The castles in Estonia have stories to tell—from sieges by Ivan the Terrible’s troops to duchesses hidden in Estonia by Catherine the Great to cycles of use, neglect, and renovation.
Learn about the best Estonian castles, many of which you can visit and that provide a nuanced look into Estonia’s history from medieval times to the present. They’re excellent attractions to incorporate into your travel to the Baltic countries and will take you from Estonia’s largest island in the Baltic Sea to its border with Russia in the northeast. Include one or more on your list of things to do in Estonia when you visit!
Please note that this article is about defensive structures, not palaces or manor houses in Estonia.
Toompea Castle should most definitely top the list of best Estonian castles. Today, it’s a symbol of Estonia and the seat of the Estonian government, but it also occupies a site used for defensive purposes since the 9th century—that’s a lot of history! Located in Old Town Tallinn, it’s at the heart of the country.
This Tallinn castle has changed ownership throughout the centuries, having been held variously by the Danes, the Teutonic Knights, and the Swedes. It’s also, as a result, undergone structural and cosmetic changes as its purpose evolved.
After Estonian independence, Toompea Castle came to be home to the Estonian parliament. It’s possible to get a tour of the inside by booking in advance—it’s just one of the many things to do in Tallinn that will bring you closer to understanding Estonia.
You’ll have to go all the way to Saaremaa Island, the largest island off the coast of Estonia, to visit Kuressaare Castle. But it will be worth it—it’s one of the best castles in Estonia for visitors, and it serves as a good focal point for exploring other attractions on the island.
Built by the Teutonic Knights at the end of the 14th century, it was given its current shape by the Danes and the Swedes, who subsequently took it over. It has also since been restored.
Today, it’s the home of the Saaremaa Museum. You’ll be able to explore its many exhibits, including one that presents life under the Soviet regime.
Saaremaa is impressive anyway, but a visit to Kuressaare Castle will make it even more memorable.
Narva Castle or Hermann Castle
Narva Castle sits right on Estonia’s border with Russia, overlooking the Narva River in an eternal face-off with Russia’s hulking Ivangorod Fortress. Though it appears modest in comparison, Narva Castle’s strategic importance dates back to the 13th century, when the Danes first broke ground there.
The castle was originally much larger, as well, but as the city evolved, the castle’s protective purpose lost its importance. The castle, with its Hermann Tower, was once a part of the town defensive structures, which include a wall, several gates, and several more towers.
The castle was renovated as recently as 2020 and houses the Narva Museum. It’s definitely an Estonian castle you should visit if you’re in the city of Narva. It’s emblematic of the long history of the area and the fight for power.
Of course, the views across the river to Ivangorod Fortress are also not to be missed, and no matter the weather, your photos will impress.
Haapsalu Castle was a bishop’s castle and now stands as a monument to history in the town by the same name. It’s one of the top castles in Estonia to visit partly because of its central importance in Haapsalu’s development—the museum in the castle will familiarize you with both the castle’s and the town’s history.
Haapsalu and the castle make a wonderful Estonia day trip, particularly on a nice day, when the grounds of the castle can be thoroughly explored.
Poltsamaa started out as a fortress, originally constructed in the 13th century. Damage to the castle over the centuries degraded the original structure. Under new ownership in the 18th century, a palace was built on the site.
Now, Poltsamaa castle is an Estonian castle with an open-air events calendar and the home to galleries, museums, workshops, and a restaurant. It’s a great example of how castles in Estonia can be updated and serve purposes other than what they were originally intended for.
Koluvere may have one of the most interesting histories on this list of best castles in Estonia. It boasts what may be one of the oldest castle towers in the country. Catherine the Great owned it for a time.
Empress Catherine sent a young duchess to live there who was desperate to escape her husband. She had been married to him at age 15 and was seeking a divorce. The duchess died in Koluvere Castle in her early 20s and was buried in a nearby church.
The castle more closely resembles a manor house these days. After its original purpose as a military structure became obsolete, its next owners proceeded to remodel it into a residence for themselves.
The castle, under private ownership to this day, is not open to the public except with advanced booking.
Paide Castle is characterized by its six-story tower, which has undergone restoration and now contains a museum. Made of white limestone, it’s an elegant symbol of this Estonian castle’s long history.
The castle grew and was modified for defensive purposes from its 13th-century original construction into the 16th century. Over its history, it’s seen significant fighting, including from troops who pledged themselves to Ivan the Terrible and those fighting in the Polish-Swedish War.
Rakvere Castle is a top castle in Estonia to visit if you’re interested in recreations of medieval life. The castle is an authentic castle that was partly destroyed in the 16th century, but in its new life, it offers demonstrations and reenactments, serving as a place of education and entertainment.
Visitors to Rakvere Castle, or Rakvere Linnus, can learn what people in the Middle Ages ate, what they did for medicine, and more. Visitors can also see examples of archeological finds from the grounds of the castle.
Exploring Castles in Estonia
Exploring Estonia’s castles makes for a great excuse to see various regions of the country, become familiar with its medieval history, and see cities and towns that you may have otherwise overlooked.
These castles are full of character, often good for families with children, and show how Estonians protect and preserve historical memory and make it accessible for those interested.
In some cases, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes appropriate for the weather as well as for tramping through ruins. Clothing, too, should be weather appropriate—castles are famously chilly.
Ruins of Estonian Castles
Of course, ruins of castles can be found throughout Estonia—these ruins represent former defensive structures that were destroyed beyond repair or were left to weather and neglect. However, they can still offer a romantic setting, an interesting background for photos, or a unique spot for a picnic. Some ruins of castles in Estonia you may want to visit if you’re in the area include:
- Karski Castle – The surrounding area now hosts outdoor events. This castle was destroyed during the Great Northern War and never reconstructed.
- Laiuse Castle – Once owned used by an administrative center of Sweden, parts of the walls and towers of this castle are still visible.
- Toolse Castle – Built on the Toolse River, this Teutonic Knights’ castle represents how far north the Holy Roman Empire had reached during the Middle Ages.
- Vatsiliina Castle – The Vatsiliina Castle ruins are picturesque ruins that once served as a fortification against Russia.
Of course, Estonia’s castles are just the beginning. If you’re exploring the rest of the Baltic countries, you may want to check out castles in Latvia as well as castles in Lithuania, including Trakai.