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Top Destinations for 2016: Estonia


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It’s not quite Russian and it’s not quite Scandinavian – instead Estonia offers a fascinating blend of cultures, gorgeous natural scenery and high living standards, all on a reasonable budget.

A ferry ride from Helsinki, Estonia is remarkably accessible considering its under-the-radar reputation. The country didn’t come into its own existence until the end of World War I and has had a busy history of changes since then – throughout the last century it has been occupied by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Today, Estonia offers a much calmer way of life. It’s one of the least populated states in the EU, but it’s anything but remote – it has a reputation for being one of the most internet-focused countries in Europe. It also has one of the fastest growing economies in the EU.

Where to go

You’ll likely start your trip in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. It’s the country’s most populated city, and one look at the cityscape might give you an idea as to why people flock there. The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral shows off impressive Russian architecture – it was built while Russia’s influence was at full force in the late 1800s. You’ll also want to explore the Estonian Open-Air Museum, a rural village within the city area that shows off Estonia’s rural history. If you just want to get a taste of the city and its culture, go to town hall square and get a look at the Old Thomas vane on top of the town hall tower – it’s been there since 1530. 

Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city, is home to the nation’s oldest university, the University of Tartu. It also boasts botanical gardens and the Hanseatic Days festival, a celebration of Hanseatic heritage. It’s Estonia’s own haven for museums as well – explore the Estonian National Museum, the Tartu University Museum, the Tartu Art Museum and the Tartu Toy Museum. You’ll feel smarter just for having been.

Embrace the island life at Saaremaa; its capital city Kuressaare is home to the storybook-like Kuressaare Castle, echoing all your childhood memories of Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Don’t miss out on the natural beauty Saaremaa offers, though – the gorgeous Panga cliff and Kaali Meteorite Crater are both amazing, and there are seals all over Saaremaa’s coasts.

A trip to Pärnu in the south also makes for a fun vacation spot. The city was named the Summer Capital of Estonia and a look at the beaches can tell you why. It’s a popular summer destination for Finns and Russians, but anyone can enjoy a swim there. Don’t miss the bright, picturesque architecture while you’re there.

What to do

Visit national parks galore

Lahemaa, Soomaa, Matsalu and Vilsandi National Parks are some of the most popular. All are unique, but all offer equally amazing views of Estonia’s natural biodiversity. Look out for wolves, seals, bears, wild boars and swans, and embrace the remoteness.

Check out an original traditional windmill

Muhu, Estonia’s third-largest island, is home to the only still-working traditional windmill in the country. You could also go live in luxury for a while in Pädaste, where a restored manor house is now home to a spa and hotel. Take a winter vacation and get to the island via ice road if you’re feeling brave.

Go skiing

In Otepää, winter isn’t anything to worry about – in fact, the town is known as Estonia’s winter capital. It’s a small town with plenty to do. When you’re not skiing off the Tehvandi ski jumping hill, visit the monument of the Estonian War of Independence for a quick history lesson.

Sample the local cuisine

This isn’t your typical IKEA lingonberry sauce –  try some of the real fruit topping with traditional blood sausage and wash it down with a bottle of locally brewed beer. Prepare to eat lots of black rye bread, a traditional pair to just about every meal in Estonia.

Jam out to some Estonian music

The Estonian Song Festival is takes place every five years alongside the Estonian Dance Festival. It draws in choirs made up of 30,000 people and audiences of 80,000. It’s been a nationwide tradition since 1869 and is one of the largest choral events in the world.

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