The Republic of Estonia was a Soviet state until 1991. Its northern border lies on the Gulf of Finland. The Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea are on Estonia’s western coast.
Estonia has two large lakes and several smaller ones. Lake Vorts-Jarv is between Tarvatsu and Elva in the south central region. In the east, the border between Estonia and Russia divides freshwater Lake Peipsi and Lake Pskov almost in half.
Almost half of the land area of Estonia is forested. The forests, with their abundance of wildlife, are one of the main attractions of the country.
Warm summers and fairly harsh winters characterize the climate, one which is comparable to that of the New England states.
Estonia was an independent country until sometime in the 1200′s A.D. Then a succession of foreign conquerors each left their imprint upon Estonian culture. These included the Danes, the Germans, the Polish, and the Swedes. Russia, which became the Soviet Union, was the last to rule over Estonia.
Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, is on the north central coast. Tallinn is a port city with a carefully preserved medieval quarter and architectural remnants from the Tsarist and Soviet periods. The medieval portion of Tallinn is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and is one of the most often photographed scenes in Estonia. The spire of St. Nicholas’s Church is prominent in photos of this part of Tallinn.
On the northeast corner of Estonia overlooking the Narva River and Russia is the city of Narva. The city is noted for its fifteenth century Knights’ Fortress which is now a museum.
The city of Haapsalu on the northwest coast is the site of a thirteenth century castle. The mud baths were once a favorite of the Russian tsars and their families.
The coastal city of Parnu is one of the main tourist areas in Estonia. On the Gulf of Riga in the southwest, Parnu’s beach, the fourteenth century Red Tower, mud baths, and several hotels contribute to its popularity.
Tartu is a southeastern city with the second largest population in Estonia. It lies on the Emajogie River. Tartu’s Raekoja Plats, or Town Hall Square, is worth a visit as well as Cathedral Hill and St. John’s Church and the Botanical Gardens on the University grounds.
Otepaa near Tartu is the resort area of Estonia visited by people who want to enjoy winter. Small hills offer downhill skiing, bobsledding, ski jumping, and snowboarding. In the southeastern corner of the country, the highest point in Estonia, Munamagi, ascends to 1,042 feet.
Several islands belonging to Estonia are located off the coast. The largest islands off the west coast are Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
Saaremaa is the site of Vilsandi National Park on its western shore and Kuressaare Castle on the south central shore. In various locations like at Angla on this island are windmills which are over a century old as well as Valjala St. Martin’s Church, the first church built in Estonia.
The island of Hiiumaa is home to Tahkuna lighthouse and Kopu lighthouse, believed to be the oldest lighthouse in the world. Tourists should try to visit Ristimagi, the Hill of Crosses, and Saaretirp, a narrow peninsula which juts out into the sea for a few miles.
The island of Vormsi is the site of eleven ancient villages and an 1864 lighthouse at Saxby on the west coast. The island is fourth largest in the country.
To soak in Estonian tradition, take a trip to Kihnu Island in the Gulf of Riga. The island is only seven kilometers long but has three main villages where the Russian Orthodox religion reflects in the song, dance, and customs.
Ruhnu Island in the Gulf of Riga is another small Estonian island. It has one of Estonia’s oldest wooden buildings, a church built in 1644. The beautiful sand Limo beach, forest land, and an unusual metal lighthouse round out the sights on this tiny island.
For anyone wishing to see the remains of Soviet occupation, the island of Naissaar north of Tallinn and the city of Paldiski on the northwest coast were the sites of Soviet naval bases and now tourist sites.
Some specifically Estonian culinary dishes include blood sausage, eels, and a stew made with sauerkraut, barley, and pork. Other sources of food come from Estonia’s forests, farmlands, and the Baltic Sea.
Estonians celebrate many of the same holidays as other countries around the world, including New Year’s Day, Good Friday and Easter, and Christmas Day. They also observe Independence day on February 24, Victory Day on June 23, Re-Independence Day on August 20, and Boxing Day on December 26.