Estonia is a lovely little country located on the Baltic Sea. I cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this country. It is beautiful and easy to travel. Things are really, really, really old. There is a history here that is hard for us in the U.S. to understand. But there is also a beauty that is not at all hard to comprehend. We were lucky enough to experience Estonia and all that it has to offer. Should you find yourself in the same lucky boat, below are 10 recommendations from us Janes.
1. Explore Tallinn, Estonia
Set out on foot and get as lost as you can (it won’t be hard). Old Town is basically car-free, giving pedestrians room to roam…and gawk. Tallinn was founded in 1248, but it first appeared on a map in 1154. Can you believe that? Old Town is an authentic, intact medieval city, and apparently one of the best preserved in Europe. There is so much history here. I am sure there are plenty of tours you can sign up for. We opted for a self-guided tour from our handy travel guide. We still managed to get lost but we learned a lot in the process. And the views! There is no describing them other than “postcard perfect.”
Note: although Tallinn is old, it has all of the modern conveniences and is sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Europe. Wifi is everywhere and it is the birthplace of Skype. It really might be the perfect city.
2. Stay here while in Tallinn
Trust me on this. The converted chapel is old (like 1400s old), the location is amazing and the experience is unforgettable. There is also a sauna in the basement, which is a nice perk, and we very much enjoyed a mid-vacation respite here. Our time in Tallinn would not have been quite the same if we had stayed anywhere else.
3. Eat some chocolate
Kalev chocolates have been made in Estonia since 1806. You can find it almost anywhere. I picked up a bunch of bars at the grocery store to take home as gifts. The white chocolate with blueberries is particularly good—and I am not even a fan of white chocolate.
4. Buy local
Estonia has talented artisans that specialize in all sorts of crafts including woodworking and amber. You will have to search out the shops that feature locally-made products and not mass-produced souvenirs, but it will be worth it. I brought home a lovely handmade wool hat from a shop called Eesti Esinduse. The Visit Estonia website is a good resource for finding such shops.
5. Ride a traditional swing or kiik
It is much harder than you might think but it is a novel experience. You’ll probably have to get out of the city and into a nice little country town to find one.
6. Eat at Kompressor
This well-known pancake house (serving what we would call crepes) does not cater to tourists and is actually kind of hard to find. But don’t give up. I am not a huge fan of savory crepes, but the bacon and smoked cheddar pancake I ordered was delicious. And we all loved the cherry and coconut pancake we split for dessert. Prices were good and the portions were huge.
7. Ride a bike
Bicycling around the Estonian countryside is an experience I will never forget. I cannot recommend Thoomas and his City Bike enough. They really went above and beyond to make sure we had a good experience. Thoomas himself was our driver and as he drove us to and from the route we biked, he educated us on his country. We learned so much from him about Estonia, in addition to having a great time. And at the end of our ride, he gave us chocolates shaped like gold medals…because he is adorable like that.
8. Get a cup of hot cocoa
Maiasmokk Café is the oldest operational café in Tallinn. And it has been in the same location, with basically the same décor, since 1864. We visited on a rainy day, which was actually kind of perfect. It kept us warm and cozy. You might be a little overwhelmed with fresh pastry options. So I will just go ahead and recommend the poppy roll.
9. Visit the countryside
We did this via bike and it was wonderful. But renting a car would work as well. We rode through the Lahemaa National Park, toured Sagadi Manor, observed the largest natural waterfall in Estonia (Jägala Waterfall) and took in the varied landscapes. Forests cover over one half of Estonia and about one fifth of the country is covered with marshes and bogs. But we also saw plenty of farmland, adorable villages and of course, the seashore.
10. See the sea
If you are going to visit a Baltic country, then you have to check out the Baltic Sea. There are plenty of adorable coastal villages just waiting for you to show up and take that perfect picture. Another fun option is to take the ferry. Helsinki, Finland, is just a couple of hours away and assuming the weather cooperates, the ferry makes a nice option for traveling across the sea.
Estonia is lovely and a true gem. I highly, highly recommend it for your next vacation.