Tucked away in the Baltics, Estonia has become a popular destination thanks to cheap flights, beautiful cities, a wild nightlife, and the country’s stalwart support for digital nomads and remote workers (it’s also a popular spot for cruisers since many ships stop there as well).
Unlike the stereotypes many people have about Eastern Europe, Estonia is a modern, organized, and tech-forward country and has more startups than Silicon Valley! Everything is done online here.
With more than 1,500 islands, swaths of untouched old-growth forests, and historic castles and churches, Estonia seamlessly blends old and new. I loved my time here. Be sure to get out of Tallinn, too. There’s more to the country than just its capital.
This travel guide to Estonia can give you the tips and tricks you need for visiting on a budget so you can plan the ultimate adventure without breaking the bank.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Estonia
1. Party in Tallinn
2. Visit Pärnu
3. Get lost in Vanalinn
4. Relax in Saaremaa
5. Visit Lahemaa National Park
Other Things to See and Do in Estonia
1. Spot wildlife in Soomaa National Park
Soomaa National Park is one of the most magical natural landscapes in Estonia. Spread out over 359 square kilometers (138 sq mi), the park is home to elk, deer, boar, lynx, wolves, beavers, bears, and more. Located 140km south of Tallinn, the park is a popular getaway for hikers. The nearby Raudna River and Parnu Basin also offer up the opportunity to kayak and canoe. Much of the park floods in the spring, giving you the chance to explore the forests via canoe/kayak. Admission to the park is free. Canoe and kayak rentals cost 25 EUR. Guided tours also cost 25 EUR.
2. Go skiing in Otepaa
A much-loved hiking and mountain biking destination during the summer, in the winter Otepaa transforms into the winter capital of Estonia. There are a couple of kilometers of mountains here and 8 different lifts that offer access. It’s one of the most budget-friendly places to ski in Europe. Lift passes cost around 35 EUR. Expect to pay another 35 EUR for a one-hour ski lesson and 15 EUR per day for ski rentals.
3. Explore Kuressaare Castle
Located on Saaremaa Island in western Estonia, Kuressaare Castle is the best-preserved castle in the Baltics. Built in the 14th century, the castle and its moat were constructed on the grounds of the original castle that dated to the 13th century. The current castle was constructed in the late Gothic style and consists of a large square building surrounding a spacious courtyard. A 121ft defensive tower and traditional medieval portcullis make up the castle’s defenses. There’s a museum inside that sheds light on the castle’s history, including when the Nazis used the castle to execute dissidents. Admission to the castle is free while the museum costs 10 EUR. Bike rentals cost 4 EUR an hour and rowboats cost 10 EUR per hour.
4. Hang out in Tartu
Tartu holds the title of the intellectual (and hipster) capital of Estonia. Located two hours south of Tallinn, here you’ll find the country’s most prestigious university (University of Tartu), a historic citadel, and the ruins of the city’s cathedral (which dates to the 13th century). Be sure to explore Soup Town (a neighborhood composed of old wooden houses), see the 18th-century town hall (which stands out because it’s pink and red), and spend some time people-watching at a café in Raekoja Square, the city’s historic main square.
5. Visit the Estonian National Museum
Founded in 1909, this museum is located in Tartu. It was expanded in 2016 and moved into a massive new building. There are tons of exhibitions on Estonian history, with a detailed gallery on the Russian occupation of the country (which lasted from 1940-1991). The museum provides a solid historical and cultural foundation to help you better understand Estonia’s past and present. Admission is 14 EUR.
6. Visit Kaali Meteorite Crater Field
Located on Saaremaa Island, this site is where a giant meteorite hit over 7,500 years ago. There are 9 craters in total, with the largest crater spanning 110 meters in diameter and reaching depths of 22 meters. All kinds of animal bones have been found here and there is a stone wall built around the area (dating to the Bronze Age), leaving archaeologists to surmise that the area was used for some kind of cult or religious ceremonies after the craters were made. Admission is free, though the small museum nearby costs 1.30 EUR to enter.
7. Enjoy an open-air festival in Viljandi
For summer festivals and live music, head to Viljandi. Located in the middle of the country, the town’s medieval castle is used for concerts and music festivals (especially traditional folk music). While you’re here, be sure to spend some time relaxing at Lake Viljandi where you can swim and enjoy the beach. Lake Võrtsjärv, the largest inland lake in the country, is also nearby.
8. Visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town. Standing 150-feet tall, it was built between 1894-1900 in the Russian Revival style. It was left to decline under Soviet rule, however, once Estonia gained independence it was restored to its former glory. As well as the elaborately decorated bells (the largest weighing almost 16 tons) there are some beautiful religious mosaics inside and incredibly detailed stained glass windows. Admission is free but it is a place of worship so dress respectfully.
9. Try windsurfing
With so much of the country surrounded by water, Estonia is a perfect destination for windsurfing. There are windsurfing shops on the west coast and in the north that offer rentals for 20-30 EUR and lessons from 65 EUR per hour. If windsurfing isn’t your thing, you can also enjoy stand-up paddleboarding, wakeboarding, or waterskiing. Expect to pay around 20 EUR for those activities.
10. Visit the KGB Museum
Located on the top floor of Tallinn’s luxurious Hotel Viru are the KGB’s former spy rooms (the KGB was the Soviet Union’s secret police). The rooms were discovered after the KGB fled Estonia in the early 1990s. The hotel owners decided to keep the rooms exactly the way they were. Inside are listening and surveillance equipment that looks like something straight out of a vintage spy movie. The museum is only accessible as part of a guided tour that can be booked from the hotel lobby. The tour costs 11 EUR.
11. Go birding in Matsalu National Park
This is one of the best places to spot endangered species like the white-tailed eagle or watch the migrating cranes. Established in 1957, the park was created to protect the nesting and migrating birds. It’s located on the west coast of the country, spanning almost 500 square kilometers (192 sq mi). Every year, between 10,000-20,000 cranes and upwards of 40,000 ducks visit the park as they migrate. Admission is free.
12. Wander Linnahall
Commissioned by the Soviet Union to accommodate the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, Tallinn’s Linnahall sports complex is now a giant, imposing, concrete ghost town. An amphitheater that seats 5,000 was unable to be utilized once the Olympic-sized crowds had departed so it now lies crumbling (construction was rushed and was done poorly so the buildings are falling apart). Over 66 countries boycotted the games due to the U.S.’s disapproval of the Soviet-Afghan war. Today, the venue is not in use so you’re free to wander and explore. Its location above the city makes a great lookout spot. It’s an interesting place to wander around if you have a spare few hours.
13. Visit the Estonian Open-Air Museum
Hidden amongst the trees and forests just outside of Tallinn, this open-air museum is a reconstruction of an 18th-century rural village. It’s home to all kinds of traditional Estonian buildings. There are actors dressed up in historical garb as well as traditional professions on display, such as basket weaving and blacksmithing. There are over 80 wooden buildings you can visit, including a church, school, tavern, and farmhouse. Admission is 10 EUR in the summer and 8 EUR in the winter).
Estonia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostel dorms start at 8 EUR per night for a bed in a 10-20 bed dorm. A smaller dorm with 6-8 beds costs 10 EUR per night. For a private room in a hostel, expect to pay at least 30 EUR per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have self-catering facilities. A few include free breakfast.
Budget hotels start at 40 EUR per night for a double or twin room that includes free breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
Airbnb is available around the country with private rooms starting at 20 EUR per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 30 EUR per night (though prices average double that).
For anyone traveling with a tent, Estonia is one of the best places in Europe for wild camping. Wild camping is permitted on government land (though some of the national parks do have restrictions). Here’s a list of the places you can wild camp in Estonia.
Food – Estonian food has a mix of influences from Russia, Germany, and Scandinavia. You don’t need a big budget to eat well here. For an inexpensive meal at a café or restaurant, expect to pay between 6-12 EUR. These dishes are commonly based around meat and potatoes as well as seasonal vegetables. Soups are a common main course as well. Pickled foods like beets, cucumbers, and fish, as well as rye bread and herring, make up the basis of much of the local cuisine. As in Scandinavia, open-faced sandwiches are a quick to-go snack. Verevorst and mulgikapsad (blood sausage and sauerkraut) are two of the most popular national dishes.
A traditional sausage or stuffed pancake costs just under 3 EUR while fast food meals (think McDonald’s) cost around 6 EUR.
A multi-course meal at a restaurant with table service costs around 40 EUR, including a drink. Expect dishes like grilled salmon, lamb ribs, and roasted pork or duck. For something like Thai or Indian food (which is only really available in Tallinn and Tartu), expect to pay around 12-15 EUR for a meal.
Beer costs around 3-4 EUR. A latte/cappuccino is 2.75 EUR while bottled water is 1.40 EUR.
If you are planning to cook your own food, you can expect to spend around 30-35 EUR for a week’s worth of groceries. This includes basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat.
Activities – Some of Estonia’s national parks charge a small entrance fee but most are free. Expect to pay around 25 EUR for canoe, kayak, and SUP rentals. Bike rentals usually cost between 5-15 EUR in the cities. Most museums cost under 15 EUR. Lift passes for skiing cost start at 35 EUR. Hour-long skiing lessons also start at 35 EUR.
Backpacking Estonia Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 35 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook most of your meals and eat a little fast food, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do mostly free or cheap activities like free walking tours and visits to national parks. If you plan on drinking, add 5-10 EUR per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of 85 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eat out at cheap restaurants serving traditional cuisine for each meal, drink more, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like museum visits or ski trips.
On a “luxury” budget of 215 EUR or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you want, rent a car to get around, and do more paid activities and guided tours. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Estonia Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Estonia is a perfect destination for anyone on a budget. It’s not as cheap as it was years ago but there’s still a lot of value here and still plenty of ways to reduce your costs! Here are my tips on saving money when you visit:
- Take a free walking tour – Tallinn offers a handful of free walking tours which are great ways to get familiar with the city and the culture. Most hostels offer them and there are even some that have a special focus (such as the city’s Communist past). Just be sure to tip your guide!
- Wild camp – If you really want to save money in Estonia bring your tent as wild camping is legal. You can pitch your tent on public land throughout Estonia. Just make sure to pick up your trash when you’re done.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels have kitchen facilities so you can cook your own meals. Buying your own groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat but it does save you money.
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfingis a excellent way to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people. You’ll make a friend, learn more about the destination, and get a free place to stay in the process.
- Walk everywhere – All the major cities in Estonia are walkable so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra euros.
- Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country. If you’re on a tight budget, enjoy the outdoors.
- Get an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Estonia is safe to drink. Bring a reusable water bottle to avoid having to buy single-use plastic. If you’re going to camp, make sure you have a water filter like LifeStraw to ensure your water is safe and clean.
- Get the Tallinn Card – This card provides unlimited use of public transportation, free admission to more than 40 attractions, as well as other discounts. It comes in 24-, 48-, and 72-hour passes for 28 EUR, 42 EUR, and 51 EUR respectively.
Where to Stay in Estonia
Budget accommodation in Estonia is plentiful. Here are some of my favorite hostels in Estonia to help you save money and plan your trip:
How to Get Around Estonia
Public Transportation – In most smaller towns and cities in Estonia, it’s possible to walk everywhere. However, in larger cities like Tallinn, you may want to use public transport to get around. In Tallinn, you can purchase QR-code tickets or load money on to a Smartcard (a pre-paid bus card). There is an extensive network of trams, trolleys, and buses that service the city and surrounding suburbs.
Public transportation prices vary by city but expect to pay around 1.50 EUR for a standard 1-hour adult ticket.
Trains – The trains in Estonia are reliable, cheap, and fast. Many even have free Wi-Fi. You can take an express train to Tartu from Tallinn in just two hours for 8-12 EUR each way. The two-hour journey from Tallinn to Viljandi is 10-12 EUR while the seven-hour train ride from Tallinn to Riga, Latvia starts at just 15 EUR.
Bus – Many people favor train travel over bus travel in Estonia because the prices are similar and, in many cases, the trains are faster. However, there are more scheduled buses per day than trains so the bus might better fit your schedule.
Buses start at just 5 EUR. To get from Tallinn to Tartu takes 2.5 hours (just 30 minutes longer than the train) and costs around 10 EUR. The bus from Tallinn to Saaremaa Island takes around 4 hours and costs 9 EUR while the journey from Tallinn to Viljandi takes just over 2 hours and costs 9 EUR. Expect to pay around 16 EUR for the 5.5-hour bus to Riga, Latvia.
Budget Airlines – Although there are domestic flights within Estonia, they’re prohibitively expensive and won’t save you any time as a high-speed train is almost as fast when you include check-in time. Skip flying.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in the northern region of Estonia around Tallinn. For longer rides, use BlaBlaCar. It’s a long-distance ridesharing app that, while not as cheap as the bus, is often faster (and more interesting since you get to meet a local).
Car Rental – Car rentals cost as little as 35 EUR per day. You need an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to rent a car here.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Estonia is safe and relatively common. If you stick to major roads and use a sign you shouldn’t have to wait too long for a ride. HitchWiki is the best website for additional hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Estonia
The summer months of June-August are the busiest of the year (though busy in Estonia is far less busy than cities in Western Europe). During this time, the days are longer and the temperatures hover around 20°C (68°F). Almost all of Estonia’s festivals are held during these months.
To beat the crowds, visit between April-May or early autumn. During these months, the temperatures are cooler, making it the perfect time to get outdoors and camp or hike. Plus, the peak tourist season is over so the crowds are thinner and things are a little cheaper.
During the winter, temperatures plummet and the country is blanketed in snow. Visiting Estonia during the winter can be a magical experience if you are interested in skiing or Christmas markets. Be warned though — temperatures can drop to -10°C (15°F).
How to Stay Safe in Estonia
Estonia is generally a safe country with a low crime rate. Outside of Tallinn, you shouldn’t experience any safety issues.
Within Tallinn, petty theft (including pickpocketing) is possible in the heavily-touristed areas, as well as on crowded public transportation and in busy bars/clubs. Keep your valuables out of sight and watch out for people (especially younger children) trying to distract you.
If you’re heading out to enjoy Tallinn’s famous nightlife, leave your valuables at home. Avoid walking alone at night and stick to the main roads. Muggings are rare, but they can occur. Travel in pairs or groups if possible and avoid walking alone at night if intoxicated, just to be safe.
One thing to be aware of is that reflectors are required by law to be worn by pedestrians at night. You can pick them up in most supermarkets cheaply and you just need to attach one to your jacket or bag when out after dark.
Solo travelers — including female travelers — should feel safe here. As long as you take the standard precautions (don’t travel alone at night while intoxicated, keep an eye on your drink at the bar, etc.) you should be fine.
If you do experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
You can read about 14 travel scams to avoid.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, leave. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
Remember: if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Estonia!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Estonia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Estonia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a wonderful way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, easy to use interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website shows you how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is an interesting way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Estonia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Estonia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Estonia, by Neil Taylor
Estonia was the first ‘serious’ English-language history book about this relatively small country with a fast-growing economy. Author Neil Taylor maps out Estonia’s long journey through a thousand years of occupation to its modern-day prosperity. It is the most comprehensive book you are likely to find if you want to learn about Estonia’s history.
The Last Train from Estonia, by Jaak Jurison
This book is part memoir, part history book. In it, Jurison weaves together his story as a child growing up in a country beset by war. As World War II ends and the Russians prepare to occupy Estonia, his family heads west in search of peace and security. Devastating bomb attacks, hazardous escapes, refugee camps, and immigrating to America are just some of the harrowing milestones of his journey. It’s a coming-of-age story of survival and resilience that sheds light on the history surrounding the conflicts in Estonia the effects on its people.
Antonia’s Wars: An Escape From Estonia to America, by Maimu A. Truitt
If you want to gain an insight into the chaos and impact of the World Wars in Estonia, read this book. It offers a glimpse into what life is really like as a refugee. The central character is a mother living in Czarist St. Petersburg. She manages to escape from World War I, the Russian Revolution, a war for independence in Estonia, and then finally World War II before finally reaching the safety and security of the United States. The book shares intimate details of the family’s daily lives set against the momentous events of history.
Estonia – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture, by Clare Thomson
This book is full of bite-sized information on Estonian culture and customs. It puts into context some of the cultural differences you will encounter on your trip and potentially help you avoid some awkward situations. It is especially useful if you intend on Couchsurfing or staying with host families on your trip!
Estonia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Europe travel and continue planning your trip: