Mention Tallinn and some might scramble to look up in which country this city is located. Some might even have only a fuzzy idea where exactly Estonia is. It is a nation that has progressed very well after independence from Russia and established itself as one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world.
If you are visiting Helsinki in Finland and have time, do not miss taking a ferry across to Tallinn. Be sure you know exactly from which port the ferry is leaving. My partner and I mistook the two and had to take a taxi from the wrong one to the right one. Luckily we were early.
You could opt for the regular ferry ticket or go for the Executive Lounge which boasts comfortable sofas and armchairs and free beverages and snacks.
The Tallinn old town is lovely and quaint, with forts, museums and ancient buildings to explore and quite a few good restaurants to discover.
Should you have more time, rent a car and explore the Estonian countryside and coastal areas. It might appear to be sparsely populated – population is only 1.3 million – but if you, like us, don’t like crowds, it’s perfectly fine. Book your accommodation ahead of time as there aren’t many in rural counties.
After two nights in Tallinn Old Town, my partner and I rented a car to drive to a quaint country resort that seemed suspended in time. On the way, we stopped at a swampy forest reserve named Viru Bog and walked into it on a boardwalk, which became 30cm narrow at one point beyond a lookout tower. The vegetation, lakes and ponds made for an interesting outing and discovery.
At one point in the bog area, we came across several women with toddlers and children having a picnic and splashing in a lake. We wondered how they wheeled their bicycles down the narrow boardwalk with kids in tow and a heavily pregnant woman as well.
People ask when is the best time to visit Estonia. I’d say it depends on what you like. If you don’t mind crowds in Tallinn Old Town and the heat, go in summer. If not, try late spring – late May to mid-June – or early autumn (September). For a tropical person, it is memorable to experience the late-night sunset. We visited Estonia in the second week of June and temperatures were pleasant. Sometimes it was cool in the evening especially when it was windy.
The most long-lasting impression my partner and I have of Estonia are the surprisingly good fine dining restaurants with modern and creative chefs: CRU and Von Krahli in Tallinn, Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa restaurant in Vosu, and the seaside restaurant-cum-guesthouse called Ruhe on the Neeme peninsula.
We also had coffee outside on the deck at Ruhe in the afternoon and a constant sea breeze made us wrap ourselves up in the blankets provided.
You might prefer the touristy restaurants in Tallinn where waiters dress up as peasants or squires of the Middle Ages, but we did not.
Estonia is for visitors who love nature and wildlife. It has five national parks and 159 nature reserves, with many endangered animals and birds no longer found in some European countries.
My partner likes the quietness and calm afforded by deserted beaches with interesting landscapes: boulders from the Ice Age and tall, reeds growing in the sand, and straight trees in the forest near the calm deep-blue sea.
On the north coastal area near Neeme, we saw round rocks in the shallows and on the beach – rocks that were rolled down by glaciers a million years ago. They afford a quiet time contemplating what they have seen of the Earth, its creatures and human life.
Host to human settlements as far back as 9000 BC, Estonia offers soul and history alongside modernity and nature. Estonians clearly have come a long way.