The university city of Tartu was mentioned in a document as early as 1030, making it the oldest city in the Baltic countries. The second largest city in Estonia is located on the banks of the Emajõgi. Tartu, formerly also called Dorpat, is the spiritual center of Estonia and offers a wide range of cultural activities. Museums, theaters, concerts and festivals can be visited here. In 1869 the first Estonian song festival took place in Tartu. Art and science are omnipresent.
The University of Tartu was founded in 1632, making it one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Numerous students still shape the cityscape today. The magnificent, classicist main building of the university was built at the beginning of the 19th century. In the auditorium there are conferences and, thanks to the very good acoustics, concerts.
The early classicist town hall from 1786 is located on the market square, the center of the city. It is already the third building; its predecessors were destroyed by fires. Here is also the fountain where you have met the kissing students since 1998 – the sculpture has meanwhile become a Tartu landmark. Restaurants and cafes are lined up along the market square. Here you can stop and fortify yourself for the further tour. The Café Pierre Chocolaterie, for example, offers a wonderful ambience and delicious (chocolate) cakes. Those who like to experiment can try a hot chocolate with Gorgonzola and grappa.
Toompea is on the back of the university and town hall. The ruins of the cathedral now house the History Museum of the University of Tartu. In the surrounding park there are monuments of famous citizens. Via the Angel’s Bridge or the Devil’s Bridge you can continue to the observatory and the anatomical theater. The Domberg allows a wonderful view of the lower town.
The city of Rakvere is especially famous for its order castle. It is located in northern Estonia, only 20 kilometers from the sea and close to the Lahemaa National Park. The first settlements can be traced back to the 2nd to 5th centuries AD. A wooden castle was first mentioned in 1226, which stood on a mountain near the settlement. The ruins of the fortress have expanded throughout history and replaced with a mighty stone castle after the Livonian War. Wesenberg Castle is definitely worth a visit: Here visitors can immerse themselves in the Middle Ages, visit the torture chamber, try their hand at archery and crossbow, try historical dishes, blacksmithing and pottery. An adventure for the whole family!
The sculpture of the aurochs Tarvas is the symbol of the city, it was created by the Estonian sculptor Tauno Kangro. According to legend, it brings happiness to those who touch the animal’s testicles.
Rakvere is also contemporary, as punk and rock music festivals have been held here for some time. The Baltoscandal theater festival is also held here every two years. The central square Rakveres has had its modern appearance since 2004. There is also a sculpture in honor of the citizen Arvo Pärt, an important Estonian composer.
The small town of Viljandi is located in southern Estonia, nestled in a beautiful hilly landscape with old trees and a lake. Viljandi is characterized by the mighty Ordensburg, of which only a ruin remains today. From here you have a wonderful view of the lake. The stone fortress was built in 1224, but was finally completed in the 16th century. It was the largest fortress in Livonia, but was largely destroyed by war. In the old town is the St. John’s Church, which was destroyed in the Livonian War and then rebuilt.
Viljandi is the capital of folk music. A festival is celebrated on the last weekend of July: more than 100 concerts take place in the castle ruins, churches and other places around Viljandi. Other events include the puppet theater festival “Theater im Koffer”, the Hanseatic Days, the Festival for Early Music – there is a lot to experience here for festival fans.
The Olustvere manor is a few kilometers north of Viljandi. The main building is built in Art Nouveau style. The outbuildings offer opportunities to visit: You can see the wool and craft room, the forge and a brandy factory. The mansion complex is embedded in an English-style park.
Pärnu, on the west coast, is the summer capital of Estonia, one of 7 countries starting with E listed on Countryaah. Pretty wooden villas, well-tended parks, picturesque alleys and the long sandy beach characterize the picture and make the seaside resort a popular tourist destination.
Pärnu is known as a place to relax. Since the discovery of healing mud and the opening of the first bathing establishment in the 19th century, spa guests have come to relax here, mainly from Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Germany. The Second World War left its mark on the seaside resort. After the reconstruction, mainly Russians used the advantages of Parnu for recreational purposes.
As for a health resort, the atmosphere in the city is calm and dignified – especially of course in the health resort district along the coast. Among other things, the old Kursaal (built in 1880) – today a restaurant – and the mud baths are located here.
In the city center you can visit the classicist town hall, the baroque Katharinenkirche and the Red Tower, a prison tower built in the 15th century. The Rüütli is the Pärnus shopping street, a pedestrian zone that is wonderful to stroll through.
The coastal resort of Haapsalu is the ideal destination for those looking for relaxation: spa hotels, fresh sea air, a small old town with winding streets and a beautiful, spacious beach. The first medicinal mud bath was opened in Haapsalu as early as 1825, and since then the place has also been valued as a spa by the Russian tsars. Colorful wooden houses, Art Nouveau villas, a peculiar, historic train station, the beautiful Kursaal from 1898 – all of this contributes to Haapsalu’s nostalgic atmosphere.
You can visit the massive cathedral from 1279, the largest single-nave church in the Baltic States. During the Soviet era it was used as a granary. It is located on the site of the old bishop’s castle, which is enclosed by a total of 800 meters of massive wall. The ensemble is located in the middle of the old town.
Anyone who would like to have a souvenir from Haapsalu can purchase a “lace miracle”. The handmade Haapsalus shawls are known under this name. By the way, the illustrator of children’s books Astrid Lindgren, Ilon Wikland, spent her childhood in Haapsalu. In 1944 she emigrated to Sweden.
Narva is the north-eastern outpost of Estonia, it is the border town with Russia and thus also the EU’s external border. In Narva, the ethnic conflicts of Estonia become clear, around 90 percent of the population here are Russians, many of whom do not speak Estonian. If they used to live on a lifeline within the Soviet Union, on the bridge over the Narva River, today their city is cut off from Russia.
The Hermannsfeste is Narva’s most important attraction. It was built by the Danes in the 13th century and later served as an order castle. The fortress is very well preserved and can be visited daily. Inside there is a museum about the history of Narva and the fortress. Vis-à-vis the Hermannsfeste, on the right bank of the Narva, is the Russian fortress of Ivangorod from the 15th century.
The largest island in Estonia is called Saaremaa and is located in the west of the country. She is also known under the German name Ösel. Stone walls made of boulders, thatched roof houses and post windmills characterize the appearance.
Saaremaa has around 35,000 inhabitants, most of them Estonians. Due to the isolated situation, the Russification policy of the Soviets hardly had any effect here. In addition, Saaremaa was a restricted area during the Soviet era.
The capital of the island, Kuressaare (formerly Arensburg), presents itself with a medieval castle. The almost intact bishop’s castle is located in today’s city park. Towards the end of the 13th century, the “Lange Hermann”, the central tower of the complex, was built. It is believed that there was a first wooden fortress on this site as early as the 11th century. The bishop’s castle now houses a museum on the history of the island.
There are many more interesting places to discover. Angla is in the north of the island. Five of Saaremaa’s famous windmills are located here in a location exposed to the wind. They are a typical image on the island, there should have been several hundred of them once. The Kaali meteorite crater is believed to have formed 4,000 years ago. There are numerous myths surrounding him. And at Viki you can visit the Mihkli farm: an old farm with a forge, windmill and village swing gives an insight into rural life in the past.
Saaremaa and the capital Kuressaare, like so many places on the west coast, are also known for spa stays. The first spa was opened here as early as 1840. Even today it is a popular place for spa and relaxation holidays. If you want to relax a little after an eventful city trip to Tallinn, this is the right place for you.
Nature is characterized by a mild maritime climate and a calcareous soil. This leads to a unique flora and fauna. Many of the plant species found here are under protection, including the rare Saaremaa rattle pot. The animal world is dominated by birds, many migratory birds stop here. In addition to other nature reserves, Saaremaa also has the Vilsandi National Park – a paradise for bird watching.
The journey to Saaremaa is usually made by ferry from the Estonian mainland, but flights from Tallinn are also possible. If you want to use the ferry by car, you should reserve this in advance, especially in the high season, for cultural events and on St. John’s Day. Saaremaa is connected to the neighboring island of Muhu by a dam, which allows you to pass by on foot, by bike or by car.
With less than 1,000 square kilometers, Hiiumaa is the second largest island in Estonia. It has a long history: Hiiumaa was formed by a meteorite explosion around 455 million years ago, making it one of the oldest islands in the world.
Kärdla is the largest town and capital of Hiiumaa. The green appearance and the calm atmosphere make Kärdla an excellent place for a relaxing holiday. It can best be explored on foot or by bike. The beautiful wooden architecture in the old town, the simple style church and the Pikk Maja museum on the history of Hiiumaas are particularly worth seeing.
Hiiumaa is known for its lighthouses. In Köpu, Ristna and Tahkuna there are three specimens that can be viewed. The massive, stone-built lighthouse of Köpu looks back on 500 years of history.
A visit to the Määvli high moor gives an insight into the island’s nature. The Nuutri River, which flows into the sea near Kärdla, also has its source here. In addition to the wetlands, forests and of course the coast with its long sandy beaches characterize Hiiumaa. Lots of space for relaxation and nature experience! Because of the flat topography and the beautiful landscape, Hiiumaa is ideal for cycling tours. There are various signposted tours all over the island.
The offshore island of Kassari Hiiumaa has developed into a popular holiday area. Hiiumaa can be reached by ferry from Rohuküla on the Estonian mainland or by flight. There is also a ferry connection to Saaremaa. During particularly cold winters, the island is even connected to the mainland by an ice road.
Only about 2,000 people live on Muhu, the small island wedged between Saaremaa and mainland Estonia. Muhu is known for (art) craft. Many residents used to move across the mainland as traveling craftsmen and helped shape Estonian architecture. In addition, a lot has been and is woven here. Duvets and traditional costumes are the most famous products, they are nicely embroidered after weaving. The local tradition of painting wooden doors in bright colors and adding symbols to them is interesting.