Estonia has more unicorns than anywhere else in the world. No, not the mythical creature, but tech start-ups that have reached more than a billion-dollar valuation. Aside from its buzzy businesses, this compact nation of 1.3 million people is a trove of nature, off-grid oases, and UNESCO-recognized cultural sites. Here are the top 10 ways to visit.
Meet ghosts in Tallinn’s Old Town
Tallinn’s well-preserved Old Town is best explored via guided walking tours, where you can learn about the Gothic architecture and Hanseatic legacy of this city dating to the Middle Ages. But be wary of the restless spirits that are said to haunt this UNESCO World Heritage site. A ghost and legends tour tells the tales of those who came before, providing deeper insight into Estonia’s turbulent past.
Discover the distinct flavors of historic Estonia
Want to know what it was like to dine with a wealthy merchant during the Hanseatic era? At Olde Hansa, in Tallinn, dishes made from 700-year-old recipes are served in a medieval-style dining room, complete with roving troubadours playing works by 15th-century composers.
Sip a beer at Estonia’s first microbrewery
Estonia is experiencing a brewery boom. Try a citrusy grapefruit or gently roasted caramel IPA or join a tour at the Põhjala Brewery, the country’s first microbrewery in the historical Noblessner district. After a round, take a brisk walk to Telliskivi Creative City, a former industrial site turned artistic space featuring galleries, indie shops, restaurants, and the famed international photography art center and museum, Fotografiska Tallinn.
Sail like an Olympian
Estonia has never hosted the Olympics. But during the 1980 Moscow Games, the sailing events were held in the Gulf of Finland, off Tallinn. You can channel this chapter of Olympics sailing history at the Tallinn Olympic Sailing Center in Pirita, a 15-minute drive from the capital, or join a boat trip to nearby Tallinn Bay.
Immerse yourself in a world of color and design
With more than 40 art museums, Estonia is a powerhouse in the international art world. Stop into the Tallinn Design House, in the Rotermann Quarter, for a unique Estonian-made souvenir and then walk along Stalkers Path, featured in Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi drama Stalker. The short trail leads to the new PoCo Pop & Contemporary Art Museum, displaying works by artists from Basquiat to Warhol.
Stroll the streets of the European Capital of Culture
In a two-hour drive by bus, train, or car from Tallinn to south Estonia, travelers can explore the blooming university town Tartu, the European Capital of Culture in 2024. Visitors will be able to join the dozens of events showcasing the historical and cultural heritage of Estonia’s second-largest town, such as Kissing Tartu, and Surrealism 100. During the summer, ride the wooden barge “Jõmmu,” a unique medieval vessel locally designed for inland waters, or the Viking ship Turm in the Emajõgi River, the only waterway in Estonia that is fully navigable.
Gaze into the cosmos
Take a tour of Tartu Observatory’s Stellarium, the largest astronomical observatory in Estonia, to see why the nation is a promising player in the European space industry. While there, learn about Estonia’s student satellite project ESTCube, the prototype of Estonia’s first satellite ESTCube-1, which launched into space in 2013.
Travel back in time at Estonia’s largest museum
At the Estonian National Museum, or ERM, visitors can dive into Estonia’s fascinating history. Don’t miss the permanent exhibition “Echo of the Urals,” an indispensable primer on the folkloric traditions and customs of the Finno-Ugric people, and consider taking a class on traditional embroidery and needlecraft.
Walk across Estonia on forested trails
Dozens of walking trails extend from one end of the country to the other, making it possible to walk the length of the country. If you’re up for the challenge, try the 500-mile Peraküla-Aegviidu-Ähijärve hiking route, which begins in Peraküla in the north to Ähijärve in the south. Such forested routes are best tackled from early July to late October, when plants and mushrooms are in abundance. Going with a guide is recommended, especially if you want to try foraging.
Spot rare birds in Matsalu National Park
Matsalu National Park, in west Estonia, is one of Europe’s most important waterfowl resting areas between the Arctic and Western Europe. It is one of the few places in the Baltics where birdwatchers can see them migrate and nest every spring and autumn. Climb to the park’s birding tower, near the north shore of Matsalu Bay, to spot the rare capercaillie and more common broad-billed sandpiper.