After booking your flights and doing some research about Tallinn, you probably realized you have a bit of excess time. Since Tallinn is indeed only a very small part of Estonia, you can see most of it in half a week and might think about wondering to the mysterious lands beyond the capital. There are numerous things to take into account when picking a destination. In an effort to make this easier, here are 10 of the coolest things around Estonia and a bit beyond the borders as well.
1. Tartu – A students’ paradise
Image Credit: Rally-8 courtesy of Visit Estonia
With the oldest university and the cheapest bars of Estonia – Tartu is like a small, cozy version of Tallinn. In the center of it all, the fountain with the kissing students in the old town becomes a meeting place for both tourists exploring this beauty or locals wandering about.
The best time to visit is definitely either autumn or spring – besides the beautiful weather, the students haven’t yet left for home.
Tartu supposedly has a vibe, a ghost or spirit if you will. The proponents of this theory suggest they are relaxed, forget hurrying and duties when visiting the Student capital, the opponents of the theory just aren’t Bohemian enough to relax. The relaxedness can also be due to the cheap beers, which is something that surely does help along conversations about art and philosophy discussed by students, professors and poets everywhere.
After you’ve climbed Toomemägi, looked at the ruins of the 13th century Dome Church and toured around numerous museums like the coolest and one of the newest ones in the country the Estonian National Museum, discover the nightlife starting with Rüütli street and see where the crowds take you.
Worth checking out: Locals’ favourite spots in Tartu.
Worth checking out: Day Trip to Tartu & Romantic Viljandi.
2. Pärnu – Endless beaches and promenades
Image credit: decade_null
The seaside and the promenade of Pärnu are the perfect places for a day in the sun. Pärnu is one of the biggest towns of Estonia and boasts beautiful spas as well as packed nightclubs. It’s known as the Summer Capital of Estonia – a title it really deserves.
On warm, sunny summer days, crowds of people pack their swimming gear, towels, ciders and sunglasses to collectively turn red ever the course of a few hours due to forgotten sunscreen. There are various activities from windsurfing to volleyball found on the beach as well.
No Estonian beach can go without loud yells of “Jäätis!” and “Chebureki!” – the former is Estonian for “ice cream” and the latter a delicious pastry filled with minced meat – a must try!
When the sun sets and the white beaches are left empty, people head to the numerous bars, pubs and nightclubs all in walking distance. Whatever floats your boat – pubs or clubs – before heading out, a dinner at Steffani pizza is a must. Some people go to Pärnu just for the huge and excellently priced foods of Steffani. It is rather crowded during summers, so the waiting time can be long. Pärnu is on the way to Riga anyway, so it is worth saving a few hours for a walk around the city or a dip into the sea.
Worth checking out: Locals’ favourite spots in Pärnu.
3. Viljandi – The cutest town in Estonia
Image credit:Visit Estonia
Viljandi might just be the most adorable small town of Estonia . Between the wooden houses on small hills and meadows, you’ll find curved streets that don’t follow others or themselves. The town looks like it is stuck between gears on the wheels of time with falling paint and crooked windows.
Amazing beauty for the ones looking for dilapidated things.
Viljandi, like most places in Estonia, boasts its own ruins of a medieval castle and numerous churches. Also, the quiet 19,000-people town gets very crowded at the end of every July during Viljandi Folk Music Festival when at least the same amount of people pour in from other areas of Estonia. At the festival, Estonian and international folk artists perform amazing feats of different types of folk whilst most Estonians choose drinking beer on the grass for the whole day over listening to them.
Visiting during summer grants you the opportunity to have a swim in the nearby lake, for the extremely healthy ones, there’s also a 12-13km run around the lake every 1st of May.
Visiting Viljandi for a day is easy if you’re on the way to Latvia anyway. A small extension to your route is definitely worth it!
Worth checking out: Day Trip to Tartu & Romantic Viljandi.
Worth checking out: Tallinn–Riga Sightseeing Tour Bus.
4. Rakvere – Go for the aurochs, stay for the punk!
Image credit: elem
Rakvere is mostly (and almost only) known thanks to a huge statue of an extinct wild herbivore. Possibly the largest animal statue of the Baltics (nobody has yet found the time or interest to compose an exact list of animal statue sizes of the Baltics), the aurochs of Rakvere looks down at the small town and is constantly groped by visitors taking photos.
Of course, Rakvere is not the odd one out in the list of ancient fortress ruins as well – right next to the statue you will see a 700-year-old fort displaying medieval weaponry, a torture chamber and other medievalness you can think of. Every now and then, the Rakvere fortress gets turned into a concert field with all sorts of different performers.
If you’re extremely lucky, though, you might just see one of the weirdest things ever to have been organized in Estonia. In 2008 for the first time, 1700 people gathered with leather jackets and opinions, colorful hair and metal in places there shouldn’t be any, in order to sing famous punk songs in a huge choir. Yeap, a punk song festival – five voice ranges of “God Save The Queen”, “I Don’t Like Mondays” and the like. This amazingness was redone in 2011 and 2016, but as always it is uncertain if it will happen again.
5. Haapsalu – The Venice of the north
Image credit: Kalev Külaase
Haapsalu is the indie version of Pärnu, if you will. It is the summer destination for the ones escaping the hundreds of people heading for the sandy beaches a bit more south. An Hour and a half away from Tallinn, this 12,000-person town is amazingly located and is rather water abundant, thus excellent for summer time fun.
Haapsalu is a medieval town with the first mention over 730 years ago, it was the most famous resort town of Estonia in the 19th century and most recently a favourite place for a lot of Estonians looking to escape the hectic big city life. Supposedly, the Russian composer Tchaikovsky walked on the promenades of Haapsalu during one summer, a fact that is now celebrated with a bench (yes, just a bench..).
The narrow streets of Haapsalu get very crowded for certain days of the summer, like for the August Blues festival or the American Beauty Car Show. The August Blues Festival invites all sorts of cool cats with amazing guitar licks and smoky voices to perform. American Beauty Car Show brings all the cool American cars near and far together to Haapsalu’s streets. The city fills with the sound of roaring engines and the smell of fumes, people come not only for the cars (but mostly for the cars) but also for the street food and music.
The folks gathering for the festivals happily exchange experiences with each other in the numerous cafes and restaurants of Haapsalu, so pick a festival and go!
Worth checking out: Western Coast & Haapsalu.
6. Narva – Reminiscence of the Soviet times
If you’re looking for something totally different from the rest of Estonia, Narva does quite the job. Narva on one side, Ivangorod on the other, the Narva river passing through this city embodies the memories of the edges of empires. The towers of the fortresses on both sides of the river still mark the border between Russia and Estonia.
Narva recieved huge damage during Second World war and the city needed to be almost complete rebuilding. The city got it’s trademark Soviet look during the second part of the 20th century. For the ones looking for Soviet architecture, Narva in its entity is amazing!
If you get bored of the Soviet reminiscence, just 12kilometers away, on the Gulf of Finland, Narva-Jõesuu offers nice spas and resorts to have a quiet break. Oh, and, find the tank while you’re here!
Worth checking out: Fun tour to Narva and the Eastern part of Estonia.
7. Kihnu – Remote as remote islands can get
Image credit: Danel Rinaldo courtesy of Visit Estonia
Estonia has over 1500 islands, but Kihnu is one of the most interesting ones. Since men are all off the shore fishing, Kihnu is an essentially matriarchal society with women organizing everyday life and carrying the cultural heritage of the small island. The traditional ways of the locals have also earned them the attention of UNESCO – the cultural space of Kihnu has been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The cool thing about the locals is that the women have a habit of wearing traditional clothes every day, which is unseen in most Estonia, it is a rather fun sight. To get the most of it, try to go to the island on holidays such as Christmas or Midsummer’s eve. For the lucky ones, you might stumble upon the amazing three-day Kihnu wedding ceremony.
The small island with about 600 habitants is an excellent getaway for a long weekend to clear your head and breathe the clear air in the midst of pine forests.
8. Lahemaa National Park – From bogs to manors
Image credit: Kalev Külaase
Since the list is clearly biased towards towns, the Lahemaa National Park should balance it with unforgettably beautiful nature. From amazing bogs and forests to waterfalls (keep your expectations modest, a watefall according to Estonian standards) and rivers, the Lahemaa National Park is the biggest and national park in Estonia as well as one of the most diverse ones.
There are hiking trails along the bogs, so don’t forget comfortable shoes and swimming gear! This hour-long ride from Tallinn gives you a chance to escape into the wild!
You can find centuries old Baltic German manors and old Estonian fishing villages. There is something here for everyone. Since the National Park is pretty big, you should free up the whole day and rent a car or find an organised tour. Getting by on just public transport is very difficult.
Worth checking out: Fun tour to Lahemaa National Park.
9. Riga – The Tallinn of Latvia
Image credit: Stephen Downes
Estonians tend to think that Latvians have six toes on both feet. We think this probably because it is an essential part of national identity to make fun of your neighbors and since we just couldn’t find anything wrong with Latvia or Latvians, we came up with the absurd toe-thing. Estonians love Riga. Being only 4,5h and less than 20 euros away from Tallinn, it is an excellent weekend party destination.
Riga is basically a more awesome version of Tallinn – they have everything exactly the same, just three times the size.
With touring and museums behind you, discover the nightlife – Riga has a lot to offer and even the locals go out in the old town. It’s worth trying to spend a few days here. Riga is in general cheaper than Tallinn as well and has quite excellent hotels and hostels in the old town. Keep in mind to book in advance during summers.
Worth checking out: Locals’ favourite spots in Riga.
Worth checking out: Fun tour from Riga to Jurmala.
Worth checking out: Fun tour from Riga to Kuldiga.
10. Helsinki – A fun way to get away for the day!
Image credit: Malt Loaf
There aren’t that many people in Estonia getting really excited over Helsinki, and if they do, it’s mainly because of the abundance of H&Ms and Subways that don’t exist in Estonia (yet).
A day trip to Helsinki is enough to cover the basics of this capital and it only takes you roughly two hours to get there with most ferries.
Unlike Tallinn, the most interesting things in Helsinki aren’t always really walking distance, so it’s better to make plans of what to see first and think about public transport options. The coolest thing they have is probably the rock church – no, not a church dedicated to rock music as you would guess, but a church built inside a rock. Pretty unique.
Being so close to Tallinn with numerous ferries going all the time, it would be a shame to miss such an opportunity, so go discover!
Worth checking out: Locals’ favourite spots in Helsinki.
Tallinn is just a small part of Estonia, so it’s a good idea to see other parts as well. Different small towns carry a totally different vibe from Tallinn on the narrow streets between wooden houses. The nature of Estonia is fascinating and can be found on your way to most destinations. And when you feel like getting out of this country, there are some others really close by.
So good luck exploring Estonia and our neighbors! Let us know in the comments if there are other places that you feel shouldn’t be worthy of the list or amazing things that undeservedly didn’t make it to the list.