13 Best Things to Do in Estonia: Guide to Sights and Activities

Are you looking for things to do in Estonia as you plan your travel in the Baltic countries? This guide to sights and activities in Estonia will help you plan your itinerary. Make the most of your exploration of this Northern European country on the Baltic Sea.

Tallinn skyline from the sea at sunset
Photo 247342866 / Estonia © Irina Volkova | Dreamstime.com

Table of Contents

  1. Tallinn
  2. Tartu
  3. Seaside Resorts and Coastal Towns
  4. Other Destination Cities
  5. Castles
  6. Manor Houses
  7. Soviet Sites
  8. National Parks and Other National Attractions
  9. Islands
  10. Food
  11. Shopping
  12. Seasonal Events
  13. Tours

1. Tallinn

Visitors should start their list of things to do in Estonia with a thorough exploration of Tallinn. The northernmost Baltic capital, it has an intriguing combination of new and old that reflects Estonia’s attitude towards both historical and cultural preservation walking hand-in-hand with innovation.

Things to do in Tallinn include seeing its historic sights as well as enjoying its modern initiatives. The mix is energizing, fun, and unexpected.

Sunny street in histori center of Tallinn, Estonia
Photo 243614946 / Estonia © Arkadi Bojaršinov | Dreamstime.com

Old Town

Old Town Tallinn preserves the feel of its days as a member of the Hanseatic League, a federation of cities centered on trade. The medieval walls and towers have been well-preserved, so it’s easy to imagine how the historic center of Tallinn looked during those times. And as a matter of fact, you can visit the towers for a thorough understanding of these medieval defensive structures.

Of course, that also means that Old Town Tallinn is full of sights. For example, you can head to the Gothic-style Town Hall, now a museum, where a weathervane called Old Thomas shows the way the wind is blowing and guards the old town from the spire of the building.

Nearby is the Town Hall Pharmacy, which has been operating in the same location since the 15th century. Drop in to have over-the-counter medical needs fulfilled or check out the free museum that shows how the pharmacy once stored medicines.

Tallinn Medieval defensive towers lit up at night
Photo 240138881 / Estonia © Ryhor Bruyeu | Dreamstime.com

St. Olav’s Church is an important landmark and was once the tallest building in the world. While you can visit the church for free, you’ll have to pay a small fee to climb to the top of its spire. However, if you like views, doing so may be worth it.

Speaking of views, Old Town Tallinn has several viewing platforms that allow you picture-postcard views of the historic center. It’s best to try to time your visit in between tour groups, which may make it difficult to take in the view or grab a photo unobstructed.

Toompea Castle, the home of Estonia’s Parliament, has watched over the city for centuries. Book in advance for entry to tour the Parliament.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the Russian Orthodox-style church you’ll see when you climb to the upper part of Old Town Tallinn. It was once a symbol of the Russian Empire’s dominance.

Orthodox style Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia
Photo 247561084 / Estonia © Sergii Figurnyi | Dreamstime.com

Rotermann Quarter

When you visit Tallinn, venture outside of the old town into its various neighborhoods. Each one has its own personality that will show you a different side to the Estonian capital.

The Rotermann Quarter is one of these neighborhoods. A former industrial district has been turned into retail and business spaces. Offices, shops, restaurants, and bars now fill the reimagined spaces.

Tip: Head here for breakfast or try your luck in the evening for a drink.

Telliskivi

The Telliskivi area of Tallinn should not be overlooked. Known as a “creative city,” Telliskivi welcomes artists and entrepreneurs who make it colorful and exciting.

The first thing you’ll notice is the street art. But you can also shop art boutiques, have lunch, or enjoy independently crafted gin.

The Fotografiska Museum here is also an excellent way to spend an afternoon. You can visit the exhibits or pop into the gift shop or café if you’re short on time.

Tip: Step into Nudist Winery’s quirky interiorfor a refreshing glass of fruit wine or a cocktail.

Kadriorg

The Kadriorg district of Tallinn centers on the palace built by Peter the Great and its gardens. The palace is now an art museum, and beyond the well-tended gardens is a park that leads to the sea.

At the water’s edge, you’ll see the Rusalka statue, which honors a sunken Russian warship. Here, you can relax on the beach and watch the boats go by.

Museums

Tallinn has many recommended museums. They’re great for learning more about Estonia, escaping poor weather, or getting a culture fix.      

  • Seaplane Harbour Museum—The Seaplane Harbour Museum is located in a former airplane hanger and has informative and interactive exhibits for both kids and adults.
  • Kumu Art Museum—This art museum in the Kadriorg district features art from Estonian artists and hosts exhibits that range from classic oil painting to multimedia.
  • Kiek in de Kok Fortification Museum—If you want to know more about Tallinn’s medieval defense system, visit this museum, housed in one of the Old Town’s most recognizable towers.
  • Estonian Open-Air Museum—Learn about folk life in Estonia and learn about traditional culture at this outdoor, interactive museum.
  • Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom—The story of Estonia under occupying regimes—as well as that of Estonian independence—is told in this important museum.
  • Estonian Jewish Museum—Learn about Jewish heritage and history in Estonia during a visit to this museum.
  • KGB Prison Cells—The former KGB headquarters stands preserved in memory of the interrogations, executions, and deportations that happened here under the Soviet regime.
Sign for the Seaplane Harbour Museum in Tallinn
Photo 248672283 / Estonia © Lina Reshetnyk | Dreamstime.com

2. Tartu

If you’re looking for an easy day trip from Tallinn, look no further than Tartu, Estonia’s second-largest city, which centers around Tartu University.

You won’t be limited in your opportunities for things to do in Tartu. The cute central square with its “Kissing Students” statue and the riverside promenade are just a start.

You’ll also be able to visit the ruins of a cathedral, set romantically in a park full of huge, leafy trees, cross bridges from past centuries, and admire the sweet wooden architecture typical to Estonia.

Tip: Look for seasonal events, such as outdoor film screenings or the Tartu Christmas Market.

3. Seaside Resorts and Coastal Towns

Estonia’s coastal towns draw both locals and visitors, particularly during the summer months. Not only are they great for lovers of the sea, they’re culturally rich destinations. They’re one of many visitors’ favorite things to do in Estonia when they visit!

Parnu

In addition to some of Estonia’s best beaches, Parnu also has riverside beaches, meaning you can choose a location that is less crowded if that’s one of your priorities for your visit. Parnu City Beach is the most popular, but you can also try the nearby Valgeranna Beach or Kabli Beach.

If you like spas, Parnu is a good destination. Whether you’re looking for beauty treatments or wellness-related interventions, Parnu’s spas will deliver.

National parks are also a part of Parnu’s draw. Extend your beach vacation to shady forests, leisurely hikes, or even camping. Enjoying nature is one of the top things to do in Estonia due to its untouched quality.

Parnu beach - things to do in Estonia
Photo 248101038 / Estonia © Jaanall | Dreamstime.com

Haapsalu

Haapsalu rose to prominence in part due to its therapeutic mud! If you want to be treated like the aristocracy that put it on the map, book a mud bath at one of its spa centers.

Besides its mud, Haapsalu has many charms. From a beautiful city center to railway history to a must-visit castle, this seaside resort is a friendly escape from the city.

Tip: Book early if you plan to stay in one of these coastal towns. Those in the know may have standing reservations, which means you’ll have stiff competition with others who want to head to the coast for the fine weather.

Tip: The Baltic Sea is chilly year-round, though it may be just bearable during the warmest months of the year. Hope for blazing sun, but prepare for cooler weather. Going to the beach may mean sunbathing rather than actually swimming, depending upon how sensitive you are to the temperature of the water.

4. Other Destination Cities

Cities in Estonia have plenty of secrets to reveal, tourist attractions, and sights to see.

Narva

Narva is an intriguing Estonian city in the country’s northeast, bordering Russia. Its Narva Castle faces Ivangorod Fortress across the Narva River (and border with Russia) in a centuries-old standoff between powers.

The city has a majority Russian-speaking population, and so Russian culture is also a significant aspect to this city.

Narva Castle at sunset with light shining off water
Photo 237216636 / Estonia © Dm Stock Production | Dreamstime.com

Sillamae

Sillamae is marked by wide, clean boulevards, a view to the sea, and Soviet-era buildings that have been constructed to mimic older styles.

The city seems out of place and time, but it is nevertheless beautiful and makes it an excellent item on your list of things to do in Estonia.

5. Castles

Castles in Estonia are eternal reminders of the Teutonic Knights’ hold on the Northern European region. But as things to do in Estonia, they are also fun, educational, and family-friendly attractions.

Many of the best Estonian castles can be combined with exploration of Estonian cities, such as Haapsalu and Narva. Many are museums, educating about life in the Middle Ages, and others are festival grounds.

Others may take you a bit off the beaten path to find them. Castle ruins, too, offer photo opportunities and an excuse to explore the countryside.

Two castles - Narva and Ivangorod - face each other across a river
Photo 241265565 / Estonia © Viktor Karasev | Dreamstime.com

6. Manor Houses

Manor houses are another one of the things to do in Estonia that will bring you closer to its history but on a more intimate level and on a smaller scale than its castles.

The grand houses of the landowning class have, in many cases, been renovated. Often owned by families of German stock, their grounds may also contain parks and gardens as well as outbuildings that were used for various purposes in the manor’s day-to-day operations.

Palmse Manor may be one of Estonia’s most popular examples. Situated in Lahemaa National Park, it recreates the 19th-century interiors of the manor. Related to the manor are a distillery, places to eat, and programs of events.

Yellow Palmse Manor House in Estonia
Photo 239026628 / Estonia © Giovanni Gagliardi | Dreamstime.com

Sagadi Manor, also located in Lahemaa National Park, is part museum, part countryside getaway. Day visitors can learn about life at the manor house at the museum, but accommodation packages also allow, for example, a night’s stay in one of the outbuildings with dinner included.

Tip: Not all Estonian manors are educational sites. Some have been turned into hotels or events venues. If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Estonia, booking at a manor house hotel may be just what you’re looking for.

7. Soviet Sites

Soviet sites are things to do in Estonia that are remnants from when Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union. Some of these sites continue to serve modern purposes, while others have been abandoned or are now educational or entertainment attractions.

Preserved in time is the KGB Museum at the Viru Hotel in Tallinn. During the Soviet regime, technical rooms of the hotel allowed KGB agents to eavesdrop—via a series of bugging devices—on the hotel’s guests. The hotel is still a hotel, but the technical rooms have been turned into a museum about its former behind-the-scenes activities.

Patarei Prison in Tallinn recreates life in a former Soviet prison with an exhibition called “Communism Is Prison.” This interactive exhibit enables visitors to interact with prisoners as well as learn about the life of inmates and how oppressive Soviet policies affected Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Germany.

The Museum of KGB Cells in Tartu preserves the premises where prisoners were interrogated and sentenced to deportation or executed on site.

Many more Soviet sites appear throughout Estonia, each with its own story to tell. When you visit these sites, it becomes even clearer why Estonia was so determined to regain its independence from the USSR and continues to remind the world about the crimes of this regime into the 21st century.

Concrete structures of Soviet amphiteater called the Linnahall
Photo 244331559 / Estonia © Onlyfabrizio | Dreamstime.com

Tip: Visit Tallinn’s Linnahall for free for views of the harbor and the city’s skyline. The Linnahall was constructed for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but it now stands as a crumbling monument to a failed regime.

8. National Parks and Other Natural Attractions

Estonia is proud of its natural landscape. It’s clean, untouched, and beautiful. That makes its natural attractions some of the best things to do in Estonia for those who seek outdoor experiences.

Kaali Meteorite Craters

The Kaali Meteorite Craters on Saaremaa Island are a group of eight craters formed in 1500s-1400s BCE. The largest crater sometimes fills with water and was to past peoples considered sacred, even having built a wall around it at one point.

In fact, the fall of the meteorites may have spurned the development of a Finnish epic tale, which talks of the sun being stolen and the world going dark.

Lahemaa National Park

Lahemaa National Park is an excellent destination for nature lovers—but it has more than strictly natural landscapes to recommend it.

Besides hikes and bog walks, the park contains manor houses, museums, recreational centers, and places for accommodation—so you can get as deep into nature as you’re comfortable while still enjoying the beauty of this Northern European park.

Lake Peipus

The area around Lake Peipus offers hiking and other outdoor recreational activities as well as a variety of attractions.

Small villages along what’s known as the Onion Route around Lake Piepus preserve traditional culture of a religious minority called the Old Believers. Fresh fish from the lake and the famous local onions make up many traditional dishes—the area is even home to a restaurant called the Kolkja Fish and Onion Restaurant.

Estonian bog with wooden path
Photo 244019933 / Estonia © Patrykl | Dreamstime.com

Tip: One of the most popular things to do in Estonia for outdoor enthusiasts is take a bog walk. Bog walks allow visitors to take in the mysterious beauty of this particular type of natural habitat.

Many bogs have wooden paths that elevate hikers above the moist ground. In other cases, special bog-walking shoes will be provided by a guide.

9. Islands

Visiting islands are another option for things to do in Estonia. These islands often preserve specific cultural practices and offer unique sights for visitors who want to jump off the mainland.

For example, Saaremaa Island is known for its fortress. However, it also has manor houses, windmills, and historic structures that can be sought out and visited as a part of your exploration of the island. It’s Estonia’s largest island, so it’s easy to spend a day or two here without running out of things to see and do.

Saaremaa Island landscape with windmill and pines
Photo 243087266 / Estonia © Alexey Rezvykh | Dreamstime.com

Hiiumaa Island is often next on travelers’ list. It’s great for those who love to hike, love the coast, and love a laid-back island feel. Its food scene is also of note: visitors to the island can enjoy the seafood and fish dishes that have made a name for Hiiumaa on the Estonian food scene.

10. Food

One of the best things to do in Estonia is try the food. Whether you go for traditional cuisine or sample dishes from Estonia’s best restaurants, your foodie soul will be satisfied.

Traditional Estonian cuisine includes local and seasonal ingredients. Fish, including herring, is popular, as are local berries and mushrooms. Locally sourced game meats, buckwheat, locally made cheeses, dark bread, and blood sausage may also be elements to an Estonian meal.

Some of the best restaurants in Estonia incorporate local/traditional and seasonal ingredients into dishes that have a modern twist. Though many of these restaurants can be found in Tallinn, you’ll find excellent food throughout the country if you consult lists of best restaurants.

Of course, Estonia also brews local beers and spirits. It also makes wine—albeit not from grapes. To taste and learn about Estonia’s fruit, berry, and birch wines, follow the Estonian Wine Route to visit a variety of wine cellars, distilleries, and wineries.

Tip: Cookbooks of Estonian cuisine can be found in souvenir shops and bookstores with English-language sections. Consider taking one home with you and trying Estonian recipes at home as a way to extend the memory of your travel to Estonia.

11. Shopping

Shopping for gifts and souvenirs is one of the things to do in Estonia that will help you maintain your memories of your travels for years to come.

Enjoy shopping for Baltic folk art or Estonian folk art in dedicated shops or at markets. The vendors will be able to tell you about the techniques used to create the handicrafts and even the artist—or they may even be the artist themselves! You’ll find woolen hats and slippers, wooden utensils, ceramics, hand-picked herbal teas, and felted scarves.

Wooden dolls in Estonian clothing
Photo 239435079 / Estonia © Ryhor Bruyeu | Dreamstime.com

Also search out boutiques selling Estonian design. Estonian design may come in the form of clothing from natural fibers, jewelry, or interior décor. You may even find a favorite designer that you can order from in the future via the internet.

Also look for cosmetic products made of local ingredients, such as soaps, lotions, or skin creams.

Tip: Christmas markets in Tallinn and throughout Estonia are a great option for sourcing locally made products.

12. Seasonal Events

Seasonal events are one of the things to do in Estonia that may be more difficult to catch unless you plan your travel itinerary around them. However, if your trip coincides with an event or festival even coincidentally, you have the opportunity to enrich your experience through participating in holiday celebrations or cultural displays.

Midsummer

Midsummer marks the summer solstice.  Celebrants begin gathering on June 23 and often stay up through the night (which, in the northern latitude of Estonia, is extremely short on this day). Following the Baltic pagan tradition, people light bonfires for Midsummer, the bravest jumping over them.

While Midsummer may be a family event, towns and villages throughout Estonia will have public gatherings for Midsummer. One of those is Avinurme, which also hosts its Midsummer Fair during this time. The fair focuses on woodworking and the night ends with music and bonfires.

Christmas

Christmas in Estonia is one of the easiest holidays for travelers to enjoy in Estonia simply because Christmas markets and holiday trees extend the season in a public way. It’s also one of people’s favorite things to do in Estonia for winter travel.

Visit city centers to enjoy decorations and pay attention to events calendars, which fill with concerts and performances.

While in Tallinn, Christmas markets run throughout the month of December, in smaller cities in Estonia, they may have only a limited time of operation. Therefore, it pays to check in advance to determine when and where they’re happening.

Christmas tree in Kuressaare, Estonia, at night
Photo 239965839 / Estonia © Ryhor Bruyeu | Dreamstime.com

Easter

Easter in Estonia is another important holiday. While typically celebrated with families, travelers to Estonia during the Easter season can visit the Estonian Open-Air Museum to enjoy holiday games, workshops, Easter foods, and even an Easter church service.

Carnival

Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in Estonia is as equally pagan in origin as Midsummer. Because this day falls early in the spring, Estonians have long celebrated by playing in the snow—sledding down a frosted slope is one of the hallmark activities of this day.

Again, beyond city center celebrations, the Estonian Open-Air Museum is a good place to see Shrove Tuesday rituals in action.

However, if you’d like to enjoy Estonian Mardi Gras simply, head to a bakery (or wait in line to one) to buy one of the cream-filled pastries called vastlakukkel that are so integral to this day.

Independence Day

Estonian Independence Day happens twice a year: on February 24 and August 20. That’s because Estonia declared independence the first time in 1918 and then again when it broke free from the Soviet Union in 1991.

You’ll notice flags flown on Independence Day and may be able to see fireworks or a parade.  Also look for related events and concerts that celebrate Estonian independence.

Festivals

Festivals happen throughout the year and throughout the country in Estonia. While Tallinn may be the hub of most festival activity, it pays to check out festivals in other cities, which highlight local culture, food, and music.

Hanseatic Days—Cities such as Parnu and Viljandi are enthusiastic about their medieval festivals. Go back in time with food, music, costumes, and crafts during summertime Hanseatic Days festivals.

Seto Folk—The Seto people, who live in the southeastern part of Estonia, have strong cultural traditions. This festival puts that culture in the spotlight with traditional music, food, and crafts. You’ll also have plenty of opportunity to see people dressed in traditional Seto folk costume.

Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival—Estonia’s biggest film festival is an opportunity to view local, regional, and international films.

Tallinn Craft Beer Weekend—Love craft beer? This June festival allows attendees to try various craft beers in a single location.

Music festivals also take place throughout the country, including those focusing on electronic music, early music, opera, guitar, folk music, church music, and jazz. Some of these festivals also make a good excuse to visit Estonia’s islands.

Tip: For outdoor seasonal events, it’s important to know what to wear for the season. Consider the expected weather conditions and that you’ll be outside for an extended period of time.

It’s especially easy to underestimate the Northern European cold, so if you plan to visit during the chilly months, pack plenty of layering items and good socks and footwear. Dressing for winter in the Baltics requires some planning!

13. Tours

One of the best things to do in Estonia that both requires little effort on your part but offers multiple rewards in the information you receive and the experience you’ll have is to take a tour. Whether you take a walking tour, choose a tour for a specific activity, or undergo a multi-day tour, a knowledgeable guide will increase the value of your time.

A walking tour of Tallinn or another destination city is an excellent way to get your bearings and see the main sights without having to consult your phone or a guidebook—or missing something important while you’re in the vicinity! A free Tallinn walking tour (be sure to tip your guide!) may be just the way to go for the city’s capital, for example.

A brewery tour or a food and drink tour will introduce you to locally made beverages, cheeses, and other treats. Learn about traditional specialties and enjoy tasting something new.

Some tours will take you to regions of Estonia, for example, the coast or the islands. These tours may be a good option if you aren’t keen on driving but you’d like to see and learn as much as you can outside of the capital.

A Jewish heritage tour will tell you about the Jewish history of Estonia (or Tallinn, if that’s where your tour is focused).

Soviet-themed tours will increase your understanding of Soviet history in Estonia and show you some of the most intriguing places related to 20th-century history.

Of course, you can also customize a tour to suit your interests and time limitations. Guides are happy to take small groups on specialized tours of Estonia.

You may also consider a multi-country tour that includes the Baltics or perhaps the Baltics and Poland.

As you can see, things to do in Estonia are limited only by time and your imagination. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, a nature lover, someone who loves photography, or just a curious traveler, you’ll find sights and activities to appeal to your interests.

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