Help Wikitravel grow by contributing to an article! Learn how.

Estonia

From Wikitravel
Europe : Baltic states : Estonia
Revision as of 09:13, 20 September 2007 by 213.35.235.92 (Talk)

Jump to: navigation, search
Location
[[File:noframe|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:En-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Tallinn
Government Parliamentary republic
Currency Estonian kroon (EEK)
Area total: 45,226 sq km
Population 1,324,333 (July 2006 est.)
Language Estonian (official), Russian, Ukrainian, Finnish, other
Religion Evangelical Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Estonian Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Jewish
Electricity 220V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +372
Internet TLD .ee
Time Zone UTC+2

Estonia [1] is a Baltic state in Northeastern Europe. It has land borders with Latvia and Russia. With a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, Estonia also has seaborders with Finland and Sweden.

Regions

Estonia is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond)

Cities

Other destinations

Map of Estonia

Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else.

National Parks

Overseen by the country's Ministry of the Environment or "Keskkonnaministeerium", the five renowned national parks are:

  • Karula National Park
  • Lahemaa National Park, 50km east of Tallinn, with 1000 sq km of bays, peninsulas and forests.
  • Matsalu National Park
  • Soomaa National Park [2] (Soomaa translates to "Land of Bogs")
  • Vilsandi National Park, covers 238 sq km, including 163 sq km of sea and 75 sq km of land, plus 160 islands and islets.


Baltic Islands

Tranquil, laidback and unspoiled, Estonia's 1,500 Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature. Located off the west coast of Estonia, the two largest islands are:

  • Saaremaa, including the town of Kuressaare and one of few well-preserved medieval castles in the Baltics
  • Hiiumaa, including the town of Kärdla

Travelers can visit the national parks and islands on their own or as part of an eco-tourism adventure tour, like those led by TrekBaltics [3].


Jägala Falls

The Jägala Falls is Estonia's largest waterfall.

Understand

Medieval city wall in Tallinn

Estonia is a gem of a country offering visitors the chance to see a country that is both ex-Soviet Union and now proudly European Union. The traces of the Soviet era are still there to see — a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves can easily be visited. Tallinn's old town is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost complete, and surely rates amongst Europe's best old towns. Glorious beaches are on offer, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather. And therein lies something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — summer is short and winter is severe.

History

After 8 centuries of Danish, Polish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991 through its Singing Revolution, non-violent revolution that overthrew a very violent occupation that collapsed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more-prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a highly-technological environment, a very open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita in a European Union context, as well as a very low birth rate which is leading to rapid population decline.

Since accession to the EU Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Europe with EU highest, 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.

Geography

Climate 
maritime, wet, moderate winters, cool summers
Terrain 
marshy, lowlands; flat in the north, hilly in the south
Elevation extremes 
lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Suur Munamägi 318 m (in the south east of Estonia, 20km north of the main highway that runs from Riga to Russia close to the borders of Estonia with both countries).
Geography - note 
the mainland terrain is flat, boggy, and partly wooded; offshore lie more than 1,500 islands and islets
Nature 
World War II and the subsequent occupation were devastating on humans, but the destruction and the closure of large areas for military use actually increased Estonia's forest coverage from about 25% before the war to more than 50% by 1991. Wolves, bears, elks, deers as well as some rare bird and plant species are abundant in Estonia. The wild animals from Estonia are exported to some EU countries for forest repopulation programmes. Most of the animals are hunted according to yearly quotas.

Holidays

  • National holiday : Independence Day, 24 February (1918); note - 24 February 1918 was the date of independence from Soviet Russia, 20 August 1991 was the date of reindependence from the Soviet Union. Each 24 February a grand ball is held in the building of Estonia Theatre by the president for the prominent and important members of society and foreign dignitaries.
  • Jaanipäev : St John's Day or Midsummer Day held on the night of 23-24 June. The evening of the 23rd and well into the morning of the 24th is celebrated with bonfires and a traditional festive menu concentrating on barbeque and drinking.
  • Võidupüha (Victory Day) : 23 June is celebrated to commemorize the decicisive victory over Baltic-German forces in the War of Independence.
  • Christmas : or Jõulud is also celebrated in Estonia, this is strictly family event.
  • New Year's Eve : During the period of Soviet occupations the authorities sought to promote New Year as Christmas was all but forbidden for it alleged "religious" and "nationalist" character. After restoration of independence the significancy of the New Year decreased, but it is still a day-off and celebrated. This day is used by the leaders of the country to address the nation.

Get in

As Estonia is a member of the European Union, citizens from these countries can enter Estonia with a valid passport or a valid identity card. In addition more than 30 other nationals (including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan) can enter Estonia without a visa (detailed list at Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

A growing number of foreign visitors have been traveling to Estonia in recent years. According to Statistics Estonia the nation's statistical agency, 1.3 million foreigners visited the country in 2000, and that number climbed 38 percent to 1.8 million foreigners by 2005.

By plane

Tallinn is Estonia's international gateway. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen,Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga, Vilnius) there are direct flights from all major European hubs like London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam and regional hubs like Prague and Warsaw. Eastward connections are from Moscow and Kiev. Local carrier Estonian Air provides half of the services and the rest is provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, CSA, Air Baltic and others. Easyjet is one of a few low-cost carriers that provide service between Tallinn and major European cities. Travelers can pay as little as EUR 120 (US$160) or £80 Sterling to fly roundtrip from London to Tallinn.

From London's Stansted Airport, Easyjet provides nonstop service to Tallinn. From Frankfurt, choose from Lufthansa and Estonian Air. From Brussels, select from KLM, Estonian Air, Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa and Czech Airlines. From Berlin's Schoenefeld Airport, Easyjet serves Tallinn. From Amsterdam, choose from KLM, Lufthansa, SAS, Czech Airlines, Finnair, LOT Polish, and Northwest. From Rome's Fiumicino Airport, select from Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Estonia Air, KLM and Finnair.

Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel.

Daily domestic flights are from Tallinn to the islands of Hiiumaa (Kärdla) and Saaremaa (Kuressaare).

Detailed information is available from Tallinn Airport timetable.

By train

International train services are to/from Russia, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Domestic services connect Tallinn with Narva in the east and Viljandi in the south, Pärnu in the south-west, Tartu and Valga in the south-east.

By car

The Narva-Ivangorod border bridge [Photo: Rolf Palmberg]

Good road connections are to the south (Via Baltica routing Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius-Warsaw) and east (Tallinn-Saint Petersburg). Domestic road network is dense and covers all regions of the country.

By bus

Lots of good and cheap connections from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, Kaliningrad, Warsaw, and all larger Baltic and German cities. For details see Eurolines Estonia.

Eurolines can provide visa services to Russia, however it takes two weeks (one week rush).

By boat

Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm), Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn) and during summers also with Germany (Rostock) and Saint Petersburg. Tallinn-Helsinki is one of the busiest searoutes in Europe and has daily 20 ferry crossings and nearly 30 different fast-boat and hydrofoil crossings (the later do not operate during winter). For details see Port of Tallinn passenger schedules.

Minor international routes include recently re-established connection between Latvian port of Ventspils and the island of Saaremaa and Paldiski - Kapellskär (Sweden) with two different operators.

Get around

The road system is quite dense though the quality of roadcover is varying. The speed limit in countryside is 90 km/h and 50 km/h in the cities unless specified otherwise. The passengers are expected to wear seat belts. Lights must always be switched on.

In the central areas of bigger cities a fee is levied on parking cars, but finding a provider of tickets is sometimes difficult as mobile parking is wide-spread.

By train

Estonia's train network does not cover the whole territory. The quality of services has suffered considerably from privatization and the main means of local transport is now bus. Tallinn has three frequently-going local train lines (Tallinn-Keila-Paldiski/Riisipere and Tallinn-Aegviidu) see http://www.elektriraudtee.ee/?233.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally good. The Baltic countries have a lively hitchhiking culture.

By bus

Estonia has a comprehensive line network all over the country. All bigger cities like Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Narva are accessible by bus network. There is a journey planner at http://www.bussireisid.ee, in English, Finnish and Russian. But check also http://www.eurolines.ee (only between bigger cities and to outside Estonia).

By car

Estonia has lots of car rental companies and the level of English spoken by their representatives is generally very high. If you go to Level 0 of Tallinn international airport, there are several counters all touting cars.

Car rental in Estonia is very cheap compared to Western Europe. You can get a decent car shared between two people for approximately 150EEK/person/day e.g. a 2004 Fiat Punto.

An excellent day trip is to drive from Tallinn to Tartu. It takes about 2.5 hours each direction.

As of September 3, 2006 the drive from Tallinn to Tartu has been much improved. Except for a small road closure in Tallinn the road is US style macadam the whole lenth. It takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours. There are few sights of interest along the way. The terrain is flat and most of the road is bracketed by birch tree and a few pines. I can recommend Sam's grill about 1/2 way between Tallinn and Tartu as a place to stop. There is a gas station next door.

Be wary of the stones from the gravel roads, they are very sharp and can crack your windscreen.

Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of the Europe and United States. Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowed urban areas. Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol are strict and follow a policy of zero tolerance. Unfortunately, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are distressingly frequent. You should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians. Standards of driving can range from bad to down-right lethal. The best advice is to drive defensively: don’t assume your fellow drivers will do what you expect them to do, like stop for red lights or signal before they merge into your lane. If you can avoid it, it’s probably best not to drive on inter-city highways.

Talk

The official language is Estonian, though many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English well. Older generation understands Russian quite well. Finnish is linguistically closely related to Estonian and, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf, many Estonians understand it quite well. There is a significant Russian minority (25%) and some other Slavic speaking minorities as well.

Buy

The local currency is the Estonian kroon, with the scary-sounding currency code EEK. One kroon is divided into 100 sent. Since 1993, the kroon has been fixed first to the German mark, and now to the Euro at a rate of 15.6466 to 1.

ATMs and money changers (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia.

Adoption of Euro in Estonia was postponed due to the higher than allowed inflation rate.

Costs

It is no secret that in most post-soviet countries consumer prices are considerably lower than in Western Europe, in part due to lower taxes. This has been one of the main driving forces behind the inflow of the Nordic guests to Estonia through the 1990s, but prices are rising steadily and surely. In heavily touristed districts (say, Tallinn's Old Town) prices are already equivalent to Scandinavia.

Eat

Estonian food draws heavily from German and Scandinavian cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, blood sausage, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.

Many types of food are close to Russian and have their equivalents almost exclusively in former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".

As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of USSR, some of its foods, unknown to Westerners, are still well-recognized in the lands of the CIS.

Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.

Drink

Like their neighbors the Finns and the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku [4] or A. Le Coq [5], the local vodka Viru Valge (Vironian White) [6] and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn) [7], famous in the countries of former USSR.

Sleep

Number of hotels has exploded from few to tens and hundreds after Estonia restored independence. In 2004 Tallinn achieved first place among the Baltic Sea cities in the number of overnight stays in hotels, though still behind Stockholm and Helsinki in the number of total overnight stays. A list of bigger hotels as well as some restaurants and nightclubs could be found at Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association [8].

As Soviet collective farms were disbanded many farmers switched to running "turismitalu" or tourism farms which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in the nature, usually in former farm house. Site on Estonian Rural Tourism [9] provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Another widespread option for budget-sensetive travellers is hostels, see website of the Estonian Youth Hostel Association [10].

Learn

Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its high schools, especially from Nordic countries. As the site of Ministry of Education and Research [11] notifies, Estonia is a member of several important European frameworks, such as the Bologna and Sorbonne conventions establishing a European Higher Education Area, the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region. Estonia and EU Member States have thus mutually recognized corresponding qualifications making Estonian diplomas acceptable Europe-wide. Among universities receiving foreign students perhaps most known are Tartu University (established 1632) and Tallinn Technical University. Extensive coverage of all aspects of Estonia's educational system could be found at SmartEstonia [12] website.

Work

Estonia may have had rocketlike growth in recent years, but only from a very low base as a former Soviet republic, and average local monthly salary (2007) is only around 650 EUR.

Since restoration of independence, Estonia has been following a "small open economy" model, achieving in 2000 4th place worldwide on the openness of its economy (Heritage Foundation). No obstacles exist to citizens of EU countries to come to invest and work in Estonia. Citizens of developed non-EU countries are exempted from short-term tourist visas. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia.

Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.

Citizenship and Migration Board [13] is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.

CV Online [14] is one of the oldest Estonian recruitement and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).

Stay safe

The published crime rate increased dramatically in 1991-1994 after democratic freedoms were introduced. In large part this is due to the fact that crime was a taboo subject before 1991, as Soviet propaganda needed to show how safe and otherwise good place it was. However it is still a significant problem in Estonia. The murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants, as of 2000, was some 4-5 times higher than in Sweden and Finland, although still significantly lower than in its biggest neighbour, Russia. Today, the official sources claim achieving considerable reduction in crime statistics in the recent years. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas and narcotics mafia operating in predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East. In Tallinn petty crime is an increasing problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing. Tallinn Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.

The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices.

For police dial 110, for other emergencies like fires and so, call 112.

It has been mentioned that ordinary Estonians are unlikely to approach a complete stranger or a tourist on their own. If somebody suddenly turns to you in the street (with questions or matters of small business) keeping a cautious eye on your belongings would be wise.

Open homosexuality may be met with stares and possibly rude comments. Travellers may also encounter racism, though violence is very rare.

Stay healthy

For an Estonian it is considered "mauvais ton" not to criticize Estonian healthcare system. Recent EU study showed however that Estonia occupies a healthy 4th place in the block by the basic public health service indicators, on the same level as Sweden. In fact, around 1998-2000 Estonian healthcare system was remodeled from obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war to more up-to-date by the experts from Sweden. Estonia has harmonized its rules on travelers' health insurance with EU requirements. For fast aid or rescue dial 112.

Respect

Estonians are tremendously proud of their nation and their country because as a small nation they have managed to gain independence and survived all the rough times that centuries of history filled with wars has served them.

Estonians are a hard working nation, sometimes referred as the Japanese of Europe. Sometimes, it's said (also often among themselves) that Estonians don't know how to enjoy their life, because they are always working. But You can convince yourself that they can if You spend some time with them.

Estonians are an educated nation. Education is highly valued in Estonia because as a small nation with no exceptional resources they now that the only way to be competitive is to absorb knowledge. There are so many highly educated people in Estonia that it is becoming to create problems in their labour market - there arent enough workers for jobs that need little education.

  • When entering home, shoes should be taken off at all times, as in most periods of Estonian year there's a lot of mud or snow outside. Do not worry that Your feet will get dirty - the floors are just as clean as the walls as Estonians are very neat and clean people.
  • Do not get too noisy in a conversation. Raising Your voice too much is not a good way to impress anyone in Estonia. A descent silent conversation is Estonian way of doing business and is being well appreciated.
  • Do not try to initiate too many small-talk conversations. Estonians are rational people and their graditude belongs to those who speak on subjects that are really worth of discussing. They may get tired and cranky if You try to enhance chit-chat conversations.
  • Do not expect too many compliments from Estonians. They are very sincere and wont say good words for nothing. But if You manage to get a compliment out of Estonian then You now that it's pure and candid.
  • When entering a shop do not wait for the attention of the salesman - ask for it. Don't consider it to be rude, they just do not want to disturb You as freedom to choose and decide on Your own is considered to be the main social right in Estonia.
  • If being served in an Estonian home, it's considered disrespectful not to eat all the food served on one's plate. But turning down local cuisines is understood and tolerated - after all everybody are not willing to eat everything.
  • The main way of greeting is to shake hands. If there is a long time - no see situation then hug is the best solution.
  • Be careful when mentioning Estonia in the context of the former USSR. Estonia was occupied by Soviet Union and any praising of Soviet (or Russian) practices is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by the ethnic Estonians. Soviet occupation was a national tragedy and almost every Estonian has a relative who was deported to Siberia. The worst thing You can do is call Estonians Russians or start a conversation in Russian.
  • Estonians don't like to be referred as Eastern-Europeans. They consider themselves as a Nordic nation because they are finnic people closely related to finns and they also have very strong historical ties with Sweden and Denmark, also Germany.

Contact

Check out www.wifi.ee for a list of WiFi enabled hotspots (847 as of August 2006) across the country.

Telephone

For local calls, dial the 7 or 8 digit number given. There is no "0" dialed before local numbers.

For international calls from Estonia, dial "00" then the country code and number.

For international calls to Estonia, dial "00" from most countries or consult your operator, the country code "372" and the 7 or 8 digit number

For emergencies, dial "112". For police only, dial "110".


Postal Service

Within Estonia, the postage cost for a letter up to 20 grams is 5.50 EEK (Estonian Kroon)(about €0,36). To other Baltic and Nordic countries by air mail, the cost is 6 EEK, and to the rest of the world by air mail, the cost is 8 EEK. Be sure to mark all air mail pieces with "Prioritaire/Par Avion" stickers available at the post office, or clearly print it on the mail if needed. Stamps are sold at post offices usually open during normal shopping hours, and also at newstands.

This country guide is usable. It has links to this country's major cities and other destinations (and all are at usable status or better), a valid regional structure and information about this country's currency, language, cuisine, and culture is included. At least the most prominent attraction is identified with directions. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!



Variants

Actions

Destination Docents

In other languages

other sites