Estonia travel guide
From reluctant Soviet state to one of the European Union’s brightest young stars, Estonia has undergone something of a transformation in recent decades – and finally the world has woken up to its many charms.
The smallest and arguably most scenic of the three Baltic states (which also includes Latvia and Lithuania), Estonia is a wildly beautiful land of pristine forests, biodiverse wetlands and remote offshore islands; natural assets that offer a spectacular contrast to the brooding, gothic aesthetic of its medieval capital, Tallinn.
The cobbled streets of this fairy-tale city are peppered with historic churches, monuments and cosy cafés, not to mention a burgeoning restaurant scene that pays homage to the country’s Baltic and Nordic heritage. The nightlife is pretty lively too (and cheap), which has made it a popular destination for stag parties – not something everybody has welcomed.
Most adventure travellers escape the city and make for the primeval forests and lakes of rural Estonia. And who can blame them? These areas offer landscapes and ecosystems, which have, for the most part, been lost in much of Europe. More than 1,000 lakes shimmer in the Estonian countryside, while bogs and swamplands cover an astounding one-fifth of the country. These habitants are a haven for birds and birdwatchers.
Estonia’s natural wonders are on impressive display in its national parks; most notably, Soomaa, in the heart of the country, and Lahemaa, on the northern coast, which rewards visitors with challenging hikes and impressive views of the Baltic Klint, a 1,200km-long (745 mile) ridge of limestone cliffs that stretches from Sweden to Russia. Elusive wolves, bears and lynxes can also be spotted in these parts.
Estonia’s history, like that of its Baltic neighbours, has been almost singly devoted to maintaining independence from its powerful neighbours, most notably Russia. Annexed by Stalin in 1940, Estonia never entirely became the Soviet republic it might have done, retaining its language and culture far more strongly than other members of the USSR. This plucky, independent spirit endures in Estonia today.
45,228 sq km (17,462 sq miles).
1,307,659 (UN estimate 2016).
28 per sq km.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves since 2006.
Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas since 2014.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There has been an increase in tourist-targeted crime, particularly petty theft. Be aware of the risk of pick pocketing and mugging, especially in bars, pubs, nightclubs and hotels in Tallinn’s Old Town. Since 2015 there have been some reports of drink tampering to assist robberies. Be vigilant in bars, take sensible precautions and avoid unlit side streets and parks at night. If possible, leave your valuables in a hotel safe.
You should report any theft in person to Tallinn Central Police Station, Kolde pst 65, 10321 Tallinn, telephone: +372 612 5400. You will need to obtain a police report if you have lost your passport.
A plastic smartcard and e-ticket system is in use in Tallinn for buses, trolls, trams and inner-city trains. Information on buying and using smartcards can be found on the Tallinn Tourism website).
Taxis are widely available and reasonably priced. Lots of different apps like Taxify, Taxigo and Uber are also widely used. Make sure there is a price list on the back window of the taxi, a visible meter and that it’s being used. Don’t use taxis that are unmarked; they are illegal, unsafe and usually cost a lot more than registered taxis.
Roads and pavements may become very slippery during spring. In accordance with the Estonian Traffic Act, all pedestrians walking on the road at night time or in inadequate visibility are obliged to wear a safety reflector. These are normally pinned to your coat or handbag and can be bought locally.
You can drive on a UK driving licence. However, your UK licence isn’t valid in Estonia if it was issued on or after 1 May 2015 and, according to the road administration, if you were living in Estonia when the licence was issued.
By law, headlights of vehicles must be on at all times, including during daylight hours. Winter tyres must be fitted from 1 December to 1 March every year, but if there are severe weather conditions outside these dates (likely in most years) the dates will change accordingly. Check local conditions if you are driving in Estonia between October and April.
Do not drink and drive. The legal limit is zero. Those found over the limit face a fine and possible imprisonment.
In 2015 there were 67 road deaths in Estonia (source: Department for Transport); equating to 5.1 road deaths per 100,000 of population. This compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
Be prepared for extremely cold and possibly hazardous weather in the winter (October to March). There is likely to be snow on the ground and temperatures may drop to -25 degrees Celsius or below.