A hidden gem often overlooked by backpackers, Estonia is definitely underrated for all it has to offer. Acquired by the Nazis and Soviets during the war, it has only had 25 years of independence, despite having a deep and dark history. On a visit you will unveil its dark past as you visit its countless museums and gain a life lesson or two from Russian old believers, yet be surprised by the interesting Estonian cuisine and fall in love with its wild coastline and endless picturesque Christmas-tree forests that make up so much of this country. Listed below are 15 valuable things to do in Estonia; get ready to pack your bags and explore deep in this backpacker’s gem.
1. Join the free walking tour in Tallinn
Start your trip by joining the free walking tour of Tallinn, organised by young guides! Estonia has a complex and interesting history, and there are plenty of secrets to be uncovered in this city. You’ll be guided by enthusiastic and knowledgeable young guides who are more than happy to share their story. The walking tour takes you to famous tourist areas such as the Old Town, where you get to roam about its medieval cobblestone streets and past the gothic Tallinn Town Hall and the Raekoja plats (old town square), and, when you roam deep enough, you’ll find the historic alley of St Catherine’s Passage. Lined with a fine row of craft stores selling interesting pieces by local artisans, this passage is the epitome of a hidden gem. You’ve got to look for it, it can be easily missed! You’ll also be guided to Toompea Hill, an oblong tableland which houses the iconic Pikk Hermann (Toompea Castle), St Mary’s Catherdral (the oldest church in Tallinn), and St Olaf’s Church, which boasts majestic views of the city from its peak. It’s also an ideal place to catch the sunset!
Free Walking Tour
Address: in front of the city tourist information at Niguliste 2
Opening Hours: 12 noon
Website: Tallinn Free Walking Tour
2. Take a selfie with the iconic Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn
Easily dominating the skyline of Tallinn, it’s not difficult to spot Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This 19th-century Russian orthodox cathedral is an interesting reminder of history. It was constructed in 1900 to show Russia’s rule and power when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union. It’s amazing how the cathedral was not demolished even after Estonia’s independence from the Soviet Union, and it is now even considered to be an icon for the city of Tallinn. Though it’s frequently crowded with tourists, and photography is restricted in the interiors of the church, it’s still worth a visit! It’s an exquisite architectural wonder and you’ve got to see it to believe it!
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Address: Lossi plats 10, 10130 Tallinn, Estonia
Opening Hours: 8 am - 5 pm Mon - Fri & Sun; 8 am - 6 pm on Saturday
Contact: +372 644 3484
Website: Alexander Nevsky Cathedram
3. Walk on the edge from the 22nd storey of the TV Tower, Tallinn
Ever wondered what it’s like to walk on a narrow path 170 meters (557.7 feet) above land? You can now walk on the edge at the TV Tower in Tallinn! It was built to provide better telecommunication services for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics regatta event, but now it’s also a site for extreme activities. Recently, it was a base jumping site to celebrate the tower’s birthday. Just watching the base jumpers leaping from 314 meters (1,030 feet) high sends a chill right down your spine! While unfortunately you can’t take the plunge even if you want to, you can alternatively climb up the tower for some spectacular 360-degree views of the city, or step out on glass with 170 meters (557.7 feet) of emptiness yawning below, which is pretty much enough to make some people tremble in fear.
Address: Kloostrimetsa tee 58a, 11913 Tallinn, Estonia
Opening Hours: 10 am - 7 pm
Contact: +372 686 3005
Nearby Food: Onsite restaurant, 170 meters (557.7 feet) high up
Website: Walk on the edge
4. Picnic in Kadriorg Park, Tallinn
Just a 15-minute walk away from the Old Town of Tallinn is the beautiful Kadriorg Park. The park is a gem in the city, with stunningly beautiful grounds and plenty of baroque architecture, giving it an Estonian charm of its own. It’s a perfect place to walk around or even picnic with such a serene backdrop!
The are plenty of photo opportunities here. If you come during fall, you’ll walk by paths littered with sun-dried yellow leaves and trees in several shades of orange. The view is simply breath-taking; you won’t be able to resist taking several selfies here!
The park is also home to several notable museums, including the Kumu, whose building itself is a marvellous modern structure, and the Palace Museum (built by Peter the Great for his wife), which is a spectacular architectural wonder as well! Sum up your visit by walking alongside the swan pond and up the promenade leading to the presidential palace.
Address: A. Weizenbergi 37, 10127 Tallinn, Estonia
Price: from 6 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 6 pm. Closed on Mondays
Duration: around 3 hours required
Access: 15-minute walk from Tallinn’s Old Town
Contact: +372 606 6400
Website: Kadriorg Palace
Anyone up for some forest delights? Lahemaa National Park will give you just that! Just 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Tallinn, it’s a great escape for those who are sick of the city life and crowds of Tallinn. It’s a vast plot of natural wonder that will make you feel at peace almost instantly. Surrounded by peninsulas and bays, forests and picturesque bogs, pine and cliff forests, and even little wooden houses for those in need of a roof for the night, the landscapes here are very picture-perfect. Lahemaa National Park is not just a pretty surface, however, but is a place with a deep history too. In the past, the very clear blue waters that people now admire and gasp in awe at used to be part of a military controlled frontier, with barbed wire fence ensuring villagers couldn’t enter the sea. It’s simply amazing how a place that used to be so negative can turn into a beautiful attraction people love to appreciate.
Experience a slice of history and gorgeous nature and book a day tour today!
Lahemma National Park day tour from Tallinn
Price: from 86 USD
Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm. Closed on public holidays
Duration: around 6 hours required
6. Experience a slice of hell at Patarei Prison, Tallinn
Doesn’t that picture kind of creep you out already?! But, if you’re a history buff or into the history of the Soviets and their regime, this place is a must-visit. Even with just the prison insight, you can feel yourself getting goosebumps. The kind of vibe decrepit old buildings gives off is just creepy, and could make the perfect film site for a horror movie. Patarei Prison is no exception. It was a Soviet prison from 1919 to 2004. The rooms are left as they were, complete with the rows of stinking bunk beds, crumbling and peeling walls, the execution rooms, and hanging rooms … Despite being eerie it’s also rather special because it gives you an idea of how life was as a prisoner, and how very real the threat was. You’ve probably learnt lots from the Internet and history textbook, but this is as close as you get to experiencing the past, and it will surely give you a wider perspective of Estonia’s dark history. It’s truly an eye-opener for any human being.
Address: Kalaranna 2, 10415 Tallinn, Estonia
Price: from 3 USD
Opening Hours: 12 noon - 6 pm
Duration: around 1 hour required
Contact: +372 504 6536
Nearby Food: there’s an on-site cafe!
Website: Patarei Prison
7. Watch the sunrise from the roof of Linnahall, Tallinn
Linnahall was a sports and concert venue in Estonia’s capital of Tallinn, built for the Moscow Olympic regatta of 1980 that was set to take place in Tallinn. Despite its present run-down walls and the fact that it looks almost completely abandoned, it used to be a place of former glory; it was built to demonstrate the power of the Soviet Union to the Western powers. The local youths like to hang out on the rooftop to catch the sunrise. Being right at the harbour front, you get a great view of the sea when you’re at the top. For an unusual local experience, grab a drink, plop yourself down in a nice spot on the rooftop, and wait for the sunrise.
Address: Mere puiestee 20B, 10111 Tallinn, Estonia
Contact: +372 641 2250
8. Wander around Telliskivi Creative City, Tallinn
Now home to countless cool cafes, bars and restaurants, it’s tough to believe that Telliskivi Creative City once used to be a complex of old warehouses and industrial buildings. It’s a truly unique place, with a large selection of shops, studios, offices, and great cafes and eateries. The addition of these shops really helps the place to spring to life. It’s a place full of culture, and you’ll especially like it if you appreciate art culture. On Saturdays, flea markets are hosted here, where you can find several interesting hidden gems that would make great souvenirs!
Telliskivi Creative City
Address: Telliskivi 60a, Tallinn Kalamaja
Access: beside Baltic Railway Station
Contact: +372 504 7353
Website: Telliskivi Creative City
9. Stroll along the promenade, Haapsalu
Unlike the bustling capital, Haapsalu in Estonia offers a different atmosphere and experience altogether. Haapsalu is a quaint seaside resort town with calm and friendly locals, a peaceful seascape with many birds, beautiful parks and green lawns, and old wooden buildings, which combine to make you feel as though you are back in the 19th century. Its promenade is famous for a relaxing stroll. It’s also where several local and international artists come to gather thoughts and inspiration, including the legendary rock band, Led Zeppelin. Haapsalu Castle is also a magnificent site worth stopping by when in Haapsalu. While an entrance fee is required to enter the museum in the castle, it’s also nice to just admire the building’s exteriors and take some picturesque shots!
Address: Lossiplats 3, Haapsalu, 90502, Estonia
Price: from 6 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 6 pm
Contact: +372 472 5346
Website: Haapsalu Castle
10. Meet Russian old believers at Lake Peipus, eastern Estonia
While it is known for its sandy beach and beautiful sea views, what makes Lake Peipus so special is that it has become homes to Russian old believers who fled to Estonia because of religious persecution. As Lake Peipus is the biggest transboundary lake in Europe, sitting on the border between Estonia and Russia, people found homes on the west banks of Lake Peipus and the committee has been there ever since. You’re bound to meet at least one when you visit Lake Peipus; you’ll probably be able to spot them as they are mostly older in years, inward-looking, and fairly reserved. If you’re outgoing, friendly, and curious enough, strike up a conversation with an old believer and learn more about their beliefs and heritage.
You can learn more about the Russian old believers here.
11. Two words: cocaine shots!
Don’t worry, it’s not real cocaine! If you’re a frequent backpacker, you should be familiar with the term “pub-crawl”. It simply means bar-hopping, and often drinking shots, usually done with a group of fellow backpackers. Drinks are really cheap in Estonia, so if you love alcohol, don’t be surprised when you have a hard time sticking to your timetables and schedules! You will encounter cocaine shots when you go on a pub crawl in Estonia. It’s a green and yellow liquid that is popular with travelers. Why not give it a try?!
12. Experience life on an underwater warship, Tallinn
The Seaplane Harbour Museum is undoubtedly one of the grandest museums in Estonia. If you’re interested in Soviet military weapons and warships, you’ll love this museum. It has an extensive number of displays of maritime machines and anti-aircraft guns, and you can even go inside a submarine! Here, you get a chance to explore Estonia’s maritime and naval past using interactive activities. Outside, with more boats to be explored, it’s certainly an eye-opening experience.
Seaplane Harbour Museum
Address: Vesilennuki 6, 10415 Tallinn, Estonia
Price: from 16 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 7 pm
Contact: +372 620 0545
Nearby Food: on-site cafe
Website: Seaplane Harbour Museum
13. Step out of your taste comfort zone
Of course, one thing you should do in Estonia is try Estonian cuisine. This may be out of your comfort zone (or comfort buds), but it’s always great to try new things and, who knows, you might love it! The Estonian cuisine is mainly made up of a lot of meat, potatoes, and dairy products. Their diet barely includes any vegetables at all! According to some locals though, the must-tries, other than sauerkraut and jellied meat, include the sprat sandwich (kiluvoileib), which tastes better than it looks, curd snack (kohuke), which was a cult food during the Soviet regime, potato and groats porridge (mulgipuder), which was traditionally eaten by peasants in the past on special occasions, and homemade black bread.
14. Hunt for local fashion gems
Estonia isn’t known for having a fashion scene. But when you explore and wander around its medieval alleyways long enough, you’ll realize that some of Tallinn’s well-kept secrets are its fashion stores. You can find some local Estonian designers selling their unique designs, hand made accessories, and much more. The garments are unlike those you see on the catwalks and during Paris Fashion Week, but they are surprisingly nice and give your outfit with otherwise mainstream labels a twist. You’ll be surprised at what you can find. Dig deep in the medieval alleyways, weekend markets, and creative villages and surprise everyone with your new fashion finds when you go back home!
Address: Müürivahe 21, Tallinn
Opening Hours: 11 am - 7 pm. 12 noon - 6 pm on Sundays
15. Visit an interesting reminder of the past at the Museum of Occupations, Tallinn
Remember things out of your history textbooks when you visit the Museum of Occupations! This museum is dedicated solely to the occupations that took place when Estonia was under the rule of the Nazis and the Soviets. It’s a small museum but it has managed to pack a lot into its space. Through documentaries you can get an insight of how Estonians who survived the occupations lived and their perspective of the War, Nazis, and Soviets. You also get to realize how much the war impacted their lives. It opens up your mind, making you see things from a different perspective. It’s super insightful and interesting, especially if you’re keen on WWII. At the same time, the museum reminds you not to take for granted the relative peace and stability that we currently enjoy.
Museum of Occupations
Address: Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia
Price: from 6 USD
Opening Hours: 10 am - 6 pm
Contact: +372 668 0250
Website: Museum of Occupations
The European gem
Unlike other holiday destinations in Europe, Estonia has a different charm. Despite its picture-perfect landscapes and being known for being one of the greenest countries in the world, they are not the main draws. Estonia is where you’ll discover a side of you so sympathetic to those who survived the rule under the Soviets. It’s where you will taste cuisine so simple yet unique. Your trip will ultimately leave you wondering why you hadn’t thought of visiting Estonia sooner! Estonia will open your mind, touch the depths of your heart, and leave you with an experience never to be forgotten.
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