Estonia is taking over the EU Council presidency for the first time. It is therefore no wonder that the topics of information society and e-government are at the top of the list of priorities for the coming months. Estonia is the front-runner in terms of digitisation: in 2015, the smallest of all Baltic countries was voted "Most digital Country in the World". However, technical progress is only one side of this country, which offers so many surprises for its visitors.
- The Internet is a human right
It was only a small step to go from the singing revolution, in which Estonia won from 1987 to its independence in 1991, to the digital revolution. Since 2000, the government has guaranteed all its citizens access to the Internet. Almost the entire country is covered by a hot-spot network.
The Estonian government set a good example for its citizens. The Cabinet has been paperless since 1999. And it accelerated the digitisation of society. Today Estonia is a pioneer of digital management. Citizens can use over 600 e-government services. The Estonians only have to visit offices in person for marriages, divorces, or house purchases. Every citizen has their own digital signature. Estonia is also the first state to offer the possibility of a virtual residency, a so-called e-residency. As an e-resident one is not a citizen, but with the help of digital ID you can use various Estonian government services.
With its digital culture, Estonia is a highly fertile breeding ground for pioneering start-ups. The fact that Estonians played a key role in the development of the online video call service Skype, the Starship delivery robot and the TranferWise money transfer service is just one side of the coin. The other is the existence of around 400 start-ups across the country, the highest rate in terms of the population across Europe.
- Music as a cultural motor
Estonia is traditionally the country of music and singers, and Estonians have collective singing in their blood. The roots of the runic songs (Runolaulud) date back to the time before the birth of Christ. In the 18th century rhythmic folk song spread throughout Germany, also through German influences. Today the country has the world's largest collection of folk songs with more than 133,000 pieces. Between 1987 and 1991 the "Singing Revolution" took place in Estonia. At a single demonstration at the Lauluväljak, the singing festival in Tallinn, 300,000 people sang the national anthem, forbidden in Soviet times. Even today, one of the world's biggest choral music festivals, the Estonian Song Festival, brings more than 100,000 people to Tallinn every five years. And with Arvo Pärt, the country has the current most widely played composer of the world.
Certainly, not many countries offer a prison tour by canoe. However, little Rummu does. Because at the place where prisoners used to sweat in the stone quarry, there is now a lake. When the Russians left the country in 1991, no one worried about the abandoned prison at the quarry. When the ground water rose at a furious speed, it was too late for even a part of the excavation unit. Today, the old prison buildings that tower out of the water are almost picturesque. And definitely unique.
- Island paradise for spa lovers
The largest island of Estonia, Saaremaa, has been given the nickname "Spaaremaa" by Estonians. Because on the fourth largest island in the Baltic Sea, you will find the most spa resorts per inhabitant in the world. 14,000 inhabitants coexist with 1,200 spa guests.
- Football for advanced players
There is certainly no other football stadium that can be claimed by experts to have a world-famous tree growing on the pitch. This is the case at the Orissaare Stadium near the town of Kuressaare. Because the Soviets did not have the necessary technology to remove a huge oak of unknown age, the place was simply built around it. In the year 2015 the oak was even chosen as Europe's tree of the year. It is unfortunately not known whether the wooden team-mate has helped with the home team's dribbling skills.
Estonians loves to rock, and not only when they're young. So much so that they developed the most spectacular swing competition, the Kiiking. In 1996 the Estonian Ado Kosk came up with the idea of transforming the wooden trapezium of the Kiik, the traditional swing, into a construction made of steel. Since then it has been possible for people to do somersaults, daring 360-degree movements, and literally hang upside down. Everywhere in the country, these frames are now growing out of the ground. The Americans have caught the bug for this spectacular Kiiking.
- Take a stroll through the Middle Ages
One of the best preserved medieval cityscapes in Europe can be found in Tallinn's lower city and Domberg. While behind the ancient stone walls the inhabitants have long been living a life with the full range of digital amenities, the passer-by walk in a unique atmosphere, in the footprints of the past. UNESCO has long declared the Old Town to be a World Heritage Site.
Visitors to Estonia have one limitless resource: nature. With an average of 28.4 inhabitants per square kilometer, the Baltic country is among the most sparsely populated in Europe. Nature lovers also have more than 2,000 islands to discover. The coast line alone is 3,800 kilometers long. This creates boundless possibilities for hiking, diving, cycling, sea kayaking and whatever else can be enjoyed under the open sky.