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Estonia is a small nation, but a proud one. When it achieved its independence from the Soviets in 1991, seven centuries of foreign domination drew to a close. Now, the country busily endeavours to adapt to modern society and while for other Western states this has come to mean a loss of heritage, Estonia has kept its traditional look. This is nowhere more obvious than at Tallinn, the capital, where architectural designs from six centuries ago survive proudly, as people stroll down cobbled streets, with spires shooting upwards overhead.
Estonians also take considerable care of their environment, making this one of Europe's most interesting places for nature lovers. Whilst geographically unspectacular, this is more than made up for by extensive forestation, a lengthy coastline and numerous islands. These provide a home for several species of protected eagles, as well as the quirky flying squirrel.
The history of Estonia in ancient times is not much different from other countries in the region. After the last Ice age settlements of several tribes began to emerge. The region was a battleground many times in ancient times. In the first centuries AD, several provinces and countries, all headed by kings or elders emerged. After the Livonian Crusade, in which many Estonian tribes were united but was defeated by the Battle of St. Matthews Day in 1217, the region became a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The North became the Duchy of Estonia, under rule of Denmark, and the South was ruled by the Teutonic Order. After the fall of the Teutonic order, and the defeat of the Livinian order the countries became part of the Livonian Confederation. During the Livinian War (1558 – 1582), the confederation was disolved. The north come under control of Sweden, and after a short period under Polish-Lithuanian rule, also the south came under Swedish rule.
Following the Great Northern War, the Swedish empire lost Estonia to Russia by the Treaty of Nystad. However, the upper classes and the higher middle class remained primarily Baltic German. After the Russian revolution of 1917, Estonia remained under Soviet control until 24 February 1918, when Estonian independence was declared. The independence lasted until World War II. The fate of Estonia was sealed by the German Soviet Nonaggression Pact, signed between Hitler and Stalin. In june 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Estonia. Due to the overwhelming Soviet force, the Estonian government capitulated on 17 June 1940 to avoid bloodshed. During the war, Germany took control over Estonia, but for the Estonians the Germans were just another occupier. In 1944 the Soviet Union again took control of the country, which left many people fleeing to Sweden, Finland or retreating with the German Army.
In the years after the war more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic States were included into the Soviet Union. The United States, United Kingdom, France and the majority of other Western democracies considered the annexation by the Soviet Union illegal and retained diplomatic ties with the representatives of the independent Republic of Estonia.
In 1989, after a landmark demonstration for more independence, the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration was issued on November 16, 1989. Formal independence was declared in 1991. The last Russian troops left in 1994. In 2004 Estonia together with nine other countries including the other two Baltic states became part of the European Union
Estonia shares international borders with Russia (290 kilometres) to the east and Latvia (267 kilometres) to the south. Its northern and western boundaries are of the aquatic form: the Baltic Sea to the west and the Gulf of Finland to the north. The average elevation is only around 50 metres (164 feet) and the country's highest point is the Suur Munamägi in the southeast at 318 metres (1,043 feet). There is 3,794 kilometres (2,357 miles) of coastline and there are an estimated 1,500 islands. The largest ones of which are Saaremaa and Hiiumaa in the northwestern corner of the country. Smaller ones include Vormsi near Hiiumaa and both Kihnu and Ruhnu, which are in the central parts of the Gulf of Riga, between Saaremaa and Latvia.
Estonia is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond), but for easier purposes for travellers the following division can be made:
Kuressaare Castle is a magnificent castle on the island of Saaremaa off the coast of Estonia. Located on a strategic spot this castle has changed hands many times. Originally it was first mentioned in written texts in the 14th century. Denmark bought the island with the castle in 1559 and it continued to jump from country to country until the Russians took control of the it in 1710. Today the castle is a very popular tourist sight.
Lake Peipsi is the largest lake in Estonia and located on the border with Russia. Although heavily polluted during Russian times the lake has started to return back to its state of natural beauty again. This lake is a great place to spend a few days boating or hiking in the around area it.
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The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Tallinn's old town. It is built in a typical Russian Revival style between 1894 to 1900. After Estonia declared independence from the Russian Empire the government talked about destroying it but never did it. After separating from Russia the Estonia's faithfully restored the church. The church is located on the top of Toompea Hill.
Tallinn has one of the best Old Towns in the world, and deservedly placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The maundering streets and ancient buildings mix together to make for a charming and picturesque place. Remember to explore the upper and lower towns to see the old divided city. The pest parts to see are the medieval town hall with in tack stocks out front, Viru Gate, Toompea Hill and St Catherine's Passage. The Old Town has numerous other interesting buildings and squares. The centrepiece is the Raekoja Plats, with the Town Hall and numerous bars and terraces lining up next to it.
Kumu, an abbreviation of the Estonian "Kunstimuuseum" (art museum), is located near the Kadriorg Park in Tallinn and is one of the best in the country and has even been chosen the European Museum of the Year in 2008. This art museum, the biggest of the 5 branches in the country and even the biggest of the entire Baltic region, presents both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. The main collection covers Estonian art from the 18th century onwards, including works from the occupations period (1940–1991). Temporary exhibitions include both foreign and Estonian modern and contemporary art.
Estonia is not known for the great weather. Summers, though warm, are not particularly inviting. Although temperatures of over 30 °C are possible, they are around 20 °C during the day on average. Winters are cold with snowfall. Average maximum temperatures are around -5 °C while nights average around -10 °C. Occasionally, when the winds blow east from Siberia, temperatures can plummit way below -20 °C. Precipitation is fairly even throughout the year, but winters and spring tend to be a bit drier. On average, there are between 10 and 15 wet days with around 50 mm of rain or snow a month.
Estonian Air is the national airline of Estonia and operates flights throughout Europe from Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport (TLL), or Ülemiste Airport, with the main destinations being Amsterdam, London, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagenand Brussels. Other airlines serving Tallinn are Air Baltic, Lufthansa to Frankfurt , Ryanair to Bergamo, Bremen, Dublin, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Girona, London Luton Airport, Oslo, Stockholm and Airport Weeze, and LOT to Warsaw. Low-cost airline easyJet flies from Liverpool and London Stansted Airport to Tallinn.
To/from the airport
There are trains to Russia, including trains to Moscow. Check Go Rail for more information regarding schedules and prices. There are no connections directly to Riga, but since 2008 the train connection from Riga towards the border with Estonia crosses into Valga, Estonia. It's possible to travel between Tallinn and Riga by train via Valga. The train leaves early morning (around 7:00am) from Tallinn and arrives around 11:30am in Valga, where you can catch the onward train at 11:42am to Riga. It takes over 8 hours though, compared to just 4.5 hours by bus. There are 3 daily trains on this Valga-Cesis-Sigulda-Riga line. Check the Latvian Passenger Trains website and the excellent 1188.lv website for details.
You can travel by car to Estonia relatively straightforward. On most ferries (see below) you can also bring your car, for example from Finland. Border crossings with Latvia are easy, with Russia you need to have some more documentation like visa etc. Be sure to have your car papers and insurance (green card) in order and don't forget an international driving permit.
Getting to and from Estonia by boat is very easy. Most ferry companies service Tallinn but some of the smaller towns also have boat service. Remember to book online for cheaper tickets and ahead during busy times of the year.
Finland and Sweden
Airest and Avies have a limited number of domestic flights, for example between Tallinn and Kuressaare. Estonian Air provides flights between Tallinn and Tartu as well. As distances are small, there is no real need and it's relatively expensive as well. In winter, some places that are usually reached by ferry in summer, only are accessible by air, like the islands of Kihnu and Ruhnu in the Gulf of Riga.
Edelarautee is the national railway of Estonia. It has services between Tallinn and dozens of other cities and towns, including Pärnu], Viljandi, Valga, Narva and Tartu. Note that many train station, except the one in Tallinn, are located quite a few kilometres from the centre and usually buses are a more convenient and mostly faster mode of transport. Also note that many trains only leave during the early morning or later afternoon/early evening and frequencies are mostly just 1-3 times a day, except on the busier Tallinn-Tartu link. There is one train daily from Tallinn to Valga, via Tartu, that arrives in time for the train to Riga, which leaves around noon.
The road network in Estonia is in a fairly good shape, but there are only a few highways and as a result travelling times can add up quickly when driving along the secondary roads. You can rent cars at airports, major hotels and the bigger cities and you need a national driver's licence (EU citizens) or international permit (other citizens). You can also bring your own car and make sure to have sufficient third party insurance (green card EU). Traffic drives on the right side of the road.
There are lots of companies, with GoBus having one of the best networks with frequent, reliable and comfortable buses travelling almost to any city and rural towns and villages. Between cities like Tallinn and Narvan, Tartu and Pärnu, frequences are mostly around 20-30 times a day, while about half that many buses travel daily on less heavier routes, smaller cities and towns.
There are frequent ferries travelling between the mainland and some islands off the coast with the operator Tuule Laevad. Destinations are the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Another operator is Kihnu Veeteed between mainland Estonia and islands like Vormsi, Kihnu and Rihnu. Boats leave from Pärnu or from the harbour at Munalaid, about an hour by bus from Pärnu. There are also boats operating on Lake Peipsi and the Emajogi River. Note that in winter many of these connections do not operate. Instead, planes ply the routes or, in severe winters, there are even iceroads open, including one of the longest in the world to Saaremaa, which is around 26 kilometres long.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen and Estonia is the first stop on your visit, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
See also: Money Matters
Estonia as adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency in 2011. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The official language is Estonian, which is linguistically very closely related to Finnish, and thus unrelated to other neighbouring languages and to English. Many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak English well. According to the Eurobarometer poll of 2005, 66% of Estonians can speak some Russian. This does not include native-language speakers. Russian is often described as Estonia's unofficial second language and 50% of Tallinn natives speak Russian as their native language. Finnish is also spoken quite well by many people in Tallinn, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf. German is taught at school in Estonia and a large number of people can speak some (22% according to Eurobarometer).
It might be tempting to practise your Russian as around 25% of Estonia's population is Russian speaking. However, a foreigner starting a conversation in Russian is seen as extremely rude by native Estonian speakers. Always try to start conversation in any language other than Russian and then you might ask whether the other person speaks Russian.
Estonian food draws heavily from German and Scandinavian cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, black pudding, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.
Many types of food are close to Russian and have their equivalents almost exclusively in the former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".
Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.
For those with a sweet tooth, the national chocolate manufacturer is "Kalev", with many specialist stores around the country as well as supermarkets retailing the product.
The more adventurous may want to try "kohuke", a flavoured milk-curd sweet covered with chocolate and available at every supermarket.
There's a wide range of accommodation options in Tallinn, but less so in other cities, towns and near national parks. Still, you will be able to find a decent room in a B&B, guesthouse or midrange hotel in most places. In Tallinn, you can find camping grounds, hostels, towards 5* hotels. Some cities have some typical old-style Sovjet hotels still in practice.
Estonians do like their beer so you will have no shortage of nice local beers and places to drink them in! In the big cities, especially Tallinn, you will find pubs that brew their own special beers that you can try.
Like their neighbours the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku, or A. Le Coq, the local vodka brands Viru Valge (Vironian White) and Saaremaa Vodka and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn (Old Tallinn), famous in the countries of former USSR.
A local soft drink is "Kali" (the Estonian equivalent of "kvass"), made from fermented brown bread. It can be described as an acquired taste.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Estonia. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Estonia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for several days or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
As with all countries, one should take care of themselves at all times. Common sense is usually enough to visit anywhere in the world and come away with no horror stories. In general Estonians are very helpful people and many speak English, so, if you fo find yourself in any kind of trouble, it should be easy to find a local that will be able to help you out. Like the other Baltic countries or countries in Eastern Europe, direct racism is much more a problem compared to western countries. As a coloured person you will at least be watched a lot. Don't panic though, violence is rare. Unfortunately, gays are not really respected among the majority of people, so keep a low profile regarding your sexual preference.
Estonia is one of the most connected nations on earth when it comes to internet, boasting 'Internet access is a basic human right'. You will find no shortage of Wi-Fi hot spots around the city, with most hotels and hostels offering high speed internet and Wi Fi included in their prices. Access to wireless, free internet is widespread in Tallinn and Tartu. As with most cities you will find the Wi-Fi spots in most good cafes, bars, pubs, libraries and public areas. Outside of the city you will even find Wi-Fi spots in petrol stations! You can also find internet cafes around town but with the advent of internet enabled phones and wireless connections all over the city many of these establishments may not be around for so long. On the open road you will often find petrol stations which offer wireless internet access too. Most hotels also have a computer with internet access available. The departure lounge at Tallinn airport has several free internet access points for passengers
See also: International Telephone Calls
The international phone code for Estonia is 372. The general emergency number is 112, but you can also use 110 for police only if you prefer.
For local calls, dial the 7 or 8 digit number given. There is no "0" dialled before local numbers
GSM 900 and 1800 networks cover the whole country. Main operators include AS EMT, Radiolinja Eesti and TELE2. Mobile access is available everywhere, even on the smaller islands and at sea. Prepaid (pay-as-you-go) SIM cards and their top up cards can be bought from R-kiosks (ask for a "kõnekaart" - calling card in English). Popular brands are Smart, Simpel, Diil and Zen. Start-up packages are in a range of €1.55-10.
If you use your own cell phone and don't buy a local SIM card, switch off data roaming to avoid high costs for internet. Only use wifi in that case.
Eesti Post is Estonia's national postal service with generally fast and reliable services for sending postcards, parcels and letters. It can take up to 4-5 days to send mail to Western Europe though, longer outside the continent. Domestic services are much faster though. Post offices are generally open from 9:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday, and 9:30am to 3:00pm on Saturday, though some variations might be possible depending on the post office. Some larger central ones might be open evenings and on Sundays. There is no need to buy stamps at the post offices though; just get your stamps at some shops or kiosks and drop your mail off in any of the small orange post boxes, which are abundant throughout the country. Within Estonia, the postage cost for a letter up to 50 grams is €0.45. To other EU countries, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine the cost is €1 and to the rest of the world €1.10.
If you want to send packages to other countries, it is best to use international courier companies like TNT, UPS, DHL or FedEx, as they offer fast, reliable and competitively priced services.
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Ask Love_Travelling a question about Estonia
I am from Estonia. I have lived in Tartu and recently moved to Tallinn.
Ask NinjaSmurf a question about Estonia
I travelled Estonia twice. Once in 2007 and again in 2009 and experienced different parts of the country on each occasion. In 2007 I spent some time in Tallinn and Lahemaa National Park. In 2009 I spent some time in Tallinn again, and Saaremaa and Tartu. I would be happy to provide travel advice on Estonia, particularly on places I have travelled and the gastronomic aspect of travel.
Ask jazzer123 a question about Estonia
any questions about Estonia welcome!
Ask Ayla a question about Estonia
I live in Estonian capital Tallinn - in one of the Baltic states.
This region is very much worth discovering.. gladly willing to help and inform anyone who wants to come around :-)
Ask rgo a question about Estonia
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