Estonia Travel Guides for Backpackers
Viljandi – perfect place for a half-day trip in EstoniaEstonia isn’t the most popular tourist destination. Mostly it’s associated only with its capital – Tallinn, treated as a short gateway destination from Finland, or just skipped as not worth visiting (too small? too expensive?). As someone who loves such small, charming countries, not overwhelmed with tourists, I’ve never understood why people are surprised finding them on someones bucketlist. My visit to Estonia was connected with a short student exchange – summer internship, taking place in of the pharmacies in Tartu in 2016. Although it was a short trip (only 2 weeks), thanks to the country’s small size, I had an opportunity not only to finish it with three extra days in Tallinn but also to visit some less popular cities. One of them was Viljandi – a very small, yet adorable “cultural capital of Estonia”, a perfect place for a short half-day trip. Cultural capital of Estonia Among the locals and interested audience, Viljandi is mostly popular as the stage of the most visited music festival in Estonia and one of the biggest folk music festivals in Europe – Viljandi Folk Music Festival, held during the last weekend of July. The event takes place in the Viljandi Castle Hills and the city center, where it gathers over 25 thousand people every year pouring life and music into this rather sleepy town. Unfortunately, visiting the city in late June, I didn’t get a chance to take part in this famous event. Besides the famous festival, Viljandi has also more connections with music and culture. The Estonian Traditional Music Centre, Kondas Centre – the museum dedicated to naive and outsider art, and finally the Viljandi Culture Academy – the part of the University of Tartu, focused on fields such as art, theater, dance, music, native crafts. Viljandi Castle If not for the summer festival, why would anyone visit Viljandi? One of the reasons may be the Viljandi Castle. Actually, the ruins of the castle, as not much is left from the original building. Built in 1224, it became one of the main strongholds of the Livonian Order in the 14th century and after getting its final shape in the 16th century it turned to one of the most distinguished fortresses in Estonia and Latvia. Unfortunately, due to the following wars between Sweden, Poland and Russia, what we can visit now are only its remainings – a few stone walls. Nevertheless, while still being a very interesting and atmospheric place, they offer also something for tourists less interested in history and medieval ruins. The part which would be appreciated by everyone is definitely the beautiful view over the lake of Viljandi, which together with the ruins and park around them makes a perfect recreational area. Viljandi Lake Nature lovers won’t be disappointed with their visit to Viljandi. The Viljandi Lake offers not only amazing views from the castle hill, but for visitors who have more time also hiking trails around the whole lake, which isn’t especially big (4600 m long and 450 […]
Tallinn’s Top 5 Instagram HotspotsIt is midday on a Thursday. I should be wolfing down a quick lunch while scrolling through my friends’ Instagram posts, with a heavy sigh of holiday envy. Not today. Today I am in the fairy-tale land that is Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn. When I told my friends of my latest travel plans, they all looked at me blankly and asked “Where’s that?”, so naturally I have made it my mission to show them what they are missing out on. Do you go for the quirky angle? The artsy filter? Whatever your style, you are sure to find something worth snapping in Tallinn. Here are my top five photo-worthy spots. St Catherine’s Passage (Katariina käik). Finding this snug alleyway between Vene Street and Müürivahe street is a bit like being part of a secret club. Trust me, it is worth hunting around for. Running behind what used to be St Catherine’s Church, this narrow street is full of history. Take a moment to simply stand at one end of the passage looking through the many terracotta-tiled archways. You would be forgiven for feeling that you have stepped onto a fantasy film set or a time long since forgotten. At one end of the walkway there are enormous tombstones, remnants from St Catherine’s church, and at the other end is St Catherine’s guild where you will find artists and craftspeople at work in their open studios. This secret passageway has a very special ambience to it that can’t be captured on camera, so be sure to allow yourself time to soak it up. Continue along St Catherine’s Passage to Master’s Courtyard, where you will find a delightful Chocolate café with an enormous stuffed bear in a straw hat sitting outside. The Town Walls Tallinn has the cosy feeling of being enveloped by its remaining 1.9km of town walls, and they are a sight to behold from whatever your vantage point. From the inside, they are the sturdy walls that protect the bubble of otherworldliness within. From the outside, they are a force to be reckoned with, with 20 defensive towers still standing, most of which are probably inhabited by damsels in distress and guarded by dragons. Alright, I haven’t checked my facts on that one, but I could easily believe it. In the section of the wall connecting Nunna, Sauna and Kuldjala towers, to the North West of the town hall square, you can climb up and explore the towers and the wall. Pause for a moment here to take in the view over the picturesque Old Town, and of course, snap the perfect shot of it. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Originally built in 1900 as a symbol of the Russian Empire’s dominance over Tallinn, this onion-domed cathedral is instantly recognisable as Russian design. Being placed so close to Toompea Castle really highlights the differences in architectural style. Since Tallinn’s independence in 1991, the controversy has faded, leaving behind a building that can be appreciated for the architectural masterpiece that it is. […]
Hiiumaa: A hidden paradise in the Baltic seaWhen talking about Estonia then most people instantly think of Tallinn the capital city with its medieval old town and funky vibes. But Estonia is known to have more than 1500 islands. Yes, that’s right! And even though most of these islands are small and no one lives there, we can find ones which are in fact inhabited but still offer peace, quiet and wilderness. One paradise island amongst the others is Hiiumaa with its 11000 habitants. Most of them live in the capital Kärdla which has schools, small shopping centres and supermarkets, as well as libraries and cinema that airs movies 3 days a week. A land which was not allowed to be visited even by fellow Estonians during the Soviet times because of the Russian military base was situated there welcomes its guests warmly these days. Today at least six ferries a day take people from Western Estonia’s ferry station to Hiiumaa (more info about the timetables and ticket prices is shown here: www.praamid.ee , it is also possible to fly there with the smallest plane on Earth from the capital city Tallinn and during cold winters you can actually drive your car from mainland to the island on an ice road. I mean how cool is that? Where to go and what to do in Hiiumaa? First of all, this is a paradise for nature lovers! It has beautiful uncrowded beaches, many national parks where you are probably the only one walking around, a lot of forests which are safe to visit since no bears live there, bird watching towers, tall lighthouses which kids adore to visit and some authentic Estonian pubs, cosy small restaurants in different harbours and even a nightclub! Biking in the magical Hiiumaa forests Best beaches to visit in Hiiumaa Tõrvanina A beautiful long beach only 10 kilometres away from the capital Kärdla that you can visit for free like all the rest of the beaches. So why not rent a bike from the city and go there without a car? And the best part is, in Hiiumaa you do not even have to lock up your bike, no one steals it anyway since everyone knows everyone on the island. Tõrvanina beach is perfect for a privacy seeking backpacker or for a group that wants to be loud and not disturb others with it. The area is clean and the sand is singing. If you have a good imagination you could feel that you are in the Northern Maldives, instead of the palm trees though, Hiiumaa has pine trees. Tõrvanina beach Ristna Located on the western side of the island, this beach is called a surf paradise. It is a little windier so water sports lovers will definitely enjoy it even though Estonia is not known for the best surfing conditions. Still worth a try! A short drive or a long walk from the surfers’ beach will introduce you another beautiful and peaceful beach called Kalana which is rocky and offers […]
A short roadtrip through Estonia: Viljandi, Taagepera and PärnuMost tourists who visit Estonia, usually stay in or around Tallinn, and even though Tallinn is a beautiful city, they miss the chance of seeing our small towns, villages and beautiful nature. So, when we had to drive someone to Taagepera on the other side of Estonia, I saw it as a great opportunity for a short road-trip through my country. Because the distances between towns in Estonia aren't long, I did the whole trip in a day and was back in Tallinn the same night. But of course, you can choose to spend a night (or few) in any of those places and take as long as you want. I started my trip in the morning from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and started driving towards our first stop, Viljandi. The drive to Viljandi takes about 2 hours or a bit less, depending on the road you choose to take. If you have some extra time and you wish to see more of Estonia, you can also make a stop in Paide or Türi, which are both towns situated in the center of Estonia. The drive itself is very scenic too – the nature varies a lot from season to season. In summer you can see a lot of beautiful green forests and yellow rapeseed fields. In winter all the trees and fields are white and covered with snow. On your way, you will also pass through plenty of cute small villages and if you have more time, you can explore, look around and discover some old churches and manors. Viljandi Viljandi is an adorable little town in southern Estonia. It is also the heart of Estonian folk music and Viljandi Folk festival is held there every year in July. One of the best times to visit Viljandi is during this festival. In Viljandi, you can also find the ruins of Viljandi castle, scenic views over the lake and a large lake beach and Viljandi’s famous suspension bridge. Viljandi also has a large student population from the Viljandi Culture Academy and many musicians live in the city. The Viljandi castle was built in the 13th century and is, therefore, one of the oldest stone fortresses in Estonia. Nowadays you can only see the ruins of the castle, but either way, it's a nice sight. You can walk around among the ruins of the castle, step into an old cellar and enjoy the beautiful view over the Viljandi lake. The suspension bridge is also right next to the castle. The whole park with the ruins and the bridge is a beautiful place and you'll most definitely get a lot of great photos there. After a walk to the ruins, we decided to grab lunch in a place called Rohelise Maja Pood ja Kohvik. It's a lovely small cafe which serves delicious organic foods and also has a small shop, where you can buy all kinds of organic goods. The interior of the cafe is very cozy and adorable and in the summertime, there's also […]
Tartu: guide from a former studentI spent three and a half years living in Tartu during my studies at the University of Tartu and found countless places that I still like to visit every time I manage to make my way back there. This article gives a brief overview and some useful links regarding my favorite spots and activities. How to get around? Walk, walk, walk! The first thing you should probably know about Tartu is that it is very pedestrian friendly. Most places of interest are at your arm's length and in fact, a lot of the streets are one-way, making it not the easiest city to navigate by car (I still struggle sometimes). Renting a bike makes sense only if you need to go to the edge or out of the city as the center has quite many hills and you would probably end up pushing the bike, not riding it. One day is quite enough to walk all around town and see most of the sites worth seeing. What to do? The joys of river Emajõgi The city is divided into two by one of the biggest rivers in Estonia – Emajõgi. There are seven bridges crossing it and some of them are for pedestrians only. You may come across fishermen and boats offering a little trip on the river for a small fee. The most famous vessel in Tartu is a barge called “Jõmmu” and it takes people on different types of trips such as stargazing, sailing or trips for listening to bird songs. The schedule can be found on their website and the season lasts from April to November. The river is usually frozen during the rest of the year. If you follow the river in the opposite direction of which it is running, you will quickly find yourself walking out of town and straight into nature. You will find beaches, picnic tables, benches, volleyball fields, running tracks and more. Botanical Gardens I would also suggest walking through the Botanical Gardens of the University of Tartu. The outside area is free for all visitors and if you are lucky, you may even find a concert happening there. You can walk on many small paths, sit down to read a book in the beautiful surroundings or stop on the little bridge to watch fish, ducks, and swans. The greenhouses can be visited for a small entrance fee. Shop 'til you drop If you are interested in going on a shopping spree, I would recommend going to Lõunakeskus. It has shops for clothes, accessories, toys, gifts, electronics, home decor, many restaurants, grocery stores and even an ice-skating rink. As it is located at the very edge of the city, there is a free bus going every 30 minutes from the city center. You can find the bus schedule here. If you do not want to wander that far, there are also three malls right in the city center – Kaubamaja, Tasku, and the newly opened Kvartal.
5 things you can not miss while in TallinnHere I present you an extraordinary guide that's going to make your stay in Tallinn the best trip you've ever had in your life entire life. Here we go! STEP 1: GETTING AROUND WITH THE VERY SPECIAL GUIDED TOUR I've never been much of a sightseeing lover even despite my interest in history and arts and I believe the big part of you isn't one as well. We all though feel quite ashamed not doing a proper sightseeing, especially when in Europe where in each city there's probably more museums than grocery shops including those located in a room on the top floor of some suspiciously looking tenement house, offering the temporary exhibition of the tea set of princess Antoinette of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. I bet it's been more than one time when any of you travelling in a couple or a group agreed for a guided tour which costed you an arm and a leg and later on you've found yourself doing your best to try to raise at least a scant interest for what the guy is talking about and even if it didn't work you still pretended in front of your friends you had a pretty great and illuminating time. At least that's the scenario that works for me every time and first, it didn't happen was in Tallinn. Tallinn Free Tour is an amazing and literally priceless experience you can have totally for free and, surprisingly for some, conveniently late in the morning as it starts every day at noon (May-September also at 10 am and 3 pm) in front of the city tourist information at Niguliste 2. There are two extremely joyful, communicative and knowledgeable students from the local University who'll walk you around and provide you the real local experience. STEP 2: DISCOVER THE LOCAL ESTONIAN TRADITION If you think your Estonian trip is going to be part of your Easter European experience there's just one word that will change your point of view and it's „sauna”. The tradition of sauna sounds Scandinavian and so it is but nowhere in Scandinavia sauna experience reaches the roots of the local culture as deeply as in this little baltic land. First of all sauna in Estonia (never mind if it's the public one we all have open access too or a private sauna most Estonians have in their houses) is not only a little ersatz of southern temperatures all the northern people feel such temptation for – it's also a place where people take health issues pretty seriously. Like the flagellation of your bench neighbor with a birch twig. It's good for your skin, they say. I also think lots of you heard about the traditional sauna procedure according to which you should cold shower every 15-20 min. I rather doubt that showers are very common in sauna buildings in Estonia. Not to spoil the fun too much though – all you need to know is that there's a reason for sauna buildings to be situated right at […]
Nutstand What to do in Tallinn Kiek in de Kök Make sure to visit the Kiek in de Kök when you are in Tallinn. You can go on a tour through the underground Bastion tunnels that will take you further and further back in time. It will show you how people lived in the tunnels in different times. For instance during the Second World War and during the time of the hippies. Some people over time have said that parts of the tunnel are haunted and they have seen ghosts there. The tour-guide, however, said that she never encountered a ghost whenever she was there alone. The tour also has a trip to the future. This wasn’t really spectacular but it is part of the tour. It only last for […]