Visitors to Estonia sometimes make these five mistakes. None of them will get you kicked out of the country, though they might earn you a look of pity. Follow this advice to avoid a foolish faux pas or two.
5. Never venturing beyond Tallinn
Tallinn is an enchanting city. The Old Town draws you in with medieval charm, and you can spend days wandering up and down each and every cobblestone street. Tallinn’s neighbourhoods offer endless opportunities for exploring: bum around the beach in Pirita, stroll through the greenery in Kadriorg, and immerse yourself in the hipster vibes of Kalamaja. In winter it’s tempting to warm yourself with glögi in one of Europe’s best Christmas markets or relax in one of the city’s spas. There are festivals to attend, ballets to watch, and restaurants to try. But Estonia has so much more to offer.
If an urban adventure is what you’re after, venture beyond Tallinn. In two hours, you can get to any one of Estonia’s next three biggest cities: Tartu, Narva, and Pärnu.
– Tartu is Estonia’s second city. While it may be second in terms of size, Tartu is often described as the country’s heart and soul. As a university town, Tartu has a youthful energy and the cultural events to match.
– Narva lies on the border with Russia, making it an interesting study in East meets West. Check out exhibits at Narva Castle or take in the avant-garde art scene at the Kreenholm Textile Factory
– Pärnu comes alive in summer, with an events calendar full of things to do. The city is just as attractive in the off-season, only a bit quieter. And if you don’t want to do much of anything, then the long sandy beach is there for sunbathing and a stroll.
Besides those three cities, there are numerous quaint villages and towns to explore all over the country. Check out Haapsalu, Rakvere, or Viljandi for a city break that’s further off the beaten path.
4. Staying in the cities
Estonia has one of Europe’s lowest population densities, and over 50% of the country is covered in forest. Spending time in nature is a national pastime. It would be a shame to visit and never get out of the city to see it!
There’s so much to do outside: adventure sports, hiking in the forest, biking, kayaking, swimming, or just relaxing on the beach or in front of a campfire. Take your pick. And if you visit in winter, you’ll find there’s no good reason to stay inside. Make the most of the snow by skiing, dog sleddding, sledding, ice skating, or enjoying the quiet magic of snow-covered trees.
Tallinn is breathtaking, but nature awaits!
3. Never leaving the mainland
With 2,222 islands, 3,800 km of coastline, and 1,562 lakes, you’re never far from water in Estonia. It would be a shame to spend all of your time on dry land when you come to Estonia. Pick an island or two to explore and hop aboard a ferry. Head out to Saaremaa or Hiiumaa, Estonia’s two biggest islands. Take a boat to Kihnu from Pärnu and learn about the island’s traditional matriarchal culture. Venture north into the Gulf of Finland by taking a ferry from Tallinn to Aegna, Naisaar, or Prangli.
Even if you never head out to sea, you can still get your feet wet. Follow the wooden walkways over the wetlands and dive into the dark waters of a bog lake, or walk on top of the bog itself on a guided bog-shoe hike.
Then of course there are the rivers and lakes. Lake Peipsi is the fourth largest lake in Europe and part of Estonia’s natural border with Russia. Along its sandy shores, you’ll find the Onion Route and Estonia’s Old Believers’ villages. Old Believers have preserved their culture for the better part of the past three centuries. One particularly isolated village open to visitors is on Piirissaar, an island in Lake Peipsi.
2. Avoiding Estonian cuisine
A trip to Estonia would incomplete without trying rye bread spread with creamy butter or fresh-picked strawberries or blueberries straight from the forest. Try your hand at picking mushrooms in the fall or enjoy handpicked wild garlic during the short time it’s in season. If sweets are more your thing, then there are delicious kohupiim tarts topped with apples or kohuke, a local chocolate-covered childhood favorite.
1. Thinking you've seen it all
Perhaps you’ve been to Tallinn and feel like you can check Estonia off your bucket list. That would be the biggest mistake of all.