Edition 7th Edition Release Date May 2016 Pages 448
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© Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. To make it easier for you to use, access to this PDF ebook is not digitally restricted. In return, we think it’s fair to ask you to use it for personal, non-commercial purposes only. In other words, please don’t upload this chapter to a peer-to-peer site, mass email it to everyone you know, or resell it. See the terms and conditions on our site for alonge/way of saying the above - ‘Do the right thing with our content’.
How to Use This Book
Look for these symbols to quickly identify listings:
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Your planning tool kit
Photos & suggestions to help you create the perfect trip.
Sights r Beaches 2 Activities C Courses T Tours
Z Festivals Z & Events
Information & Transport
ON THE ROAD
Your complete guide Expert reviews, easy-to-use maps & insider tips.
All reviews are ordered in our authors' preference, starting with their most preferred option. Additionally: Sights are arranged in the geographic order that we suggest you visit them and, within this order, by author preference.
Eating and Sleeping reviews are ordered by price range (budget, midrange, top end) and, within these ranges, by author preference.
These symbols and abbreviations give vital information for each listing:
★ Must-visit recommendation
^ Sustainable or green recommendation
No payment required
Your at-a-glance reference Vital practical information for a smooth trip.
% Telephone number
© Opening hours
d double rooms
i Internet access
dm dorm beds
W Wi-fi access
q quad rooms
S Swimming pool
V Vegetarian selection
s single rooms
E English-language menu
tr triple rooms
tw twin rooms
For symbols used on maps, see the Map Legend.
ISBN 978-1 -74220-757-5
9 781742 207575
© Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. To make it easier for you to use, access to this chapter is not digitally restricted. In return, we think it's fair to ask you to use it for personal, non-commercial purposes only. In other words, please don't upload this chapter to a peer-to-peer site, mass email it to everyone you know, or resell it. See the terms and conditions on our site for a longer way of saying the above - ‘Do the right thing with our content.'
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
_ Helsinki _ (FINLAND)
Kaliningrad ® (RUSSIA)
THIS EDITION WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY
Peter Dragicevich, Hugh McNaughtan and Leonid Ragozin
PLAN YOUR TRIP
ON THE ROAD
Welcome to Estonia,
Latvia & Lithuania......4
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania Map.........6
Top 17 Experiences.......8
Need to Know..........16
If You Like...............19
Month by Month.......22
Travel with Children____40
Regions at a Glance____43
Northeastern Estonia . . 86
Lahemaa National Park . . 86
Southeastern Estonia . . 99
Haanja Nature Park.....119
Southwestern Estonia. .126
Soomaa National Park .. 130
Western Estonia &
the Islands 139
Understand Estonia . . . 164 Survival Guide........176
NICO TONDINI/ROBERTHARDING/GETTY IMAGES © PAUL BIR IS/GETTY IMAGES ©
Understand Helsinki . . 189 Survival Guide........190
Western Latvia (Kurzeme)...........233
Eastern & Southern Lithuania..........
Aukstaitija National Park. .323 Visaginas & Ignalina Nuclear Power Station .. 325
Labanoras Regional Park .326
Dzukija National Park . . .332
Southern Latvia (Zemgale)............249
1 SURVIVAL 1 M GUIDE
. . 416
. . 425
. . 434
. . 447
Welcome to Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania
A land of crumbling castles, soaring dunes, enchanting forests and magical lakes - a trip to the Baltic proves that fairy tales do come true.
Teensy but Diverse
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are tiny. Yet in this wonderfully compact space there are three completely distinct cultures to discover - with different languages, different traditions and markedly different temperaments. By way of example, you need only look at the three unique yet equally compelling capitals: majestically medieval Tallinn, chic art-nouveau Riga and flamboyantly baroque Vilnius. When it comes to cultural mileage, the Baltic is as fuel-efficient a destination as you could ever hope for.
Cold War Comrades
For all their differences, the Baltic States suffered the slings and arrows of 20th-century misfortune together. And when the time came, they answered the ‘to be or not to be’ question hand-in-hand, singing loudly in the affirmative. Visitors will find myriad opportunities to engage with the heart-breaking and horrifying stories of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of these lands: numerous war relics, mass-grave memorials and excellent social-history museums ensure that they’re never forgotten. Meantime, distinctive Stalinist architecture and striking Socialist Realist art continue to fascinate. And doesn’t everyone love a happy ending?
Endless sandy beaches, a multitude of lakes, large tracts of forest and wildlife-rich wetlands: the Baltic States may be flat but they’re not lacking in natural appeal. Best of all, the relatively low population density means there’s plenty to go around. Many of Europe’s large mammals have found quiet corners to linger in here, although the wolves, bears, elk and lynx know better than to mug for tourist snapshots. You’re more likely to see white storks in their bathtub-sized nests balanced on lamp posts, or woodpeckers tap-tapping away, or the odd startled deer scampering along the side of the road.
Magic in the Air
From Tallinn’s storybook turrets to the ghostly ruins of Ludza Castle, romantic adults and spellbound children will find plenty of intrigue in this ancient and alluring landscape. Folk tales abound of holy lakes, magic springs and the witches and goblins that inhabit the darkest forests and most treacherous bogs. This was the last corner of Europe to be Christianised and, even now, in out-of-the-way places, you’ll occasionally stumble across ribbons tied to trees in sacred groves and coins deposited on mysterious offertory stones. Suspend your disbelief just a little and let your imagination take flight.
FILIP FUXA /LONELY PLANET ©
Growing up in New Zealand, where you simply won’t find a building that’s even 200 years old, probably makes me more susceptible than most to the charms of a place such as Tallinn. From the moment I first set eyes on its cobbled lanes, crooked walls and soaring steeples, I was smitten. The collision of history with the modern world has rendered all three Baltic States places of ardent fascination for me. And each time I visit, there’s something new to love.
For more about our writers, see page 448
Above: A 13th-century castle in Cesis (p264), Latvia
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A funky capital clad in cobblestone (p288)
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania’s
Tallinn’s Fairy-Tale Old Town
1 There was a time when sturdy walls and turreted towers enclosed most of Europe's cities, but wartime bombing and the advent of the car put paid to most of them. Tallinn's Old Town (p51) is a magical window into that bygone world, inducing visions of knights and ladies, merchants and peasants - not least due to the locals' proclivity for period dress. Rambling lanes lined with medieval dwellings open onto squares once covered in the filth of everyday commerce - now lined with cafes and altogether less gory markets selling souvenirs and handicrafts.
2 Although church affiliations are widespread, ancient pagan rituals are still deeply woven into the fabric of all three countries. Storks are revered, even-numbered bouquets of flowers are superstitiously rebuffed and the summer solstice is held in the highest regard. Though the spiritual element of Midsummer's Eve has largely disappeared, family and friends continue to gather in the countryside for a bright night of beer and bonfires. While every town and village has a celebration, one great place to see in the solstice is Lithuania's Lake Plateliai (p381).
Right: Midsummer celebrations in Klaipeda, Lithuania
Castles & Manor Houses
3A quick glance at a map reveals the Baltics' key position along the ancient trade routes between Western Europe and Russia. Crumbling castle ruins abound in the pine-peppered terrain, each a testament to a forgotten kingdom. For centuries, the region was divided into feudal puzzle pieces, and thus you'll find dozens of manor houses dotting the landscape. Spending the night at one of these elegantly restored mansions, such as those in Latvia's Gauja Valley (p262), is an unforgettable experience.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
Top: Turaida Castle in Sigulda, Gauja National Park
YULIA_B/SHUTTERSTOCK ©___ YEVGEN BELICH/SHUTTERSTOCK ©
There's something elemental -even slightly old-fashioned - about Lithuania's loveliest seaside retreat: a long, thin strip of rare and majestic sand dunes that lines the southeastern corner of the Baltic Sea. Maybe it's the pine scent or the sea breezes, or the relative isolation that so vividly recalls German writer Thomas Mann's sojourns here in the early 1930s. Come to Curonian Spit (p363) to recharge your batteries and renew your faith in the redemptive powers of wind, water, earth and sky.
ANGEL VILLALBA/GETTY IMAGES ©
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
Vilnius’ Baroque Old Town
5 Tempting hideaways, inviting courtyards, baroque churches and terrace bars serving beer - the Lithuanian capital's Old Town (p291) is one of the best places to get lost in throughout the Baltics. Old and new seem to coexist seamlessly here: whether you're looking for that thrift-shop boutique, an organic bakery, a cosy little bookshop or just a quiet spot to have a coffee, they're all likely to be standing side-by-side down some as-yet-unexplored cobblestone alleyway.
6 There's something about heading out to an island that lifts a trip out of the ordinary, and while Saaremaa (p142) in Estonia is no tropical paradise, the languid pace of this forested place weaves a magic all its own. The highlight is Kures-saare Castle, the Baltics' best-preserved medieval fortress, looming proudly behind its moat by the harbour. Yet it's the island's windmills, particularly the photogenic quintet at Angla, that provide the iconic Saaremaa image that you'll see on bottles of beer, vodka and water throughout Estonia.
Top right: Angla Windmill Hill, Saaremaa
Art Nouveau Architecture
7 If you ask any RTgan where to find the city's world-famous art nouveau architecture, you will always get the same answer: ‘Look up!' Over 750 buildings in Latvia's capital -more than any other city in Europe - boast this flamboyant and haunting style of decor. Spend a breezy afternoon snapping your camera at the imaginative facades in the city's Quiet Centre (p203) district to find an ethereal (and almost eerie) melange of screaming demons, enraptured deities, overgrown flora and bizarre geometric patterns.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
GORSH13/GETTY IMAGES © WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES ©
8 Cast away your preconceived notions about potatoes and pork tongue - the Baltic table no longer feels like a Soviet cafeteria. The locavore movement isn't just up-and-coming: it has arrived with much ado, and its mascot is the mushroom. Mushrooming isn't simply a pastime in these parts, it's a regional obsession. The damp climate makes places Dzukija National Park (p332) a wonderful spot for finding all sorts of scrumptious fungi. But if you want to indulge in some foraging of your own, it's safer to wait until berry season.
Hill of Crosses
9 Your first thought as you traverse the flat Lithuanian landscape in search of this landmark is likely to be something along the lines of, ‘Where did they ever find a hill?' And then you glimpse it in the distance - more a mound than a mountain -covered in crosses by the tens of thousands. The hill (p347) takes on even more significance when you realise that the crosses planted here represent not just religious faith but an affirmation of the country's very identity.
Saunas & Spas
Although the Finns, Turks and Russians may be more famous for their saunas, the Baltic folk love to hop into their birthday suits for a good soak and steam as well. There are plenty of spa centres around the Baltics - such as the wonderful Aqva (p93) in Rakvere -where you can purr like a kitten while being pummelled by experts, but most here prefer to go native (so to speak) and indulge in a traditional sauna experience: getting whipped by dried birch branches while sweating it out in temperatures beyond 60°C. Sounds relaxing...
Bottom right: Wooden smoke sauna, Estonia
Gauja National Park
n Dotted with sweet little towns and dramatic fortifications, Latvia's Gauja National Park (p256) entrances all who visit. The tower of Turaida Castle rises majestically over the huddling pines, a glorious reminder of the fairy-tale kingdoms that once ruled the land. And after you’ve had your history lesson, it’s time to spice things up with a bevy of adrenaline-inducing sports, such as bungee jumping from a cable car or careering down a frozen bobsled track.
ALEKSEY STEMMER/SHUTTERSTOCK © HENRYK SADURA/GETTY IMAGES ©
Tartu (p103) is to Estonia what Oxford and Cambridge are to England. Like those towns, it’s the presence of an esteemed ancient university and its attendant student population that gives it its special character. There’s a museum on nearly every corner and, it seems, a grungy bar in every other cellar. When the sun shines, the hill in the centre of town is the place to best observe those eternal cliches of undergraduate life: earnest prattling, hopeless romancing and enthusiastic drinking.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
Bottom: University of Tartu building
Lahemaa National Park
Providing a one-stop shop of all of Estonia's major habitats - coast, forests, plains, peat bogs, lakes and rivers - within a very convenient 80km of the capital, Lahemaa (p86) is the slice of rural Estonia that travellers on a tight schedule really shouldn't miss. On top of the natural attractions, there are graceful baroque manors to peruse, pocket-sized villages to visit and country taverns to take refuge in whenever the weather turns and the stomach growls.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
NICO TONDINI/GETTY IMAGES © EMOTIONQUEST/ALAMY PHOTO STOCK ©
Jurmala (p229) was once the most fashionable spa centre and beach resort in all of the former Russian Empire. And while the sanatorium craze has come and gone, it's still an uberpopular place to pamper oneself silly, with unending menus of bizarre services (chocolate massages?). Even if you're not particularly keen to swim at the shallow beach, it's well worth the day trip from the Latvian capital to check out the wonderful old wooden mansions and witness the ostentatious presentations of the nouveau riche.
VENEMAMA/GETTY IMAGES ©
PLAN YOUR TRIP ESTONiA, LATViA & LiTHUANiA'S TOP 17
Chances are you're not visiting the Baltic with images of endless sandy beaches hovering before your eyes, but Parnu (p132) offers exactly that. When the quirky notion of sea-bathing became fashionable at the dawn of the 20th century, Parnu became Estonia's most popular seaside resort - and it's hardly less so today. Architectural gems of that period combine with relics of the Hanseatic past to create very pleasant streets to explore, with interesting eateries and bars lurking within them.
Above left: St Catherine's Orthodox Church, Parnu
While Lithuanians relish dune-riddled Curonian Spit and Estonians embrace island life on Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, Latvia's Kurzeme (p233) coastline in between is a rather desolate place, with but a small constellation of towns betwixt haunting sea stacks and crumbling Soviet watchtowers. There's punky Liepaja in the south and the cream-coloured beaches of Vent-spils further along, but things come to a crashing climax in the north at Kolka, where the Baltic Sea meets the Gulf of RTga in a most dramatic fashion.
It's been just over
20 years since the Baltic States ripped the iron curtain to shreds -and while these newborn nations soar towards globalisation with alacrity, there are still plenty of dour tenements and crumbling coastal watchtowers that remind us of harder times. Many of the other Soviet relics, however, allow visitors to explore the past a la James Bond. Onetime secret facilities, such as the Pension bunker (p264) in Latvia's Gauja National Park, offer mirth, melancholy and wonderment for even the slightest of history buffs.
Above right: Camouflaged entrance to the Pension bunker
Need to Know
For more information, see Directory A-Z (p408)
When to Go
Estonia: Estonian Latvia: Latvian Lithuania: Lithuanian
Russian is also commonly spoken.
Citizens from the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the US do not require visas for entry into Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania.
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are commonly accepted at most restaurants and hotels.
Prepaid local SIM cards are available and compatible with most foreign phones.
Eastern European Time (GMT/UTC plus two hours)
* Beds in the capitals get booked out - plan ahead!
* Endless daylight and warm weather encourage alfresco dining.
* Midsummer festivities during the summer solstice are not to be missed.
(May & Sep)
* Airfare drops significantly outside of the summer rush.
* Weather is relatively mild.
* Many attractions reduce their hours of operation.
* Expect frigid temperatures and limited daylight.
* Coastal towns are almost completely shut down.
* Crowds converge on the capitals and cross-country ski areas during the holiday season.
Baltic Times (www.baltictimes. com) English-language newspaper covering all three Baltic countries.
Visit Estonia (www. visitestonia.com) Estonia's official tourism site.
Latvia (www.latvia.travel) Latvia's official tourism website.
Lithuanian Travel (www. lithuania.travel) Lithuania's leading tourism portal.
Baltic Country Holidays (www. traveller.lv) Extensive booking network for rural accommodation throughout all three countries.
Lonely Planet (www. lonelyplanet.com) Destination information, traveller forum and more.
Estonia country code
Latvia country code
Lithuania country code
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Daily Costs Budget: Under €60
* Hostel or guesthouse: €10 to €35
* Two meals: €15
* Walking around town: free
* M useum entry: €3
* Drinks at a beer garden: €7
Midrange: €60 to €120
* Hotel room: €50
* Two meals: €28
* Public transport: €2
* Average entry to two top museums: €10
* Drinks at a posh lounge: €15
Top End: Over €120
* Luxury hotel room: €75
* Two meals: €55
* Taxis: €8
* A day spent at museums: €15
* Pub crawl: €20
Hours can vary widely depending on the season and the size of the town, but the following are fairly standard:
Banks 9am-4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday
Bars noon-midnight Sunday to Thursday, until 2am or 3am Friday and Saturday
Post offices 8am-6pm Monday to Friday, 9am-2pm Saturday
Restaurants Noon-11pm or midnight daily
Shops 10am-6pm Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm Saturday
Supermarkets 8am-10pm daily
Arriving in the Region
Riga Airport (p416)
Bus 22 (€2, 25 minutes) runs to the city centre, 13km away, at least every 30 minutes. A taxi to the city typically costs €12.
PLAN YOUR TRIP NEED TO KNOW
Tallinn Airport (p416)
Bus 2 will take you to the city centre (€1.60) in about 20 minutes. A taxi should cost less than €10.
Vilnius Airport (p416)
Bus 1 runs between the airport and the train station; trains run to the central station every 30 minutes between 6am and 11.30pm. On-board tickets cost €0.72 and the trip is only 10 minutes. A taxi to the centre, 5km away, will cost €10 to €15.
Public transport in the Baltic States is reasonably priced, quick and efficient.
Car Useful for travelling at your own pace, or for visiting regions with minimal public transport. Cars can be hired in every town or city. Drive on the right.
Bus Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have extensive domestic networks, covering all the major towns and linking smaller destinations to them.
Train Train services are more limited; you'll need to change trains to travel between the three countries.
Air Each of the three capitals is linked through regular flights.
For much more on getting around,
Estonia's Culinary Contagion
Foodies in the know may already be aware of Tallinn’s excellent New Nordic-influenced dining scene. Now the culinary revolution is spreading, taking on the tyrannical rule of pork and potatoes in the Estonian heartland. Of the nation’s 50 top-rated restaurants, nearly half are now outside the capital - up from only a handful a couple of years ago.
Kalamaja goes overground
Long the favoured neighbourhood of Tallinn’s bohemians, Kalamaja has seen a flurry of restaurant, cafe and bar openings in recent years, abetted by the success of the neighbouring Telliskivi Creative City. (p60)
Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour
The transformation of this architecturally important hanger into a cutting-edge maritime museum has done the improbable: it’s succeded in luring package tourists out of Tallinn’s Old Town. (p60)
Tallinn TV Tower
After five years of renovation Tallinn’s iconic teletorn has reopened, with new interactive displays, an open-air ‘edge walk’ and the same brilliant views from its 175m viewing floor. (p67)
Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre
The birthplace of Latvian Mark Rothko, a giant of the 20th-century art world, has just become a whole lot more interesting with the opening of this gallery in his honour. (p269)
The grandeur of this building in Riga stands in contrast to the grimness of its history, but this former Soviet secret police (KGB) headquarters once again has a purpose - telling the stories of its victims. (p207)
Vilnius Takes Off
The Lithuanian capital is in a state of creative flux, with the restaurant and bar scene exploding and a growing awareness of its place within Europe, artistically and culturally. (p288)
Lithuania Gets Crafty
Lithuania’s craft scene keeps getting bigger and better. Vilnius, in particular, has thriving ‘producer’ subcultures: people weaving on traditional looms and making their own paper, jewellery, clothes and puppets. (p315)
Baltic Beer Gets Craftier
The global craft-beer wave has broken over the Baltic, big time. The hipster districts of Estonia and Latvia, in particular, are full of beardy boutique brewers producing quality drops. (p176)
For more recommendations and reviews, see lonelyplanet.com
The Baltic was once a jigsaw puzzle of feudal territories. Its surviving castles, both ruined and restored, are a testament to the region’s strategic importance on the edge of civilisations.
Trakai Castle This fairy-taleworthy red-brick castle atop a tiny island provides a scenic backdrop for lake paddles. (p319)
Kuressaare Castle The Baltics best preserved medieval castle, moat and all. (p146)
Narva Hermann Castle A chess match writ large, facing off with its Russian counterpart across the river. (p96)
Rakvere Castle Pint-sized princesses and knights don costumes, pet farm animals and have a rollicking good time. (p93)
Bauska Castle A Latvian two-for-one: a ruined 15th-century castle with an intact 16th-century one grafted on. (p251)
Livonian Order Castle This blocky fortress in the Latvian seaside town of Ventspils houses a fascinating museum of local history. (p253)
There’s a lot of history to document here, but many of the region’s museums pay tribute to a bevy of quirkier interests in addition to the region’s war-torn past.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia Five decades of occupation are brought to life through the personal stories of the survivors. (p215)
Pedvale Open-Air Art Museum
Large-scale sculptures embellish a farm secluded deep in the heart of Latvia's Abava Valley. (p243)
Museum of Devils Lucifer in all of his (or her) various guises lurks in Kaunas' New Town. (p339)
City Museum The tale of Tallinn is told across 10 different sites, including this 14th-century merchant's house. (p55)
Lithuanian Art Museum
Occupies multiple locations across the country, including this branch in Vilnius' Radvilos Palace. (p300)
Estonian Open-Air Museum
Venerable buildings from all around the country, relocated to the forest on Tallinn's fringes. (p67)
From Soviet strife and Nazi rule to ancient tribal battles and invading medieval forces, the Baltic has seen more than its share of bloodshed.
Pension Concealed for decades, this high-security bunker is now a tribute to the Soviet spy game. (p264)
Paneriai A sombre memorial to the 100,000 people murdered here by the Nazis in WWII.
Karosta Prison This Russian military prison offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience life as a detainee. (p240)
Cold War Museum Zemaitija National Park hides one of the great Soviet secrets: an underground nuclear missile base. (p381)
Kiek in de Kok The museum contained within this imposing tower is devoted to Tallinn's fortifications and military history. (p60)
Sorve Peninsula Saaremaa island's lonely extremity contains battle sites, war graves, bunkers and a military museum. (p150)
The Baltic summers may be short but beach bums are handsomely rewarded with endless stretches of flaxen shoreline during the warmer months.
IMANTSU/SHUTTERSTOCK © KAWHIA/SHUTTERSTOCK ©
Top: Latvian National Library by architect Gunnar Birkerts Bottom: Peat bog in Soomaa National Park
PLAN YOUR TRIP IF YOU LIKE...
Nida Peace, quiet and unrivalled natural beauty amid sand dunes and pine trees. (p367)
Jurmala The Baltic's original posh beachside spa resort still teems with Russian tycoons and their families. (p229)
Parnu Synonymous in Estonia with summertime fun, Parnu has golden sand aplenty. (p132)
Tuhkana Accessed by a forest path on the Estonian island of Saaremaa, Tuhkana offers comparative serenity. (p144)
Palanga Get your party on at Lithuania's premier summertime fun-in-the-sun destination.
Saulkrasti A beautiful sandy Latvian beach with surprisingly few bods on it. (p254)
The architecture in all three of the Baltic’s capitals is as wonderful as it is varied, be it baroque flourishes, medieval gables, dazzling art nouveau, Stalinist confections or modern masterpieces.
Riga’s Art Nouveau Architecture Overly adorned facades cloak the hundreds of imposing structures that radiate beyond the city's core. (p208)
Vilnius’ Old Town All steeples, domes and pillars, the capital's wonderfully preserved Old Town revels in the baroque. (p291)
Tallinn’s Old Town A treasure trove of medieval battlements,
dwellings and public buildings. (p51)
Kumu Seven stories of limestone, glass and copper, Tallinn's art museum has set a new standard. (p65)
Latvian National Library A new
‘castle of light' on the Daugava river bank. (p209)
St Anne’s Church Not Vilnius' most imposing church, but widely regarded to be its most beautiful. (p292)
You want charming farmsteads and whisper-quiet villages? The Baltic’s got them in spades, especially as locals trade in their bucolic lifestyles for life in the big city.
Koguva Trapped in a picturesque time rift, this fishing village offers a window to the past. (p139)
Labanoras An achingly pretty wooded village smack-dab in the middle of a protected region. (p326)
Kuldlga The place ‘where salmon fly' is frequently used as the backdrop for Latvian period films. (p245)
Rouge Set in a valley punctuated by seven small lakes,
Rouge is the Estonian rural idyll personified. (p119)
Plateliai A pretty spot right by the lake and the gateway to Zemaitija National Park. (p381)
Pavilosta The sleepy, beachy setting for a particularly active water sports scene. (p239)
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania stole a lead on their fellow Soviet Republics, establishing the first national parks in the USSR in the early 1970s. They’ve been entrancing visitors ever since.
Lahemaa National Park
Estonia's ‘Land of Bays' is a wonderland of beaches, forests, bogs and rivers. (p86)
Gauja National Park This heavily forested Latvian river valley is liberally sprinkled with enchanting castles. (p256)
Razna National Park A quiet reserve protecting a large chunk of Latvia's Latgale lakeland. (p274)
Zemaitija National Park A mysterious landscape of forest and lake, great for camping, walking and water sports. (p381)
Soomaa National Park Wander through Estonia's ‘Bogland' on well-maintained boardwalks in search of witches, goblins, bears and wolves. (p130)
Palaces & Manor Houses
When they weren’t at war, the Baltic aristocracy traded fortresses for comfortable country piles. Some have been carefully restored, while others lie in ruins.
PLAN YOUR TRIP IF YOU LIKE...
Rundale Palace Latvia's primo palatial gem is a tribute to the opulence of the Baltic-German elite. (p252)
Kadriorg Palace Built by Russian Tsar Peter the Great, Tallinn's pretty palace now houses a branch of the Estonian Art Museum. (p65)
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania A painstaking reproduction of the 17th-century seat of power, right in the heart of Vilnius. (p289)
Muizas of the Gauja Spend the night at one of the striking muizas (manor houses) dotting the Latvian countryside. (p262)
Palmse Manor The centrepiece of Estonia's Lahemaa National Park has been fully restored, along with its many outbuildings. (p89)
Kau Manor In the heart of the Estonian countryside, this recently derelict mansion now houses a kooky hotel and an acclaimed restaurant. (p87)
Month by Month
Song & Dance Festival, July (every five years)
Black Nights Film Festival, November Christmas, December
New Year’s celebrations and continued festive cheer warm the hearts of locals as they weather the limited daylight of what already feels like an endless winter.
■Z New Year's Day
Festivities from the night before continue during this public holiday as locals incorporate pagan practices at family gatherings to ensure a happy and healthy year.
The cold, dark and icy winter continues, but locals make the most of it as they flock to the
countryside for some cross-country skiing.
2 Tartu Ski Marathon
This 63km cross-country race draws about 10,000 competitors to the Estonian countryside; winners complete the course in less than three hours. Participants slide off in sports-mad Otepaa.
V<> Palanga Seals Festival
Held in the Lithuanian seaside resort of Palanga over three days in mid-February, this festival lures hungry fish lovers to try the city’s beloved smelts. There’s also the annual ‘polar bear’ event, at which hardy swimmers frolic in the freezing Baltic waters.
Locals pull aside the curtains to check the weather outside...and yup, it’s still winter out there. The main causes for celebration are the Easter holidays, although they sometimes fall during April.
Z Lithuanian Folk Art
The annual St Casimir’s Fair (Kaziuko muge), a festival of folk arts and crafts, is held at the beginning of March in both Vilnius and Kaunas.
Frosty nights officially come to an end as the mean temperature stabilises well above zero. Hope of spring has arrived; locals burst forth from their shuttered houses to inhale the fickle spring air.
3 Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival
Zombies take over the streets and screens of Haapsalu, on Estonia’s west coast. This showcase of creepy and kooky films is timed to coincide with the April full moon.
3 Jazz in Tallinn
Jazz greats from around the world converge on Tallinn, Estonia, in mid-April during the two-week Jazz-kaar Festival. Musicians play not just at concert halls but on the streets, in squares and parks, and even at the airport.
•Z Tartu Student Days
Tartu’s students let their hair down in this wild pagan celebration marking the end of term and the dawn of spring in Estonia. A second, smaller version occurs in mid-October.
3 Jazz in Kaunas
The annual Kaunas Jazz Festival, held in late April, is arguably Lithuania’s most prestigious and popular jazz event.
The days are noticeably longer now as weather conditions dramatically improve. Tourist-focused businesses start revving their engines; excitement fills the air in anticipation of a fruitful summer.
Z Old Town Days
Held in Tallinn’s cinematic 14th-century streets, this is a week of themed days involving dancing, concerts, costumed performers, sports and plenty of medieval merrymaking.
3 New Baltic Dance Festival
This annual festival in early May features contemporary and modern dance, drawing companies from around Lithuania and the world to Vilnius for a week of performances.
3 Baltic Ballet
The International Baltic Ballet Festival in Riga features stirring performances by Latvian and international companies over three weeks.
After several fits and bursts of spring sun, the warm weather is finally here to stay. The region-wide Midsummer's Eve festivities herald the peak of the summer season.
Z Baltica International Folklore Festival
Alternating between Tallinn (2016, 2019), Vilnius (2017, 2020) and Riga (2018, 2021) annually, this large festival celebrates Baltic folk traditions, with thousands of performers.
3 Riga Opera Festival
The Latvian National Opera’s showcase event takes place over 10 days and includes performances by world-renowned talent.
Grillfest Good Food Festival
Join tens of thousands of holidaymakers tucking into barbecued food in the Estonian beach resort of Parnu.
3 Culture Night
Visual artists and musicians fill the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius with all manner of installations and performances over the course of a single June night. (www. kulturosnaktis.lt)
Z Baltic Pride
The Baltic’s annual gay and lesbian pride festival alternates between each of the three capitals, with Vilnius taking the reins in
2016 (and 2019), Tallinn in
2017 (and 2020), and Riga in 2018 (and 2019).
Z Midsummer's Eve
The region’s biggest annual night out is best experienced in the countryside, where huge bonfires flare for all-night revellers.
PLAN YOUR TRIP MONTH BY MONTH
Z International Folk Festival
Held in the town of Nida on Curonian Spit, this annual festival draws folk musicians and dance troupes from various Lithuanian regions and from around Europe. It’s held over a weekend in late June.
Z Hanseatic Days
The Estonian towns of Vil-jandi and Parnu celebrate their past as part of the Hanseatic League of northern trading cities with much medieval merrymaking.
Summer is in full swing as locals gather on terraces and verandahs during the week to sip mugs of beer alfresco. On the weekends everyone flees the cities for their countryside abodes.
3 Riga's Rhythms
Held in early July, Rigas Ritmi is the Latvian capital’s international festival of jazz, world and improvised music. Additional concerts are held in winter and spring.
3 Classical Concerts
The Christopher Summer Festival offers two months of classical, jazz and world music concerts held around the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July and August.
3 Parnu Film Festival
VITAL US BARISEVS/SHUTTERSTOCK © R.BABAKIN/SHUTTERSTOCK ©
Top: A performer at the Positivus festival Bottom: A Christmas market in Old Riga
Coordinated by the city’s Museum of New Art, this festival showcases documentary films from all over the world. It’s held early in the month in the museum and at other venues around Estonia’s premier beach resort.
PLAN YOUR TRIP MONTH BY MONTH
3 Beer & Bands
An extremely popular ale-guzzling and rock-music extravaganza, Ollesummer (Beer Summer) is held over three days at the historic Song Festival Grounds in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, in early July.
Z Klaipeda Sea Festival
This five-day annual festival is held over the third weekend in July and celebrates the Lithuanian seaport’s rich nautical heritage.
3 Devilstone Music Festival
This rock and metal music festival is held in the central Lithuanian town of Anyksciai in mid-July. Acts perform hard rock, heavy metal, goth, electronica and speed metal. If you’ve got the hair, you know where to be. (www.devil stone.net)
Z Voru Folklore Festival
Mid-July in Voru sees a whir of dancers, singers and musicians decked out in the colourful folk costumes of Estonia and a dozen other nations, celebrating their respective ethnic traditions and cultures.
•Z Tartu Hanseatic Days
Tartu goes medieval in mid-July with three days of costumed peasants, ladies, jesters, knights, crafts demonstrations, markets, family-friendly performances and more.
6 Wine Festival
The village of Sabile, Latvia, is famed for its vineyard -the world’s most northern open-air grape grower. Your only chance to taste local wine is at this festival.
3 Song & Dance Festival
Held separately in each Baltic country every five years, these massive festivals attract people with Baltic roots from all over the world to perform in mammoth choirs or large-scale dance routines that give North Koreans a run for their money.
Taking place amid the quiet pines of northern Vidzeme, Positivus has become an annual pilgrimage for many Latvians, who flock here for several days of rock, electronic and indie music-fueled revelry.
3 Summer Sound
Liepaja holds the title as Latvia’s haven for punk and garage bands, so any of its local music festivals are well worth checking out -especially Summer Sound, which draws up to 40,000 people each year. (www. summersound.lv)
3 Viljandi Folk Music Festival
The Estonian town of Viljandi is overrun with folk-music aficionados during this hugely popular four-day festival, featuring musicians from Estonia and abroad. Over 100 concerts are held, attended by more than 20,000 people.
3 Sigulda Opera Festival
An open-air opera festival attracts internationally acclaimed singers to the castle ruins of Sigulda, Latvia, for three days at the end of the month. (www. opersvetki.lv)
3 Nida Jazz Marathon
Jazz comes to the sand dunes of a Lithuanian Baltic Sea resort during this annual festival. You can expect several days of concerts - with jam sessions afterwards - held at various venues around Cu-ronian Spit in late July and early August.
Long cloudless afternoons are perfect for the beach and extended holidays from work, as locals savour every drop of golden sun - despite the occasional rainstorm.
Z Maritime Merriment
Early in the month, Kuressaare (on the Estonian island of Saaremaa) celebrates its marine credentials with its Maritime Festival, a weekend of sea-related activities including a regatta, fair, herring-cooking demonstrations, bands and a strong naval presence.
3 Film Alfresco
The week-long tARTuFF open-air film festival has free screenings of art-house features and documentaries in the atmospheric Town Hall Square in the heart of Tartu, Estonia. Poetry readings and concerts round out the program.
PLAN YOUR TRIP MONTH BY MONTH
Z Ghost Stories
Held in the grounds of Haapsalu’s castle in western Estonia, the White Lady Festival culminates in the appearance of a ghostly apparition in the cathedral window, caused by the reflection of the full moon in the glass.
3 Pagan Music
The popular MJR Alternative Music Festival (Menuo Juodaragis) celebrates -nominally - Lithuania’s pagan roots; it’s really just a chance to hear music rarely heard anywhere else. Held over the last weekend in August on an island near the eastern Lithuanian city of Zarasai. (www.mjr.lt)
3 Birgitta Festival
The atmospheric ruins of Pirita Convent in Tallinn’s most popular beach suburb offer an excellent backdrop to classical concerts, ballet, opera, choral works and modern dance.
•Z Art by Night
Balta Nakts (White Night), sponsored by the Contemporary Art Forum, mirrors Paris’ night-long showcase of artists and culture around Riga, Latvia’s capital.
■Z Piens Fest
A hipster’s dream festival, Piens Fest feels like an
almost-accidental gathering of local artists (musical and otherwise) in the Miera iela area of Riga. Devour fried food, peruse vintage attire and listen to indie beats while sitting on the grass. (www.piens.nu/fest/)
3 Ezera Skanas Festival
PLAN YOUR TRIP MONTH BY MONTH
Surely Latvia’s most esoteric musical event: people take to boats on Kala Lake at 5am to hear otherworldly music wafting over the water. (www.ezeraskanas.lv)
3 Future Shorts
This film festival celebrates short films from all over the world. (www.facebook. com/pages/Future-Shorts-Latvia/137370992955145)
The last days of summer quickly turn Into the mild beginning of autumn. Rain Is more frequent by the end of the month, while leaves turn brilliant colours and tumble off the trees.
3 World Theatre
Sirenos (Sirens) International Theatre Festival is a popular annual drama festival held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from mid-September to mid-October, drawing people from around the world for a robust roster of live theatre.
Days are noticeably shorter and afternoons on the beach are but a memory now; tourist-focused businesses start shuttering their windows as everyone prepares to hibernate.
Z Gaida Music Festival
One of the highlights of Lithuania’s musical calendar is this annual celebration of classical and new music from Central and Eastern Europe. Held in Vilnius.
Autumn turns to winter as rainy days blend into snowy ones. This is perhaps one of the quietest months of the year - summer is long gone, yet winter holiday festivities have yet to begin.
Held in Lithuania’s four biggest cities (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda and Siauliai), this festival showcases European films in various formats and genres. (www. scanorama.lt)
3 Mama Jazz
Vilnius’s biggest jazz event is held every November, usually drawing a banner list of top performers from around Europe and the world.
3 Black Nights Film Festival
Estonia’s biggest film festival showcases films from all over the world in the nation’s capital over two weeks from mid-November. Subfestivals focus on animated films, children’s films and student-made films.
Z Latvian National Day
A whole week of festivities surrounds the anniversary of Latvia’s 1918 proclamation of independence on 18 November, including the Riga Festival of Light.
3 Arena New
Showcases contemporary composers and artists working in what might be loosely dubbed the classical tradition; held at venues throughout Riga, Latvia.
Yuletide festivities provide the perfect distraction from freezing temperatures as decorations cheer the streets and families gather from all over to celebrate.
Z Christmas in Tartu
Watch the Advent candles being lit while the choirs sing on a fairy-lit Town Hall Square on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas (Estonia).
7 Christmas Markets
Festive decorations, arts and crafts, traditional foods and entertainment brighten the dark days in the lead-up to Christmas, in each capital’s Old Town (and in many other towns around the region).
■Z New Year's Eve
Enjoy fireworks and revelry on the main squares of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius in the countdown to midnight.
Best of the Baltic
If you’ve only got limited time but you’re keen on seeing the very best of what each of the Baltic states has to offer, this short itinerary ticks off many of the big-ticket destinations.
Inaugurate your tour in Tallinn and roam the magnificent medieval streets of the Estonian capital’s Old Town. Delve into the city’s treasure trove of gastronomic delights before trekking out to Lahemaa National Park. The electric university town of Tartu awaits; then skip south into Latvia to take in the crumbling castles of Cesis and Sigulda in Gauja National Park. Spend the night at one of the posh muizas (manor houses) nearby, then plough through to reach Riga, home to a dizzying array of decorated facades. Next, head south to Rundale to visit the opulent palace - the Baltic’s version of Versailles - built by the architect responsible for St Petersburg’s Winter Palace. F rom Rundale, hop the border into Lithuania and stop for a quick look at the Hill ofCrosses in Siauliai before shooting west to Curonian Spit. Spend some time amid the quaint cottages, shifting sand dunes and roving boar before ending your trip in flamboyant, baroque Vilnius.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ITINERARIEs
The Grand Tour
With a month you can roster in beach time, hiking excursions and see much more of the region’s quaint little towns - you could even fit in a side trip to Helsinki.
Start in Lithuania’s beautiful capital Vilnius, spending a couple of days wandering the cobblestone streets, checking out Gediminas Hill and taking in the city’s historical charms. Make a stop at Trakai Castle before heading west towards the sea. Stop at Zemaitija National Park for a quick lesson in Soviet missile tactics, then reward yourself with some uninterrupted relaxation along the dune-filled shores of Curonian Spit. Follow the Baltic Sea up through the port city of Klaipeda and family-friendly Palanga to reach the Latvian border.
Over the border the first stop is Liepaja, famous for its gilded cathedral and hulking Soviet tenements. If the weather’s behaving, head north to surfside Pavilosta before detouring inland to the picturesque village of Kuldiga. Continue on to the lovely long sands of Ventspils, staying overnight before hitting windy and wild Cape Kolka. Follow the coast as it traces a snaking line past forests and quiet villages to the spa retreat of Jurmala - a hot spot for Russian tycoons and an excellent pit stop. From here Riga is only a short hop away.
After a couple of days in the Latvian capital, jump the border into Estonia for some beach bliss in Parnu. Move west to play hopscotch between the forested islands of Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Stop for lunch and a castle visit in Haapsalu before continuing on to Tallinn. Allow at least three days to take in the Estonian capital’s treasures before ferrying over to Helsinki for a night. Back in Estonia, stop overnight in Lahemaa National Park before heading through Rakvere and Mustvee, on the shores of Lake Peipsi, to Tartu for a night or two.
Stop to check out the oddball border town of Valga/Valka before continuing on to Latvia’s Gauja National Park. Stop in charming Cesis to wander among the fortress ruins, and in Sigulda for a side of bobsledding and bungee jumping. End your Baltic odyssey back in Riga or motor on to Vilnius to return your hire car.
PLAN YOUR TRIP ITINERARIES
A full week in Latvia offers time to explore a good number of the nation’s treasures beyond the attention-stealing capital.
After exploring Riga, visit the castle-clad forests near Sigulda before moving on to the secret Soviet bunker at Ligatne and the stone fortress of Cesis. Swing through to the peaceful Latgale Lakelands, where you can stay overnight in a guesthouse or a camp site on the shores of Lake Razna and visit the basilica at Aglona.
Loop back to Rundale to take in the opulence of the palace before blasting on to the coast at Liepaja, home to Latvia’s garage-band scene and the strikingly dour Karosta district. Detour inland to Kuldiga, one of the country’s quaintest towns, then stop overnight in beachy Ventspils. Then it’s on to Cape Kolka, where the Gulf of Riga meets the Baltic Sea in dramatic fashion.
Follow the coastline through the constellation of lonely seaside villages to Jurmala, the Baltic’s most famous resort town, then finish up back in Riga.
Ten days in the Baltic is just the right amount of time to get a feel for each of the region’s capitals.
Start your journey in Vilnius (Lithuania) to appreciate the sumptuous baroque architecture amid the curving cobbled streets. Two days will give you plenty of time to snap photos of Gediminas Hill and take in the city’s rich Jewish history.
A side trip to the castle at Trakai is a must before visiting Latvia’s capital, Riga: the Baltic’s largest city. Haggle for huckleberries at the Central Market and crane your neck to take in the glorious art nouveau architecture soaring above. You’ll be spoilt for choice with day-tripping detours - cavort with the Russian elite in Jurmala, Latvia’s spa centre; or crank up the adrenalin in Sigulda, with its clutch of adventure sports.
Next it’s on to Estonia and Tallinn, where you’ll be treated to a fairy-tale kingdom of quaint medieval houses. Indulge in the city’s world-class culinary scene and finish off the journey with a day at quiet Lahemaa National Park.
You can jam a lot into a week in compact Lithuania, but if you’ve got the time, you could easily stretch this intinerary out to a more relaxed 10 days.
After taking in the cathedral and museums of Vilnius, drop by Trakai to see the island castle and then continue on to vibrant, rough-edged Kaunas. Beach bums should then head to the Baltic coast, dropping in to the port city of Klaipeda before continuing on to Curonian Spit.
The best place to base yourself here is the enchanting town of Nida.
Leaving the coast, stop at Plateliai in Zemaitija National Park to see the abandoned Soviet missile base, which now houses the Cold War Museum. Break up your journey east with a visit to the Hill of Crosses before continuing on your way to Visaginas, built in the ’70s to house workers at the now-shuttered Ignalina Nuclear Power Station. Continue on to Aukstaitija National Park, with its lakes and hiking paths, and stop overnight in Labanoras, the centrepiece of Labanoras Regional Park, before heading back to Vilnius.
If you can drag yourself away from the wonderland that is Tallinn, this itinerary covers a little of everything Estonia has to offer: beaches, countryside, castles, historic towns and quaint villages.
On a week’s journey through Estonia, it’s best to give Tallinn at least two days -so you can fully explore each crooked nook in the charming medieval core while sampling the spoils of the nation’s foodie scene. Lahemaa National Park makes for a lovely day trip, while the university town of Tartu awaits those looking for cultured city life away from the capital. Swing through Otepaa, Estonia’s self-proclaimed ‘winter capital’, then switch seasons in Parnu, where sun worshippers come in droves for a bit of beach-lazing.
Round off the week on Estonia’s western islands. Stop by time-warped Koguva village on Muhu, then base yourself at Kuressaare on Saaremaa - Estonia’s prettiest spa town, set around an ancient moated castle. From here explore the island’s forested expanse of whooshing windmills, lonely churches and soaring sea cliffs. At the end of the week, there are direct flights back to Tallinn.
Whether you plan your itinerary extensively or simply follow the smell of salt and smoked fish up the coastline, you'll find driving in the Baltics a breeze. Roads are pretty good, traffic is light and drivers reasonably sane. Driving is not only an easy way to explore this region - it's a pleasure.
Driving vs Public Transport
To be honest, it’s quite possible to explore the Baltics using public transport. Hire a car here purely for pleasure, convenience and freedom (plus it makes a great travelling suitcase). A car gives you the flexibility to explore the countries’ quiet hinterlands, from the towering dunes of Lithuania’s Cu-ronian Spit to Estonia’s windswept western islands to Latvia’s pine-studded inner forests. Take your car off the main roads and stumble upon tiny villages locked away in time, or curious relics from the Soviet era, when the Russians used space-station technology to spy on the West.
Private vehicles far outshine public transport when it comes to convenience. If you’re simply travelling between large towns and capitals, we recommend using the bus and train system, which is geared towards commuting professionals and is thus very comfortable. If you plan on exploring the national parks, rural backwaters or the Estonian islands, the limited bus services just aren’t up to the job.
If you’re travelling with your family or a small group of friends you’ll find the freedom of a car versus the rather high petrol prices a much more amenable equation. However, parking a car can be a hassle in the capital cities, so allow yourself several days to explore them on
Best Day Trips by Car
Enjoy Estonia's natural beauty and head east early in the morning to watch the forest come to life at Lahemaa National Park. If time permits, swing down to Rakvere to check out the castle before looping back to the capital.
If you've got your own wheels you won't be limited to the most obvious day trips (Gauja National Park, Rundale, Jurmala). Go west instead. Consider a stop at Pedvale to peruse the sculptures at the open-air art museum, then venture on to quaint KuldTga, a charming village frozen in time.
Most visitors head west to the castle at Trakai, so buck the trend and venture northeast to check out the quiet lakes and hiking paths of Aukstaitija National Park, stopping at Labanoras along the way.
foot before collecting your hire car and hitting the road.
When to Go
For fairly obvious reasons, the best time of year to travel with a vehicle is during the summer months (June to August), which are blissfully free from snow, sleet and any other weather that could have a negative impact on your driving. The summer months are not, however, completely free of rain - and you’ll have to consider booking ahead for ferries to the Estonian islands at busy times (on weekends especially, and around Midsummer). The summer days are long, which means that driving is relatively safe even in the late evening.
PLAN YOUR TRIP RoAD TRIPs
Where to Start & End
You’ll be pleased to know that almost all car-hire companies allow mobility throughout all three Baltic countries (although some will charge a fee for the privilege). However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a service that will allow you to take a vehicle to any countries beyond.
If you hire a car from a smaller local agency, you’ll be expected to return the vehicle to the location from which you picked it up. Larger franchise operators will allow you to drop the car off in a different town or even a different Baltic country for an additional fee - making a flight into Tallinn and out of Vilnius entirely possible. If you want to save on the relocation fee and start and end at the same point, leave from Riga, complete a figure-eight circuit up into Estonia and down through Lithuania (or vice versa), then return.
Although the Baltic countryside can feel desolate and underpopulated, there is a healthy number of service stations in all
three countries - it would take some seriously bad judgement to run out of petrol. Before taking your vehicle off the lot, make sure to arm yourself with a service phone number for each of the Baltic countries, just in case your car should require any attention while on the road. Tyres have been known to get punctures - especially in Latvia, where the road-maintenance infrastructure isn’t as solid as it is in Lithuania or Estonia.
Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Older towns and villages have a proliferation of one-way streets and roundabouts. Blood-alcohol limits are low in all three countries (0.2 in Estonia, 0.4 in Lithuania, 0.5 in Latvia).
Although the Baltic nations have a fairly poor reputation when it comes to road etiquette and collisions, this stereotype is mostly unfounded. Drivers in the big cities can be aggressive but you’ll find that most are forgiving of wrong turns and lane-changing. You should, however, avoid inner-city driving during the workday rush hour - especially on Friday afternoons in the warmer months, when locals tend to make a beeline to their countryside cottages. Driving in the region’s rural parts is rarely a laborious task as populations are sparse. Do, however, be careful of passing vehicles, which tend to speed by unannounced and at surprisingly inopportune moments.
Take extra care on the Tallinn-Tartu highway, known by locals as ‘the road of death’. Numerous speed cameras are in effect here, as well as on the Tallinn-Narva highway and throughout Latvia.
The Great Outdoors
The Baltic countries offer visitors plenty of up-close-and-personal encounters with Mother Nature at her gentlest: paddling on sparkling lakes, rambling or cycling through pretty forests, lazing on beaches. Instead of craning your neck at sky-reaching peaks, here you can marvel over accessible nature and superb rural scenery.
While the flat Baltic countries lack the drama of more mountainous regions, there are places where you’re left in no doubt that it’s tempestuous nature that’s calling the shots - witness the awesome shifting sands of Curonian Spit, or the windswept, desolate Cape Kolka.
There’s plenty of breathing space in these countries, too, offering some of the continent’s best opportunities to ditch the crowds and simply frolic in the wilderness. Check the population figures and you’ll be in no doubt that open space abounds here.
A smorgasbord of active endeavours awaits anyone wanting to delve into the outdoors. You can whet your appetite with berry-picking before feeding on an alfresco meal of brisk, salty air, pristine white-sand beaches and icy-blue Baltic Sea vistas. Want seconds? Try cycling through dense, pine-scented forests; canoeing down a lazy river; or checking out the flora and fauna in a quiet nature reserve. Those craving an adrenalin fix can find some surprising options, too, from bobsledding to bungee jumping. If you still have room for dessert, try baby-gentle downhill or cross-country skiing, or just get hot and sweaty in a traditional rural sauna.
Best of the Outdoors
Ultimate Cycling Route
Follow the Baltic coastline from Curonian Spit, up through the Kurzeme Coast, around the Gulf of Riga and onto the quiet western islands of Estonia.
Best Authentic Sauna Experience
Try a pirts, a traditional Latvian cleanse involving extreme temperatures, a birch-branch beating and jumping into a pond.
Top Forest Hikes
Lahemaa National Park (Estonia), Gauja National Park (Latvia), Zemaitija National Park (Lithuania)
Excellent Canoeing Spots
Haanja Nature Park (Estonia), Latgale Lakelands (Latvia), Aukstaitija National Park (Lithuania)
Blue cows in Latvia's Kurzeme Region, wild boar on Lithuania's Curonian Spit, storks nesting on power poles throughout the Estonian countryside.
Outdoor Activities Web Resource
Country Holidays (www.traveller.lv) Pan-Baltic website offering details on cycling routes, hiking trails and landmarks.
ing each year as bike-share and easy-access rental programs proliferate.
Among the most popular places to cycle in Lithuania are spectacular Curonian Spit, lake-studded Dzukija National Park, around Lake Plateliai and on the forest paths in Labanoras Regional Park.
The Baltic offers superb cycling territory. The region’s flatness makes tooling around the countryside on a bicycle an option for anyone: casual cyclists can get the hang of things on gentle paved paths, while hardcore fanatics can rack up the kilometres on more challenging multiday treks. Although there’s not much along the lines of steep single-track trails, dirt tracks through forests abound, and the varied but always peaceful scenery ensures you’ll never tire of the view.
The capital cities of the Baltic are also doing their share to increase the usability of bicycles. Urban cycling paths are multiply-
PLAN YOUR TRIP OuTDOOR AcTiviTiEs
In Estonia, try the quiet back roads of the islands of Muhu, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, as well as the bay-fringed, forested confines of Lahemaa National Park.
In Latvia, bicycle is the best way to explore Liepaja, Ventspils, Sigulda and Jurmala. For a longer adventure, the Lat-gale Lakelands are ideal, with plenty of paved and unpaved roads leading through beautiful wilderness. The Cape Kolka area is also very popular.
WORKING UP A SWEAT
Given that it's cold, dark and snowy for many months of the year, it's little surprise that the sauna is an integral part of local culture. Most hotels have one, and some cities have public bathhouses with saunas. But it's those that smoulder silently next to a lake or river, by the sea or deep in the forest that provide the most authentic experience.
There are three main types of sauna in the Baltic:
* In Fi nnish-style saunas an electric stove keeps the air temperature high (between 70°C and 95°C) and humidity low. These are found in plenty of private homes, most hotels and all spas and water parks etc. Public sauna complexes charge an hourly fee and there are plenty of small private saunas that can be rented by the hour. Some hotels will charge but others have free facilities for guests, or a free morning or evening sauna included as part of the rate; some hotel suites have a private sauna attached to the bathroom.
* The smoke sauna is the most archaic type, where a fire is lit directly under rocks in the chimney-less building (generally a one-room wooden hut) - heating can take up to five hours. After the fire is put out in the hearth, the heat comes from the warmed rocks. The smoke is let out just before participants enter; the soot-blackened walls are part of the experience. Smoke saunas are rare but have become more popular in recent times.
* The ‘Russian sauna', or steam sauna/steam bath, is not as popular in the Baltic region as the Finnish style of sauna, but is found mainly in spas or water parks. In these, the air temperature is medium (about 50°C) and air humidity is high.
Locals use a bunch of birch twigs to lightly slap or flick the body, stimulating circulation, irrespective of which sauna type they're sweating in. Some also lather their bodies in various oils and unguents (honey products are popular).
Cooling down is an equally integral part of the experience: most Finnish-style saunas have showers or pools attached, while the more authentic smoke saunas are usually next to a lake or river. In the depths of winter, rolling in snow or cutting out a square metre of ice from a frozen lake in order to take a quick dip is not unheard of.
In public saunas, such as those in spa hotels, a set of rules is usually posted outlining sauna etiquette and what to wear. Swimming costumes are generally required in mixed-gender areas (for men, Speedo-style briefs are the strong preference - some places forbid board shorts), while people tend to go nude in single-sex facilities.
Some places provide towels or paper sheets to sit on.
Plan Your Trip
If you want someone to help with planning, a band of dedicated cycling operators offer everything from itinerary-planning services to fully guided treks. For DIY planning, check out info-laden www. eurovelo.org.
BaltiCCycle (www.bicycle.lt; Lithuania)
City Bike (www.citybike.ee; Estonia)
Spas & Saunas
Spa-going is extremely popular among Estonians, who share their sauna habits with the Finns next door. You can try a traditional smoke sauna at the Mihkli Farm Museum on Hiiumaa island. Many Estonians refer to Saaremaa island as ‘Spa-remaa’ for its proliferation of spa resorts, particularly in Kuressaare. You’ll find excellent spa spots in Parnu, Rakvere, Voru and Tallinn as well.
Latvia’s seaside town of Jurmala is undoubtedly the spa capital of the Baltic.
In its heyday it was the holiday centre of the entire Russian Empire - thousands of aristocrats travelled here in droves to slather themselves in curative mud, rinse in sulphur water and enjoy the glorious views of the bay. Today, much of Jurmala’s allure remains, and it’s still a popular spot for Russian tycoons to build a holiday home and get massage treatments. For an authentic cleansing experience, however, you’ll have to venture far away from the crowds of Riga or Jurmala and head to the countryside, where locals have constructed their own private pirts close to the water’s edge (pond, river, lake or sea). Several private pirts can be booked by travellers, such as the one shared by several hotels in Sigulda; otherwise you’ll have to befriend some locals to gain access.
Lithuania has a less-developed spa and sauna scene than its Baltic brothers, but there are nonetheless a few places to indulge. The two most popular spa destinations are Birstonas and the fabled 19th-century spa town of Druskininkai, on the Nemunas River; of the two, Druskininkai is the destination of choice for serious spa-seekers. The town, which has been in the healing business for more than 200 years, boasts mineral spas for sipping (with a reputedly recuperative effect on everything from the stomach to the heart), mud baths, a relatively mild climate and miles and miles of surrounding forest that keep the air fresh and clean. Added to that are modern diversions, such as a huge water park, that make the town a perfect respite for the healthy as well as the ailing.
PLAN YOUR TRIP OuTDOOR Activities
While the Baltic countries lack the craggy grandeur or wild expanses of some of their neighbours, a day or two hiking in one of the forested national parks is rewarding all the same. All that forest (it covers 51% of Estonia, 45% of Latvia and 33% of Lithuania) just begs to be explored, especially if there are beaver dams to spot, berries to pick or tales of resident witches and fairies to hear along the way.
Grab your hiking boots, breathe deeply of the pine-fresh air and hit the trails in the likes of Zemaitija National Park in Lithuania, Gauja National Park in Latvia, and Lahemaa National Park in Estonia. Pretty villages that make good bases for exploration include Estonia’s Otepaa and Rouge; Valmiera and Cesis in Latvia; and Nida in Lithuania. If ordinary walking doesn’t float your boat, make a beeline for Estonia’s Soomaa National Park, where you can go on a guided walk through the park’s wetlands using special ‘bog shoes’ that give you access to otherwise hard-to-reach areas.
Having been cooped up for most of the winter, the region comes alive in summer, with locals and visitors taking any opportunity to soak up some vitamin D during the gloriously long days. You’re never far from the sea or a lake offering fishing, sailing, windsurfing and swimming. And when the weather doesn’t favour outdoor
frolicking, there’s no shortage of wet and wild water parks (with indoor pools, slides, saunas etc) in big cities and holiday areas -these operators know from experience that a Baltic summer is no guarantee for beach-going weather.
Great Baltic beachy spots are Parnu, Narva-Joesuu and Saaremaa in Estonia; Jurmala, Ventspils, Pavilosta and Liepaja in Latvia; and Palanga, Klaipeda and Nida in Lithuania. More heart-pounding water sports, such as kiteboarding, can be attempted at Pavilosta in Latvia.
PLAN YOUR TRIP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
Canoeing & Rafting
Watching the landscape slide slowly by while paddling down a lazy river is a fabulous way to experience the natural world from a different angle. As the region’s rivers are not known for their wild rapids, this is a great place for beginners to hone their skills or for families to entertain the kids. Even if you’re usually more into wild than mild, the region’s scenic beauty and tranquillity create such a Zen experience you’ll quickly forget you haven’t hit a single rapid.
In Latvia, the Gauja and Abava Rivers offer uninterrupted routes stretching for several days, and you can join an organised tour or rent gear and run the routes on your own - the best places to start are Sigulda (for the Gauja) and Kandava (for the Abava). The Latgale Lakelands are also excellent. In Lithuania, Aukstaitija National Park, Labanoras Regional Park, Dzukija National Park, Trakai and Nemunas Loops Regional Park all offer the opportunity for great canoeing. Canoes or traditional haabjas (Finno-Ugric boats carved from a single log) are a good way to explore Soomaa National Park in southwest Estonia - you can even learn to build your own haabjas. Otepaa is another good Estonian spot to organise and access canoe trips, as is Haanja Nature Park.
Abundant lakes and miles of rivers and streams provide ample fishing opportunities in all three countries. Visit a regional tourist office for the scoop on the best angling spots and information pertaining to permits.
In the dark depths of the Baltic winter there is no finer experience than dabbling
in a touch of ice-fishing with vodka-warmed local fishing folk on the frozen Curonian Lagoon, off the west coast of Lithuania, or at Trakai. The Nemunas Delta Regional Park is another good western Lithuanian fishing spot. In Latvia, the Lat-gale Lakelands are packed with hundreds of deep-blue lakes offering fishing opportunities galore. In northern Kurzeme, Lake Engure is another favourite angling spot. Huge Lake Peipsi is popular in Estonia.
Berrying & Mushrooming
The Balts’ deep-rooted attachment to the land is reflected in their obsession with berrying and mushrooming - national pastimes in all three countries. Accompanying a local friend into the forest on a summer berrying trip or autumn mushrooming expedition is an enchanting way to appreciate this traditional rural pastime.
If you’re keen on picking but lack a local invitation, join an organised tour (locals closely guard the location of their favourite spots, so just asking around probably won’t reap any useful information). For info on berrying and mushrooming tours, check out www.atostogoskaime.lt (Lithuania), www.maaturism.ee (Estonia) and www. traveller.lv (Latvia), and ask at local tourist offices.
Of the more than a thousand types of mushroom found in the region, around 400 are edible and about 100 are poisonous - never eat anything you’re not 100% sure about. Unless you’re accompanied by a local expert, you’re better off heading to a market and checking out the freshly picked produce. The crinkle-topped, yellow chanterelle and stubby boletus are among the best. You can also peruse menus for inseason treasures from local forests.
For fungi fanatics, there’s Varena’s mushroom festival, held in September every year.
Thanks to a key position on north-south migration routes, the Baltic countries are a birder’s paradise. Each year hundreds of
MARC VENEMA/SHUTTERSTOCK ©
PLAN YOUR TRIP OUTDOOR AcTiviTiEs
In pagan times it was a night of magic and sorcery, when witches ran naked and wild, bewitching flowers and ferns, people and animals. In the agricultural calendar, it marked the end of the spring sowing and the start of the summer harvest. In Soviet times it became a political celebration: a torch of independence was lit in each capital and its flame used to light bonfires throughout the country.
PLAN YOUR TRIP OuTDOOR AcTiviTiEs
Today Midsummer Day, aka summer solstice or St John’s Day, falling on 24 June, is the Balts’ biggest party of the year. On this night darkness barely falls - reason alone to celebrate in a part of the world with such short summers and such long, dark winters. In Estonia it is known as Jaanipaev; in Latvia it’s Jani, Janu Diena or LTgo; and in Lithuania, Jonines or Rasos (the old pagan name).
Celebrations start on 23 June, particularly in Latvia, where the festival is generally met with the most gusto. Traditionally, people flock to the countryside to celebrate this special night amid lakes and pine forests. Special beers, cheeses and pies are prepared and wreaths are strung together from grasses, while flowers and herbs are hung around the home to bring good luck and keep families safe from evil spirits. Men adorn themselves with crowns made from oak leaves; women wear crowns of flowers.
Come Midsummer’s Eve bonfires are lit and the music and drinking begins. No one is allowed to sleep until the sun has sunk and risen again - anyone who does will be cursed with bad luck for the coming year. Traditional folk songs are sung, dances danced and those special beers, cheeses and pies eaten! To ensure good luck, you have to leap back and forth over the bonfire. In Lithuania, clearing a burning wheel of fire as it is rolled down the nearest hill brings you even better fortune. In Estonia, revellers swing on special double-sided Jaanipaev swings, strung from trees in forest clearings or in village squares.
Midsummer’s night is a night for lovers. In Estonia the mythical Koit (dawn) and Hamarik (dusk) meet but once a year for an embrace lasting as long as the shortest night of the year. Throughout the Baltic region, lovers seek the mythical fern flower, which blooms only on this night. The dew coating flowers and ferns on Midsummer’s night is held to be a purifying force, a magical healer and a much sought-after cure for wrinkles - bathe your face in it and you will instantly become more beautiful and more youthful. However, beware the witches of Jaanipaev/Jani/Jonines, who are known to use it for less enchanting means.
bird species descend upon the region, attracted by fish-packed wetlands and wide-open spaces relatively devoid of people. White storks arrive by the thousands each spring, nesting on rooftops and telegraph poles throughout the region. Other annual visitors include corncrakes, bitterns, cranes, mute swans, black storks and all types of geese.
In Estonia, some of the best birdwatching in the Baltic is found in Matsalu National Park, where 280 different species (many migratory) can be spotted, and where regular tours are run. Spring migration peaks in April/May, but some species arrive as early as March. Autumn migration
begins in July and can last until November. Vilsandi National Park, off Saaremaa, is another prime spot for feathery friends; the park’s headquarters can help arrange birdwatching tours.
Some 270 of the 330 bird species found in Lithuania frequent the Nemunas Delta Regional Park, making it a must-visit for serious birders. Park authorities can help organise birdwatching expeditions during the peak migratory seasons. The nearby Curonian Spit National Park offers opportunities for spotting up to 200 different species of birds amid dramatic coastal scenery.
In Latvia, keep an eye out for some of Europe’s rarest birds in splendid Gauja National Park. With thick forests and numerous wetlands, Kemeri National Park in northern Kurzeme is another great birdwatching spot. Lake Engure, in northern Kurzeme, is a major bird reservation with 186 species (44 endangered) nesting around the lake and its seven islets.
They might not have anything closely resembling a mountain, but Estonia and Latvia haven’t let this geographic hurdle hinder their ski-resort efforts. Instead, these countries have become masters at working with what they’ve got - and that means constructing lifts and runs on the tiniest of hills, and using rooftops and dirt mounds to create vertical drops. At least they’ve got the climate working for them, with cold temperatures ensuring snow cover for at least four months of the year. Don’t expect much in the way of technical terrain or long powder runs - but you’ve got to admit that saying you’ve skied the Baltics is pretty damn cool.
Otepaa in southeast Estonia is probably the best of the Baltic winter resorts.
It offers limited downhill skiing, myriad cross-country trails, a ski jump and plenty of outlets from which to hire gear. Lively nightlife and a ski-town vibe heighten the appeal. Kicksledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoe excursions are available at Soomaa National Park.
The Gauja Valley is the centre of Latvia’s winter-sports scene. Cesis offers short-but-sweet downhill runs and loads of cross-country trails. Adrenalin junkies disappointed by Sigulda’s gentle slopes can get their fix swishing down the town’s 1200m-long artificial bobsled run - the five-person contraptions reach speeds of 80km/h!
Lithuania offers downhill skiing at Anyksciai, as well as cross-country skiing amid deep, whispering forests and frozen blue lakes in beautiful Aukstaitija National Park. There’s also a huge indoor slope at Druskininkai.
PLAN YOUR TRIP OuTDOOR AcTiviTiEs
The gentle pace of horseback exploration is definitely in keeping with the yesteryear feel of parts of the Baltic countries. Some of the best and most bucolic places to get saddle-sore include Lahemaa National Park and the islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa in Estonia - operators here will usually combine rural and coastal rides, and can arrange multiday treks.
In Latvia, head to Plosti, between Kan-dava and Sabile in the picturesque Abava Valley; Untumi country ranch (06463 1255; www.untumi.lv), 7km northwest of Rezekne; or the well-established Klajumi stables, outside Kraslava in the Latgale Lakelands. For some four-legged fun in Lithuania, head to Trakai or to the horse museum in the village of Niuronys, outside Anyksciai.
Plan Your Trip
Travel with Children
Relax. The Baltic states present no particular challenges for parents with kids in tow - whether they're beaming babies or tempestuous teens - and there's oodles of opportunity for family fun. Even when the weather puts a dampener on things, there's plenty to see and do.
Best Regions for Kids
Estonia will delight splash-loving kids with its endless shallow, sandy, toddler-friendly beaches and excellent water parks. Other fun includes good child-focused museums, fairy-tale castles and medieval town centres.
Gauja National Park is an enchanted forest of towering pines, fairy-tale castles, hidden ogres, secreted Soviet bunkers and myriad adventure activities, such as ropes courses, Tarzan swings and canoeing. Latvia's western coastline is a delightful jumble of water parks and sandy strips of beach.
Lithuania's entire coastline is a veritable playground for kids, be it the funfair amusements and in-house restaurant entertainers in Palanga and Sventoji or the bikes and boats to rent on Curonian Spit. Further inland there are plenty of forested landscapes to be explored by foot or canoe. In Vilnius kids will enjoy a climb up the TV Tower, a ride on the funicular up Gediminas Hill and a dip at the local water park.
Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania for Kids
While it may have been a little daunting travelling with kids in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania back when they were Soviet Socialist Republics, nowadays it’s a breeze. All three are part of the EU, so you can expect the same high standards of regulation as you would in London or Vienna for everything from baby food to car seats.
The Baltic countries have a fascinating history; this might be of keen interest to most adult visitors, but a visit to a social-history museum can be lost on toddlers and teens alike. Fortunately, there are tons of opportunities for younger travellers to engage with their surroundings in a fun and meaningful manner at various castles, farm complexes, interactive museums and the like. Almost all attractions offer halfprice tickets for school-age children and free entry for toddlers.
Throughout the region you’ll find tours - particularly day trips from the capital cities - that shuttle visitors to the various attractions of note around the region’s major centres. These trips are, in general, not well suited to youngsters.
If you have little ones in tow, it’s best to tailor-make your own adventure.
Well-behaved children are welcome at almost all eateries throughout the region, although the more relaxed, family-style restaurants will probably be more enjoyable for parents and children alike. In Latvia, look out for the LIDO chain of selfservice bistros: the massive Atputas Centrs (p220) branch on the outskirts of Riga is particularly good, with a giant windmill and a fun park next door. In Estonia, anything labelled korts (tavern) is a good bet.
The stodgy, somewhat bland nature of traditional Baltic food will suit the palates of most children. While they might baulk at the pickled herrings and sauerkraut, the myriad versions of pork, chicken and potatoes should pose no particular challenges.
Favourite standbys such pizza and pasta are ubiquitous, and usually of sufficient quality to please an adult palate as well.
In any event, many places have children’s menus serving smaller portions. For something a little different but equally as cheap, filling and crowd-pleasing, try a plate of Russian-style pelmeni dumplings.
On the downside, you won’t find many high chairs in restaurants, and nappy-changing rooms are virtually unheard of.
Nappies (diapers) and known-brand baby foods, including some organic ones, are widely available in supermarkets in the main towns.
All of the big-name car-rental brands should be able to supply appropriate car seats, but it’s best to check what’s available and to book in advance. If you’ve got a good-quality, comfortable, capsule-style baby seat of your own that you’re familiar with, you might want to consider bringing it with you, as they can be very handy as portable cots.
History Comes Alive
* Tallinn’s Old Town, Estonia Fairy-tale turrets, medieval streetscapes and waitstaff dressed as peasant wenches and farmboys. (p71)
* Turaida Museum Reserve, Latvia Explore the castle, watch blacksmiths at work and seek out the kooky sculptures in the song garden. (p257)
* Grutas Park, Lithuania A step back into the Soviet era, with the added bonus of vintage play equipment and a mini zoo for the little ones. (p329)
* Rakvere Castle, Estonia Smaller kids can dress up as princesses and knights and pet farm animals; older kids can can scream their heads off in the torture chamber and watch alchemists blow things up. (p93)
PLAN YOUR TRIP TRAVEL WITH CHILDREN
* The Pension, LTgatne, Latvia A hidden bunker stocked with heaps of relics from the Soviet era - truly interesting for all ages.
* Narva Hermann Castle, Estonia In summer there's a mock-up of a 17th-century town in the castle yard. (p96)
* Ludza Craftsmen Centre, Latvia Put your kids to work spinning wool, making pottery and sewing. (p275)
* House of Crafts, Ventspils, Latvia
An old-school classroom features craft demonstrations. (p236)
Fun Museums & Galleries
* Science Centre AHHAA, Tartu, Estonia
Experiential, science-based displays designed to turn your progeny into mad scientists. (p108)
* Tartu Toy Museum, Estonia Toys to covet, toys to play with, toys to make grown-ups feel nostalgic. (p107)
* Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour, Tallinn, Estonia Loads of interactive displays, with a real submarine, ice-breaker and mine-hunter to explore. (p60)
* Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum, Anyksciai, Lithuania Take a ride on a manual rail car and a historic train. (p353)
* Tallinn Zoo, Estonia Lots of big beasts and cute critters to see and learn about. (p68)
* Horse Museum, Niuronys, Lithuania Check out the historic carts and carriages, take a ride and bake your own black bread. (p353)
* O. Luts Parish School Museum, Palamuse, Estonia Where else will adults encourage kids to grab a slingshot and shoot a stone through a real glass window? (p103)
* Nuku, Tallinn, Estonia The national puppet museum offers dress-ups, puppets to play with and look at, and regular shows. (p69)
* Ilon’s Wonderland, Haapsalu, Estonia Child-focused gallery showcasing the work of noted kids' book illustrator Ilon Wikland. (p153)
* Sigulda, Latvia Long established as the go-to spot for adrenalin lovers. Heart-pounding bungee jumps and bobsled tracks are the main attraction, but there are plenty of more subdued options for younger children. (p256)
PLAN YOUR TRIP TRAVEL WITH CHILDREN
* Curonian Spit, Lithuania Shifting sand dunes and miles of windswept beaches make it the best place in the Baltic to build the ultimate sandcastle. (p363)
* Ventspils, Latvia A huge playground (Children's Town), a narrow-gauge railway and loads of fun things to do on the beach. (p235)
* Palanga, Lithuania A seaside resort lined with kid-friendly amusements: inflatable slides, merry-go-rounds, electric cars etc. (p375)
* Parnu, Estonia This historic town is a veritable magnet for families, with its leafy parks, large indoor water park and lovely shallow, sandy beach. (p132)
* Otepaa, Estonia Estonia's self-proclaimed ‘winter capital' actually offers a bevy of nature-related activities throughout the year, including an excellent high-ropes course. (p122)
* Jurmala, Latvia A particularly family-friendly beach resort. (p229)
* Aqua Park, Druskininkai, Lithuania There's a fabulous water park for the kids - and spa treatments for parents! (p329)
When to Go
The long days and mild weather make summer the perfect time to travel around the Baltic with children - although the
virtual lack of darkness during midsummer can play havoc with children’s sleeping schedules. In summertime, outdoor tourist amenities are in full swing: beach towns come alive and myriad rental cottages dot the interior. It is, however, very popular with all types of holidaymakers, so it’s crucial that you book accommodation and car rental in advance (remembering to request cots and car seats if you require them).
What to Pack
Don’t stress too much about the packing, as whatever you forget should easily be found for purchase in any of the capital cities. Whatever the season, a bathing suit is a must, as there are many heated indoor pools to enjoy when it’s too miserable to hit the beaches.
Make sure you’ve got insect repellent handy before you head onto the islands or into the national parks - the mosquitoes are enormous and voracious.
Most hotels will do their best to help make kids feel at home. Many have family rooms with a double bed for parents and a single or bunks for the kids. Cots are often available, especially in the larger establishments, although it’s best to enquire and request one in advance. There might be a small charge for the cot, but in most instances infants can stay in a double room for free.
Regions at a Glance
At a glance, the Baltic states look like three easily interchangeable slices, neatly stacked on Europe's northeastern frontier. Although the region's shared history and topography may be the ties that bind, each country is quite different in other respects - language, religion and temperament being the most obvious examples.
The three capitals are a case in point. Estonia's presents itself as a Gothic fairy tale and Lithuania's is full of the thrilling frills of the baroque, while Latvia's is properly kooky, its famous art nouveau buildings embellished with gods, monsters, crazed cats and nature motifs.
Less variations on a theme than separate movements of a symphony, each of the Baltic states can be savoured individually or combined into a magnum opus. And you can play them in any order you like.
From Tallinn’s magnificent medieval Old Town to the genteel lanes and parks of Parnu and the university precinct of Tartu, Estonia has a wealth of streets that time seemingly forgot.
There has to be a bright side to being precariously positioned on the edge of civilisations - in Estonia’s case, the legacy of a millennium of warfare is a spectacular crop of fortresses scattered throughout the country.
Forests & Wetlands
Estonia’s countryside may be flat and unassuming compared with craggier parts of Europe, but its low population density and extensive forests, bogs and wetlands make it an important habitat for a multitude of mammals large and small, as well as a biannual seasonal influx of feathered visitors.
PLAN YOUR TRIP REGiONS AT A GLANCE
Architecture Castles Nature
Art Nouveau Riga
No one mastered art nouveau like Riga’s coterie of architects at the turn of the 20th century, who covered the city’s myriad facades with screaming goblins, praying goddesses, creeping vines and geometric emblems.
Once the feudal playground for dozens of German nobles, Latvia is riddled with crumbling reminders of a sumptuous bygone era. Many of these castles and manor houses have been lovingly restored and transformed into memorable inns - the perfect place to live out your fairy-tale fantasies.
Scenery & Serenity
Beyond Riga’s clutch of twisting spires and towering housing blocks you’ll find miles and miles of quiet forests, intimate lakelands and flaxen shores that beckon the crashing Baltic tides.
Nature Architecture Nightlife
The Baltic coast, the dunes of Curonian Spit and the large forests broken up by meadows and lakes: Lithuania’s landscape is blissfully unspoiled. Good tourist infrastructure allows you to hike it, bike it or boat it at your own pace.
Colour & Grandeur
Vilnius’ attractive Old Town is filled with Renaissance, baroque and neoclassical architecture. Outside the city, the simple wooden structures of the countryside will wow you with vivid colours and intricate carvings.
Vilnius after Dark
Vilnius and Kaunas are home to thousands of students, who provide a critical mass for hundreds of cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs. The centre of Vilnius’ action is Old Town, but there are plenty of places all around the city.
On the Road
_ Helsinki _ (FINLAND)
Kaliningrad ® (RUSSIA)
^372 / POP 1.3 MILLION
Best Places to Stay
* Padaste Manor (p140)
* Antonius Hotel (p110)
* Georg Ots Spa Hotel (p147)
* Villa Theresa (p94)
* Tabinoya (p71)
Best Places to Eat
* Mr Jakob (p126)
* Rataskaevu 16 (p75)
* Retro (p149)
Estonia doesn’t have to struggle to find a point of difference: it’s completely unique. It shares a similar geography and history with Latvia and Lithuania, but culturally it’s distinct. Its closest ethnic and linguistic buddy is Finland, and although they may love to get naked together in the sauna, 50 years of Soviet rule in Estonia have separated the two. For the last 300 years Estonia’s been linked to Russia, but the two states have as much in common as a barn swallow and a bear (their respective national symbols).
With a newfound confidence, singular Estonia has crept from under the Soviet blanket and leapt into the arms of Europe. The love affair is mutual. Europe has fallen head-over-heels for the charms of Tallinn and its Unesco-protected Old Town. Put simply, Tallinn is now one of the continent’s most captivating cities. And in overcrowded Europe, Estonia’s sparsely populated countryside and extensive swaths of forest provide spiritual sustenance for nature lovers.
When to Go
* The most clement weather is from May to September, and while it can get a little crazy in Tallinn and Parnu (especially in July and August), it’s still the best time to visit.
* Almost all festivals are scheduled for summer, with the biggest celebrations saved for Midsummer’s Eve.
* Fans of cross-country skiing should make for Otepaa, the unofficial winter capital from December to March.
* Yuletide in Tallinn is unforgettable, with Christmas markets and a nearly 600-year-old tradition of raising a Christmas tree on the main square.
If you’re labouring under the misconception that ‘former Soviet’ means dull and grey and that all tourist traps are soulless, Tallinn will delight in proving you wrong. This city has charm by the bucketload, fusing the modern and medieval to come up with a vibrant vibe all of its own. It’s an intoxicating mix of ancient church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces, appealing eateries, brooding battlements, shiny shopping malls, rundown wooden houses and cafes set on sunny squares - with a few Soviet throwbacks in the mix, for added spice.
Despite the boom of 21st-century development, Tallinn remains loyal to the fairytale charms of its two-tiered Old Town - one of Europe’s most beguiling walled cities. That wasn’t always the case. For a while it appeared to be willing to sell its soul to become the Bangkok of the Baltic: attracting groups of young men with the lure of cheap booze and rampant prostitution. That’s calmed down somewhat and although sleazy elements remain, the city seems to have realised that there’s more money to be made from being classy than brassy. Hence an ever-expanding roster of first-rate restaurants, atmospheric hotels and a well-oiled tourist machine that makes visiting a breeze, no matter which language you speak.
Increasingly sophisticated without being overly sanitised, forward-focused while embracing the past, Tallinn is a truly fascinating city.
The site of Tallinn is thought to have been settled by Finno-Ugric people around 2500 BC. There was probably an Estonian trading settlement here from around the 9th century AD and a wooden stronghold was built on Toompea (tawm-pe-ah; the hill dominating Tallinn) in the 11th century. The Danes under King Waldemar II (who conquered northern Estonia in 1219) met tough resistance at Tallinn and were on the verge of retreat when it’s said that a red flag with a white cross fell from the sky into their bishop’s hands. Taking this as a sign of God’s support, they went on to win the battle and gain a national flag. The Danes built their own castle on Toompea. The origin of the name Tallinn is thought to be from Taani linn, Estonian for ‘Danish town’.
The Knights of the Sword took Tallinn from the Danes in 1227 and built the first stone fort on Toompea. German traders arrived from Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland and founded a colony of about 200 people beneath the fortress. In 1238 Tallinn returned to Danish control but in 1285 it joined the German-dominated Hanseat-ic League as a channel for trade between Novgorod, Pihkva (Russian: Pskov) and the West. Furs, honey, leather and seal fat moved west; salt, cloth, herring and wine went east.
By the mid-14th century, when the Danes sold northern Estonia to the Teutonic Order, Tallinn was a major Hanseatic town with about 4000 people. Conflict with the knights and bishop on the hill led the mainly German artisans and merchants in the Lower Town to build a fortified wall to separate themselves from Toompea. Tallinn prospered regardless and became one of northern Europe’s biggest towns. Tallinn’s German name, Reval, coexisted with the local name until 1918.
Prosperity faded in the 16th century. The Hanseatic League had weakened, and Russians, Swedes, Danes, Poles and Lithuanians fought over the Baltic region. Tallinn survived a 29-week siege by Russia’s Ivan the Terrible between 1570 and 1571. It was held by Sweden from 1561 to 1710, when, decimated by plague, Tallinn surrendered to Russia’s Peter the Great.
In 1870 a railway was completed from St Petersburg, and Tallinn became a chief port of the Russian Empire. Freed peasants converged on the city from the countryside, increasing the percentage of Estonians in its population from 52% in 1867 to 89% in 1897. By WWI Tallinn had big shipyards and a working class of over 100,000.
Tallinn suffered badly in WWII, with thousands of buildings destroyed during Soviet bombing in 1944. After the war, under Soviet
ESTONIA AT A GLANCE Currency
45,339 sq km
O Embark on a medieval quest for atmospheric restaurants and hidden bars in the history-saturated lanes of Tallinn (p47) .
2 Wander the forest paths, bog boardwalks, abandoned beaches and manor-house halls of Lahemaa National Park (p86) .
o Further your education among the museums and student bars of Tartu (p103), Estonia’s second city, o Unwind among the windmills on Saaremaa (p142) and explore the island’s castles, churches, cliffs, coast and crater.
G Hop over to Muhu (p139) for frozen-in-islandtime Koguva village and the gastronomic delights of Padaste Manor, o Stroll the golden sands and genteel streets of Estonia’s ‘summer capital’, Parnu (p132) .
O Get back to nature, even if the snow’s a no-show, at the ‘winter capital’ Otepaa (p122)
1 Estonian Open-^ Air Museum
KRISTIINE © 18
© 15 2 19
4. 4 f Tav??
@ Top Sights
1 Estonian Open-Air Museum.................A3
2 Estonian National Library.....................D3
3 Maarjamae Palace..................................F2
4 Maarjamae Palace Stables...................G2
5 Maarjamae War Memorial....................G2
6 Pirita Beach.............................................G1
7 Pirita Convent.........................................G1
8 Stroomi Beach.......................................B2
9 Tallinn Song Festival Grounds...............F2
10 Tallinn Zoo..............................................A4
11 Telliskivi Creative City...........................D3
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
12 Bell-Marine Boat Rental.........................G1
13 Club 26....................................................E3
14 Tallinn University Summer School........E3
15 Kreutzwald Hotel Tallinn.......................D3
16 Swissotel Tallinn....................................E3
17 United Backpackers...............................E3
18 Valge Villa...............................................C4
Q Drinking & Nightlife
21 Club 69....................................................D3
22 A Le Coq Arena.......................................D4
23 Saku Suurhall.........................................A4
24 Central Market.......................................E3
25 Stockmann Kaubamaja.........................E3
Telliskivi Flea Market....................(see 11)
Terminals A & B
17 ©20 14 arva*«**
■ CITY CENT|
See Kadriorg Map (p64)
Ulemiste jarv — Taiwan
(Upper Lake) V* Airport
Tallinn Bus Siselinna Station Kalmistu-, |
13© 25 ©
control, large-scale industry was developed -including the USSR’s biggest grain-handling port - and the city expanded, its population growing to nearly 500,000 from a 1937 level of 175,000. Much of the new population came from Russia and new high-rise suburbs were built on the outskirts to house the workers.
The explosion of Soviet-style settlements in the suburbs meant a loss of cultural life in the centre. By the 1980s Old Town was run down, with most people preferring to live in the new housing developments. It began to be renovated late in the decade, with the fight for independence largely playing out on the streets of Tallinn.
The 1990s saw the city transformed into a contemporary midsized city, with a restored Old Town and a modern business district. Tallinn shows a taste for all things new, extending to IT-driven business at the fore of the new economy and an e-savvy, wi-fi-connected populace hoping for a brighter future. Meanwhile, the outskirts of the city have yet to get the facelift that the centre has received. In those parts that few tourists see, poverty and unemployment is more evident.
While most of the city’s sights are conveniently located within the medieval Old Town’s walls, it’s worth venturing out to the further-flung attractions - and given Tallinn’s relatively compact size, there’s really no excuse not to. Kadriorg, in particular, should not be missed.
1 Old Town
The medieval jewel of Estonia, Tallinn’s Old Town (Vanalinn) is without a doubt the country’s most fascinating locality. Picking your way along the narrow, cobbled streets is like strolling into the 15th century - not least due to the tendency of local businesses to dress their staff up in peasant garb. You’ll
Spend your first day exploring Old Town. Tackle our walking tour (p58) in the morning and then stop for lunch in one of the many excellent eateries. Spend your afternoon exploring one or two of the museums - perhaps the City Museum (p55) and the branch of the Estonian History Museum at the Great Guild Hall (p53). That evening, put on your glad rags and head to Tchaikovsky (p75) for dinner, finishing up in one of Old Town's bars.
The following day, do what most tourists don't - step out of Old Town. Head to Kadriorg (p64) for a greenery and art fix and continue to Maarjamae (p65) to visit the museums and the war memorial. That evening, hit the Rotermann Quarter (p64).
Four days is enough to cover the city's main highlights, with more nights of eating and partying chucked in. Round out your days with trips to Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour (p60), the Museum of Occupations (p60), the Estonian Open-Air Museum
(p67) and the TV Tower (p67). Allow some time to wander around the Telliskivi Creative City (p61) and to explore the Kalamaja neighbourhood.
pass old merchant houses, hidden medieval courtyards, looming spires and winding staircases leading to sweeping views over the city. It’s everyone’s favourite tourist trap but carries this burden remarkably well. While almost every building has a helpful historical plaque (in Estonian and in English), they haven’t all been excessively gen-trified. Part of Old Town’s charm is that the chic sits comfortably alongside the shabby.
Of course, being so popular comes with its downsides. In summer sometimes as many as six giant cruise ships descend at a time, disgorging their human cargo in slow-moving, flag-following phalanxes. If you’re travelling on such a ship, it’s worth noting that Old Town is within walking distance of the harbour; you’ll have a much better time if you dodge the organised tours and follow your own path. For everyone else, rest assured that most of the boats steam off again in the afternoon, leaving the streets relatively clear by 5pm.
Freedom Square square
(Vabaduse valjak; Map p54) This large paved plaza is used for summer concerts, skateboarding, impromptu ball games and watching heats of Estonian Idol (Eesti Ot-sib Superstaari) on the big screen at the southern end. The square sits just outside one of the former town gates, the remains of which are preserved under glass near the northwestern corner. A gigantic glass cross at the square’s western end commemorates the Estonian War of Independence.
The 19th-century >t John's Lutheran
Church dominates the eastern end of the square. Nearby a memorial stone honours Solidarity, the trade union which played a large role in the downfall of Communism in Poland. Both this and the nearby Chopin Bench (which plays concertos by the composer) were gifts from the Polish embassy.
Photo Museum museum
(Fotomuuseum; Map p54; www.linnamuuseum . ee; Raekoja 6; adult/child €2/1; © 10.30am-
5 . 30pm Thu-Tue) Only enthusiasts are likely to find much of interest in this little museum housed in the former town prison. Exhibits include old cameras and prints from photography’s earliest days in Estonia.
OTown Hall Square square
(Raekoja plats; Map p54) Raekoja plats has been the pulsing heart of Tallinn since markets began here in the 11th century. One side is taken is taken up by the Gothic town hall, while the rest is ringed by pretty pastel-coloured buildings dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. Whether bathed in sunlight or sprinkled with snow, it’s always a photogenic spot.
All through summer, outdoor cafes implore you to sit and people watch. Come Christmas, a huge pine tree stands in the middle of the square just as it did in 1441 when local guild the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first publicly displayed Christmas tree (a claim hotly contested by Riga).
Tallinn Town Hall historic building
(Tallinna Raekoda; Map p54; 0645 7900; www. raekoda .tallinn.ee; Raekoja plats; adult/student €5/2; ©10am-4pm Mon-Sat Jul-Aug, by appointment Sep-Jun) Completed in 1404, this is the only surviving Gothic town hall in northern Europe. Inside, you can visit the Trade Hall (housing a visitor book dripping in royal signatures), the Council Chamber (featuring Estonia’s oldest woodcarvings, dating from 1374), the vaulted Citizens’ Hall, a yellow-and-black-tiled councillor’s office and a small kitchen. The steeply sloped attic has displays on the building and its restoration.
Occasionally the building is used to host prominent visiting art exhibitions, in which case the entry fee may be considerably higher.
If the kids are getting restive, draw their attention to the iron shackles still hanging on the exterior wall facing the square.
Town Hall Tower viewpoint
(Map p54; adult/child €3/1; © 11am-6pm Jun-Aug) Old Thomas (Vana Toomas), Tallinn’s symbol and guardian, has been keeping watch from his perch on the Town Hall’s weathervane since 1530 (although his previous incarnation now resides in the City Museum). You can enjoy much the same views as Thomas by climbing the 115 steps to the top of the tower. According to legend, this elegant 64m minaret-like structure was modelled on a sketch made by an explorer following his visit to the Orient.
Town Council Pharmacy historic building (Raeapteek; Map p54; www.raeapteek.ee; Raekoja plats 11; © 10am-6pm Tue-Sat) Nobody’s too sure on the exact date it opened but by 1422 this pharmacy was already on to its third owner, making it the oldest continually operating pharmacy in Europe. In 1583 Johann Burchardt took the helm, and a descendant with the same name ran the shop right up until 1913 - 10 generations in all! Inside there are painted beams and a small historical display, or you can just drop in to stock up on painkillers and prophylactics.
Holy Spirit Lutheran Church church
(Puhavaimu kirik; Map p54; www.eelk.ee/ tallinna . puhavaimu/; Puhavaimu 2; adult/child €1/0 .50; ©noon-2pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat Jan-mid-Mar, 10am-3pm Mon-Sat mid-Mar-Apr & Oct-Dec, 10am-5pm Mon-Sat May-Sep) The blue-and-gold clock on the facade of this striking 13th-century Gothic church is the oldest in Tallinn, dating from 1684. Inside there are exquisite woodcarvings and painted panels, including an altarpiece dating to 1483 and a 17th-century baroque pulpit.
Johann Koell, a former pastor here, is considered the author of the first Estonian book, a catechism published in 1535. The church hosts regular classical music concerts.
Great Guild Hall museum
(Suurgildi hoone; Map p54; www.ajaloomuuse-um ee; Pikk 17; adult/child €5/3; ©10am-6pm, closed wed Oct-Apr) The Estonian History Museum has filled the striking 1410 Great Guild Hall building with a series of ruminations on the Estonian psyche, presented through interactive and unusual displays. Coin collectors shouldn’t miss the display in the old excise chamber, while military nuts should head downstairs. The basement also covers the history of the Great Guild itself.
The major exhibition, Spirit of Survival -11,000 years of Estonian History, poses such questions as ‘Is Estonia the most secular country in the world?’ and ‘Have Estonians been happy in their own land?’ (The answer
Excuse me/I’m sorry
Cheers! (literally ‘to your health’)
200 m 0.1 miles
Baltic T rain ^/Station (Balti Jaam)
■Rotermanni valjak 18
; Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral
250 Loss/® plats 1
to the latter is no, apparently, backed up with statistics suggesting that they’re one of the least happy peoples of Europe.)
Draakoni Gallery gallery
(Map p54; www.eaa .ee/draakon; Pikk 18; © 11am-6pm Mon-Sat) In among the guilds, behind a fabulous sculpted art nouveau facade, this commercial gallery hosts small, often stimulating, exhibitions of contemporary art.
St Catherine's Cloister church
(Map p54; www.kloostri .ee; Vene 16; adult/child €2/1) One of Tallinn’s oldest buildings, St Catherine’s Monastery was founded by Dominican monks in 1246. In its glory days it had its own brewery and hospital. A mob of angry Lutherans torched the place in 1524 and the monastery languished for the next 400 years until its partial restoration in 1954. Today the ruined complex includes the gloomy shell of the barren church and a peaceful cloister lined with carved tombstones.
Opening hours are sporadic but it can often be accessed from a door in the foyer of the neighbouring Catholic cathedral.
St Peter & St Paul's Catholic Cathedral church
(Peeter-Paul katedraal; Map p54; 0644 6367; www. katoliku .ee; Vene 18; ©930am-1pm Sun, 5.30-6 .30pm Mon, Tue & Thu-Sat, 7.45-9.30am Wed) Looking like it was beamed in from Spain, this handsome 1844 cathedral was designed by the famed architect Carlo Rossi, who left his mark on the neoclassical shape of St Petersburg. It still functions as one of Tallinn’s only Catholic churches, largely serving the Polish and Lithuanian communities. The front courtyard is a quiet spot for some respite from the summertime bustle.
City Museum museum
(Linnamuuseum; Map p54; www linnamuuseum ee; Vene 17; adult/child €4/3; ©10 . 30am-5 .30pm Tue-Sun) Tallinn’s City Museum is actually split over 10 different sites. This, its main branch, is set in a 14th-century merchant’s house and traces the city’s development from its earliest days. The displays are engrossing and very well laid out, with plenty of information in English, making the hire of the audioguide quite unnecessary.
The top floor presents an insightful (and quite politicised) portrait of life under Soviet rule and there’s a fascinating video of the events surrounding the collapse of the regime.
0 Top Sights
City Bike........................................(see 82)
1 Alexander Nevsky Orthodox
29 Harju Ice Rink.........................................C5
30 Kalev Spa Waterpark.............................E2
2 Town Hall Square..................................D3
31 Tallinn City Tour.....................................F3
3 Architecture Museum...........................G2
Bastion Passages..........................(see 11)
32 Bern Hotel...............................................E3
4 City Museum...........................................E3
5 Draakoni Gallery....................................D3
35 Go Hotel Schnelli....................................B2
6 Fat Margaret...........................................E1
36 Hotel Cru.................................................E4
7 Freedom Square....................................C5
37 Hotel St Petersbourg.............................C4
8 Great Guild Hall......................................D3
38 Hotel Telegraaf.......................................D3
9 Holy Spirit Lutheran Church.................D3
39 Hotell Palace..........................................D6
10 Hotel Viru & the KGB..............................F4
11 Kiek in de Kok.........................................C5
41 Monk's Bunk..........................................D6
12 Linda Hill.................................................B5
42 Nordic Hotel Forum...............................F4
13 Lower Town Wall...................................C2
43 Old House Apartments..........................C4
14 Museum of Occupations.......................B6
44 Old House Hostel & Guesthouse..........E2
15 Niguliste Museum..................................C4
45 Old Town Backpackers..........................E3
46 Red Emperor..........................................E3
17 Photo Museum......................................D4
47 Savoy Boutique Hotel............................D5
18 Rotermann Quarter...............................G3
48 Schlossle Hotel.......................................D3
19 St Catherine's Cloister...........................E3
20 St Mary's Lutheran Cathedral..............B4
50 Three Sisters...........................................E1
21 St Nicholas' Orthodox Church...............E3
51 Villa Hortensia........................................D3
22 St Olaf's Church......................................D1
52 Viru Backpackers...................................E4
23 St Peter & St Paul's Catholic
24 Tallinn Town Hall...................................D4
25 Toompea Castle....................................B4
26 Town Council Pharmacy.......................D3
55 Cafe Lyon................................................F4
27 Town Hall Tower....................................D4
Chocolats de Pierre......................(see 51)
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
28 Blue Super Segway...............................D4
Clayhills Gastropub........................(see 8)
St Nicholas' Orthodox Church church (Puha piiskop Nikolause kirik; Map p54; Vene 24; ©9.30am-5pm) Built in 1827 on the site of an earlier church, St Nicholas’ was the focal point for the Russian traders of Vene street. It’s known for its precious iconostasis.
Fat Margaret museum
(Paks Margareeta; Map p54; www.meremuuseum . ee; Pikk 70; adult/child €5/3; ©10am-6pm, closed Mon Oct-Apr) Attached to the Great Coast Gate, this 16th-century cannon tower once protected a major entrance to Old Town. It’s now the slimmer, older sister of Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour (p60), displaying model ships and assorted sea-going artefacts from the Estonian Maritime Museum’s collection. Combined tickets are available (adult/child €16/10).
St Olaf's Church church
(Oleviste kirik; Map p54; www.oleviste.ee; Lai 50; tower adult/child €2/1; © 10am-6pm Sep-Jun, to 8pm Jul & Aug) From 1549 to 1625, when its 159m steeple was struck by lightning and burnt down, this (now Baptist) church was one of the tallest buildings in the world. The current spire reaches a still respectable 124m and you can take a tight, confined, 258-step staircase up the tower for wonderful views of Toompea over the rooftops of Lower Town.
The church itself has been around since at least the 13th century, although it’s been substantially added to over the years. The interior is typically stark, although a small section of stone carvings on the rear exterior wall escaped the Reformation’s iconoclasts.
Although dedicated to the 11th-century King Olaf II of Norway, the church is linked in local lore with another Olaf, its architect, who ignored the prophecies of doom to befall the one who completed the church’s construction. Accordingly, Olaf fell to his death from the tower, and it’s said that a toad and a snake then crawled out of his mouth.
Lower Town Wall fortress
III Draakon.....................................(see 27)
88 Scotland Yard.........................................F3
89 Speakeasy by Pohjala............................B1
90 St Patrick's.............................................D4
61 La Bottega..............................................D4
Von Krahli Baar..........................(see 100)
63 Must Puudel...........................................D5
65 Olde Hansa.............................................D4
93 Coca-Cola Plaza.....................................G3
94 Estonia Concert Hall..............................E5
Rataskaevu 16...............................(see 43)
95 Estonian Drama Theatre.......................E5
96 Kino Soprus............................................D5
97 St Canute's Guild Hall............................D3
98 Tallinn City Theatre................................D2
99 Teater No99...........................................E6
100 Von Krahli Theatre.................................C3
71 Vanaema Juures....................................C3
Von Krahli Aed............................(see 100)
Q Drinking & Nightlife
73 Beer House............................................C4
103 Galerii Kaks.............................................C4
104 Ivo Nikkolo..............................................D5
75 Club Hollywood......................................D5
106 Katariina kaik..........................................E3
76 Club Prive...............................................C5
77 DM Baar..................................................C3
108 Knit Market.............................................E4
78 Drink Bar & Grill.....................................D4
109 Luhikese Jala Galerii..............................C4
Masters' Courtyard.......................(see 51)
110 Nu Nordik................................................D5
81 Hell Hunt.................................................D2
Rae Antiik......................................(see 26)
82 Kultuuriklubi Kelm..................................E2
111 Train Station Market..............................B1
83 Levist Valjas............................................E2
112 Viru Keskus............................................G4
84 Maiden Tower Museum-Cafe...............C4
85 Paar Veini...............................................D4
(Linnamuur; Map p54; Vaike-Kloostri 3; adult/ child €1 .50/0 .75; © 11am-7pm Jun-Aug, to 5pm Fri-Wed Apr, May, Sep & Oct, to 4pm Fri-Tue Nov-Mar) The most photogenic stretch of Tallinn’s remaining walls connects nine towers lining the western edge of Old Town. Visitors can explore the barren nooks and crannies of three of them, with cameras at the ready for the red-rooftop views.
Niguliste Museum museum
(Map p54; www.nigulistemuuseum .ee; Niguliste 3; adult/student €5/3; ©10am-5pm Tue-Sun May-Sep, Wed-Sun Oct-Apr) Dating from the 13th century, imposing St Nicholas’ Church (Niguliste kirik) was badly damaged by Soviet bombers in 1944 and a fire in the 1980s, but today stands restored to its Gothic glory. It houses a branch of the Estonian Art Museum devoted to religious art. The acoustics are first-rate, and organ recitals are held here most weekends.
The most famous work on display is Berndt Notke’s 15th-century masterpiece Dance Macabre. The gist of this eerie skeletal conga line is that whether you’re a king, a pope or a young slacker, we’re all dancing with death. Other artefacts include painted altarpieces (including the church’s own extraordinary cabinet-style altarpiece by Herman Rode from Lubeck, dating from 1481), carved tombstones and a chamber overflowing with silverware.
Lording it over the Lower Town is the ancient hilltop citadel of Toompea. In German times this was the preserve of the feudal nobility, literally looking down on the traders and lesser beings below. It’s now almost completely given over to government buildings, churches, embassies and shops selling amber knick-knacks and fridge magnets.
St Mary's Lutheran Cathedral church (Tallinna Puha Neitsi Maarja Piiskoplik Toomkirik; Map p54; www.toomkirik.ee; Toom-Kooli 6; church/tower €2/5; © 9am-5pm daily May-Sep, 10am-4pm Tue-Sun Oct-Apr) Tallinn’s cathedral (now Lutheran, originally Catholic) was founded by at least 1233, although the exterior dates mainly from the 15th century, with the tower completed in 1779. This impressive building was a burial ground for the rich and titled, and the whitewashed walls are decorated with the elaborate coats-of-arms of Estonia’s noble families. Fit view-seekers can climb the tower.
Toompea is named after the cathedral - the Estonian ‘toom’ is borrowed from the German word ‘dom’ meaning cathedral. In English you’ll often hear it referred to as the ‘Dome Church’, despite there being no actual dome.
O Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral church
(Map p54; Lossi plats; © 8am-7pm) The positioning of this magnificent, onion-domed Russian Orthodox cathedral (completed in 1900) at the heart of the country’s main administrative hub was no accident: the church was one of many built in the last part of the 19th century as part of a general wave of Russification in the empire’s Baltic provinces. Orthodox believers come here in droves, alongside tourists ogling the interior’s striking icons and frescoes. Quiet, respectful, demurely dressed visitors are welcome but cameras aren’t.
Toompea Castle historic building
(Map p54; Lossi plats) Three towers have survived from the Knights of the Sword’s hilltop castle, the finest of which is 14th-century Pikk Hermann (best viewed from the rear). In the 18th century the fortress underwent an extreme makeover at the hands of Russian empress Catherine the Great, converting it into the pretty-in-pink baroque palace that now houses Estonia’s parliament (Riigikogu).
Linda Hill park
(Lindamagi; Map p54; Falgi tee) Shaded by 250-year-old linden trees, this small mound near the top of Toompea is named after Linda, wife of Kalev, the heroic first leader of the Estonians. Accorded to legend, Toompea is the burial mound which she built for him. During the Soviet years the statue of the grieving Linda became the unofficial memorial to victims of Stalin’s deportations and executions.
City Walk 2 Tallinn's Old Town
START FREEDOM SQ
END VIRU GATES
LENGTH 4KM; THREE HOURS
We’ve designed this walk as an introduction to Tallinn’s meandering medieval streets. Starting at 1 Freedom Square (p52), take the stairs up into Toompea and continue to o Linda Hill. From here you can see the remaining medieval elements of QToompea Castle; backtrack and turn left onto Lossi plats (Castle Sq) for a view of its baroque facade. Directly across the square is onion-domed ^Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral.
Take Toom-Kooli to St Mary's Lutheran Cathedral and cut across Kiriku plats (Church Sq) onto Rahukohtu, where a lane leads to the Patkul lookout (Patkuli vaateplats), offering terrific views across the Lower Town to the sea. Continue winding around the lanes to the Court Square lookout (Kohtuotsa vaateplats).
Cut past the rear of both cathedrals and head through the opening in the wall to the .0 Danish King's Garden, where artists set up their easels in summer to capture the view over the rooftops. Exit to the left and then take the steps up through the QShort Leg Gate Tower, which is thought to be the most haunted building in Tallinn. Ghostly apparitions have been reported inside this tower, including a crucified monk and a black dog with burning eyes. Turn right and take the long sloping path known as Long Leg (Pikk jalg) through the red-roofed ALong Leg Gate Tower (1380) and into the Lower Town.
Turn left along Nunne and then veer right into Vailke-Kloostri where you’ll come to the best-preserved section of the Q Lower Town Wall (p57), linking nine of the 26 remaining towers; there were once 45. Pass through the gate and turn right for a better view. Wander through the park to the next small gap in the walls and exit onto Aida.
At the end of the street, turn left onto Lai (Wide St), which is lined with German merchant’s houses. Many of these were built in the 15th century and contain three or four storeys, with the lower two used as living and reception quarters and the upper ones for storage.
At the very end of Lai, follow the small path to the right alongside the wall to the C^reat Coast Gate, the most impressive of the remaining medieval gates. Note the crest on the outside wall and the crucifix in a niche on the town side.
As you head up Pikk (Long St), spare a thought for those that suffered at number 59, the Dformer KGB headquarters. The building’s basement windows were bricked up to prevent the sounds being heard by those passing by on the street. A small memorial on the wall translates as: ‘This building housed the headquarters of the organ of repression of the Soviet occupational power. Here began the road to suffering for thousands of Estonians.’ Locals joked, with typically black humour, that the building had the best views in Estonia -from here you could see all the way to Siberia.
Further along the street are buildings belonging to the town’s guilds, associations of traders and artisans, nearly all German dominated. First up, at number 26, is the .E Brotherhood of the Blackheads (Mustpeade maja). The Blackheads were unmarried young men who took their name not from poor dermatology but from their patron, St Maurice (Mauritius), a legendary
African-born Roman soldier whose likeness is found on the building facade (dating from 1597), above an ornate, colourful door. Its neighbour, F$t Olaf’s Guild Hall (Olevi gildi hoone), was the headquarters for what was probably the first guild in Tallinn, dating from the 13th century. Its membership comprised more humble non-German artisans and traders.
Next up is the 1860-built Gst Canute’s Guild Hall (p80), topped with zinc statues of Martin Luther and its patron saint. A little further down the road is the 1410 headquarters of the H Great Guild hall (p53), to which the most eminent merchants belonged.
Cross the small square to the left, past the photogenic Holy Spirit Church (p53) and take narrow Saiakang (White Bread Passage - named after a historic bakery) to Town Hall Square (p52). Continue left to Vene (the Estonian word for Russian, named for the Russian merchants who once resided and traded here) and cut through the arch into K Katariina kaik (p81). At the far end, turn right and left again onto Viru, one of Old Town’s busiest streets. Finish at the Viru Gate, which connects Old Town with the commercial centre of the modern city.
Kiek in de Kok castle, museum
(Map p54; 0644 6686; www. linnamuuseum .ee; Komandandi tee 2; adult/child €5/3; © 10.30am-
5 . 30pm Tue-Sun) Built around 1475, this tall, stout fortress is one of Tallinn’s most formidable cannon towers. Its name (amusing as it sounds in English) is Low German for ‘Peep into the Kitchen’; from the upper floors medieval voyeurs could peer into the houses below. Today it houses a branch of the City Museum, focusing mainly on the development of the town’s elaborate defences.
The tower was badly damaged during the Livonian War, but it never collapsed (nine of Ivan the Terrible’s cannonballs remain embedded in the walls). If you’re interested in military paraphernalia, you’ll find a treasure trove on the upper floors. There are great views from the cafe on the top floor.
Bastion Passages fortress
(Bastionikaigud; Map p54; 0 644 6686; www. linnamuuseum ee; Komandandi tee 2; adult/child €6/3 . 50) Guided tours depart from Kiek in de Kok exploring the 17 th-century Swedish-built tunnels connecting the towers. Bookings are required, and warm clothes and sensible shoes are recommended. Combined tour and tower tickets are available (€9).
Museum of Occupations museum
(Okupatsioonide muuseum; Map p54; www. okupatsioon .ee; Toompea 8; adult/child €6/3; © 10am-6pm Tue-Sun) Displays illustrate the hardships and horrors of five decades of occupation, under both the Nazis (briefly) and the Soviets. The photos and artefacts are interesting but it’s the videos (lengthy but enthralling) that leave the greatest impression - and the joy of a happy ending.
The overwhelming majority of the exhibits are focused on the lengthy Soviet period; for more detail on the Nazi occupation, visit Maarjamae Palace Stables (p66).
Immediately northwest of Old Town, this enclave of tumbledown wooden houses and crumbling factories has swiftly transitioned into one of Tallinn’s most interesting neighbourhoods. The intimidating hulk of Pata-rei Prison had seemed to cast a malevolent shadow over this part of town, so its transformation over the last few years has been nothing short of extraordinary. Major road projects and the opening of an impressive museum at Lennusadam are only the most visible elements of a revolution started by local hipsters opening cafes and bars in abandoned warehouses and rickety storefronts.
Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour museum (www. lennusadam .eu; Vesilennuki 6; adult/child €14/7, incl Fat Margaret €16/10; © 10am-7pm May-Sep, Tue-Sun Oct-Apr; E) When this triple-domed hangar was completed in 1917, its reinforced-concrete shell frame construction was unique in the world. Resembling a classic Bond-villain lair, the vast space was completely restored and opened to the public in 2012 as a fascinating maritime museum, filled with interactive displays. Highlights include exploring the cramped corridors of a 1930s naval submarine, and the icebreaker and minehunter ships moored outside.
Patarei historic building
(0 504 6536; www.patarei .org; Kalaranna 2; adult/ child €3/2, tours €8; ©noon-7pm May-Sep) Surely one of the creepiest buildings in all of Estonia, this former sea fortress and prison has a chilling history as a place of incarceration, brutality and oppression. Part of it is now open as a kind of eccentric art project, with graffiti and installations in some of the mouldering cells. Guided tours can also be booked which explore other sections of the 4-hectare complex.
Built as a sea fortress in 1840 under the Russian tsars (the name means ‘battery’), Paterei initially served as an army barracks -although from the outset it was a damp, uncomfortable place to be stationed. It was first used as a prison in 1920 following Estonian independence, but it gained its notoriety during the Soviet and German occupations. Numerous people were brutally interrogated and executed here, including 250 French Jews killed by the Nazis who are remembered by a simple memorial stone near the southern entrance.
At the other end of the complex a sign points to the ‘hanging room’, where a hook in the ceiling and trapdoor in the floor are the only explanations necessary. The last execution took place in Patarei in 1991, right at the end of Soviet rule, although the prison remained operational until 2002. Since then it’s been left to languish and it’s quickly deteriorating.
The current ‘cultural park’ is perhaps the least offensive attempt thus far to put Patarei to a new use - although one has to question whether the beach bar behind the barbed wire is in good taste.
Kalamaja ® 0 _
1 Estonian Museum of
2 Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour...........B1
Q Drinking & Nightlife
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
5 Kalma Saun............................................B4 © Shopping
9 Estonian Design House..........................C3
Estonian Museum of
Contemporary Art gallery
(Eesti kaasaegse kunsti muuseum; www.ekkm .ee; Pohja pst 35; © 1-7pm Tue-Sun Apr-Oct) De
spite its highfalutin name, this grungy old warehouse space is more slapped together than slick. Exhibitions tend to be edgier and more oddball than anything you’ll find at the more official galleries.
Telliskivi Creative City area
(Telliskivi Loomelinnak; Map p50; www. telliskivi. eu; Telliskivi 60a; ©shops 8.30am-9pm Mon-Sat, 9am-7pm Sun) Once literally on the wrong side of the tracks, this set of 10 abandoned factory buildings is now Tallinn’s most alternative shopping and entertainment precinct. All the cliches of hipster culture can be found here: cafes, a bike shop, bars selling craft beer, graffiti walls, artist studios, food
2. Hiiumaa (p157)
This island is peppered with windmills, lighthouses, eerie old Soviet bunkers and empty beaches
IGORSPB/GETTY IMAGES © MART KOPPEL/SHUTTERSTOCK ©
3. Old Town, Tallinn (p51)
Picking your way along the narrow, cobbled streets is like strolling into the 15th century
4. Lahemaa National Park (p86)
Erratic boulders, brought from Scandinavia by glacial action, are a feature of this national park
0 Top Sights
1 Kadriorg Art Museum..........................C1
3 House of Peter I...................................D2
4 Kadriorg Park.......................................C1
5 Mikkel Museum....................................C2
6 Presidential Palace..............................D2
trucks etc. But even the beardless flock to Telleskivi to peruse the fashion and design stores, sink espressos and rummage through the stalls at the weekly flea market.
1 City Centre
Hotel Viru & the KGB museum
(Map p54; 0680 9300; www.viru .ee; Viru valjak 4; tour €10; © daily May-Oct, Tue-Sun Nov-Apr) When the Hotel Viru was built in 1972, it was not only Estonia’s first skyscraper, it was the only place for tourists to stay in Tallinn - and we mean that literally. Having all the foreigners in one place made it much easier to keep tabs on them and the locals they had contact with, which is exactly what the KGB did from their 23rd-floor spy base. The hotel offers fascinating tours of the facility in various languages; bookings essential.
Rotermann Quarter area
(Rotermanni kvartal; Map p54; www.rotermann .eu) With impressive contemporary architecture wedged between 19th-century brick warehouses, this development has transformed a former factory complex into the city’s swankiest shopping and dining precinct.
Architecture Museum museum
(Arhitektuurimuuseum; Map p54; www arhitektuurimuuseum .ee; Ahtri 2; adult/child €4/2; ©11am-6pm Wed-Sun) A restored limestone warehouse - the former Rotermann Salt Store - houses this modest museum, displaying building and town models, and regular temporary exhibitions.
Kadriorg Park park
(Kadrioru park; www. kadriorupark .ee) About 2km east of Old Town, this beautiful park’s ample acreage is Tallinn’s favourite patch of green. Together with the baroque Kadriorg Palace, it was commissioned by the Russian tsar Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I soon after his conquest of Estonia (Kadriorg means Catherine’s Valley in Estonian).
Nowadays the oak, lilac and horse chestnut trees provide shade for strollers and picnickers, the formal pond and gardens provide a genteel backdrop for romantic promenades and wedding photos, and the children’s playground is a favourite off-leash area for the city’s youngsters.
Call into the park’s information centre (Kadrioru pargi infopunkt; Weizenbergi 33; ©10am-5pm Wed-Sun), housed in pretty 18th-century cottage near the main entrance, to see a scale model of the palace and its grounds.
Trams 1 and 3 stop right by Kadriorg Park. Buses 1A and 34A (among others) stop at the J Poska stop on Narva mnt, near the foot of the park, while 31, 67 and 68 head to the Kumu end.
OKadriorg Art Museum palace, gallery
(Kardrioru kunstimuuseum; www. kadriorumuuse um .ee; A Weizenbergi 37; adult/child €5 .50/3 .50; ©10am-6pm Tue & Thu-Sun, to 8pm Wed May-Sep, 10am-8pm Wed, to 5pm Thu-Sun Oct-Apr) Kadri-org Palace, built by Peter the Great between 1718 and 1736, now houses a branch of the Estonian Art Museum devoted to Dutch, German and Italian paintings from the 16th to the 18th centuries, and Russian works from the 18th to early 20th centuries (check out the decorative porcelain with communist imagery upstairs). The building is exactly as frilly and fabulous as a palace ought to be and there’s a handsome French-style formal garden at the rear.
Mikkel Museum gallery
(Mikkeli muuseum; www.mikkelimuuseum .ekm . ee; A Weizenbergi 28; adult/concession €3.50/2; ©10am-6pm Tue & Thu-Sun, to 8pm Wed May-Sep, 10am-8pm Wed, to 5pm Thu-Sun Oct-Apr) The Estonian Art Museum’s collection spills over into this former kitchen for Kadriorg Palace. It displays a small but interesting assortment of paintings and porcelain, along with temporary exhibitions. Joint admission with the palace is €6.50.
Presidential Palace palace
Echoing the style of Kadriorg Palace, this grand building was purpose-built in 1938 to serve as the official residence of the Estonian president - a role it once again fulfills. It’s not open to the public, but you can peer through the gates at the honour guards out the front.
Sadly, Estonia’s first president, Konstantin Pats, didn’t get long to enjoy living here. Following the Soviet takeover in 1940 he spent most of his remaining years incarcerated in psychiatric institutions - he was deemed delusional for continuing to maintain that he was the president of Estonia.
House of Peter I museum
(Peeter I majamuuseum; www. linnamuuseum .ee; Maekalda 2; adult/concession €2/1; ©10am-6pm Tue-Sun May-Sep, 10am-5pm Wed-Sun Oct-Apr) This is the humble cottage Peter the Great occupied on visits to Tallinn while Kadriorg Palace was under construction. The museum is filled with portraits, furniture and artefacts from the era.
(www.kumu .ee; A Weizenbergi 34; all galleries adult/ student €6/4, permanent only €4 .50/3; © 11am-6pm Tue & Thu-Sun, to 8pm Wed Apr-Sep, closed Mon & Tue Oct-Apr) This futuristic, Finnish-designed, seven-storey building (2006) is a spectacular structure of limestone, glass and copper, nicely integrated into the landscape. Kumu (the name is short for kunstimuuseum or art museum) contains the country’s largest repository of Estonian art as well as constantly changing contemporary exhibits.
The permanent collection is split into ‘Treasury’ (on the 3rd floor, featuring works from the beginning of the 18th century until the end of WWII) and ‘Difficult Choices’ (on the 4th floor, showcasing art during the Soviet era). Current and cutting-edge exhibitions fill the 5th floor. The complex is wheelchair accessible and has an excellent shop and cafe.
Tallinn Song Festival Grounds amphitheatre (Tallinna lauluvaljak; Map p50; www. lauluvaljak . ee; Narva mnt 95; ©lighthouse 8am-4pm Mon-Fri) IF: This open-air amphitheatre is the site of the main gatherings of Estonia’s national song festivals and assorted rock concerts and other events. Built in 1959, it’s an elegant and surprisingly curvaceous piece of Soviet-era architecture with an official capacity of 75,000 people and a stage that fits 15,000. When there are no events booked it’s possible to climb the 42m ‘lighthouse’ where the festival flame is lit; inside there’s a photo display on the history of the song festival.
In September 1988, 300,000 squeezed in for one songfest and publicly demanded independence in what became known as the ‘Singing Revolution’. Approximately half a million people, including a large number of Estonian emigres, were believed to have been present at the 21st Song Festival in 1990, the last major fest before the restoration of independence. An Estonian repertoire was reinstated and around 29,000 performers sang under the national flag for the first time in 50 years.
Pirita tee, the coastal road curving northwards alongside Tallinn Bay through Maar-jamae, is a popular route for joggers, cyclists and skaters, offering particularly fine sunset views over Old Town. Buses 1A, 5, 8, 34A and 38 all stop here.
WHEN BIGGER IS JUST BIGGER
Nothing says 'former Soviet' quite like a gigantic public building and Tallinn has two that are quite difficult to miss, both designed by local architect Raine Karp.
Linnahall (City Hall; www. linnahall .ee; Mere pst 20) Built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics and originally christened the Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport, Linnahall contains a vast concert arena within its crumbling, much-graffitied concrete hulk. It's fair to say that the city doesn't know quite what to do with it. The templelike structure has heritage protection but it has decayed considerably since closing its doors in 2009 and it acts as a colossal barricade, cutting off Old Town from the harbour. Recently there's been talk of converting Linnahall into a conference centre. In the meantime, baffled tourists continue to wander its rooftop walkways and take endless photos to show their friends back home their brush with post-Soviet decay.
Estonian National Library (Eesti rahvusraamatukogu; Map p50; www. nlib .ee; Tonismagi 2; ©noon-6pm Mon-Fri) Construction commenced in 1985 but the Estonian National Library wasn't completed until 1993, making this prime example of Soviet architecture one of independent Estonia's first new public buildings. It's clad in the local dolomite limestone and it's well worth calling into the foyer, if only to check out the pointy red chairs. Frequent exhibitions take place on the upper floors.
Maarjamae Palace museum
(Maarjamae loss; Map p50; www.ajaloomuuseum . ee; Pirita tee 56; adult/child €4/2; ©10am-5pm Wed-Sun) North of Kadriorg Park, Maarjamae is a neo-Gothic limestone manor house built in 1874 for a Russian count. It’s now home to the Estonian Film Museum and a less-visited branch of the Estonian History Museum, detailing the twists and turns of the 20th century. Don’t miss the Soviet sculpture graveyard at the rear of the building.
A particularly beautiful Socialist Realist mural entitled Friendship of Nations covers the walls of the banqueting hall, featuring triumphant factory workers, peasants, cosmonauts and an apparition of Lenin’s face among the red flags. When this was unveiled in 1987, it’s clear that nobody foresaw the dramatic events of the following few years.
When we last visited there were ambitious plans afoot to restore the palace and turn the complex into a ‘experiential museum’, including making use of the dismantled Soviet sculptures and hosting open-air concerts and film screenings. Watch this space.
Maarjamae Palace Stables museum
(Maarjamae lossi tallihoone; Map p50; www. ajaloomuuseum .ee; Pirita tee 66; adult/child €3/2, with palace €6; ©10am-6pm Wed-Sun) The lengthy Soviet occupation of Estonia is covered in painstaking detail elsewhere, so this branch of the Estonian History Museum, housed in a 19th-century stable block at Maarjamae, is devoted solely to the German occupation (1941-1944). Entitled Castles &
Pawns, it’s a fascinating and at times harrowing expose of life under the Nazi regime, including interactive displays and videoed interviews with survivors of the concentration camps.
Following on from the horrors of the first Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, known as the ‘Red Year’, many Estonians initially welcomed the German invasion. It’s now estimated that the regime executed around 8000 Estonians, including 1000 Estonian Jews (almost the entire Jewish population that hadn’t already fled) and 250 to 500 Estonian Roma. In addition, around 12,500 foreign Jews were transported to camps in Estonia, mainly from the other Baltic states but from as far away as France.
If you’re interested in exploring this dark episode in the country’s history further or paying your respects to the victims, the Estonian History Museum has erected an outdoor exhibition at the site of the Klooga concentration camp, 38km southwest of Tallinn.
The stables are the last major building in the complex, close to the war memorial.
Maarjamae War Memorial memorial
(Map p50; Pirita tee) Perched on the headland next to Maarjamae Palace, this large Soviet-era monument consists of an elegant bowed obelisk set amid a large crumbling concrete plaza. The obelisk was erected in 1960 to commemorate the Soviet troops killed in 1918 - hardly a popular edifice, as the war was against Estonia and all of the Estonian monuments to their dead were destroyed shortly after the Soviet takeover (many have since been re-erected).
The remainder of the complex - broad concrete avenues, pointy protrusions and all - was built in 1975 as a memorial to Red Army soldiers killed fighting the Nazis. It was built partly over a war cemetery housing 2300 German dead, dating from 1941. The cemetery was rededicated in 1998 and is now delineated by sets of triple granite crosses in the style common to German WWII military cemeteries throughout Europe.
Just past Maarjamae the Pirita River enters Tallinn Bay and the city’s favourite beach begins to unfurl. The area’s other claim to fame was as the base for the sailing events of the 1980 Moscow Olympics; international regattas are still held here.
Buses 1A, 8, 34A and 38 all run between the city centre and Pirita.
Pirita Beach beach
(Pirita rand; Map p50) Easily Tallinn’s largest and most popular beach, Pirita has the advantage of being only 6km from the city. In summer, bronzed sun-lovers fill the sands and hang out in the laid-back cafes nearby. It’s a bleak and windswept place if the weather’s not good, but if the conditions are right there are plenty of wind- and kite-boarders providing visual entertainment.
Pirita Convent ruins
(Pirita klooster; Map p50; www.piritaklooster. ee; Kloostri tee; adult/student €2/1; ©10am-6pm Apr-Oct, noon-4pm Nov-Feb) Only the massively high Gothic stone walls remain of this convent, which was completed in 1436. The rest was destroyed courtesy of Ivan the Terrible during the Livonian War in 1577. In 1996 Bridgettine sisters were granted the right to return and reactivate the convent. Their new headquarters are adjacent to the ruins. Atmospheric concerts are held here in summer.
Literally ‘the convent’s forest, this leafy nook spreads out along the north bank of the Piri-ta River. Bus 34A and 38 from the city head here via Pirita Beach.
Tallinn TV Tower viewpoint
(Tallinna teletorn; www teletorn ee; Kloostrimetsa tee 58a; adult/child €8/5; © 10am-7pm) Opened in time for the 1980 Olympics, this futuristic 314m tower offers brilliant views from its 22nd floor (175m). Press a button and frosted glass disks set in the floor suddenly clear, giving a view straight down. Once you’re done gawping, check out the interactive displays in the space-age pods. Daredevils can try the open-air ‘edge walk’ (€20).
The most dramatic moment in the tower’s history came on 20 August 1991, the day after Estonia’s official declaration of independence, when Soviet troops attempted to take the tower by force. While ordinary people blocked the path of the tank, four men barricaded themselves in the control room to ensure that the tower continued broadcasting. There’s a monument to these events on the plaza in front of the tower.
Tallinn Botanic Garden gardens
(Tallinna botaanikaaed; www.botaanikaaed .ee; Kloostrimetsa tee 52; adult/child €5/2 . 50, with TV Tower €11; ©9am-5pm Oct-Apr) Set on 1.2 sq km fronting the Pirita River and surrounded by lush woodlands, this pretty garden boasts 8000 species of plants scattered between a series of greenhouses and various themed gardens and arboretums. Bring a picnic and make an afternoon of it.
The westernmost district of Tallinn is home to over 43,000 people, although the population only started to intensify following the completion of the Vaike-Oismae (Little Flower Hill) development in the 1970s. This intriguing example of Soviet town planning features a giant oval ring of immense apartment blocks gathered around an ornamental lake. Nearby is Estonia’s second-largest shopping mall, the Rocca al Mare Kaubanduskeskus.
^Estonian Open-Air Museum museum
(Eesti vabaohumuuseum; Map p50; www.evm . ee; Vabaohumuuseumi tee 12, Rocca Al Mare; adult/ child May-Sep €7/3.50, Oct-Apr €5/3; ©10am-8pm May-Sep, to 5pm Oct-Apr) If tourists won’t go to the countryside, let’s bring the countryside to them. That’s the modus operandi of this excellent, sprawling complex, where historic buildings have been plucked and transplanted among the tall trees. In summer the time-warping effect is highlighted by staff in period costume performing traditional activities among the wooden farmhouses and windmills.
There’s a chapel dating from 1699 and an old wooden tavern, Kolu Korts, serving
traditional Estonian cuisine. Kids love the horse-and-carriage rides (adult/child €5/3) and bikes can be hired (per hour €3). If you find yourself in Tallinn on Midsummer’s Eve (23 June), come here to witness the traditional celebrations, bonfire and all.
To get here from the centre, take Paldiski mnt. When the road nears the water, veer right onto Vabaohumuuseumi tee. Bus 21 (departing from the train station at least hourly) stops right out front. Combined family ticket combos are available including Tallinn Zoo, which is a 20-minute walk away.
Tallinn Zoo zoo
(Tallinna loomaaed; Map p50; www.tallinnzoo . ee; Paldiski mnt 145, Veskimetsa; adult/child €7/4; ©9am-9pm May-Aug, to 7pm Mar, Apr, Sep & Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb) Boasting the world’s largest collection of mountain goats and sheep, plus around 350 other species of feathered, furry and four-legged friends (including lions, leopards and African elephants), this large, spread-out zoo is gradually upgrading its enclosures into modern, animal-friendly spaces as funds allow. It’s the best place to see all of the natives (bears, lynx, owls, eagles) you’re unlikely to spot in the wild.
However, it poses a bit of a dilemma for the animal-lover: while some of the older enclosures are certainly unsatisfactory (we feel particularly sorry for the poor old bears), things are clearly improving. If people don’t visit they’ll never have enough funds to complete the work - including a desperately needed new polar bear enclosure, for which they’re currently fundraising.
A recent addition to the zoo complex is an adventure park (adult/child €17/6) with a high ropes course. Last entry to the zoo is two hours before closing time and all of the indoor enclosures are closed on Mondays. The zoo is best reached by bus 21 or trolleybus 7, which both depart from the train station, or by trolleybus 6 from Freedom Sq.
Stroomi Beach beach
(Map p50) Shallow Stroomi beach is in Pelguranna, a neighbourhood favoured by Tallinn’s Russian community. While the backdrop of ports and apartment blocks isn’t as pleasant as Pirita, sunlovers swarm to the long stretch of sand. There’s a distinct local buzz in summer. It’s located 3km due west of Old Town (a 20-minute ride on bus 40 from Viru Keskus or 48 from Freedom Sq).
Locals attribute all kinds of health benefits to a good old-fashioned sweat and, truth be told, a trip to Estonia just won’t be complete until you’ve paid a visit to the sauna. You won’t have to look far - most hotels have one - but Tallinn also has some good public options.
Club 26 spa
(Map p50; 0631 5585; www.club26 .ee; Liivalaia 33; private sauna per hour €25-65; ©7am-10pm) On the top floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Olumpia, with correspondingly outstanding views, this is one of the most luxurious sauna choices in town. There are two private saunas, each with plunge pool and tiny balcony. Food and drink can be ordered to complete the experience; prices cover up to 10 people.
The complex includes a solarium, a small gym, a massage centre and a 16m swimming pool.
Kalma Saun spa
(0 627 1811; www. kalmasaun .ee; Vana-Kalamaja 9a; admission €7.50-10; © 11am-11pm) In a grand building behind the train station, Tallinn’s oldest public sauna still has the aura of an old-fashioned, Russian-style banya (bathhouse) - flagellation with a birch branch is definitely on the cards. It has separate men’s and women’s sections (the women’s is slightly cheaper) and private saunas are available (per hour €20; up to six people).
Kalev Spa Waterpark swimming, spa
(Map p54; www. kalevspa .ee; Aia 18; 2^hr visit adult/child €13/10; ©6.45am-9.30pm Mon-Fri, 8am-9 . 30pm Sat & Sun) For serious swimmers there’s an indoor pool of Olympic proportions but there are plenty of other ways to wrinkle your skin here, including water-slides, spa pools, saunas and a kids’ pool. There’s also a gym, a day spa and three private saunas, with the largest holding up to
15 of your closest hot-and-sweaty mates.
Bell-Marine Boat Rental boating
(Map p50; 0 621 2175; www.bellmarine.ee;
Kloostri tee 6a; per hour kayak/rowboat €10/15; ©10am-10pm Jun-Aug) The Pirita River is an idyllic place for a leisurely paddle, with thick forest edging the water. Rowboats and kayaks are hired from beside the road bridge, close to the convent ruins.
Harju Ice Rink skating
(Harju tanava uisuplats; Map p54; 0 610 1035; www. uisuplats .ee; Harju; per hour adult/child/skate rental €5/3/2 .50; ©10am-10pm Nov-Mar) Wrap up warmly to join the locals at Old Town’s outdoor ice rink. You’ll have earned a hoog-vein (mulled wine) by the end of it.
The tourist office and most travel agencies can arrange tours in English or other languages with a private guide; advance booking is required.
Tallinn Traveller Tours tour
(05837 4800; www.traveller.ee) Entertaining, good-value tours - including a two-hour Old Town walking tour which departs at midday from outside the tourist information centre (it’s nominally free but tips are encouraged). There are also ghost tours (€15), pub crawls (€20), bike tours (from €19) and day trips to as far afield as Riga (€55).
(05308 3731; www.estadventures.ee; tour from €19; © May-Sep) Offers themed walking tours of Tallinn (‘Old Town & Kalamaja’, ‘Haunted Tallinn’). Full-day excursions include Lahe-maa National Park, Rakvere and Haapsalu.
Estonian Experience tour
(0 5346 4060; www.estonianexperience.com; tour for 1 person/4 people from €80/96) Offers private tours on a wide range of specialist themes (‘Medieval Beer Tasting & Legends’, ‘Jewish Tallinn’, ‘Family Walking Tour & Marzipan Workshop’), some of which include transport, food and drink. Although they cater to solo travellers, the prices work out much better if you’re travelling as part of a small group.
City Bike bicycle tour
(Map p54; 0511 1819; www.citybike.ee; Vene 33; © 10am-7pm) ‘Welcome to Tallinn’ tours (€19, two hours) depart at 11am year-round and include Kadriorg and Pirita. ‘Other Side’ tours take in Kalamaja and Stroomi Beach (from €19, 2V2 hours), while ‘Countryside Cycling & Old Town Walking’ tours head out as far as the Open-Air Museum (from €47, four hours). It also co-ordinates self-guided day trips and longer itineraries.
Tallinn City Tour bus tour
(Map p54; 0 627 9080; www.citytour.ee; 24hr-pass adult/child €19/16) Runs red double-decker buses that give you quick, easy, hop-on/hop-off access to the city’s top sights. A recorded audiotour accompanies the ride. The main stop is on Mere pst, just outside Old Town. Combo tickets are available including museum entries, a boat ride or a balloon ride.
The red line covers the city centre and Kadriorg; the green line travels to Pirita, Tallinn Botanic Gardens and the TV Tower; and the blue line heads west to the zoo and the Estonian Open-Air Museum.
Blue Super Segway segway
(Map p54; 0512 0030; www.bluesupersegway.ee; Viru 7; 1hr rental €30, plus guide per group €60) Motor yourself around town on a two-wheeled posing platform, or arrange a guided tour.
Euro Audio Guide walking tour
(www.euroaudioguide.com; iPod rental €13) Preloaded iPods are available from the tourist office with commentary on various Old Town sights. If you’ve got your own iPod,
TALLINN FOR CHILDREN
Tallinn’s Old Town, with its lively medieval street scene and battlements, is pure eye candy for the under-12 crowd - although those cobblestones can play havoc with pushchair wheels. Kids are welcome almost everywhere; many restaurants have separate children’s menus and most larger hotels have play areas and child-minding services.
Children will particularly enjoy the Estonian Open-Air Museum, the zoo, the beaches, Kalev Spa Waterpark and the Harju Ice Rink. There's a large playground in Kadriorg Park and another one in Hirvepark, downhill from Toompea.
Nuku (Map p54; 0 679 555; www. nuku .ee; Nunne 8; admission €4 . 80; ©11am-6pm Tue-Sun) The state puppet museum has lots of historic puppets behind glass but plenty to play with too. There’s a Cellar of Horrors full of 'evil and scary puppets’ (including a vampiric rabbit), a dress-up room, a shadow theatre and windows into the workshops where the puppets are made. Sadly there aren’t any puppet shows in summer, but on the weekends at other times they’re included in the price. Performances are in Estonian, but the visual fun is multilingual.
Tschu-Tschu (adult/child €5/3) A favourite of little nippers and footsore adults, this road train takes a 20-minute loop through Old Town in summer.
iPhone or iPad you can download the tour and an ebook for €15.
360° Adventures kayaking
(05686 4634; www.360 .ee) Runs three- to four-hour guided kayaking tours on Tallinn Bay on Wednesdays from late June to August (€33). Also offers multiday kayaking, bog walking, snowshoeing and nature excursions.
Reimann Retked kayaking
(0511 4099; www.retked .ee) Offers sea-kayaking excursions, including a four-hour paddle out to Aegna Island (€35). Other interesting possibilities include diving, rafting, bog walking, snowshoeing and beaver watching.
Festivals & Events
It seems like there’s always something going on in the city in summer. For a complete list of Tallinn’s festivals, visit www.culture. ee and the events pages of www.tourism. tallinn.ee.
(www.jazzkaar.ee) Jazz greats from around the world converge on Tallinn in mid-April during this excellent 10-day festival. Tallinn also hosts smaller events in autumn and around Christmas.
TALLINN UNIVERSITY SUMMER SCHOOL
Tallinn University Summer School
(Map p50; 0640 9218; http://summer school . tlu .ee; Narva mnt 25; course €440, cultural program student/nonstudent €350/400) Do you have Estonian heritage or perhaps just a fascination for obscure languages? Tallinn University offers three-week intensive courses in the Estonian language every July, which can be combined with a cultural program including lectures, guided tours and day trips delving into aspects of Estonian culture, history, art, music and traditions.
The language classes take place on weekday mornings while the cultural component is offered in the afternoons and weekends, making it quite possible to undertake one or the other, or both.
If Estonian's not for you, other options include Russian and Mandarin Chinese (with instruction in English), and a broad range of creative and technical courses.
Old Town Days cultural
(www.vanalinnapaevad .ee) This week-long festival in late May/early June features themed days (Music Day, Medieval Day, Children’s Day etc), with dancing, concerts, costumed performers and plenty of medieval merrymaking on nearly every corner of Old Town.
Baltica International Folklore Festival cultural
(www.folkloorinoukogu .ee) Music, dance and displays focusing on Baltic and other folk traditions. This festival is shared between Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn; it’s Tallinn’s turn to play host in June 2016, 2019 and 2022.
Ollesummer beer, music
(Beer summer; www ollesummer ee) This extremely popular ale-guzzling, sausage-eating, rock-music extravaganza takes place over four days in early July at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Alongside the cover bands and local singer-songwriters there are usually a few international drawcards (past performers include Placebo, the Cardigans, Pet Shop Boys and Scissor Sisters).
Estonian Song & Dance Celebration cultural, music
(www laulupidu ee) The big one. This immense nationwide gathering convenes in July during the 4th and 9th years of every decade and culminates in a 34,000-strong traditional choir. The youth version slots in during the 2nd and 7th years of the decade.
Medieval Days cultural
(www.folkart.ee) Old Town hosts a parade, a carnival and a jousting tournament, and Town Hall Sq is covered in craft stalls for a week in mid-July.
Tallinn International Organ Festival music (www.concert .ee) Ten days of pulling out the stops in the city’s churches, starting late July.
Birgitta Festival music
(www. birgitta .ee) An excellent chance to enjoy the intersection of music and theatre in a variety of genres, including choral, opera, ballet, modern dance and classical concerts held at the atmospheric convent ruins in Pirita over a week in mid-August.
Black Nights Film Festival film
(www.poff.ee) Featuring movies from all over the world, Estonia’s biggest film festival brings life to cold winter nights for two weeks from mid-November. Subfestivals include animated films, student films and youth films.
Tallinn’s medieval charm is no longer a state secret, so be sure to book well in advance in summer. Prices rise considerably in high season (peaking in July and August) and, irrespective of budget category, it can be extremely difficult to find a bed on the weekend without a couple of weeks’ notice.
Tallinn has a good range of accommodation to suit every budget. Most of it is congregated in Old Town and its immediate surrounds, where even backpackers might find themselves waking up in an atmospheric historic building. If you’re travelling with a car, you’re more likely to find free parking a little further out.
4 Old Town
OTabinoya hostel €
(Map p54; 0632 0062; www.tabinoya.com;
Nunne 1; dm/s/d from €15/30/40; H®) The Baltic’s first Japanese-run hostel occupies the two top floors of a charming old building, with dorms and a communal lounge at the top, and spacious private rooms, a kitchen and a sauna below. Bathroom facilities are shared. The vibe’s a bit more comfortable and quiet than most of Tallinn’s hostels. Book ahead.
Red Emperor hostel €
(Map p54; 0615 0035; www.redemperor
hostel .com; Aia 10; dm/s/d from €12/21/32; H®) Situated above a wonderfully grungy live-music bar, Red Emperor is Tallinn’s premier party hostel for those of a beardy, indie persuasion. Facilities are good, with brightly painted rooms, wooden bunks and plenty of showers, and there are organised activities every day (karaoke, shared dinners etc). Pack heavy-duty earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.
Old House Hostel & Guesthouse hostel € (Map p54; 0641 1281; www.oldhouse .ee; Uus 22 & Uus 26; dm/s/d from €14/29/48; EH®) Although one is called a hostel and one a guesthouse, these twin establishments both combine a cosy guesthouse feel with hostel facilities (bunkless dorm rooms, shared bathrooms, guest kitchens and lounges). The old-world decor (antiques, wacky wallpaper, plants, lamps) and the relatively quiet Old Town location will appeal to budget travellers who like things to be nice and comfortable.
Old Town Backpackers hostel €
(Map p54; 0 5351 7266; www.tallinnoldtown backpackers .com; Uus 14; dm/s €15/35; H®) Enter this baroque house and the whole hostel is laid out before you: a large room with half a dozen beds that also serves as the kitchen and living room. Given the tightness, late-night partying isn’t encouraged but you’ll certainly get to know your fellow guests. Especially as there’s a sauna and spa.
Old House Apartments apartment €€
(Map p54; 0 641 1464; www.oldhouseapartments . ee; Rataskaevu 16; apt from €89; E®) Old House is an understatement for this wonderful 14th-century merchant’s house. It’s been split into eight beautifully furnished apartments (including a spacious two-bedroom one with traces of a medieval painted ceiling). There are a further 21 apartments scattered around Old Town in similar buildings, although the quality and facilities vary widely.
Zinc HOSTEL €€
(Map p54; 0 5781 0173; www.zinchostel .ee;
Vaike-Karja 1; tw/tr/f €35/50/60; ®) More like a budget guesthouse than a traditional hostel, Zinc doesn’t have dorms but its tidy private rooms share bathrooms and a kitchen and TV lounge. Colourful stencils line the halls of the century-old building. It’s a quieter option in a noisy neighbourhood.
Bern Hotel hotel €€
(Map p54; 0680 6604; www. bern .ee; Aia 10; r from €63; a®) A newer hotel on the outskirts of Old Town, Bern is nothing special from the outside, but rooms are petite and modern, with great attention to detail for the price. Extras include robes and slippers, minibars, hairdryers and air-con.
Villa Hortensia apartment €€
(Map p54; 0504 6113; www.hoov.ee; Vene 6; s/d from €45/65; ®) Situated in the sweet, cobbled Masters’ Courtyard, Hortensia has four split-level studio apartments with kitchenettes and access to a shared communal lounge, but the two larger apartments are the real treats, with balconies and loads of character. In summer they can get hot and the downstairs cafe is open until midnight, so pack earplugs if you’re an early sleeper.
Viru Backpackers hostel €€
(Map p54; 0 644 6050; www.virubackpackers . com; 3rd fl, Viru 5; s/d from €28/42; ffl®) This small, much flasher sibling of Monk’s Bunk (p73) offers cosy, brightly painted private
rooms, some of which have their own bathrooms. It’s a quieter environment than the Monk, albeit in a noisier part of town.
OHotel Cru hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0611 7600; www.cruhotel .eu; Viru 8; s/d/ste from €88/110/198; W) Behind its pretty powder-blue facade, this boutique 14th-century offering has richly furnished rooms with plenty of original features (timber beams and stone walls) scattered along a rabbit warren of corridors. The cheapest are a little snug.
Three Sisters hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0 630 6300; www.threesistershotel . com; Pikk 71; r/ste from €195/305; W) Offering sumptuous luxury in three conjoined merchant houses dating from the 14th century, Three Sisters has 23 spacious rooms, each unique but with uniformly gorgeous details, including old-fashioned bathtubs, wooden beams, tiny balconies and canopy beds. If you’ve got regal aspirations, the piano suite is the usual choice of visiting royalty.
Hotel Telegraaf hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0600 0600; www.telegraafhotel .com; Vene 9; s/d/ste from €165/185/605; EiWS) This upmarket hotel in a converted 19th-century former telegraph station delivers style in spades. It boasts a spa, a pretty courtyard, an acclaimed restaurant, swanky decor and smart, efficient service. ‘Superior’ rooms, in the older part of the building, have more historical detail but we prefer the marginally cheaper ‘executive’ rooms for their bigger proportions and sharp decor.
Savoy Boutique Hotel hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0 680 6688; www.tallinnhotels .ee; Suur-Karja 17/19; s/d/ste from €98/116/278; W) Soft cream and caramel tones make these rooms an oasis of double-glazed calm off one of Old Town’s busy intersections (request a room on a higher floor for the rooftop views). Nice boutique touches include fruit on arrival and robes and slippers in every room, but what really sets it apart is the welcoming and attentive staff.
Hotel St Petersbourg hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0 628 6500; www.schlossle-hotels . com; Rataskaevu 7; r/ste from €153/216; IB) Imperial Russia meets contemporary bling in this eclectically furnished hotel. The curious mix of styles includes zany light fixtures, mirrored chests of drawers, large-scale photographs of ballerinas and a giant Oscar statuette in the foyer. Rates include breakfast and a complimentary morning sauna.
Schlossle Hotel hotel ccc
(Map p54; 0699 7700; www.schlossle-hotels.com; Puhavaimu 13/15; r/ste from €167/275; IB) Occupying a clutch of medieval buildings grouped around a courtyard, this boutique hotel has only 23 rooms and a particularly atmospheric vaulted basement bar. Rooms vary widely in size and style; the smaller ones have more historic charm while some of the larger ones are a little lacklustre for the price.
PRIVATE APARTMENTS & ROOMS
Apartment agencies can be an excellent option, especially for midrange travellers who prefer privacy and self-sufficiency. True, you're unlikely to meet other travellers, but you'll usually get much more space than a hotel room, plus a fully equipped kitchen, lounge and often a washing machine. Prices for apartments drop substantially in the low season, and with longer stays. Old House Apartments (p71) has a good range in Old Town.
Romeo Family Apartments (0 644 4255; www. romeofamily .ee; apt €55-110; B) With a dozen spick-and-span apartments scattered around Old Town, this family-run operation is an extremely good option. Most are spacious and nicely furnished, with kitchens and clothes washing facilities. It also offers an airport pick-up service (€10).
Goodson & Red (0 666 1650; www. redgroup .ee; apt from €49) This agency has 22 apartments on its books ranging from modern studios to two-bedroom units. Most have excellent locations with some even overlooking Town Hall Sq. The minimum booking period is two nights and there's an additional €40 cleaning fee payable.
Ites Apartments (0 631 0637; www. ites .ee; apt from €80; B) A friendly and efficient bunch offering several well-appointed apartments in Old Town and its surrounds. There are significant discounts for stays of more than one night.
4 City Centre
United Backpackers hostel €
(Map p50; 05685 0415; www.unitedbackpackers. ee; Narva mnt 9j; dm/d from €14/32; HB) Hidden in a clump of buildings off a major road, this well-kept, friendly wee hostel has artfully decorated rooms gathered together on one floor. You’ll have no problem charging your myriad devices in the spacious dorms; each bed has six electrical sockets. All bathrooms are shared, but there’s plenty of them. Plus there’s a pool table and a 24-hour bar.
Euphoria hostel €
(Map p54; 05837 3602; www.euphoria .ee;
Roosikrantsi 4; dm/r from €11/35; EfflB) So laid-back it’s practically horizontal, this hippyish hostel, just south of Old Town, is an entertaining place to stay with a palpable sense of traveller community - especially if you like hookah pipes and impromptu late-night jam sessions (pack earplugs if you don’t).
Monk's Bunk hostel €
(Map p54; 0 636 3924; www.themonksbunk . com; Tatari 1; dm €11-14, r €38; HB) Very much a party hostel, the only monk we can imagine fitting in here is, perhaps, Friar Tuck. There are organised activities every night, including legendary pub crawls seemingly designed for maximum intoxication. The facilities are good, with high ceilings, free lockers and underfloor heating in the bathrooms.
OY-residence apartment €€
(Map p50; 0502 1477; www.yogaresidence.eu; Parnu mnt 32; apt from €80; B) The ‘Y stands for ‘yoga’, which is a strange name for what’s basically a block of very modern, fresh and well-equipped apartments, a short stroll from Old Town. You can expect friendly staff, a kitchenette and, joy of joys, a washing machine. There is a second block in an older building north of Old Town.
Hotell Palace hotel €€€
(Map p54; 0 640 7300; www.tallinnhotels.ee; Vabaduse Valjak 3; r/ste from €100/170; SBS) A recent renovation has swept through this architecturally interesting 1930s hotel, leaving comfortable, tastefully furnished rooms in its wake. It’s directly across the road from Freedom Sq and Old Town. The complex includes an indoor pool, a spa, saunas and a small gym, although they’re only free for those staying in superior rooms or suites.
Swissotel Tallinn hotel €€€
(Map p50; 0624 0000; www.swissotel .com; Tornimae 3; r from €158; SBS) Raising the standards at the big end of town while stretching up 30 floors, this 238-room hotel offers elegant, sumptuous rooms with superlative views. The bathroom design is ultracool (bronze and black tiles; separate freestanding bathtubs and shower stalls) and, if further indulgence is required, there’s an in-house spa. Friendly staff, too.
Estoria hotel €€€
(Map p54; 0680 9300; www.sokoshotels.ee; Viru valjak 4; r from €134; SB) The design team at Sokos Hotels have done a great job of eradicating any lingering KGB vibes from this block connected to the infamous Hotel Viru. Bright orange and green armchairs, robes and slippers lighten the mood, and each floor has its own little lounge area, set up with a coffee machine, bowls of chocolates and chess sets.
Nordic Hotel Forum hotel €€€
(Map p54; 0622 2900; www. nordichotels .eu; Viru valjak 3; r/ste from €119/189; ESIBS) The Forum shows surprising personality for a large, business-style hotel - witness the stencilled artwork on the facade, the garden path carpet, the floral frosted glass in the bathrooms and the trees on the roof. Facilities include saunas and an indoor pool with an 8th-floor view.
4 Kassisaba & Kelmikula
Immediately west of Old Town, at the base of Toompea hill, these small neighbourhoods have a good crop of modern, midrise, midprice hotels, handy for the train station. Kassisaba is Estonian for Cat’s Tail, referring to the path through the ramparts into Toompea, while Kelmikula means Rogue’s Village, which remains apt as the area around the train station still has a roguish feel.
Go Hotel Schnelli hotel €€
(Map p54; 0 631 0100; www.gohotels.ee; Toom-puiestee 37; s/d/apt from €56/59/117; ESB) Right next to the train station, this modern block has fresh and comfortable rooms in a handy location close to both Kalama-ja and Old Town. The free parking makes it a brilliant choice if you’ve got a car and the street-facing rooms have extraordinary views of the Toompea skyline.
L'Ermitage hotel €€
(Map p54; 0699 6400; www. lermitagehotel . ee; Toompuiestee 19; s/d/ste from €67/76/125; E1B) Built in 2004 but looking very 1970s, this love-it-or-hate-it metal-clad building contains unassuming but comfortable rooms. The interior design has a more contemporary feel, with white walls set off with splashes of colour. Rear rooms are quieter.
Kreutzwald Hotel Tallinn hotel €€
(Map p50; 0666 4800; www. kreutzwaldhotel . com; Endla 23; r from €68; HB) Here Scandinavian chic meets Japanese minimalism to create an excellent midrange place to lay your head. The pricier ‘Zen’ doubles have spa baths, flat-screen TVs and soothing mood lighting. It’s a 15-minute walk from Old Town.
Valge Villa guesthouse €€
(Map p50; 0 654 2302; www.white-villa .com; Kannu 26/2; s/d from €35/45; EB) Homely and welcoming, this three-storey, 10-room guesthouse in a quiet residential area, 3km south of the centre, is a good basic option, particularly if you’ve got a car to park. All rooms have fridges and kettles and some have fireplaces, balconies, kitchenettes and bathtubs. It’s well connected to Old Town by public transport.
If your expectations of food in the former USSR are low, prepare to be blown away by what’s on offer in Tallinn these days. Tal-linnites are spoilt for choice with an array of interesting, varied eateries, charging a fraction of what you’d pay for similar quality in Western European capitals and tourist traps (although prices are quickly rising). The service can still be hit and miss, but most places have at least taught their staff to smile as they rush by.
While tourist-saturated neighbourhoods worldwide struggle to offer good-quality, good-value restaurants, Tallinn’s Old Town has plenty. Plus, the atmosphere is hard to beat: winters are all about snuggling into cosy vaulted cellars, while in summer the streets are covered with temporary terraces garlanded in flowers or herb boxes.
If you want to get even better gastronomic bang for your buck, there are some wonderful local favourites within walking distance of Old Town in Kalamaja.
5 Old Town
★v VEGAN €
(Map p54; 0 626 9087; Rataskaevu 12; mains €6-9; ©noon-11pm; 0) Visiting vegans are spoiled for choice in this wonderful restaurant. In summer everyone wants one of the four tables on the street but the atmospheric interior is just as great. The food is excellent; expect the likes of sweet potato peanut curry, spicy tofu with quinoa and stuffed zucchini.
III Draakon cafe €
(Map p54; Raekoja plats; mains €1-3; © 9am-midnight) There’s bucketloads of atmosphere at this lilliputian tavern below the Town Hall, and supercheap elk soup, sausages and oven-hot pies baked fresh on site. The historic setting is amped up - expect costumed wenches with a good line in tourist banter, and beer served in ceramic steins.
Chocolats de Pierre cafe €
(Map p54; 0641 8061; www.pierre.ee; Vene 6; mains €5-13; © 8am-midnight) Nestled inside the picturesque Masters’ Courtyard and offering respite from Old Town’s hubbub, this snug cafe is renowned for its delectable (but pricey) handmade chocolates, but it also sells pastries, sandwiches and quiches, making it a great choice for a light breakfast or lunch. As the day progresses, pasta finds its way onto the menu.
Kompressor creperie €
(Map p54; Rataskaevu 3; pancakes €5; ©11am-late) Plug any holes in your stomach with cheap pancakes of the sweet or savoury persuasion. Don’t go thinking you’ll have room for dessert. By night, this is a decent detour for a budget drink - it’s low on aesthetics but high on value.
Must Puudel CAFE €
(Map p54; Muurivahe 20; mains €6.50-11; ©9am-11pm Sun-Wed, to 2am Thu-Sat; B) Mismatched 1970s furniture, an eclectic soundtrack, courtyard seating, excellent coffee, cooked breakfasts (less than €5), tasty light meals, long opening hours and a name that translates as ‘Black Poodle’ - yep, this is Old Town’s hippest cafe.
Kehrwieder cafe €
(Map p54; www. kohvik .ee; Saiakang 1; snacks €2-6 .90; ©8am-11pm Sun-Thu, to 1am Fri & Sat) Sure, there’s seating on Town Hall Sq, but inside the city’s cosiest cafe is where the real ambience is found - you can stretch out on a couch, read by lamplight and bump your head on the arched ceilings. Foodwise, it offers only pastries, cakes, chocolates and preprepared wraps and salads.
Rimi SUPERMARKET €
(Map p54; Aia 7; ©8am-11pm) Old Town doesn’t have convenience stores, making this small but well-stocked supermarket particularly handy.
ORataskaevu 16 Estonian €€
(Map p54; 0 642 4025; www.facebook.com/
Rataskaevu16; Rataskaevu 16; mains €6.90-15; ©noon-11pm; ffl) If you’ve ever had a hankering for braised roast elk, this is the place to come. Although it’s hardly a traditional eatery, plenty of Estonian faves fill the menu -fried Baltic herrings, grilled pork fillet and Estonian cheeses among them. Finish with a serve of its legendary chocolate cake.
Von Krahli Aed modern european €€
(Map p54; 0 626 9088; www.vonkrahl .ee/aed/; Rataskaevu 8; mains €8 . 50-17; © noon-midnight; S0) You’ll find plenty of greenery on your plate at this rustic, plant-filled restaurant (aed means ‘garden’). The menu embraces fresh flavours and wins fans by noting vegan, gluten-, lactose- and egg-free options.
Pegasus MODERN EUROPEAN €€
(Map p54; 0 662 3013; www.restoranpegasus . ee; Harju 1; mains €7.80-15; ©noon-11pm; W) This hip restaurant occupies three design-driven floors of a very cool Soviet-era building, with porthole-style windows and roughcast walls. There’s a lightness of touch to the menu, which encompasses salads, soups and generous serves of greenery accompanying the mains. The homemade bread is perhaps Tallinn’s best and the staff are charming.
Vanaema Juures Estonian €€
(Map p54; www.vonkrahl .ee/vanaemajuures/; Rataskaevu 10/12; mains €12-15; ©noon-10pm) Food just like your grandma used to make, if she was a) Estonian, and b) a really good cook. ‘Grandma’s Place’ was one of Tallinn’s most stylish restaurants in the 1930s, and still rates as a top choice for traditional, home-style Estonian fare. The antique-furnished, photograph-filled dining room has a formal air.
Elevant indian €€
(Map p54; 0 631 3132; www.elevant .ee; Vene 5; mains €8.50-22; ©noon-11pm; 0) Aromas assault your senses as you ascend the wrought-iron staircase to the bright upstairs rooms where diners linger over tasty Indian-inspired cuisine. There’s a wide selection of vegetarian dishes and some curiosities (moose korma, wild boar curry, crocodile in mango sauce).
Clayhills Gastropub pub food €€
(Map p54; www clayhills ee; Pikk 13; mains €12-15; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) As well as being our favourite Old Town pub - for its live bands, comfy couches, stone-walled upstairs room and sunny summer terrace -Clayhills serves up quality grub. Chow down on pub classics such as (Estonian pork-and-apple) bangers and mash, gourmet burgers and snack platters.
La Bottega Italian €€
(Map p54; 0 627 7733; www.labottega .ee;
Vene 4; mains €10-20; © noon-11pm) Ancient wooden beams and stone pillars contrast with a sweeping pine staircase in the high-ceilinged dining room, providing an atmospheric setting for hearty Sardinian food. Naturally, there’s plenty of seafood on the menu (including traditional treats such as stuffed squid) alongside local game meats such as wild boar and rabbit.
OTchaikovsky Russian, french €€€
(Map p54; 0600 0610; www.telegraafhotel .
com; Vene 9; mains €24-26; ©noon-3pm &
6-11pm Mon-Fri, 1-11pm Sat & Sun) Located in a glassed-in pavilion at the heart of the Hotel Telegraaf, Tchaikovsky offers a dazzling tableau of blinged-up chandeliers, gilt frames and greenery. Service is formal and faultless, as is the classic Franco-Russian menu, all accompanied by live chamber music.
OLeib MODERN ESTONIAN €€€
(Map p54; 0611 9026; www leibresto ee; uus 31; mains €15-16; ©noon-11pm) An inconspicuous gate opens onto a large lawn guarded by busts of Sean Connery and Robbie Burns. Welcome to the former home of Tallinn’s Scottish club (really!), where ‘simple, soulful food’ is served along with homemade leib (bread). The slow-cooked meat and grilled fish dishes are exceptional.
Dominic european €€€
(Map p54; 0 641 0400; www. restoran .ee; Vene 10; mains €15-17; ©noon-midnight Mon-Sat, to 9pm Sun) A romantic choice, Dominic is a white linen and candlelight establishment, with a heavily French-accented menu and wine list. Think perfectly cooked duck or a hearty beef bourguignon topped off with a Roquefort and white-chocolate cake for dessert.
Chedi ASIAN €€€
(Map p54; 0 646 1676; www.chedi .ee; Sulevima-gi 1; mains €12-32; ©noon-11pm) UK-based chef Alan Yau (of London’s Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha) consulted on the menu of sleek, sexy Chedi, and some of his trademark dishes are featured here. The modern pan-Asian food is exemplary - try the delicious crispy duck salad and the artful dumplings.
Olde Hansa Estonian €€€
(Map p54; 0 627 9020; www.oldehansa .ee;
Vana turg 1; mains €15-50; © 10am-midnight) Amid candlelit rooms with peasant-garbed servers labouring beneath large plates of game meats, medieval-themed Olde Hansa is the place to indulge in a gluttonous feast. If it all sounds a bit cheesy, take heart - the chefs have done their research in producing historically authentic, tasty (albeit not particularly sophisticated) fare.
MEKK modern Estonian €€€
(Map p54; 0680 6688; www mekk ee;
Suur-Karja 17/19; mains €17-22; ©noon-11pm Mon-Sat) The name of the Savoy Boutique Hotel’s ground-floor restaurant is a contraction of Moodne Eesti Kook (modern Estonian cuisine), which pretty much says it all. It’s a great place for a fancy meal and good service in an upmarket environment.
Ribe moderneuropean €€€
(Map p54; 0 631 3084; www.ribe.ee; Vene 7; mains €17-19; © noon-11pm) In a corner position on Old Town’s main eat street, with tables spilling outdoors in summer, Ribe has a formal bordering on stuffy ambience and a menu full of fresh, seasonal, Estonian produce.
Bocca ITALIAN €€€
(Map p54; 0 611 7290; www. bocca .ee; Olevima-gi 9; mains €15-22; © noon-11pm) Sophistication and style don’t detract from the fresh, delectable cuisine served at this much-lauded Italian restaurant. Creative dishes are matched to a strong wine list. Bocca also has a cosy lounge and bar where Tallinn’s A-list gathers over evening cocktails.
F-hoone pub food €
(Map p50; www.fhoone.ee; Telliskivi 60a; mains €5.50-8.70; ©9am-11pm Mon-Sat, 10am-9pm Sun; W0) The trailblazer of the uberhip Telliski-vi complex, this cavernous place embraces industrial chic and offers a quality menu of pasta, burgers, stews, grilled vegies and felafels. Wash it down with a craft beer from the extensive selection.
Boheem cafe €
(Kopli 18; mains €5.40-6.50; ©9am-11pm; W) First port of call for Kalamaja hipsters, this local favourite serves up tasty and affordable crepes, wraps, salads, stews, quiches and pasta dishes. Or you can just drop by for a coffee and a beer.
OMoon RUSSIAN €€
(0631 4575; www. kohvikmoon .ee; Vorgu 3; mains €12-17; © noon-11pm Mon-Sat, 1-9pm Sun, closed Jul) The best restaurant in increasingly hip Kala-maja, Moon is informal but excellent, combining Russian and broader European influences to delicious effect. Save room for dessert.
Klaus cafe €€
(05691 9010; www klauskohvik ee; Kalasadama; mains €9 . 50-12; ©9am-11pm; W) There’s a fresh, designery feel to this informal cafe down by the water. The menu is full of tasty snacks and more substantial meals, including lamb koftas, pasta and steaks. We wholeheartedly endorse the ‘Cubanos’ pulled pork sandwich, although we don’t suggest tackling this messy beast on a date.
5 City Centre
Vapiano Italian €
(Map p54; www.vapiano.ee; Hobujaama 10; mains €6-9; © 11am-11pm; W) Choose your pasta or salad from the appropriate counter and watch as it’s prepared in front of you. If it’s pizza you’re after, you’ll receive a pager to notify you when it’s ready. This is ‘fast’ food that’s fresh, cheap and relatively healthy in a big, bright and buzzing setting. There’s a second branch inside the Solaris Centre.
Cafe Lyon cafe, french €€
(Map p54; 0 622 9297; www.cafelyon .ee; Viru valjak 4; breakfast €2 .80-5 .30, mains €5.90-13.90; ©8am-11pm Sun-Wed, to 1am Thu-Sat; ffl) Facing the park on the edge of the Viru Centre, this spacious cafe has a counter positively groaning under the weight of drool-inducing French-style pastries and cakes. At dinnertime the menu shifts gear to bistro fare.
Sfaar modern european €€
(Map p54; 05699 2200; www.sfaar.ee; Mere pst 6e; mains €9-15; ©8am-10pm Mon-Wed, to midnight Thu & Fri, 10am-midnight Sat, 10am-10pm Sun) Chic Sfaar delivers an inventive menu highlighting the best Estonian produce in a warehouse-style setting that’s like something out of a Nordic design catalogue. If you just fancy a tipple, the cocktail and wine list won’t disappoint. If the lubrication loosens the purse strings sufficiently, there’s a pricy fashion store attached.
★o MODERN ESTONIAN €€€
(Map p54; 0 661 6150; www. restoran-o .ee; Mere pst 6e; 4-/5-/7-course menu €46/59/76; ©611pm Mon-Sat, closed Jul) Award-winning O (pronounced ‘er’) has carved a unique space in Tallinn’s culinary world, delivering inventive degustation menus showcasing seasonal Estonian produce. There’s a distinct ‘New Nordic’ influence at play, and the understated dining room nicely counterbalances the theatrical cuisine.
Neh MODERN ESTONIAN €€€
(Map p50; 0602 2222; www neh ee; Lootsi 4; mains €22-24; ©6pm-midnight Tue-Sat mid-Sep-Feb) Taking seasonal cooking to the extreme, Neh closes completely in summer and heads to the beach - well, Padaste Manor on Muhu island - where it runs one of Estonia’s best restaurants. In the low season it decamps back to the city, bringing the flavours of the Baltic islands with it.
Horisont modern european ccc
(Map p50; 0624 3000; www.horisont-restoran . com; 30th fl Swissotel, Tornimae 3; mains €17-29; ©6-10pm Tue-Sat) With excellent service, a creative menu, stylish decor and magnificent views (over most of the city except, sadly, Old Town), Horisont offers a wonderful experience at the swishier end of the scale. Bread, dips, appetisers and palate-cleansing sorbets are liberally scheduled around the courses.
Enzo EUROPEAN €€€
(Map p54; 0 607 1150; www.enzocafe .ee; Laeva 2; mains €15-24; © noon-11pm; B) Russia, Estonia, France and Italy form a sophisticated alliance on the menu at this upmarket eatery. If you can drag yourself away from the delicious eclairs in the cafe section, take a seat under the exploding-firework chandeliers in the more formal restaurant and prepare to be pampered with amuse-bouches and palate cleansers between courses.
NOP CAFE €€
(www. nop.ee; J Koleri 1; mains €7-12; © 8am-10pm; C) Well off the tourist trail, NOP is the kind of neighbourhood deli-cafe that’s a magnet for yummy mummies, hipsters and itinerant foodies. White walls, wooden floors and a kids’ corner set the scene, while the menu highlights cooked breakfasts, soups, salads and wraps. It’s not far from Kadriorg Park.
★ noa internationalccc
(0 508 0589; www.noaresto .ee; Ranna tee 3; mains €12-18, 5/7 courses €59/79; ©noon-11pm; 0) It’s worth the trek out to the far side of Pirita to this elegant eatery which opened in 2014 and was rated the best in Estonia that very year. It’s housed in a stylish low-slung pavilion which gazes back over Tallinn Bay to Old Town. Choose between the more informal a la carte restaurant and the degustation-only Chef’s Hall.
6 Drinking & Nightlife
Since independence, Tallinn has established a reputation as a party town and while things have cooled off a little, marauding troops of British stag groups and Finnish booze-boys still descend, especially on summer weekends. Given that they tend to congregate around a small nexus of Irish and British pubs in the southeast corner of Old Town (roughly the triangle formed by Viru, Suur-Karja and the city walls), they are easily avoided - or located, if you’d prefer.
If getting completely annihilated is your mark of a good night out, Tallinn has a couple of organised options to get you well on your way.
The Epic Bar Crawl (05624 3088; www ministryofentertainment ee; tour €15; © 9 . 30pm Wed-Sat) bills itself as ‘the most fun and disorderly pub crawl in Tallinn' and the price includes a welcome beer or cider, a shot in each of three bars and entry to a nightclub.
It also offers particularly ignominious packages designed for stags.
Party hostel Monk's Bunk (p73) ups the inebriation level on its Mad Monk Pub Crawl with an hour's unlimited beer or cider in its own bar, followed by a free shot in two different bars and club entry. It's priced at €12 for hostel guests and €15 for everyone else.
Elsewhere you’ll find a diverse selection of bars where it’s quite possible to have a quiet, unmolested drink.
6 Old Town
Check out Bocca (p76) for cocktails, Clay-hills Gastropub (p75) for live music and a cosy pub atmosphere or head to the wonderfully grungy bar at Red Emperor hostel (p71) for live bands and an edgier up-for-it vibe.
DM Baar bar
(Map p54; www.depechemode.ee; Voorimehe 4; ©noon-4am) If you just can’t get enough of Depeche Mode, this is the bar for you. The walls are covered with all manner of memorabilia, including pictures of the actual band partying here. And the soundtrack? Do you really need to ask? If you’re not a fan, leave in silence.
Kultuuriklubi Kelm bar
(Map p54; Vene 33; ©5pm-2am Mon-Thu, to 6am Fri, 7pm-6am Sat, 7pm-2am Sun) It may be a ‘culture club’, but you’re unlikely to hear ‘Karma Chameleon’ blasting out in this artsy rock bar. Expect lots of live music, art exhibitions, ping-pong competitions and movies on Wednesday nights.
Hell Hunt pub
(Map p54; www.hellhunt.ee; Pikk 39; ©noon-2am; B) Billing itself as ‘the first Estonian pub’, this trusty old trooper boasts an amiable air and a huge beer selection - local and imported. Don’t let the menacing-sounding name put you off - it actually means ‘gentle wolf’. In summer, it spills onto the little square across the road.
(Map p54; www.porgu .ee; Ruutli 4; ©noon-midnight Mon-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) While the name may mean ‘hell’, the descent to this particular underworld is nothing short of heavenly for craft beer fans. There’s a good mix of local and imported drops, including 13 beers and two ciders on tap and dozens more by the bottle. The food’s good too.
Von Krahli Baar bar
(Map p54; www.vonkrahl .ee; Rataskaevu 10; © 10am-midnight; B ) Comfortably grungy Von Krahli has courtyard tables and a barnlike interior which hosts the occasional live band or DJ. It’s a great spot for an inexpensive meal or a beer in an indie ambience.
Paar Veini wine bar
(Map p54; www paarveini ee; Sauna 1; ©6-11pm Mon & Tue, to 1am Wed & Thu, to 5am Fri & Sat) The name means ‘a couple of wines’ and that’s exactly what locals head here for. The vibe’s relaxed and cosy, with comfy sofas, mismatched chairs and candles on the tables.
(Map p54; www.frankbistro.ee; Sauna 2; ©noon-midnight) Out of all of Old Town’s bars, this is a particular favourite of locals, whether for a burger, a cooked breakfast at dinnertime, or just a quiet drink in a relaxed environment.
Drink Bar & Grill pub
(Map p54; www.facebook.com/Drinkbaarandgrill; Vaike-Karja 8; ©noon-11pm Mon-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) You know a bar means business when it calls itself Drink. The best of Tallinn’s British-style pubs, Drink takes its beer and cider seriously (its motto is ‘no crap on tap’), and offers pub grub and long happy hours.
Levist Valjas bar
(Map p54; www.facebook.com/levistvaljas; Olevimagi 12; © 3pm-3am Sun-Thu, to 6am Fri & Sat) Inside this cellar bar (usually the last pit stop of the night) you’ll find broken furniture, cheap booze and a refreshingly motley crew of friendly punks, grunge kids and anyone else who strays from the well-trodden tourist path.
(Map p54; www.clazz.ee; Vana turg 2; ©noon-midnight Sun & Mon, to 2am Tue-Sat) Behind the cheesy name (a contraction of ‘classy jazz’) is a popular lounge bar featuring live music every night of the week, ranging from jazz to soul, funk, blues and Latin.
Beer House microbrewery
(Map p54; www.beerhouse.ee; Dunkri 5; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) This microbrewery offers up the good stuff (seven house brews) in a huge, tavernlike space where, come evening, the German oompah-pah music can rattle the brain into oblivion. Sometimes raucous, it’s for those who have had an overdose of cosy at other venues.
Maiden Tower Museum-Cafe wine bar (Neitsitorn Muuseum Kohvik; Map p54; www linnamuuseum .ee/neitsitorn; Luhike jalg 9a; admission €2; © noon-9pm) Although it’s actually a branch of the City Museum, we wouldn’t pay the admission for the scant displays on the history of Estonia’s confectionery industry. Neither would we bother with the cafe. But head up to the top of this medieval tower and there’s a relaxed wine bar with comfy chairs angled for Old Town views.
St Patrick's pub
(Map p54; www.patricks.ee; Suur-Karja 8; ©11am-2am Sun-Thu, to 4am Fri & Sat) One of a chain of five dotted around town, this lively, good-looking bar has plenty of beer to go round, and attracts a surprising number of Estonians. It’s bang in the middle of the stag party triangle, so expect a lagered-up tourist crowd on weekends.
Club Prive club
(Map p54; www.clubprive.ee; Harju 6; admission from €14; © midnight-6am Fri & Sat) Prive occupies an old vaudeville theatre decked out with ornate chandeliers and baroque mirrors. Prices are high and the door policy exacting (scour the suitcase for your coolest clean threads), but a roster of international and local DJs make this Estonia’s glitziest clubbing option.
Club Hollywood club
(Map p54; www.club-hollywood .ee; Vana-Posti 8; ©11pm-5am Wed-Sat) A multilevel emporium of mayhem, this is the nightclub that draws the largest crowds. Wednesday night is ladies’ night (free entry for women), so expect to see loads of guys looking to get lucky. It tends to be the last port of call for the organised pub crawls, so it can get pretty trashy.
Tallinn’s hipsters tend to leave the pricey bars of Old Town to the tourists and head to Kalamaja. Telliskivi Creative City (p61) is the liveliest nook - especially F-hoone (p76) - but there are cosy local pubs scattered throughout the neighbourhood.
Speakeasy by Pohjala bar
(Map p54; www.speakeasy.ee; Kopli 4; ©6pm-2am Wed-sat) It’s pretty basic - particle-board walls, junk-shop furniture and a courtyard surrounded by derelict buildings - but this hip little bar is a showcase for one of Estonia’s best microbreweries. Expect lots of beardy dudes discussing the relative merits of the India Pale Ale over the Imperial Baltic Porter.
(Map p50; www.pudel .ee; Telliskivi 60a; ©4pm-midnight Sun-Fri, noon-2am Sat) Laid-back and intimate, this friendly puppy offers 13 craft beers on tap and booze-soaking snacks to go with them.
(www. kohviktops .ee; Soo 15; ©4-11pm Tue-Thu, 4pm-2am Fri, noon-2am sat) All you’d want in a chilled out neighbourhood local: comfy couches, a good beer selection and a mixed crowd of local misfits. If that’s sounding too cosy and sedentary, DJs drop by to rev things up on themed nights such as Femme Fatale and Funky Friday.
GAY & LESBIAN TALLINN
Tallinn holds the monopoly on visible gay life in Estonia, with a small cluster of venues south of the Old Town. The main regular celebration is Baltic Pride, which rotates between Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius every year, usually in June. Tallinn's turn falls in 2017 and 2020. It's possible to download a free Gay Map (www.tallinn.gaymap.ee), although it isn't regularly updated.
X-Baar (Map p54; www. xbaar. ee; Tatari 1; ©4pm-1am Sun-Thu, to 3am Fri & Sat) This long-standing bar is the mainstay of the gay and lesbian scene, attracting a mixed crowd of mainly local men and women. It's a relaxed kind of place, with a snug bar and a large dancefloor.
G-Punkt (Map p54; www. gpunkt . ee; Parnu mnt 23; admission €5; © 6pm-1am Tue-Thu, 8pm-6am Fri & Sat) To see what Eastern European gay clubs were like 15 years ago, head to this friendly venue, mainly attracting Russian-speaking lesbians. With no sign advertising itself, it's tricky to locate - as the g-punkt (G-spot) is wont to be. It's accessed across a parking lot from Tatari.
Club 69 (Map p50; www.club69 .ee; Sakala 24; admission €16; © 4pm-2am Sun-Thu, to 7am Fri & Sat) Gay men's sauna; push the buzzer by the discreetly located sign at the gate for admittance.
6 City Centre
Sfaar (p76) and Enzo (p77) are sophisticated options, or head up to Horisont (p77) for a cocktail in the clouds.
(Map p54; www. protest .ee; Mere pst 6a; © 2pm-late) Hidden at the bottom of an old building in the flashy Rotermann Quarter, this dimly lit drinking den has a vaulted ceiling and oddball art on every wall that’s not spray-painted gold. The music happily vaults the chasm from Tame Impala to Vanilla Ice, attracting a mixed crowd of local hipsters and blow-ins from the neighbouring hostel.
Scotland Yard bar
(Map p54; www.scotlandyard .ee; Mere pst 6e; ©9am-11pm Sun, 11am-11pm Mon-Thu, 11am-2am Fri, 9am-2am Sat) As themed bars go, this is very well done, right down to the prison-cell toilets and staff dressed as English bobbies. There’s a big menu of all-day pub grub, a small outdoor terrace and clubby leather banquettes. The large fish tank and electric-chair loos may not quite fit the theme but neither do the live bands, and they all add to the fun.
It’s a small capital as capitals go, and the pace is accordingly slower than in bigger cities, but there’s still plenty to keep you stimulated in Tallinn. Events are posted on walls, advertised on flyers found in shops and cafes, and listed in newspapers. Tallinn’s best English-language listings guide is Tallinn in your Pocket (www.inyourpocket.com), published every two months; buy it at bookshops or the tourist office (€2.50), or download it for free from the website. Despite the name, Tallinn This Week is also bimonthly; it’s available from the tourist office and venues around town. For performing arts listings, see www.culture.ee,www.concert.ee and www.teater.ee.
Buy tickets for concerts and big events at Piletilevi (www.piletilevi .ee), either online or inside the Viru Keskus shopping centre.
Kultuuriklubi Kelm (p78), Clazz (p78), Clayhills Gastropub (p75) and Scotland Yard all host regular live music. Touring international acts usually perform at Tallinn Song Festival Grounds (p65), A Le Coq Arena or Saku Suurhall.
For major classical concerts, check out what’s on at the Estonia Concert Hall. Chamber, organ and smaller-scale concerts are held at various halls and churches around town.
Estonia Concert Hall classical music
(Eesti Kontserdisaal; Map p54; www concert ee; Estonia pst 4) The city’s biggest classical concerts are held in this double-barrelled venue. It’s Tallinn’s most prestigious performance venue and houses the Estonian National Opera and Ballet (www.opera .ee), and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (www.erso .ee).
Theatre & Dance
Most theatre performances are in Estonian, or occasionally in Russian.
Tallinn City Theatre theatre
(Tallinna Linnateater; Map p54; www. linnateater. ee; Lai 23) Tallinn’s most beloved theatre company performs on seven stages scattered around its main building in Lai St, including a summer stage at the rear. Tickets can be hard to come by.
Estonian Drama Theatre theatre
(Eesti Draamateater; Map p54; 0 680 5555; www.draamateater.ee; Parnu mnt 5) Flagship company staging mainly classic plays.
Teater No99 theatre
(Map p54; 0 660 5051; www.no99.ee; Sakala 3) More experimental productions happen here.
Von Krahli Theatre theatre
(Map p54; 0 626 9090; www.vonkrahl .ee;
Rataskaevu 10) Known for its experimental and fringe productions.
St Canute's Guild Hall dance
(Kanuti Gildi Saal; Map p54; 0 646 4704; www. saal ee; pikk 20) Tallinn’s temple of modern dance also hosts the occasional classical dance performance.
A Le Coq Arena football
(Map p50; Asula 4c) About 1.5km southwest of town, this arena is home to the national squad and Tallinn’s football team FC Flora (www.fcflora .ee).
Saku Suurhall basketball
(Map p50; www.sakusuurhall .ee; Paldiski mnt 104b) Basketball ranks as one of Estonia’s most passionately watched games, and the big games are held in this arena, west of the centre.
Films are generally shown in their original language, subtitled in Estonian and Russian.
(Map p54; www.kino .ee; Estonia pst 9) Inside the Solaris Centre but somewhat tricky to find, this art-house cinema shows European, local and independent productions.
Kino Soprus cinema
(Map p54; www. kinosoprus .ee; Vana-Posti 8) Set in a magnificent Stalin-era theatre (be sure to check out the reliefs on the facade), this cinema screens an excellent repertoire of art-house films.
Coca-Cola Plaza cinema
(Map p54; www.forumcinemas.ee; Hobujaama 5) A modern 11-screen cinema, playing the latest Hollywood releases.
The city’s glitziest shopping precinct is the Rotermann Quarter (p64), which has dozens of small stores selling everything from streetware to Scandinavian-designed furniture to gourmet food and wine. Telliskivi Creative City (p61) has fewer shops but they’re more eclectic. You’ll be tripping over kasitoo (handicraft) stores in Old Town. Dozens of small shops sell traditional Estonian-made souvenirs, such as linen, knitwear, leather-bound books, ceramics, jewellery (particularly amber), stained glass and household items carved from dolomite or from juniper wood. There are also plenty of antique stores selling everything from objets d’art to Soviet-era nostalgia.
If you’re stuck for gift ideas, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Vana Tallinn liqueur.
7 Old Town
Masters' Courtyard handicrafts
(Meistrite Hoov; Map p54; www.hoov.ee; Vene 6; ©10am-6pm) Rich pickings here, with the cobbled courtyard not only home to a cosy cafe but also small stores and artisans’ workshops selling quality ceramics, glass, jewellery, knitwear, woodwork and candles.
Katariina kaik handicrafts
(St Catherine's Passage; Map p54; off Vene 12) This lovely lane is home to the Katariina Gild comprising several artisans’ studios where you can happily browse ceramics, textiles, patchwork quilts, hats, jewellery, stained glass and beautiful leather-bound books.
Ivo Nikkolo fashion
(Map p54; www. ivonikkolo .ee; Suur-Karja 14; © 10am-7pm Mon-Fri, 11am-4pm Sat & Sun) Classic-with-a-twist women’s fashion that’s a mix of floaty and fun, or muted and professional, but all made with natural, high-quality fabrics. The Old Town address has two floors of womenswear and accessories, or you can find it in the Viru Keskus shopping centre.
Rae Antiik antiques
(Map p54; www.oldtimes.ee; Raekoja plats 11; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 4pm Sat) There are plenty of treasures waiting to be unearthed in this crowded shop, in the same building as
THE MARKET ECONOMY
Whether you're looking for picnic supplies or a knock-off Lenin alarm clock, Tallinn's markets provide fertile hunting grounds and excellent people watching.
Train Station Market (Jaama Turg; Map p54; Kopli; © 8am-6pm) A taste of old-school Russia behind the train station. It's a bit seedy in parts (watch your bag) but there are lots of fascinating junk shops to delve through.
Telliskivi Flea Market (Telliskivi Kirbuturg; Map p50; www. kirbuturg24 . ee; Telliskivi 60a;
© 10am-3pm Sat) Where the cool kids come to sell their cast-offs or to find new treasures. There's a wide range of stuff for sale, including clothing, books and household bits and bobs.
Knit Market (Map p54; Muurivahe) Along the Old Town wall there are a dozen or so vendors praying for cool weather and selling their woollen scarves, sweaters, mittens, beanies and socks.
Central Market (Keskturg; Map p50; Keldrimae 9; ©8am-6pm) Fruit and vegetables are the main game but you'll occasionally luck upon a Soviet-era gem in one of the shady shops around the periphery. To get here, take tram 2 or 4 to the Keskturg stop.
the Town Council Pharmacy. Dive right in -or shop online. Prices aren’t cheap.
Nu Nordik gifts, clothing
(Map p54; www.nunordik.ee; Vabaduse valjak 8; ©10am-6pm Mon-Sat, noon-6pm Sun) Lots of funky stuff, ranging from homewares to clothes, bags and jewellery.
Galerii Kaks handicrafts
(Map p54; www.facebook.com/galeriikaks; Luhike jalg 1; © 10am-6pm) Luhike jalg, the alley leading up to Toompea, has a good selection of craft galleries. Galerii Kaks is probably the best of them, selling striking ceramics, jewellery, fabric and glassworks.
Luhikese Jala Galerii handicrafts
(Map p54; www. hot . ee/lgalerii; Luhike jalg 6; ©10am-6pm) This little gallery is full of floaty textiles, jewellery, glass art and ceramics. Ask to look at the natural spring-fed waterfall that cascades down the back wall.
(Map p54; www.zizi .ee; Vene 12; ©10am-6pm Mon-Sat, to 4pm Sun) Stocks a range of quality, Estonian-made linen napkins, placemats, tablecloths and cushion covers.
(Map p54; www. chado .ee; Uus 11; © noon-6pm Mon-Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun) These passionate providores specialise in tea in all of its comforting forms, sourcing many of their leaves directly from Asia. Call in to chat chai and to sample brews from the clued-up staff.
Estonian Design House gifts
(Eesti Disaini Maja; www.estoniandesignhouse.ee; Kalasadama 8; ©noon-6pm Tue-Sat) This slick little store showcases the work of Estonian designers creating everything from shoes to lamps. Keep an eye out for the environmentally friendly Reet Aus label, which creates clothes from the offcuts of fabric left over from mass production processes.
7 City Centre
Viru Keskus shopping centre
(Map p54; www.virukeskus .com; Viru valjak 4; © 9am-9pm) Tallinn’s showpiece shopping mall is home to fashion boutiques, a great bookshop (Rahva Raamat) and a branch of the Piletilevi event ticketing agency. At the rear it connects to the Kaubamaja department store. The main terminal for local buses is in the basement.
Kaubamaja department store
(Map p54; www.kaubamaja .ee; Gonsiori 2; ©9am-9pm) Established in 1960, this is the most upmarket of Tallinn’s department stores. It stocks all manner of high-end international fashion labels for men and women (Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, DKNY etc), along with local clothing brands (Ivo Nikkolo, Bastion, Monton), footwear, kidswear, toys, homewares and beauty products.
Stockmann Kaubamaja department store (Map p50; www.stockmann .ee; Liivalaia 53; © 9am-9pm) One of the first foreign stores to open after independence, this upmarket Finnish department store helped relegate Soviet shortages to the pages of textbooks and usher in a new era of Western-style rampant consumerism.
Foorum shopping centre
(Map p54; www.foorumkeskus.ee; Narva mnt 5; ©10am-8pm) More like a shopping arcade than a mall, Foorum has a single glitzy avenue of high-end stores. There’s also a handy branch of Tele2 if you’re after a local SIM for your mobile phone.
(Map p54; www. kalev.eu; Roseni 7; ©10am-8pm Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm Sun) This local legend has been producing delicious chocolate and other confectioneries since 1806. Tallinn’s Old Town looks like its was made with the lid of a chocolate box in mind, so why not take one with you?
Benu Apteek (www.benu .ee; Aia 7; © 8 . 30am-8 . 30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm Sun) One of many well-stocked apteegid (pharmacies) in town . East-Tallinn Central Hospital (ida-Tallinna Keskhaigla; 0 620 7002; www. itk .ee; Ravi 18) Offers a full range of services, including a 24-hour emergency room .
Post Office (Map p54; Narva mnt 1; © 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat & Sun) Enter from Hobujaama .
Tallinn Dental Clinic (Tallinna Ham bapolikli-inik; 01920; www. hambapol .ee; Toompuiestee 4; © 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm Sat & Sun) Tallinn Tourist Information Centre (Map p54; 0 645 7777; www.visittallinn . ee; Nigu-liste 2; © 9am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 5pm Sat & Sun May-Aug, 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun Sep-Apr) Brochures, maps, event schedules and other info
Tonismae Sudameapteek (0 644 2282; www. sudameapteek .ee; Tonismagi 5; © 24hr) Pharmacy south of Old Town, open 24 hours .
8 Getting There & Away
Tallinn Airport (Tallinna Lennujaam; Map p50; 0 605 8888; www . tallinn-airport . ee;
Tartu mnt 101) is conveniently located within the heart of Tallinn, 4km southeast of Old Town . Numerous airlines fly to Tallinn from within the Baltic region (p178) and from further afield (p416) . Domestic flights are operated by Avies and are limited to the main islands .
Avies (0 630 1382; www . avies . ee) Flies to/ from Kardla (Hiiumaa) at least daily and Kures-saare (Saaremaa) most days .
Ferries head to Tallinn from Helsinki (p191) and other Baltic ports (p419)
Regional and international buses depart from the Central Bus Station (Tallinna bussijaam; Map p50; 012550; www . bussijaam . ee; Last-ekodu 46; © 5am-1am), about 2km southeast of Old Town; tram 2 or 4 will get you there . Services depart from here for Latvia (p178) and other European destinations (p418) .
The national bus network is extensive, linking Tallinn to pretty much everywhere you might care to go .All services are summarised on the extremely handy T pilet site (www . tpilet . ee) . Some of the main routes:
Haapsalu (€4 . 35 to €8 . 50, 1% hours, at least hourly)
Kuressaare (€15 to €17, four hours, 11 daily) Parnu (€6 . 50 to €11, two hours, at least hourly) Tartu (€7 to €12, 2/ hours, at least every half-hour)
Viljandi (€9 . 50 to €11, 2/ hours, 11 daily)
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
Like accommodation, cars book up in summer, so it pays to reserve . The large international companies are all represented and major players have desks at Tallinn Airport . if you haven't booked ahead, enquire at the tourist office about the smaller local companies - they're usually cheaper . Advantec (0 520 3003; www. advantage . ee) Summer rates from €39 for a day (cheaper for longer rentals)
Bulvar (0 503 0222; www.bulvar. ee) From €26 for a day (good deals for longer rentals) . Europcar (0 605 8031; www.europcar.ee) Hansarent (0 655 7155; www. hansarent .ee) Hertz (0 605 8923; www. hertz .ee)
R-Rent (0 605 8929; www. rrent .ee) Single-day rates from €32
o TALLINN CARD
Tallinn Card (www.tallinncard .ee; 1-/2-/3-day card adult €31/39/49, child €16/19/24) Flash a Tallinn Card to get free entry to most of the city's sights; discounts on shopping, dining and entertainment; free public transport; and your choice of one free sightseeing tour. They work out to be good value if you were already planning to take a tour. Otherwise, you'd need to cram a lot of sights into each day to make it worthwhile. You can buy it online, from the tourist information centre, or from many hotels.
The Baltic Train Station (Balti Jaam; Toompu-iestee 35) is on the northwestern edge of Old Town . Despite the name, there are no direct services to the other Baltic states . GoRail (www . gorail . ee) runs a daily service stopping in Rakvere (from €6, 1% hours) and Narva (€7. 90, three hours) en route to St Petersburg and Moscow
Domestic routes are operated by Elron (www. elron . ee) and include the following destinations: Narva (€11, 2% hours, two daily)
Parnu (€7.60, 2% hours, three daily)
Rakvere (€5 . 50, 1/ hours, three daily)
Tartu (€11, two to 2/ hours, eight daily) Viljandi (€8 . 40, 2% hours, four daily)
8 Getting Around
TO/FROM THE AIRPORT
» Bus 2 runs roughly every 20 minutes (6 30am to around midnight) from the A Laikmaa stop, opposite the Tallink Hotel, next to Viru Keskus From the airport, bus 2 will take you via six bus stops to the centre and on to the passenger port . Buy tickets from the driver (€1 . 60); journey time depends on traffic but rarely exceeds 20 minutes .
» A taxi between the airport and the city centre should cost less than €10 The airport suggests that you use the cabs waiting at the official rank to avoid being scammed . Coming to the airport, ask your accommodation provider to book a reputable firm to collect you .
TO/FROM THE FERRY TERMINALS
There are three main places where passenger services dock, all a short (less than 1km) walk from Old Town . Most ferries and cruise ships dock at the Old City Harbour (Vanasadama) . Eckero Line, Viking Line and St Peter Line use Terminals A & B (Map p50; Sadama) while Tallink uses Terminal D (Map p50; Lootsi),
just across the marina . Linda Line ferries dock a little further west at the hulking Linnahall (Kalasadama)
Bus 2 runs every 20 to 30 minutes from the bus stop by Terminal A, stopping at Terminal D, the city centre, central bus station and airport; if you're heading to the port from the centre, catch the bus from the A Laikmaa stop, out the front of the Tallink Hotel . Also from the heart of town, trams 1 and 2 and bus 3 go to the Linnahall stop (on Pohja pst, near the start of Sadama), five minutes' walk from all of the terminals
A taxi between the city centre and any of the terminals should only cost about €5 .
As well as offering tours, City Bike (p69) can take care of all you need to get around by bike within Tallinn, around Estonia or through the Baltic region (city and mountain bikes per three/24 hours €7/15; road and electric bikes €15/20) . You can also rent panniers, GPS systems, and kids' bikes, seats and trailers . It also performs repairs and dispenses maps and advice. For longer journeys, it offers one-way rentals, for a fee
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
Driving in Tallinn provides a few unique challenges, not least as it means sharing the road with trams and trolleybuses . For those streets where the tram stop is in the centre of the road, cars are required to stop until the disembarking passengers have cleared the road .
The central city has a complicated system of one-way roads and turning restrictions, which can be frustrating to the newcomer . Surprisingly, you are allowed to drive in much of Old Town - although it's slow going, parking is extremely limited and you can only enter via a few streets . Frankly, it's easier to park your car for the duration of your Tallinn stay and explore the city by foot or on public transport .
Parking is complicated, even for locals, and often involves paying via your mobile phone (which isn't easy if you don't have a local SIM) . Look for signs (not that you'll necessarily make any sense of them) and expect a fine if you don't obey them. The first point for information is your accommodation provider - some will offer parking (rarely free), or will point you in the direction of the nearest parking lot .
Tallinn has an excellent network of buses, trams and trolleybuses that run from around 6am to midnight . The major local bus station (Map p54; Viru Valjak 4) is on the basement level of the Viru Keskus shopping centre, although some buses terminate their routes on the surrounding
o ON THE STREETS
» maantee - highway (often abbreviated to mnt)
» puiestee - avenue/boulevard (often abbreviated to pst)
» sild - bridge
» tanav - street (usually omitted from maps and addresses)
» tee - road » valjak/plats - square
streets . All local public transport timetables are online at www.tallinn . ee .
Public transport is free for Tallinn residents . Visitors still need to pay, either the driver with cash (€1 . 60 for a single journey) or by using the e-ticketing system . Buy a plastic smartcard (€2 deposit) and top up with credit, then validate the card at the start of each journey using the orange card-readers . Fares using the e-ticketing system cost €1.10/3/6 for an hour/day/five days
The Tallinn Card includes free public transport . Travelling without a valid ticket runs the risk of a €40 fine.
Taxis are plentiful in Tallinn but each company sets its own fare; prices should be posted prominently. However, if you hail a taxi on the street, there's a chance you'll be overcharged.
To save yourself the trouble, order a taxi by phone . Operators speak English; they'll tell you the car number (licence plate) and estimated arrival time (usually five to 10 minutes). If you're concerned you've been overcharged, ask for a receipt, which the driver is legally obliged to provide
Throughout Old Town you'll find plenty of bicycle taxis driven by nothing but pedal power and enthusiasm; you'll generally find available vehicles lingering just inside the town walls on Viru
Krooni Takso (01212; www. kroonitakso . ee; base fare €2 . 50, per kilometre 6am-11pm €0 50, 11pm-6am €0 55)
Reval Takso (01207; www.reval-takso .ee; base fare €2 . 29, per kilometre €0 . 49)
Takso24 (01224; flagfall €2 . 90, per kilometre €0 58)
Tallink Takso (01921; www.tallinktakso .ee; flagfall €3 .90, per kilometre 6am-11pm €0 . 79, 11pm-6am €0 . 89) If you've got a larger group, book an eight- to 12-seater Maksitakso (flagfall €5 75, per kilometre €1 25)
Tulika Takso (01200; © flagfall €3 . 65, per kilometre 6am-11pm €0 69, 11pm-6am €0 80)
With Tallinn at its centre, Harju County (Har-jumaa) covers around half of Estonia’s northern coast and reaches into the hinterland as well. A scattering of sights make for easy day trips from the capital, or as diversions on the way to further-flung destinations.
Schloss Fall & Keila-Joa Castle waterfall (www.schlossfall .com; castle adult/child €8/5; ©castle 10am-6pm) Flat Estonia isn’t known for its waterfalls and at 6m, this one isn’t all that high. It is, however, particularly picturesque, partly due to its juxtaposition with a little Neo-Gothic manor house, built in 1833 for Count Alexander von Benckendorf. A crenelated tower lends it a castle-like aspect, but its pretensions to being a fortress are purely romantic. Two suspension bridges lead through lush countryside to the top of the horseshoe waterfall where rainbows dance in the spray.
Tsar Nicholas I visited Keila-Joa twice and was so impressed that he commissioned its architect, Andrei Stackenschneider, to build several palaces in St Petersburg and to refurbish part of the Winter Palace. It was during Nicholas I’s 1833 visit that the Russian Imperial anthem God Save the Tsar! had its debut. A small museum in the basement of the castle recalls this august event, but it’s arguable whether it justifies the admission price.
The building was ransacked in 1917, nationalised in 1920, requisitioned by the Red Army in 1940, then by the German Army in 1941 and finally became the home of the Soviet 572nd fighter plane regiment in 1953. Needless to say, it wasn’t in a good state when the National Heritage Foundation took it over and its reconstruction has left the floors and plasterwork looking a little too shiny and new.
Still, it’s well worth the 30-minute drive west of Tallinn for a picnic by the waterfall. To get here from Tallinn, head west on Pald-iski mnt and, 12km past the zoo, turn right at Kiia onto route 410.
Padise Monastery ruin
(Padise klooster; www.padiseklooster.ee) HF The great hulking shell of this former monastery practically begs exploration. Stairs lead up into the ruins, where you can wander around the masonry and climb to the top of the tower for views stretching for miles over the flat countryside. The former church still has its roof and Gothic windows and even in its derelict state it’s easy to imagine how grand it must once have been.
The land was given to the Cistercian order in 1220 in gratitude for its role in converting the Estonian pagans following the Christian invasion, but construction of the monastery didn’t start until 1317. If you’re thinking it looks more like a fortress than a place of worship, it’s for good reason. Relations with the enslaved Estonian populace were shaky, and during the St George’s Night Uprising, locals attacked the monastery, killing 28 monks and burning it to the ground.
The monastery was rebuilt and reached the height of its powers in around 1480. In 1558 it was seized by the master of the Livonian Order, who turfed out the monks and strengthened the fortifications. During successive wars it changed hands several times and was further fortified, before being converted into a manor house in the 17th century. A lightning strike in 1766 set it alight once again, and it was finally abandoned, the stones being used to build neighbouring Padise Manor.
Padise Manor hotel €€
(Padise Mois; 0 608 7877; www. padisemois .ee; s/d from €79/84; EB) Even though it’s close to the main road, this historic manor house hotel has an exceptionally beautiful setting, flanked by lawns, a lake and the enigmatic ruins of Padise Monastery. The rooms are well appointed, with an antique feel, making this a great choice for a countryside escape.
Perched at the tip of a spit of land 40km east of central Tallinn, this sleepy little village would be unremarkable if it wasn’t for two things: a long, unpeopled stretch of pine-lined sandy beach and a surprisingly good restaurant. Although there’s a beach right by the marina, you’re best to drive southeast along the coast for about 1.5km and look for the designated parking areas within the pine forest.
Aktiivne Puhkus water sports
(0 504 6019; www.aktiivnepuhkus.ee; Sadama tee; ©10am-9pm mid-Jun-Aug) Operating out of a shed on the sand near the marina, ‘Active Holiday’ rents kayaks (per hour €10), surfbikes (€40), motorboats (€120) and jetskis (€120).
Loksa Kasffu °
Lahemaa National c Park
Gulf of Finland
Oru Park Ontika L^dsc^
Reserve Valaste V
Q© O Toilac Sillamae
Sakao JOntika Q
The crowning glory of Estonia’s national parks, Lahemaa occupies an enormous place - literally and figuratively - when talk of the northeast arises. Lahemaa comprises a pristine coastline of rugged beauty, lush inland forests rich in wildlife, and sleepy villages scattered along its lakes, rivers and inlets.
The park lies about one third of the way between Tallinn and the Russian border. Travelling east of the park, the bucolic landscape transforms into an area of ragged, industrial blight. The scars left by Soviet industry are still visible in towns such as Kunda, home to a mammoth cement plant; Kohtla-Jarve, the region’s centre for ecologically destructive oil-shale extraction; and
|4 Sleeping & Eating
OKO MODERN EUROPEAN €€€
(05300 4440; www.okoresto .ee; Sadama tee 1; mains €14-19, r €80; ©noon-11pm) Little sister to Estonia’s top-rated restaurant NOA, OKO celebrates its position right by Kaberneeme’s little harbour with nautical-chic decor, a sunny deck and a menu loaded with seafood. If you don’t fancy driving back to Tallinn, there are pleasant rooms with balconies upstairs (although bathrooms could do with an overhaul).
8 Getting There & Away
There's no public transport to Kaberneeme . To get here from Tallinn, turn off the main Tallinn-Narva highway (Hwy 1) at Koogi and follow the signs . If you're coming from the east, turn off at Kiiu.
Sillamae, once home to Estonia’s very own uranium processing plant.
Those willing to take the time will find some rewarding sites here, including the youthful city of Rakvere, the picturesque limestone cliffs around Ontika and the curious spectacle of the seaside city of Sillamae, a living monument to Stalinist-era architecture. The most striking city of this region is Narva, with its majestic castle dating back to the 13th century.
For those seeking a taste of Russia without the hassle of visas and border crossings, northeastern Estonia makes a pocket-sized alternative. The vast majority of residents here are ethnic Russians, and you’ll hear Russian spoken on the streets, in shops and in restaurants. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to snap photos of lovely Orthodox churches, communist-bloc high-rises and other legacies left behind by Estonia’s eastern neighbour.
Lahemaa National Park
Estonia’s largest rahvuspark (national park), the ‘Land of Bays’ is 725 sq km of unspoiled, rural Estonia, making it the perfect country retreat from the nearby capital. A microcosm of Estonia’s natural charms, the park takes in a stretch of deeply indented coast with several peninsulas and bays, plus 475 sq km of pine-fresh hinterland encompassing forest, lakes, rivers and peat bogs, and areas of historical and cultural interest.
The landscape is mostly flat or gently rolling, with the highest point just 115m above sea level. Stone fields, areas of very thin topsoil called alvars and large rocks called
TO THE MANOR REBORN
The Estonian countryside is littered with the once-grand manors of the long-vanished Baltic German elite. While most lie in ruin due to either war damage or neglect, an ever-increasing number are finding new lives as boutique hotels and restaurants. If you're heading between Tallinn and Tartu, there are some great options to tempt you off Hwy 2.
ESTONiA LAHEMAA NATiO NAL PAR K
Once the home of 19th-century explorer Otto von Kotzebue, Kau Manor (06441411; www. kau .ee; Triigi, Kose Parish; r from €130, mains €14-19; © restaurant 5-10pm Wed-Fri, 1-10pm Sat, 1-8pm Sun; EBB) has recently been rescued from dereliction and converted into a fabulously flamboyant hotel and an acclaimed restaurant. Both the decor and menu take their inspiration from von Kotzebue's travels, with historical prints blown up to extravagant sizes on the walls and a veritable menagerie of stuffed animals scattered about.
Rooms in the main house are packed with antiques and vintage upholstery, while those in the coach house are just as comfortable but more restrained. Rates include breakfast and a morning sauna and swim in the indoor pool.
The Eight Legs (Kaheksa Jalga) Restaurant takes its name from a particularly over-the-top octopus chandelier in the dining room. The menu changes monthly to make the most of seasonal produce, with each month's dishes themed around a different place von Kotzebue visited.
Kau Manor is located 50km southeast of central Tallinn, 9km off the TallinnTartu highway (turn off at Kose).
The decayed ambience of Pohjaka Manor (0 526 7795; www. pohjaka .ee; Maekula,
Paide Parish; mains €12-15; © noon-8pm daily Jun-Aug, Wed-Sun Sep-May; B) serves as a blank canvas for a wonderful restaurant showcasing fresh Estonian farm produce, where traditional stomach-fillers such as pork ribs and mash are taken to the next level of culinary excellence. It's well signposted from the Tallinn-Tartu highway, 90km from central Tallinn (95km from Tartu).
erratic boulders (brought from Scandinavia by glacial action) are all typically Estonian.
Almost 840 plant species have been found in the park, including 34 rare ones. There are 50 mammal species, among them brown bears, lynx and wolves (none of which you’re likely to see without specialist help). Some 222 types of birds nest here - including mute swans, black storks, black-throated divers and cranes - and 24 species of fish have been sighted. Salmon and trout spawn in the rivers, feasting on the multitude of mosquitos that are ever-present in summertime (pack insect repellent).
In winter the park is transformed into a magical wonderland of snowy shores, frozen seas and sparkling black trees.
Visitors are well looked after: there are cosy guesthouses, restored manors and remote camp sites to stay in, and an extensive network of forest trails for walkers, cyclists and even neo-knights on horseback.
Nowadays the main attraction is the water, but from 1945 to 1991 the entire national park’s coastline was a military-controlled frontier, with a 2m-high barbed-wire fence ensuring villagers couldn’t access the sea.
Loksa, the main town within the park, has a popular sandy beach but is otherwise rather down-at-heel. Vosu, the next largest settlement, is much nicer, with its long sandy beach and summertime bars. It fills up with young revellers in peak season, depite being just a somewhat overgrown village.
When it was founded in 1971, Lahemaa was the first national park in the Soviet Union. Though protected areas existed before that, the authorities believed that the idea of a national park would promote incendiary feelings of nationalism. Sly lobbying (including a reference to an obscure decree signed by Lenin which mentioned national parks as an acceptable form of nature protection) and years of preparation led to eventual permission. Latvia and Lithuania founded national parks in 1973 and 1974 respectively, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the first one was founded in Russia.
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Lahemaa National Park
Strict Reserves Walking Trails
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Juminda Peninsula Majakivi-Nature Trail
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Lahemaa National Park ) Visitor Centre OQjaaarse
Vainupea saver Reservaat
Koljaku-r\ Oandu Reservaat
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Viru Bog Nature Trail
-Kuusekannu Riding Farm
We suggest that you start your explorations at the national park visitor centre at Palmse Manor.
Palmse Manor historic building
(www. palmse .ee; adult/child €7/5; © 10am-7pm) Fully restored Palmse Manor is the showpiece of Lahemaa National Park, housing the visitor centre in its former stables. The pretty manor house (1720, rebuilt in the 1780s) is now a museum containing period furniture and clothing. Other estate buildings have also been restored and put to new use: the distillery is a hotel, the steward’s residence is a guesthouse, the lakeside bathhouse is a summertime restaurant and the farm labourers’ quarters became a tavern.
The wealth of the German land- and serf-owning class is aptly demonstrated by this 52-hectare estate encompassing more than 20 buildings. In the 13th century there was a Cistercian convent here. From 1677 it was owned by a Baltic-German family (the von der Pahlens), who held it until 1923, when it was expropriated by the state - an event celebrated by the simple stone Land Reform Monument, gloating at the manor house from across the ornamental lake and French-style gardens. There are also working greenhouses and an orangery to explore.
& Forest Museum historic building
(Sagadi Mois & Metsamuuseum; 0676 7888; www. sagadi .ee; adult/child €3/2; © 10am-6pm May-Sep, by appointment oct-Apr) Completed in 1753, this pretty pink-and-white baroque mansion is surrounded by glorious gardens (which are free to visit), encompassing a lake, modern sculptures, an arboretum and an endless view down a grand avenue of trees. The house ticket includes admission to the neighbouring Forest Museum, devoted to the forestry industry and the park’s flora and fauna.
The Sagadi estate was nationalised during Estonia’s first period of independence, although the aristocratic von Focks were permitted to live here until 1939. The outbuildings now have a new lease of life, housing the State Forest Management Centre (Riigimetsa Majandamise Keskus; RMK), its Nature School, a hotel and a hostel.
First mentioned in 1465, this fishing village has many restored or reconstructed traditional buildings, including a wonderfully ancient-looking tavern which was actually built in 1976. Altja’s Swing Hill (Kiitemagi), complete with a traditional Estonian wooden swing, has long been the focus of Midsummer’s Eve festivities in Lahemaa. The 3km circular Altja Nature & Culture Trail starts at Swing Hill and takes in net sheds, fishing cottages and the stone field known as the ‘open-air museum of stones’.
There are some good beaches between Altja and Mustoja, to the east. A scenic hiking and biking route runs east along the old road from Altja to Vainupea
ESTONiA LAH EMAA NATiO NAL PARK
Known as the Captains’ Village, from 1884 to 1931 tiny Kasmu was home to a marine school that churned out ship captains. At one stage it was said that every Kasmu family had at least one captain in their midst. In the 1920s a third of all boats in Estonia were registered to this village.
Kasmu lies in a stone field which boasts the largest number of erratic boulders in Estonia. They can be viewed on the walking trails that start at the very end of the road. The Kasmu Nature & Culture Trail is a 4.2km, 90-minute circuit, taking in the coast and pine forest. A longer trail starts by the chapel and stretches 15km to Lake Kasmu (Kasmu jarv).
Kasmu Sea Museum museum
(Kasmu Meremuuseum; www. kasmu .ee; Merekooli 1; admission by donation) The former Soviet coastguard barracks at Kasmu now shelters this eclectic museum, displaying artfully arranged marine knick-knacks and charts. It’s a private museum, with the owners living on site, so there are no formal opening hours.
Viinistu Art Museum gallery
(Kunstimuuseum; www.viinistu .ee; adult/child
€4/2; © 11am-6pm Wed-Sun) It’s extraordinary that an obscure, remote village near the top of the Parispea Peninsula should be home to one of the country’s best galleries, yet Viinistu houses the remarkable private art collection of Jaan Manitski, reputedly one of Estonia’s richest men. This ever-expanding assemblage is devoted entirely to Estonian art and pays particularly strong attention to contemporary painting - although you’ll also find sculpture, etchings, drawings and some older, more traditional canvasses.
Manitski was born in Viinistu village but left when he was a baby and went on to make his fortune as the business manager for Swedish superstars ABBA. He’s transformed his sleepy birthplace with this gallery and the neighbouring hotel and restaurant, housed in what was once a fish factory on the waterfront. In summertime there’s often live music performed here as well.
Tammispea Boulder landmark
Over the millennia it has split into several pieces, but this gigantic 7.8m-high erratic boulder is still an impressive sight. It’s hidden within a lovely stand of forest. To find it, leave the main coastal road and head through Tam-mispea village, continuing on to the unsealed road. Look for the sign shortly after passing the house with the polar bear sculptures.
ESTONiA LATEMAA NATiO NAL PARK
Kolga Museum & Manor museum
(www. kuusalu .ee; adult/child €2/1; © 10am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep, 9am-4pm Mon-Fri rest of year) ia;F The photogenically tumbledown, classical-style manor house at Kolga dates from 1642 but was largely rebuilt in 1768 and 1820. It’s once again in the hands of the Stenbock family, who owned it from the 17 th to the early 20th century, but attempts to restore it have stalled, due to lack of finance. In a neighbouring building, the small local history museum has limited information in English but there’s an interesting display on Bronze Age burials at nearby Lake Kahala.
2 Activities Cycling
Lahemaa’s shady backroads are perfect for cyclists and many of the park’s accommodation providers have bikes to rent (around €10 per day), including Lepispea Caravan & Camping, Merekalda, Sagadi Manor, Tooma-rahva Turismitalu and Uustula B&B.
The best off-road route is the 11.6km Kasmu Cycling Trail, which is mainly a loop with a couple of lenghty side tracks. Starting at the end of the road in Kasmu it heads through the forest to the Matsikivi erratic boulder then continues to the tip of the peninsula, down to Lake Kasmu and pops out back in the village, near the church. You can download a map from the Lahemaa section of www.loodusegakoos.ee.
City Bike (p69) coordinates self-guided day tours in the park from Tallinn (from €29, not including train to and from Kadri-na), including bike hire.
Some excellent hikes course through the park’s diverse landscapes. Pick up maps and trail information from the visitor centre.
The Oandu Old-Growth Forest Nature Trail is a 4.7km circular trail, 3km north of Sagadi, that is perhaps the park’s most interesting. Note the trees that wild boars and bears have scratched, bark chewed by irascible elk and pines scarred from resin-tapping.
Between Oandu and Altja is the Beaver Trail (Koprarada), a beautiful 1km walkway which passes beaver dams on the Altja River, although you’re unlikely to see the shy, nocturnal creatures themselves.
The Viru Bog Nature Trail is a 3.5km trail across the Viru Bog, starting at the first kilometre off the road to Loksa (near Kolga), off the Tallinn-Narva highway; look for the insectivorous sundew (Venus flytrap, Charles Darwin’s favourite plant).
The 7km Majakivi Nature Trail starts on the Loksa-Leesi road, near the charmingly old-fashioned coastal village of Virve, and takes in 7m-high Majakivi (House Boulder); at 584 cu metres, it’s Lahemaa’s largest erratic boulder.
Kuusekannu Riding Farm horse riding (Kuusekannu Ratsatalu; 0 325 2942; www. kuuse kannuratsatalu .ee; riding per hour €20) Just outside the national park, near Viitna, this riding farm arranges trail rides through Lahemaa. Two-day treks include meals and accommodation, and stop overnight in Kasmu (€295). The three-day option stops overnight in Kasmu and either Atlja or Sag-adi (from €390). Call ahead and check the website for directions.
Both Tallinn Traveller Tours (p69) and EstAdventures (p69) offer excursions to Lahemaa out of Tallinn, starting from around €55. A private tour with the likes of Estonian Experience (p69) ranges from €320 for one person to €460 for four.
Kasmu, set on a rocky shoreline, has plenty of low-key guesthouses. If you want rowdier beach action, head to Vosu, a popular summertime hang-out for Estonian students. Guesthouses are scattered throughout the region; the visitor centre in Palmse keeps lists of options. It’s worth keeping in mind that lots of small guesthouses have dogs (big ones). Keep that in mind before vaulting over fences.
The camping is fantastic in Lahemaa, with lots of free, basic RMK-administered camp sites. You will find them near Tsitre at Kolga Bay, at the northern tip of Juminda and Parispea Peninsulas, immediately south of Vosu and by the Sagadi-Altja road, 300m south of the Oandu trail. When looking for these sites, keep your eyes peeled for the small wooden signs with the letters ‘RMK’. All camp sites (free RMK ones and private ones) are marked on the excellent Lahemaa Rahvuspark map available in the visitor centre (€1.90).
& Camping campground c
(05450 1522; www lepispea eu; Lepispea 3; tent per person €5, caravan €15; ©May-Sep; EB#) In Lepispea, 1km west of Vosu, this camping ground is spread over a large field fringed by trees and terminating in a little reed-lined beach. Facilities are good, including a sauna house for rent. It also hires bikes (per day €10).
& Campsite guesthouse, campground c
(0 325 2965; www. uustalu . planet.ee; Neeme tee 78a, Kasmu; sites per person €4, caravan €10, s/d €30/45; E) At the end of the Kasmu road, this complex has simple, cheerful rooms on a waterfront property; breakfast is €6 extra. Campers are welcome to pitch a tent on the grassy lawn, although you’ll have to pay extra for a shower (€3). Bikes are available to rent at €8 per day.
★ Merekalda guesthouse, apartment cc
(0 323 8451; www.merekalda .ee; Neeme tee 2, Kasmu; cabin/r €20/45, apt €69-99; © May-Sep; EB) At the entrance to Kasmu, this peaceful retreat is set around a lovely large garden right on the bay. Ideally you’ll plump for an apartment with a sea view and terrace, but you’ll need to book ahead. If funds are running low, there’s a basic but romantic wooden cabin by the water. Boat and bike hire are available.
ESTONiA LAHEMAA NATiO NAL PARK
Turismitalu guesthouse, campground cc
(0 505 0850; www.toomarahva .ee; Altja; tent/ hayloft per person €3/5, caravan €10, s/d €25/50, apt €80-110; B) This atmospheric farmstead comprises thatch-roofed wooden buildings and a garden full of flowers and sculptures. Sleeping options include two cute and comfortable rooms which share a bathroom, an apartment which can be rented with either one or two bedrooms - or you can even doss down in the hayloft in summer. Plus there’s a traditional sauna for hire.
Sagadi Manor hotel, hostel cc
(0 676 7888; www.sagadi .ee; Sagadi; dm €15, s/d from €60/80; fflB) Waking up in the rarefied confines of Sagadi Manor, with its gracious gardens, is a downright lovely experience. There’s a tidy 31-bed hostel in the former estate manager’s house, while the hotel has fresh and comfortable rooms in the whitewashed stables block across the lawn.
Estonia has 64 recorded species of land mammals, and some animals that have disappeared elsewhere have survived within the country's extensive forests. The brown bear faced extinction at the turn of the 20th century but today there are more than 600 in Estonia. The European beaver, which was also hunted to near extinction, was successfully reintroduced in the 1950s and today the population is around 20,000.
While roe deer and wild boar are present in their tens of thousands, numbers are dwindling, which some chalk up to predators - though these animals are hunted and appear on the menu in more expensive restaurants (along with elk and bear). Estonia still has grey wolves (thought to number around 135) and lynx (more than 750), handsome furry cats with large, impressive feet that act as snowshoes. Lynx, bears, wolves and beavers are just some of the animals that are hunted each year, although a system of quotas aims to keep numbers stable.
Estonia also has abundant birdlife, with 363 recorded species. Owing to the harsh winters, most birds here are migratory. Although it's found throughout much of the world, the barn swallow has an almost regal status in Estonia and is the ‘national bird'; it reappears from its winter retreat in April or May. Another bird with pride of place in Estonia is the stork. While their numbers are declining elsewhere in Europe, white storks are on the increase - you'll often see them perched on the top of lamp posts in large round nests. Black storks, on the other hand, are in decline.
Palmse Guesthouse guesthouse cc
(05386 6266; www palmse ee; Palmse Manor; s/d without bathroom €25/50, ste €76-96; EB) Housed in Palmse estate’s former steward’s house (1820), this guesthouse is a more atmospheric option than Palmse’s main hotel. Only the junior suites and the suites have their own bathrooms, though.
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Viinistu Hotel hotel cc
(0 5373 6446; www.viinistu .ee; Viinistu; s/d/f €40/50/70) There’s a fresh nautical flavour to the decor at this bright waterfront hotel next door to Jaan Manitski’s private art museum. Family rooms are considerably bigger and contain kitchenettes. Make sure you book a sea-facing room with a balcony.
Vihula Manor hotel ccc
(0 326 4100; www.vihulamanor.com; Vihula; r/ste from €94/164; Egg) As part of its transformation into a spiffy country club and spa, this estate has converted its manor house and several historic outbuildings into guest rooms, eateries and a day spa. The rooms in the main house, particularly, are slick, elegant places to bed down, with tempting bathtubs. Hire a boat to row on the lake.
Eating & Drinking
You can load up on provisions at Meie (www. meietoidukaubad .ee; Mere 67; ©10am-8pm) in Vosu (which has an ATM inside) or at the much bigger Loksa Kauplus (Tallinna 36; ©9am-10pm) in Loksa.
O Altja Korts Estonian c
(www. palmse.ee; Altja; mains €6-8; ©noon-8pm) Set in a thatched building with a large terrace, this uber-rustic place serves delicious plates of traditional fare (baked pork with sauerkraut etc) to candlelit wooden tables. It’s extremely atmospheric and a lot of fun.
Viinistu Restaurant EUROPEAN €
(0 5558 6984; www.viinistu .ee; Viinistu; mains €8; ©noon-9pm; B) Focusing firmly on seasonal fare, this smart restaurant-bar offers a concise but delicious menu including the likes of squid-ink pasta and fresh salads. There’s an inviting deck but if the weather’s not great, the sea views are just as good through the restaurant’s big picture windows.
Viitna Korts Estonian c
(0 520 9156; www.viitna .eu; Viitna; mains €6-13; ©11am-10pm; B) A popular pit stop for families travelling between Tallinn and Narva, this reconstruction of an 18th-century tavern has a huge menu full of tempting traditional offerings such as honey-roasted pork or herring with cottage cheese. Next door is a basic cafe, open from 7am, serving up the essentials (coffee, sandwiches etc), and there’s also a kebab counter.
Palmse Korts Estonian cc
(www. palmse .ee; Palmse; mains €7.50-13; ©11am-9pm) Just a short walk south of Palmse Manor, housed in the 1831 farm labourers’ quarters, this rustic tavern evokes yesteryear under heavy timber beams with a short, simple menu of traditional Estonian fare. The creamy, eggy potato salad is stodgy and delicious, as is ‘granny’s cake’.
La Boheme EUROPEAN ccc
(0 326 4100; www.vihulamanor.com; Vihula Manor; mains €18-22; ©2-11pm; EB) You can dine in the garden or on a balcony, but you’d be missing out on the grand ambience of Vihu-la Manor’s ballroom. The menu showcases local fish and game, and the service is top-notch. Make sure you save room for dessert.
O Korts pub
(Joe 3, Vosu; mains €5-10; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 4am Fri & Sat) This tavern has a warm wooden interior and a flower-filled outdoor terrace, perfect for catching the late-afternoon sun. The menu covers plenty of ground from beer-drinking snacks to predictable mains of pork, steak and salmon. On long summer nights there are DJs and live musicians.
Lahemaa National Park Visitor Centre (0 329
5555; www . loodusegakoos . ee; Palmse Manor;
© 9am-5pm daily May-Oct, Mon-Fri Oct-Apr) This excellent centre stocks the essential map of Lahemaa (€1 90), as well as information on hiking trails, accommodation and guiding services . it's worth starting your park visit with the free 17-minute film Lahemaa - Nature and Man.
8 Getting There & Around
Lahemaa is best explored by car or bicycle as there are only limited bus connections within the park . The main bus routes through the park include the following:
» Tallinn to Altja (€6 . 50, 1% hours, daily) via Loksa, Kasmu, Lepispea and Vosu .
» Rakvere to Sagadi (€1 . 55 to €1 .95, 45 minutes, one to four daily), Palmse (€1 .75 to €2, 50 minutes, one daily), Altja (€1 . 90 to €2 . 25, one hour, most days), Vosu (€1 . 95 to €2 . 55, one hour, six daily) and Kasmu (€2 . 20 to €2 . 55, one hour, four daily) .
Roughly halfway between Tallinn and Narva, Rakvere is a thoroughly pleasant place for a pit stop or an overnight stay. The vibe here is upbeat, youthful and modern - quite unlike Narva.
The city loudly celebrates its connection to Estonia’s most famous son, composer Arvo Part, who moved here as a child. However, it’s also known for a more unusual musical tradition, the Estonian Punk Song Festival (www. punklaulupidu .ee). Started as a protest against the conservatism of the national festival, it’s held every three or four years and was last staged in August 2015. You just haven’t lived until you’ve heard Anarchy in the UK sung by a heavily accented mass choir sporting novelty technicolour mohawks!
Sights & Activities
Rakvere Castle castle
(Rakvere Linnus; 0 507 6183; www. rakverelinnus . ee; Vallikraavi; adult/child €7/5; ©10am-7pm May-Sep, 10am-4pm Wed-Sun Oct-Apr) Rakvere’s star attraction differentiates itself from other such mouldering ruins by offering hands-on, medieval-style amusements. While much is aimed towards children (dress-up costumes, a petting zoo), adults will get a kick out of handling the reproduction swords (blunted, thankfully), trying their hands at archery or jousting, and scoffing beer and victuals in the inn. Admission includes alchemy demonstrations, cannon-firing displays and tours of the torture chamber (despite the castle never actually having one; expect red lights, fake skeletons and coffins).
This hillside was the site of the earliest fortifications in Estonia, dating from the 5 th and 6th centuries, although the castle itself was built in the 14 th century by the Danes. It subsequently served many masters, including the German Livonian Order, the Russians, the Swedes and the Poles. It was badly damaged in a battle between the latter two powers in 1605 and was turned into an elaborate manor house in the late 17th century.
Concerts and plays are held here in summer; enquire at the tourist office.
Tarvas Statue monument
Looming large near the castle, this massive
7-tonne, 3.5m-high, 7.1m-long statue was completed by local artist Tauno Kangro to commemorate the town’s 700th anniversary in 2002. You might be forgiven for thinking that’s a lot of bull, but actually it’s an aurochs - a large, long-horned wild ox that became extinct in the 17th century.
The 1226 Chronicle of Livonia included a description of an ancient wooden castle on Rakvere hill, called Tarvanpea. In Estonian, Tarvanpea means ‘the head of an aurochs’ -hence the statue.
Rakvere Oak Grove forest
(Rakvere tammik) Covering the next hill along from the castle, this 23-hectare expanse of mature oak and lime forest is a wonderful place for a leafy stroll. Although there probably was a sacred oak grove here in ancient times, the forest has been clear-felled on several occasions, most recently in around 1800.
On an expanse of lawn near the southern end is Okaskroon (Crown of Thorns), a memorial to locals deported to Siberia during the Soviet era. Deeper within the forest there’s a small German military cemetery marked by triple sets of crosses set between the trees.
Citizen's House Museum museum
(Linnakodaniku majamuuseum; www.svm .ee; Pikk 50; adult/child €1 .60/1; © 11am-5pm Tue-Sat May-Sep, 11am-5pm Tue-Fri, to 3pm Sat Oct-Apr) There are many historic wooden and stone buildings on Pikk street, including this 18th-century home, kitted out mainly in early-20th-century garb. Displays include a cobbler’s workshop, a collection of children’s toys and a piano that once belonged to Arvo Part.
Holy Trinity Church church
(Kolmainu kirik; www. kolmainu .ee; Pikk 17; © 10am-6pm Mon-Sat, to 12 30pm Sun Jun-Aug) Dating from the beginning of the 15th century, although it’s been damaged and repaired several times since, this rather lovely Lutheran church has a 62m steeple, a carved pulpit with painted panels (1690) and some impressive large canvasses. Every year on
16 September it hosts a concert celebrating Arvo Part’s birthday.
Market Square square
(Turuplats; Lai, Laada & FG Adoffi) For a Soviet-era plaza, Tartu’s expansive main square is actually pretty cool. Big yellow steel lamps arch over pebble circles and fountains, and there’s a whimsical statue of composer Arvo Part pictured as a young boy holding his bicycle. Around its perimeter you’ll find cafes and the tourist office.
Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God church
(Jumalaema Sundimise kirik; Tallinna 17; ©10am-4pm) When we visited a new layer of bling was being added to this cute 19th-century Orthodox church, with its elegant onion domes in the process of being gilded. It contains the relics of Sergius Florinsky, a local priest who was shot in 1918 by local communists, now regarded as a saint by the Russian Orthodox church.
& Sauna Centre swimming, spa
(www.aqvahotels.ee; Parkali 4; 2/hr €9-13, incl saunas €12-18; © 9am-10pm) An attraction in its own right, Aqva Hotel’s pool and sauna complex is one of the best of its kind in the country. Serious swimmers can rack up laps in a 25m covered pool while the kids splash around the wave pool or shoot down the slide. The paddling pool is popular with the under-fives and there’s a small outdoor pool and sun terrace.
Each of the changing rooms has a sauna but it’s worth investing in the pricier ticket to try out the various dry saunas and steam rooms in the sauna centre, especially the particularly relaxing salt sauna.
Ovilla Theresa hotel €€
(0322 3699; www villatheresa ee; Tammiku 9; s/d €55/65; ESS) In a wooded nook on the outskirts of town, 1.5km south of the main square, this wonderful boutique hotel offers a winning combination of peace and quiet, comfort, great food and reasonable prices. An antique ambience carries through seamlessly from the old wooden house at the front to the rooms in the modern extension.
Art Hotell hotel €€
(0 323 2060; www.arthotell .ee; Lai 18; s/d €38/60; ES) Under the same ownership as the smart cafe opposite, this little hotel has crisp, understated style - you’d never suspect that at the beginning of the 19th century it was a brothel. Rooms have sloping attic ceilings, frosted glass bathroom partitions and flat-screen TVs.
Aqva Hotel & Spa hotel €€€
(0 326 0000; www.aqvahotels .ee; Parkali 4; s/d/ ste from €93/105/215; SB) This large architecturally interesting complex includes a day spa and fabulous indoor water park, making it a predictable hit with Finnish families. The water theme is taken to the max here, from the fabulous swirly purple carpet to the aquarium and water wall in the lobby. Standard rooms are on the small size, but they’re modern and stylish.
5, Eating & Drinking
Art Cafe cafe €
(www. artcafe .ee; Lai 13; mains €5 .50-12; ©11am-11pm Mon-Sat, to 9pm Sun; S) With a big-city feel, an inviting rear garden and a diverse clientele, this cafe serves as a cool hang-out for food or late-night drinks. Friendly (but slow-moving) staff will help you select from a range of salads, soups, pancakes, pasta and other more creative dishes.
Inglise Pubi pub food €
(www. inglisepub .ee; Tallinna 27; mains €6 .50-9 .90; © 11am-midnight; S ) Amid antique wallpaper, dark timber and brass bar fixtures, this place does a good impersonation of an English pub, and the beer garden is a great spot in which to sink a pint. The simple, no surprises menu (Weiner schnitzel, pork chops, grilled salmon) lends authenticity.
Villa Theresa european €€€
(0 322 3699; www.villatheresa .ee; Tammiku 9; mains €15-19; ©noon-10pm) If it’s a more upmarket, formal ambience you’re after, the restaurant at the Villa Theresa hotel is well worth seeking out. The menu offers creamy pastas and plenty of deliciously rich French-style mains.
Tourist Office (0 324 2734; www . rakvere . ee; Laada 14; © 9am-5pm Mon-Fri year-round, plus 9am-3pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep) Your first stop should be this friendly centre, where you can pick up a town map and walking-tour pamphlet
8 Getting There & Away
The bus station is on the corner of Laada and Vilde, one block south of the tourist office. Major routes include the following:
Narva (€5 to €9, two hours, 10 daily)
Parnu (€9 to €11, 2% to four hours, three daily) Tallinn (€3 . 50 to €7, 1/ hours, 19 daily)
Tartu (€7 to €9, three hours, eight daily)
Vosu (€1 . 95 to €2 . 55, one hour, six daily)
» Alron has three trains daily to Tallinn (€5 . 50, 1/ hours) and two to Narva (€5 . 60, 1/ hours) .
» GoRail's Moscow and St Petersburg trains also stop in Rakvere twice daily; other stops include Larva (€4 . 30, 1/ hours) and Tallinn (from €6, 1% hours) .
» The train station is on Jaama pst, 1 . 2km northeast of the main square .
Ontika & Oru Park Landscape Reserves
Squeezed between a narrow coastal road and the sea, roughly halfway between Rak-vere and Narva, these slim reserves protect a section of the limestone escarpment known as the Baltic Klint, where the land falls suddenly into the sea, forming cliffs up to 54m high. The klint extends 1200km, from Sweden to Lake Ladoga in Russia, although 500km of this lies underwater.
The only major settlement on this stretch of coast is Toila, a small spa and beach town set between the two reserves.
Valaste juga waterfall
At Valaste a viewing platform and metal stair faces Estonia’s highest waterfall (varying from 26m to 30m), which, depending on the month, may be a torrent, a mere trickle or photogenically frozen.
Oru Park Landscape Reserve park
(Oru Pargi Maastikukaitseala) Majestic Oru Castle was built in 1899 by notable St Petersburg businessman Grigory Yeliseyev, one of Russia’s richest merchants. In 1935 it became the summer palace of the Estonian president but, sadly, it was completely destroyed during the war. Although the building is gone, the surrounding park remains one of Estonia’s loveliest.
An avenue of mature trees leads to French-style landscaped gardens and the castle’s surviving terrace, which offers views out to sea. Paths meander through the 75-hectare reserve, leading to a grotto with a freshwater spring, a viewing tower, a WWII graveyard and the beach.
(4 Sleeping & Eating Saka Manor hotel, campground €€
(0336 4900; www.saka .ee; site per person €3 20, hotel s/d from €60/80, mansion d/ste from €110/230; EBB) S In a peaceful clifftop setting, signposted off the highway just east of Varja, this estate encompasses a campground, a low-key spa hotel and an
Italianate manor house (1864) containing guest bedrooms and a basement restaurant (mains €8 to €16). A metal stair leads from the cliff edge to the seashore below.
& Accommodation guesthouse, campground €€ (0 332 8200; www.valaste.eu; Valaste; site/cabin per person €4/17, s/d €30/40) The small, brightly painted guesthouse by Valaste waterfall has a large communal kitchen, well-kept shared bathrooms and a large field for campers. Reception is handled by the cafe, where you can score artery-clogging snacks anytime of the day or night.
ESTONi 0NTITA & ORu PARK LANDSCAPE RESERVES
Toila Spa Hotell &
Camping Mannisalu hotel, campground €€
(0 334 2900; www.toilaspa .ee; Ranna 12, Toila; site per person €5, cabin €45-70, s/d from €53/78; EBS) Balancing the needs of young families and mature holidaymakers, this midrange hotel has a large water park, a spa centre, a children’s play area, a gym and restaurants. Rooms are modest but tidy. The camping area among the pines (open May to September) is also a good option, with tent and caravan sites and simple wooden cabins.
8 Getting There & Away
There are no direct bus services from Tallinn or Larva; you'll need to transfer from Johvi or Kohtla-Jarve .
Perhaps destined to be caught perpetually between the USSR (on a good day) and modern Estonia, the coastal town of Sil-lamae is an intriguing place and a must for fans of Stalinist neoclassical architecture. Planned by Leningrad architects, its grand buildings include a town hall designed to resemble a Lutheran church. In the park opposite there’s a wonderful period-piece sculptur of a muscle-bound worker holding aloft an atom.
The region’s fate was sealed in the post-WWII years upon the discovery that oil shale contains small amounts of extractable uranium. The infamous uranium processing and nuclear chemicals factory was quickly built by 5000 Russian political prisoners, while the town centre was built by 3800 Baltic prisoners of war who had previously served in the German army. By 1946 the city was strictly off limits to visitors; it was known by various spooky code names (Leningrad 1; Moscow 400) and was often omitted from Soviet-era maps. Yet life for the workers who lived here was generally better than in other parts of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Only unfinished uranium was processed at the plant, though the eerily abandoned buildings on the city’s western border are testament to Soviet plans to process pure, nuclear-reactor-ready uranium. Only the disbanding of the USSR saved Estonia’s ecology from this. Uranium processing ceased in 1989 and today the radioactive waste is buried under concrete by the sea. Fears of leakage into the Baltic have alarmed environmentalists; EU funding has been channelled towards ensuring the waste is stable and safe, at enormous cost.
These days the privatised Sillamae plant is the world’s main producer of the rare metals niobium and tantalum, which are used in the manufacture of medical and electronic equipment, among other things.
Sillamae Museum museum
(www.sillamae-muuseum .ee; Kajaka 17a; adult/ child €2/1; © 10am-6pm Mon-Thu, to 4pm Fri) Until very recently, this little museum was jam-packed with fascinating Soviet-era relics, including uniforms, flags and large portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Now Lenin and his mates have been banished to a branch in the Sillamae Cultural Centre (Kesk 24) and displays of dolls and teddy bears have taken his place. The excellent mineral display remains, alongside some rather dry coverage of the local extractive industry. More interesting is the room set up like a 1950s flat.
The building’s a little tricky to find; it’s set back between Kajaka and Majakovski streets, a block up from the water.
8 Getting There & Away
St Petersburg buses stop here, but the major domestic destinations include the following: Narva (€1 .47 to €4, 45 minutes, at least hourly)
Parnu (€15, 4% hours, daily)
Rakvere (€5 to €7, 1/ hours, nine daily)
Tallinn (€7 to €12, three hours, 21 daily)
Tartu (€7 to €12, 2% hours, seven daily)
Estonia’s easternmost city is separated from Ivangorod in Russia by the Narva River and is almost entirely populated by Russians. It’s quite literally a border town: the bridge at the end of the main street is the country’s principal link with Russia and no man’s land protrudes right up to the edge of the town square. Aside from its magnificent castle and baroque Old Town Hall, most of Narva’s outstanding architecture was destroyed in WWII. The reconstructed city has a melancholy, downtrodden air; the prosperity evident in other parts of the country is visibly lacking. Yet Estonia’s third-largest city is an intriguing place for a (brief) visit - you’ll find no other place in Estonia quite like it.
Inhabited since the Stone Age, Narva sits on an important trade route. After the Christian invasion, it found itself stranded on the edge of civilisations, on the divide between the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches. Unsurprisingly, it has been embroiled in border disputes and wars throughout the centuries. Testimony to this is Hermann Castle’s chess-piece face-off with the castle across the river at Ivangorod, built by Ivan III of Muscovy in 1492. In the 16th and 17th centuries Narva changed hands often from Russian to Swede, until finally falling to Russia in 1704.
During WWII Narva was bombed by both the Germans and Russians and was almost completely destroyed in 1944 during its recapture by the Red Army. Afterwards it became part of the northeastern Estonian industrial zone and one of Europe’s most polluted towns. Today emissions have been greatly reduced, with investment in cleaner technology well under way.
Narva Hermann Castle castle
(Peterburi 2) Built by the Danes at the end of the 13th century and strengthened over successive centuries, this imposing castle, along with Russia’s matching Ivangorod Fortress across the river, creates an architectural ensemble unique in Europe. The outer walls enclose the Castle Yard, a large expanse of lawn which is open to the public and contains what must be one of Estonia’s last remaining public statues of Lenin. Restored after damage during WWII, Hermann Tower houses the Narva Museum.
The best view of the picturesque stand-off between the two castles is from the popular riverside beach, immediately south of the two.
Narva Museum museum
(www. narvamuuseum .ee; Narva Hermann Castle, Peterburi 2; adult/child €6/3; ©10am-6pm, closed Mon & Tue Sep-May) Museum admission gives you the opportunity to ascend Hermann Tower to a wooden viewing gallery, while checking out exhibits on each level of your climb (of varying degrees of interest and relevance, not all with English labels). Most interesting are the before and after pictures of the city’s wartime destruction. In summer the Northern Yard is set up like a 17th-century town, complete with an apothecary, blacksmith, potter and lace workshops. Admission is included in the museum ticket.
Old Town area
The remnants of Narva’s war-pummelled Old Town is in the blocks north of the castle. Most impressive is the baroque Old Town Hall on Raekoja plats, built between 1668 and 1671. The striking building next to it is the Narva College of the University of Tartu. A large modern extension angles out and over the lower part of the building, which is a re-creation of the former baroque stock exchange building which once stood here.
As in Tallinn and Tartu, the Swedes surrounded Old Town with a star-shaped set of bastions and most of the earthen ramparts are still visible. The Dark Park (Pimeaed) on the Victoria Bastion is a shady spot offering river views.
Art Gallery gaaaery
(Kunstigalerii; www. narvamuuseum .ee; Vester-
valli 21; adult/child €2/1, with museum €7/3.50; © 10am-6pm) Spread over three floors of a 19th-century gunpowder storeroom on the Gloria bastion, Narva’s art gallery has an interesting collection, the highlight being the historic, pre-WWII items.
Alexander Church church
(Aleksandri kirik; www. narvakirik .ee; Kiriku 9) Named after the Russian tsar assassinated while it was being built (1881-1884), this Lutheran church is the largest religious building in Estonia. It was badly damaged in both of the world wars and the hefty octagonal belltower was only rebuilt post independence from the USSR. It now serves as Narva’s Lutheran cathedral.
Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection church
(Voskresensky sobor; www.narvasobor.ee; Bastrak-ovi 4) Hidden, in typical Soviet atheist style, among dingy apartment blocks northwest of
Originally a site of ancient pagan worship, the peaceful hilltop village of Kuremae, 20km southeast of Johvi, is now home to a magnificent Russian Orthodox convent. Local lore has it that in the 16th century, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared to a shepherd in an oak grove in these parts (conveniently echoing pre-Christian Estonian beliefs in divine beings living in holy groves). An icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God was subsequently found under one of the oaks; it now belongs to the convent, which has become a place of pilgrimage for believers. There is also a revered 'holy spring' here that is said to never freeze.
To get here by bus, you'll usually need to transfer at Johvi or Kohtla-Jarve, although there are two direct buses per week from Tallinn (€8.60, 3^ hours) and Rakvere (€6.70, two hours).
Puhtitsa Convent (0337 0715; www. orthodox . ee; © 7am-7pm) Built between 1885 and 1895, the five green onion-domed towers of the impressive main church of Puhtitsa Convent are visible for miles around. Murals by the convent gate depict Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to whom the complex is dedicated. The community of Russian Orthodox nuns work the surrounding land and are self-sufficient; they will give tours to visitors for a small fee. Otherwise you're welcome to enter the gate and visit the church as long as you're dressed modestly.
the train station, this 1896 cathedral has an attractive red-brick exterior and a glittering core. Check out the frescoes inside the dome and the wonderful carved iconostasis.
(4 Sleeping & Eating King Hotel hotel cc
(0 357 2404; www.hotelking.ee; Lavretsovi 9; s/d €28/36, mains €5-17; B) Within Old Town, not far from the castle, King has snug modern rooms in a 1681 building and an excellent, atmospherically gloomy restaurant with a shady terrace. Try the local speciality, lamprey fished from the Narva River.
Elektra Kulalistemaja guesthouse cc
(0 716 6651; www.elektra . nev.ee; Kerese 11; s/d €40/45; EB) That this odd little guesthouse, attached to the crumbling hulk of a power station, is one of the best places in the city to stay says a lot about Narva. Rooms are clean and have kitchenettes but they can get hot in summer and the flimsy drapes sure are ugly. On the upside, there’s a sauna and spa pool.
100% China House Chinese c
(0 357 5099; www.chinahouse.ee; Tallinna mnt 6b; mains €5-13; ©noon-11pm) It may not be the best Chinese food you’ll ever eat but it’s likely to be the best you eat in Estonia. Located in a big yellow house set back from the main road, China House has a lengthy picture menu (including some Korean appetisers) and a suitably kitsch interior resplendent with bedazzled dragons and lanterns. What’s not to like?
Antalya Kebab House Turkish c
(Aleksander Puskini 15; mains €4-8; ©11 ,30am-11pm) Fine dining it’s not, but if you’re in the mood for delicious pide (Turkish-style pizza), kebab, shashlik (barbecued skewers) or black-as-death coffee, this humble eatery will sort you out. It’s around the corner and across the road from the tourist office.
Aleksandr Antiques antiques
(Aleksander Puskini 13; © 11am-6pm Tue-Fri, to 3pm Sat) Pop in for Russian memorabilia: Lenin busts, medals, jewellery and religious icons. There’s a fair bit of modern tat as well.
Tourist Office (0 359 9087; http://tourism . narva .ee; Peetri plats 3; ©10am-5 . 30pm) You can get maps and city information from friendly
and efficient English-speaking staff at this excellent information centre . There are interesting interactive displays as well
8 Getting There & Away
The train and bus stations are next to each other on Vaksali 2, at the southern end of the main street, Aleksander Puskini
Buses head from here to Riga and St Petersburg. Domestic routes include the following: Narva-Joesuu (€2, 30 minutes, roughly hourly) Parnu (€15, 4% hours, daily)
Sillamae (€1 .47 to €4, 45 minutes, at least hourly)
Tallinn (€7 to €13, 3% hours, roughly hourly) Tartu (€7 to €12, three hours, nine daily)
Ulron runs domestic services to and from Tallinn (€11, 2% hours) and Rakvere (€5 . 60, 1/ hours) twice daily . GoRail's Moscow and St Petersburg trains (p419) also stop in Narva twice daily en route to Rakvere (€4 . 30, 1/ hours) and Tallinn (€7 . 90, three hours) .
About 13km north of Narva, the holiday resort of Narva-Joesuu (literally ‘Narva River mouth’) is a pretty but ramshackle town, popular since the 19th century for its long, golden-sand beach backed by pine forests. Impressive early-20th-century wooden houses and villas are scattered around, along with half a dozen hotels and spas -making this a good base for exploring Narva. There’s plenty of new development going on, largely catering to holidaying Russians. The busiest area is centred on the Meresuu hotel.
Meresuu Spa & Hotel resort cc
(0 357 9600; www. meresuu .ee; Aia 48a; s/d/ste from €88/99/176; Egg) This shiny 11-storey hotel offers service with a smile and attractive rooms, alongside a roll-call of extras: sea views, an ‘aqua centre’ (seven pools!), saunas, a gym, a wellness centre, a kids’ playroom, bike yacht rental, and the requisite restaurant, serving up buffets and a la carte dining.
Noorus Spa Hotel resort ccc
(0 356 7100; www. noorusspahotel .com; L Koidula 19; s/d/ste from €132/149/229; EiBS) With a name meaning ‘youth’ it’s not clear whether this large new complex is aiming to attract young people or those seeking the eternal variety. Rooms are modern and comfortable and the facilities are top-notch, including indoor and outdoor pools, a spa centre with eight different types of sauna, a gym, a restaurant, a bar and even a bowling alley.
8 Getting There & Away
Bus 31 runs about hourly to connect Narva with Narva-Joesuu (€2, 30 minutes) . There are also direct services to and from Tallinn (€7 to €14,
4% hours, three daily), Rakvere (€7 to €9 . 40, three hours, two daily) and Sillamae (€3 to €3 . 60, one hour, three daily) .
With rolling hills, picturesque lakes and vast woodlands, the southeast boasts some of Estonia’s most attractive countryside. It also contains one of Estonia’s most important cities, the vibrant university centre of Tartu.
No matter which direction you head from Tartu, you’ll find resplendent natural settings. In the south lie the towns of Otepaa and Voru, the gateway to outdoor adventuring: hiking and lake-swimming in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. Quaint towns set on wandering rivers or in picturesque valleys add to the allure. For a serious dose of woodland, head to the crisp lakes and gently rolling hills of Haanja Nature Park or Karula National Park.
To the east stretches Lake Peipsi, one of Europe’s largest lakes. Along its shores are beautiful sandy beaches and a surprisingly undeveloped coastline. Aside from swimming, boating, fishing and soaking up the scenery, you can travel up its western rim stopping at roadside food stands and in tiny villages.
Between 1652 and 1666 Patriarch Nikon introduced reforms to bring Russian Orthodox doctrine into line with the Greek Orthodox Church. Today, these liturgical reforms may seem trivial (including changes to the way the sign of the cross is made, the direction of a procession and the number of times that 'alleluia' should be said) but they were held to be vitally important by many believers. Those who rejected the reforms suffered torture or were executed, and many homes and churches were destroyed.
Over the next few centuries, thousands fled to the western shores of Lake Peipsi, where they erected new villages and worship houses. Although they escaped persecution, they were still governed by tsarist Russia and weren't allowed to openly practise their religion until Estonia gained its independence in 1918. Today there are around 2600 Russian Old Believers in Estonia, living in 11 congregations, primarily along the shore of Lake Peipsi.
One of Estonia’s most intriguing regions is also among its least visited. In the far southeast, clustered in villages near Lake Pihkva, live the Setos, descendents of Balto-Finnic tribes who settled here in the first millennium.
ESTONiA GAUE PEiPSi
If you plan only to dip into the region, then you’ll be fine getting around by bus. For more in-depth exploring - particularly around Haanja Nature Park, Setomaa and Lake Peipsi - services are infrequent and you’ll save loads of time by renting a car.
Straddling the Estonia-Russia border, Lake Peipsi (Chudskoe Ozero in Russian) is the fifth-largest lake in Europe (3555 sq km) - though its maximum depth is only 15m. There are some good, uncrowded beaches to be found on its sandy, 42km-long, northern coast. This area had popular resorts during Soviet times but many of them have been left to crumble and very few new developments have taken their place.
On the northeastern corner of the lake is Vasknarva, an isolated fishing village with about 100 residents and an evocative Orthodox monastery that, according to some, once held a KGB radio surveillance centre. The Narva River starts here, draining the lake and forming the border with Russia as it rushes to the Baltic. Also in Vasknarva, the scant ruins of a 1349 Teutonic Order castle stand by the shore.
The village of Alajoe has the area’s main Orthodox church. Kauksi, where the main road from the north reaches the lake, has the most beautiful and popular beach.
With a population of 1320, Mustvee is the largest lakeside town, with a little harbour and a sandy beach. A little further south along the lake a forlorn WWII memorial, The Grieving Girl (1973), stands by the shore with her head bowed. It commemorates the 264 Red Army soldiers buried here in a mass grave. There’s also a pretty Old Believers church nearby, dating from 1927.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Russian Old Believers (Starovyery) - a breakaway Orthodox sect who were persecuted for refusing to accept liturgical reforms carried out in 1666 - took refuge on the western shores of the lake. This intriguing community survives in several coastal villages which they founded, the largest of which is Kallaste.
ESTONiA LOUL PEiPSi
A settlement of Old Believers has existed in Kallaste since 1720, when the area was known as Krasniye Gori (Red Mountains) because of the red sandstone cliffs, up to 11m high, that surround the town. Most of its 819 inhabitants are Russian-speaking. It’s worth stopping to visit the Old Believers’ cemetery at the southern end of town, and the sandy beach with small caves.
Kolkja is a village of Russian Old Believers with a dainty, green wooden church and a tiny Old Believers’ Museum in what seems like a private house. Other places settled by
the Old Believers include Kasepaa, Varnja and the island of Piirissaar.
1 Sights & Activities Alatskivi Castle historic building
(Alatskivi loss; 05303 2485; www alatskiviloss ee; adult/child €5/3; ©11am-7pm daily Jun-Aug, 11am-6pm Wed-Sun May, Sep & Oct, 10am-4pm Mon-Fri Nov-Apr) Signposted off the main Kallaste-Tartu road, Alatskivi Castle channels the Scottish Highlands into a particularly verdant slice of Estonia - its white turrets and stepped baronial-style roofline inspired by the British queen’s favourite abode, Balmoral Castle. Upstairs, five rooms are devoted to the life of Eduard Tubin (1905-82), an important Estonian composer and conductor; all signs are in Estonian. The surrounding estate encompasses 130 hectares of publicly accessible parkland filled with oaks, ashes, maples, alders and a linden-lined lane.
There’s been a manor here for centuries, but the current neo-Gothic centrepiece dates from 1885. After nationalisation in 1919, the building was used as a school, a cavalry barracks, a state farm, council offices, a cinema and a library, but it’s now been restored to its former grandeur based on old photos provided by descendents of the original aristocratic occupants.
As well as the Tubin museum, the house contains a restaurant and a set of four guest suites (€80 per night, including breakfast).
Liiv Museum museum
(www. muusa .ee; Rupsi; adult/child €2/1; © 10am-6pm Jun-Aug, 10am-4pm Tue-Sat Sep-May) This museum is devoted to Juhan Liiv (18641913), a celebrated writer, poet and nationalist figure, of sorts. Even if you haven’t heard of him (and let’s face it, if you’re not Estonian, you’re not likely to have), it’s a lovely rural setting and the 19th-century farm buildings where the Liiv family once lived are interesting in themselves. Occasional concerts and poetry competitions are held here.
Old Believers Museum museum
(www. hot .ee/k/kolkjamuuseum/; Kolkja; adult/child €3/1; © 11am-6pm Wed-Sun Apr-Sep, 11am-5pm Sat & Sun Oct-Mar) There’s not much in this little private museum in Kolkja village but it’s interesting to read about the seemingly minor liturgical changes that caused such bloodshed. It’s tricky to find - turn left at the Estonian flag, continue past the blue-painted restaurant and turn right at the lake.
Peipsirent boating, ayal/lg
(0 504 1067; www. peipsirent .eu; Larva 9c, Mustvee) Operating out of the Kalamesteemaja hotel in Mustvee, Peipsirent has motorboats (per day €35 to €120) and bikes (per day €10) for hire. In winter they’ll take you out on the lake in a snowmobile sledge.
ESTONiA L/NKE PEiPSi
Don’t forget to pack the mosquito repellent if you’re staying by the lake.
Hostel Laguun guesthouse €
(0 505 8551; www. hostel-laguun .ee; Liiva 1a, Kallaste; site/r per person €4/17) In a prime lakeside spot in Kallaste, Laguun is a small (10-bed) guesthouse offering simple rooms with shared bathroom, plus space for campers. There’s a large garden and barbecue area, plus a communal kitchen. Try for a room with lake views.
Kuru Puhkemajad campground €
(0529 5088; www kurupuhkemajad ee; Kuru; s/d €12/24, cabin €30-48, campervan per person €10; E) At Kuru, just a couple of kilometres east of Kauksi (off the secondary road from the lake to Iisaku), this complex offers rooms in barnlike buildings and wooden cabins - all sharing a communal kitchen and rudimentary bathrooms. The pretty grounds have barbecues and kids’ play equipment and you can rent a bike (per hour €2) or motorboat (per hour €100).
Aarde Villa b&b €€
(0518 3617; www. aardevilla .ee; Saaritsa; sites per person €5, s/d/ste €26/52/56; EB) Halfway between Mustvee and Kallaste, this lakeside estate offers comfy ensuite rooms in a stone building dating from 1711, set by its own beach. It’s a wonderful, peaceful retreat with a plethora of activities on offer, including boats (with fishing equipment) and bikes for rent. Camping is possible within the leafy grounds.
Locally caught and smoked fish (trout or salmon) is a speciality of the area; some would say the delicious catch alone warrants the journey. Look for suitsukala (smoked fish) stands scattered all along the main road curving around the lake. There are supermarkets in Mustvee and Kallaste, and a pood (grocery store) in Kuru.
Kivi Korts Estonian €
(0745 3872; www.kivikorts.ee; Tartu mnt 2, Alatskivi; mains €2 .70-7.90; ©10am-8pm Mon-Wed, to 10pm Thu-Sun) The most atmospheric place in the region for a cheap, hearty meal, this cosy, dimly lit tavern has taken an antique-shop- 8 Information meets-junkyard approach to decor (much of what you see is for sale). The menu has patchy English translations and is very pork-heavy, but there are also fish and chicken dishes.
based around locally caught fish and onions grown in the villagers’ gardens. If you speak Russian, it’s worth calling ahead to confirm opening hours.
Kallaste Tourist Office (0 745 2705; www. kallaste .ee; Oja 22; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat & Sun Jun-Aug)
ESTONiA LOUE PEIHSI
8 Getting There & Around
Fish & Onion Restaurant Russian €
(Kala-Sibula Restoran; 0 745 3445; www.hot .ee/k/ kolkjarestoran; Kolkja; mains €6-8; ©noon-6pm daily, by appointment in winter) This simple, blue-painted restaurant offers you the chance to try the Old Believer cuisine, largely
Getting to and around the lakeside villages is tricky without your own wheels . From Mustvee there are buses to the following destinations: Alatskivi (€3 .40, 40 minutes, daily)
Kallaste (€2 80, 30 minutes, two daily)
THE BLUE, BLACK & WHITE
Estonia’s tricolour dates back to 1881, when a theology student named Jaan Bergmaan wrote a poem about a beautiful flag flying over Estonia. The only problem, for both Jaan and his countrymen, was that no flag in fact existed. Clearly, something had to be done about this. This was, after all, the time of the national awakening, when the idea of independent nationhood was on the lips of every young dreamer across the country.
In September of that year, at the Union of Estonian Students in Tartu, 20 students and one alumnus gathered to hash out ideas for a flag. All present agreed that the colours must express the character of the nation, reflect the Estonian landscape and connect to the colours of folk costumes. After long discussions, the students came up with blue, black and white. According to one interpretation, blue symbolised hope for Estonia’s future; it also represented faithfulness. Black was a reminder of the dark past to which Estonia would not return; it also depicted the country’s dark soil. White represented the attainment of enlightenment and education - an aspiration for all Estonians; it also symbolised snow in winter, light nights in summer and the Estonian birch tree.
After the colours were chosen, it took several years before the first flag was made. Three young activist women - Emilie, Paula and Miina Beermann - carried this out by sewing together a large flag made out of silk. In 1884 the students held a procession from Tartu to Otepaa, a location far from the eyes of the Russian government. All members of the students’ union were there as the flag was raised over the vicarage. Afterwards it was dipped in Puhajarv (a lake considered sacred to Estonians) and locked safely away in the student archive.
Although the inauguration of the flag was a tiny event, word of the flag’s existence spread, and soon the combination of colours appeared in unions and choirs, and hung from farmhouses all across Estonia. By the end of the 19th century the blue, black and white was used in parties and at wedding ceremonies. Its first political appearance, however, didn’t arrive until 1917, when thousands of Estonians marched in St Petersburg demanding independence. In 1918 Estonia was declared independent and the flag was raised on Pikk Hermann in Tallinn’s Old Town. There it remained until the Soviet Union seized power in 1940.
During the occupation the Soviets banned the flag and once again it went underground. For Estonians, keeping the flag on the sly was a small but hopeful symbol of one day regaining nationhood. People hid flags under floorboards or unstitched the stripes and secreted them in bookcases. Those caught with the flag faced severe punishment -including a possible sentence in the Siberian gulags. Needless to say, as the Soviet Union teetered on the brink of collapse, blue, black and white returned to the stage. In February 1989 the flag was raised again on Pikk Hermann. Independence was about to be regained.
Narva (€5, two hours, five daily) Tallinn (€13, three hours, daily) Tartu (€4 to €5, one hour, 10 daily)
This sleepy little town, 35km north of Tartu, is a major drawcard for Estonian tourists due to its role as the setting for Oskar Luts’ coming-of-age novel Spring (Kevade) and, even more so, as the location for the 1969 movie adaptation of the same. Trotted out every year for a television rerun at Christmas, it’s unquestionably the nation’s favourite family flick. Even if Spring has passed you by, Palamuse makes for a pleasantly rural pit stop.
O Luts Parish School Museum museum (O Lutsu kihelkonnakoolimuuseum; www.palmuse um .ee; Kostri allee 3; admission €1 .50, slingshot €0 .90; © 10am-6pm May-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri Oct-Apr) The future novelist Oskar Luts attended school in this rustic building from 1895 to 1899, as immortalised in his most famous book Spring. The subsequent film adaptation was shot here and the schoolhouse now features displays on all three: the film, the book and the writer.
Spring’s primary audience is Estonian, so it’s not surprising that English captions are limited. However, it’s still fun to potter around the re-created classroom, dorm and teacher’s bedroom, and to look at the black-and-white stills of the movie and various stage productions.
Best of all, you can hire a slingshot and attempt to re-create a scene in the movie by breaking a window in a neighbouring building. Museum staff assure us that kids have a much better success rate at this than their parents do - and in any case, the window is quickly replaced.
Lutheran Church church
(Puha Bartholomeuse kirik; Kostri allee 2; ©10am-5pm May-Sep) Another star of the movie adaptation of Spring, this lovely Gothic church has its roots in the 13th century, although it has been substantially altered over time. Its most interesting feature is a carved wooden pulpit from 1696, festooned with saints and angels.
Jogevamaa Tourist Information Centre (0 776
8520; www .visitjogeva . com; Kostri allee 1;
©10am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year)
8 Getting There & Away
Public transport is limited, with only one bus per day to and from Tartu (one hour) .
Tartu lays claim to being Estonia’s spiritual capital, with locals talking about a special Tartu vaim (spirit), created by the time-stands-still feel of its wooden houses and stately buildings, and by the beauty of its parks and riverfront.
Small and provincial, with the tranquil Emajogi River flowing through it, Tartu is Estonia’s premier university town, with students making up nearly a seventh of the population. This injects a boisterous vitality into the leafy, historic setting and grants it a vibrant nightlife for a city of its size. On long summer nights, those students that haven’t abandoned the city for the beach can be found on the hill behind the Town Hall, flirting and drinking.
Tartu was the cradle of Estonia’s 19th-century national revival and it escaped Soviet town planning to a greater degree than Tallinn. Its handsome centre is lined with classically designed 18th-century buildings, many of which have been put to innovative uses. Aside from its own attractions - including some interesting galleries and museums - Tartu is a convenient gateway to exploring southern Estonia.
By around the 6th century there was an Estonian stronghold in Tartu and in 1030 Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv is said to have founded a fort here called Yuriev. The Estonians regained control, but in 1224 were defeated by the Knights of the Sword, who placed a castle, cathedral and bishop on what henceforth became known as Toomemagi (Cathedral Hill). The surrounding town became known as Dorpat - its German name - until the end of the 19th century.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries Dorpat suffered repeated attacks and changes of ownership as Russia, Sweden and Poland-Lithuania fought for control of the Baltic region. Its most peaceful period was during the Swedish reign, which coincided with the university’s founding in 1632 - an
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event that was to have an enormous impact on the city’s future. This peace ended in 1704, during the Great Northern War, when Peter the Great took Tartu for Russia. In 1708 his forces wrecked the town and most of its population was deported to Russia.
In the mid-1800s Tartu became the focus of the Estonian national revival. The first Estonian Song Festival was held here in 1869, and the first Estonian-language newspaper was launched here - both important steps in the national awakening.
The peace treaty that granted independence to Estonia (for the first time in its history) was signed in Tartu between Soviet Russia and Estonia on 2 February 1920. Tartu was severely damaged in 1941 when Soviet forces retreated, blowing up the grand 1784 Kivisild stone bridge over the river, and again in 1944 when they retook it from the Nazis. Both occupying forces committed many atrocities. A monument now stands on the Valga road where the Nazis massacred 12,000 people at Lemmatsi.
Tartu, as the major repository of Estonia’s cultural heritage, has museums devoted to an eclectic array of subjects. The tourist office will be able to help you out if your interests extend to, say, farm machinery.
1 Old Town
OTown Hall Square square
(Raekoja plats) Tartu’s main square is lined with grand buildings and echoes with the chink of glasses and plates in summer. The centrepiece is the Town Hall itself, fronted by a statue of students kissing under a spouting umbrella. On the south side of the square, look out for the communist hammer-and-sickle relief that still remains on the facade of number 5.
Town Hall historic building
(Raekoja plats) Built between 1782 and 1789, this graceful building was designed by German architect JHB Walter, who modelled it on a typical Dutch town hall. It’s topped by a tower and weather vane, and a clock was added to encourage students to be punctual for classes. As well as the council offices, it contains the tourist information centre and a pharmacy.
Tartu Art Museum gallery
(Tartu Kunstimuuseum; www.tartmus .ee; Raekoja plats 18; adult/student €4/3; ©11am-6pm Wed
0 Top Sights
1 Tartu University Museum.....................B2
2 Town Hall Square..................................D3
3 Citizen's Home Museum........................C1
4 Cornflower Monument..........................C5
5 Estonian Sports Museum......................C1
6 KGB Cells Museum................................C6
Postal Museum...............................(see 5)
8 Sacrificial Stone.....................................B2
9 Science Centre AHHAA.........................F4
10 St John's Lutheran Church....................C1
11 Tartu Art Museum.................................D2
12 Tartu Toy Museum................................C2
13 Tartu University.....................................C2
14 Tartu University Art Museum...............C2
15 Tartu University Botanical
16 Town Hall................................................C3
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
17 Aura Veekeskus......................................F5
19 Academus Hostel..................................C5
20 Antonius Hotel.......................................C2
21 Domus Dorpatensis...............................D3
22 Hotel Tartu..............................................F4
23 London Hotell.........................................D2
25 Pallas Hotell............................................E4
26 Tampere Maja........................................C2
28 Villa Margaretha....................................D6
Wilde Guest Apartments..............(see 32)
29 Cafe Truffe..............................................D2
32 Eduard Vilde Restaurant & Cafe...........D4
33 La Dolce Vita...........................................D2
34 Meat Market...........................................C2
37 Tartu Market Hall...................................E3
38 University Cafe.......................................C2
Q Drinking & Nightlife
41 Club Tallinn..............................................E1
42 Genialistide Klubi...................................D1
46 Vein ja Vine.............................................C2
50 Vanemuine Sadamateater....................F3
51 Vanemuine Small Stage........................B6
52 Vanemuine Theatre & Concert
53 Antoniuse Gild........................................C2
55 Tartu Kaubamaja...................................E4
56 Tartu Open Market.................................F3
58 University Bookshop..............................D2
& Fri-Sun, to 9pm Thu) If you’re leaving one of the plaza’s pubs and you’re not sure whether you’re seeing straight, don’t use this building as your guide. Foundations laid partially over an old town wall have given a pronounced lean to this, the former home of Colonel Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) - an exiled Scot who distinguished himself in the Russian army. It now contains an engrossing gallery spread over three levels, the bottom of which is given over to temporary exhibitions.
Paintings comprise the bulk of the permanent collection, along with some sculpture, photography, video art and mixed media work, including some truly wonderful 20th-century portraiture.
Tartu University university
(Tartu Ulikool; www .ut . ee; Ulikooli 18) Fronted by six Doric columns, the impressive main building of Tartu University was built between 1803 and 1809. The university itself was founded in 1632 by the Swedish king Gustaf II Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) to train Lutheran clergy and government officials. It was modelled on Uppsala University in Sweden.
The university closed in 1710 during the Great Northern War but reopened in 1802, later becoming one of the Russian Empire’s foremost centres of learning. Its early emphasis on science is evidenced by the great scholars who studied here in the 19th century, including physical chemistry pioneer and Nobel prize winner for chemistry, Wilhelm Ostwald; physicist Heinrich Lenz; and the founder of embryology, natural scientist Karl Ernst von Baer.
Tartu University Art Museum museum (Tartu Ulikooli kunstimuuseum; www. kunstimuuse um . ut .ee; Ulikooli 18; adult/child €3/2; ©10am-6pm Mon-Sat May-Sep, 11am-5pm Mon-Fri Oct-Apr) Within the main university building, this collection comprises mainly plaster casts of ancient Greek sculptures made in the 1860s and 1870s, along with an Egyptian mummy. The rest of the collection was evacuated to Russia in 1915 and has never returned. Admission includes entry to the graffiti-covered attic lock-up, where students were held in solitary confinement for various infractions.
In the 19th century, failing to return a library book on time could net you two days in the lock-up; insulting a lady, four days; insulting a (more sensitive?) porter, five days; duelling, up to three weeks.
St John's Lutheran Church church
(Jaani kirik; www.jaanikirik.ee; Jaani 5; steeple adult/child €2/1 .50; © 10am-7pm Mon-Sat Jun-Aug, 10am-6pm Tue-Sat Sep-May) Dating to at least 1323, this imposing red-brick church is unique for the rare terracotta sculptures placed in niches around its exterior and interior (look up). It lay in ruins and was left derelict following a Soviet bombing raid in 1944 and wasn’t fully restored until 2005. Climb the 135 steps of the 30m steeple for a bird’s-eye view of Tartu.
Tartu Toy Museum museum
(Tartu manguasjamuuseum; www. mm .ee; Lutsu 8; adult/child €5/4; ©11am-6pm Wed-Sun) A big hit with the under-eight crowd (and you won’t see too many adults anxious to leave), this is a great place to while away a few rainy hours. Set in a late-18th-century building, this excellent museum showcases dolls, model trains, rocking horses, toy soldiers and tons of other desirables. It’s all geared to be nicely interactive, with exhibits in pull-out drawers and a kids’ playroom.
The adjacent courtyard house is home to characters and props from Estonian animated films and TV shows. Also included in the admission price is the small museum in the basement of the Theatre House, two doors down, showcasing theatre puppets.
Citizen's Home Museum museum
(Linnakodaniku muuseum; http://linnamuuseum . tartu .ee; Jaani 16; adult/child €2/1; ©11am-5pm
Wed-Sat, 11am-3pm Sun Apr-Oct, 10am-3pm Wed-Sun Nov-Mar) This old wooden house is furnished to show how a burgher from the 1830s lived. There are only a few rooms but it’s still quite interesting.
Botanical Gardens gardens
(Tartu Ulikooli botaanikaaed; 0737 6180; www. botaanikaaed . ut .ee; Lai 38; greenhouse adult/child €3/2; © gardens 7am-7pm, to 9pm Jun-Aug, greenhouses 10am-5pm) Founded in 1803,
these gardens nurture 6500 species of plants including a large collection of palms in the greenhouse. In summer it’s always full of local families wandering the paths and strolling around the ornamental lake.
Estonian Sports Museum museum
(Eesti Spordimuuseum; www.spordimuuseum .ee; Ruutli 15; adult €2 .30/1 .60; © 11am-6pm Wed-Sun) Chronicling more than just Estonian Olympic excellence (although the glittering medal display serves that purpose admirably), this offbeat museum has a real sense of fun. While the photos of puffed-up early-20th-century bodybuilders in posing pouches suggest that they took themselves tremendously seriously, nobody’s suggesting that you should. If you’re feeling inspired, take a spin on the exercise bikes or test your strength on the interactive tug-of-war.
Postal Museum museum
(Postimuuseum; www.erm .ee; Ruutli 15; admission €1 .20; ©11am-6pm Wed-Sun) Sharing a building with the Sports Museum, the Postal Museum is rather more staid but still quietly fascinating. The stamp displays lay bare Estonia’s recent history, with the swastika appearing in 1941, giving way to the hammer and sickle in 1945.
Rising to the west of the Town Hall, Toomemagi (Cathedral Hill) is the original reason for Tartu’s existence, functioning on and off as a stronghold from around the 5th or 6th century. It’s now a tranquil park, with walking paths meandering through the trees and a pretty-as-a-picture rotunda which serves as a summertime cafe.
The approach from Town Hall Sq is along Lossi, which passes beneath the Angel's Bridge (Inglisild), which was built between 1836 and 1838 - follow local superstition and hold your breath and make
a wish as you cross it for the first time. A bit further up the hill is Devil's Bridge (Kuradisild).
OTartu University Museum museum
(Tartu Ulikool muuseum; www.muuseum.ut.ee; Lossi 25; adult/child €4/3; © 10am-6pm Tue-Sun May-Sep, 11am-5pm Wed-Sun Oct-Apr) Atop Toomemagi are the ruins of a Gothic cathedral, originally built by German knights in the 13th century. It was substantially rebuilt in the 15th century, despoiled during the Reformation in 1525, used as a barn for a period, and partly rebuilt between 1804 and 1809 to house the university library, which is now a museum. Inside there are a range of interesting exhibits chronicling student life.
Start by taking the historic 1920s lift to the top and working your way down. Mor-genstern Hall retains the appearance of the historic library and is lined with statues of the Ancient Greek muses. Kids will love the Cabinet of the Crazy Scientist, where they take part in some hand’s on science themselves. Other highlights include the beautiful White Hall and the Treasury, which houses eclectic items such as the death mask of Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, a 1504 Durer print, a human hand once used for anatomy lessons and a set of elaborate cheat-sheet scrolls extracted from students in the 1980s.
From May to September the museum ticket also includes entrance to the viewing platform on top of the cathedral tower.
Sacrificial Stone shrine
In pagan times, offerings used to be left in the cup-shaped depressions carved into this stone and the hundreds like it that are scattered throughout the country. Actually, offerings are still left; you’ll often find coins or flowers, even on those stones that have made their way into museums, and on this particular stone, students leave burnt offerings of their lecture notes.
Nearby is a natural parapet known as the Kissing Hill, where Russian newlyweds affix padlocks with their names scratched into them.
1 City Centre
Science Centre AHHAA museum
(Teaduskeskus AHHAA; www.ahhaa .ee; Sadama 1; adult/child €12/9, planetarium €4, flight simulator €1, 4D theatre €2; © 10am-7pm) Head under the dome for a whizz-bang series of interactive exhibits which are liable to bring out the mad scientist in kids and adults alike. Allow at least a couple of hours for button pushing, water squirting and knob twiddling. And you just haven’t lived until you’ve set a tray of magnetised iron filings ‘dancing’ to Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy. Upstairs there’s a nightmarish collection of pickled organs and deformed fetuses courtesy of the university’s medical faculty.
KGB Cells Museum museum
(KGB kongide muuseum; http://linnamuuseum . tartu ee; Riia mnt 15b, enter from Pepleri; adult/
Hidden in parks, proudly displayed in squares and skulking in lanes, Tartu's sculptures are often surprising and sometimes plain bizarre. Here are some to look out for: Everybody's favourite The snogging students in front of the Town Hall.
Most whimsical Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde, sharing both a surname and a park bench in front of Vallikraavi 4. Of course, they never actually met.
Creepiest The man-sized naked baby holding hands with the baby-sized naked man on Kuuni. It's actually a self-portrait of the artist with his son.
Most clever The fountain at the corner of Vanemuise and Struve which at first glance looks like a tangle of steel tubes with water shooting out the back, but turns into a caricature of famed professor Yuri Lotman (1922-93) when viewed from certain angles. Most likely to put you off your chops The pig standing on a barrel outside the market, with one side already marked up by the butcher. This little piggy went to market; it didn't end well.
Best 1970s flashback Women From The Countryside in front of the art gallery. The younger woman's flared jeans and obvious lack of a bra would date it to 1978, even if there wasn't a plaque to that effect.
child €4/2; ©11am-4pm Tue-Sat) What do you do when a formerly nationalised building is returned to you with cells in the basement and a fearsome reputation? In this particular case, the family donated the basement to the Tartu City Museum, which created this sombre and highly worthwhile exhibition. Chilling in parts, the displays give a fascinating rundown on deportations, life in the gulags, the Estonian resistance movement and what went on in these former KGB headquarters, known as the ‘Grey House.
Cornflower Monument memorial
In 1990 this metallic monument was erected near the KGB headquarters in memory of the victims of Soviet repression; the blue cornflower is Estonia’s national flower. Sadly, it’s badly in need of maintenance.
1 Karlova & Vaksali Aparaaditehas area
(www.aparaaditehas.ee; Kastani 42) It was still part abandoned building, part construction site when we last visited, but this old factory complex could be well worth checking out. Plans are afoot to turn it into a hip dining, drinking, shopping and cultural hub akin to the extremely popular Telliskivi Creative City (p61) development in Tallinn.
A Le Coq Beer Museum museum
(0744 9726; www.alecoq .ee; Laulupeo 15; adult/ child €5/2; ©tours 2pm Thu, 10am, noon & 2pm Sat) Located at the famous brewery, this museum briefly covers the history of beer making but tours focus mainly on the machinery and brewing techniques, with free samples at the end. A Le Coq has churned out its trademark beverage since 1879.
OEstonian National Museum museum
(Eesti rahva muuseum; www.erm .ee; Narva mnt 177) When we last visited, the immense, low-slung, architectural showcase built to house the Estonian National Museum had yet to open its doors. Built on a Soviet airstrip on the grounds of Raadi Manor (the museum’s original prewar home), the new building has a floor space of nearly 34,000 sq metres and will contain a cafe, restaurant and displays on august themes such as ‘Estonian Dialogues’ and ‘Echo of the Urals’. Check the website for details.
Raadi Manor Park park
(Raadi Moisapark; www.erm .ee; Narva mnt 177; ©7am-10pm) ia;F On the main road heading north out of town stands the sad remains of Raadi Manor. It was once a beautiful baroque-style building but WWII bombing has left only a red-brick shell. In the 19th century the manor grounds were considered to be one of Estonia’s most beautiful parks and, while they’re a shadow of their former selves, locals still come to stroll around and swim in the lake.
(0 733 7182; www.dorpat.ee; adult/child
€8/6; ©noon & 2pm Tue-Sun, plus 4pm Sat) Ninety-minute riverboat cruises, departing from the quay by Hotel Dorpat.
Riverside Beaches beach
If the sun’s beating down and you can’t make it to Parnu there are a pair of pleasant beaches on opposite banks of the Emajogi, about a 1km walk northwest of the Kroonu-aia bridge.
Aura Veekeskus water park
(www.aurakeskus .ee; Turu 10; pool €3-6, water park €6-8; © 10am-10pm, closed Jul) A 50m indoor pool and family-friendly water park with all the trimmings.
Festivals & Events
Tartu regularly dons its shiniest party gear and lets its hair down; check out www. kultuuriaken.tartu.ee for more.
Tartu Student Days carnival
(Tartu Tudengipaevad; www.studentdays.ee) Catch a glimpse of modern-day student misdeeds at the end of April, when they take to the streets to celebrate term’s end (and the dawn of spring) in every way imaginable. A second, smaller version occurs in mid-October.
Hanseatic Days carnival
(Hansapaevad; www.hansapaevad .ee) Tartu’s medieval membership of the Hanseatic League is celebrated over a weekend in mid-July, with craft workshops, markets, family-friendly performances and a street parade.
(www.tartuff.ee) A big outdoor cinema takes over Town Hall Sq for a week in August. Screenings (with art-house leanings) are
free, plus there are docos, poetry readings and concerts.
Christmas City Tartu Christmas
(Joululinn Tartu; www.joululinntartu .ee) Choirs sing as Advent candles are lit in a ceremony in Town Hall Sq at 4pm on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. It’s a chance to see the square at its most magical: decorated with fairy lights and Christmas trees, and sprinkled with snow.
4 Old Town
Terviseks hostel €
(0 565 5382; www.terviseksbbb .com; top fl, Raekoja plats 10; dm €15-17, s/d €22/44; fflS) Occupying a historic building in a perfect main-square location, this excellent ‘backpacker’s bed and breakfast’ offers dorms (maximum four beds, no bunks), private rooms, a full kitchen and lots of switched-on info about the happening places in town. It’s like staying in your rich mate’s cool European pad. Cheers (ter-viseks!) to that.
ODomus Dorpatensis apartments €€ (0 733 1345; www.dorpatensis .ee; Raekoja plats 1; s €40-69, d €55-84; S) Run by an academic foundation, this block of 10 apartments offers an unbeatable location and wonderful value for money. The units range in size but all have writing desks (it’s run by scholars, after all) and almost all have kitchenettes. The staff are particularly helpful - dispensing parking advice and directing guests to the communal laundry. The entrance is on Ulikooli.
Tampere Maja guesthouse €€
(0 738 6300; www.tamperemaja .ee; Jaani 4; s/d/ tr/q from €48/79/99/132; BUS) With strong links to the Finnish city of Tampere (Tartu’s sister city), this cosy guesthouse features six warm, light-filled guest rooms in a range of sizes. Breakfast is included and each room has access to cooking facilities. And it wouldn’t be Finnish if it didn’t offer an authentic sauna (one to four people €13; open to nonguests).
Wilde Guest Apartments apartments €€ (0 511 3876; www.wildeapartments .ee; Vallikraavi 4; apt €60-90; S ) The people behind the Eduard Vilde Restaurant also have five beautiful self-contained apartments for rent.
Four of them are near the restaurant, either on Vallikraavi or Ulikooli street, with the last one in the striking highrise tower by the river. All of them have a separate bedroom and a sofa bed in the lounge.
OAntonius Hotel hotel €€€
(0 737 0377; www.hotelantonius .ee; Ulikooli 15; s/d/ste from €88/108/196; SS) Sitting plumb opposite the main university building, this first-rate 18-room boutique hotel is loaded with antiques and period features. Breakfast is served in the 18th-century vaulted cellar, which in the evening morphs into a top-notch restaurant.
London Hotell hotel €€€
(0 730 5555; www. londonhotel .ee; Ruutli 9; s/d from €79/99; EfflS) After the glitzy lobby, with its brass trim and water feature, the decor of the rooms at this upmarket hotel is quite lacklustre. Still, you can’t fault the prime location.
4 City Centre
Academus Hostel hostel €
(05306 6620; www.academus.ee; Pepleri 14; s/ tw/f €30/40/50; BS) The university runs three hostels but only this one is open to nonstudents, year-round. Rooms are clean, bright and reasonably large, and have private kitchenettes and bathrooms. Despite being a tad institutional, they’re excellent value for money. Advance reservations are a must.
Hotel Tartu hotel €€
(0 731 4300; www.tartuhotell .ee; Soola 3; s/d €49/68, without bathroom €33/44; BSiS) In a handy position across from the bus station and Tasku shopping centre, this hotel offers rooms from the Ikea school of decoration -simple but clean and contemporary. As well as the regular rooms there’s a small hostel wing, offering cheaper rooms with shared bathrooms. A sauna’s available for hire (per hour €25).
Pallas Hotell hotel €€
(0730 1200; www. pallas .ee; Riia mnt 4; s/d €60/80; EfflS) The Pallas occupies the site of a former art college and has attempted to channel some of that creativity into its decor. The rooms are bright and airy; request a city-facing room on the 3rd floor, for space, views and artworks. British-themed Big Ben Pub juts out the side of the building in its own glass mushroom.
4 Karlova & Vaksali
Looming hostel €
(05699 4398; www. loominghostel .ee; Kastani 38; dm €15-17, s/d €32/39; HB) S Run by urban greenies with a commitment to recycled materials and sustainable practices, Looming (‘creation’ in Estonian) offers smart bunk-free dorms and private rooms in a converted art nouveau factory building. There’s an appealing roof terrace and bikes for rent (per day €10).
Villa Margaretha boutique hotel €€
(0 731 1820; www. margaretha .ee; Tahe 11/13; s/d/ ste from €50/60/150; EB) Like something out of a fairy tale, this wooden art nouveau house has a sweet wee turret and romantic rooms decked out with sleigh beds and artfully draped fabrics. The cheaper rooms in the modern extension at the rear are bland in comparison. It’s a little away from the action but still within walking distance of Old Town.
5 Old Town
Werner cafe €
(www.werner.ee; Ulikooli 11; baked items €2-3; ©7.30am-11pm Mon-Thu, 8am-1am Fri & Sat, 9am-9pm Sun) Upstairs there’s a proper restaurant serving pasta and meaty mains, but we prefer the buzzy cafe downstairs. The counter positively groans under a hefty array of quiches and tempting cakes, plus there’s a sweet little courtyard at the back.
Noir EUROPEAN €
(0744 0055; www.cafenoir.ee; Ulikooli 7; mains €78; © 11am-11pm Mon-Sat, to 6pm Sun; ffl) Definitely a place to impress a date, this sexy, black-walled restaurant-cum-vinotheque is a fine place for wining, dining and reclining. It’s tucked away in a courtyard off Ulikooli, with outdoor tables and a well-priced menu of salads and pasta.
Crepp creperie €
(www.crepp.ee; Ruutli 16; mains €4.50-8.50; ©11am-11pm) Locals love this place. Its warm, stylish decor belies its bargain-priced crepes (of the sweet or savoury persuasion, with great combos such as cherry-choc and almonds). It serves tasty salads too.
Cafe Truffe modern european €€
(0742 8840; www.truffe.ee; Raekoja plats 16; mains €7.50-15; © 11am-11pm Sun-Thu, to 1am Fri & Sat) Truffe calls itself a cafe, although it feels more like an upmarket bar and the food is absolutely restaurant quality. One thing’s for certain, it’s the best eatery on Town Hall Sq and one of Tartu’s finest. In summer, grab a seat on the large terrace and tuck into a steak with truffle sauce or a delicately smoked duck breast.
Polpo MODERN EUROPEAN €€
(0730 5566; www. polpo .ee; Ruutli 9; mains €9 . 5017; ©11am-11pm Mon-Sat; B) Despite being slightly below street level, Polpo’s vaulted space beneath the London Hotell is surprisingly bright and modern. And despite the name, the menu isn’t particularly Italian. Expect hearty mains such as beef cheek, roast lamb and smoked pork alongside some simple but creative pasta and risotto dishes.
La Dolce Vita Italian €€
(0740 7545; www. ladolcevita .ee; Kompanii 10; mains €7-15; ©11 ,30am-11pm) Thin-crust pizzas come straight from the wood-burning oven at this cheerful, family-friendly pizzeria. It’s the real deal, with a lengthy menu of bruschetta, pizza, pasta, grills etc and classic casual decor (checked tablecloths, Fellini posters - tick).
(0730 4680; www.pierre.ee; Raekoja plats 12; mains €6 50-18; ©8am-11pm Mon-Thu, to 1am Fri, 10am-1am Sat, to 10pm Sun) Tallinn’s favourite chocmeister has set up on Tartu’s main square, offering a refined atmosphere, old-world decor and all-important truffles. This is a prime spot for coffee and a sugar fix at any time of day, and there’s a full bistro-style menu too.
Restaurant & Cafe modern european €€ (0734 3400; www.vilde .ee; Vallikraavi 4; mains €819; © 11 ,30am-9pm Mon-Wed, to 11pm Thu, noon-1am Fri & Sat, to 5pm Sun) Choose healthy fare in the cafe downstairs or, better still, head up to the restaurant for a pasta, elk cutlet or Caesar salad - or just for a tipple on the very pleasant terrace.
University Cafe cafe €€
(Ulikooli Kohvik; 0737 5405; www. kohvik . ut .ee; Ulikooli 20; mains €7-16; ©11 ,30am-9pm Mon-Wed, to midnight Thu-Sat) This venerable institution inhabits a labyrinth of elegantly decorated rooms. It’s simultaneously grand and cosy, with serves to sate the most ravenous of scholars. In the evening the Tkrtu Jazz Club takes over the bottom floor.
Antonius EUROPEAN ccc
(0737 0377; www. hotelantonius .ee; Ulikooli 15; mains €18-24; © 6-11pm) Tartu’s most upmarket restaurant is within the romantic, candlelit nooks and crannies of the Antonius Hotel’s vaulted cellar, which predates the 19th-century building above it by several centuries. Expect a concise menu of meaty dishes, prepared using French techniques from the finest Estonian produce.
Meat Market steakhouse ccc
(0653 3455; www.meatmarket.ee; Kuutri 3; mains €15-22; © noon-11pm Mon-Thu, to 1am Fri
& Sat, to 9pm Sun) The name says it all, with dishes ranging from elk carpaccio to nose-to-tail Livonian beef, to smoky Azeri-style shashlik (skewered meat, delivered flaming to the table). The vegie accompaniments are excellent too. It’s open late for cocktails.
5 City Centre
Dorpat BUFFET c
(www.dorpat .ee; Soola 6; buffet €4-6 .50; ©buffet noon-2pm Mon-Fri) The elegant restaurant at the Dorpat also has a reputable a la carte menu, but it’s the weekday lunch buffet that we’re particularly keen on. For €4 you’ll get a bottomless bowl of your choice of soup and salad, while for €6.50 you get the full bain-marie as well.
Tartu Market Hall market c
(Tartu Turuhoone; www.tartuturg .ee; Vabaduse pst 1; ©730am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun) Tartu’s riverside market hall is mainly devoted to meat, although you will find stalls selling fruit and vegetables, cheese and baked goods. The fishmongers have a stinky section all to themselves.
5 Karlova & Vaksali
Hansa Tall Estonian cc
(www.hansahotell .ee; Aleksandri 46; mains €9 . 50-16; ©7am-10pm Sun-Thu, 8am-midnight Fri & Sat; W) If you want to look at a menu and really know you’re in Estonia, head to this super-rustic, barnlike tavern southeast of the centre. You need not try the smoked pig’s ears or blood sausage to enjoy the diverse, hearty menu, live music and even livelier locals.
6 Drinking & Nightlife
In summer the bars are quiet, unless they’ve got outside seating. You’ll find most of the nonholidaying students on the designated drinkers’ hill behind the Town Hall. During term, Wednesday is the traditional scholars’ party night.
Genialistide Klubi bar, club
(www. genklubi .ee; Magasini 5; © noon-3am Mon-Sat) The Genialists’ Club is an all-purpose, grungy ‘subcultural establishment’ that’s simultaneously a bar, a cafe, an alternative nightclub, a live-music venue, a cinema, a specialist Estonian CD store and, just quietly, the hippest place in Tartu.
(www. naiiv.ee; Vallikraavi 6; ©6pm-1am Tue-Thu, to 3am Fri & Sat) An imperious white cat holds court at this very cool craft beer and cocktail bar. The selection is extensive, so ask the clued up staff for suggestions on good local brews, then find a comfy sofa to sink into or head out to the small rear courtyard.
(www. pyss.ee; Lossi 28; mains €7-17; © noon-2am Mon-Sat, to midnight Sun) Set in a cavernous 18th-century gunpowder cellar built into the Toomemagi hillside, this boisterous pub serves beer-accompanying snacks and meaty meals under a soaring 10m-high vaulted ceiling. There’s regular live music and a large beer garden out front.
Vein ja Vine wine bar
(www.veinjavine .ee; Ruutli 8; ©5pm-1am Tue-Sat) Serving wine and excellent deli snacks, this little bar attracts a slightly older crowd (postgraduates, perhaps) but it still gets jammed and overflows onto the street in summer.
(www.zavood .ee; Lai 30; © 7pm-5am) This battered cellar bar attracts an alternative, down-to-earth crowd with its inexpensive drinks and lack of attitude. Student bands sometimes play here.
Club Tallinn club
(www.facebook .com/ClubTallinn; Narva mnt 27; admission €5-7; © 11pm-3am Wed-Sat) Tkrtu’s best dance club is a multifloored extravaganza with many nooks and crannies. Some top-notch DJs spin here, drawing a fashionable, up-for-it crowd.
(www. illusion .ee; Raatuse 97; admission €3-6; ©11pm-4am Wed, Fri & Sat) Occupying a grand Stalin-era movie theatre north of the river, Illusion has a lavish interior and draws a blinged-up crowd. It shuts up shop during the university summer holidays.
(www.atlantis.ee; Larva mnt 2; admission €3-7; ©11pm-4am Tue-Sat) Overlooking the Emajo-gi River, Atlantis is a popular, mainstream place that’s pretty short on style. The riverside setting, however, is nice if you’re in the mood for a cheesy good time.
For information on classical performances, see www.concert.ee.
Vanemuine Theatre & Concert Hall theatre (0744 0165; www.vanemuine.ee; Vanemuise 6) Named after the ancient Estonian song god, this venue hosts an array of theatrical and musical performances. It also puts on shows at its small stage (Vanemuise 45) and Sad-amateater (Harbour Theatre; Soola 5b). The latter has a prime location on the banks of the Emajogi and tends to stage the most modern, alternative productions.
Hansahoov live music
(0737 1802; www.hansahoov.ee; Aleksandri 46) Concerts and theatre productions are regularly staged in the large rustic courtyard of the Hansa Tall tavern.
(www.cinamon .ee; Turu 2) For Hollywood blockbusters, head to the multiplex above the Tas-ku shopping centre.
(www.forumcinemas .ee; Riia 14) This smaller cinema complex screens a mix of popular features and more art-house offerings.
Antoniuse Gild handicrafts
(Lutsu 5; ©noon-6pm Tue-Fri) Here you’ll find 16 artisans’ studios set around St Anthony’s Courtyard, where local craftspeople make ceramics, stained glass, jewellery, textiles, woodcarvings, dolls etc. It’s well worth a visit.
Tartu Kaubamaja shopping centre
(www.kaubamaja .ee; Riia 1; ©9am-9pm Mon-Sat, 10am-7pm Sun) Tartu’s biggest and flashest shopping centre has as its anchor tenant a branch of Tallinn’s Kaubamaja department store. Expect plenty of top fashion and much more.
Tasku SHOPPING CENTRE
(www.tasku .ee; Turu 2; © 10am-9pm Mon-Sat, to 6pm Sun) A big, glitzy mall with a Rimi supermarket on the bottom floor, a cinema multiplex on the top and a branch of the excellent Rahva Raamat bookstore chain in between.
(www.facebook.com/Lukumaja; Lai 1a; ©11am-5pm Thu & Fri, to 3pm Sat) On the side of Toomagi, next to Tartu’s version of the Add-ams Family house, this sweet, small store sells handmade dolls and toys for the young and young-at-heart.
Tartu Open Market market
(Tartu avaturg; www.tartuturg .ee; Soola 10; ©7am-5pm, to 3pm Sat & Sun) Near the bus station, locals come here seeking fresh flowers, cheap clothes, nonbranded sunglasses and other bargains.
University Bookshop books
(Ulikooli raamatupood; Raekoja plats 11; © 10am-6pm Mon-Fri) Stocks a great selection of
SOUTHERN ESTONIAN LANGUAGES
Visitors may notice a quite different, choppier-sounding language spoken in the southeastern corner of Estonia. Until the end of the 19th century, the northern and southern Estonian languages flourished quite independently of each other. Then, in the interests of nationalism, a one-country, one-language policy was adopted, and the dominant northern Estonian became the country's main language.
Within the southern Estonian strand there are several distinct language groupings, the largest by far of which is Voro, spoken by around 75,000 native speakers, most of whom live in Vorumaa (Voru County). It's very closely related to Seto, which has an additional 12,600 speakers. Other variants include the Mulgi and Tartu dialects, with 9700 and 4100 speakers respectively.
To learn more about the unique Voro language, contact the Voro I nstitute (www.wi .ee).
books, along with university T-shirts, ties, scarves and mugs.
Raekoja Apteek (0 742 3560; www. apotheka . ee; Raekoja plats 1a; © 24hr) Twenty-four-hour pharmacy within the town hall .
Tartu Tourist Information Centre (0744 2111; www.visittartu . com; Town Hall, Raekoja plats; © 9am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun rest of year) Stocks local maps and brochures, books accommodation and tour guides, and has free internet access
8 Getting There & Away
Tartu Airport (TAY; 0605 8888; www.tartu-air port .ee; Lennu tn 44, Reola kula) is 9km south of the city centre but the only scheduled flights are daily Finnair services to and from Helsinki (p178)
Regional and international (p178) buses depart from Tartu Bus Station (Tartu Auto-bussijaam; 012550; Turu 2, enter from Soola;
© 6am-9pm), which is attached to the Tasku shopping centre .
Major domestic routes:
Kuressaare (€18, 5/ hours, two daily)
Otepaa (€2 to €3 . 50, one hour, 10 daily)
Parnu (€9 . 60 to €12, 2% hours, 12 daily)
Tallinn (€7 to €12, 2/ hours, at least every half-hour)
Viljandi (€5 . 80, 1% hours, 14 daily)
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
The tourist office keeps up-to-date lists of car-hire agencies with prices .
Avis (0 744 0360; www . avis . ee; Tartu Airport) Budget (0 605 8600; www. budget .ee; Tartu Airport)
City Car (0 523 9669; www . citycar .ee; Tartu Bus Station)
Europcar (0 605 8031; www . europcar . ee;
Hertz (0 506 9065; www . hertz . ee; Tartu Bus Station)
Tartu's beautifully restored wooden train station (0 673 7400; www.elron . ee; Vaksali 6), built in 1877, is 1 . 5km southwest of Old Town at the end of Kuperjanovi street . Four express (2/2-hour) and four regular (two-hour) services head to Tallinn daily (both €11), and there are also three trains a day to Sangaste (€3 . 70, one hour) and Valga (€4 .40, 70 minutes) .
8 Getting Around
TO/FROM THE AIRPORT Tartaline (0 505 4342; www.tartaline . ee; tickets €5) runs an airport shuttle, departing the terminal 10 minutes after each flight and from outside Tartu Kaubamaja 80 minutes before every flight . Hotel pick-ups can be prebooked in advance . Taxis cost around €10 .
Bikes can be rented from Jalgratas (0 742 1731; www . kauplusjalgratas . ee; Laulupeo 19; per day €14; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat) or from Looming hostel .
Tartu is easily explored on foot but there is also a local bus service . You can buy a single-use ticket from any kiosk (€0 . 83) or from the bus driver (€1), and be sure to validate the ticket once on board or risk a fine. Kiosks also sell day passes (€2.50).
Parking in the city is metered from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and through the weekends in July; buy a day ticket from www .parkimine . ee (€7 . 50) or pay by the hour at a machine (€0 . 50 to €1 . 50) . There's a free lot by Atlantis nightclub at Narva mnt 2 .
Local taxi companies include Takso Uks (0 742 0000; www.taksod.ee; flagfall €2.80, per kilometre €0 . 60) and Tartu Taksopark (0730 0200; www.gotaksopark.ee; flagfall €2.95, per kilometre €0 . 69) .
In the far southeast of Estonia lies the politically unrecognised area of Setomaa, stretching over the border into Russia. Culturally it’s quite distinct from the rest of Estonia, making it an interesting place for a short stop.
Varska, the biggest town in Estonian Setomaa (population 1170), has been inhabited for 5000 years. It’s known for its mineral water, sold throughout Estonia, and its healing mud. There’s plenty of rural charm here, including a picturesque 1907 stone church and a leafy cemetery surrounding it.
The tiny village of Podmotsa, sitting at the tip of a peninsula northeast of Varska, was once closely linked to the Seto village of Kulje, which stands just across the inlet in what is now Russia. Kulje’s beautiful Orthodox church, which was once Pod-motsa’s parish church, is clearly visible from the shoreline - as is the border-guard
here, but these back roads make for a very pleasant cycle. In Vdpolsova there’s a monument to folk singer Anne Vabarna, who is said to have known 100,000 verses by heart. Vopolsova’s homesteads typically consist of a ring of outer buildings around an inner yard. The houses in the neighbouring village of Tonja face the lake from which its people get their livelihood.
THE SETO WAY
watchtower. It’s a surreal experience to gaze across the water, with Russia surrounding you on three sides, and wonder whether you’re being watched. The Podmotsa cemetery contains three ancient stone crosses; in pagan times, a holy grove stood nearby.
A few kilometres north of Varska, on the west side of Varska Bay, are a pair of classic Seto villages. There’s not much to see
Setomaa’s native people, the Setos, have a culture that incorporates a mix of old Estonian and Russian traditions. Like the Estonians they are of Finno-Ugric origin, but the people became Orthodox, not Lutheran, because this part of the country fell under the subjugation of Novgorod and later Pihkva (Russian: Pskov) and was not controlled by German barons, like the rest of Estonia was.
They never fully assimilated into Russian culture and throughout the centuries retained their language, many features of which are actually closer in structure to old Estonian than the modern Estonian language (Seto is the spelling in the local language; northern Estonians use Setu). The same goes for certain pagan traditions that linger, for instance, leaving food on a relative’s grave; this was a common Estonian practice before the German crusaders brought Christianity on the point of a sword.
All of Setomaa was contained within independent Estonia between 1920 and 1940, but the greater part of it is now in Russia. The town of Pechory (Petseri in Estonian), 2km across the border in Russia and regarded as the ‘capital’ of Setomaa, is famed for its fabulous 15th-century monastery, considered one of the most breathtaking in Russia.
Today the Seto culture looks to be in a slow process of decline. While efforts have been made to teach and preserve the language, and promote customs through organised feasts, the younger generation is being quickly assimilated into the Estonian mainstream. The impenetrable border with Russia that has split their community since 1991 has further crippled it.
There are 12,600 Seto speakers in Estonia, with only around 3000 of these still residing in Estonian Setomaa. As Setos on the Russian side of the border are entitled to Estonian citizenship based on the pre-USSR border, almost all of the Russian Setos have chosen to move to Estonia. It’s estimated that less than 200 remain on the Russian side of the border, meaning that many now require a passport to visit the churches and graves of their ancestors.
A cursory look at the Seto landscape illustrates how unique it is in the Estonian context. Notably, their villages are structured like castles, with houses facing each other in clusters, often surrounded by a fence. This is in stark contrast to the typical Estonian village where farmhouses are positioned as far as possible from each other. Here, the Orthodox tradition has fostered a tighter sense of community and sociability.
Aside from the large silver breastplate that is worn on the women’s national costume, what sets the Seto apart is their singing style. Setomaa is particularly known for its female folk singers who improvise new words each time they chant their verses. Seto songs, known as leelo, are polyphonic and characterised by solo, spoken verses followed by a refrain chanted by a chorus. There is no musical accompaniment and the overall effect evokes great antiquity.
A cult of Peko, a pagan harvest god, has managed to coexist alongside the Orthodox religion, although the Seto tend to refer to him more as a kingly figure. The 8000-line Seto epic Pekolano tells the tale of this macho god, the rites of whom are known only to men. The epic dates back to 1927 when the Setos’ most celebrated folk singer, Anne Vabarna, was told the plot and spontaneously burst into song, barely pausing to draw breath until she had sung the last (8000th) line.
Information on the region can be found at www.setomaa.ee and www.visitsetomaa.ee.
The village of Obinitsa is a pleasant place to stop for lunch. A sculpture of the Seto ‘Song Mother’ stares solemnly over little Lake Obinitsa, which is dammed at one end and has a swimming platform.
Sights & Activities
T Seto Farm Museum museum
O (Seto talumuuseum; www.setomuuseum .ee; E Pikk 56, Varska; adult/child €2/1; ©10am-6pm s Tue-Sun Jun-Aug, 10am-4pm Tue-Sat Sep-May) m Presided over by a wooden carving of the o god/king Peko, this museum consists of A a 19th-century farmhouse complex, with
> stables, a granary and the former workshops for metalworking and ceramics. Don’t bypass the charming restaurant here or the excellent gift shop - Setomaa’s best - selling handmade mittens, socks, hats, dolls, tapestries, books and recordings of traditional Seto music.
Piusa Caves mile
(Piusa Koopad; www. piusa .ee; ©11am-6pm daily May-mid-Sep, noon-4pm Sat > Sun rest of year) S Sitting on a band of sandstone nearly 500m thick, Piusa was the site of a major quarry from 1922 to 1966 when it was discovered that the stone contained 99% quartz and was perfect for glass production. The result is a 22km network of cathedral-like hand-hewn caves. Tours into the cave entrance are included in the flash turf-roofed visitor centre’s entry fee.
The centre screens films about the history and ecology of the site, allows you to explore the depths via an interactive computer simulation and lets you set in motion a large pendulum which carves graceful arcs in the sand laid on the floor. There’s also a cafe and a playground.
The caves form the Baltic region’s largest winter holiday resort for bats, including several rare species. About 3500 gather here from October to May, drawn from a 100km radius. Tours only lead you to the opening of the main cavern and not into the caves proper - both for safety reasons and to avoid bat-bothering. The subterranean temperatures remain at a steady four to five degrees even on the coldest or hottest days, so bring warm clothes.
This is also the starting point for the Piusa Nature Trail, a tranquil 1.4km loop through pine forests and past WWII trenches. A series of ponds have been created here to provide a home for the rare great crested newt.
If you’re heading south from Piusa to Obinitsa, the road to the caves is signposted on the left, close to the railway bridge.
Obinitsa Seto Museum House museum (obinitsa Seto muuseumitaro; 0 785 4190; www obinitsamuuseum.ee; adult/child €2/1; ©11am-6pm daily mid-May-mid-Sep, 11am-4pm Mon-Fri rest of year) This one-room museum has folk costumes, tapestries, cookware and some old photos - but no explanations in English. It’s a good place to pick up tourist brochures.
Meremae Hill viewpoint
In such a flat country, even a modest 204m hill can become a high point. This one has a four-storey wooden viewing tower. It’s right next to Setomaa Tourist Farm, a conference and group accommodation complex which is often booked up for weddings.
Vastseliina Episcopal Castle castle
(Vastseliina piiskopilinnus; www.vastseliina . ee/lin-nus; Vana-Vastseliina; museum > castle adult/child €4/3, castle only €1; © 10am-6pm daily Jun-Aug, wed-Sun Sep) With a pretty setting high on a bluff above the gurgling Piusa River, right on the edge of Setomaa, these evocative ruins maintain a state of picturesque decrepitude. Only a section of wall and three crumbling towers remain standing, all of which are popular nesting sights for oversized storks. A neighbouring 17th-century tavern has been converted into a museum devoted to the castle’s history and general medieval concerns (pilgrimages, torture, executions, alchemy, surgery, death etc).
Founded in 1342 by the German Livonian knights on the then border with Russia, Vastseliina (or Neuhausen, as it was then known) was once the strongest castle in Old Livonia. It prospered from its position on the Pihkva-Riga trade route and as an important pilgrimage site due to the presence of a miraculous white cross which conveniently materialised in the chapel. The castle was finally destroyed after falling to the Russians in 1700, early in the Great Northern War.
Museum admission includes entry to the castle grounds where you can clamber over the fallen masonry and climb one of the towers. You can also visit a small chapel, just outside the castle walls. Opposite the museum a handicrafts store shares an old stone building with a small cafe which only serves soup, cake and pancakes.
The castle is also the starting point for a 15km liking trail which heads across country to the village of Lindora.
Buses head to Vana-Vastseliina from Voru (€1.70, one hour, four daily) and Obinitsa (€0.80, 20 minutes, three daily).
Festivals & Events
Seto Kingdom Day cultural
(www.visitsetomaa .ee) According to tradition, the Seto god/king Peko sleeps night and day in his cave of sand near Pechory. So on Seto Kingdom Day - proclaimed on the first Saturday in August - the Seto people gather in a different part of their district each year to appoint an ulemtsootska (regent). This colourful event is as fascinating as it is kooky.
Contenders for regent must be fluent in the Seto language, nominated by 10 of their peers and have their case sung for them by a traditional Seto leelo choir. They then must stand on a stump while their compatriots line up in front of their favourite.
Just as important as choosing this de facto cultural ambassador is preserving traditional Seto folk industries, so competitions are held to select the best mitten and belt knitters, and bread, beer, wine and cheese makers. There’s also a strongman contest.
And so the royal court is completed. Amid the day’s celebrations, traditional Seto songs and dances are performed and customary good wishes exchanged. The women are adorned with traditional Seto lace and large silver breastplates and necklaces, said to weigh as much as 3kg each. Later in the day respects are paid to the dead and everyone joins in the parade of the ‘Seto army’, wielding farm implements and the like.
Feast of the Transfiguration religious Every year on 19 August hundreds of Se-tos come to Obinitsa for a procession from the church to the neighbouring cemetery, which has been a place of burial for over 1800 years (long before the Christian invasion). It ends with a communal graveyard picnic featuring lots of apples and honey, and the leaving of food on graves for the departed souls.
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Hirvemae Holiday Centre guesthouse €€ (Hirvemae puhkekeskus; 0 797 6105; www. hirvemae . ee; Silla 6; s/d from €33/57; EB) Set on a pretty lake by the bridge leading into Varska, this attractive guesthouse has comfy, wood-floored rooms. Camping is possible too. The extensive grounds encompass a tiny beach, tennis courts, minigolf, a sauna and a playground. The on-site cafe’s menu is short, simple and cheap (soup, salad, meat - you know the drill).
Seto Teahouse seto cuisine €
(Seto tsaimaja; www setomuuseum ee; Pikk 56, Varska; mains €4.70-7; ©11am-7pm Tue-Sat, to 5pm Sun mid-May-mid-Sep, 11am-5pm Tue-Sat rest of year; B) Next door to the Seto Farm Museum, this atmospheric log cabin makes an unbeatable setting for a traditional home-cooked meal. The fare is nothing fancy - cold Seto soup, smoked or stewed pork, herring with sour cream, fried chicken - but it’s a real gem nonetheless.
Taarka Taro Koogikono seto cuisine €
(www.taarkatare.com; Obinitsa; mains €2-2 .50; ©10am-8pm May-Sep; B) Occupying Obinit-sa’s Seto community centre, this casual place serves up a range of traditional Seto dishes, such as milky cold soup with tomatoes, gherkins, lettuce and cucumber (it’s surprisingly nice). The staff speaks little English.
O RUSSIAN BORDER
The official crossing point with Russia in this area is at Koidula, immediately north of Pechory (Estonian: Petseri), but Setomaa is littered with abandoned control points, seemingly unguarded wooden fences and creepy dead ends with lonely plastic signs. One road, from Varska to Saatse, even crosses the zigzagging border into Russian territory for 2km; you're not allowed to stop on this stretch.
Be aware that crossing the border at any unofficial point (even if you have a Russian visa) is illegal and could lead to your arrest. It was in this vicinity that an Estonian security officer was controversially arrested by Russian troops in late 2014 and sentenced to
15 years in prison for spying. Estonia maintains that he was kidnapped from the Estonian side of the border, while Russia insists he was arrested on the Russian side. In light of the current tensions, you shouldn't take any risks.
Varska Tourist Office (0 512 5075; www . verska . ee; Pikk 12; ©11am-5pm Tue-Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep, 11am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year)
8 Getting There & Away
This is an area that is much more profitably explored by car or bike . There are, however, buses to Varska from Tartu (€6 . 60, 1% hours, eight daily) and Tallinn (€14, 4% hours, twice weekly) . From Voru there are buses to both Obinitsa (€2, one hour, four daily) and Meremae (€2, one hour, three daily) .
Set on Lake Tamula, Voru has a mix of wooden 19th-century buildings (many of which are quite rundown) and some painfully ugly Soviet-era ones. The sandy shoreline is the town’s best feature; it’s been spruced up with a new promenade and attracts plenty of beachgoers in summer.
Voru was founded in 1784 by special decree from Catherine the Great, though archaeological finds here date back several thousand years. Its most famous resident, however, was neither a tribesman nor a tsarina, but the writer Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-82), who is known as the father of Estonian literature for his folk epic Son of Kalev (Kalevipoeg).
Dr F R Kreutzwald Memorial Museum museum
(Dr Fr R Kreutzwaldi memoriaalmuuseum; www. lauluisa .ee; Kreutzwaldi 31; adult/child €2/1; ©10am-5pm Wed-Sun) Voru’s most interesting museum is set in the house where the great man lived and worked as a doctor from 1833 to 1877. Built in 1793, it’s one of the oldest houses in town and there’s a lovely garden at the rear. Displays cover the doctor’s life and career focusing, naturally, on his lasting achievement: the publication of the Son of Kalev epic, based on in-depth research of Estonian folk tales.
One of the outbuildings is devoted to editions of Son of Kalev published in a surprising variety of languages (including Mandarin Chinese and Hindi), alongside book illustrations and other art inspired by the story.
There’s also a monument to the writer in the park at the bottom of Katariina allee, near the lake.
Voru County Museum museum
(Vorumaa muuseum; Katariina allee 11; adult/child €1.30/0.70; ©11am-5pm Wed-Sun) Housed in one of the town’s ugliest buildings, this museum has mildly interesting exhibits on regional history and culture. Captions are in Estonian and Russian but an English translation booklet is provided. There’s also a gallery which displays temporary exhibitions of mainly local art.
St Catherine's Lutheran Church church
(Katariina kirik; Juri 9) Dedicated to the early Christian martyr Catherine but named in honour of Tsarina Catherine the Great, Vo-ru’s main Lutheran church was completed in 1793, only nine years after the town was founded. The pyramid over the lintel is a symbol of the Holy Trinity. On the neighbouring square there’s a granite monument to 17 locals who lost their lives in the 1994 Estonia ferry disaster (p162).
St Catherine's Orthodox Church church (Ekaterina kirik; Lembitu 1a; © 4-7pm Sat, 7-11am Sun May-Sep) Like it’s Lutheran cousin, Vo-ru’s main Orthodox church is dedicated to St Catherine as a nod to the town’s founder Catherine the Great. Completed in 1804, its elegant neoclassical design is topped with distinctly Russian-looking curved steeples. Inside there’s a beautiful iconostasis and the remains of Nikolai Bezanitski, a priest killed by the Bolsheviks, who is now honoured as a martyr by the Russian Orthodox church.
Festivals & Events Voru Folklore Festival cultural
(Voru folkloorifestival; www.vorufolkloor.ee) This mid-July festival is the biggest and brightest event on the local calendar - five days full of dancers, singers and musicians decked out in colourful traditional dress.
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Kubija hotel ee
(0 786 6000; www. kubija .ee; Manniku 43a; s/d/ ste €69/79/129; EBB) Tucked away on the forested shores of a lake on Voru’s southern fringes, this older hotel may look a little former-Soviet from the outside but the rooms have been freshened up, and the refurbished spa centre is one of the best in Estonia. Brave locals socialise in the outdoor sauna houses before taking a bracing dip in the lake.
Randuri guesthouses, pub cc
(0786 8050; www.randur.ee; Juri 36; s/d €45/55, mains €6-9; ©pub 8am-midnight; BB) Above this rustic, timber-lined pub there’s a pleasant set of 10 rooms, each decorated around a different motif and colour scheme (Japanese, Egyptian, Russian etc). It’s also one of the better places in Voru for a simple hearty meal: you want pork or chicken, you’ve got it.
Spring Cafe cafe c
(www.springcafe.ee; Petseri 20; mains €6-13; © 11am-9pm Mon-Sat) If you’re hankering for something a little less pubby, a little more cafe-bar, this slick lakeside spot should do more than satisfy. It has a pretty terrace, a brick-and-timber dining room, and a loun-gey 2nd floor with big windows. The food’s great too, with barbecued pork and chicken a speciality, alongside salads and more typical cafe fare.
6 Drinking & Entertainment
Olle 17 pub
(www.olle17.ee; Juri 17; © 11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) This convivial sports pub is a popular meeting place and drinking hole for locals, with a pool table, big-screen TV, back terrace and comprehensive pub-grub menu.
Voru Kannel cinema, theatre
(www.vorukannel .ee; Liiva 13) The garden behind this cultural centre hosts occasional concerts and folk festivals, while the centre itself acts as the town’s cinema and theatre. Check with the tourist office to see if anything’s on while you’re in town.
(www. antiques .ee; L Koidula 14; © 10 . 30am-4pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat) One of Estonia’s best antiques stores and a fun place to browse, even if you already have enough WWII helmets, scythes, sleigh bells, Soviet match-books and wooden beer steins.
Tourist Office (0 782 1881; www.visitvoru .ee; Juri 12, entrance on L Koidula; ©10am-5pm Mon-Sat mid-May-mid-Sep, Mon-Fri rest of year) A good place to pick up a map and get information about festivals, attractions and tourist farms throughout Voru County .
8 Getting There & Away
Major services stopping at Voru Bus Station (Voru bussijaam; 0 782 1018; Vilja 2):
Parnu (€14, 2% hours, daily)
Rouge (€0 . 75 to €3, 25 minutes, eight daily) Tallinn (€10 to €14, four hours, 10 daily)
Tartu (€2 to €5 . 60, 1/ hours, 16 daily)
Valga (€4 . 50, two hours, twice daily)
ESTONiA HAANJA NATU R EPARK
Haanja Nature Park
With 169 sq km of thick forests, sparkling lakes and meandering rivers, this protected area south of Voru encompasses some of the most pleasant scenery in the country.
The charming village of Rouge sits among gently rolling hills on the edge of the gently sloping Oobikuorg (Nightingale Valley), named for the birds that gather here in the spring for the avian version of the songfest. Seven small lakes are strung out along the ancient valley floor, including Estonia’s deepest lake, Suurjarv (Great Lake, 38m), in the middle of the village; it’s said to have healing properties. Linnamagi, the hill above Linnjarv (Town Lake), was an Estonian stronghold during the 8th to 11th centuries. In the 13th century the ailing travelled from afar to see a healer called Rougetaja, who lived here. There’s a good view across the valley from the hill (accessed from behind the Nightingale Valley Centre).
Stock up on maps and information about the park’s multifarious hiking and cross-country skiing opportunities from the Nightingale Valley Centre in Rouge or the tourist offices in Voru, Otepaa or Tartu.
Sights & Activities
Suur Munamagi viewpoint
(www. suurmunamagi .ee; entry via stairs adult/child €4/3, elevator €6; ©tower 10am-8pm Apr-Aug, to 5pm Sep & Oct, noon-3pm Sat & Sun Nov-Mar) At a less-than-overwhelming 318m, Suur Munamagi (literally Great Egg Hill) still manages to be the highest peak in the Baltic. In fact, the tree-covered ‘summit’ is easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it. Crack the Great Egg with an ascent of its 29m observation tower, built in 1939. On a clear day you can see Tartu’s TV towers, the onion domes of the Russian town of Pihkva (Pskov) and lush forests stretching out in every direction.
There’s a pleasant indoor-outdoor cafe on the ground floor, and another selling burgers and fudge back on the main road.
Stairs lead up the hill from the Voru-Ruusmae road, about 1km south of the otherwise uninspiring village of Haanja (which in turn is 13km south of Voru).
KARULA NATIONAL PARK
Fairies, ghosts and witches abound in the 123 sq km of wooded hills, small lakes and ancient stone burial mounds that form Karula National Park, at least according to local folklore. At its centre is Ahijarv, a beautiful lake ringed with trees and reeds which has been considered holy since pagan times.
xyvd 3ynivN vtnvvh pinoisb
The park's lakeside visitor centre (0786 8360; www. keskkonnaamet . ee; Ahijarve village; © 10am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep) distributes information and maps for various walking trails. It takes about 90 minutes to loop along the northern end of the lake and through forest and meadows on the blissful 4km-long Ahijarv Trail; keep an eye out for woodpeckers and native orchids.
The park is accessed by a partly unsealed road leading from Moniste village in the south to the town of Antsla in the north.
St Mary's Lutheran Church church
(Maarja kirik; Haanja mnt 10, Rouge; ©9am-3pm Thu-Sun Jun-Aug) Rouge’s whitewashed stone church dates from 1730, replacing a 16th-century church destroyed in the Great Northern War. Inside, the focal point is the altar painting Christ on the Cross (1854), framed by a neoclassical relief. Outside there’s a monument to the local dead of the 1918-20 independence war. The memorial was buried in someone’s backyard throughout the Soviet period to save it from destruction.
Luhasoo Nature Reserve nature reserve (Luhasoo maastikukaitseala) Set in untouched swampland on the border with Latvia (just outside the boundaries of Haanja Nature Park), this reserve provides a fascinating glimpse into Estonia’s primordial past. A well-marked 4.5km trail passes over varied bogs and along a velvety black lake, with Venus flytraps and water lilies among the foliage. You might spot elk and deer but the most you’re likely to see of wolves, bears and lynx is their tracks.
To get there, take the Krabi road from Rouge and, after the Parlijoe bus stop, turn left towards Kellamae.
Haanja Hikes outdoors
(Haanjamatkad; 0511 4179; www. haanjamatkad . ee; per day bike/canoe €10/32) This Voru-based crew has canoes and bikes for rent and leads canoeing (three to six hours, adult/ child €20/10) and rafting (four to six hours, 10-person raft €200) excursions, or two-day cycling and hiking adventures.
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If you want to base yourself in the park, Rouge is your best bet. Eating options are limited, although there’s a small supermarket in the village, and the Nightingale Valley Centre stocks some delicious traditional produce and baked goods.
Oobikuoru Puhkekeskus campground c (0 509 0372; www.visit .ee; Oobikuoru 5, Rouge; sites per adult/child €4/2, cabins per person €9-15, house €115) Set in a lovely spot overlooking Nightingale Valley, this outfit offers lodging in simple wooden cabins and self-contained houses (sleeping up to six). Rowboat (per hour €4), canoe (€4) and bike (€2) rental is available and there’s a sauna for hire (two hours €30). It’s located 600m from the main road, signposted as you head south.
OOobikuoru Villa hotel, cafe cc
(0509 9666; www oruvilla ee; Tiida kula; r from €58, mains €8-12; BB) Spread between two neighbouring buildings overlooking a small lake, this is our top pick in Rouge for both a bed and a bite. Don’t be fooled by the fussy antique-style furniture, it’s basically brand new - and the rooms are as comfortable and modern as you could wish for. Downstairs, Cafe Andreas serves up tasty bistro-style lunches and dinners.
Kulalistemaja guesthouse cc
(0 524 3028; www.maremajutus.ee; Metsa 5, Rouge; s/d €25/35, without bathroom €11/22; B) A great place to unwind in lovely surrounds, this big, yellow, family-run guesthouse has views over the valley from its pretty garden and a range of fuss-free rooms (most with private bathroom, some with TV, a few with balcony). The turn-off to the guesthouse is opposite St Mary’s Lutheran Church. There’s not much English spoken.
Nightingale Valley Centre (Oobikuorg Keskus; 0785 9245; ©10am-6pm mid-May-Aug) Signposted about 1 5km east from Rouge's church,
on the road to Haanja, this excellent centre has an information desk dispensing details on local walking trails . There's also a handicrafts store and a shop selling locally made food (snacks €1 . 50) .
8 Getting There & Away
There are buses from Voru to Haanja village (€0.70 to €1.40, 25 minutes, five daily) and Rouge (€0 . 75 to €3, 25 minutes, eight daily) .
If you thought that Narva’s central-city border crossing was odd, wait until you see Val-ga This town was the only place that was seriously contended between Estonia and Latvia after WWI. A British mediator had to be called in to settle the dispute and suggested the current border, splitting the town in two. As a result, as you wander around the town centre you’ll find yourself passing in and out of Valga and Valka (as the Latvian side is known). Mercifully there are no longer checkpoints (cheers, Schengen!), although you should really carry your passport with you. The local authorities cooperate on important stuff such as tourist information and bus services.
Valga is enjoying a slow process of gen-trification, but its old wooden houses and parks are still skirted by some grim industrial areas. Its bloody wartime history makes it an interesting place for a brief stop before moving on. Although there are some large military bunkers and war cemeteries on the Valka side, most items of interest are on the Estonian side of the border.
Valga Museum museum
(www.valgamuuseum .ee; Vabaduse 8; museum adult/child €2/1, gallery €1/0 .50; ©11am-6pm Wed-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat & Sun) Housed in an art nouveau building which was once a theatre and bank, this museum focuses on the local area, with displays on natural history, archaeology, Soviet-era deportations, everyday Soviet life and local hero Alfred Neu-land, winner of the gold for weightlifting at the 1920 Olympic Games. Most captions are in Estonian, but there are booklets with English translations. Before visiting the attached gallery, it’s worth peering through the streetside windows to see whether the exhibition takes your fancy.
St John's Lutheran Church church
(Jaani kirik; Kesk 23) Close to the tourist office, this oddly shaped church was built in 1816 and holds the distinction of being the only oval church in Estonia. It’s other claim to fame is a rare 19th-century organ.
World War II Memorial memorial
(Roheline) An estimated 29,000 Russians died at the Nazi POW camp Stalag-351, which was located in converted stables at Priimet-sa on Valga’s outskirts. Most died of starvation, cold and disease. Nothing remains of the camp, but a simple, moving monument known as the Mourning Mother is located close by. The Soviets took over the camp and held German POWs here, 300 of whom are buried among the firs in an official war cemetery nearby.
|4 Sleeping & Eating
Metsis HOTEL €€
(0766 6050; www.hotellmetsis.com; Kuperjanovi 63; s/d from €53/65, mains €8 .50-13; EB) Set on large lawns, this 1912 hotel is Valga’s best sleeping option, with pleasant rooms, some of which have their own sauna and jacuzzi. If you can ignore the hunting trophies, the downstairs restaurant is also very good.
Voorimehe Pubi pub food €
(0 767 9627; www.voorimehepubi .ee; J Kuperjanovi 57; mains €6-8 .50) An atmospheric dark-wood pub serving filling salmon, schnitzel, pork and the like. DJs spin on the weekend.
Tourist Office (0 766 1699; www .valgamaa . ee; Kesk 11; ©10am-5pm daily mid-May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun rest of year) Town maps and information for both sides of the town divide .
8 Getting There & Away
Valga Bus & Railway Station (0 512 0295; Jaama pst 10) is a couple of blocks southeast of the town centre
International coaches head here from Russia and Latvia . Major domestic destinations:
Otepaa (€3 . 30, one hour, four daily)
Parnu (€10, 2^ hours, daily)
Tallinn (€14, four hours, six daily)
Tartu (€5 . 50 to €7, 1% hours, five daily)
Viljandi (€6 . 50 to €7 . 20, 1% hours, six daily)
Valga's historic station is the terminus for both the Estonian and Latvian rail systems; you'll have to change trains here if you're heading, say, between Tartu and Riga (p179) . On the Estonian side there are three direct services a day to and from Tartu (€4 .40, 70 minutes) .
There are two good reasons to stop at this small village on the road between Valga and Otepaa, and they both have a lot to do with rye. Sangaste is known as the ‘Rye Capital of Estonia’, which in such a rye-crazy nation is quite an honour. This is largely due to the efforts of the local Baltic German nobleman Friedrich Georg Magnus von Berg (1854-1938), who became known as the ‘Rye Count’ due to his successful efforts in developing a strain which is now grown throughout the world.
Sangaste Castle historic building
(Sangaste Loss; www sangasteloss ee; adult/child €3/2; ©10am-6pm) British travellers might experience deja vu gazing on this majestic red-brick manor house, as the influence of Windsor Castle on the architecture is unmis-takeable. Completed in 1881 as the home of the ‘Rye Count’ Friedrich von Berg, it’s regarded as one of the prime examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the Baltics. History has taken its toll, but visitors can explore the impressive octagonal ballroom and head up a precarious set of stairs to the roof of the tower.
While most manor houses were nationalised during the first period of Estonian independence, the popular count dropped the noble ‘von’ from his name and was allowed to continue living here as plain old Friedrich Berg until his death at the age of 93. Subsequently the house was used as a Red Army barracks, a German army hospital and, following the war, as a cinema and a Soviet Pioneers youth camp. The hotel and cafe that are here now haven’t quite managed to shake off an institutional feel, but gradually the building is being restored, as funds allow.
Sangaste Castle is located in Lossikula (castle village), 3.5km southeast of the main Sangaste village.
St Andrew's Lutheran Church church (© noon-1 . 30pm Sun May-Aug) It’s thought that the name Sangaste might derive from the Latin phrase Sanguis Christi (Blood of Christ), referring to a relic kept in Sangaste’s original 13th-century church. The current building dates from 1742, with its baroque gable tower added in 1873. The interior is relatively plain, although it’s worth noting the starry sky over the sanctuary and the calvary scene above the altar, painted in Munich in 1883.
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Sangaste Rye House Estonian €
(Sangaste Rukki Maja; 0 766 9323; www. rukki maja .ee; Valga mnt 13; mains €7-8, s/d €35/45; BSSffl) This cosy restaurant celebrates Sangaste’s ‘Rye Capital’ designation with a menu devoted to the grain. Alongside delicious rye bread it serves a surprising array of traditional soups, pork, salmon and chicken dishes. If you feel like settling in for the night, there are tidy rooms upstairs, available at a very reasonable price.
8 Getting There & Away
There's no bus station, but there are daily buses to and from the following destinations:
Otepaa (€1 . 70, 30 minutes, six daily)
Tallinn (€13, four hours, daily)
Tartu (€5, 1% hours, three daily)
Valga (€2 . 20, 35 minutes, seven daily)
The small hilltop town of Otepaa, 44km south of Tartu, is the centre of a picturesque area of forests, lakes and rivers. The district is beloved by Estonians for its natural beauty and its many possibilities for hiking, biking and swimming in summer, and cross-country skiing in winter. It’s often referred to as Estonia’s winter capital, and winter weekends here are busy and loads of fun. Some have even dubbed the area (tongue firmly in cheek) the ‘Estonian Alps’ - a reference not to its peaks but to its excellent ski trails. The 63km Tartu Ski Marathon kicks off here every February but even in summer you’ll see professional athletes and enthusiasts hurtling around on roller skis.
The main part of Otepaa is on the intersection of the Tartu, Voru and Valga highways, where you’ll find the main square, shops and some patchy residential streets. A small swath of forest separates it from a smaller settlement by the lakeshore, 2km southwest.
According to legend, 3.5km-long, 8.5m-deep Puhajarv (Holy Lake) was formed from the tears of the mothers who lost their sons in a battle of the Son of Kalev epic. Its five islands are said to be their burial mounds. Pagan associations linger, with major Midsummer festivities held here every year. The popular sandy beach (Ranna tee) on the northeastern shore has water slides, a swimming pontoon, a cafe and lifeguards in summer.
The lake was blessed by the Dalai Lama when he came to Tartu in 1991; a wheelshaped monument near the beach commemorates his visit.
A 13km trail encircles the lake, but much of it follows the road, so it’s not the most interesting walk. Much more worthwhile is the 3.5km Murrumetsa walking trail, which starts near the Puhajarve Spa Hotel and loops counterclockwise along the lakeshore, through a marshy meadow and then into a blissful stand of birch, alder and spruce forest.
Energy Column monument
(Energiasammas; Mae) If energy levels are low, recharge at this odd bear-covered totem pole. It was erected in 1992 to mark the long-held belief of psychics that this area resounds with positive energy.
Otepaa Winter Sports Museum museum
(Otepaa talispordimuuseum; www.spordimuuseum . ee; Tehvandi Stadium House, Valga mnt 12; adult/child €1 .50/1; © 11am-4pm Wed-Sun) Big, flash Tehvan-di Stadium, used for football and ski events, is a testimony to Otepaa’s obsession with sport. Within the bowels of the main stand, this two-room museum displays equipment, costumes and medals belonging to some of Estonia’s most famous winter athletes. If the displays inspire you to sporting greatness, you can hire a frisbee (€4) from the counter for a round of ‘disk golf’ in the nearby course.
The pretty tree-covered hill south of the church was an ancient Estonian stronghold for around 800 years before it was topped by an episcopal castle in 1224. Known as the ‘Bear’s Head’ (oti paa), it’s from this that the town takes its name. Remnants of the fortifications remain on the top along with wonderful views of the surrounding valleys. The castle was largely destroyed in 1396 in a battle between the Bishop of Tartu and the Livonian Order.
St Mary's Lutheran Church church
(Maarja Luteri kirik; Voru mnt; © 10am-7pm Tue-Sat mid-May-mid-Sep) Otepaa’s Gothic hilltop church dates from 1671, although it was largely reconstructed in 1890. Inside there’s intricate woodwork, low-hanging chandeliers and an impressive crucifixion scene (1880) above the altar. It was here in 1884 that the Estonian Students’ Society consecrated its new blue, black and white flag, which later became the flag of independent Estonia. Bas-reliefs flanking the gates and doors celebrate the occasion; they were originally erected in 1934, destroyed during the Soviet era and re-erected in 1989.
Facing the church’s main door is a small mound with a monument to those who died in the 1918-20 independence war. The memorial’s top section was buried from 1950 to 1989 to prevent its destruction.
The tourist office has maps and information on hiking, cycling and skiing trails, which range from short and kid-focused to a 20km track. Staff can also provide information on the numerous activities on offer in the region, including horse riding, frisbee golf, regular golf, snowtubing, sleigh rides and snowmobile safaris.
For cross-country skiing, the closest trails start on the edge of town near Tehvandi Sports Centre. You can also find some good trails near Lake Kaariku.
If you’re considering a canoeing or rafting trip, call at least a day or two ahead of time. Operators will pick you up from your hotel, take you to the river and drop you back afterwards.
Adventure Park adventure sports
(Otepaa seikluspark; 0504 9783; www.seikluspark . ee; Tehvandi 3; ©10am-7pm May-Oct) Explore the treetops on a high ropes course (adult/child €20/10) or the shrubbery on the kid’s adventure trail (must be 90cm to 120cm tall, €5). Alternatively hurtle all the way to Linnamagi on a zip line (adult/child €8/6) or up into the air on the reverse-bungy catapult (€6).
Tehvandi Sports Centre skiing, cycling
(Tehvandi spordikeskus; 0766 9500; www.tehvandi . ee; Tehvandi; ski training track per day €6, incl ski-jumping €12, shooting €12) A former training centre for the Soviet Union’s Winter Olympics team, this large turf-covered hobbit hole
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2 Energy Column......................................C2
4 Otepaa Winter Sports Museum............D2
6 St Mary's Lutheran Church...................D1
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
8 Otepaa Forest Adventure Park.............D2
9 Tehvandi Sports Centre........................D2
10 Veesoidukite Laenutus.........................A3
of a hotel is a hub for all manner of winter and summer activities, including Nordic skiing, ski jumping, shooting, cycling, roller skiing and skating. There’s also a 34m climbing wall and viewing platform attached to the ski-jump tower (entry by lift/stairs €2/3).
(0 766 9007; www. kuutsemae .ee; day pass Mon-Fri €17, Sat & Sun €20) While cross-country skiing is the area’s drawcard, this resort operates six modest downhill runs, ranging from 214m to 476m in length. It’s the area’s most developed ski centre, with a tavern, accommodation and a skiing and snowboarding © Sleeping
11 Edgari Kulalistemaja..............................C1
12 GMP Clubhotel.......................................A3
14 Puhajarve Spa & Holiday Resort...........A3
Edgari Pood...................................(see 11)
16 Oti Pubi...................................................C1
Puhajarve Pub...............................(see 14)
Puhajarve Restaurant...................(see 12)
school. It’s located 14km west of Otepaa at Kuutsemagi.
VeeTee canoeing, rafting
(0 506 0987; www.veetee .ee) Offers a range of canoeing and rafting trips along the Ahja and Vohandu Rivers and around the small lakes of the Kooraste River valley (per person €20). It also rents skis and snowboards and offer lessons.
Toonus Pluss canoeing, skiing
(0 505 5702; www.toonuspluss .ee) Specialises in canoeing trips through the Ahja River valley; tailor-made expeditions can combine
canoeing with hiking and mountain biking. It also rents skis and offers instruction.
Fan-Sport snow sports
(0 507 7537; www.fansport.ee; Tehvandi) Operating out of the Karupesa Hotel in winter, this outfit rents cross-country skis (three hours/day €7/13), downhill skis (€10/13) and snowboards (€10/13). It can also arrange ski lessons.
Veesoidukite Laenutus boating
(0 5343 6359; Ranna tee 5; ©10am-7pm Jun-Aug) Rents rowboats (€10), canoes (€8), kayaks (€8) and pedalos (€8) from the beach on the northeastern shore of Puhajarv; all prices per hour.
Paap Kolar's Safari Centre snow sports (Paap Kolari Safarikeskus; 0 505 1015; http://safa rikeskus . paap .ee/; Nupli village; intro €25, per hour €90; ©Jan-Mar) Explore the winter wonderland in a two-person snowmobile; bookings required. It’s operated by the same adventurers who run Surf Paradiis on Hiiumaa.
Festivals & Events Tartu Ski Marathon sports
(www.tartumaraton .ee) Otepaa is the starting point for this famous 63km cross-country race every February (it finishes in Elva), attracting around 10,000 participants. The same organisation hosts a range of sporting events (cycling road races, mountain-bike races, running races) in and around Tartu throughout the year.
The low seasons here are April to May and September to November; during these months prices are about 10% to 15% cheaper. Higher rates are charged on weekends in high season.
Murakas hotel €€
(0731 1410; www. murakas .ee; Valga mnt 23a; s/d €45/50; EB) With only 10 bedrooms, Murakas is more like a large friendly guesthouse than a hotel. Stripey carpets, blonde wood and balconies give the rooms a fresh feel and there’s a similarly breezy breakfast room downstairs.
Puhajarve Spa & Holiday Resort resort €€ (0 766 5500; www.pyhajarve .com; Puhajarve tee; s/d/ste from €60/75/125; E1B8) The best thing about this large white complex is its location, set on sprawling lawns right on the lakeside. The wonderful glassed-in pool overlooking the lake comes a close second. Otherwise, there’s still a vaguely Soviet vibe about the place, and the rooms, although large enough, are somewhat spartan.
Edgari Kulalistemaja guesthouse €€
(0766 6550; http://edgari .otepaalt .ee; Lipuvaljak 3; s/d €25/50; B) Edgar’s occupies the upstairs levels of an attractive brick building, right in the centre of town, with a deli and cafe below. Some rooms are tiny while others are larger and have balconies; they’re all priced identically, so ask for a bigger one when you’re booking.
GMP Clubhotel apartment €€€
(0 799 7000; www.clubhotel .ee; Tennisevalja 1; apt from €120; EB) This superslick lakeside block is decked out with kitchenettes, funky furniture, comfy beds and oversized photos. The icing on the cake is the luxurious pair of single-sex saunas on the top level, open in the evenings for those who fancy a sunset sweat.
Eating & Drinking
l.u.m.i. CAFE €
(0742 4020; www.lumikohvik.ee; Munamae 8; mains €5 .50-13; ©noon-8pm Mon-Thu, to 11pm Fri & sat, to 6 30pm sun) The hippy manifesto at the start of the menu informs us that lumi means snow, and among all the talk of good energy, there’s a fairly traditional list of pasta, fish, pork, lamb and chicken dishes. The groovy vibe comes with the requisite mismatched furniture and some cool cutlery lampshades. An excellent choice.
Edgari Pood bakery, deli €
(http://edgari .otepaalt.ee; Lipuvaljak 2; pastries €0 .80; ©8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm Sat) Stock up on sliced meat and vodka or grab some pastries for a cheap and tasty breakfast.
Oti Pubi PUB FOOD €€
(www.otipubi .ee; Lipuvaljak 26; mains €7-13;
©10am-midnight; B) In an octagonal building draped in ski memorabilia in the centre of town, the ‘bear pub’ has a loyal local following. It’s a good spot for a drink and a meal, so long as you’re not expecting any surprises from the menu (soup, pasta, pizza, grills etc).
Puhajarve Restaurant modern european €€ (0 799 7000; www.clubhotel .ee; Tennisevalja 1; mains €9-18; ©noon-10pm) From the 1960s to 1980s this was Otepaa’s most famous restaurant, but when the Soviet Union went down the gurgler it followed in its wake.
The opening of the attached Clubhotel has given Puhajarve a new lease of life and it now offers a tasty menu on a terrace above its namesake.
Puhajarve Pub pub food ee
(0 766 5500; www. pyhajarve .com; Puhajarve tee; mains €6-19; © 11am-11pm Sun-Thu, to 1am Fri & Sat) The lakeside hotel’s casual, all-day pub caters to everyone (kids, vegetarians, et al) with an extensive menu. The sunny outdoor terrace is the place to be, but the brick-lined interior, with its pool tables and open fire, is not a bad wet-weather option.
OMr Jakob modern Estonian eee
(0 5375 3307; www.otepaagolf.ee; Maha kula; mains €14-18; © noon-9pm; B) Otepaa’s best restaurant is hidden away at the golf club, 4km west of Puhajarv. The menu is as contemporary and playful as the decor, taking the old Estonian classics such as pork ribs and marinated herring fillets and producing something quite extraordinary. Added to that is charming service and blissful views over the course and surrounding fields.
Otepaa Tourist Information Centre (0 766
1200; www. otepaa . eu; Tartu mnt 1; © 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Tue-Fri, to 3pm Sat rest of year) Well-informed staff distribute maps and brochures, and make recommendations for activities, guide services and lodging in the area .
8 Getting There & Around
The bus station (Tartu mnt 1) is next to the tourist office. Destinations include the following:
Narva (€10, 4% hours, twice weekly)
Sangaste (€1 .70, 30 minutes, six daily)
Tallinn (€13, 3/ hours, daily)
Tartu (€2 to €3 . 50, one hour, 10 daily)
Valga (€3 30, one hour, four daily)
The big drawcard of this corner of the country is the beach. Set on a long stretch of sand, Parnu attracts legions of holidaymakers during the summer. Young partygoers appear from Tallinn and Tartu heading to the sands and nightclubs, just as busloads of elderly out-of-towners arrive seeking spa treatments and mud cures.
East of Parnu stretches Soomaa National Park, a biodiverse region of meandering meadows and swamps. Viljandi lies just beyond Soomaa; it’s a laid-back regional centre and a focus for things folk, especially music.
One of Estonia’s most charming towns, Vil-jandi overlooks a picturesque valley with a tranquil lake at its centre. The Knights of the Sword founded a castle here in the 13th century. The town that grew around it later joined the Hanseatic League, but subsequently was subject to the comings and goings of Swedes, Poles and Russians. It’s now a relaxed kind of place, perfect for time-travelling ambles, with some evocative castle ruins, historic buildings and abundant greenery.
If you visit in late July, make sure your accommodation is sorted - the four-day Vil-jandi Folk Music Festival is the biggest annual music festival in Estonia.
The old part of town in the blocks immediately north of the castle is full of handsome wooden buildings with finely wrought details, but things get scrappier as you head further out.
OViljandi Teutonic Order Castle castle
(Viljandi ordulinnus; Lossimaed) Set within a lush park, the scant remains of Viljandi’s hilltop castle form a picturesque set of ruins and offer sweeping views over the valley and the lake below. Built in 1224 by the German Knights of the Sword on a series of three small hills divided by ravines, it replaced an Estonian hill fort which had stood here since the 9th century. It finally fell into disrepair after the 17th century Polish-Swedish wars.
Only scant sections of wall and crumbling foundations remain but there are interesting display panels describing the castle’s layout. One of the approaches to the fortress is spanned by an elegant 50m suspension foot-
O VILJANDI TRIPLE TICKET
A combination ticket (adult/child €5/3) is available incorporating the Viljandi Museum, Kondas Centre and Old Water Tower.
bridge which was built in 1879 for another set of castle ruins at Tarvastu and was only moved to this site in 1931.
A small cemetery to the rear of the castle park is the final resting place of German soldiers killed here during WWII.
St John's Lutheran Church church
(Jaani Kirik; Pikk 6; ©11am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-6pm Sun mid-May-mid-Sep) This medieval church looks like it’s been given a Cape Cod Better Homes makeover, with pale-grey walls and a stone altar - rescuing it from its Soviet incarnation as a furniture warehouse. It was originally part of a 15th-century Franciscan abbey (hence the stained-glass image of the saint to the right of the altar) and if you look closely you can spot the remains of pre-Reformation frescoes over the arch leading from the porch into the church proper.
Kondas Centre gallery
(Kondase keskus; www. kondas .ee; Pikk 8; adult/ student €2/1; © 10am-5pm Wed-Sat Jan-Mar, Wed-Sun Apr & Sep-Dec, 11am-6pm daily May-Aug) Housing vibrantly colourful works by local painter Paul Kondas (1900-85) and other self-taught artists working outside the mainstream, this is Estonia’s only gallery dedicated to naive and outsider art. It’s not hard to find - in a marvellously oblique reference to the artist’s 1965 work Strawberry Eaters, the stalks of all the giant strawberries scattered around town point here.
Viljandi Museum museum
(0 433 3316; www. muuseum .viljandimaa .ee; Lai-doneri plats 10; adult/child €2/1; © 10am-5pm Tue-Sat Apr & Sep-Dec, 11am-6pm daily May-Aug) Facing the old market square, this modest two-storey museum has displays tracing Viljandi’s history from the Stone Age to the mid-20th century. There are folk costumes, stuffed animals, old photos of the city, Viking-era jewellery and a mock-up of what the original castle probably looked like. English translations are limited.
Old Water Tower viewpoint
(Vana veetorn; www.sakalakeskus .ee; Laidoneri plats 5; adult/child €2/1; ©11am-6pm May-Aug, 10am-5pm Tue-Sat Sep) One of Vijlandi’s most distinctive landmarks, this odd 30m redbrick water tower topped with a hexagonal wooden structure offers fine views over the countryside.
Viljandi jarv lake
Accessed by a steep path leading down from Pikk street, the lake is a popular place for a swim on warm summer days. All the usual hallmarks of the Estonian beach are here (volleyball court, cafes, boat rental) and there’s a swimming platform just offshore. Come Midsummer’s Eve, it’s the site of the main celebrations.
St Paul's Lutheran Church church
(Pauluse kirik; Kiriku 5; © 10am-3pm Tue-Fri, to 1pm Sun Jun-Aug) Built in the Tudor Gothic style in 1866, this big, castlelike, stone-and-brick Lutheran church has a wooden pulpit and gallery, and a crucifixion scene above its altar.
Town Walk WALKiNG tour
(adult/child €1/0 .50; © 1pm Jun-Aug) In summer, a bargain-priced one-hour guided walking tour departs daily from outside the tourist office. Pay at the office; commentary is in English and Estonian.
Festivals & Events
Hanseatic Days cultural
(www.hansa .viljandi .ee; Hansapaevad) Celebrating the town’s past over a long weekend in early June.
Viljandi Old Music Festival MUSiC
(Viljandi vanamuusika festival; www.vivamu .ee) Archaic instruments and musical forms are showcased in the town’s churches and concert halls over a week in mid-July.
Viljandi Folk Music Festival MUSiC
(Viljandi parimusimuusika festival; www.folk .ee) Easily the biggest event on the calendar, this hugely popular, four-day music festival is renowned for its friendly, relaxed vibe and impressive international line-up. It sees Viljandi’s population double in size around the last weekend of July, with over 20,000 attendees at over 100 concerts.
Hostel Ingeri guesthouse cc
(0 433 4414; www.hostelingeri .ee; Pikk 2c; s €29, d €40-45; BB) On one of Viljandi’s nicest streets, this six-room guesthouse offers seriously good value with its bright, comfortable rooms, all with TVs and bathrooms. Plant life and a kitchen for guest use make it a good home-from-home, while the parkside location couldn’t be better.
Grand Hotel Viljandi hotel cc
(0 435 5800; www.ghv.ee; Tartu 11; s/d €76/98; BB) In the heart of the old part of town,
© Top Sights
1 Viljandi Teutonic Order Castle............B4
2 Kondas Centre.....................................C3
3 Old Water Tower..................................C3
4 St John's Lutheran Church.................C3
5 St Paul's Lutheran Church..................B3
6 Viljandi jarv...........................................D4
7 Viljandi Museum..................................C3
8 Grand Hotel Viljandi............................C2
9 Hostel Ingeri.........................................C3
10 Villa Hilda..............................................A2
12 Suur Vend............................................C2
13 Tegelaste Tuba....................................C3
14 Traditional Music Centre....................C4
this moderately chi chi hotel has art decostyled rooms with dark-wood trim, satiny chairs, large windows and wildly patterned carpets. There’s a pleasant summertime cafe in front, as well as a smart a la carte restaurant. Look out for the sign for ‘EVE’, the name of the 1938 building housing the hotel.
Villa Hilda guesthouse cc
(0433 3710; www. hildavilla .ee; Valuoja pst 7; r €4684; BB) While Hilda’s a plain Jane from the outside, this homely guesthouse has plenty of 1930s period features inside, including polished wooden floors, antique stoves and some nanna-fabulous furniture. There are only three rooms, one of which has a balcony overlooking the park.
Endla guesthouse cc
(0 433 5302; www.reinup .ee; Endla 9; s/d from €30/35; fflB) There’s a vaguely Swiss feel to this little guesthouse, set on a quiet backstreet north of the bus station. The rooms are simple but smartly furnished and as spick and span as you could ask for.
Eating & Drinking
Dining options in Viljandi are quite limited for a town of its size and status, but there are some appealing pubs.
Aida cafe €
(0 434 2066; www.aidakohvik.ee; Tasuja pst 6; mains €7 80-9 60; ©11am-11pm Mon-Sat, to 7pm Sun) The cafe in the Traditional Music Centre has the best views of any eatery in town, overlooking Castle Park through floor-to-ceiling windows and from its roof terrace. Hearty, skilfully cooked Estonian food is on offer along with pasta, Asian-style vegie stir-fry and a good salad selection.
Suur Vend pub food €
(www. suurvend .ee; Turu 4; mains €4 . 50-9; © noon-10pm Sun & Mon, to midnight Tue & Wed, to 3am Thu-Sat; Sffl) Friendly service, big portions, a pool table and boppy music from the jukebox create a cheerful mood at this cosy pub, with an outdoor deck and lots of dark wood inside. The wide-ranging menu offers few surprises and there are plenty of snacks perfect for beer-drinking. Later on, disco and karaoke nights keep the locals entertained.
Tegelaste Tuba pub food €
(www.facebook.com/TegelasteTuba; Pikk 2b; mains €3.50-9; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat; B0B) The terrace overlooking the park is one drawcard of this tavern but so is the comfy interior on cold, rainy days. Estonian handicrafts enliven the walls, and a diverse crowd enjoys the wide-ranging menu of soups, salads and Russian and Estonian comfort food (dumplings and lots of pork and chicken).
Fellin cafe €€
(0 435 9795; www.kohvikfellin .ee; Kauba 2; mains €9-16; ©11am-8pm Sun & Mon, to 10pm Tue-Sat) ‘Local food and live music’ is the mantra at this very cool cafe-bar, which stands head and shoulders above Viljandi’s other eating and drinking options. The menu ranges from light snacks, salads and soups to more substantial meals (duck breast, smoked pork, steamed fish), or you can just call in for wine and a song.
Traditional Music Centre live music
(Parimusmuusika ait; www.folk .ee; Tasuja pst 6) Vil-jandi’s reputation as Estonia’s folk-music capital was cemented with the opening of this
I very unfolksy modern centre in 2007. As well
m as being a place for study, it has two state-of-5 the-art concert halls and an upmarket cafe; O call in to find out what’s on performance-wise a or enquire at the tourist office.
I 8 Information
H Tourist Information Centre (0 433 0442;
> www.visitestonia . com; Vabaduse plats 6;
I ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun mid-
II May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year) FF Local maps and information on Viljandi and
n surrounding areas (including Soomaa National
S Park) in loads of languages . p
8 Getting There & Around
Joosepi Jalgrattapood (0 434 5757; www. jalgrattad . eu; Kaalu 9; per hour/day €4 . 50/10; © 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat) Bike hire and service
The bus station (bussijaam; 0 433 3680; www . bussireisid .ee; Ilmarise 1; © 6 ,15am-8pm Mon-Sat, 8am-8pm Sun) is 500m north of the tourist office. Major destinations:
Kuressaare (€18, five hours, two daily)
Parnu (€6 to €6 . 80, 1/ hours, 11 daily)
Tallinn (€9 . 50 to €11, 2/ hours, 11 daily)
Tartu (€5 . 80, 1% hours, 14 daily)
Valga (€6 . 50 to €7 . 20, 1% hours, six daily)
The train station (raudteejaam; 0 434 9425; www . elron . ee; Vaksali 44) is 1 . 6km southwest of the tourist office. Four trains run daily to and from Tallinn (€8 . 40, 2% hours) .
Soomaa National Park
Embracing Estonia’s largest area of swamps, meadows and waterside forests, 390-sq-km Soomaa National Park (Soomaa literally means ‘bogland’) is primarily made up of four bogs - Valgeraba, Oordi, Kikepera and Kuresoo - the peat layer of which measures 7m in places. The bogs are split by tributaries of the Parnu River, the spring flooding creating a ‘fifth season’ in March and April for the inhabitants of this swampy land, when the waters can rise to 5m.
Up to 43 different mammal species inhabit the surrounding forests, among them wolves, lynx, brown bears, elks, wild boars and otters. Thousands of birds migrate to Soomaa every year, with 180 observed species. The best time to visit for a wildlife encounter is from September to May, when you’ll be able to see tracks in the snow at least - and avoid the blitzkrieg of insects that comes with summer.
A good way to explore the national park and its numerous meandering waterways is by canoe or by haabja, a traditional Finno-Ugric single-tree boat that is carved from a single log of aspen wood and has been used for centuries for fishing, hunting, hauling hay and transportation.
Bogs have historically provided isolation and protection to Estonians. Witches were said to live here, although traditional healers were sometimes stuck with that label. According to folklore, it is the mischievous will-o’-the-wisp who leads people to the bog, where they are forced to stay until the swamp gas catches fire, driving the grotesque bog inhabitants out for all to see. Closer to reality, bogs were also hiding places for partisans escaping from outside invaders who couldn’t penetrate their murky depths as easily as they could the forests (perhaps they were scared of the gremlins).
2 Activities & Tours
The 1.8km Beaver Trail starts at the Soo-ma Nature Centre and leads past beavers’ dams. Another good, easy path is the Riisa Nature Trail, a 4.8km loop on a well-maintained boardwalk through the Riisa bog (1.2km of which is currently wheelchair accessible). Before hitting the paths, especially in winter, it’s best to let the centre know what you plan to do, either by email or in person.
(0 506 1896; www.soomaa .com) Offers an extensive range of activities, such as guided and self-guided canoe trips, beaver watching by canoe, bog walking and mushroom-picking tours, and in winter, kick sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoe excursions. The Wilderness Day Trip includes bog walking and canoeing (€50 per person, minimum two people; runs from May to September, add €20 for a Parnu pick up).
THE FOREST BROTHERS
Today the sleepy marshes and quiet woodlands of Estonia are a haven only for wildlife, but between 1944 and 1956 much of what is now national park and nature reserve was a stronghold of the Metsavennad (or Metsavendlus; Forest Brothers) proindependence movement. The Forest Brothers fiercely resisted the Soviet occupation. Many resorted to an underground existence in the woods and some remained there for years. They knew their terrain well and used this knowledge to their advantage both for their own survival and in the fight to restore the republic.
ESTONi SOOMAA NATIONAL PARK
The Soviets claimed Estonia in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and, after the Germans retreated from a difficult three-year occupation, secured this claim by advancing on Tallinn in 1944. The early resistance, believing this latest occupation would not be recognised in accordance with the British-US Atlantic treaty of 1941 (which states that sovereignty and self-governance should be restored when forcibly removed), rallied support for what some thought would be a new war. As international assistance did not eventuate, the independence cause remained Estonia’s own.
Resistance action began with isolated attacks on Red Army units that claimed the lives of around 3000 soldiers. Tactical expertise and secure intelligence networks resulted in damaging offensives on Soviet targets. At the height of the resistance there were more than
30.000 Forest Brothers and their supporters, which included women, the elderly, young people and a network of ‘Urban Brothers’. The impact of resistance activity is found in Soviet records from the time, which detail incidents of sabotage on infrastructure such as railways and roads that hindered early attempts at moulding Estonia into a new Soviet state.
In the years that followed, the Metsavennad suffered high casualties, with varied and increasing opposition. The NKVD/KGB (Soviet secret police) provided incentives to some of the local population who were able to infiltrate the resistance. The Soviets coordinated mass deportations of those suspected to be sympathetic to the resistance cause, and some Metsavennad supporters were coerced into acting against the resistance. By 1947
15.000 resistance fighters had been arrested or killed. The greatest blow to the Metsavennad came in 1949 with the deportation of 20,000 people - mainly women, children and the elderly - many of whom had provided the support base and cover for resistance activities.
The movement continued for some years but was greatly impeded by the strength of the Soviets and the loss of local support due to ongoing deportations and the clearing of farmhouses for collectivisation. Some of the Forest Brothers who were not killed or imprisoned escaped to Scandinavia and Canada.
There are many heroes of the Metsavennad, most of whom came to a violent end. Kalev Arro and Ants Kaljurand (hirmus, or ‘Ants the Terrible’ to the Soviets) were famous for their deft disguises and the humour with which they eluded the Soviets. It was only in 1980 that the final Forest Brother, Oskar Lillenurm, was found - shot dead in Laane county.
Much work has been done to compile a history of the movement by recording accounts of local witnesses. Surviving members are regarded as national heroes and are awarded some of the country’s highest honours. For more details on the resistance, a good reference is former Estonian prime minister (and historian) Mart Laar’s War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956.
There are 10 designated sites for free, basic camping in the park, including one near the nature centre. Each has a long-drop toilet, a fire ring and (usually) firewood, but no running water.
Soomaa Nature Centre (0 435 7164; www. keskkonnaamet . ee; ©10am-6pm mid-Apr-mid-
Sep, 10am-4pm Mon-Fri rest of year) Park information is available from this welcoming, highly professional outfit in Kortsi-Toramaa . It distributes hiking maps and, with advance notice, can arrange accommodation and guides
8 Getting There & Away
There's a daily bus from Parnu to Riisa (€2 . 20, one hour), which is 6km from the Nature Centre .
CAR & MOTORBIKE
it's easiest to access the park from the Parnu (western) side, heading through Tori and Joesuu . Viljandi's actually closer, but the 23km road from the village of Kopu to the visitor centre is largely unsealed
Local families, hormone-sozzled youths and German, Swedish and Finnish holidaymakers join together in a collective prayer for sunny weather while strolling the beaches, sprawling parks and picturesque historic centre of Parnu (pair-nu), Estonia’s premier seaside resort. In these parts, the name Parnu is synonymous with fun in the sun; one hyperbolic local described it to us as ‘Estonia’s Miami’, but it’s usually called by its slightly more prosaic moniker, the nation’s ‘summer capital’.
In truth, most of Parnu is quite docile, with leafy streets and expansive parks intermingling with turn-of-the-20th-century villas that reflect the town’s fashionable, more decorous past. Older visitors from Finland and the former Soviet Union still visit, seeking rest, rejuvenation and Parnu’s vaunted mud treatments.
There was a trading settlement at Parnu before the German crusaders arrived, but the place entered recorded history in 1234 when the Parnu River was fixed as the border between the territories of the Osel-Wiek bishop (west and north) and the Livonian knights (east and south). The town, joined by rivers to Viljandi, Tartu and Lake Peipsi, became the Hanseatic port of Pernau in the 14th century (sinking water levels have since cut this link).
Pernau/Parnu had a population of German merchants from Lubeck until at least the 18th century. It withstood wars, fires, plagues, and switches between German, Polish, Swedish and Russian rule, and prospered in the 17th century under the Swedes until its trade was devastated by Europe-wide blockades during the Napoleonic Wars.
From 1838 Parnu gradually became a popular resort, with mud baths as well as the beach proving a drawcard. Only the resort area was spared severe damage in 1944 as the Soviets drove out the Nazis, but many parts of Old Town have since been restored.
Parnu straddles both sides of the Parnu River at the point where it empties into Parnu Bay. The south bank contains the major attractions, including Old Town and the beach. The main thoroughfare of the historic centre is Ruutli, lined with splendid buildings dating back to the 17th century.
OParnu Beach beach
Parnu’s long, wide, sandy beach - sprinkled with volleyball courts, cafes and changing cubicles - is easily the city’s main drawcard. A curving path stretches along the sand, lined with fountains, park benches and an excellent playground. Early 20th-century buildings are strung along Ranna pst, the avenue that runs parallel to the beach. Across the road, the formal gardens of Ran-napark are ideal for a summertime picnic.
OMuseum of New Art gallery
(Uue kunstimuuseum; 0443 0772; www. mona .ee; Esplanaadi 10; adult/child €3/1 .50; ©9am-9pm) Parnu’s former Communist Party headquarters now houses one of Estonia’s edgiest galleries. As part of its commitment to pushing the cultural envelope, it stages an international nude art exhibition every summer. Founded
© Top Sights
1 Museum of New Art...............................C3
2 Parnu Beach...........................................B5
3 Parnu Museum.......................................C1
4 St Catherine's Orthodox Church..........B2
5 St Elizabeth's Lutheran Church...........C2
6 Tallinn Gate............................................B2
7 Town Hall................................................C2
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
8 Hedon Spa..............................................B4
9 Tervise Paradiis Veekeskus..................D5
10 Frost Boutique Hotel.............................B2
11 Hommiku Hostel....................................C2
12 Hotell Legend.........................................C4
13 Inge Villa.................................................D5
14 Tervise Paradiis.....................................D5
15 Villa Ammende.......................................A3
16 Villa Johanna..........................................B4
17 Li me Lounge..........................................C2
19 Old Market..............................................D3
22 Port Arturi Konsum................................C1
27 Trahter Postipoiss..................................B2
Q Drinking & Nightlife
29 Parnu Kuursaal.......................................B4
30 Puhvet APTEK........................................C2
Rock Club Volume........................(see 29)
31 Romantic Bar..........................................D5
33 Sweet Rosie............................................C2
34 Veerev Olu..............................................C2
35 Endla Theatre.........................................B2
36 Parnu Concert Hall.................................C1
37 Maarja-Magdaleena Gild........................C2
by film-maker Mark Soosaar, the gallery also hosts the annual Parnu Film Festival.
There’s also a great little gift shop and a cafe with an internet terminal (per hour €2).
Tallinn Gate gate
(Tallinna Varav) The typical star shape of the 17th-century Swedish ramparts that once surrounded Old Town can easily be spotted on a colour map as most of the pointy bits are now parks. The only intact section, complete with its moat, lies to the west of the centre. Where the rampart meets the western end of Kuninga, it’s pierced by this tunnel-like gate that once defended the main road which headed to the river-ferry crossing and on to Tallinn.
St Elizabeth's Lutheran Church church (Eliisabeti kirik; www.eliisabet.ee; Nikolai 22; ©noon-6pm Tue-Sat, 9am-noon Sun Jun-Aug) Named after John the Baptist’s mum but also the Russian empress at the time it was built (1747), this baroque church has low dangling chandeliers, a Gothic-style carved wooden pulpit and a wonderful altarpiece of the Resurrection from Rotterdam (1854).
St Catherine's Orthodox Church church (Ekatarina Kirik; Vee 8) Built in 1768, this superb baroque church is named after Russian empress Catherine the Great, while also name-checking the early Christian martyr.
Town Hall historic building
(Nikolai 3) This 1797 neoclassical building now houses the tourist office and a small gallery space. Also note the half-timbered house, dating from 1740, diagonally opposite across Nikolai.
Parnu Museum museum
(0 443 3231; www. parnumuuseum .ee; Aida 3; adult/child €4/2; ©11am-6pm Tue-Sun) This museum covers 11,000 years of regional history, from prehistoric archaeological relics, right up to a reconstruction of a Soviet-era apartment. Pride of place goes to the star exhibit, an 8000-year-old ‘Stone-Age Madonna’.
Koidula Museum museum
(www. parnumuuseum .ee; Jannseni 37; adult/child €2/1; ©10am-6pm Tue-Sun Jun-Aug, 10am-5pm Tue-Sat Sep-May) The memory of one of Estonia’s poetic greats, Lydia Koidula (1843-86), is kept alive in this six-room museum in her former home/schoolhouse. The old classroom and the antique-strewn living room and bedrooms are moderately interesting, even if you’re not all that enthused about the Estonian cultural renaissance.
Hedon Spa spa
(0449 9011; www. hedonspa .com; Ranna pst 1; treatments from €25; ©9am-7pm Mon-Sat, to 5pm Sun) Built in 1927 to house Parnu’s famous mud baths, this handsome neoclassical building has recently been fully restored and opened as a day spa. All manner of pampering treatments are offered, only some of which involve mud.
Tervise Paradiis Veekeskus water park (www.terviseparadiis.ee; Side 14; adult/child 3hr €13/9, day €20/15; ©10am-10pm) At the far end of the beach, Estonia’s largest water park beckons with pools, slides, tubes and other slippery fun. It’s a big family-focused draw, especially when bad weather ruins beach plans. The large resort also offers spa treatments, fitness classes and ten-pin bowling.
Festivals & Events
The tourist office distributes Parnu This Week, which lists events happening around town.
Grillfest Good Food Festival food
(Uea Toidu Festival; www. grillfest .ee) Over the second weekend in June, around 45,000 people wend their way around the 200 food vendors in Vallikaar Park, enjoying the best of Estonian cuisine.
Parnu Hanseatic Days cultural
(Parnu Uansapaevad; http://hansa .parnu .ee) Parnu goes medieval for a weekend in late June, with a knightly tournament, market stalls, performances and a poultry and livestock fair.
Parnu Film Festival film
(Parnu Filmifestival; www.chaplin .ee) This increasingly prestigious international festival has been showcasing documentary films since 1987. It’s held at the Museum of New Art and other venues in town over two weeks in early July.
You’ll need to book ahead in summer, especially if you’re planning to stay on the weekend. Outside of high season you should be able to snare yourself a good deal - perhaps even half the rate.
Konse Motel & Camping campground c (0 5343 5092; www. konse .ee; Suur-Joe 44a; sites €9-15, r with/without bathroom from €52/40; EfflB) Crammed beside the river about 1km from the centre, Konse offers camping and a variety of rooms, all with kitchen access. It’s not an especially charming spot but there is a sauna (per hour €15), and bike (per day €10) and rowboat (per hour €10) rental.
Embrace b&b, apartments cc
(0 5887 3404; www.embrace .ee; Pardi 30; r from €75; EiB) Snuggle up in an old wooden house in a suburban street, close to the beach and water park. Rooms strike a nice balance between antique and contemporary, and there’s a set of four modern self-contained apartments in a neighbouring annex.
Inge Villa guesthouse cc
(0 443 8510; www.ingevilla .ee; Kaarli 20; s/d/ ste €56/70/82; IB) Describing itself as a ‘Swedish-Estonian villa hotel’, low-key and lovely Inge Villa occupies a prime patch of real estate near the beach. Its 11 rooms are simply decorated in muted tones with Nordic minimalism to the fore. The garden, lounge and sauna seal the deal.
Villa Johanna b&b cc
(0 443 8370; www.villa-johanna .ee; Suvituse 6; s/d/ste €50/80/100; EB) Decorated with hanging flowerpots and planter boxes, this pretty old-fashioned wooden house offers comfy pine-lined rooms on a quiet street near the beach. One room has its own balcony. Not much English is spoken.
Hotell Legend hotel cc
(0 442 5606; www.legend .ee; Lehe 3; s/d/ste from €50/70/90; EfflBS) The Tiffany-style lamps, model ships and wooden panelling lend an old-world feel to the lobby, which is quite a contrast to the boxy exterior. Tidy rooms, charming staff and proximity to the beach make this a good midrange option.
Hommiku Hostel guesthouse cc
(0 445 1122; www. hommikuhostel .ee; Hommiku 17; s/d from €25/35; EB) Located in a prime central position, Hommiku is far more like a budget hotel than a hostel. Rooms have private bathrooms, TVs and kitchenettes; some also have old beamed ceilings.
Villa Ammende hotel ccc
(0 447 3888; www.ammende .ee; Mere pst 7; s/d/ste from €165/210/400; EiB) Luxury abounds in this refurbished 1904 art nouveau mansion, which lords it over handsomely manicured grounds. The gorgeous exterior - looking like one of the cooler Paris metro stops writ large - is matched by an elegant lobby and individually antique-furnished rooms. Rooms in the gardener’s house are more affordable but lack a little of the wow factor.
Frost Boutique Hotel hotel ccc
(0 5303 0424; www.frosthotel .ee; Kuninga 11; r/ ste from €140/210; EB) Tucked behind an old burnt-out building, this surprisingly chic set of rooms has the most over-the-top decor in Parnu: rustic wooden walls, chandeliers, metallic bathroom tiles, fur throws, cowhide poofs, teddy bears and all. Breakfast costs an additional €12.
Tervise Paradiis resort ccc
(04451600; www.terviseparadiis .ee; Side 14; s/d/ ste from €91/104/153; EBB) Big (120-odd rooms) and busy in summer, this hotel near the water has slick rooms, all with balconies and beach views (ask for a room on a higher floor). Here, happy-holiday facilities are laid on thick: bowling alley, kids’ playroom, spa, fitness club, water park, restaurants, bar. It’s very popular with Swedish and Finnish guests, so book ahead in summer.
OPiccadilly cafe, vegetarian c
(www.wine.kohvila .com; Puhavaimu 15; mains €4.50-7.50; ©9am-11pm Mon-Sat, 10am-8pm Sun; 0) Piccadilly offers a down-tempo haven for wine-lovers and vegetarians and an extensive range of hot beverages. Savoury options include delicious salads, sandwiches and omelettes, but really it’s all about the sweeties, including moreish cheesecake and handmade chocolates.
Steffani pizza c
(www.steffani .ee; Nikolai 24; mains €6 .10-8.30; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat; ffl) The queue out front should alert you - this is a top choice for thin-crust and pan pizzas, particularly in summer when you can dine alfresco on the big, flower-filled terrace. The menu also stretches to pasta and, oddly, bur-ritos. During summer it also operates out of a beach branch (Ranna pst 1; mains €7.10-9 . 90).
Port Arturi Konsum supermarket c
(Lai mnt 11; ©9am-10pm) The most central supermarket is inside the Port Artur shopping centre.
Old Market market c
(Vana Turg; Suur-Sepa 18; © 7am-4 . 30pm Tue-Sat, 7am-3pm Sun) Covered market; good for fruit and vegetables.
Piparmunt modern european cc
(0 442 5736; www.kurgovilla .ee; Papli 13; mains €11-17; ©noon-11pm) Despite its low-key feel and tucked-away location (it’s attached to a small hotel on a side street near the beach), Piparmunt is easily one of Parnu’s best restaurants. The menu changes constantly, but you can expect dishes which are interesting, artfully arranged and liberally loaded with flavour.
Supelsaksad cafe cc
(0 442 2448; www.supelsaksad .ee; Nikolai 32; mains €10-18; © 8am-10pm Sun-Thu, 9am-midnight Fri & Sat) Looking like it was designed by Barbara Cartland on acid (bright pink and a riot of stripes and prints), this fabulous cafe serves an appealing mix of salads, pastas and meaty mains. If you eat all your greens, make a beeline for the bountiful cake display.
Mahedik cafe cc
(0 442 5393; www.mahedik .ee; Puhavaimu 20; breakfast €5-6, mains €8-15; ©10am-7pm Sun, 9am-9pm Mon-Thu, 10am-11pm Fri & Sat) The name roughly translates as ‘organic-ish’, and local, seasonal fare is the focus of this cosy all-day cafe. There are cooked breakfasts, locally caught fish dishes and a divine array of cakes.
OLime Lounge international ccc
(0 449 2190; www.limelounge.ee; Hommiku 17; mains €12-21; ©noon-midnight Mon-Sat, to 9pm Sun; Sffl) Bright and zesty Lime Lounge feels more like a cocktail bar than a restaurant, although the food really is excellent. The well-travelled menu bounds from Russia (borscht) to France (duck breast), Italy (delicious pasta) and all the way to Thailand (tom kha gai soup).
Raimond modern european ccc
(0 5556 2686; www. hedonspa .com; Ranna pst 1; lunch €8, dinner €19-25; © 1pm-midnight) Facing the water at the rear of the Heddon Spa & Hotel, Raimond delivers light lunches to a beachy crowd on its large terrace (soups, salads and a legendary beef tartare). In the evening the well-heeled slink in to the glitzy interior to enjoy more substantial dishes such as venison sirloin, beef tenderloin or fresh fish.
Trahter Postipoiss Russian ccc
(0 446 4864; www.trahterpostipoiss.ee; Vee 12; mains €13-22; ©noon-11pm) Housed in an 1834 postal building, this rustic tavern has excellent Russian cuisine (ranging from simple to sophisticated), a convivial crowd and imperial portraits watching over the proceedings. The spacious courtyard opens during summer and there’s live music on weekends.
6 Drinking & Nightlife
Veerev Olu pub
(Uus 3a; ©11am-1am Mon-Sat, 1pm-1am Sun) Named after the Rolling Stones, the ‘Rolling Beer’ wins the award for the friendliest and cosiest pub by a long shot. It’s a tiny rustic space with good vibes, cheap beer and the occasional live folk-rock band (with compulsory dancing on tables, it would seem).
Sweet Rosie pub
(www.sweetrosie.eu; Munga 2; ©11am-midnight Sun-Thu, to 2am Fri & Sat) Revellers jam into the warm, dark-wood interior of this fun Irish pub for a huge beer menu, tasty pub grub, occasional live music and a raucous good time.
Puhvet APTEK bar, club
(www.aptek .ee; Ruutli 40; © 10pm-2am Wed & Thu, to 4am Fri & Sat) Drop by the old 1930s pharmacy to admire the clever restoration that has turned it into a smooth late-night haunt. Fabulous decor (including original cabinets, vials and bottles) competes for your attention with cocktails and DJs.
Parnu Kuursaal pub
(www. kuur.ee; Mere pst 22; mains €3.50-5 .50; ©noon-10pm Sun-Wed, to midnight Thu, to 4am Fri & Sat) This late-19th-century dance hall has been transformed into a spacious countrified beer hall with a large terrace at the back. An older mix of tourists and locals come for the draft beer and the live music, and a menu that takes its meat and beer snacks seriously.
(Hommiku 8; mains €5-13; ©10am-11pm Mon-Sat, 11am-9pm Sun) When the sun’s shining, the outdoor tables at this lively pub are jam-packed with a diverse crowd, while the rustic interior matches the simple menu of beery snacks and inexpensive meaty mains (salmon fillet, grilled chicken, pork roast). It’s popular with visitors and locals, and the owner’s a local character.
Romantic Bar bar
(www.terviseparadiis.ee; 8th fl Rervise Paradiis, Side 14; ©2pm-midnight) Despite the cheesy name and bland hotel-bar vibe, the superb sea views from this venue make it the perfect setting for a sundowner cocktail or a nightcap, either inside on the white, podlike leather chairs, or on the small terrace.
(www.sunset .ee; Ranna pst 3; ©11pm-6am Fri & Sat Jun-Aug) Parnu’s biggest and most famous summertime nightclub has an outdoor beach terrace and a sleek multifloor interior with plenty of nooks for when the dance floor gets crowded. Imported DJs and bands keep things cranked until the early hours.
Rock Club Volume club
(www. rockclubvolume.ee; Mere pst 22; admission €7-12; © hours vary) Attached to the Kuursaal pub, this heavy rock club attracts an eager crowd of young metalheads with a mixture of live bands and DJ sets.
In summer, concerts are held at traditional venues such as the concert hall and Kuur-saal, as well as in parks, the town hall, churches and the grounds of the beautiful Ammende Villa.
Parnu Concert Hall CLASSiCAL MUSiC
(Parnu konserdimaja; 0445 5810; www.concert .ee; Aida 4) This striking riverside glass-and-steel auditorium with first-rate acoustics is considered the best concert venue in Estonia.
Endla Theatre rhearre
(0 442 0667; www.endla .ee; Keskvaljak 1; ©closed Jun) Parnu’s best theatre stages a wide range of performances (usually in Estonian). It also houses an art gallery, a jazz club and an open-air cafe.
Maarja-Magdaleena Gild crafrs
(www. maarjamagdaleenagild .ee; Uus 5; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat) The artisans associated with this local guild sell their wares (leather, glass, paper, weaving, felt, jewellery, pottery) from the main shop downstairs and from their various little studios scattered throughout the building.
Parnu Central Library (Parnu keskraamatu-kogu; www .pkr . ee; Akadeemia tanav 3; ©10am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat) Call into this spiffy modern library for free internet access Parnu Tourist Information Centre (0 447
3000; www.visitparnu .com; Uus 4; © 9am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri & 10am-2pm Sat & Sun rest of year) A very helpful centre stocking maps and brochures, booking accommodation and rental cars (for a small fee), and providing a left-luggage service (per day €2) . There's a small gallery attached as well as a toilet and showers
8 Getting There & Away
Parnu Airport (Parnu lennujaam, EPU; 0447 5000; www . parnu-airport . ee; Lennujaama tee, Eametsa) lies on the northern edge of town, west of the Tallinn road, 4km from the town centre .
It's only used by one small airline, Luftverkehr Friesland-Harle (LFH), for flights to the islands of Kihnu and Ruhnu, and then only in winter when sea travel is impossible Bus 23 runs from the bus station to the airport twice a day (15 minutes), or a taxi should cost no more than €3 .
Parnu Yacht Club (Parnu jahtklubi; 0 447 1750; www . jahtklubi . ee; Lootsi 6) has a marina with a customs point, along with a restaurant and accommodation
Buses stop at the corner of Pikk and Ringi, but the main bus station ticket office (Ringi 3;
© 6 . 30am-7 . 30pm) is about 100m away, across Ringi (look for the red 'bussijaam' sign) . International coaches head from here to as far afield as St Petersburg and Vilnius (p178) . Rhe main domestic destinations include the following: Haapsalu (€5 . 05, 2/2 hours, daily)
Kuressaare (€13, 3/ hours, four daily)
Tallinn (€6 . 50 to €11, two hours, at least hourly) Tartu (€9 . 60 to €12, 2% hours, 12 daily) Viljandi (€6 to €6 . 80, 1/ hours, 11 daily)
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
Rental options include Avis (0 667 1515; www . avis . ee; Ruutli 44), which is based at the Hotel Parnu
Three daily trains run between Tallinn and Parnu (€7. 60, 2% hours), but this isn't a great option given that Parnu station (Liivi tee) is an inconvenient 5km east of the town centre in a difficult to find and to access spot on a major road. There's no station office; buy tickets on the train. Note, if you're coming from Tallinn, make sure you get in the right carriages as part of the train unhooks at Lelle and continues on a different track to Viljandi
8 Getting Around
In summer, Toruke Rattarent (0 502 8269; www .bicyclerentalparnu . eu; Ranna pst 1a; bike per hr/day/week €2 . 50/10/43; © 9am-7pm Jun-Aug) rents bikes from a stand near the beach, on the corner of Ranna pst and Supeluse . Otherwise, you can get a bike delivered to your accommodation for an extra €1 .
There are local buses but given that all the sights are within walking distance of each other, you probably won't need to bother with them. Tickets for local journeys are €0 . 64 if prepurchased or €1 from the driver .
Taxis line up near the bus station on Ringi . Local companies include E-Takso (0 4431111; www. etakso.ee; flagfall €2.90, per kilometre €0.96) and Parnu Takso (0 443 9222; www . parnutak-so.ee; flagfall €2.88, per kilometre €0.96).
Kihnu island, 40km southwest of Parnu in the Gulf of Riga, is a living museum of Estonian culture. Many of the island’s women still wear their traditional, colourful striped skirts nearly every day. There are four villages on the 7km-long island and long, quiet beaches line the western coast.
In December 2003 Unesco declared the Kihnu Cultural Space ‘a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. This honour is a tribute to the rich cultural traditions that are still practised, in song, dance, the celebration of traditional spiritual festivals and the making of handicrafts. In part, the customs of Kihnu have remained intact for so many centuries thanks to the island’s isolation.
Many of the island’s first inhabitants, centuries ago, were criminals and exiles from the mainland. Kihnu men made a living from fishing and seal hunting, while women effectively governed the island in their absence. The most famous Kihnuan was the sea captain Enn Uuetoa (better known as Kihnu Jonn), who was said to have sailed on all the world’s oceans. He drowned in 1913 when his ship sank off Denmark on what was to have been his last voyage before retirement. He was buried in the Danish town of Oksby but in 1992 his remains were brought home to Kihnu.
After WWII a fishery collective was established here, and fishing and cattle herding continue to be the mainstay of employment for Kihnu’s inhabitants.
Kihnu Museum museum
(0 446 9983; www. kihnu .ee; Linakula; adult/child €3/1 .50; ©10am-5pm May-Aug, 10am-2pm Tue-Sat Sep, 10am-2pm Tue-Fri Oct-Apr) You can learn more about Kihnu Jonn and life on Kihnu at this museum, near the picturesque Orthodox church.
St Nicholas' Orthodox Church church (Nikolaose kirik; Linakula; ©10am-3pm May-Sep) The islanders are among the minority of ethnic Estonians who adhere to the Russian Orthodox religion. This pretty little church at the centre of the island dates from 1786, with some additions from 1862.
Kihnu Lighthouse lighthouse
(Kihnu Tuletorn; adult/child €3/1 . 50; ©10am-6pm Jun-Aug, 10am-3pm Sat & Sun May & Sep) Constructed from parts shipped from England in 1864, this 29m-high lighthouse flashes at passing ships from the southern extremity of the island. In summer you can climb to the top to enjoy the views.
|4 Sleeping & Eating
Homestays are popular as they provide an opportunity to interact with locals and experience home cooking. See www.visitestonia. com for options; chances are your hosts won’t speak English.
Rock City guesthouse €
(0446 9956; www rockcity ee; Saare; sites per person €4, s/d from €15/30; © May-Aug) Near the port, this place offers simple, wood-floored rooms with shared bathroom. Services include bike rental, a sauna, excursions and a restaurant serving hearty country fare.
Tolli Tourist Farm guesthouse €€
(0527 7380; www kihnukallas ee; Saare; sites per person €6, s/d €32/40; © May-Sep) Located about 2km north of the port, Tolli offers rooms in the main farmhouse, in the barn or in a rustic log cabin, or you can pitch a tent. Other services include a sauna and boating excursions, and guests can order meals. They can even arrange to sail you over from the mainland.
Kihnurand Travel Agency (0 525 5172; www. kihnurand.ee; Saare) Arranges day trips and tours
8 Getting There & Away
In winter (usually from December or whenever the boats stop), LFH (0 512 4013; www . lendame.ee) flies to and from Parnu.
» As long as ice conditions allow (from at least mid-May to the end of October), there are ferries to Kihnu operated by Veeteed (0 443 1069; www.veeteed . com) departing from Munalaid (adult/child/car/bike €3/1 . 50/12/1, 50 minutes, two to four daily), 40km southwest of parnu
» Buses from Parnu to Munalaid are theoretically timed to meet the ferries .
» At the time of writing there were also ferries departing from central Parnu (adult/child/car/ bike €5/2 . 50/15/free, 2^ hours, Thursday to Sunday only) . However, these services were under review and may be stopped permanently . Even if you catch the bus, the journey is considerably quicker from Munalaid.
» Tickets can be purchased at any of the ports . » The Parnu tourist office keeps updated ferry timetables
» On Kihnu, the ferry dock is halfway between the villages of Saare and Lemsi .
8 Getting Around
The best way to get around the island is by bicycle . Various places hire bikes, including most accommodation providers
WESTERN ESTONIA & THE ISLANDS
One of the Baltic’s most alluring regions, the west coast of Estonia encompasses forest-covered islands, verdant countryside and quiet seaside villages slumbering beneath the shadows of picturesque medieval castles.
Pine forests and juniper groves cover Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, Estonia’s largest islands. Dusty roads loop around them, passing desolate stretches of coastline, with few signs of development aside from 19th-century lighthouses and old wooden windmills - both emblems of the islands. Here you’ll find peaceful settings for hiking, horse riding or simply touring through the countryside in search of hidden stone churches and crumbling fortresses - ruins left behind by pagan Estonian warriors, German knights and Soviet military planners.
Saaremaa, the largest and most visited of the islands, boasts spa resorts, a magnificent castle and a pretty ‘capital’ that comes to life during the summer months. It’s also the departure point for the wildlife-rich islands of Vilsandi National Park.
On the mainland, Haapsalu is an enchanting but ragged town that was once a resort for 19th-century Russian aristocrats. The jewel of its Old Town is a 14th-century bishop’s castle, today the setting for open-air festivals and summer concerts.
Connected to Saaremaa by a 2.5km causeway, the island of Muhu has the undeserved reputation as the ‘doormat’ for the bigger island - lots of people passing through on their way from the ferry, but few stopping. In fact, Estonia’s third-biggest island offers plenty of excuses to hang around, not least one of the country’s best restaurants and some excellent accommodation options. There’s no tourist office on the island, but there’s lots of good information online at www.muhu.info.
Sights & Activities
Muhu Museum museum
(www. muhumuuseum .ee; Koguva; adult/concession €3/2; ©9am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Tue-Sat rest of year) Koguva, 6km off the main road on the western tip of Muhu, is an exceptionally well-preserved, old-fashioned island village, now protected as an open-air museum. One ticket allows you to wander through an old schoolhouse, a house displaying beautiful traditional textiles from the area (including painstakingly detailed folk costumes) and a farm which was the ancestral home of author Juhan Smuul (1922-71). You can poke around various farm buildings, one of which contains a collection of Singer sewing machines.
The village is still very much lived in, mainly by the families that have resided here for generations, so respect their privacy by sticking to the designated museum areas.
Koguva Kunstitall gallery
(Koguva; ©noon-5pm Jun-Aug) ia;F If you’re in Koguva, it’s well worth calling into this handsome modern art gallery and cafe.
Eemu Tuulik windmill
(adult/child €1/0 .50; © 10am-6pm Wed-Sun mid-May-mid-Sep) On the main road at Nautse, this working windmill has a display board and sells bread made from its milled flour.
Muhu Stronghold fortress
(Muhu Maalinn) Immediately southwest of the Eemu windmill, this earthen ring draped in greenery is where in 1227 the pagan Estonians made their last stand, holding off a 20,000-strong force led by the Knights of the Sword for six days before surrendering. A stone obelisk remembers the massacre that followed when all 2500 warriors were slaughtered by the Christians.
Muhu Ostrich Farm farm
(Muhu Jaanalinnufarm; www.jaanalind .ee; adult/ child €3.50/2 .50; ©10am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep)
The quirky ostrich owners will give you an earful about these strange creatures and let you feed them (mind your fingers). There’s ^5 Eating also a minimenagerie of kangaroos, wallabies, emus and ponies (for kids to ride). A small shop sells feathers, eggs, purses and shoes made from ostrich leather - it is a farm, after all. The signposted turn-off is 200m east of the Eemu windmill (to which it’s no relation).
Cycling Routes cycling
(www. muhu .ee/Activities-on-Muhu/) Muhu’s quiet backroads are perfect for two-wheeled exploration. Two cycling routes have been set out: the 52.5km northern route and the 26km southern route. Both start from the ferry and end at the causeway to Saaremaa, meaning they can be combined into one big loop. Download a map from the website.
Nami Namaste cooking course
(www.naminamaste.com; Simisti; per person €245; © May-Sep) Finnish TV personality Sikke Sumari offers bespoke cooking classes including meals and accommodation in her rustic-chic farmhouse lodge in Muhu’s south. Most ingredients are seasonal and local (many are home-grown), and classes are given in various languages, including English. It’s also possible to stay or to dine here without taking the class, although numbers are limited.
Vanatoa Turismitalu guesthouse cc
(0 454 8884; www.vanatoa .ee; Koguva; s/d from €30/60; EB) On the edge of lost-in-time Koguva village, family-run Vanatoa has renovated rooms with slick little en suite bathrooms (gotta love that underfloor heating) in a thatched-roof farm complex. The attached restaurant serves up perfunctory Estonian stomach-fillers such as pork fillet and herring. It’s often snapped up for weddings or school groups, so book ahead.
O Padaste Manor hotel ccc
(0454 8800; www.padaste .ee; Padaste; r/ste from €159/265; ©Mar-Oct; EB) If money’s no object, here’s where to part with it. This manicured bayside estate encompasses the restored manor house (14 rooms and a fine-dining restaurant), a stone carriage house (nine rooms and a spa centre) and a separate stone ‘sea house’ brasserie. The attention to detail is second-to-none, from the pop-up TVs to the antique furnishings and Muhu embroidery.
Muhu Kalakohvik seafood, Estonian c
(0459 8551; Liiva; mains €5.50-7.50; ©noon-8pm summer) Set slightly back from the main road at Liiva, this humble ‘fish cafe’ serves up first-rate seafood in what is basically a family dining room. If we’re a bit vague about opening hours, it’s only because it’s a very informal operation. Call ahead to ensure it’s open or take your chances if you’re passing through.
Alexander modern european ccc
(0 454 8800; Padaste; 3/5/7/9 courses €67/80/103/119; ©1-2 ,30pm Mar-May & Sep, 7-10 . 30pm Mar-mid-Oct) If you’re not interested in a culinary adventure, go elsewhere. Although a set three-course dinner is offered, the focus here is on multicourse degustation (tasting) menus. Expect New Nordic cuisine of the highest calibre, including elements of molecular gastronomy and plenty of fine island produce. From June to August a lighter lunch is served on the Sea House Terrace.
8 Getting There & Away
» Car ferries run by SLK (0 4524 4444; www . tuulelaevad . ee; adult/child/car €2 .60/1 . 30/7. 40) make the 25-minute crossing between Virtsu on the mainland and Kuivastu on Muhu .
Western Estonia & the Islands
Vormsi Saxb>\ O ODiby
Hullooo Sviby Rumpo
Matsalu National Haeska Park Puise Q
Tahkuna O Lehtma Peninsula
Kopu O KOpu Peninsula
Koguva .. O ^ iO Kuivastu
. . . Nautse® Liiva o OVirtsu
Orissaareo o ©Simisti OAngla Padaste
Vilsandi Kihelkonna National •
Q Park LooOna Viki °Karla
. . _ Viidumae
Lumanda O QNature Reserve
Matstiu Ba^Suitsu Kloostri KeemuO ® o Penijoe
» Boats depart Virtsu from roughly 5 . 35am until midnight, with at least one or two sailings per hour up until 10 . 15pm .
» A 50% surcharge applies to vehicles heading to the island after 1pm on Fridays and departing the island after 1pm on Sundays .
» Up to 70% of each boat's capacity is presold online; the website has a real-time indicator showing what percentage has already been sold . The remaining 30% is kept for drive-up customers and offered on a first-in, first-on basis . You should definitely consider prebooking at busy times, particularly around weekends in summer » Tickets purchased online must be printed or loaded as an electronic ticket onto a smartphone . » if you miss your prebooked boat, your ticket will be valid for the regular queue on subsequent boats for up to 48 hours .
Buses take the ferry from the mainland and continue through to Saaremaa via the causeway, stopping along the main road .Some Kuressaare-Kuivastu services also divert to Koguva and Padaste on weekdays . Major destinations: Kuressaare (€5 to €5 . 60, one hour, 18 daily) Parnu (€8 . 80, 2^ hours, four daily)
Saaremaa & Muhu
^ Karja v Church
Viidumae Nature Reserve
i- ° Jarve©
_ . OTehumardi Salme
Tallinn (€12 to €14, three hours, 11 daily) Tartu (€17, five hours, two daily)
Viljandi (€15, four hours, two daily)
Saaremaa (literally ‘island land’) is synonymous to Estonians with space, spruce and fresh air - and bottled water, vodka and killer beer. Estonia’s largest island (roughly the size of Luxembourg) is still substantially covered in forests of pine, spruce and juniper, while its windmills, lighthouses and tiny villages seem largely unbothered by the passage of time.
During the Soviet era the entire island was off limits to visitors (due to an early-radar system and rocket base stationed there), even to ‘mainland’ Estonians, who needed a permit to visit. This resulted in a minimum of industrial build-up and the unwitting protection of the island’s rural charm.
This unique old-time setting goes hand-in-hand with inextinguishable Saaremaan pride. Saaremaa has always had an independent streak and was usually the last part of Estonia to fall to invaders. Its people have
their own customs, songs and costumes. They don’t revere mainland Estonia’s Son of Kalev legend, for Saaremaa has its own hero, Suur Toll, who fought many battles around the island against devils and fiends.
Kuressaare, the capital of Saaremaa, is on the south coast (75km from the Muhu ferry terminal) and is a natural base for visitors. It’s here among the upmarket hotels that you’ll understand where the island got its nickname, ‘Spa-remaa. When the long days arrive, so too do the Finns and Swedes, jostling for beach and sauna space with Estonian urban-escapees.
More information is available online at www.saaremaa.ee.
Saaremaa’s earliest coastal settlements (dating from the 4 th millennium BC) now lie inland because the land has risen about 15m over the last 5000 years. In the 10th to 13th centuries Saaremaa and Muhu were the most densely populated parts of Estonia. Denmark tried to conquer Saaremaa in the early 13th century; however, in 1227 it was the German Knights of the Sword who subjugated it. The island was then carved up between the knights, who took Muhu and the eastern and northwestern parts of Saaremaa, and the Haapsalu-based bishop of Osel-Wiek, who made Kuressaare his stronghold.
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Saaremaa rebelled against German rule many times between 1236 and 1343, when the knights’ castle was destroyed and the Germans were expelled. However the islander’s gains were always short-lived and in 1345 the Germans reconquered the island.
In the 16th century Saaremaa became a Danish possession during the Livonian War, but by 1645 the Swedes had their turn, compliments of the Treaty of Bromsebro. Russia took over in 1710 during the Great Northern War and Saaremaa became part of the Russian province of Livonia, governed from Riga.
8 Getting There & Away
Most travellers reach Saaremaa by taking the ferry from Virtsu to Muhu and then crossing the
2 . 5km causeway connecting the islands .
Kuressaare Airport (Kuressaare Lennujaam;
0 453 0313; www . kuressaare-airport . ee; Roomassaare tee 1) is at Roomassaare, 3km southeast of the town centre Buses 2 and 12 connect it with the bus station at Kuressaare .
Avies (p83) flies to/from Tallinn twice-daily on weekdays and once on Sundays .
Additional to the Muhu ferry, SLK Ferries (0 4524 4444; www . tuulelaevad. ee) runs two boats a day between Soru on Uiiumaa and Triigi on the north coast of Saaremaa (adult/ child/car €2 .60/1 . 30/7.40, 65 minutes); from mid-September to mid-May there are no sailings on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays . Tickets can be purchased at the harbour or prebooked
online, but you'll need to be able to print out the ticket in advance .
Saaremaa is very popular with visiting yachties . Rhe best marina (0 503 1953; www . kuressaare . ee/sadam/en; Rori 4) facilities are at Kuressaare . Visit www . sadamaregister . ee for details of this and other harbours on Saaremaa .
Buses from the mainland take the Muhu ferry and continue to Saaremaa via the causeway, terminating in Kuressaare . Rhe major routes: Muhu island (€5 to €5 . 60, one hour, 18 daily) Parnu (€13, 3/2 hours, four daily)
Tallinn (€15 to €17, four hours, 11 daily)
Tartu (€18, 5/ hours, two daily)
Viljandi (€18, five hours, two daily)
8 Getting Around
There are over 400km of paved roads on Saaremaa and many more dirt roads . Hitching is not uncommon on the main routes but you'll need time on your hands; there's not much traffic on minor roads
Flat Saaremaa is well suited to exploring by pedal power . Apart from the main highway leading from Muhu to Kuressaare, most of the roads have only light traffic and there are lots of side routes to explore .
Many accommodation providers rent bikes . in Kuressaare, Bivarix (0 455 7118; www . bivarix . ee; Rallinna mnt 26; per 1hr/4hr/day €4/6/10; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 2pm Sat) rents bicycles and touring gear such as trailers for kids or luggage . it can also advise on interesting routes .
Local buses putter around the island, but not very frequently . Rhe main terminus is Kuressaare bus station (Kuressaare Bussijaam;
0 453 1661; Pihtla tee 2) and there's a route planner online at www . bussipilet . ee .
Apart from the town of Orissaare, which faces Muhu over the channel between the two islands, the eastern end of Saaremaa is sparsely populated and pleasantly rural.
Sights & Activities
Orissaare Oak landmark
(Kuivastu mnt) Even in a nation where people still leave offerings in sacred groves, Oris-saare’s most famous landmark is, well, a little weird. Winner of the 2015 ‘European Tree of the Year’ award, this 150-year-old oak stands right in the middle of a football field. The field was laid out around the oak in 1951 and when tractors came to remove the tree, the tree won the battle (although it still bears the scars). Players simply kick around it.
The German knights built this castle, 4km north of Orissaare, during the 14th to 16 th centuries. It was blown up by the Danes in 1578 to prevent the Swedes from taking it, leaving behind a jumble of stones by a pretty reed-lined shore. Indulge your inner archaeologist by exploring the restored underground chamber.
St Mary's Church church
Poide, 3km south of the main highway, was the Saaremaa headquarters of the German Knights of the Sword and this church, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, remains an imposing symbol of their influence. Nowadays it serves Lutheran, Methodist and Orthodox congregations and its crumbling exterior is offset by a perfect stained-glass window above the altar.
During the St George’s Night Uprising of 1343 the knights were besieged within the church for eight days. Their Estonian assailants assured them that if they surrendered no swords would be raised against them. True to their word, and proving that pagans have a sense of humour, they stoned the Germans to death.
Tika Talu horse riding
(0504 4169; www.tikatalu .ee; Korkvere: per hour €12) Offers simple B&B accommodation plus plenty of horseback action for adults and kids.
If you’re arriving by ferry from Hiiumaa, the first settlement you’ll hit is Leisi, a pretty village of old wooden houses, 3.5km from the harbour of Triigi. There are some interesting sights scattered around this section of the north coast, along with plenty of others on either side of the main road heading south to Kuressaare.
Tucked away within pine forest, Tuhkana is one of Saaremaa’s best sandy beaches, due in large part to its remoteness. To get here from Leisi, head west for 11km to Metskula and turn right onto the unsealed road. After about 3km, look for a parking area on your left.
Panga Pank ViEWPOiNT
Saaremaa’s highest cliffs run along the northern coast near Panga for 3km. The highest point (21.3m) was a sacred place where sacrifices were made to the sea god; gifts of flowers, coins, vodka and beer are still sometimes left here. It’s a pretty spot, looking down at the treacherous waters below.
Angla Windmill Hill WiNDMiLLS
(Angla Tuulikumagi; adult/child €3.50/1 .50; ©9am-8pm May-Aug, to 5pm Sep-Apr) Charge up those camera batteries: this is the site of the largest and most photogenic grouping of wooden windmills on the islands. By the early 16th century there were already nine windmills on this hill. Now there are four small ones, mainly dating from the 19th century, and one large Dutch-style one, built in 1927. There are excellent (free) views from the road, but the modest admission charge allows you to poke around in their innards.
There’s also a collection of old tractors and ploughs, and an excellent tavern-style cafe where peasant-dressed staff dispense homemade bread, cakes and beer.
St Catherine's Lutheran Church,
(Karja Katariina kirik; Linnaka village; ©10am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 12 ,30-5.30pm Sun mid-May-mid-Sep) The pagan and Christian meet in this fortresslike 14th-century church. Outside there’s an interesting panel about pre-Christian symbols with particular reference to some of the 13th- and 14th-century trapezoidal gravestones found here. Inside, oak leaves curl along the top of the columns and there are some interesting symbols painted on the walls.
There’s also an unusual carved crucifixion scene above the exterior door on the right-hand side, showing Jesus between the two thieves. The good thief’s soul (in mini-me form) is exiting through his mouth into the arms of an angel, ready to whisk him off to heaven. A similar-looking devil is awaiting the other.
Kaali Crater lake
Perhaps proof of its powers of attraction, Estonia has one of the world’s highest concentrations of documented meteor craters. At Kaali, 18km north of Kuressaare, is a 100m-wide, 22m-deep, curiously round lake formed by a meteorite at least 4000 years ago. There are a further eight collateral craters in the vicinity, ranging from 12m to 40m in diameter, formed from the impact of fragments of the same meteorite. In Scandinavian mythology, the site was known as the sun’s grave.
A tourist village of sorts has sprung up here - there’s a small museum (www.kaali . kylastuskeskus .ee; adult/child €1 .50/0 .70; © 9am-7pm), handicrafts stores and a hotel, as well as an old-style tavern offering Estonian fare and locally brewed beer.
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(05348 4006; www.goodkaarma .com; Kuke; ©10am-6pm Jun-Aug, other times by arrangement)
S Run by an English-Estonian couple from their farm outside the village of Kaarma, about 15km north of Kuressaare, GoodKaar-ma makes organic soaps from local ingredients such as juniper, pine and sea-buckthorn berries. If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty (or should that be clean), you can book into a 75-minute soap-making workshop (adult/child €7.50/4; minimum four people).
There’s also a pretty garden terrace and cafe-bar, with homemade snacks, organic teas, local beers etc. Besides soap, the shop sells local arts and crafts.
Saaremaa has a long history of beer home-brewing and even its factory-produced brew has a great reputation. Tuulik, with its distinctive windmill branding, is the most popular, but don't mention that it's now brewed in Tartu (the popular Saaremaa vodka also has a windmill on its label and it's not distilled here either).
For a classier drop, try Poide (especially the dark version), which is produced in a microbrewery in the village of the same name. It's available at the pubs in Kuressaare and in craft beer stockists nationwide.
Beer-lovers should be sure to try any homemade beer wherever it's offered.
A longtime island tradition, the brew features the traditional malt, yeast and hops, but comes off a bit sour on the palate. It's light and refreshing, best quaffed from a wooden tankard on a warm summer's day.
Leisi Tourist Office (0 457 3073; ©1-7pm Jun-Aug; B) If you're arriving from Hiiumaa via the Soru-Triigi ferry, pick up maps and get general Saaremaa information at the tiny Leisi tourist office, inside the pretty, vine-covered restaurant, Sassimaja .
What passes for the big smoke in these parts, Kuressaare has a picturesque town centre with leafy streets and a magnificent castle rising up in its midst, surrounded by the usual scrappy sprawl of housing and light industry. The town built a reputation as a health centre as early as the 19th century, when the ameliorative properties of its coastal mud were discovered and the first spas opened. Now they’re a dime a dozen, ranging from Eastern Bloc sanatoriums to sleek and stylish resorts.
Kuressaare exists because of its castle, which was founded in the 13th century as the Haapsalu-based Bishop of Osel-Wiek’s stronghold in the island part of his diocese. The town became Saaremaa’s main trading centre, developing quickly after passing into Swedish hands in 1645. From 1952 to 1988 Kuressaare was named Kingisseppa, after Viktor Kingissepp, an Estonian communist of the 1920s.
Apart from the castle, the best of Kures-saare’s historic buildings are grouped around the central square, Keskvaljak. The tourist office is housed in the town hall (1670), a baroque building guarded by a fine pair of stone lions. Directly across the square the Vaekoja pub inhabits a former weigh-house, also from the 17th century.
OKuressaare Castle castle
Majestic Kuressaare Castle stands facing the sea at the southern end of the town, on an artificial island ringed by a moat. It’s the best-preserved castle in the Baltic and the region’s only medieval stone castle that has remained intact. The castle grounds are open to the public at all times but to visit the keep you’ll need to buy a ticket to Saaremaa Museum.
A castle was founded in the 1260s, but the mighty dolomite fortress that stands today was not built until the 14th century, with some protective walls added between the 15th and 18th centuries. It was designed as an administrative centre as well as a stronghold. The more slender of its two tall corner towers, Pikk Hermann to the east, is separated from the rest of the castle by a shaft crossed only by a drawbridge, so it could function as a last refuge in times of attack.
Outdoor concerts are held in the castle yard throughout the summer and you can also try your hand at archery. There’s a memorial on the eastern wall to 90 people killed within the castle grounds by the Red Army in 1941. Its grim companion piece lies beyond the castle wall on one of the island ramparts - a large memorial to 300 people executed during the Nazi German occupation.
The shady park around the castle moat was laid out in 1861 and there are some fine wooden resort buildings in and around it, notably the Spa Hall (Kuursaal) dating from 1899, which is now a restaurant, and the neighbouring bandstand from 1920. If the weather’s nice, you can hire rowboats (per hour €10) or bikes (per hour €4) from the Spa Hall.
Saaremaa Museum museum
(www.saaremaamuuseum .ee; adult/concession €5/2 .50; © 10am-7pm May-Aug, 11am-6pm Wed-Sun Sep-Apr) Occupying the keep of Kures-saare Castle, this museum is devoted to the island’s nature and history. A large part of the fun is exploring the warren of chambers, halls, passages and stairways, apt to fuel anyone’s Game of Thrones fantasies. One room near the bishop’s chamber looks down to a dungeon where, according to legend, condemned prisoners were dispatched to be devoured by hungry lions (recorded growls reinforce the mental image).
Legend also tells of a knight’s body found when a sealed room was opened in the 18th century, which has given rise to varying accounts of how he met his tragic fate. Upon discovery the knight’s body dissolved into dust but don’t worry, it’s since been re-created to creepy effect.
In the museum proper, there’s not a lot of signage in English until you hit the EU-sponsored post-WWII section, when suddenly the Estonian/Russian captions change to Estonian/English. There’s some interesting coverage of daily life under the USSR, including the interior of a typical apartment, but some of the captions are quite propagandist (you have to admire the irony of a photo labelled ‘a prejudiced pro-Soviet crowd’).
On the top floor, the museum has a cafe boasting fine views over the bay and surrounding countryside.
Kuressaare Beach beach
(Raiekivi tee 1) Although the best beaches are out of town, this small sandy bay behind Kuressaare Castle fills up with sunbathers, paddlers and volleyball players during the summer.
Suur Toll & Piret statue
Estonia’s jauntiest statue enlivens the waterfront near the Spa Hotel Meri. It features Saaremaa’s legendary gigantic hero, Suur (meaning ‘the great’) Toll and his wife Piret carrying a boat laden with fish on their very naked shoulders.
St Nicholas' Orthodox Church church (Puha Nikolai kirik; Lossi 8; © 10am-1pm Mon-Fri
& Sun, 4.30-6.30pm Sat) Dating from 1790, Saaremaa’s oldest Orthodox church has twin steeples and an impressive dolomite and wrought-iron gate. A faint image of its name saint has survived on the exterior wall facing the street, while inside there are some lovely icons, including one featuring the church itself.
St Lawrence's Lutheran Church church (Laurentiuse kirik; Tallinna 13; © 10am-5pm Tue-Fri, to 2pm Sat Jun-Aug) Although this large church only dates from 1836, its prized feature is considerably older: a medieval stone baptismal font, probably from the early 15 th century, carved with dragonlike creatures. Also worth noting are the grey wooden box pews, low-hanging chandeliers and the fine vaulted roof above the sanctuary painted with an interesting trompe l’reil effect.
Johannes & Joosep Aavik's Memorial Museum museum
(Johannes & Joosep Aaviku majamuuseum; www. saaremaamuuseum .ee; Vallimaa 7; adult/child €1/0 .50; © 11am-5pm Wed-Sun) The Aavik family home is now a small museum dedicated to the life and works of linguist Johannes Aavik (1880-1973), who introduced major reforms to the Estonian language, and his musically talented cousin, Joosep Aavik (1899-1989).
Spa Hotel Ruutli water park
(www.saaremaaspahotels.eu; Pargi 16; adult/child €7/4; © 7am-9pm) If the weather means an indoor splash is best, bring the kids to this hotel water park to make use of the pools and 52m slide. Mum and Dad might like to book a spa treatment while they’re at it.
Saare Golf golf
(0453 3502; www.saaregolf.ee; Merikotka 35; 9/18 holes €35/60, club hire €20) This 18-hole championship course is immediately west of Kuressaare’s town centre.
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Festivals & Events
Kuressaare’s dance card is certainly full over the summer. As well the high-profile festivals, there are regular summer concerts held in the castle grounds and park; find out what’s up at the tourist office.
Saaremaa Opera Festival music
(Saaremaa ooperipaevad; www.saaremaaopera .eu) For a week in late July, about 2000 people pack into the grounds of Kuressaare Castle to watch productions from an international guest company.
Kuressaare Chamber Music Days music (Kuressaare kammermuusika paevad; www. kammer fest ee) Concerts take place all over town during five days in late July/early August.
Kuressaare Maritime Festival cultural (Kuressaare merepaevad; www.merepaevad .ee) Stalls line the beach behind the castle selling food, drink and handicrafts, while performers entertain the crowds. It’s held over a weekend in early August.
The tourist office can organise beds in private apartments and farms across the island. Hotel prices are up to 50% cheaper from September through April. Most hotel spa centres are open to nonguests.
Hotell Mardi hostel, hotel €
(0 452 4633; www. hotelmardi .eu; Vallimaa 5a; hostel s/tw €20/30, hotel s/d from €44/67; BB) These simple, fuss-free rooms are attached to a college. The hostel rooms have bunk beds and share bathrooms; they’re a little institutional, but probably Kuressaare’s best cheapies.
oGeorg Ots Spa Hotel hotel €€
(Gospa; 0 455 0000; www. gospa .ee; Tori 2; r/apt/ ste from €75/149/194; EIBi) Named after a renowned Estonian opera singer, Gospa has modern rooms with wildly striped carpet, enormous king-sized beds and a warm but minimalist design. Most rooms have
200 m 0.1 miles
@ Top Sights
1 Kuressaare Castle.................................B4
2 Kuressaare Beach.................................B4
3 Memorial to Victims of the Nazis.........C4
4 Memorial to Victims of the Red
5 Saaremaa Museum...............................B4
6 St Lawrence's Lutheran Church............D1
7 St Nicholas' Orthodox Church..............C2
8 Suur Toll & Piret.....................................A4
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
9 Spa Hotel Ruutli.....................................A3
12 Georg Ots Spa Hotel..............................A4
13 Grand Rose Spa Hotel............................D1
14 Karluti Hostel.........................................D2 © Eating
15 Classic Cafe............................................C2
16 Gospa Restaurant..................................A4
17 Ku Kuu.....................................................B3
18 Rae Konsum...........................................D2
20 Saaremaa Trahter..................................D2
Q Drinking & Nightlife
23 John Bull.................................................B3
24 Vaekoja Pubi...........................................C1
25 Vinoteek Prelude....................................C2
26 Central Market.......................................C1
28 Lossi Antiik.............................................C3
29 Saaremaa Kunstistuudio.......................C2 balconies, and there’s a fitness centre and excellent spa centre, including a pool and multiple saunas. Separate freestanding ‘residences’ are also available, and families are very well catered to.
Staadioni Hotell hotel cc
(0453 3556; www.staadionihotell .ee; Staadioni 4; s/d €44/56; ©mid-May-early Sep; BfflB) Good-value spacious and bright rooms are available at this pleasant, secluded spot, south of the castle. It’s surrounded by parkland and sports facilities. Bikes can be hired here (per day €8) and there’s a sauna available.
Karluti Hostel guesthouse cc
(0 501 4390; www.karluti .ee; Parna 23; tw/tr without bathroom €38/55; HB) A charming older couple run this cheerful mustard-coloured guesthouse, set on large lawns on a quiet residential street close to the centre. If you work up an appetite on the volleyball court, you can always sate it in the guest kitchen. There are only a handful of bright, spotless rooms available, so you’ll need to book ahead - especially in summer.
OEkesparre boutique hotel ccc
(0453 8778; www.ekesparre .ee; Lossi 27; r from €125; BB) Holding pole position on the castle grounds, this elegant 10-room hotel has been returned to its art nouveau glory. Period wallpaper and carpet, Tiffany lamps and a smattering of orchids add to the refined, clubby atmosphere, while the 3rd-floor guests’ library is a gem. As you’d expect from the price, it’s a polished operator.
Arensburg boutique hotel ccc
(0 452 4700; www. arensburg .ee; Lossi 15; s €115, d €130-185, ste €250; BBS) Arensburg is almost two hotels in one, with a severe case of old versus new. Our vote goes to the bold and sexy charcoal-painted rooms in the slick 2007 extension (standard rooms in the historic wing are OK but unremarkable). A spa and two restaurants round things out nicely.
Grand Rose Spa Hotel hotel ccc
(0666 7000; www. grandrose .ee; Tallinna 15; s/d/ ste from €130/135/205; BS) Floral and frilly is the theme of this hotel, from the baroque black velvet chairs, chandeliers and water feature in the rose-filled lobby to the rose carpet throughout. Deluxe rooms have a balcony, separate bathtub and shower stall, and over-the-top beds, but feel more crammed than the standard rooms. The spa centre and restaurant are both very good.
O Retro cafe €
(0 5683 8400; www. kohvikretro .ee; Lossi 5; mains €7.50-8.50; ©noon-10pm Mon-Thu, to midnight Fri
6 Sat, to 8pm Sun; Bffl) The menu at this hip little cafe-bar is deceptively simple (pasta, burgers, steak, grilled fish), but Retro takes things to the next level, making its own pasta and burger buns, and using the best fresh local produce. Desserts are delicious too. There’s also a great selection of Estonian craft beer, perfect for supping on the large rear terrace.
Vanalinna bakery, cafe c
(0 455 5309; www.vanalinna .ee; Kauba 8; snacks €1-2; ©7.30am-7pm Mon-Sat, 8am-4pm Sun) There’s an attractive vibe to this bakery-cafe, with its timber-and-stone interior and black-and-white photos hanging from orange walls. The counter has an appealing selection of sandwiches, salads, pastries and ice cream.
Rae Konsum supermarket c
(Raekoja 10; ©9am-9pm) Behind the tourist office.
Ku Kuu MODERN EUROPEAN €€
(0453 9749; www kuressaarekuursaal ee; Lossi-park 1; mains €6-15; ©11am-midnight May-mid-Sep; B) Occupying the elegant spa hall from which it takes its name (Ku Kuu is short for Kuressaare Kuursaal), this is Saaremaa’s loveliest dining room. The wood panelling and panes of coloured glass provide an atmospheric backdrop for a tasty menu of seafood and island produce, prepared with a strong French accent.
Saaremaa Trahter Estonian cc
(0 453 3776; www.saaremaaveski .ee; Parna 19; mains €9-12; ©11am-10pm Sun-Thu, to midnight Fri & Sat; C) How often can you say you’ve dined inside a 19th-century windmill? Without being too touristy, this place keeps quality and ambience at a premium, with plenty of hearty local fare - including wild boar hotpot, beetroot soup and Saaremaa cheeses.
Classic Cafe cafe, pizza cc
(Lossi 9; mains €5-16; © 9am-10pm) You can order meaty bistro-style dishes, but the fresh salads, soups, pasta and, especially, the pizza are much better value. Despite the stylish decor, it’s a laid-back and relaxed kind of place.
Gospa Restaurant european €€€
(0 455 0000; www.gospa .ee; Tori 2; mains €1220; © noon-11pm) Picture windows make the most of the marina views in the Georg Ots Spa Hotel’s bright and airy dining room. The food is light, fresh and creative, making good use of local produce.
6 Drinking & Nightlife
Vinoteek Prelude wine bar
(0 453 3407; www.prelude.ee; Lossi 4; mains €1112; ©4pm-midnight; W) A sculpted bunch of grapes heralds the entrance to this cosy, dimly lit wine bar in an 18th-century building. Climb the staircase to sofas under the eaves and choose from a menu of international wines (plenty by the glass), antipasti-style snacks and bistro meals.
John Bull pub
(Lossipark 4; ©11am-10pm) Despite the name, this pub in the castle park isn’t particularly English. In fact, there’s more of a Soviet vibe going down; the bar is made from an old Russian bus and there’s even a ‘red corner’ hung with portraits of Lenin. Sit on the deck for great views looking over the moat to the castle.
Chameleon cafe, bar
(www chameleon ee; Kauba 2; mains €7 50-14; ©11am-11pm Sun-Thu, to 1am Fri & Sat; ffl) Chameleon is indeed a changeable creature, morphing from cafe to cocktail bar as the sun goes down, but it’s the latter incarnation that suits it best. The sleek black and grey decor (with pink lighting) adds an air of city-slick, but the kids’ playroom ably demonstrates that it’s not trying too hard to be cool.
Vaekoja Pubi pub
(www.vaekoda .ee; Tallinna 3; © 10.30am-11pm Sun-Wed, to 5am Thu, to 6 . 30am Fri & Sat; W) The name means ‘weigh-house’ and this is one of Kuressaare’s most significant historic buildings, built in 1663 to measure goods so that they could be taxed. These days it’s a relaxed, no-nonsense pub with tables spilling onto the street. For hardened local drinkers, it’s the last stop of the night.
Lossi Antiik antiques
(www. lossiantiik.eu; Lossi 19; ©10am-4pm Mon-Sat) Towards the castle, this jam-packed little store sells all sorts of antiques, from 19th-century farm tools to Soviet memorabilia. It’s a fun place to browse.
Central Market market
(Tallinna 5; ©9am-5pm) Set back within the same block as the Vaekoja pub, this outdoor market has stalls selling all kinds of Saare-maa treats and tat: dolomite canisters, woollen sweaters, honey, strawberries etc.
Saaremaa Kunstistuudio art
(0453 3748; www.kunstistuudio.ee; Lossi 5; ©11am-7pm Mon-Fri, noon-5pm Sat) This bright gallery contains a variety of works by Estonian artists, including covetable textiles, ceramics, sculptures and paintings.
(www.goodkaarma .com; Kauba 3; ©10am-6pm Mon-Sat) S If you don’t make it to the Saare-maa farm where it’s produced, you can always buy GoodKaarma’s organic soap here.
Kuressaare Tourist Office (0 453 3120; www. kuressaare .ee; Tallinna 2; © 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year) inside the old town hall, it sells maps and guides, arranges accommodation and has information on boat trips and island tours
8 Getting There & Around
Kuressaare Takso (0 453 0000; www . kures saaretakso . ee; day/night flagfall €2 . 20/2 .40, per kilometre €0 .80/0 .95) is a reliable local taxi firm .
The long stretch of pine-lined sand from Mandjala to Jarve, west of Kuressaare, is Saaremaa’s main beach resort. The shallow beach curves languidly towards the south, where the 32km Sorve Peninsula takes over. This beautiful but sparsely populated finger of land comes to a dramatic end at Saare, with a lighthouse and a narrow sand spit extending out to sea.
The peninsula saw heavy fighting during WWII, and the battle scars remain. Various abandoned bunkers and battlements, and the remnants of the Lome-Kaimri antitank defence lines, can still be seen.
Tehumardi Night Battle Monument memorial
On the night of 8 October 1944 a gruesome battle took place in the coastal village of Te-humardi between retreating German troops and a Soviet Estonian Rifle Division. The horror defies belief: both armies fought blindly, firing on intuition or finding the enemy by touch. This large Soviet-era monument takes the form of a sword with the stylised reliefs of faces set into it. The Estonian dead lie buried in double graves nearby.
Sorve Military Museum &
Natural History Museum museum
(Sorve militaarmuuseum & loodusmuuseum; Saare; adult/child €4/2; ©9am-8pm Jun-Aug, 10am-5pm Sep-May) Based in the old Soviet border guard barracks, this ramshackle museum showcases military detritus, much of which was gathered from the surrounding battlefield. Arguably more interesting than the collection itself are the ruins of a massive gun embankment and various other bits of masonry littered around the garden. Included on the same ticket, a nearby cottage is jam-packed with an eclectic array of bugs, butterflies, feathers, skulls, mosses and stuffed critters.
Sorve Visitor Centre museum
(Sorve kulastuskeskus; www.sorvekeskus .ee; Saare; adult/child €4/2; ©10am-7pm daily May-Aug, 11am-6pm Rhu-Sun Sep-Apr) For all the money that’s clearly been spent on this whiz-bang centre in Saare’s old lighthouse-keeper’s residence, it’s not particularly interesting -for non-Estonian speakers at least. Displays are split over several floors and include a lighthouse room, a nature room and a sea room (devoted to shipwrecks and the rescue service). There’s also a children’s playroom. The first lighthouse was built here in 1646, although the current black-painted incarnation only dates to 1960.
|4 Sleeping & Eating Tehumardi Camping campground €
(0 457 1666; www.tehumardi .ee; Rehumardi; tent/ caravan site €5/15, r & cabin €50; BB) The best of the camping grounds on the beach stretch, Tehumardi has a leafy site by a little lake. As well as basic four-person wooden cabins there are little hotel-style rooms (with their own bathrooms) and larger houses and bunkrooms for families or groups.
OPiibutopsu APARTMENT €€
(05693 0288; www. piibutopsu .ee; Ulejoe 19a, Nas-va; d/tr/q €60/90/120; BB) Set on the ample lawn of a private residence down a side street in Nasva (the first little settlement west of Kuressaare), Piibutopsu offers four well-equipped holiday apartments in a new custom-built block. The units are grouped around a central lounge with a wood fire, and there’s even a mini spa centre on site. All in all, an excellent option.
Saare Paargu seafood €€
(05624 5585; www saarepaargu ee; Saare; mains €9-13; © 10am-10pm Sun-Rhu, to 4am Fri & Sat May-Sep; B) Paargu means ‘summer house’ and this slick little pavilion near the tip of the Sorve Peninsula only kicks off in the warmer months. Grilled fish fills most of the slots of the menu, freshly caught by local fisherfolk. As the evening progresses the heavy rock gets turned up a notch and there’s more of a pub vibe.
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Even in summer, it’s easy to beat the tourist hordes down this end of the island. The main settlement is sleepy Kihelkonna, which is more an oversized village than a town. It’s the gateway to Vilsandi, the most remote of Estonia’s national parks.
Viidumae Nature Reserve nature reserve (Viidumae looduskaitseala) Founded in 1957, Viidumae Nature Reserve covers an area of 26 sq km, with a 22m observation tower
on Saaremaa’s highest point (54m). The tower (about 2km along a dirt road off the Kuressaare-Lumanda road at Viidu) offers a panoramic view of the forest and the wonders of the island itself. The view is particularly memorable at sunset. There are two nature trails (2.2km and 1.5km), marked to highlight the different habitats of the area.
Viidumae is a botanical reserve, its favourable climate and conditions making it home to rare plant species. At the reserve’s headquarters, near the tower, you can see a small exhibition on the subject.
Mihkli Farm Museum farm
(Ralumuuseum; www.saaremaamuuseum .ee; Viki; adult/child €1 .50/1; © 10am-6pm daily mid-May-Aug, Wed-Sun early May & Sep-mid-Oct) In a pretty setting southeast of Kihelkonna, this early-18th-century farm has been preserved in its entirety, complete with thatched-roof wooden farmhouses, a sauna (for rent at €30 per hour), a windmill and a traditional village swing.
St Michael's Lutheran Church church
(Mihkli kirik; Kiriku 4; © 10am-5pm May-Aug) Kihe-lkonna’s tall, austere, early-German church dates from before 1280. It’s dark and gloomy inside, partly due to the wooden supports holding up the roof, but it’s worth noting the Renaissance Last Supper triptych (1591) above the altar and the carved pulpit (1604). The church didn’t get its steeple until 1899. Before that the bells were rung from the freestanding belfry (1638) about 100m away; once common, it’s the only one of its kind remaining in Estonia.
Tagamoisa Peninsula area
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Much of the beautiful and rarely visited western coast of the Tagamoisa Peninsula is protected as part of Vilsandi National Park, including the Harilaid Peninsula. At its northwestern tip (accessible only on foot) is the striking Kiipsaare lighthouse, which due to beach erosion now sits about 30m out to sea. The erosion has caused the lighthouse to develop a visible lean, although it periodically corrects itself as the sands shift.
|4 Sleeping & Eating Loona Manor guesthouse €€
(0 454 6510; www.loonamanor.ee; Loona; sites per person €5, r/ste €75/85; ©Apr-Oct; BB) Loo-na may be a 16th-century manor house but it’s more homely than palatial, with simple, clean rooms and roomier suites. Vilsandi National Park’s visitor centre is within the grounds and you can also hire bikes (per day €10), two-person canoes (€26), inflatable boats (four hours €32) and skis (€7).
Soogimaja Estonian €
(0 457 6493; www.soogimaja .planet .ee; Luman-da; mains €5-11; © 10am-10pm) S This rustic farmhouse eatery provides a unique snapshot into island life via its cuisine. The menu features the kind of food eaten by the island’s forefathers - fish soup, boiled pork with turnips and carrots, and cabbage rolls. It’s on the main road in Lumanda, right next door to the village church.
Matsalu National Park
A twitcher’s paradise, Matsalu National Park (Matsalu Rahvuspark) is a prime bird-migration and breeding ground, both for the Baltic and for Europe. Some 282 different bird species have been counted here. Encompassing 486 sq km of wetlands (including 20km-long Matsalu Bay, the deepest inlet along the west Estonian coast), it was first protected as a reserve in 1957 before being declared a national park in 2004.
Spring migration peaks in April/May, but swans arrive as early as March. Autumn migration begins in July and can last until November. Birdwatching towers, with views of resting sites over various terrain, have been built at Keemu, Suitsu, Penijoe, Kloostri and Rannajoe. There are also marked nature trails at Penijoe (3.2km to 7km), Salevere (1.5km) and Suitsu (1km). Bring reliable footwear, as the ground is wet and muddy.
Vilsandi, west of Kihelkonna, is the largest of 161 islands and islets off Saaremaa's western coast protected as Vilsandi National Park (which also includes parts of Saaremaa itself, including the Harilaid Peninsula). The park covers 238 sq km (163 sq km of sea, 75 sq km of land) and is an area of extensive ecological study. The breeding patterns of the common eider and the migration of the barnacle goose have been monitored very closely here. Ringed seals can also be seen in their breeding season and 32 species of orchid thrive in the park.
Vilsandi, 6km long and in places up to 3km wide, is a low, wooded island. The small islets surrounding it are abundant with currant and juniper bushes. Around 250 bird species are observed here, and in spring and autumn there is a remarkable migration of waterfowl: up to 10,000 barnacle geese stop over on Vilsandi in mid-May, and the whitetailed eagle and osprey have even been known to drop by.
The National Park Visitor Centre (0 5301 2772; www. loodusegakoos .ee; ©10am-6pm daily Jun-Aug, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year) is on Saaremaa, at Loona Manor. Staff can provide information on the park's four basic free camp sites and the two private 'tourist farms' offering accommodation and boat transfers.
Islander (0 5667 1555; www. islander, ee; © May-Sep) offers speedboat water taxis to the island, as well as diving, waterskiing, tubing and seal-spotting trips.
The reserve’s headquarters is 3km north of the Tallinn-Virtsu road at Penijoe, an early-18th-century manor house near Lihu-la Here you’ll find a nature centre (0 472 4236; www.loodusegakoos.ee; ©9am-5pm daily mid-Apr-Sep, Mon-Fri rest of year) with a permanent exhibition and a free 20-minute film. With advance notice, the centre can hook you up with guides offering tours of the reserve, from two-hour canoe trips around the reed banks to several days of birdwatching. It can also recommend lodging in the area.
Estonian Nature Tours (0 5349 6695; www naturetours ee), based in nearby Lihu-la, employs naturalist guides who have a wealth of knowledge about Matsalu’s avian, mammalian and botanic riches. Check its website for a calendar of its specialist tours.
Set on a fork-shaped peninsula that stretches into Haapsalu Bay, this quaint resort town (100km from Tallinn) makes a fine stopover en route to the islands. Haapsalu has a handful of museums and galleries, and a few rather modest spa hotels, but the town’s biggest attraction is its striking castle. A bit rough around the edges, Haapsalu’s Old Town is more rustic than urban, with wooden houses set back from the narrow streets, a slender promenade skirting the bay and plenty of secret spots for watching the sunset.
Those seeking mud or spa treatments might opt for Haapsalu over Parnu or Kures-saare, though the centres here are a bit more proletarian. Nevertheless, Haapsalu lays claim to superior mud, which is used by health centres throughout Estonia.
Like other Estonian towns, Haapsalu has changed hands many times since its founding. The German Knights of the Sword conquered this region in 1224, and Haapsalu became the bishop’s residence, with a fortress and cathedral built soon afterwards. The Danes took control during the Livonian War (around 1559), then the Swedes had their turn in the 17th century, but they lost it to the Russians during the Great Northern War in the 18th century.
The city flourished under the tsars, mostly because of mud. Once the curative properties of its shoreline were discovered in the 19th century, Haapsalu transformed into a spa centre. The Russian composer Tchaikovsky and members of the Russian imperial family visited the city for mud baths. A railway that went all the way to St Petersburg was completed in 1907. In Soviet times, Haapsulu was closed to foreigners.
Sights & Activities
Haapsalu Episcopal Castle castle
(Haapsalu piiskopilinnus; www.haapsalulinnus. ee; Lossiplats 3; adult/child €4/3; ©10am-6pm May-Sep, 11am-4pm Fri-Sun Oct-Apr) Haapsalu’s unpolished gem is its bishop’s castle, which was western Estonia’s centre of command from the 13th to 16th centuries but now stands in partial but very picturesque ruins. A turreted tower, most of the outer wall and some of the moat still remain. Entry to the grounds is free year-round, but a ticket is required to enter the castle proper, where there’s a museum devoted to its history, including some creepy tunnels and dramatically displayed medieval weaponry.
Accessed from within the museum is the striking Dome Church (or, more officially, St Nicholas’ Cathedral), built in a mix of the Romanesque and Gothic styles, with three inner domes. It’s the largest such structure in the Baltic and its acoustics are said to be phenomenal; concerts are regularly held here. Inside the church, keep your eyes peeled for the ghost of the White Lady.
In summer, the park within the outer walls is used for concerts. There’s a wonderful children's playground complete with a pirate ship, and a viewing platform within one of the towers. You can also try your hand at archery just outside the main gate (€5).
Town Hall Museum museum
(Raekoda muusem; www.salm .ee; Kooli 2; adult/ child €3/2; ©10am-6pm May-Aug, 11am-5pm Wed-Sun Sep-Apr) Built in 1775, Haapsalu’s former town hall now houses a charming little museum with displays on the history of the resort town, regional history, a re-created pharmacy and the well-preserved Mayor’s office.
Ilon's Wonderland gallery
(iloni imedemaa; www. ilon .ee; Kooli 5; admission €6; ©11am-6pm May-Aug, 11am-5pm
Wed-Sun Sep-Apr) Showcasing the works of Estonian-Swedish illustrator Ilon Wikland, who spent her childhood in Haapsalu and is best known for her illustrations for the Pippi Longstocking books, this gallery is
fabulously set up for kids, with many artworks hung at their viewing level.
St John's Lutheran Church church
(Jaani Kirik; Kooli 4; ©10am-2pm Fri & Sat, 1-4pm Sun mid-May-Aug) Although it has its roots in the 16th century, the exterior of this whitewashed church owes much to a renovation in 1858. Inside, look out for the sculpted reliefs above the altar (dating from 1630) and the carved pulpit.
Birdwatching Tower viewpoint
Haapsalu Bay is one of the key habitats for migrating waterfowl in Estonia and is listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance (www.ramsar.org). During their spring and autumn migrations as many as
20,000 birds descend. If you know your gad-walls from your grebes and fancy a gander at a goosander, head up the birdwatching tower, just south of Africa Beach. Keep an eye out for circling white-tailed eagles.
Africa Beach beach
(Aafrikarand) People still take to the waters at this pint-sized beach, despite the water being murky and full of weeds. It earned its name from the statues of wild animals which used to grace the shoreline (and which were sadly used as firewood by Soviet soldiers in the 1940s). There’s an excellent children’s playground here.
Nineteenth-century Russian toffs, like their counterparts in Victorian England and Paris’ belle epoque, liked nothing more than a good see-and-be-seen promenade, and the premier strolling route was along the waterfront. Sculptures dating from Haapsalu’s fashionable era are scattered along the promenade, including a sundial and a bust commemorating mud-cure pioneer Dr Karl Abraham Hunnius, and the symphony-playing Tchaikovsky Bench, erected in 1940.
Haapsalu Kuursaal historic building
(www.haapsalukuursaal; Promenadi 1; ©noon-8pm May-mid-Sep) This fairy-tale wooden confection painted pale-green and white sits plumb on the waterfront, surrounded by rose gardens. Stepping into the cavernous spa hall (1897) is like stepping back into a more genteel time, with a small stage at one end (used for concerts) and a summertime restaurant at the other. The ambience trumps the food but it’s certainly worth checking out.
Museum of the Estonian Swedes museum (Rannarootsi muuseum; www.aiboland .ee; Sadama 32; adult/child €2/1 .50; © 10am-4pm Sun & Mon, to 6pm Tue-Sat) This quaint museum has relics, photos, old fishing nets and a marvellous tapestry tracing the history of Swedes in Estonia from the 1200s to their escape back to Sweden on the Triina in 1944.
Estonian Railway Museum museum
(Eesti raudteemuuseum; www.jaam .ee; Raudtee 2; adult/child €3/2; © 10am-6pm May-Aug, 11am-4pm Fri-Sun Sep-Apr) Haapsalu’s colourful former train station, with its wooden lace ornamentation and grand colonnade, was opened in 1907 to transport the Russian nobility to the spa resort. Designed to keep the royals dry, its 214m-long covered platform was then said to be the longest in the Russian Empire. This boxcar-sized museum records the golden years of train travel and there are old locomotives to explore nearby. In summer, a road train runs between here and Old Town (€2).
Paralepa Forest Park beach, forest
(0 rowboat rental 5660 3144; Ranna tee; rowboat per hour €8) On the western edge of town, beyond the train station, this shady park has a popular beachfront which, despite being a bit swampy, attracts plenty of sunseekers. In summer there’s a cafe and a kiosk which rents rowboats. To get to the beach, follow the signs towards Fra Mare Thalasso Spa and keep going.
Fra Mare Thalasso Spa spa
(0472 4600; www.framare .ee; Ranna tee 2; 20min mud treatment €37) If you want to experience Haapsalu’s magic mud, this spa hotel offers a variety of treatments (massage, baths etc), along with a pool, a sauna and a gym.
Festivals & Events
Haapsalu has a packed calendar of concerts and festivals, with the action concentrated between June and August.
Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival film
(Haapsalu oudus-ja fantaasiafilmide festival; www. hoff .ee) The town is overtaken by zombies during this creepy, kooky four-day festival, held to coincide with the April full moon.
Haapsalu Early Music Festival music
(Haapsalu vanamuusika festival; www. haapsalu .ee) Held in early July and making full use of the magnificent acoustics of the Dome Church.
August Blues music
0 Activities, Courses & Tours
1 Africa Beach.................................
12 Fra Mare Thalasso Spa...............
2 Birdwatching Tower....................
3 Estonian Railway Museum..........
4 Haapsalu Episcopal Castle.........
13 Endla Hostel.................................
5 Haapsalu Kuursaal......................
14 Kongo Hotell................................
6 Ilon's Wonderland........................
15 Lahe Maja.....................................
7 Paralepa Forest Park...................
9 St John's Lutheran Church.........
16 Hapsal Dietrich............................
10 Tchaikovsky Bench.....................
17 Muuriaare Kohvik........................
11 Town Hall Museum......................
Q Drinking & Nightlife
18 Herman Bistro & Bar...................
(Augustibluus; www.augustibluus.ee) Over two days in early August, this is Estonia’s biggest blues festival.
White Lady Festival cultural
(Valge daami paevad; www.valgedaam .ee) A big event with a ghostly theme, held over three days in August.
Lahe Maja b&b cc
(0516 3023; www. lahemaja .com; Lahe 7; r/ cottage/house from €70/130/700; BB) The name means ‘Bay House’ and this very pretty pale-blue wooden house looks like it’s escaped from a chocolate box to take its position within manicured lawns overlooking the water. The large main house has four double rooms and a four-person family room, plus there’s a separate two-bedroom cottage for rent at the rear.
Kongo Hotell hotel cc
(0 472 4800; www. kongohotel .ee; Kalda 19; s/d/ ste from €68/87/150; B) The unassuming exterior gives little indication of Kongo’s stylish, Scandi-chic decor - off-white walls, neutral linens and pale wooden floors. Larger rooms are available, with kitchenettes. And the name? A rough drinking den once stood on this spot, known for its brawling. The place was nicknamed ‘Kongo’ after the African country suffering through civil war at the time.
Endla Hostel hosrel cc
(0 473 7999; www.endlahostel .ee; Endla 5; s/d €30/40; B) Very little English is spoken and it’s more than a little institutional-feeling, but this is an OK moderately priced option on a quiet street. Rooms are small and bright, with bathrooms in the hallway and a guest kitchen. No dorms.
Eating & Drinking
If you’re self-catering there’s a cluster of supermarkets in the newer part of town, near the intersection of the Tallinna highway and Posti street. For fresh fruits and vegetables visit the open-air market on Jaama street, a few blocks east of the bus station. It’s a great spot to pick up fresh strawberries in summer.
Haapsalu’s biggest annual event, the White Lady Festival (p155), coincides with the August full moon. The day begins with merriment - storytelling for the kids, theatre for the adults - and culminates with a ghastly apparition. During the full moon every August and February, moonlight at a precise angle creates a ghostly reflection upon a cathedral window.
According to legend, the shadow is cast by a young girl who, in the 14th century, was bricked up alive inside the walls. Back then the castle was an all-male enclave, and the archbishop got pretty worked up when he heard that a young woman, disguised in monastic vestments, sneaked in to be close to her lover-monk. In August excited young crowds stay out late to see a play recounting the story in the castle grounds, after which everyone gathers around the wall to await the shadow.
Muuriaare Kohvik cafe c
(0 473 7527; www.muuriaare.ee; Karja 7; mains €3-8; ©10am-10pm) With more umlauts in its name than seems reasonable (the name means ‘beside the walls’), this gorgeous cafe is clearly the town’s favourite, if the crowds are anything to go by. And what’s not to love in the warm interior, pretty rear terrace, cabinet full of cakes, and simple menu of fresh, light meals such as salads, pasta and quiche.
Hapsal Dietrich cafe cc
(0 509 4549; www.dietrich .ee; Karja 10; mains €7-14; ©9 30am-10pm) With a menu that jumps from wild garlic risotto to Thai tom yum soup, this comfortable cafe has a tasty international menu and a cosy lived-in feel. Charming service and a divine cake display make it a very appealing proposition.
Herman Bistro & Bar baa
(www. hermanhaapsalu .ee; Karja 1a; mains €3-8; B ) With a warm and inviting atmosphere, this brightly painted bar serves sandwiches, hearty meals and cocktails, or you can just slink in for a beer.
Haapsalu Tourist Office (0 473 3248; www. visithaapsalu . com; Karja 15; © 9am-5pm mid-May-mid-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri rest of year; B) Rhis friendly, well-staffed office has loads of info about Haapsalu and the surrounding area
Library (Posti 3; ©10am-6pm Rue-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat) Rhe library, which shares a striking iron and limestone complex with the town art gallery (Linnagalerii), offers free internet access
8 Getting There & Away
Rhe bus station (Jaama 1) is at the pretty but defunct train station . Major destinations include Tallinn (€4 . 35 to €8 . 50, 13/4 hours, at least
hourly), Tartu (€12, 4% hours, daily) and Parnu (€5 . 05, 2/ hours, daily) . For Hiiumaa, there are two daily buses to Kardla (2% hours) and a daily bus to Kaina (2% hours) .
Ferries to Hiiumaa and Vormsi leave from Rohukula, 9 km west of Haapsalu .
8 Getting Around
» You can rent bicycles at Vaba Aeg Rattad (0 521 2796; Karja 22; bikes per hour/day/24hr €2 50/10/16)
» Bus 1 runs regularly between Lossi plats, the bus station and Rohukula (the ferry wharf, 9km west); timetables are posted at Lossi plats and the bus station
Hiiumaa, Estonia’s second-biggest island (1000 sq km), is a peaceful and sparsely populated place with some agreeable stretches of coast and a forest-covered interior. The island has less tourist development than Saaremaa, with considerably fewer options for lodging and dining. There’s also less to do and see, but most visitors that come here are content simply to breathe in the fresh sea air and relax.
Scattered about Hiiumaa you’ll find picturesque lighthouses, eerie old Soviet bunkers, empty beaches and a nature reserve with over 100 different bird species. Those seeking a bit more activity can hike, horse ride or indulge in various water sports. And the good news is that, thanks to the island’s microclimate, the weather here is considerably warmer than on the mainland, 22km away.
Given their relative isolation from mainland Estonia, it’s not surprising that the islanders have a unique take on things, and a rich folklore full of legendary heroes, such as Leiger, who had nothing to do with the Son of Kalev (the hero over on the mainland). People who move onto the island must carry the name isehakanud hiidlane (would-be islanders) for 10 years before being considered true residents. Hiiumaa is also said to be a haven for creatures like fairies and elves, ancestors of those born on the island. Modern-day Hiiumites rarely discuss this unique aspect of their family tree, however, as this can anger their elusive relatives.
For further information about the island, see www.hiiumaa.ee.
8 Getting There & Away
There are two Avies (p83) flights a day between Kardla Airport (Kardla Lennujaam;
0 463 1381; www . kardla-airport . ee; Hiiessaare) and Tallinn on weekdays and one on weekends . The airport is 5km east of the centre of Kardla; buses are timed to meet all flights (€1).
» Most people arrive in Hiiumaa on the SLK Ferries (0 4524 4444; www.tuulelaevad . ee) service from Rohukula to Heltermaa (adult/ child/car/bike €3/1 . 50/8 . 80/3 . 70, 1/ hours, seven to nine daily) .
» The busiest boats are those heading to Hiiumaa on a Friday and returning after 1pm on a Sunday afternoon . A 50% surcharge for vehicles applies during these periods .
» Up to 70% of each boat's capacity is presold online; the website has a real-time indicator showing what percentage has already been sold. The remaining 30% is kept for drive-up customers and offered on a first-in, first-on basis . You should consider prebooking at busy times, particularly around weekends in summer
» Tickets purchased online must either be printed out or loaded as an electronic ticket on a smart phone .
» If you miss your prebooked boat, your ticket will be valid for the regular queue on subsequent boats for up to 48 hours .
» Ferry services also operate between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa (p143)
There are two daily buses between Kardla and Tallinn (€13, 3% hours) and one between Kaina and Tallinn (€12, two hours), all of which stop in Suuremoisa, Heltermaa, Rohukula and Haapsalu .
8 Getting Around
Paved roads circle Hiiumaa and cover several side routes; the rest are unsealed . Like many of the quiet nooks of rural Estonia, Hiiumaa is a good place to explore by bike. It's relatively flat and none of its roads are particularly busy - unless you happen to hit a queue of traffic coming off the ferry.
There are petrol stations at Kardla and Kaina . Many accommodation providers can arrange car or bike hire, as can Jaanus Jesmin (0 511 2225; www . carrent . hiiumaa . ee) in Kardla, which rents out cars from €20 per day .
Buses, nearly all radiating from Kardla but some from Kaina, get to most places on the island, though not very often .Schedules are posted inside the bus station in Kardla and online at www . peatus . ee .
Hiiumaa & Vormsi
Kopu OKopu Peninsula
Tahkuna Lighthouse Tahkum
Mihkli Fat O ^Museum
Meaning ‘great estate’, SuuremOisa village is spread out around a blocky 18th-century manor house (SuuremOisa loss) which once belonged to the rich baronial Ungern-Sternberg family. It’s certainly seen better days and is now looking very unkempt, with many of its windows painted over, but the leafy grounds are pleasant enough in an untidy kind of way.
More interesting is St Lawrence's Lutheran Church in nearby Puhalepa, the oldest building on Hiiumaa, dating from the 13th century. Twentieth-century stained glass enlivens the simple whitewashed structure and if you like poking around graveyards, there are some rare circular crosses to be spotted.
Hiiumaa’s ‘capital’ grew up around a cloth factory founded in 1829 and destroyed during WWII. It’s a green town full of gardens and tree-lined streets, with a sleepy atmosphere and few diversions. Still, it’s Hiiu-maa’s centre for services of all kinds and if you need to stock up on provisions, it has a couple of supermarkets.
The town sits on the edge of the world’s ‘best-preserved Palaeozoic meteorite crater’, not that you’d know it as, despite being 4km in diameter, it’s barely visible. It’s fair to say that you wouldn’t want to have been visiting here 455 million years ago when the impact occurred.
Pikk Maja museum
(www. muuseum . hiiumaa .ee; Vabrikuvaljak 8; adult/ child €3/2; ©10am-6pm May-Sep, 10am-5pm Mon-Fri Oct-Apr) The ‘Long House’ was once home to the cloth-factory bigwigs but now has displays related to the factory, including a reconstructed worker’s cottage. Also featured is work by local artists and upstairs there’s a collection of Estonian military and civil service medals.
Kardla Beach beach
(Lubjaahju) While not spectacular, Kardla’s extremely shallow beach is pleasant enough, with a sandy shoreline edged by Rannapark. This expanse of lawns and forest was partly built on the site of a Swedish cemetery.
Kivijuri Kulalistemaja b&b €€
(0526 9915; www. kivijuri .ee; Korgessaare mnt 1; s/d €40/55; BB) This cosy, bright-red country house has only four pleasant rooms, each one with TV and bathroom. Breakfast is excellent (one of the best we had in Estonia) and there’s a backyard patio and a lawn to unwind on. Campers are welcome, and the hospitable, multilingual owners can help arrange bike and car rental. A fine choice.
Padu Hotell hotel €€
(0 463 3037; www. paduhotell .ee; Heltermaa mnt 22; s/d/apt from €40/55/65; BB) If you’re staying here you may feel like you’re sleeping inside a sauna, with the pleasant pine motif taken to extremes: walls, floors, ceilings, doors, furniture. The rooms are cosy and decently equipped, all with balconies, but the apartments are quite a bit bigger and some have their own saunas. There’s also a communal sauna and an on-site cafe.
Eating & Drinking
Gahwa Cafe cafe €
(Pollu 3; snacks €1-2; ©10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun; B) A pretty pit stop with indoor and outdoor seating, this cafe offers light meals such as soup or quiche. Make sure you save room for the sensational chocolate cake.
Linnumae Puhkekeskus EUROPEAN €
(0 462 9244; www.linnumae .ee; Heltermaa mnt; mains €5.50-13; ©11 ,30am-7pm; B) The outdoor deck at this restaurant-bar holds plenty of appeal for an afternoon beer, or you can opt to enjoy a meal inside. The menu holds few surprises but it’s well priced and well executed, with big portions the name of the game. Try the tasty trout with Bearnaise sauce. It’s on the outskirts of town, 500m past Padu Hotell.
OKuur MODERN EUROPEAN €€
(www. restokuur.ee; Sadama 28; mains €11-12; ©11am-11pm May-Sep; ffl) The name means ‘shed’, but with two glass walls and one fashioned from artfully stacked firewood, this summer-only, harbourside pop-up is much slicker than that. The food’s extraordinary: only three starters and mains, but everything’s beautifully presented, inventive and totally delicious. Add to that great service and a sunny deck and you’ve got Hiiu-maa’s top eatery by a long shot.
(www rannapaargu ee; Lubjaahju 3; ©10pm-4am Fri & Sat) This pyramid-shaped restaurant has large windows overlooking the beach. The food isn’t up to much but come the weekend around 300 people descend to party along to the island’s best DJs and visiting live bands. It doesn’t kick off until well after midnight.
Hiiumaa Tourist Office (0 462 2232; www . hiiumaa . eu; Hiiu 1; © 10am-5pm Mon-Fri year-round, plus 10am-2pm Sat & Sun mid-May-mid-Sep) This friendly centre distributes maps and can help arrange accommodation and guides . It also sells the Lighthouse Tour, a 40-page driving tour of the island in English (€3) . The office is housed in an old fire tower
The western half of Hiiumaa is sparsely populated, even for Estonia. Knobbly Tahkuna Peninsula was the scene of a vicious battle between German and Soviet troops during WWII. On the road leading to the lighthouse you’ll see deserted Soviet military installations, including a complete underground bunker which you can wander through; bring a torch (flashlight).
The island ends at the narrow Kopu Peninsula, stretching due west like an index finger pointing straight at Stockholm. If you’ve been to a few Estonian beaches and refuse to believe that anyone could surf here, be prepared to be proved wrong. At Ristna, where the peninsula protrudes out into the Baltic currents, waves of up to 10m have been seen. It’s a dangerous stretch with rips that will do their darnedest to deliver you on the doorstep of Finland, but for experienced surfers it’s a blast.
Soru, where the ferries leave for Saare-maa, is quite a beautiful spot, with a reed-lined forested shore stretching out in both directions.
Sights & Activities
Hill of Crosses memorial
(Ristimagi) Northern Hiiumaa had a population of free Swedish farmers until they were forced to leave on the orders of Catherine the Great, with many ending up in the Ukraine on the false promise of a better life. This mound (only in flat Estonia could it be called a hill) beside the main road, 7km west of Kardla, marks the spot where the last 1000 Swedes living on Hiiumaa performed their final act of worship before leaving the island in 1781.
It has become a tradition for first-time visitors to Hiiumaa to brave the mosquitoes to lay a homemade cross here.
Mihkli Farm Museum farm
(Mihkli talumuuseum; www. muuseum . hiiumaa .ee; adult/child €2/1 .50; © 10am-6pm Tue-Sat mid-Jun-mid-Aug) Hidden away in the forest at Mal-vaste, 2km north of the Kardla-Korgessaare road, this (originally Swedish) farm complex gives an authentic taste of early rural life. The working smoke sauna (€90 for up to 10 people) is a unique, old-fashioned experience but not recommended for sensitive eyes; book ahead, as it takes a day to heat it.
Hiiumaa Military Museum museum
(Hiiumaa Militaarmuuseum; www.militaarmuuseum . ee; adult/child €3/1 . 50; ©10am-6pm mid-May-mid-Sep) Despite limited English captions, this
Handicraft hunters will find fertile ground in Hiiumaa, where traditional crafts are experiencing a minor resurgence. One of the best outlets is the museum shop in Kassari (p162), which carries top-quality woven woollen rugs, among other things. The following are also worth checking out:
Heltermaa Crafts House (Heltermaa kasitoomaja; www. heltermaakasitoomaja .voog .com; Heltermaa; © 10 . 30am-7pm Mon-Fri, to 5 . 30pm Sat Jun-Aug) If you've got time to kill before the ferry docks, stop in here for knitted socks, honey, wooden salad servers or the ubiquitous woven cloth rugs.
Hiiu Wool Factory (Hiiu villavabrik; www. hiiuvill . ee; Vaemla; © 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun mid-May-Aug, 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat rest of year) This small woollen mill, 4km east of Kaina, still uses 19th-century weaving and spinning machines to produce traditional knitwear. You can rug up in the sweaters and mittens for sale, or stock up on wool to knit your own. In summer there's a cafe on site.
small museum in the former Soviet border guard station on the Tahkuna Peninsula is quite engrossing. There are big items of military hardware to peruse in the yard, while inside there are uniforms, photographs, posters, weapons and medals.
Tahkuna Lighthouse lighthouse
(Tahkuna Teletorn, adult/child €2/1; © 10am-7pm Tue-Sun May-mid-Sep) Dating from 1874, this 43m lighthouse watches over Tahkuna Peninsula’s northwest tip. Beyond the lighthouse stands an eerie memorial to the victims of the Estonia ferry disaster. Facing out to sea, the 12m-tall metal frame encases a cross from the bottom of which a bell with sculpted children’s faces is suspended; it only rings when the wind blows with the same force and in the same direction as it did on that fatal night in September 1994, when the Estonia went down.
Between the memorial and the lighthouse is a curious low stone labyrinth, a replica of an ancient one found on the island. The idea is that you follow the path between the stones as a form of meditation.
According to Soviet military lore concerning the battle that raged in this vicinity during the Nazi invasion of 1941, the Red Army fought to the bitter end, their last man climbing to the top of the lighthouse and flinging himself off while still firing at the Germans.
Kopu Lighthouse lighthouse
(Kopu Tuletorn; adult/child €2/1; ©10am-8pm May-mid-Sep) With its pyramid-like base and stout square tower, the inland Kopu Lighthouse is the best-known landmark on Hiiumaa and some claim it to be the oldest continuously operational lighthouse in the world. A lighthouse has stood on this raised bit of land since 1531, though the present white limestone tower was rebuilt in 1845. At 37m high, it can be seen 55km away.
The neighbouring cafe (delicious cake, terrible coffee) shares the same hours as the lighthouse, and concerts are staged on the lawns in summer.
Ristna Lighthouse lighthouse
(Ristna Tuletorn; adult/child €2/1; h10am-7pm Tue-Sun May-mid-Sep) Kopu Peninsula’s second lighthouse stands in all its blazing red glory at the western tip of the peninsula (Stockholm is just over 200km west of here). In 1874 it was brought to Hiiumaa by freighter from Paris where it was made, together with the lighthouse at Tahkuna. There’s a small bar here serving drinks and snacks.
O LIGHTHOUSE COMBO
If you're planning on climbing all three of Hiiumaa's lighthouses, a combined ticket is available (adult/child €5/2).
Buy it at the first lighthouse you visit.
Soru Museum museum
(adult/child €2/1; © 11am-5pm Wed-Sun Jun-Aug, 11am-4pm Wed-Fri Sep-May) If you’ve got time to kill before the Saaremaa ferry, this little community museum is worth a look. Downstairs you might find art from the village schoolkids or locally made feltwork, while upstairs there’s a permanent display containing the usual black-and-white photos of fisherfolk and farmers, interspersed with old nets and tools. At the very top you can scan the horizon on a heavy-duty set of Soviet border guard binoculars.
Surf Paradiis water sports
(0505 1015; http://surfparadiis. paap .ee/; adult/ child €40/20; © May-Nov) Set on a stretch of sandy beach about 1km down an extremely rough road from Ristna (the turn-off is just before you reach the lighthouse), this outfit offers all manner of wet and wild activities. A day pass for the ‘water park’ includes use of surfboards, boogie boards, water trampoline, kayaks, rowboats, snorkelling equipment, a sauna and sun lounges, often accompanied by live music.
Add-ons include windsurfing, jetskiing, banana-boat rides, fishing and archery. There’s also accommodation available.
It’s a good idea to call ahead, as all activities are weather-dependent, and the place is sometimes booked solidly by groups.
Ristna is a surprisingly demanding surfing spot, so don’t attempt to go it alone without first coordinating with the centre, which operates a lifeguard and first-aid service.
Hiiumaa’s second-largest settlement is a nondescript kind of place, its most interesting feature being the hulking ruins of St Martin's Church (c 1500), which was wrecked by a WWII bomb.
Rudolf Tobias House Museum museum (Rudolf Tobiase Majamuuseum; www.muuseum . hiiu maa .ee; Hiiu mnt; adult/child €2/1 . 50; ©11am-5pm
Wed-Sun mid-May-mid-Aug) On the western edge of Kaina, the humble 1840 wood-and-thatch home of Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918), composer of some of Estonia’s first orchestral works, has been preserved in his memory. There’s no English signage but the staff do their best to point things out. There’s a windmill out the back.
Hotell Liilia hotel cc
(0 463 6146; www. liiliahotell .ee; Hiiu mnt 22; s/d €42/48; B) Set in a two-storey building next to the church ruins, Liilia offers tasteful, well-kept rooms with pale wooden floors and ceilings. There’s also a large restaurant downstairs with a pleasant terrace but it only opens when demand requires it.
Covered with mixed woodland and boasting some striking coastal scenery, this 8km-long island is linked to Hiiumaa by two causeways that virtually cut off Kaina Bay from the open sea. The bay is an important bird reserve, serving as a breeding ground for about 70 different species. You can get a good view of the avian action from the bird-watching tower north of Orjaku, where you’ll also find a short walking trail. During the hot summer months a large part of the bay dries up and becomes not much more than a muddy field.
Sights & Activities
Hiiumaa Museum museum
(www . muuseum . hiiumaa . ee; adult/child €3/2;
©10am-6pm May-Sep, 10am-5pm Sed-Sun oct-Apr) Located in Kassari village’s old post office, this small museum has a collection of artefacts and exhibits on Hiiumaa’s history and biodiversity. Among the curiosities: a 1955 Russian-made TV, the jewel-like prism of the 1874 Tahkuna lighthouse and the stuffed body of the wolf that allegedly terrorised the island until its 1971 demise. It also sells excellent handicrafts and special island postal stamps.
Saare Tirp area
Southern Kassari narrows to a promontory with some unusual vegetation and ends in a thin 3km spit of land, the tip of which juts out into the sea. It’s a beautiful place for a
MS ESTONIA: CONSIGNED TO MYSTERY
About 30 nautical miles northwest of Hiiumaa’s Tahkuna Peninsula lies the wreck of the ferry Estonia, which sank during a storm just after midnight on 28 September 1994, en route from Tallinn to Stockholm. Only 137 people survived the tragedy, which claimed 852 lives in one of Europe’s worst maritime disasters.
The cause of the tragedy remains the subject of contention and conspiracy theory. In 1997 the final report of the Joint Accident Investigation Commission (JAIC), an official inquiry by the Estonian, Swedish and Finnish governments, concluded that the ferry’s design was at fault and the crew were probably underskilled in emergency procedures. The report claimed the bow gate was engineered inadequately for rough sailing conditions and that during the storm the visor was torn from the bow, exposing the car deck to tonnes of seawater that sank the Estonia completely within one hour. Escape time for the 989 people on board was estimated at only 15 minutes and they were denied access to lifeboats due to the sudden list and sinking of the ferry. For those who did escape, the freezing conditions of the water that night reduced survival time to only minutes.
The integrity of the report was questioned after dissent within the JAIC became public. In 2000 a joint US-German diving expedition and new analyses of the Estonia’s recovered visor prompted theories of an explosion on board. Conspiracy theorists claim that the Estonia was transporting unregistered munitions cargo, as an illicit trade in weapons was to be curtailed with new export laws about to come into effect. Claims of a cover-up have been bolstered by the alleged disappearance of eight crew members, initially listed as survivors.
Unexplained interference with the wreck, along with the Swedish government’s dumping of sand to stabilise it in 2000, further fuelled conspiracy claims and calls for a new inquiry. The governments of Estonia, Finland and Sweden are resolute that the ferry will remain where it sank as a memorial to the dead; an estimated 700 people are thought to be inside.
walk and there’s a small but surprisingly popular reedy beach on the way.
Legend has it that the rocky outcrop is the remains of an aborted bridge that local hero Leiger started to build to Saaremaa, to make it easier for his brother, Saaremaa’s hero Suur Toll, to visit and join in various heroic acts. As for Leiger, there’s a statue of him at the Saare Tirp fork, carrying a boulder on his shoulder.
Kassari Lutheran Chapel church
(Kassari kabel; © 11am-4pm mid-Jun-Aug) There’s no electricity supply to this pretty, whitewashed, thatch-roofed chapel (1801) at the east end of Kassari island, meaning that services are still held in enchanting candlelight. The main distinguishing feature of the interior is an unusual pulpit positioned above the altar. It’s a good destination for a drive, walk or ride; follow the sign down the dirt road from the easternmost point of the island’s sealed road.
From the chapel, a path continues nearly 2km to a small bay in Kassari’s northeastern corner.
Kassari Ratsamatkad horse riding
(0 5342 3346; www. kassari .ee; trail ride per hour/ day €13/40) On the road to Kassari Chapel, Hiiumaa’s largest horse farm offers a range of excursions including multiday treks through forests and along untouched coastline.
|4 Sleeping & Eating
Dagen Haus b&b €€
(0518 2555; www.dagen .ee; Orjaku; r €65-89; BB) One of Hiiumaa’s most attractive options, this restored former granary has rough-hewn walls, timber beams and five stylish modern bedrooms, all set in big green grounds. The gorgeous communal areas will have you plotting to move in permanently. The owners have appealing holiday houses on offer too, sleeping up to 12 people (€99 to €219). Book well ahead.
Kassari Puhkekeskus hotel €€
(0 469 7169; www.kassarikeskus.ee; Kassari village; d €70, apt €85-105; BB) Abandoned factories are a dime a dozen in Estonia, but cool conversions like this one are scarce. The decor is fresh and modern, and even the standard rooms have a microwave and a little astroturfed balcony. Apartments have a separate living area and a proper kitchenette, and open onto a large shared terrace with a spa pool.
Lest & Lammas Grill Estonian €
(0 469 7169; www.kassarikeskus.ee; Kassari village; mains €7. 50-11; © noon-9pm Jun-Aug; B) The name means ‘flounder and sheep’ and the emphasis is on grilled fish and (beautifully marinated) lamb, along with barbecued sausages, pork and chicken. Or you can just share a bottle of wine under a thatched shelter on one of the landscaped terraces. It’s part of the Kassari Puhkekeskus complex.
Vetsi Tall Estonian €
(0 462 2550; www.vetsitall .ee; mains €4 . 50-6, site per person €4, cabin s/d/tr €30/40/55, apt €100; ©10am-11pm Jun-Aug; B) On the main road between the villages of Orjaku and Kassari, this dark atmospheric tavern (dating from 1843) offers massive serves of good simple food. Tiny barrel-shaped wooden cabins are set amid the surrounding apple orchard and camping is also possible, although bathroom facilities are rudimentary (a hosepipe shower, for instance). There’s also a two-bedroom apartment above the tavern.
Vormsi, Estonia’s fourth-biggest island (93 sq km), rose from the sea around 3000 years ago and continues to rise at a rate of 3mm per year (its highest point is a modest 13m above sea level and is said to be a hiding place for trolls). Except for its voracious mosquitoes, the island has only ever been sparsely inhabited and as a consequence its forests, coastal pastures and wooded meadows have remained relatively undisturbed. Swedes arrived in the 13th century and before WWII they formed the overwhelming majority of the island’s then 2500 residents. They fled back to Sweden en masse during WWII and few have returned.
The island, 16km from east to west and averaging 6km from north to south, is a good place to tour by bicycle; there is about 10km of paved road. From the ferry it’s 1.5km to the village of Sviby. The cheerfully named Hullo, Vormsi’s largest village, lies about 3km west of here. You’ll spot ruins of a Russian Orthodox church within an old collective farm, right by the Hullo turn-off. Two kilometres south of here is the much smaller Rumpo (these people really do have a way with names!), sitting on an attractive juniper-covered peninsula jutting into Hullo Bay. Much of the island, including the 30 islets in Hullo Bay, is protected as part of the
Vormsi Landscape Reserv (Vormsi Maas-tikukaitseala). It’s a haven for rare lichens and coastal birds, as well as large critters such as elk, roe deer, lynx and boar.
The island doesn’t have a tourist office but there are information boards near the ferry wharf.
Vormsi Farm Museum farm
(Vormsi talumuuseum; www.talumuuseum.vormsi. ee; Sviby; adult/child €2 .50/1; ©10am-5pm Wed-Sun Jun-Aug) The island’s Swedish heritage is kept alive in this restored farmstead, including the inhabitants’ distinctive fashion sense (the women wore chunky red socks to emphasise their ankles as strong legs were a sex symbol; nobody wanted a wife who couldn’t perform heavy manual work).
St Olaf's Lutheran Church cherch
(Puha Olavi kirik; ©10 ,30am-12 ,30pm Sun May-Iep) There’s a colourful little statue of the saint with his trusty axe in the niche above the door of this blocky, whitewashed 14th-century church, just out of Hullo. It has a fine baroque painted pulpit (1660) and medieval ceiling paintings.
Saxby Lighthouse lighthouse
Built in 1864, this 24m lighthouse is a short walk from Saxby, the island’s westernmost settlement, which is itself 7km from Hullo.
Church Rock boelder
(Kirikukivi) This 5.8m-high erratic boulder stands near Diby in the northeast.
|4 Sleeping & Eating
You can find accommodation options online (wwwvormsi.ee) or at the tourist office in Haapsalu. Both Rumpo Mae Puhketalu and Elle-Malle Kulalistemaja rent out bicycles and boats, and include breakfast in the price. The only eatery on the island is Korts Krog No14, a brand new tavern on the outskirts of Hullo.
Rumpo Mae Puhketalu b&b €€
(0 5342 9926; www.rumpomae.ee; d/tr €55/75; W) Just a few steps from the coast at Rumpo, this handsome thatched-roof farmhouse has en suite rooms with an old-style ambience. More basic accommodation is offered in a rustic sauna house (per person/whole house €45/220) and the eight-bed ‘small house’ (whole house €135 to €205), and there’s also a field for campers. A single-night surcharge applies.
Elle-Malle Kulalistemaja b&b €€
(05647 2854; ellemalle@gmail .com; Hullo; per person €24) In a peaceful location between Hullo and St Olaf’s Lutheran Church, this friendly guesthouse has tidy pine-lined rooms in the main house and a romantic double loft room in a separate wooden cottage (with a private bathroom below). Meals can be arranged (three-course dinner €9) and the owner also sells a small but high-quality selection of local antiques.
Hullo Kauplus self-catering €
(Hullo; ©10am-8pm Mon-Sat, to 5pm Sun; W) Stock up on victuals in Hullo’s small general store; there’s a post office and internet point attached.
8 Getting There & Around
Vormsi lies just 3km off the Estonian mainland. SLK Ferries (0 4524 4444; www . tuulelaevad . ee) plies the 10km route between Rohukula and Sviby three to five times daily (return ticket per adult/child/car/bike €6 .40/3 .20/14/2, 45 minutes) . There's a 50% surcharge for boats departing Rohukula after 1pm on Fridays and departing Sviby after 1pm on Sundays . If you're taking a vehicle in the summer, reserve a place in advance online (€1 . 60 extra) .
By the ferry, Sviby Bike & Boat Rental (0 517 8722; www .vormsi . ee/sviby; © late May-Sep) doesn't just rent bikes (per ^/8/24 hours €5/10/15) and rowboats (per hour €5), it also runs a water-taxi service and tours around the island. Accommodation providers generally offer these services too .
The long, grey days of Soviet rule are well behind Estonia. Today, first-time visitors are astonished by the gusto with which the country has embraced the market economy. Entrepreneurship is widespread, and the economy has diversified considerably since 1991.
It’s in the digital sphere where Estonia has excelled, earning it the nickname ‘e-Stonia’ in the tech world. Various innovations have originated from Estonian software designers, most notably Skype, which allows free voice and video calls to be made over the internet. Estonian citizens can vote, lodge their taxes and affix a digital signature to documents online, and in 2014 Estonia became the first country to offer a virtual ‘e-Residency’ to nonresidents.
Estonia has been lauded as the outstanding economic success story of the former USSR. It has joined the EU, NATO, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the eurozone.
Having politically and economically shaken off the Soviet era, Estonia’s gaze is very much to the West and the north. Its people view themselves as having more in common (linguistically and culturally) with their Finnish neighbours than they do with Latvia and Lithuania to their south, and see the ‘Baltic States’ label as a handy geographic reference but not much more. There’s even been talk of further cementing ties with Finland by building a tunnel under the Gulf of Finland to connect the two countries, but the cost of such a venture is likely to be prohibitive.
Meanwhile, if Estonia is increasingly facing West, it’s also nervously looking over its shoulder to the Great Bear to the east. The Russian annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the Ukraine (widely believed in these parts to have been fomented by the Kremlin) have rattled the nerves of many in this newly independent country. People here are painfully aware of the fleeting nature of the first Estonian independence in the interwar decades. That the current period of statehood has now lasted longer than the first offers only limited assurance.
Estonia’s response to the Ukrainian crisis has been to enthusiastically support sanctions against the Russia Federation and to simultaneously strengthen ties with NATO, with president Toomas Ilves calling for a permanent base to be stationed on Estonian soil.
Tensions with Russia escalated in 2015 when an Estonian security officer was sentenced by a Russian court to 15 years in prison for spying; the Russians insist that they arrested him on their side of the border while the Estonians (and the EU) claim that he was kidnapped on the Estonian side. Estonia has now declared that it is planning to build a 110km-long, 2.5m-high fence on its land border with Russia (much of the rest of the border is defined by Lake Peipsi and the Narva River).
At the same time, the Estonian government is increasingly aware of the need to improve relations with its own large ethnic
Russian minority, a substantial chunk of which have yet to gain Estonian citizenship (p171). While the average Russian living in Estonia has a higher standard of living than the average Russian living in Russia, they still lag behind their Estonian compatriots. A 2015 Amnesty International report noted that Estonia’s ethnic minorites, of which Russians are by far the largest, are disproportionately affected by unemployment and poverty.
A drive through some of the crumbling towns of the northeast, where both work and hope are in short supply, gives some clue to the Russian plight. Russian speakers are over-represented in the prison population, HIV infection rates and drug-addiction statistics, and the greater social problems in the Russian community in turn feed the negative stereotypes that some Estonians have about Russians.
While instances of overt hostility based on ethnicity or race are infrequent, they do occasionally occur. The tension, and ultimately violence, that was sparked by the government’s decision in 2007 to move a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of Tallinn demonstrated that fissures remain between the country’s ethnic Russians and the rest of the population, and there are regular complaints (from the Russian media, in particular) that Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia are being discriminated against. One strategy from the Estonian side has been to attempt to curb the influence of the Russian media by promoting Russian-language news services from within Estonia.
Estonia’s oldest human settlements date back 10,000 years, with Stone Age tools found near present-day Parnu. Finno-Ugric tribes from the east (probably around the Urals) came centuries later - most likely around 3500 BC - mingling with Neolithic peoples and settling in present-day Estonia, Finland and Hungary. They took a liking to their homeland and stayed put, spurning the nomadic ways that characterised most other European peoples over the next four millennia.
The Christian Invasion
By the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Estonians were well aware of the Vikings, who seemed more interested in trade routes to Kyiv (Kiev) and Istanbul than in conquering the land. The first real threat to their freedom came from Christian invaders from the south.
Following papal calls for a crusade against the northern heathens, Danish troops and German knights invaded Estonia, conquering the southern Estonian fortress of Otepaa in 1208. The locals put up a fierce resistance and it took well over 30 years before the whole territory was conquered. By the mid-13th century Estonia was carved up between the Danes in the north and the German Teutonic Order in the south. The Order, hungry to move eastward, was powerfully repelled by Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod on frozen Lake Peipsi (marvellously imagined in Sergei Eisen-stein’s film Alexander Nevsky).
The conquerors settled in at various newly established towns, handing over much power to the bishops. By the end of the 13th century cathedrals rose over Tallinn and Tartu, around the time that the Cistercian and Dominican religious orders set up monasteries to preach to the locals and (try to) baptise them. Meanwhile, the Estonians continued to rebel.
The most significant uprising began on St George’s Night (23 April) in 1343. It started in Danish-controlled northern Estonia when Estonians pillaged the Padise Cistercian Monastery and killed all of the monks. They subsequently laid siege to Tallinn and the bishop’s castle in Haapsalu and called for Swedish assistance to help them finish the job. The Swedes did indeed send naval reinforcements across the gulf, but they came too late and were forced to turn back. Despite Estonian resolve, by 1345 the rebellion was crushed. The Danes, however, decided they’d had enough and sold their part of Estonia to the Livonian Order (a branch of the Teutonic Order).
The first guilds and merchant associations emerged in the 14th century, and many towns - Tallinn, Tartu, Viljandi and Parnu - prospered as trade members of the Hanseatic League (a medieval merchant guild). However, it was mainly German merchants who lived in these towns while
THE SOURCE OF EESTI
In the 1st century AD the Roman historian Tacitus described a people known as the ‘Aestii’. In rather crude fashion he depicted them as worshipping goddess statues and chasing wild boars with wooden clubs and iron weaponry. These people were also known as traders of amber. Although Tacitus was describing the forerunners to the Lithuanians and Latvians, the name ‘Aestii' was eventually applied specifically to the Estonians, who call themselves Eesti to this day.
the native Estonians were relegated to toiling as peasants in the countryside.
Estonians continued practising nature worship and pagan rites for weddings and funerals, though by the 15th century these rites became interlinked with Catholicism and they began using Christian names. Peasants’ rights disappeared during the 15th century, so much so that by the early 16th century most Estonians became serfs (enslaved labourers bought and sold with the land).
The Reformation, which originated in Germany, reached Estonia in the 1520s, with Lutheran preachers representing the initial wave. By the mid-16th century the church had been reorganised, with churches now under Lutheran authority and monasteries closed down.
The Livonian War
During the 16th century the greatest threat to Livonia (now northern Latvia and southern Estonia) came from the east. Ivan the Terrible, who crowned himself the first Russian tsar in 1547, had his sights clearly set on westward expansion. Russian troops, led by ferocious Tatar cavalry, attacked in 1558, around the region of Tartu. The fighting was extremely cruel, with the invaders leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Poland, Denmark and Sweden joined the fray, and intermittent fighting raged throughout the 17th century. Sweden emerged the victor.
Like all wars, this one took a heavy toll on the inhabitants. During the two generations of warfare (roughly 1552 to 1629), half the rural population perished and about three-quarters of all farms were deserted, with disease (such as plague), crop failure and the ensuing famine adding to the war casualties. Except for Tallinn, every castle and fortified centre in the country was ransacked or destroyed - including Viljan-di Castle, once among northern Europe’s mightiest forts. Some towns were completely obliterated.
The Swedish Era
Following the war, Estonia entered a period of peace and prosperity under Swedish rule. Although the lot of the Estonian peasantry didn’t improve much, cities, boosted by trade, grew and prospered, helping the economy speedily recover from the ravages of war. Under Swedish rule, Estonia was united for the first time in history under a single ruler. This period is regarded as an enlightened episode in the country’s long history of foreign oppression.
The Swedish king granted the Baltic-German aristocracy a certain degree of self-government and even generously gave them lands that were deserted during the war. Although the first printed Estonian-language book dates from 1535, the publication of books didn’t get under way until the 1630s, when Swedish clergy founded village schools and taught the peasants to read and write. Education received an enormous boost with the founding of Tartu University in 1632.
By the mid-17th century, however, things were going steadily downhill. An outbreak of plague, and later the Great Famine (1695-97), killed off 80,000 people - almost 20% of the population. Peasants, who for a time enjoyed more freedom of movement, soon lost their gains. The Swedish king, Charles XI, for his part wanted to abolish serfdom in Estonian crown manors (peasants enjoyed freedom in Sweden), but the local Baltic-German aristocracy fought bitterly to preserve the legacy of enforced servitude.
The Great Northern War
Soon Sweden faced serious threats from an anti-Swedish alliance of Poland, Denmark and Russia - countries seeking to regain lands lost in the Livonian War. The Great Northern War began in 1700 and after a few successes (including the defeat of the Russians at Narva), the Swedes began to fold under the assaults on multiple fronts. By 1708 Tartu had been destroyed and all of its survivors shipped to Russia. By 1710 Tallinn capitulated and Sweden had been routed.
Russian domination was bad news for the native Estonian peasants. War (and the 1710 plague) left tens of thousands dead. Swedish reforms were rolled back by Peter I, destroying any hope of freedom for the surviving serfs. Conservative attitudes towards Estonia’s lower class didn’t change until the Enlightenment, in the late 18th century.
Among those influenced by the Enlightenment was Catherine the Great (1762-96), who curbed the privileges of the elite while instituting quasi-democratic reforms. It wasn’t until 1816, however, that the peasants were finally liberated from serfdom. They also gained surnames, greater freedom of movement and even limited access to self-government. By the second half of the 19th century the peasants started buying farmsteads from the estates, and earning an income from crops such as potatoes and flax (the latter commanding particularly high prices during the US Civil War and the subsequent drop in American cotton exports to Europe).
The late 19th century was the dawn of the national awakening. Led by a new Estonian elite, the country marched towards nationhood. The first Estonian-language newspaper, Perno Postimees, appeared in 1857. It was published by Johann Voldemar Jannsen, one of the first to use the term ‘Estonians’ rather than maarahvas (country people). Other influential thinkers included Carl Robert Jakobson, who fought for equal political rights for Estonians; he also founded Sakala, Estonia’s first political newspaper.
Numerous Estonian societies formed, and in 1869 the first song festival was held. Estonia’s rich folklore also emerged from obscurity, particularly with the publication of Son of Kalev, Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s poetic epic that melded together hundreds of Estonian legends and folk tales. Other poems, particularly works by Lydia Koidula, helped shape the national consciousness - one imprinted with the memory of 700 years of slavery.
Rebellion & WWI
The late 19th century was also a period of rampant industrialisation, marked by the development of an extensive railway network linking Estonia with Russia and by the rise of large factories. Socialism and discontent accompanied those grim workplaces, with demonstrations and strikes led by newly formed worker parties. Events in Estonia mimicked those in Russia, and in January 1905, as armed insurrection flared across the border, Estonia’s workers joined the fray. Tension mounted until autumn that year, when 20,000 workers went on strike. Tsarist troops responded brutally by killing and wounding 200.
Tsar Nicholas II’s response incited the Estonian rebels, who continued to destroy the property of the old guard. Subsequently, thousands of soldiers arrived from Russia, quelling the rebellions; 600 Estonians were executed and hundreds were sent off to Siberia. Trade unions and progressive newspapers and organisations were closed down and political leaders fled the country.
More radical plans to bring Estonia to heel - such as sending thousands of Russian peasants to colonise the country - were never realised. Instead, Russia’s tsar had another priority: WWI. Estonia paid a high price for Russia’s involvement - 100,000 men were drafted, 10,000 of whom were killed in action. Many Estonians went off to fight under the notion that if they helped defeat Germany, Russia would grant them nationhood. Russia had no intention of doing so. But by 1917 the matter was no longer the tsar’s to decide. In St Petersburg, Nicholas
II was forced to abdicate and the Bolsheviks seized power. As chaos swept across Russia, Estonia seized the initiative and on 24 February 1918 it effectively declared its independence.
eignty over Estonian territory. For the first time in its history, Estonia was completely independent.
In many ways, the independence period was a golden era. The mainly Baltic-German nobility were given a few years to sort their affairs before their manor houses were nationalised and their large estates broken up, with the land redistributed to the Estonian people. For the very first time many peasant farmers were able to own and work their own land.
The economy developed rapidly, with Estonia utilising its natural resources and attracting investment from abroad. Tartu University became a university for Estonians, and the Estonian language became the lingua franca for all aspects of public life, creating new opportunities in professional and academic spheres. Secondary education also improved (per capita the number of students surpassed most European nations) and an enormous book industry arose, with
25,000 titles published between 1918 and 1940 (again surpassing most European nations in books per capita).
On other fronts - notably the political one - independence was not so rosy. Fear of communist subversion (such as the failed 1924 coup d’etat supported by the Bolsheviks) drove the government to the right. In
1934 Konstantin Pats, leader of the transitional government, along with Johan Lai-doner, commander-in-chief of the Estonian army, violated the constitution and seized power, under the pretext of protecting democracy from extremist factions. Thus began the ‘era of silence’, a period of authoritarian rule that dogged the fledgling republic until WWII.
The War of Independence
Estonia faced threats from both Russia and Baltic-German reactionaries. War erupted as the Red Army quickly advanced, overrunning half the country by January 1919. Estonia fought back tenaciously, and with the help of British warships and Finnish, Danish and Swedish troops, it defeated its long-time enemy. In December Russia agreed to a truce and on 2 February 1920 it signed the Tartu Peace Treaty, which renounced forever Russia’s rights of sover-
The Soviet Invasion & WWII
Estonia’s fate was sealed when Nazi Germany and the USSR negotiated a secret pact in 1939, essentially handing Estonia over to Stalin. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a nonaggression pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany, secretly divided Eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of influence. Estonia fell into the Soviet sphere. At the outbreak of WWII, Estonia declared itself neutral, but Moscow forced Estonia to sign a mutual assistance pact. Thousands of Russian soldiers subsequently arrived, along with military, naval and air bases. Estonia’s Communist Party orchestrated a sham rebellion whereby ‘the people’ demanded to be part of the USSR. President Pats, General Laidoner and other leaders were sacked and sent off to Russian prison camps. A puppet government was installed and on 6 August 1940 the Supreme Soviet accepted Estonia’s ‘request’ to join the USSR.
Deportations and WWII devastated the country. Tens of thousands were conscripted and sent not to fight but to work (and usually die) in labour camps in northern Russia. Thousands of women and children were also sent to gulags.
When Russia fled the German advance, many Estonians welcomed the Nazis as liberators; 55,000 Estonians joined home-defence units and Wehrmacht Ost battalions. The Nazis, however, did not grant statehood to Estonia and viewed it merely as occupied territory of the Soviet Union. Hope was crushed when the Germans began executing communist collaborators (7000 Estonian citizens were shot) and those Estonian Jews who hadn’t already fled the country (around 1000). To escape conscription into the German army (nearly 40,000 were conscripted), thousands fled to Finland and joined the Estonian regiment of the Finnish army.
In early 1944 the Soviet army bombed Tallinn, Narva, Tartu and other cities. Narva’s baroque Old Town was almost completely destroyed. The Nazis retreated in September 1944. Fearing the advance of the Red Army, many Estonians also fled and around 70,000 reached the West. By the end of the war one in 10 Estonians lived abroad. All in all, Estonia had lost over 280,000 people in the war (a quarter of its population). In addition to those who emigrated, 30,000 were killed in action and others were executed, sent to gulags or exterminated in concentration camps.
Back in the USSR
After the war, Estonia was immediately incorporated back into the Soviet Union. This began the grim epoch of Stalinist repression, with many thousands sent to prison camps and 19,000 Estonians executed. Farmers were forced into collectivisation and thousands of immigrants entered the country from other regions of the Soviet Union. Between 1945 and 1989 the percentage of native Estonians fell from 97% of the population to 62%.
Resistance took the form of a large guerrilla movement calling themselves the Metsa-vennad, or ‘Forest Brothers’. Around 14,000 Estonians armed themselves and went into hiding, operating in small groups throughout the country. The guerrillas had little success against the Soviet army, and by 1956 the movement had been effectively destroyed.
Although there were a few optimistic periods during the communist years (notably the ‘thaw’ under Khrushchev, where Stalin’s crimes were officially exposed), it wasn’t until the 1980s when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ushered in an era of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) that real change seemed a possibility.
The dissident movement in Estonia gained momentum and on the 50th anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a major rally took place in Tallinn. Over the next few months, more and more protests were held, with Estonians demanding the restoration of statehood. The song festival was one of Estonia’s most powerful vehicles for protest. The biggest took place in 1988 when 300,000 Estonians gathered in Tallinn’s Song Festival Grounds and brought much international attention to the Baltic plight.
In November 1989 the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared the events of 1940 an act of military aggression and therefore illegal. Disobeying Moscow’s orders, Estonia held free elections in 1990 and regained its independence in 1991.
TALLINN'S CHECHEN HERO
In January 1991 Soviet troops seized strategic buildings in Vilnius and Riga, and soldiers were ordered to do the same in Tallinn. The commander of the troops at the time, however, disobeyed Moscow’s orders, and refused to open fire upon the crowd. He even threatened to turn the artillery under his command against any attempted invasion from Russia. That leader was Dzhokhar Dudayev, who would go on to become the president of Chechnya and lead its independence movement. He was killed by the Russian military in 1995.
In Estonia he is fondly remembered for his role in bringing about Estonian independence.
Independent Estonia Mark Two
In 1992 the first general election under the new constitution took place, with a proliferation of newly formed parties. The Pro Patria (Fatherland) Union won a narrow majority after campaigning under the slogan ‘Cleaning House’, which meant removing from power those associated with communist rule. Pro Patria’s leader, 32-year-old historian Mart Laar, became prime minister.
ESTONiA THE REORLE
Laar set to work transforming Estonia into a free-market economy, introducing the Estonian kroon as currency and negotiating the complete Russian troop withdrawal. (The latter was a source of particular anxiety for Estonians, and the country breathed a collective sigh of relief when the last garrisons departed in 1994.) Despite Laar’s successes, he was considered a hothead, and in 1994 he was dismissed when his government received a vote of no confidence by the Riigikogu (National Council).
Following a referendum in September 2003, approximately 60% of Estonians voted in favour of Estonia joining the EU. The following spring, the country officially joined both the EU and NATO. This was followed by membership of the OECD in December 2010 and adoption of the euro in place of the short-lived kroon at the beginning of 2011.
Recurring post-EU-accession themes are the economy, increasing income inequality and strained relations with Russia, particularly with regards to Estonia’s large Russian-speaking community.
WAGE INEQUALITY & SALMON SANDWICHES
According to Eurostat, Estonian men earn an average of 30% more than Estonian women, which is the largest gender income gap in the EU. In a creatively obscure protest to highlight this gap (lohe), participating cafes and restaurants on Equal Pay Day sell sandwiches made from salmon (which is also lohe in Estonian) at a 30% surcharge when served with dill (in Estonian till, which doubles as a slang word for penis).
Despite (or perhaps because of) centuries of occupation by Danes, Swedes, Germans and Russians, Estonians have tenaciously held onto their national identity and are deeply, emotionally connected to their history, folklore and national song tradition. The Estonian Literary Museum in Tartu holds over 1.3 million pages of folk songs, the world’s second-largest collection (Ireland has the largest), and Estonia produces films for one of the world’s smallest audiences (only Iceland produces for a smaller audience).
According to the popular stereotype, Estonians (particularly Estonian men) are reserved and aloof. Some believe it has much to do with the weather - those long, dark nights breeding endless introspection. This reserve also extends to gross displays of public affection, brash behaviour and intoxication - all frowned upon. This is assuming that there isn’t a festival under way, such as Jaanipaev, when friends, family and acquaintances gather in the countryside for drinking, dancing and revelry.
Estonians are known for their strong work ethic, but when they’re not toiling in the fields, or putting in long hours at the office, they head to the countryside. Ideal weekends are spent at the family cottage, picking berries or mushrooms, walking through the woods, or sitting with friends soaking up the quiet beauty. Owning a country house with a sauna is one of the national aspirations.
Of Estonia’s 1.3 million people, 69% are ethnic Estonians, 25% Russians, 2% Ukrainians, 1% Belarusians and 1% Finns. Ethnic Russians are concentrated in the industrial cities of the northeast, where in some places (such as Narva) they make up the vast majority of the population. Russians also have a sizable presence in Tallinn (37%). These figures differ markedly from 1934, when native Estonians comprised over 90% of the population. Migration from other parts of the USSR occurred on a large scale from 1945 to 1955 and, over the next three decades, Estonia had the highest rate of migration of any of the Soviet republics.
One of the most overlooked indigenous ethnic groups in Estonia are the Seto people, who number up to 15,000, split between southeastern Estonia and neighbouring Russia.
When Estonia regained independence in 1991, not every resident received citizenship. People who were citizens of the pre-1940 Estonian Republic and their descendants automatically became citizens. Those who moved to Estonia during the Soviet occupation (mostly Russian speakers, many of whom didn't learn the local language) could choose to be naturalised, an ongoing process that required applicants to demonstrate knowledge of Estonia's history and language to qualify. For these people, one alternative was to apply for Russian citizenship, as all citizens of the former USSR were eligible, and another was to remain in Estonia as noncitizen residents. However, only citizens may vote in parliamentary elections.
ESTONi THE ARTS
The naturalisation process and the perceived difficulty of the initial language tests became a point of international contention as the Russian government, the EU and a number of human rights organisations (including Amnesty International) objected on the grounds that many Russian-speaking inhabitants were being denied their political and civil rights. As a result, the tests were somewhat altered and the number of stateless persons has steadily decreased. In 1992 32% of residents lacked any form of citizenship while today the UNHCR estimates that this figure has reduced to around 6.7% of the population.
One consequence of this policy is that only 84% of the population of Estonia holds Estonian citizenship. Nearly 9% of the population holds the passport of another state, mostly the Russian Federation, Ukraine or Finland.
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, Estonia was the least religious country in the world (they’ve subsequently lost pole position to China), although many consider themselves spiritual, with a nature-based ethos being popular. Since the early 17th century, Estonia’s Christians have been predominantly Lutheran, although the Orthodox church gained a foothold under the Russian Empire and has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Today only a minority of Estonians profess religious beliefs, with 16% identifying as Orthodox and 10% as Lutheran; no other religion reaches over 1% of the population.
Jews arrived in Estonia as early as the 14 th century and by the early 1930s the population numbered 4300. Three-quarters escaped before the German occupation and of those that remained, nearly all were killed. Today the Jewish population stands at around 2000 and in 2007 the Jewish community celebrated the opening of its first synagogue since the Holocaust, a striking modern structure at Karu 16, Tallinn.
On the international stage, the area in which Estonia has had the greatest artistic impact is in the field of classical music.
Estonia’s most celebrated composer is Arvo Part (b 1935), the intense and reclusive master of hauntingly austere music many have misleadingly termed minimalist. Part emigrated to Germany during Soviet rule and his Misererie Litany, Te Deum and Tabula Rasa are among an internationally acclaimed body of work characterised by dramatic bleakness, piercing majesty and nuanced silence. He’s now the world’s most performed living classical-music composer.
The main Estonian composers of the 20th century remain popular today. Rudolf Tobias (1873-1918) wrote influential symphonic, choral and concerto works as well as fantasies on folk song melodies. Mart Saar (18821963) studied under Rimsky-Korsakov in St Petersburg but his music shows none of this influence. His songs and piano suites were among the most performed pieces of music in between-war concerts in Estonia. Eduard Tubin (1905-82) is another great Estonian composer whose body of work includes 10 symphonies. Contemporary composer Erkki-Sven Tuur (b 1959) takes inspiration from nature and the elements as experienced on his native Hiiumaa.
Estonian conductors Tonu Kaljuste (who won a Grammy in 2014 for a Part recording), Anu Tali and Paavo Jarvi are hot tickets at concert halls around the world.
Hortus Musicus is Estonia’s best-known ensemble, performing mainly medieval and
Renaissance music. Rondellus, an ensemble that has played in a number of early music festivals, performs on medieval period instruments and isn’t afraid of experimentation. Its well-received album Sabbatum (2002) is a tribute album of sorts to Black Sabbath - the only difference being the music is played on medieval instruments, and the songs are sung in Latin!
Rock and punk thrives in Estonia with groups such as Vennaskond and the heavy but timelessly Estonian Metsatoll, whose song titles and lyrics make heavy use of archaic Estonian language and imagery. The more approachable Ultima Thule and Smil-ers are among the country’s longest-running and most beloved bands.
ESTONiA E'HD /ANTS!
The pop- and dance-music scene is strong in Estonia, exemplified by Estonia’s performances in that revered indicator of true art, the Eurovision Song Contest. Tanel Padar won the competition for Estonia in 2001, making Estonia the first former Soviet republic to win. The tough-girl band Vanilla Ninja hit the charts throughout central Europe early in the millennium with various English-language tracks. Stig Rasta of local hitmakers Outloudz teamed up with reality TV contestant Elina Born to represent Estonia at Eurovision 2015 with Goodbye To Love, which subsequently entered the charts in 10 countries.
Eccentric dance diva Kerli Koiv, better known by her first name alone, has notched up two Billboard US Dance number ones since 2011. Another one to watch is the youthful DJ and producer Rauno Roosnurm (aka Mord Fustang), whose remixes have garnered him a following with international clubbers.
See www.estmusic.com for detailed listings and streaming samples of Estonian musicians of all genres.
Estonian was considered a mere peasants’ language by its foreign overlords rather than one with full literary potential, and as a result the history of written Estonian is little more than 150 years old. Baltic Germans published an Estonian grammar book and a dictionary in 1637, but it wasn’t until the national awakening movement of the late 19th century that the publication of books, poetry and newspapers began.
Estonian literature grew from the poems and diaries of a young graduate of Tartu
CAN I BUY A VOWEL, PLEASE?
Intrigued by the national language? Fancy yourself a linguist? If you're keen to tackle the local lingo, bear in mind that Estonian has 14 cases, no future tense, and no articles. And then try wrapping your tongue around the following vowel-hungry words:
* jaaaar - edge of the ice
* toooo - work night (can also be ootoo)
* kuuuurija - moon researcher
* kuuuur - monthly rent
And then give this a go: ‘Kuuuurijate toooo jaaaarel', or ‘a moon researcher's work night at the edge of the ice'!
University, Kristjan Jaak Peterson. Also a gifted linguist, he died when he was only 21 years old in 1822. His lines ‘Can the language of this land/carried by the song of the wind/ not rise up to heaven/and search for its place in eternity?’ are engraved in stone in Tartu and his birthday is celebrated as Mother Tongue Day (14 March).
Until the mid-19th century Estonian culture was preserved only by way of an oral folk tradition among peasants. The national epic poem Son of Kalev (Kalevipoeg), written between 1857 and 1861 by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-82), made use of Estonia’s rich oral traditions; it was inspired by Finland’s Kalevala, a similar epic created several decades earlier. Fusing hundreds of Estonian legends and folk tales, Son of Kalev relates the adventures of the mythical hero, which ends with his death and his land’s conquest by foreigners, but also a promise to restore freedom. The epic played a major role in fostering the national awakening of the 19th century.
Lydia Koidula (1843-86) was the poet of Estonia’s national awakening and first lady of literature. Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940) is considered the greatest Estonian novelist for Truth and Justice (Tode ja Oigus), written between 1926 and 1933. A five-volume saga of village and town life, it explores Estonian social, political and philosophical issues.
Eduard Vilde (1865-1933) was an influential early-20th-century novelist and playwright who wrote Unattainable Wonder (Tabamata Ime, 1912). It was due to be the first play performed at the opening of the Estonia Theatre in 1913 but was substituted with Hamlet, as Vilde’s scathing critique of the intelligentsia was deemed too controversial. In most of his novels and plays, Vilde looked with great irony at what he saw as Estonia’s mad, blind rush to become part of Europe. For Vilde, self-reliance was the truest form of independence.
Paul-Eerik Rummo (b 1942) is one of Estonia’s leading poets and playwrights, dubbed the ‘Estonian Dylan Thomas’ for his patriotic pieces, which deal with contemporary problems of cultural identity. His contemporary, Mati Unt (1944-2005), played an important role in cementing the place of Estonian intellectuals in the modern world, and wrote, from the 1960s onwards, quite cynical novels (notably Autumn Ball; Sugis-ball, 1979), plays and articles about contemporary life in Estonia.
The novelist Jaan Kross (1920-2007) won great acclaim for his historical novels in which he tackled Soviet-era subjects. His most renowned book, The Czar’s Madman (Keisri hull, 1978), relates the story of a 19th-century Estonian baron who falls in love with a peasant girl and later ends up in prison. It’s loosely based on a true story, though the critique of past- and present-day authoritarianism is the crux of his work.
Jaan Kaplinski (b 1941) has had two collections of poetry, The Same Sea In Us All and The Wandering Border, published in English. His work expresses the feel of Estonian life superbly. Kross and Kaplinski have both been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Tonu Onnepalu’s Border State (Piiri Riik, 1993, published under the pseudonym Emil Tode) is about a young Estonian man who travels to Europe and becomes a kept boy for an older, rich gentleman. This leads him down a tortuous road of self-discovery. Not a mere confessional, Border State is a clever and absorbing critique of modern Estonian values. In popular fiction, Kaur Kender’s Independence Day (Iseseisvuspaev, 1998) tells the misadventures of young and ambitious entrepreneurs in postindependence Estonia.
From the weird and wacky world of Estonian sport comes kiiking. Invented in 1997, it's the kind of extreme sport that, frankly, we're surprised the New Zealanders didn't think of first. Kiiking sees competitors stand on a swing and attempt to complete a 360-degree loop around the top bar, with their feet fastened to the swing base and their hands to the swing arms. The inventor of kiiking, Ado Kosk, observed that the longer the swing arms, the more difficult it is to complete a 360-degree loop. Kosk then designed swing arms that can gradually extend, for an increased challenge. In competition, the winner is the person who completes a loop with the longest swing arms - the current record stands at a fraction over 7m! If this concept has you scratching your head, go to www.kiiking.ee to get a more visual idea of the whole thing and to find out where you can see it in action (or even give it a try yourself).
The most acclaimed Estonian novel of recent times is Purge (Puhastus, 2008) by Sofi Oksanen, a harrowing tale weaving together Stalin’s purges and modern-day people-trafficking and sex slavery. A bestseller in Estonia and Finland, it’s won six major awards and has been published in 36 languages (including English). It was initially created as a play and it’s subsequently been made into a feature film and an opera.
ESTONi TNI E ARTS
The first moving pictures were screened in Tallinn in 1896, and the first cinema opened in 1908. Estonia’s cinematographic output has not been prolific, but there are a few standouts. It’s also worth noting that Estonia produces films for one of the world’s smallest audiences - far more than the output of the neighbouring Baltic countries, and with domestic films capturing an impressive 14% of the filmgoing market share.
The nation’s most beloved film is Arvo Kruusement’s Spring (Kevade, 1969), an adaptation of Oskar Luts’ country saga. Its sequel, Summer (Suvi, 1976), was also popular though regarded as inferior. Grigori Kro-manov’s Last Relic (Viimne Reliikvia, 1969) was a brave and unabashedly anti-Soviet film that has been screened in 60 countries.
More recently Sulev Keedus’ lyrical Geor-gica (1998), about childhood, war, and life on the western islands, and Jaak Kilmi’s
Pigs’ Revolution (Sigade Revolutsioon, 2004), about an anti-Soviet uprising at a teenagers’ summer camp, have made the rounds at international film festivals. Veiko Ounpuu’s 2007 film Autumn Ball (Sugis-ball), based on the novel by Mati Unt, won awards at seven festivals from Brussels to Bratislava.
In 2014 Tangerines (Mandariinid), an Estonian-Georgian coproduction, became the first Estonian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Set in Georgia, it tells the story of two Estonian farmers who get caught in the crossfires of the war in Abkhazia.
ESTONiA FOOD & DRIOK
One of Estonia’s most popular locally made films is Names in Marble (Nimed Marmortahvlil, 2002), which tells the story of a group of young classmates and their decision to fight in the fledgling nation’s War of Independence against the Red Army in 1918-20. It was directed by acclaimed Estonian stage director Elmo Nuganen and it’s based on the book of the same name (by Albert Kivikas) that was banned during Soviet times.
Many of the country’s theatres were built solely from donations by private citizens, which gives an indication of the role theatre has played in Estonian cultural life. The popularity of theatre is also evidenced in theatregoing statistics: in 2013 Estonia came third in the EU for theatre attendance in the Eurobarometer survey of cultural participation (behind Sweden and the Netherlands). The results showed that 45% of Estonians attend the theatre at least once a year (the EU average is 28%). Travellers, however, will have trouble tapping into the scene without any knowledge of the local language.
EATING PRICE RANGES
The following Estonian price ranges refer to a standard main course.
€ less than €10 €€ €10 to €15 €€€ more than €15
exemplified by Copenhagen’s world-topping Noma restaurant.
Finally the rest of Estonia has started to catch up with the capital, with some fantastic restaurants springing up in recent years in Parnu, Tartu, Otepaa and various manor houses scattered around the countryside.
However, many areas still offer visitors little variety beyond what type of meat they’d like with their potatoes. This owes much to Estonia’s roots. For centuries native Estonians were relegated to the role of serfs working the fields. Heavy nourishment was required to fuel their long days. Food preparation was simple and practical, using whatever could be raised, grown or gathered from the land. Daily fare was barley porridge, cheese curd and boiled potatoes. On feast days and special occasions, meat made an appearance. Coastal dwellers also garnered sustenance from the sea, mainly cod and herring. To make foods last through the winter, people dried, smoked and salted their fish.
Restaurants have turned humble traditions and historic locations to their advantage, offering table-straining feasts served by young folk in medieval peasant garb. The best example of this is Tallinn’s Olde Hansa, but the trend has extended to historic taverns scattered throughout the countryside.
Food & Drink
Quite simply, Tallinn is a wonderful city for food lovers. Cuisines from all over the world are represented in its many atmospheric eateries and the prices are generally much lower than you’d pay for a similar meal in most other European capitals. Several restaurants are strongly influenced by New Nordic cuisine, a food trend emphasising the pure, seasonal flavours of the north
Did someone say ‘stodge’? Baltic gastronomy has its roots planted firmly in the land, with livestock and game forming the basis of a hearty diet. The Estonian diet relies on sea-liha (pork), other red meat, kana (chicken), vurst (sausage) and kapsa (cabbage). Potatoes add a generous dose of winter-warming carbs to a national cuisine often dismissed as bland, heavy and lacking in spice. Sour cream is served with everything but coffee, it seems.
Kala (fish), most likely heeringas (her- Another favourite is kama, a thick milk-ring),forell (trout) or lohe (salmon), appears shakelike drink made from a powdered most often as a smoked or salted starter. mixture of boiled, roasted and ground peas,
Lake Peipsi is a particularly good place for rye, barley and wheat mixed together with
tracking down suitsukala (smoked fish); buttermilk or kefir (fermented milk). It’s of-
look for roadside stands along the shore ten served as a dessert, with the addition of
road A more aquired taste is kilu, pickled berries and sugar.
ESTONiA HOOD & DRiNK
Baltic sprat, often served in sandwiches or At Christmas time verivorst (blood as part of a breakfast buffet. sausage) is made from fresh blood and
EAT YOUR WORDS
Don’t know your kana from your kala? Your maasikas from your marjad? Get a head start on the cuisine scene by learning the words that make the dish.
May I have a menu?
Kas ma saaksin menuu?
kas mah saahk-sin menuu
The bill, please.
I'm a vegetarian.
Ma olen taimetoitlane.
mah o-len tai-me-toyt-lah-ne
head i- su
To your health! (when toasting)
wrapped in pig intestine (joy to the world indeed!). Those really in need of a culinary transfusion will find verivorst, verileib (blood bread) and verikakk (balls of blood rolled in flour and eggs with bits of pig fat thrown in for taste) available in most traditional Estonian restaurants year-round. Suit (jellied meat) is likely to be served as a delicacy as well.
The seasons continue to play a large role in the Estonian diet. When spring arrives, wild leek, rhubarb, fresh sorrel and goat’s cheese appear, and the spring lambs are slaughtered. During summer there are fresh vegetables and herbs, along with berries, nuts and mushrooms gathered from the forests - still a popular pastime for many Estonians. Be sure to take advantage of the local turg (market) and load up on superbly flavoured strawberries (check you’re buying the local stuff, not imports).
Autumn was always the prime hunting season and although many species are now offered some protection through hunting quotas, you’ll often see elk, boar, deer and even bear making their way onto menus, year-round. In winter, Estonians turn to hearty roasts, stews, soups and plenty of sauerkraut.
Given Estonia’s rustic origins, it’s not surprising that bread is a major staple in the diet, and that Estonians make a pretty good loaf. Rye is by far the top choice. Unlike other ryes you may have eaten, here it’s moist, dense and delicious (assuming it’s fresh), and usually served as a free accompaniment to every restaurant meal.
The traditional Estonian toast translates as ‘your health’ (it’s much easier to remember if you think ‘topsy-turvy sex’). Beer is the favourite tipple in Estonia and the local product is very much in evidence. The biggest brands are Saku and A Le Coq, which come in a range of brews. In recent years the craft beer revolution that’s overtaken the world has found fertile ground in Estonia, with dozens of microbreweries producing tasty drops, many with a surprisingly high alcohol percentage (Pohjala’s brews are well worth looking out for). On Saaremaa and Hiiumaa you’ll also find homemade beer, which is flatter than lager but still the perfect refreshment on a hot day. In winter Estonians drink mulled wine, the antidote to cold wintry nights.
Estonia’s ties to Russia have led to vodka’s enduring popularity. Viru Valge is the best brand, and it comes in a range of flavours, which some Estonians mix with fruit juices (try the vanilla-flavoured vodka mixed with apple juice).
Vana Tallinn is in a class of its own. No one quite knows what the syrupy liqueur is made from, but it’s sweet and strong and has a pleasant aftertaste. It’s best served neat, in coffee, over ice with milk, over ice cream, or in champagne or dry white wine.
Even without any vineyards to call their own, wine bars are quite fashionable, especially in the larger cities. However, few offer an extensive range by the glass. The capital also boasts the largest wine cellars in the Baltic and plenty of medieval settings in which to imbibe.
Where, When & How
Meals are served in a restoran (restaurant) or a kohvik (cafe), pubi (pub), korts (inn) or trahter (tavern). Nearly every town has a turg (market), where you can buy fresh local fruit and vegetables, as well as meats and fish.
Estonian eating habits are similar to other parts of northern Europe. Either lunch or dinner may be the biggest meal of the day. Cooked breakfasts aren’t always easy to find but many cafes serve pastries and cakes throughout the day. Tipping at top restaurants is fairly commonplace but not essential, with 10% the norm. For reviews of the country’s culinary best, see www.eestimaitsed.com.
If invited for a meal at an Estonian home you can expect abundant hospitality and generous portions. It’s fairly common to bring flowers for the host. Just be sure to give an odd number (even-numbered flowers are reserved for the dead).
8 Directory A-Z
If you like flying by the seat of your pants when you're travelling, you'll find July and August in Estonia very problematic . The best accommodation books up quickly and in Tallinn, especially on weekends, you might find yourself scraping for anywhere at all to lay your head . In fact, Tallinn gets busy most weekends, so try to book about a month ahead anytime from May through to September (midweek isn't anywhere near as bad) .
SLEEPING PRICE RANGES
The following price ranges refer to a double room in high (but not necessary peak)seaon.
€ less than €35 €€ €35 to €100 €€€ more than €100
High-season in Estonia means summer . Prices drop off substantially at other times. The exception is Otepaa, when there's also a corresponding peak in winter .
if arriving from outside the EU, there are the usual restrictions on what can be brought into the country; see www . emta . ee for full details, including alcohol and tobacco limits .
EMBASSIES & CONSULATES
For up-to-date contact details of Estonian diplomatic organisations as well as foreign embassies and consulates in Estonia, check the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.vm.ee). Australian Consulate (0 650 9308; www . sweden . embassy, gov. au; Marja 9, Mustjoe, Tallinn) Honorary consulate; embassy in Stockholm
Canadian Embassy Office (0 627 3311; www. canada . ee; Toom-Kooli 13, Toompea, Tallinn)
An office of Canada's Baltic embassy, which is in Riga.
Dutch Embassy (0 680 5500; www. nether-landsembassy. ee; Rahukohtu 4-i)
Finnish Embassy (0 610 3200; www. finland . ee; Kohtu 4, Toompea, Tallinn)
French Embassy (0 616 1610; www. amba-france-ee .org; Toom-Kuninga 20, Uus Maailm, Tallinn)
German Embassy (0 627 5300; www. tallinn . diplo .de; Toom-Kuninga 11, Tonismagi, Tallinn) Irish Embassy (0 681 1888; www . embassyo-fireland.ee; Rahukohtu 4-11, Toompea, Tallinn) Latvian Embassy (0 627 7850; www.mfa . gov. lv; Tonismagi 10, Tonismagi, Tallinn)
Lithuanian Consulate (0737 5225; http:// ee . mfa . lt; Jakobi 2-434, Tartu)
Lithuanian Embassy (0 616 4991; http:// ee . mfa . lt; Uus 15, Tallinn)
Russian Consulate (0 356 0652; www. rusemb ee; Kiriku 8, Rarva)
Russian Consulate (0 740 3024; www . rusemb .ee; Ulikooli 1, Tartu)
Russian Embassy (0 646 4175; www . rusemb . ee; Pikk 19, Tallinn)
Swedish Embassy (0 640 5600; www. sweden . ee; Pikk 28, Tallinn)
UK Embassy (0 667 4700; www.ukinestonia . fco . gov. uk; Wismari 6, Kassisaba, Tallinn)
US Embassy (0 668 8100; http://estonia . usembassy. gov/; Kentmanni 20, Tatari, Tallinn)
GAY & LESBIAN TRAVELLERS
ESTONiA EiRECTOR Y O-Z
Hand-in-hand with its relaxed attitude to religion, today's Estonia is a fairly tolerant and safe home to its gay and lesbian citizens - certainly much more so than its neighbours . Unfortunately, that ambivalence hasn't translated into a wildly exciting scene (only Tallinn has gay venues) .
Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1992 and since 2001 there has been an equal age of consent for everyone . in 2014 Estonia became the first former Soviet republic to pass a law recognising same-sex registered partnerships, coming into effect in 2016.
Wireless internet access (wi-fi) is ubiquitous in ‘E-stonia' (you may find yourself wondering why your own country lags so far behind this tech-savvy place). You'll find literally hundreds of hot spots throughout the country . We're talking on city streets, in hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes, pubs, shopping centres, ports, petrol stations, even on long-distance buses and in the middle of national parks! Keep your eyes peeled for orange-and-black stickers indicating availability . in most places connection is free .
if you're not packing a laptop or smartphone, options for getting online are not as numerous as they once were . Some accommodation providers offer a computer for guest use and there are a few internet cafes with speedy connections . Plus public libraries have web-connected computers that can usually be accessed free of charge (you may need photo iE) . Most small communities will have a well-signed public internet point, often connected to the general store .
if you're just going to major cities and national parks, you'll find the maps freely available in tourist offices and park centres more than adequate . if, however, you're planning on driving around and exploring more out-of-the-way places, a good road atlas is worthwhile and easy to find. Regio (www . regio . ee) produces a good, easy-to-use road atlas, with enlargements for all major towns and cities . EO Map (www . eomap . ee) has fold-out sheet maps for every Estonian county and city, as well as a road atlas .
On 1 January 2011 Estonia joined the eurozone, bidding a very fond farewell to its short-lived kroon .ATMs are plentiful and credit cards are widely accepted .Travellers cheques have gone
If you don't mind getting your hands dirty, an economical and enlightening way of travelling around Estonia involves doing some voluntary work as a member of Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (wwwwwoof . ee) - also known as ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms’. Membership of this popular, well-established international organisation (which has representatives around the globe) provides you with access to the WWOOF Estonia website, which at the time of research listed 50 organic farms and other environmentally sound cottage industries throughout the country. In exchange for daily work, the owner will provide food, accommodation and some hands-on experience in organic farming. Check the website for more information.
ESTONiA GETTING THERE & AWAY
the way of the dinosaurs; most banks will still exchange them but commissions can be high . Tipping in restaurants has become the norm; round the bill up to something approaching 10% (or less) .
New Year’s Day (Tusaasta) 1 January Independence Day (Iseseisvuspaev) Anniversary of 1918 declaration on 24 February Good Friday (Suur reede) March/April Easter Sunday (Lihavotted) March/April Spring Day (Kevadpuha) 1 May Pentecost (Nelipuhade) Seventh Sunday after Uaster (May/June)
Victory Day (Voidupuha) Commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of Vonnu (1919) on 23 June
St John’s Day (Jaanipaev, Midsummer's Day) Taken together, Victory Day and St John's Day on 24 June are the excuse for a week-long midsummer break for many people Day of Restoration of Independence (Taas-iseseisvumispaev) On 20 August, marking the country's return to independence in 1991 Christmas Eve (Joululaupaev) 24 December Christmas Day (Joulupuha) 25 December Boxing Day (Teine joulupuha) 26 December
There are no area codes in Estonia; if you're calling anywhere within the country, just dial the number as it's listed .All landline phone numbers have seven digits; mobile (cell) numbers have seven or eight digits and begin with 5 . Estonia's country code is %372 . To make a collect call dial % 16116, followed by the desired number . To make an international call, dial % 00 before the country code Almost all of Estonia is covered with digital mobile-phone networks, and every man and his dog has a mobile . To avoid the high roaming charges, you can get a starter kit (around €5), which will give you an Estonian number, a SIM card and around €5 of talk time (incoming calls are free with most providers) . You can buy scratch-off cards for more minutes as you need them. SIM cards and starter kits are widely available from post offices, supermarkets and kiosks
Public telephones accept chip cards, available at post offices, hotels and most kiosks. For placing calls outside Estonia, an international telephone card with a pin, available at many kiosks and supermarkets, is better value . Eote that these cards can only be used from landlines, not mobile phones
In addition to the info-laden, multilingual website of the Estonian Tourist Board (www . visitestonia.com), there are tourist offices in most cities and many towns and national parks throughout the country. At nearly every one you'll find English-speaking staff and lots of free material
8 Getting There & Away
Eleven European airlines have scheduled services to Tallinn year-round, with additional routes and airlines added in summer (see p416) . The main Baltic services:
airBaltic (www. airbaltic .com) Multiple daily flights between Tallinn and Riga.
Estonian Air (www . estonian-air . ee) Flies between Tallinn and Vilnius four times per week . Finnair (www . finnair . ee) Four to six flights a day between Helsinki and Tallinn, and daily flights between Helsinki and Tartu .
The following bus companies all have services between Estonia and the other Baltic states: Ecolines (% 606 2217; www.ecolines . net)
Major routes: Tallinn-Parnu-Riga (seven daily), two of which continue on to Vilnius; Tallinn-St Petersburg (four daily); Tartu-Valga-Riga (daily); Vilnius-Riga-Tartu-Narva-St Petersburg (daily) .
Lux Express & Simple Express (% 680
0909; www. luxexpress .eu) Major routes: Tallinn-Parnu-Riga (10 to 12 daily), six of which continue on to Panevezys and Vilnius; Tallinn-Takvere-Sillamae-Narva-St Petersburg (six to nine daily); Tallinn-Tartu-Voru-Moscow (daily); Riga-Valmiera-Tartu-Sillamae-Narva-St Petersburg (nine to 10 daily) .
UAB Toks (www2 .toks . lt) Two daily Tallinn-Parnu-Riga-Panevezys-Vilnius buses, with one continuing on to Kaunas and Warsaw
CAR & MOTORCYCLE
The three Baltic countries are all part of the Schengen agreement, so there are no border checks when driving between Estonia and Latvia .There's usually no problem taking hire cars across the border but you'll need to let the rental company know at the time of hire if you intend to do so; some companies will charge an additional fee
Valga is the terminus for both the Estonian and Latvian rail systems, but the train services don't connect up . From Valga, Estonian trains operated by Elron (www . elron . ee) head to Tartu, while Latvian trains operated by Pasazieru vilciens (www.pv.lv) head to Valmiera, Cesis, Sigulda and Riga. There are also direct trains to Tallinn from St Petersburg and Moscow (p419) .
8 Getting Around
BICYCLE, CAR & MOTORCYCLE
* Estonian roads are generally very good and driving is easy
* Touring cyclists will find Estonia mercifully flat .
* In rural areas, particularly on the islands, some roads are unsealed but they're usually kept in good condition
* Winter poses particular problems for those not used to driving in ice and snow
* Car and bike hire is offered in all the major cities
ESTONiA GETTIVG AROEND
* The national bus network is extensive, linking all the major cities to each other and the smaller towns to their regional hubs .
* All services are summarised on the extremely handy T pilet (www . tpilet . ee) site .
Don't presume that drivers will speak English .
* Concessions are available for children and seniors
Train services have been steadily improving in recent years . Domestic routes are run by Elron (www . elron . ee) but it's also possible to travel between Tallinn, Rakvere and Narva on the Russian-bound services run by GoRail (www . gorail ee)
The major domestic routes:
Tallinn-Rakvere (three daily), with two continuing to Narva
Tallinn-Tartu (eight daily)
Tallinn-Viljandi (four daily)
Tallinn-Parnu (three daily) Tartu-Sangaste-Valga (three daily)
^358 / POP 1 MILLION
Best Places to Stay
* Hotelli Helka (p186)
* GLO Hotel Kluuvi (p186)
* Hotel Finn (p186)
* Hostel Academica (p186)
Best Places to Eat
* Olo (p187)
* A21 Dining (p187)
* Skiffer (p187)
At the neck of the Gulf of Finland bottle (for that’s how it looks on the map), two capitals - Helsinki and Tallinn -face each other like two old mates who need no one else for company. The 90km separating them can be covered in two hours and an armada of boats is ready to assist you in this not-so-daring accomplishment.
In every respect as Baltic as the three east Baltic capitals, Helsinki boasts an exceptionally scenic setting. It is an archipelago as much as a city, so sea views will accompany you wherever you go when exploring this modern, stylish megalopolis, obsessed with design and hovering at the top of the world’s urban livability index.
It is also an interesting historical comparison, for Finland had every chance of repeating the fate of Baltic states, but unlike them it repelled the Soviet invasion in 1939 and stayed free. Now you can see the difference it has made.
When to Go
* Helsinki has year-round appeal; there’s always something going on.
* The summer kicks off in June, when terraces sprout outside every cafe and bar, and the nights seem never to end.
* There’s a bit of a lull in July when Finns head off to their summer cottages, but in August the capital is repopulated and plenty of activities are on offer.
* If you feel like seeing the wintry side of town, go in December, when you can ice skate and absorb the Christmassy atmosphere before temperatures get too extreme.
Kotiharjun Sauna^ KALLIO
O After a few sundowners at Maxine (p188), descend into the weekend maelstrom of Helsinki’s pubs and bars .
2 Grab a picnic and explore the fortress island of Suomenlinna (p182), which guarded Helsinki harbour o Browse the huge range of design shops in Punavuori (p189).
o Select from the city’s huge range of museums and galleries such as Kiasma (p182) for great contemporary art G Check out Ecobike (p190) and take advantage
of the network of cycle paths to explore on two wheels O Sweat out your cares in the traditional, atmospheric Kotiharjun Sauna (p183) .
Q Dine on traditional Finnish food such as meatballs or liver and mash, or experiment with Modern Suomi cuisine at Olo (p187) or Kuu (p187) .
The Kauppatori (market square) is the heart of central Helsinki; it’s where urban ferries dock and fresh fish and berries, as well as souvenirs, are sold.
Helsinki has over 50 museums, including several good galleries in addition to those mentioned here. For a full list, pick up the Museums booklet (free) from the tourist office.
(Sveaborg; www.suomenlinna .fi) Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the Kauppatori, a visit to Suomenlinna, the ‘fortress of Finland’, is a Helsinki must-do. Set on a tight cluster of islands connected by bridges, the UNESCO World Heritage site was originally built by the Swedes as Sveaborg in the mid-18th century.
(Lutheran Cathedral; www.helsinginseurakunnat.fi; Unioninkatu 29; ©9am-6pm, to midnight Jun-Aug) ia;F One of CL Engel’s finest creations, the chalk-white neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral presides over Senaatintori. Created to serve as a reminder of God’s supremacy, its high flight of stairs is now a meeting place for canoodling couples. The spartan, almost mausoleum-like interior has little ornamentation under the lofty dome apart from an altar painting and three stern statues of Reformation heroes Luther, Melanchthon and Mikael Agricola, looking like they’ve just marked your theology exam and taken a dim view of your prospects.
Uspenskin Katedraali cathedral
(Uspenski Cathedral; http://hos.fi/uspenskin-kat edraali; Kanavakatu 1; ©9.30am-4pm Tue-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat, noon-3pm Sun) Facing the Lutheran Cathedral, the eye-catching redbrick Uspenski Cathedral stands on nearby Katajanokka island. The two buildings face off high above the city like two queens on a theological chessboard. Built as a Russian Orthodox church in 1868, it features classic onion-topped domes and now serves the Finnish Orthodox congregation. The high, square interior has a lavish iconostasis with the Evangelists flanking panels depicting the Last Supper and the Ascension.
(www. kiasma .fi; Mannerheiminaukio 2; adult/child €10/free; © 10am-5pm Sun & Tue, 10am-8 . 30pm Wed-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat) Now just one of a
HELSINKI AT A GLANCE
Area 745 sq km (greater urban area) Departure tax none Money euro (€)
Official languages Finnish, Swedish Visa Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days; some nationalities will need a Schengen visa.
series of elegant contemporary buildings in this part of town, curvaceous and quirky metallic Kiasma, designed by Steven Holl and finished in 1998, is still a symbol of the city’s modernisation. It exhibits an eclectic collection of Finnish and international modern art and keeps people on their toes with its striking contemporary exhibitions. The interior, with its unexpected curves and perspectives, is as invigorating as the outside.
(www. ateneum .fi; Kaivokatu 2; adult/child €12/free; ©10am-6pm Tue & Fri, 9am-8pm Wed & Thu, 10am-5pm Sat & Sun) The top floor of Finland’s premier art gallery is an ideal crash course in the nation’s art. It houses Finnish paintings and sculptures from the golden age of the late 19th century through to the 1950s, including works by Albert Edelfelt, Hugo Sim-berg, Helene Schjerfbeck, the Von Wright brothers and Pekka Halonen. Pride of place goes to the Akseli Gallen-Kallela triptych from the Kalevala depicting Vainamoinen’s pursuit of the maiden Aino. There’s also a small but interesting collection of 19th- and early-20th-century foreign art.
(www. kansallismuseo .fi; Mannerheimintie 34; adult/ child €8/free; © 11am-6pm Tue-Sun) The impressive National Museum, built in National Romantic style in 1916, looks a bit like a Gothic church with its heavy stonework and tall square tower. This is Finland’s premier historical museum and is divided into rooms covering different periods of Finnish history, including prehistory and archaeological finds, church relics, ethnography and changing cultural exhibitions. It’s a very thorough, old-style museum -you might have trouble selling this one to the kids - but provides a comprehensive overview.
Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo museum
(Helsinki City Museum; www. helsinkicitymuseum . fi; Sofiankatu 4; ©9am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 7pm Thu, 11am-5pm Sat & Sun) ia;F A group of small museums scattered around the city centre constitute this city museum: all have free entry and focus on an aspect of the city’s past or present through permanent and temporary exhibitions. The must-see of the bunch is the main museum, just off Senaa-tintori. Its excellent collection of historical artefacts and photos is backed up by entertaining information on the history of the city, piecing together Helsinki’s transition from Swedish to Russian hands and into independence.
OTemppeliaukion Kirkko church
(009-2340 6320; www.helsinginseurakunnat.fi; Lutherinkatu 3; ©10am-5 ,45pm Mon-Sat, 11 ,45am-
5 .45pm Sun Jun-Aug, to 5pm Sep-May) The Temp-peliaukion church, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969, remains one of Helsinki’s foremost attractions. Hewn into solid stone, it feels close to a Finnish ideal of spirituality in nature - you could be in a rocky glade were it not for the stunning 24m-diameter roof covered in 22km of copper stripping. There are regular concerts, with great acoustics. Opening times vary depending on events, so phone or search for its Facebook page updates. There are fewer groups midweek.
Oseurasaaren Ulkomuseo museum
(Seurasaari Open-Air Museum; www.seurasaari . fi; adult/child €8/2 .50; © 11am-5pm Jun-Aug, 9am-3pm Mon-Fri, 11am-5pm Sat & Sun late May
6 early Sep) West of the city centre, this excellent island museum has a collection of historic wooden buildings transferred here from around Finland. There’s everything from haylofts to a mansion, parsonage and church, as well as the beautiful giant rowboats used to transport churchgoing communities. Prices and hours refer to entering the buildings themselves, where guides in traditional costume demonstrate folk dancing and crafts. Otherwise, you’re free to roam the picturesque wooded island, where there are several cafes.
HELSiNKi EXCURSiON ACTIVITIES
One of the joys of Helsinki is grabbing a bike and taking advantage of its long waterfronts, numerous parks, and comprehensive network of cycle lanes.
Finnair Sky Wheel ferris wheel
(www.finnair-skywheel .com; Katajanokanlaituri 2; adult/child €12/9; © 10am-10pm Mon-Thu, 10am-11pm Fri & Sat, 10am-8pm Sun) Rising over the harbour, this Ferris wheel gives good perspectives over the comings and goings of central Helsinki. If you fancy forking out €195, you get the VIP gondola, with glass floors below, leather seats and a bottle of champagne.
OKotiharjun Sauna sauna
(www. kotiharjunsauna .fi; Harjutorinkatu 1; adult/ child €12/6; © 2-8pm Tue-Sun, sauna to 9 . 30pm) This traditional public wood-fired sauna in Kallio dates back to 1928. This type of place largely disappeared with the advent of shared saunas in apartment buildings, but it’s a classic experience, where you can
Finns are the world's biggest coffee drinkers so, first up, it's a caffeine shot with a pulla (cinnamon bun) at a classic cafe in the city centre. Then to the Kauppatori (market square) and the adjacent Kauppahalli market building. Put a picnic together and boat out to the island fortress of Suomenlinna. Back in town, check out the Lutheran Cathedral on Senaatintori (Senate Sq) and nearby Uspenski Cathedral. Take the metro to legendary Kotiharjun Sauna for a predinner sweat. Eat traditional Finnish at Kuu or Olo.
With a second day to spare, investigate the art and design scene. Head to the Ateneum for the golden age of Finnish painting, then see contemporary works at still-iconic Kiasma. Feet tired? Catch tram 3 for a circular sightseeing trip around town, before browsing design shops around Punavuori. In the evening, head up to A21 Cocktail Lounge for a chic evening out or to Kaurismaki brothers’ Mockba for a wilder kind of alcohol-infused fun.