Interview with Neil Taylor, the author of the Bradt Guide to Estonia

Source: Priidu Saart, Visit Estonia

Interview with Neil Taylor, the author of the Bradt Guide to Estonia

For more than two decades, historian and travel author Neil Taylor has played an important role in promoting Estonian tourism both as a tour operator and a travel writer. Immediately after Estonian independence was restored in 1991, Neil started to specialise in travel to Estonia, bringing intrepid British travellers to the shores of this northernmost Baltic State.

Neil is the author of the Bradt Guide to Estonia and of Estonia A Modern History. He has been awarded an MBE for his outstanding contribution to the UK's bilateral relationship with Estonia and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the British Guild of Travel Writers. Thanks to Neil's storytelling, curiosity and substantial research, Bradt's Estonia reaches all corners of the country. The guide offers extensive coverage of Estonia's complex cultural history while also offering comprehensive practical information. Just everything a modern traveller needs.

Bradt's Estonia remains the only English language guidebook to Estonia. The eighth edition reveals more of the country than any previous guide.

The author Neil Taylor

Photo by: Neil Taylor

The newest edition of Bradt's Estonia just got published. What has changed since 2014?

The Estonian National Museum (ERM) opened its doors outside of Tartu. It is a big thing. Not only because of a new, modern museum introducing the Finno-Ugric culture to the world but also because how well the accessibility issues have been solved, including having access to a place like that with public transport.

Estonian National Museum in Tartu

Photo by: Tarmo Haud, Visit Estonia

The major change has been with the museums. It is quite remarkable. They started as rather academic institutions but are now catering to families and to everyone outside the academic community. New museums have popped up all over the country. The entire Noblessner area in Tallinn has changed extensively since 2014, it is now filled with art and entertainment centres, restaurants, you name it. There is a new museum (Pärnu Museum) in Pärnu. The change I am talking about also pertains to accessibility. The museums are now accessible to the disabled and to people who would not otherwise go to a museum.

The chapter on Narva has been extended a lot. The castle has been adapted to family groups, events are being held at the Kreenholm factory. Kreenholm is now functioning as an art centre and is very much a destination in its own right. Changes in Narva have been greater than anywhere else, so that is why that chapter has been extended the most.

The chapters on Viljandi and on the Valga-Valka twin town have been adapted as well. Viljandi has renovated their Park Hotel and the Old Water Tower. And then there are all the expected developments, new restaurants and food places, all over the country. Hiiumaa has changed a lot since the last edition, particularly with the opening of the Windtower. With a combination of the variety of restaurants opening, the new Windtower and the expansion of the museums, a lot has happened in the last 5-6 years. Hiiumaa now offers more to foreign tourists.

Another change has been the transport. That's the big difference between editions 7 and 8: how good the new trains are. The train station in Rakvere has reopened and getting to Tartu and Narva is very fast. Trains in Estonia are a joy.

What are the most exciting future tourism projects that could be interesting for travellers to Estonia?

Rail Baltic. It will change the dynamics of the region and will definitely be part of the 9th edition of the guidebook as well. Hopefully there will be more air connections. (It would be lovely to have British Airways back!) I know Saaremaa hopes to have air links to Sweden. It was supposed to happen in 2020 but then covid got to it. Hopefully, it will still happen as it would be a good commercial route for future travellers.

There will also be a tram link between the Tallinn port and the airport. I think all the additional public transport links will enhance the travel experience for the visitors a great deal.

In Tallinn by bike

Photo by: Rasmus Jurkatam, Visit Estonia

What sights and places would you suggest for first-time visitors to Estonia?

It depends on the time of the year. If one chooses to travel in late autumn, I'd recommend an urban-based destination, like Tallinn or Tartu. The places you would want to see in Tartu are close, so you can move between museums and galleries easily. Pärnu also has attractions that are very close, so that would be another good destination. Narva is a very open destination, so it is nicer to visit in reasonable weather to enjoy more of the open air. So I would recommend it as snow or a summer destination. Rakvere is en route to Narva, so one could enjoy their lovely spa, and visiting in the off-season means that you will probably get good rates.

For the first-time summer visitor, my main recommendation is: get out of Tallinn! This is also one of the main purposes of the Bradt guidebook – to make people understand that there is a great deal to see in Tallinn but you must go further. In Tartu and Saaremaa the hotel prices are always a lot lower as well. Saaremaa is a totally different experience altogether. The capital of Saaremaa, Kuressaare has not changed architecturally, so it still looks like it looked in the early 20th century, as the town luckily was not bombed.

Kuressaare in Saaremaa island

Photo by: Priidu Saart, Visit Estonia

Do you have any must-read travel books of all time?

This is a nuanced question. For example, Bill Bryson is a very good writer but he does not provide a background to a particular country. The same thing applies to Colin Thubron. Thubron spends months in areas that no ordinary tourists visit, so for most travellers, this route is impractical unless you have got months to spare.

In this sense, I don't think these two writers are relevant to tourists. Some countries, of course, do have books that speak about areas where tourists go. Patrick Leigh Fermor writes on Greece in a way that makes the reader really feel the atmosphere of the country. And then there is Anthony Peregrine, a brilliant writer who is writing on France for the Sunday Times. Each of his articles on France is a piece of art. They would be a perfect introduction to people who don't know the country or think they know it but want to learn new things.

But in the case of Estonia, there are pre-war writers but there has not been anyone in recent decades who has written a very specific book that provides the atmosphere of what it feels like to be in Estonia. A book that would supplement the Bradt guidebook, for example. But I guess it is easier to find that information online right now.

Which places in Estonia are your personal favourites?

Kuressaare on a summer evening when you get the long sunsets and the castle as the background. And the sun is setting very slowly. That always gives me great pleasure.

One thing I have not been able to do yet is to drive a car on the ice road. I hope that one of my visits to Estonia will coincide with the ice roads being open. Then I could drive to Saaremaa.

An Estonian ice road

Photo by: Mart Vares, Visit Estonia

Last updated : 12.06.2022

In category: Tallinn, South Estonia, West Estonia, Islands, North Estonia