Sustainable tourism is the key to making sure generations to come will still be able to enjoy the natural world and local cultures. The eco-friendly mindset has long been part of the Estonian ethos. Just look at World Cleanup Day. This country of 1.3 million convinced more than 18 million people to come together to clean up the planet and has been doing so for over ten years.
The population of Estonia may be small, but there are thousands of people dedicated to developing and maintaining sustainable tourism destinations throughout the country. If you want to join the "green" tourism movement in Estonia, we've got you covered. These tips will show you how you can make sure that future generations can enjoy the experience of travel as much as you do today.
Trains, bikes, and buses — these are the most sustainable modes of transport. Luckily, Estonia is a compact country making it easy to get where you want to go without a car. From Tallinn, take a train to Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, or to Narva, to explore adventurous East Estonia. The train can also get you to Rakvere and its medieval castle, or to Viljandi, where you can enjoy a bite at MICHELIN Bib Gourmand restaurant Fellin.
Inter-city buses can also get you anywhere you need to go throughout the country. Even as you explore the countryside, you'll notice sheltered bus stops along the road. Bus travel does involve planning your trips around the bus schedule, but it allows you to travel with a smaller carbon footprint and is much more cost-efficient than renting a car. To help you out, we've created a weeklong itinerary that allows you to see the highlights of Estonia by bus.
Biking is also a popular way to get around many Estonian towns. Tartu has an immensely popular bike-sharing program called Smart Bike Share. Since 2019, users have taken over 2.5 million trips and biked more than 6.6 million kilometers! Buses in Tartu are also a green option as they run on locally produced biofuel.The countryside is quite flat, so long-distance biking is a viable option, as well. Quiet backroads take you past picturesque farm fields and forests.
Even a trip to the islands can be done sustainably as one of the two ferries traveling between Saaremaa and Muhumaa is a hybrid ferry.
McDonald's may be tempting for a quick bite to eat, but a more sustainable option would be to spend money on local food. Try out a pirukas, a flaky pastry filled with meat, vegetables, cheese, or fruit as a handheld snack to eat while on the move.
Local, seasonal ingredients also feature prominently in the Estonian restaurant scene. Check out the MICHELIN Guide's Green Star recommendations for the most sustainable, eco-friendly dining options in the country. While there are only two that met the Guides demanding criteria, there are many other restaurants and cafes specializing in local products, such as Estonian dairy and fish from Lake Peipsi.
Food isn't the only place to spend locally. Seek out Estonian designers and handicrafts for your souvenirs. Estonia has a rich history of fiber arts, woodworking, and pottery. Plus, you can find Estonian-made cosmetics, soaps, and candles. Traditional arts and the natural environment have also inspired fashion designers in recent years. There are even local designers dedicated to sustainable fashion, such as Reet Aus, whose upcycled collections are made from post-production leftovers.
Foraging is a national pastime in Estonia, and the forests are full of tasty treasures. Depending on the season, you can find mushrooms, wild garlic, blueberries, cranberries, and cowberries. If you don't know where to go, then go with a guide — their expert knowledge can keep you from picking the wrong thing.
After you fill up a basket in the forest, head to a local market for the rest of your ingredients. Hearty black bread is an Estonian staple; it's the perfect complement to any home-cooked meal. You can also try sausage made from moose or wild boar, smoked fish and cheese, pickles and pickled pumpkin, and kohuke, a chocolate-covered dessert made from kohupiim.
Estonia's capital city is compact, and Old Town Tallinn is best enjoyed on foot. Wander down cobblestone streets and climb the stairs to the upper Old Town lookouts. It's also easy to branch out from there to Kadriorg and Kalamaja on foot as well. Walking tours in Tartu and Tallinn can also help you get a feel for the neighborhoods of these two cities. For example, check out the SmartEnCity Art Tour in Tartu for a close-up look at street art done by local graffiti artists.
Estonia is also home to thousands of kilometers of hiking trails. Many are kid-friendly, especially the shorter, circular trails, and most are well-marked by the Estonian forest service. You can also try out sections of longer trails, such as the Baltic Coastal Hiking Route or the Camino Estonia, a pilgrimage route connecting Estonia to the Camino Santiago in Spain.
There are a few programs in place in Estonia that help you to choose the more sustainable way of travel:
There are also a number of food labels you can look for as you travel the country. For example, on Saaremaa, look for EHTNE. This label is given to foods and culinary products made from raw ingredients grown on Saaremaa or taken from the Baltic Sea.
High volumes of tourists can stress local resources. By staying longer in a place and away from the typical tourist attractions, you'll be practicing more sustainable tourism. Simply by visiting Estonia, you've already gone off the beaten path. But once you're here, it's easy to lose track of time and spend days walking deserted beaches, hiking through untouched forests with only the birds for company, or poking around quaint villages without another tourist in sight.
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