Visiting Estonia: Things to know before you go

Estonia Tallinn Viru Gate travel blog

Viru Gate, the entrance into Tallinn’s Old Town

Estonia was one of the easiest countries I’ve travelled around made possible by excellent infrastructure and a high level of service. Below are some travel tips for visiting Estonia.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Visa: Estonia joined the EU in 2004, the same year it joined NATO. Estonia is part of the Schengen Agreement bloc which allows for free movement between Schengen member countries – a combination of EU and non-EU countries. Not all EU countries are members of Schengen. A Schengen visa entitles its holder to travel within Schengen countries for a period of no more than 90 days in a 180 day period. For further information on Schengen travel refer to the European Commission website.

Citizens from a number of countries can enter Estonia visa-free. Check out this page from the Estonian Embassy in Dublin to see if your country is on the list.

Language: Estonian is apparently one of the most difficult languages in the world to master. Not to worry, there is a high level of English fluency in Estonia. Eesti is the country’s Estonian name which is why Estonian website URLs end in the letters ‘ee’.

Roof tops of Tallinn

Even the graffiti in Estonia is in English!

Currency: Euro.

Time Zone: Estonia is GMT/BST +2 hours.

Estonia Geography: The Gulf of Finland borders Estonia’s north coast. Estonia is separated from Russia on its east side by Lake Pihkva, Lake Peipsi and the river Narva. South East Estonia shares a direct land border with Russia. Latvia lies to Estonia’s south. The Baltic Sea lies to Estonia’s west separating it from Sweden.

Estonia is a relatively flat country with the highest point only reaching 318 metres. Approximately 50% of the Estonian countryside is covered in forest.

Pirita Beach Tallinn

Pirita Beach, Tallinn

Estonia history: During the Middle Ages Estonia changed hands between the Danes and the Swedes until the Russians invaded in 1710 and stayed there until 1918. Independence only lasted until 1940 when the Soviet Union annexed Estonia as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a secret agreement between Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany to carve up Europe.

Estonia became independent once again in 1991 and I’ve outlined Estonia’s road to independence in my Nickname e-Stonia post.

Old Hansa Bar in Tallinn Old Town

Old Hansa Bar in Tallinn Old Town

Best time to visit Estonia: The weather is a big factor when visiting Estonia. Snow falls in October and stays there until March so a great time to visit if sub-zero temperatures are your thing. The shipping lanes between Tallinn and Helsinki are kept open with ice-breakers during this season. I visited in early October and it was bitterly cold, hovering between 3° and 8° Celsius with a constant Baltic wind. Only in the months of June, July and August does the temperature exceed 20°C.

Estonian people: I found people in service industries to be helpful, honest and efficient but in general I found the people to be of a shy disposition which meant casual conversation with locals was difficult to initiate at times, something solo travellers would notice most. Those that I did manage to engage with were exceptionally friendly and courteous.

Estonians are law-abiding, tolerant and not in the least bit intrusive. Estonia is the sort of place you could walk around with a parrot on your head and nobody would bother you.

Approximately a quarter of the population is ethnic Russian. Despite the ubiquitous presence of churches the overwhelming majority of Estonians are atheist.

Electrical plugs: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V. WIFI is widely available in Estonia.

Getting around Estonia: Estonia’s flat landscape makes it an easy country to traverse and ideal for a cycling holiday. With only a population of 1.3 million, Estonia doesn’t suffer from congested roads. This, along with an excellent road infrastructure, makes Estonia an easy country to drive in according to those whom I spoke to who rented cars. Bus travel was my main method of transport given its frequency, reliability and cheap cost. Tickets and timetables are available on the T pilet website.

Estonia’s domestic rail network serves the main cities and is operated by Elron. Tallinn has an excellent tram system.

tallinn-tram

Tallinn’s excellent tram system

Getting to Estonia: Visiting Estonia is easy as it’s at the epicentre of Baltic travel. Capital Tallinn is reached by ferry from Helsinki with several daily sailings. Tallinn is also connected to Stockholm and St. Petersburg by ferry.

Buses serve Estonia from Latvia, Lithuania and St. Petersburg. The LuxExpress bus service between Tallinn and St. Petersburg comes recommended and which I have covered in my St. Petersburg travel guide.

Passengers travelling by train from Latvia to Estonia will have to change to the Elron service at Valga. There is a direct train service from Tallinn to St. Petersburg.

Tallinn has good flight connections with the rest of Europe, served by a wide range of airlines. I flew direct to Tallinn with Ryanair from Dublin.

Food and drink: As I outlined in my Nickname e-Stonia post, Estonian food was a pleasant surprise. Meat is combined with berries whilst fish is cured for the winter as Estonia’s coast freezes during that season. Estonia is one of the best places in the world for spirits, particularly those of the warming variety.

vana-tallinn-pic

A small sample of Estonian liqueurs. Sugar crystals line the bottom of the Kannu Kukk bottle.

Is Estonia safe to visit: I found Estonia to be an exceptionally safe place to visit for solo female travellers. I saw boisterous groups of Brits and Finns availing of Estonia’s cheap alcohol at the weekend in Tallinn but it was more of a silly and annoying nature than threatening. Estonia is also a very clean country to visit with a big emphasis on the natural environment.

DESTINATIONS 

Nickname e-Stonia

I went to Estonia expecting relics of the Soviet Union only to find a piece of Scandinavia. In Nickname e-Stonia I look at how this former soviet state has re-invented itself as the tech capital of Europe.

TARTU_ AS SWEET AS IT SOUNDS

Despite the grey skies I found Tartu to be utterly charming with some of the best cafes I’ve visited. I explore this university city in Tartu: As sweet as it sounds.

VISITING ESTONIA: BOOKS AND RESOURCES 

Lonely Planet’s Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania guide proved to be a reliable resource.

The Oscar-nominated film, Tangerines, was my cultural immersion into Estonian prior to my visit.

Visiting Estonia

5 thoughts on “Visiting Estonia: Things to know before you go

    • ArrivalsHall says:

      Thanks for the comments, Mazoli. Estonian is apparently a very difficult language to learn and resembles few other language families. With one of the smallest populations in the EU I guess it’s not a widely spoken language either. Nevertheless, the English fluency in Estonia was superb – on par with Denmark and the Netherlands.

      Like

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