*Updated 21 Jan 2017
Let’s start with 3 things you didn’t know about Estonia:
1. Skype was invented by Estonian developers.
2. Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world.
3. Estonia is the top nation, per capita, for number of international supermodels.
*A quick shout-out to Jan, aka “The Crazy Tourist“. He’s got a lot of great posts over on his blog and I wanted to include his write-up on the 15 best places to visit in Estonia. It’s an excellent post and gets you outside the capital city of Tallinn if you’ve got the time.
As you travel Estonia you’ll realize they never miss a chance to use lots of vowels when just one would do. I love to tease my Estonian friends about this.
Tallinn is an excellent starting point for a first time vacation in the country. There are many things to do and one of the most interesting places to visit is the beautiful medieval Old Town from 15th century. Tallinn Old Town has charming beautiful cobblestone streets, gabled houses with fascinating architecture and landmarks such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the Dominican Monastery, Helleman Tower and Toompea Castle. You can read my profile of the capital city of Tallinn here.
Remember this too, Estonians are a very stoic bunch. Not a lot of smiles or random conversations, but they are nice in general.
This post however is meant to give you other ideas for things to see and places to go outside of Tallinn.
For Estonia, the title of most buzzing beach destination easily goes to Pärnu, a town that expertly blends its prewar resort charm with all the trappings of a 21st-century fun-in-the-sun experience. Whether that experience is of the lazy or rocking variety is purely the visitor’s choice – there’s always enough going on in the nation’s ‘Summer Capital’ to satisfy anyone’s taste.
Though Pärnu’s history stretches back to the 1200s, it was the opening of the first bathing establishment in 1838 that kicked off the city’s reputation as a place for healthy relaxation.
Jägala Falls are the largest waterfalls in Estonia. They are located approximately 30 km east of the capital city of Estonia – Tallinn, at the village Jägala Joa. These beautiful waterfalls are called Niagara Falls of the Baltic.
Jägala Falls are about 8 meters high. The water of Jägala River cuts into the limestone and formed here about 300 feet long valley. It flows into the nearby water reservoir Linnamäe Veehoidla and then to the Baltic Sea. Jägala Falls partially freeze in winter and get a nice icy backdrop.
The tunnel in the gardens at Kadriorg Palace pictured below are worth checking out on their own. Kadriorg can be considered to be the grandest example of palace and park design in Estonian architectural history.
The palace, originally an imperial summer residence, has been extremely well preserved since the early 18th century. Designed to resemble the Italian palaces of the time, the palace has a facade which is three levels at the front and sides and two levels at the rear in a mix of architectural styles.
Piusa Sand Caves
Piusa Caves were created in 1922 as a quarry of quartz sand that was used to make glass. It was quarried underground. Besides the old mining caves there are also three man-made caves in the south from the quarry. The purpose of the caves were geological observations. Piusa caves have evolved into a popular site for hibernating bats. It is the largest known hibernation colony in Eastern Europe.
Although the caves can be explored, visitors are warned to stay on marked paths only to avoid injury in the delicate caves, and to not stir up the flying mammals.
Kõpu lighthouse is undoubtedly the most famous tourist attraction on Hiiumaa. The pyramid-shaped base was constructed in the early 1500’s and is believed to be the third oldest continually operating lighthouse in the world. The construction of this lighthouse was a remarkable feat considering the remoteness of the location and the lack of modern technology. Originally, a large fire burned atop the lighthouse and its appetite for wood resulted in the deforestation of a large part of Kõpu peninsula.
The lighthouse was built at the request the Hanseatic Merchants League in order to reduce the number of shipwrecks at Neckmansgrund and to warn ships away from the pirate- infested coastline. This cut into the income of the local population who made a nice profit from salvaging goods and taking people off of grounded ships. Still, many shipwrecks occurred because during storms the wood fire either went out or could not be seen far enough out to sea. Later, oil was used to provide light and finally in the late 1800’s the top section was constructed out of brick. An electric light was installed with a specially designed lens and now the light is visible some 30 nautical miles out to sea. The top of the lighthouse is over 100 meters above sea level and gives a breathtaking view of the Baltic Sea as well as much of the island. Sweden lies over the horizon about 200 kilometers straight west.
Piusa koopad / Sandstone caves in Piusa, Southern Estonia
A huge system of caverns in sandstone. Actually it is a sort of mine, or better quarry, as sandstone was mined which was used as glass-sand. It started with an underground mine, but since 1970, with better machinery, the mining is opencast mining. The quarry is still working.
The rock is the Lode Member of the Gauja Regional Stage or upper Givetian. The cross-bedded sandstone sequence of yellow, pinkish, and white colour contains thin multicoloured siltstone interbeds.
The mine is a famous bat hibernation quarter. In 1999 more than 3,000 bats were counted, which makes it the biggest known colony of bats in the Baltic states. This includes pond bat (Myotis dasycneme), Daubenton’s bat (Myotis daubentonii), Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) and northern bat (Eptesicus nilssonii). As a result the cave is now a Nature Reserve.
The abandoned underground mine caverns, which were made using the ancient room and pilar method were opened to the public in 2001. They were developed with a path and wooden rails. there is no gate or entrance fee, and also no electric light. Visitors are requested not to leave the traisl for security reasons. Actually the visit of this quarry is like visiting a wild cave, so do not go alone, or at least tell someone where you go. The trails are actually mainly for the protection of the bats, not the human visitors. Please do not leave the trail.
This well has fascinated locals and tourists for thousands of years. Founded around 3,000 years ago,
Alatskivi Castle (built in 1880-1885 by Arvid von Nolcken)
Alatskivi Castle is a fairy tale castle on the eastern border of Estonia. Alatskivi Castle was built from 1876 to 1885 by Baron Arved von Nolcken according to his own designs in the so-called Scottish barons style. He was particularly inspired by the royal residence at Balmoral, Scotland. Alatskivi Castle is considered the most beautiful neo-gothic building in the Baltic States. This castle is located in Tartu which is a great segue into the next place to see in Estonia below.
The town of Tartu is an excellent place for a getaway escaping the crowds in Tallinn. Tartu has many green areas where you can take an enjoyable hike, and it is one of the best places to feel real Estonia.
Tartu is a rural town; however the architecture and buildings found here are simply outstanding.
Tartu also hosts some of the most interesting places to visit in Estonia such as the National Museum of Estonia and the Estonian Folk Museum. Here you learn about Estonian people, culture and art.
Haapsalu is a popular seaside resort during the summer months. Haapsalu is another excellent relaxing getaway for a day trip from Tallinn. Haapsalu also has a lovely medieval town square with interesting architecture like the Haapsalu Castle, as well as a few museums worthwhile visiting; the Estonian Swedes Museum and the Laanemaa Museum both of which show art.
Estonia lays claim to over 1500 islands and Hiiumaa Island is Estonia’s second biggest island, and another interesting place to visit. If you are planning on visiting Haapsalu, you can easily add a side trip to Hiiumaa Island to explore the island’s great beauty. You will find attractions like; Kopu Lighthouse, Kassari Church, and Soru Museum. Hiiumaa Island is easily reached by ferry from Rohukula port, and it takes approximately 45 minutes.
Kuressaare Castle is a unique medieval Bishop’s fortress, the oldest parts of which date back to the 13th century. With its massive late Gothic building and two imposing towers the fortress constitutes an impressive landmark in the island’s capital. The inside of the castle is extensively restored and offers an attractive overview of artefacts from the past of the building, and with its hidden corners, dungeons and staircases gives a genuine idea of what it felt like to inhabit such a castle.
This Medieval-style castle was built on the slopes of the sandy moorland, under the local pine-trees in the 19th century by the founder of the city borough where is now stands. The castle features a forest park and unique stone statues, having been fully restored in the past 30 years and now being open for pre-arranged occasions. There are plans of possibly opening the castle to the public in the near future. The forest park surrounding the castle is accessible to visitors.
Haapsalu Castle is a 13th century Bishop’s castle with an attached Dome church, set amidst the 16th century walls marking the expansion of the building. The tall Watchtower offers impressive views over the city and the bay surrounding it, while the Chapel of the Dome church is the site of a famous legend of the unlucky White Lady walled in the castle alive as punishment for her sins. The picturesque ruins and the restored church constitute a significant medieval heritage site in the West Estonian county.
These places should give you plenty to see on a trip to Estonia, probably more than one trip can handle. Estonia is one of my favorite places to visit and it’s a little less known even than Latvia.