As restrictions against international travel slowly begin to ease, a visit to Estonia should be at the top of your post-lockdown wish list. With a distinctive geographical landscape, including over 2,000 islands and the phenomenon of a fifth season, visitors to Estonia can experience the wonder of this unusual environment. To inspire your future visit, here at the top 10 things you didn’t know about Estonia.
1. Estonia has one of the most digitally advanced societies in the world.
With 99% of all government services – including voting in elections – available online, Estonia is considered to have one of the world’s most sophisticated digital infrastructures. Named by Wired as the most advanced digital society in the world, Estonia is home to more start-ups per person than Silicon Valley. One of the country’s most well-known digital enterprises is Skype, which was invented in Estonia in 2003. With one of the best internet connections in the world, visitors to Estonia can stay connected even in remote parts of the country.
2. You can take a hike in an ancient bog.
One-fifth of the Estonian landscape covered by bogs, the most ancient of which date back over 10,000 years. The uniqueness of these bogs makes them a crucial part of Estonian culture and folklore, where they are hailed as places of peace and mystery. Completely uninhabited, the landscapes are only populated by those who visit them, keeping their mystifying feel. It is recommended to visit at either sunrise or sunset, when the limited light makes the area feel even more mystifying.
On a tour of the Kõrvemaa bog – an area of untouched hills, forests and lakes, just 60km from Tallinn– visitors can follow boardwalks or walk in the wet area in specially adapted bog shoes to understand how they were created. It is also possible to swim in one of the bog lakes, which is particularly memorable at sunrise.
3. There is a fifth season.
Each year, Estonia experiences the phenomenon of a fifth season in between winter and spring. Created by a temporary rise in the water levels after the winter snow thaws, the season is characterised by the annual flooding. The increased water levels create new pathways on the roads and throughout the forests, so many residents take to boat or canoes as their mode of transport. The fifth season is best seen in the Soomaa National Park, as those who reside close to the national parks have developed inventive ways to enjoy this unusual time. A particular highlight here is the Tuhala Witch’s Well. Named as the Wonder of Estonia in 2012, the well overflows from late March to early April, creating a flow of 100 litres per season. This ancient phenomenon and natural spectacle is mesmerizing to watch.
4. Smoke saunas are an important wellness tradition.
Included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritages, Estonia’s smoke saunas are a long-standing and unique tradition. Originated in the community of Vōromaa in southern Estonian, the saunas have been part of the area’s culture since the 13th century. Over hundreds of years, the specific processes of the smoke sauna have been mastered to create the exceptional experience that is still enjoyed today. The sessions can last between three and five hours, during which, the saunas are fumed by the scent of burning wood, meat aromas as well as birch and honey. Bathers often beat their bodies with a tree branch whisk, which exfoliates the skin and stimulates blood circulation. After the ritual, users cool off outside and rinse their bodies with cold water. Many spas have a cold pool next to the smoke saunas especially for this purpose.
5. Their capital city, Tallin, is a blend of history, culture and coastline.
Although Tallinn is known as being one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, the Estonian capital is also a modern and vibrant cultural hub, with extensive options for galleries, dining and shopping. For those interested in art, a visit to Telliskivi Creative City is highly recommended. Originally an abandoned factory area, the location has been revitalized and transformed into an urban space, which now houses the biggest artistic hub in Estonia. As a coastal capital, visitors to Tallinn benefit from the mixture of city panoramic views, and picturesque views of the Baltic Sea.
6. There are over 2,000 islands to visit.
Estonia is home to over 2,000 different islands, each with their own charm, picturesque landscapes and long-standing traditions. The islands offer a relaxing and authentic experience, allowing visitors to see a different side of Estonia. Just a short ferry trip from Pärnu is Kihnu, the seventh largest island in Estonia. Inhabited by a community of seafarers and fishermen, the culture of Kihnu is largely centered around the residents’ relationship to the ocean. The women of Kihnu are the keepers of the island’s heritage: as the men spend much of their time at sea, the women look after the island. Recognised on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, a trip to Kihnu is a fascinating experience for immersing in the culture and ancient traditions. Visitors can take a trip to sea with a local fishing leader or watch the local folk bands perform a concert.
7. The city of Tartu has one of the most titled buildings in Europe.
Estonia’s second city, Tartu, is home to the one of the most titled buildings in Europe. Interestingly, Tartu’s Leaning House, part of the Tartu Art Museum, leans at a greater angle than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Whilst you are marveling at the sloping building, visit the rest of the art museum, which is the largest in southern Estonia and houses a diverse collection of post 18th-century Estonian and foreign works.
8. Foraging is a big part of food culture.
With such an abundance of forests, it is no surprise that foraging plays a significant part in Estonia’s food culture. From mid-July to October, visitors can take a guided tour through the marshes, bogs and forests to search for berries and mushrooms, which are prevalent in these areas. The tours are led by an experience forager who hikes with the guests to find places with the best delicacies, whilst imparting their wisdom as to what to pick and how to store the produce through the winter.
Estonia’s fine-dining restaurants and chefs’ tables are often centered around seasonal and foraged produce. These dining experiences provide a great introduction to Estonian cuisine, as the landscape of the country is evoked through the food.
9. You can go bear watching.
Estonia is home to approximately 700 brown bears, which is the highest population density of bears in Europe. More than half of the bears can be found in Alutaguse, a taiga forest in north-eastern Estonia and just a two-hour drive from Tallinn. The best time of year to spot the bears is from the end of April to mid-July, and mid-August to the end of October. During these times, the bears have awoken from their winter hibernation and the females give birth, giving the wonderful opportunity to spot a mother bear with her newborn cubs.
10. You can live here as a digital nomad.
For those who can work fully remotely, moving to Estonia as a digital worker may be something to consider. Estonia's e-Residency programme is open to individuals from all countries, and allows people to work digitally from Estonia, or to start and run an EU-company. The scheme provides a government-issued digital identity which gives access to Estonia's services and business environment. With more people working from home than ever, the e-Residency scheme gives many workers the opportunity to switch up their environment and start living and working in a new and exciting environment.