Estonia-A Top Solo Travel Destination: Estonia is surrounded on three sides by the Baltic Sea and is set between Russia on the East and Latvia on the Southwest. Tallinn serves as its capital located on the coast and a mere 2+ hour ferry trip from Helsinki, Finland.
A Brief History:
Estonia is small in size, approximately equal to Vermont and New Hampshire combined. However, it has attracted invaders from east and west for centuries from the time of the Vikings up through the 20th century. In the 1250’s, the Danes and Germans ruled Estonia. The latter’s dominance was enhanced in the 16th century at the time of the Reformation bringing an influx of German clergy. The next century saw the arrival of Swedish rule. It was followed after a period of independence in the 19th century. Independence was short-lived when Estonia was dominated by the Russians and later the Soviets until Estonia became independent in 1991. (For more information on Estonia’s history, click here.)
Why is Estonia a great destination for solo travel?
- Prices are very low even for 4-star lodging.
- There are a wide array of attractions from indoor museums to outdoor national parks.
- Its location on the Baltic Sea makes it ideal for either a standalone trip or for a tour through neighboring Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Finland. (The ferry from Tallin to Helsinski is about 2 hrs one way with round trip day trips taking place throughout the day.)
Things to Do and See:
Tallinn’s Old Town: A good place to begin is in Tallinn’s Old Town. It is one of the few remaining cities of the world with largely intact ancient city walls. It was therefore declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Similar walled cities include Dubrovnik, Croatia, Bruges, Belgium and Quebec City, Canada.)
Toompea Hill: The towering Toompea Hill and 13th-century castle overlook the city. With a great view from above, it is the site of the Estonian parliament. One of the most visited Old Town buildings is the Gothic-styled Tallinn Town Hall which served as the seat of local government for just under 700 years.
Architecture: Estonia has a range of architectural gems to see. Most of the fabled sites are churches from a Nordic/Gothic style to a real Russian feel. Among the former is the Oesel-Wiek Bishopric within the Haapsalu Castle grounds. In contrast, the storied Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, also in the Old Town, was built in a Russian Revival style. The two show a perfect contrast between the country’s influences from both East and West! For more of the Russian influence, see the 18th-century Baroque Kadriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine I.
Shopping: Fashionistas will find much to explore in the many shops set in the ancient St. Catherine’s Passage.
For cultural insights and more as to Estonian history: There are 300+ museums to choose from, ranging from the Russian Icons Museum to the Open-Air Musuem. To see eight of the top options, click here. They include, in part, the maritime museum, the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour, the Estonian National Museum, Tartu Art Museum and the Estonian Museum of Occupations. The latter is focused on both the Nazi and Soviet periods. Other sights include the Narva Castle’s Museum dating back to the Danish 13th-century influence. For a change of pace, there is the Crazy Scientist’s Office at the University of Tartu Museum.
Outdoor activities: They range from walking, hiking and biking in national parks from Karula to Lahemaa and Soomaa. Popular natural sights include the 24 foot Jagala Waterfall and the Valaste Waterfall.
For more Estonian tourist information, see the Lonely Planet review .
To combine a trip to Estonia with nearby Latvia, check out our post on “Latvia, 11 Surprises”.