A wooden archway with a tip at the top frames a wooden pathway into the park.

The essential guide to visiting Estonia

Here’s everything you need to know about exploring this compact Baltic nation—when to go, where to stay, what to do, and how to get around.

Soomaa National Park is a diverse landscape of forests, rivers, and meadows that flood in the spring. It’s one of the many highlights in Estonia, a nation of just 1.3 million people.
Photograph By Maris Kurme / Alamy

Why you should visit Estonia 

Medieval marvels in Tallinn’s Old Town. Lively street art in Tartu. Golden-sand beaches in Pärnu. The 160 islands of Vilsandi National Park

Best time to visit Estonia 

Spring: Canoe through the forests of Soomaa National Park during the “fifth season,” when the park floods between March and April. Estonia ranks second in Europe for bird diversity. Spot six species of eagle, and eight of the nine European woodpecker species in Matsalu National Park and Nõva Nature Reserve. Bring your binoculars in March for the spring migration that peaks in mid-May.  

Summer: Head to the Estonian Open Air Museum in Tallinn to take part in the Midsummer (Jaanipäev ) festivities with bonfires and folk music on the eve of June 23. This is the time to sample seasonal Estonian foods, such as Arctic char and the sweetened curd dessert kohuke. Relax in one of the many spas on Saaremaa island. 

Autumn: Spot brown bears in Alutaguse National Park or go for a bog shoe walk in Estonia’s wetlands. Admire the achievements of modern design at the week-long Tallinn Design Festival (Disainiöö) in September. 

Winter: Munch on Estonian gingerbread cookies while sipping hot mulled wine at one of the Christmas markets in Tallinn, Tartu, or smaller cities. With no mountains—Estonia’s highest point Suur Munamägi rises to 1,043 feet—Pärnu’s windy and flat coastline offers ideal conditions for winter kiteboarding. 

Lay of the land  

Cities: Rent a bike to explore Tallinn’s medieval Old Town. A mile away, the 173-acre Kadriorg Park is home to contemporary and international art museums. Telliskivi Creative City is the site of the famed photography museum FotografiskaTartu, the oldest city in the Baltics, has a rich street art scene. Join a tour or use the street art map to find them solo. Spa towns such as Narva-Jõesuu and Pärnu offer winter and summer beachside activities such as fatbiking, kicksledging, and ice fishing.  

East: Lighthouses, colorful cottages, and old mansions dot the area around Lake Peipus, the largest lake to connect two countries in Europe. Learn about the Russian Old Believers’ (Russian Orthodox traditionalists who fled persecutions across the border in the 17th century) traditions, such as samovar tea ceremonies and handicrafts, at the Peipsimaa Heritage Center or take a tour of the 17th-century Alatskivi Castle

(On this matriarchal European island, ancient customs thrive.)

South: Wander through the streets of Viljandi, the folk music center of southern Estonia, during medieval fairs, music and heritage festivals, and Hanseatic Days

West: The historic spa towns Pärnu and Haapsalu hug the coast of the Baltic Sea in western Estonia. Take a ferry to one of the dozens of islands in the West Estonian Archipelago, where you can hike or bike through juniper groves or tour 19th-century lighthouses and windmills. 

North: Discover a mix of cutting-edge galleries and medieval Hanseatic architecture in the country’s capital and biggest city, Tallinn. Drive 50 miles east of town to tour the ornate grounds of Palmse Manor in Lahemaa National Park, the first and largest park in Estonia. 

Getting around Estonia  

By plane: There are domestic flights between Tallinn Airport and regional hubs, including Kuressaare airport in Saaremaa.  

By bus: LuxExpress is the primary provider in Estonia. Buy tickets via the app or the Tpilet website.

By train: Eesti Raudtee (EVR) is the state-owned railway company that operates between main cities. Purchase tickets on Elron.ee, at the stations, or o the train. Travel time from Tallinn to Tartu is just over two hours. 

By car: Highways T1, T2, T4, and T11 connect the main cities. T1 is the main national road connecting Tallinn with Narva. As in most European countries, motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road in Estonia.

By ferry: Regular ferries connect larger islands, including Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, and KihnuTour operators sail from Tallinn to the smaller islands and cruise ships to Helsinki and Stockholm. 

Know before you go 

Languages: Estonian is the official language. Russian is the most spoken minority language. 

LGBTQ+: Same-sex couples can legally marry and jointly adopt starting January 1, 2024, making Estonia the first ex-Soviet state to legalize same-sex marriage. 

How to visit Estonia sustainably 

Outdoors:  The State Forest Management Centre (RMK) provides an app for all free camping sites in the country and hiking trails. Help preserve the forests by staying on the main trail, road, or marked spurs. 

With 50 percent of the nation covered by forest, Estonia is a forager’s dream. The Estonian State Forest Management Centre has compiled a list of best mushroom and berry picking spots nearby camping areas across the country. Not sure what to pick? Go foraging with a local guide

Shopping: Tallinn is a treasure trove for vintage shopping. Favoring locally made products, Estonians have a long tradition in producing art in fiber, woodwork, and pottery. Look for shops marked with the Certified Estonian Artisanal Craft label from the Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union to ensure authenticity.

Dining: Eco-friendly dining spots are popping up in the capital city and elsewhere. Search for eco-tourism quality label “EHE” (Genuine and Interesting Estonia) that shows the restaurant is making sustainable choices. Find an abundance of local flavors at farmers markets in Viimsi, Lõunakeskus, Pärnu, and Saaremaa

What to read 

The Ropewalker, by Jaan Kross. The leading Estonian writer’s historical novel tells the tale of Balthasar Russow, a chronicler and witty social climber from the 16th century. 

Estonian Folk Tales, edited by Piret Päär and Anne Türnpu. This collection of dark stories offers a glimpse into the Estonian psyche. 

Estonia: A Modern History, by Neil Taylor. The University of Estonia professor charts the country’s turbulent history, from Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian occupation to its present-day prosperity.

(For more tips on what to do in Estonia, see our Explorer’s Guide.)

Go with Nat Geo: National Geographic Expeditions offers an Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia: Enchanted Forests and Medieval Castles itinerary.
Paula Hotti is a Finland-based travel journalist and writer. Follow her on Instagram. 

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