50 km at its widest point. The border with Russia runs through the lake.
The shore of Lake Peipus is partly overgrown with reeds, in the north there are long, lonely sandy beaches. The whole area is wonderfully quiet and secluded and exudes a very special atmosphere.
The so-called onion villages are historically interesting. Many Old Orthodox, also called Old Believers, live in the villages on Lake Peipus. The branch of faith originated in the course of a church reform in the 17th century. Those who rejected this reform founded the “old faith”. They were persecuted by the Russian Church and fled, some of them to Lake Peipus. There are still some of these communities on the western shore of the lake. In small museums near Käsepää or Kolkja, visitors are brought closer to the life of the Old Believers, and their churches can also be visited.
The name “onion villages” comes from the fact that many of the inhabitants of the region lived and still live from growing onions.
The villages on the lake are not a highlight for everyone. But it is precisely this remoteness, this old culture that is lived every day, the originality that make the region an interesting stop – and therefore fully justified in the top 10 for us.
6TH PLACE: THE LARGEST ISLAND: SAAREMAA
Saaremaa, the largest island in Estonia, is also known by the German name Ösel. Saaremaa looks like another world, like from another time – especially if you come straight from lively Tallinn. Stone walls made of boulders, post windmills and thatched roof houses shape the appearance.
Due to the isolated location, the Soviet russification policy hardly had any effect here, and Saaremaa was also a restricted area during the Soviet era. So the island is still very original today. That is precisely what makes the charm.
Saaremaa is particularly easy to explore by bike. Then the windmills at Angla, the small church nearby and the meteorite crater at Kaali should be on the route.
Kuressaare, the main town on the island, is a popular place for health and relaxation holidays. If you want to unwind after a city trip to Tallinn, this is the right place for you.
5TH PLACE: THE SUMMER CAPITAL OF ESTONIA: PÄRNU
The small town on the west coast is characterized by neat wooden villas, well-tended parks, picturesque alleys and a really beautiful sandy beach.
Pärnu is known as a resort. Since the 19th century, since the discovery of healing mud and the opening of the first bathing establishment, people in search of relaxation have come from Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Germany. The Second World War left its mark on Pärnu. After the reconstruction, mainly Russians used the seaside resort.
The Rüütli is the Pärnus shopping street, a pedestrian zone that is wonderful to stroll through. Cafés invite you to stop. A place to fall in love with!
Anyone who spends some time here will experience deceleration. The atmosphere is appropriately calm and dignified for a health resort – especially in the health resort district along the coast. The old Kursaal from 1880 – today a restaurant – and the mud bath are also located here.
However, if you are looking for peace and quiet, you should know that Pärnu can also do other things. In the summer months there are music festivals and other events … times that some seek, others prefer to avoid. But it is precisely this mixture that defines Pärnu!
4TH PLACE: HIIUMAA ISLAND: PURE NATURE
The island of Hiiumaa is located north of its big sister Saaremaa and should definitely be on the list of holidaymakers looking for peace and relaxation.
Hiimuaa has a long history: the island was formed by a meteorite explosion around 455 million years ago.
Kärdla is the capital of Hiiumaa and at the same time the largest town. The calm atmosphere and the green appearance make Kärdla an excellent place for a relaxing holiday. It can best be explored by bike or on foot. The attractive wooden architecture in the old town, the Pikk Maja museum on the history of Hiiumaas and the simple style church are particularly worth seeing. In Köpu, Ristna and Tahkuna there are three lighthouses that can be visited. The massive Köpu lighthouse looks back on 500 years of history.
A visit to the Määvli moor is interesting. The Nuutri River, which flows into the sea at Kärdla, has its source here. In addition to the wetlands, forests and of course the coast with its long sandy beaches also shape the appearance of the island.
Due to the flat topography, Hiiumaa, as well as the offshore island of Kassari, which is connected by a dam, is ideal for bike tours. There are marked routes across the island.
Hiiumaa can be reached by ferry from Rohuküla. There is also a ferry connection to Saaremaa. In particularly cold winters, the island is even connected to the mainland by an ice road.
3RD PLACE: KÄSMU PENINSULA IN LAHEMAA NATIONAL PARK
Lahemaa National Park is located on the north coast of Estonia, at the gates of Tallinn. Lahemaa means something like “land of bays”. The wonderful coastline is defined by countless small bays, beaches, huge boulders and dreamy fishing villages. Inland, high moors and historic manors are waiting to be explored.
The four large peninsulas of Lahemaa are called Juminda, Vergi, Pärispea and Käsmu. The coastline of the Lahemaa National Park was little influenced by human hands, it was a restricted military area in Soviet times. For example, old military buildings can still be found on the northernmost tip of the Käsmu peninsula.
Käsmu is definitely worth a visit. Hiking trails lead to the northern tip, the captain’s village Käsmu – there used to be a naval school here and many seamen and captains lived here – attracts with idyll, a marine museum and a small, wooden lighthouse. There are also many erratic boulders on Käsmu. The largest chunks, scattered all over the park, reach heights of seven meters and circumferences of over 30 meters!
2ND PLACE: SWAMP AND BOG: SOOMAA NATIONAL PARK
The pristine nature and the mix of forests, raised bogs, floodplains, flooded meadows and wooded meadows make Soomaa what it is. Swamps and moors are defining landscape elements in Soomaa National Park.
Hiking trails and wooden plank walkways lead through the enchanting nature. The silence in the moor and the play of colors are fascinating. A beautiful educational trail leads from Karuskose towards the north – through quarry forest, over extensive moorland, past deep black lakes. A lovely walk for about an hour or two. An observation tower allows a panoramic view.
Caution: The road to Karukose or to the starting point of the tour is a narrow, paved forest path. Oncoming traffic, wetness and not entirely unequivocal signage can complicate the approach.
At Riisa there is an educational trail that is also suitable for wheelchairs and prams. It leads through forest and moor and thus presents a beautiful cross-section of the Soomaa landscapes.
The visitor center of the national park is located in Körtsi-Töramaa.
In Soomaa the “fifth season” is known: the transition from winter to spring often brings with it floods. The park may then only be accessible to a limited extent, Töramaa, for example, can then only be reached by car from the direction of Köpu (coming from the south).
1ST PLACE: TALLINN … WITH A DIFFERENCE
Placing Tallinn in the “Top 10” is of course more than predictable. But what can you do? After all, Tallinn boasts a wonderful mix of history and modernity, offers great sights, first-class gastronomy and markets itself so professionally with the omnipresent medieval theme that visitors actually feel transported to another time.
We don’t even want to mention the town hall pharmacy, Kadriorg or “fat Margarethe” here, as most Tallinn visitors have on the list anyway. But how about a walk through the streets of Kalamaja? The quarter in the north-west of Tallinn used to be the place of residence and work for fishermen and dock workers, and later it was the location for industry and workers’ living quarters. The special architecture reflecting the history is what makes the district what it is. Many wooden houses adorn the streets. The district, which of course changed under the economic conditions, is now a popular (residential) district, attracts creative people, offers gastronomy and shopping opportunities beyond the mainstream.
Or Tallinn from lofty heights? The more than 300 m high television tower in the northern district of Pirita offers a fantastic panoramic view of the city and is also a museum and interactive experience center.
And anyone interested in photography should pay a visit to the small photo museum in the city center, right behind the town hall.
If you want to understand the Estonians and their national culture, you cannot ignore this place: the singer festival stage. Anyone who steps on the gigantic stage in north-east Tallinn gets a vague idea of the size and impact of the singing festivals. They are an expression of national identity and an integral part of Estonian culture. Ultimately, the “Singing Revolution” made the country independent from the Soviet Union in a largely peaceful manner.
It is hardly worth mentioning that a visit to the singer festival stage during a singer festival is many times more impressive. Unfortunately, the opportunity rarely arises.