Republic of Estonia
Population: about 1.3 million
Area: 43 211 km2, about the size of Denmark and Bhutan
Official language: Estonian
Currency: kroon (EEK), 1 euro = 15,6466 kroons
Capital: Tallinn – our biggest city, 379 000 inhabitants
Other bigger cities: Tartu (the university town), Pärnu (beach destination), Narva (border town)
About the country
Estonia is mainly a lowland country that is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Latvia, and Russia. It has numerous lakes and forests and many rivers, most draining northward into the Gulf of Finland or eastward into Lake Peipus, its largest lake. Along Estonia's Baltic coast are more than 800 islands, of which Saaremaa is the most notable. Despite its northerly location, Estonia enjoys a mild climate because of marine influences.
Estonians, who are ethnically and linguistically close to the Finns, make up about 68% of the population; Russians constitute some 25%, and there are Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Finnish minorities.
The majority of those practicing a religious faith belong to either the Evangelical Lutheran or the Russian Orthodox Church. There are small minorities of other Christians, but most of the population is unaffiliated.
Ideal travel destination, if you:
- want to escape the crowds
- enjoy pristine nature
- like small towns
- are interested in Eastern Europe’s “survival” after Soviet Union
- wish to learn an exotic foreign language
- want to know how tomatoes and strawberries really taste
If you are lucky:
- spring (March, April, May): sunny, around 15 °C, flowers and blossoms on the ground and on trees, migrating birds return
- summer (June, July, August): warm and sunny weather, 25-30 °C, the see, lakes and rivers are warm enough to swim
- autumn (September, October, November): pleasantly warm, around 15 °C, the trees are colored yellow, orange and red
- winter (December, January, February): around -10 °C, snow, time for long-distance skiing
If you are not so lucky: cold and windy with rain, this can happen any time of the year. Ironically it is said that we have 3 months winter and 9 months when the weather is too bad for skiing…
In bigger cities you can manage with public transportation and there are also pretty good connections between bigger cities, but you should have your own wheels, if you want to be flexible and/or visit smaller places. Many international car rental companies are represented in Estonia. Of course, everything is possible without a car as well, but you have to have some time and patience.
Bus timetable and tickets: http://www.bussireisid.ee/index.html?MENU=&KEEL=en
Train timetable and tickets: http://www.edel.ee/home
Ferries to islands Saaremaa and Hiiumaa: http://www.laevakompanii.ee/index.php?keel=2
Public transportation in Tallinn and Harju County: http://soiduplaan.tallinn.ee/?a=p.routes&a...=xhtml&l=en
Travel planner: http://www.peatus.ee/#route_search/eng
Accommodation and eating out
In cities you should have no problems with finding a place to sleep or eat. Advance hotel booking can be useful during summer in Tallinn, Pärnu and on the island Saaremaa because of peak tourist season.
Finding a place to eat outside the cities can be tricky. There are some good and some not so good eateries, but not in every village/small town and some places are open only during summer. Not all B&B’s and small guesthouses offer lunch and dinner, so ask ahead if you want full pension or be prepared to cook yourself or drive to the nearest town to eat.
Camping in the wild is permitted, unless stated otherwise. Note that some Estonians can be very protective when it comes to their private land, so if you see signs “eramaa” or “eravaldus” (private property), then it is not a good idea to pinch your tent there. On the other hand, a sign saying “riigimets” (state forest) is a good thing. On public land the so-called everyman’s right is applicable, which means you are free to camp, pick berries and mushrooms, swim etc. No damage can be done to the nature, of course. There are many signposted trails with camping areas of RMK (State Forest Centre, http://wwweng.rmk.ee/index_eng.php3), free to use for everybody.
Things to do
Many things and places are listed in guide books, so this is a random selection of places and events, some of which are “must see” while others could skip your attention.
Tallinn. Usually the medieval old city with churches and restaurants, shopping and night clubs are advertised. Some alternatives:
- lovely district with wooden houses in Kalamaja (with café Boheem, Kopli Str 18)
- Art Gallery of Estonia – KUMU, http://www.ekm.ee/eng/ekm.php
- Open Air Museum in Rocca al Mare, http://www.evm.ee/keel/eng/
- Tallinn Zoo, http://www.loomaaed.ee/index.php?nlan=eng&...on&ndbase=1
- a quiet walk or jogging in pine forest in Nõmme
- ice skating, http://www.uisuplats.ee/?id=831, from November until spring (depends on the weather)
- opera, http://www.opera.ee/index.aw/set_lang_id=2, or a concert of classical music, http://www.concert.ee/index.php?lang=eng
- jazz club in Theatre NO99, http://www.no99.ee/eng/piletiinfo.php?nid=25
- Patarei sea fortress-prison, http://www.patarei.org/eng/
Narva. A city in the north-east of Estonia, on the Russian border, where Estonians are a minority. Besides experiencing a “different Estonia” you can sense some older history, visiting the castle by the river and looking over to Russia. http://www.forttour.net/project_eng.html.
Nationwide Song Festival. Takes place in Tallinn in summer every fifth year, next one will be in 2014, http://www.laulupidu.ee/eng.
Festival Jazzkaar. Concerts during autumn, winter and spring, not only in Tallinn. http://www.jazzkaar.ee/eng/.
Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. November and/or December, some movies will be shown also in Tartu and Pärnu. http://2009.poff.ee/eng/esileht.
Viljandi Folk Music Festival. End of July, some concerts during other months as well. http://www.folk.ee/en
Viru Folk Music Festival. Takes place in August in a small village on the northern coast called Käsmu. http://www.virufolk.ee/eng.
Muhu Future Music Festival JUU JÄÄB. Takes place end of June or beginning of July on the small Muhu island. http://www.nordicsounds.ee/?lang=en.
Seto Kingdom. Setos are a small ethnic minority in Southern Estonia. There are celebrations every August, when a “king” (sootska) will be elected. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setos.
Soomaa National Park. Canoeing and walking on peat-bogs and forest trails. http://www.soomaa.com/, http://www.soomaa.ee/?setlang=eng.
Kõrvemaa Nature Protection Area. Adventures in the wild. http://www.korvemaa.ee/?lang=2.
Kihnu island. A small island in the Gulf of Riga with its own special culture. http://www.kihnurand.ee/index.php?option=c...2&Itemid=26.
Pakri islands. Two islands with Swedish history near the north coast. http://www.pakrisaared.ee/v2/index.php?88.
Lake Peipsi. The biggest lake in Estonia forms most of the border with Russia. Small villages along the coast are inhabited by old-believers and represent a disappearing culture. http://www.peipsiveere.ee/EN/index.php.
Some useful websites
The following websites have an English version. Unfortunately, many good sites are only in Estonian.
http://www.visitestonia.com/en/. General information about Estonia, events, accommodation and transport
http://www.welcometoestonia.com/. Accommodation, eating out, entertainment etc
http://www.maaturism.ee/index.php?lang=en. Accommodation and activities outside the big cities
http://www.vidial.com/index.php. Information about sights in Tallinn and some other parts of Estonia
http://www.goestonia.ee/index.php?y=635. Guided tours in nature
http://www.360.ee/en/. Nature adventure tours