When most people visit Estonia, they think only of visiting the capital, Tallinn. And why not? With a picturesque Old Town and a setting along the shores of the Baltic Sea, it has plenty to offer visitors. But if you have the chance to get out of Tallinn for a day, you will see that there is a lot to see and do in Estonia beyond its capital city.
Lahemaa National Park
Lahemaa National Park is the largest national park in Estonia and one of the largest in Europe as well. Just an hour away from Tallinn, it is the perfect day trip destination. Nature lovers will enjoy the park’s 14 lakes, 8 rivers and 4 waterfalls, together with its acres of forest and splendid views of the Gulf of Finland. The park also features more than 800 plant species, more than 50 types of mammals and more than 200 different kinds of birds. Visitors can easily spend a whole day walking, hiking or bicycling around Lahemaa. You might also visit the four manors located within the park, the most popular of which is the Sagadi Manor, a rococo-style home built in the middle of the 18th century. Other possibilities are the Palmse, Vhula and Kolga manors.
About an hour and a half outside of Tallinn, you can find the town of Rakvere, which may be best known for the Rakvere Castle. Built by the Danes in the 14th century, the castle was converted into a manor home in the late 1600s. Today, it houses historical exhibits, artisan studios and medieval themed activities for children of all ages. In the summer, concerts and plays are often performed at the castle. Elsewhere in Rakvere, the Rakvere Museum is worth a visit, containing a variety of exhibits showcasing the town’s history. And don’t miss the 7-ton statue of a bull that was built to commemorate Rakvere’s 700th anniversary.
Narva sits on Estonia’s border with Russia and can make for a long day trip – it is about 3-4 hours from Tallinn each way. But if you are limited on time and want to see a different side of Estonia, it is well worth it. While it is the third largest city in Estonia, Narva has a population that is 95% Russian. The city was a significant trading point as early as the 12th century and, given its strategic location, has often been embroiled in border disputes. The highlight of the city is Narva Castle, which was built by the Danes in the 13th century and faces the Russian Ivangorod fortress across the narrow river that separates the two countries. Inside the castle you will find the Town Museum detailing Narva’s tumultuous history. Also keep an eye out for the 17th century Old Town Hall, the Voskresensky Cathedral and a monument to Estonians who were deported to Siberia by Stalin.
Another long day trip (although not quite as far as Narva), Tartu is Estonia’s university town and the second largest city in Estonia. Home to the University of Tartu, the city is about 3 hours from Tallinn by bus. Great views around the city abound as you can climb the 135 steps to the observation tower at the 14th century St John’s Church or make your way up Cathedral Hill, with the Tartu Cathedral perched at the top. Tartu is home to a plethora of museums, including the Estonia National Museum, the Tartu Art Museum, the University Art Museum, the Tartu Sports Museum, the KGB Cells Museum and the Toy Museum. The latter can be a big hit with kids as it displays a variety of dolls, model trains, rocking horses and toy soldiers, all about a century old. Really, there is enough to see and do in Tartu that you could spend 2 or 3 days exploring, but a day trip from Tallinn is a great start if you are short on time.