Earth : Europe : Baltic states : Estonia
Estonia is a Baltic gem offering visitors the chance to see a tiny dynamic land on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Glorious beaches pepper the extensive coastline, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not renowned for warm weather - something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — the summer is short and the winter is severe.
Tallinn's medieval old town was built by German crusaders in the Late Middle Ages and is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost completely intact and it rates as one of Europe's best preserved medieval old towns. Visitors can also experience an ex-Soviet occupied country that is now part of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet era are still there to be seen — e.g. Paldiski, a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves, can easily be visited on a day trip from the capital, Tallinn.
After 7 centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, Polish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcefully annexed into the USSR in 1940, it re-gained independence in 1991 through its Singing Revolution , a non-violent revolution that overthrew an initially violent occupation.
Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia moved to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more-prosperous former communist states, enjoying a high-tech environment, an 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 creating a slight population decline. Between 1991-2007, the country saw rapid economic expansion, leading it to be among one of the wealthiest and the most developed of the former Soviet Republics. However, its economy was badly damaged during the ongoing global recession, although more recently, it has been recovering quickly. In 2011, the Euro was adopted as the official currency.
Since its accession to the EU, Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in North-Eastern Europe with (EU highest) 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.
Estonia celebrates a national holiday:
Estonia also celebrates several public holidays:
All national and public holidays are a day off for workers in general, but most convenience stores remain open during regular hours.
Estonia itself is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond). However, to bring out the unique characteristics of Estonia, we use 4 distinctive regions in this guide. As the country is small, most destinations can be reached within a couple of hours from Tallinn.
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. Estonia's tranquil, laidback and unspoiled Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature.
Estonia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
A growing number of foreign visitors have been travelling to Estonia in recent years. According to Statistics Estonia  the nation's statistics agency, 1.3 million foreigners visited the country in 2000, and that number climbed 38 percent to 1.8 million foreigners by 2005.
Tallinn is Estonia's main international gateway. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga and Vilnius), there are direct flights from all major European hubs like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and Amsterdam and regional hubs like Prague and Warsaw. Eastward connections are from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev. Local carrier Nordic Aviation Group  provides half of the services and the rest is provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, CSA, Air Baltic, Ryanair 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, RyanAir, Lufthansa and Czech Airlines. From Amsterdam, choose from KLM, Lufthansa, SAS, Czech Airlines, Finnair, LOT Polish and Estonian Air. From Rome's Fiumicino Airport, select from Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Estonia Air, KLM and Finnair. From Helsinki Vantaa airport select from Estonian Air, Finnair, FlyBE.
Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel. Additionally, even if you are only visiting Estonia, it is frequently still significantly cheaper (particularly on flights from North America) to fly into Helsinki and then take the ferry to Tallinn.
Tartu is one of Estonia's oldest towns and a key to South-Eastern regions of Estonia, ancient Russian Pskov or further to Latvia. Flights map of the local airport includes Helsinki by FlyBE airline and Tallinn by Estonian Air, which makes a roundtrip Helsinki-Tallinn-Tartu very easy in any combination.
International train services are to/from Russia, Moscow. 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. Baltic Station railway terminal in Tallinn can be used to start your journey. The station can be accessed from town center and vice versa by tram number 2 - use the "Balti jaam" stop. The platform and trains are modern and the fares are reasonable. Free wifi is available on Elron trains.
Lots of good and cheap connections from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, Kaliningrad, Warsaw, and all larger Baltic and German cities. The most popular regular service provider is Luxexpress Group , others include Ecolines  and Hansabuss .
Domestic coach companies offer services nationwide. A schedule is available at t-pilet.ee. The most popular route is Tallinn-Tartu, where busses depart at least hourly.
Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm), Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn) and also with Germany (Rostock) during the summer months. 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 latter do not operate during winter). For details see Port of Tallinn passenger schedules .
In Estonia, the public transport system is well-developed and it is preferable to walk, cycle or use public transport.
Estonia's train network is operated by Elron. Tickets can be bought from Elron's website or from the ticket seller aboard the train. The ticket machines one can see on the train still do not work after almost a year since they were fitted (as of 2018-07).
They have several local commuter lines:
Elron also operates long-distance lines to (larger destinations noted):
Mobile internet sucks in middle of nowhere where the tracks go through, so stick with the (limited) train WiFi. 1st class has it's own, with the password known to the ticket seller or written on the ticket. Different trains can have its WiFi network by the same name and password but are different networks.
Estonia has a comprehensive bus network all over the country. All bigger cities like Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Narva are accessible by bus. Which work fine as long as you want to travel from or to Tallinn. Connections are more coincidental than planned.
There are several websites for bus information:
Tpilet.ee - this shows probably all the departures between bigger towns, but it does not show all inter-county ones. One can buy a ticket there, the website accepts credit cards and payments through bank links of local banks. The FAQ section says which lines accept tickets shown off one's phone, by scanning it's QR code or otherwise.
peatus.ee - fills in some blanks that Tpilet might not show, typically lines between smaller places.
As of 2018-07-01 Estonian government made some county lines free of charge, so don't be surprised if the bus driver does not want your money.
Pro-tip: If you want to travel between Pärnu and Haapsalu, then the journey planner on either of those sites does not show all the options. One could either look for departures to and from Lihula, which is between those two and might have a decent connection. Or go through Tallinn, but the journey planner will not tell you, nor will the website of Lux Express, that one can get off and on at Vana-Pääsküla stop, which saves 20 minutes each way. And possibly from having to wait for another trip.
Quality of cycling infrastructure is similar to other non-cycling countries. Outside towns light traffic paths often exist, separated from the road.
As for cycling in towns, do it in the manner that does not hurt you nor anyone else. If necessary ride on the pavement, if conditions allow then on the road, and if you find one - a bicycle path/lane.
Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally good. The Baltic countries have a strong hitchhiking culture.
The road system is quite extensive although road quality varies. The speed limit in the countryside is 90 km/h and 50 km/h in the cities unless specified otherwise. 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 widespread.
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 car rental agency counters.
Car rental in Estonia is very cheap compared to Western Europe. You can get a decent car shared between two people for approximately €10/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. Outside of Tallinn, it is a two lane paved road with some construction ongoing to upgrade it. It takes two to two and a half hours. There are few sights of interest along the way. The terrain is flat and most of the road is bracketed by a birch tree and a few pines. Sam's Grill (about 1/2 way between Tallinn and Tartu)is recommended as a place to stop. There is a gas station next door.
Driving in Estonia can be more dangerous than in much of Europe and the United States. Some drivers can be aggressive, recklessly overtaking vehicles and traveling at high speed, even in crowed urban areas. The best advice is to drive defensively: don’t assume your fellow drivers will do what you expect them to do, like avoiding overtaking in poor visibility or signal before they merge into your lane.
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.
Russian is by far the most spoken minority language in the country. Russian is the native language of just under half the population of Tallinn, with 66% of Estonians in total having at least some knowledge of the Russian language.
English is also spoken by around 50% of the population, especially by the youth.
Thanks to heavy tourism and popular TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf, Finnish is also spoken quite well by many people in Tallinn.
German is taught at school in Estonia, and around 10% of the population can speak it.
Medieval History & Manors
The main reason most people first come to Estonia is to see the best protected and intact medieval city in Europe - Tallinn. The unique value of Tallinn's Old Town lies first and foremost in the well-preserved (intact) nature of its medieval milieu and structure, which has been lost in most of the capitals of northern Europe. Since 1997, the Old Town of Tallinn has been on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Living under the rule of Scandinavian kings, Russian empire and Teutonic Knights has left Estonia with unique and rich blend of historic landmarks. Over one thousand manors were built across Estonia from the 13th century onwards. Some of the manors have perished or fallen into ruins but a lot have been reconstructed and now are favourite attractions with tourists. Nowadays there are about 200 manor houses  under state protection as architectural monuments and 100 in active use.
Islands & Coastline
Estonia has over 1,500 islands. The nature is essentially untouched and offers quite a different beach experience with their remoter rustic feel. Most of the public beaches are sandy and the average water temperature is 18°C in summer. Inland waters and some shallow bays' waters are even warmer.
The largest island is Saaremaa with an intact and well-restored medieval castle in its only city, Kuressaare. Stone fences, thatched roofs, working windmills and home made beer are all distinctive to Saaremaa. Hiiumaa, on the other hand, is well known for its lighthouses, unspoilt nature, the Hill of Crosses and the sense of humour of its inhabitants. Both islands have an airport so they can be quickly reached from Tallinn.
Other important islands include Kihnu, Ruhnu (with its "singing sand" beach), Muhu and Vormsi, each with its own unique characteristics. Most of the other tiny Estonian islands don't carry much cultural significance, but can be appealing for bird watching, canoeing, sailing, fishing etc.
In July and August, Pärnu, Estonia's summer capital, is the main attraction. The coastline itself has loads of untouched beaches and a tour from Narva-Jõesuu (in the East) towards Tallinn is great for exploring the coastline. Some of the well known places include Toila, Võsu, Käsmu and Kaberneeme.
There's quite a good list of various events in Estonia at Visitestonia.com .
Self Guided Tours
Estonia has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
ATMs and currency exchange offices (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia. Avoid changing money in the airport or port as the rates are lower.
As a small nation, Estonia's souvenir shops are often filled with characteristic items from neighbouring countries, for example with Russian matryoshka dolls or Baltic amber. While both of them are popular among tourists, it is worthwhile to understand that neither of them have any historical or cultural connection with Estonia.
Estonia is generally cheaper than Western Europe, but it is no longer the bargain basement it used to be in 1990s; and in touristy areas (say Tallinn's Old Town), prices may be at Scandinavian levels.
In July 2012 bottle of local beer (0,5l) costs around 1€ in shops and 2,5-3,5€ in modest pub.
Estonian food draws heavily from German and Scandinavian cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, black pudding, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.
Many types of food are close to Russian and have their equivalents almost exclusively in the former USSR, such as sour cream hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad", which isn't that rare anywhere else either, really.
As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of the 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.
For those with a sweet tooth, the national chocolate manufacturer is "Kalev", with many specialist stores around the country as well as supermarkets retailing the product.
The more adventurous may want to try "kohuke", a flavoured milk-curd sweet covered with chocolate and available at every supermarket.
Like their neighbours the Finns and the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. The two largest breweries are Saku  and A. Le Coq , which both offer a variety of different beers. Recent years have seen a surge in local micro-breweries, the products of which are becoming more and more available in larger shops. Baltic Porters (Põhjala öö, Saku Porter) are strong and heavy dark beers with a touch of caramel to be had in winter. The best-known local vodka is Viru Valge (Vironian White)  and then there's the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn) , famous in the countries of former USSR.
A local soft drink is "Kali" (the Estonian equivalent of "kvass"), made from fermented brown bread. It can be described as an acquired taste.
Many locals also swear by "keefir", a fermented milk concoction.
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 .
As Soviet collective farms were disbanded, many farmers switched to running "turismitalud," or tourism farms, which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in nature, usually in a former farm house. A site on Estonian Rural Tourism  provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Hostels are a another popular option for budget-sensitive travellers; see the website of the Estonian Youth Hostel Association: . You may find lot of beautiful manor houses in Estonia, where you may have a delicious meal in restaurant or stay in comfortable hotel. One hour drive from Tallinn you may find Palmse Manor, Vihula Manor, Sagadi Manor, Kau Manor
The official tourism site Visitestonia.com  also has information and listings about B&B accommodation, youth hostels, camping and caravan sites etc.
Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its universities, especially from Nordic countries, as Estonian diplomas are recognized throughout the EU. See the articles for university town Tartu and capital Tallinn for details.
No obstacles exist to citizens of EEA countries to come to invest and work in Estonia. Citizens of developed non-EU countries are exempt from short-term tourist visas. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia. 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 (4th quarter 2007) is around 800 EUR.
Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.
Police and Border Guard Board  is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.
CV Online  is one of the oldest Estonian recruitement and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).
The published crime rate increased dramatically in 1991-1994 after democratic freedoms were introduced. In a 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 it was. 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 that the country has achieved a considerable reduction in crime in the recent years. According to Overseas Security Advisory Council crime rate in 2007 was quite comparable to the other European states including Scandinavia. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas and a considerable rate of drug dealing in the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East. In Tallinn, petty crime is a problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing (especially in the markets). Tallinn Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.
Many Estonians drive carelessly, with about 60 to 80 people killed and 1000 people injured per year. Number of deaths in traffic related accidents per 100 000 people are similar to South-European countries like Portugal or Italy. Estonia has strict drink-driving laws with a policy of zero tolerance, but accidents involving intoxicated drivers are nevertheless a major problem. Estonian traffic laws requires headlight use at all times while driving and use of a seatbelts by all passengers is mandatory.
Recently, Estonia enforced a new law requiring pedestrians to wear small reflectors, which people generally pin to their coats or handbags. Although this law is rarely enforced in cities, reflectors are very important in rural areas where it may be difficult for motorists to see pedestrians, especially in winter months. Violators of this law may be subject to a fine of around €30-50, or a higher fine up to around €400-500 if the pedestrian is under the influence of alcohol. Reflectors are inexpensive and you should be able to find them at many supermarkets, kiosks, and other shops.
The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices. When driving, make sure you have had absolutely no alcohol beforehand.
For emergencies 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. The civil partnership act was adopted in 2016.
For an Estonian, it is considered "mauvais ton" not to criticize the Estonian healthcare system. Recent EU studies 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, the Estonian healthcare system was remodeled from the obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war and made 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.
Estonia has Europe's highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS infections, currently over 1.3% or 1 in 77 adults. Generally, the rate is much higher in Russian-speaking regions like Narva or Sillamäe. Don't make the situation worse by not protecting yourself and others.
Information about health care in Estonia is provided by the government agency Eesti Haigekassa.