Tallinn, the oldest capital in Northern Europe, was put on the map for the first time by Arabian geographer al-Idrisi in 1154. Tallinn’s Old Town is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the best-preserved medieval town centres in Europe. It boasts a town wall with 26 defence towers, the Dominican St. Catherine’s Monastery founded in 1246, the 600-year-old Gothic Town Hall, the world’s oldest functioning pharmacy on the Town Hall Square and the 159 metres high Oleviste Church which was the highest structure in the world in the 16th century. Toompea Hill and the towers of Oleviste Church and the Town Hall offer breathtaking views over the Old Town. Toompea Castle, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, is the seat of the nation’s parliament and there flies Estonia’s “first flag” on top of Tall Hermann’s Tower.
Tallinn is a dynamic city on the move. The medieval Old Town is not a museum, but a vibrant, living organism between the harbour and the new business district. The city centre with its cosy cafés, boutiques and art galleries beckons to take a stroll and explore the streets, to have a drink and a bite to eat, to party, and – why not – to shop. There is also the Estonian Open Air Museum which gives a glimpse of rural life, the Song Festival Grounds, Kadriorg Park and Castle, the Pirita Convent, romantic Nõmme, a garden town built under the pine trees in the 1930’s, and the distinctive wooden house districts of Kalamaja and Lilleküla.
When you drive from Tallinn towards Narva you will pass Saha-Loo near Lake Maardu where the land has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. In Jõelähtme there is the Rebala Heritage Protection Area, by the museum of which lies the oldest known stone burial grounds in Estonia dating back to the 8th-7th centuries BC. Nearby are the Kostivere karst area and Jägala Falls, largest in Estonia, which offer impressive sights during high water in spring and autumn. Kiiu Tower, a vassal stronghold from the 16th century, houses a cafeteria and has given its name to a well-known Estonian liqueur.
Estonia’s largest national park, Lahemaa, is famous for its rich nature, cultural heritage and beautiful sights. The main attractions of Lahemaa are sandy beaches, enormous erratic boulders, mossy pine forests, over 200 species of birds and almost 900 different plants. The ancient Altja fishermen”s village offers a glimpse into the life of coastal people in olden times and its genuine romantic aura is a real treat for an appreciative traveller. Near Altja you can take a walk along the wonderfully refreshing Oandu forest trail which with its numerous information boards also offers an educational experience. Among other things, you will find traces of elk, bear and wild boar, springs with crystal-clear water, windfalls, as well as dunes formed by the ancient sea: thousands of years ago waves of the Baltic Sea washed the shores here.
The maritime museum in Käsmu „captain’s village”, where there was a maritime school from 1884 to 1931, has exhibits on seafaring, fishing and smuggling. In the 1920’s, the years of prohibition in Finland, the seamen from the North Estonian coastal villages helped to quench their kinsmen’s thirst by taking spirits across the bay in their boats under the cover of the night. Today drink and food are offered at the colourful Altja Tavern, the 18th century rustic Viitna Tavern the popular Lamba-Ada Beach Bar in Vergi 9 and the stylish restaurant in Sagadi Manor House.
Manors are undoubtedly one of the main attractions of Lahemaa. The baroque Sagadi Manor is home to a forestry museum and hosts an annual international workshop on wood sculpting. Palmse Manor, with a swan pond and a palm house, houses the visitors’ centre of Lahemaa National Park, a museum introducing the life in the manor and a collection of antique cars. Beautiful views open on Vihula Manor situated on the shore of a picturesque lake, and on Kolga Manor which was founded when Estonia was invaded by the Danes in the 13th century. Those interested in culture should visit the art museum in Viinistu that each summer hosts an international interdisciplinary art festival. There are around one hundred giant boulders in Estonia that have a perimeter of at least 25 metres and one-tenth of them are found on the nearby Pärispea Peninsula.
A traveller can also just stop the car and take a walk in the woods or on the seashore, sit down on a sun-warmed rock and dip the feet in the sea. The sea breeze, the sounds of screeching seagulls and a distant fishing boat are like a balm for any weary soul tired of hectic city life. Silence and fresh air can be enjoyed in marshlands. For example, the Viru bog which is surrounded by a pine forest and has a boardwalk and a watchtower is situated only 1 km from the Tallinn-Narva highway.
Kõrvemaa is characterised by forests, bogs, mysterious forest lakes and moors. North Kõrvemaa Landscape Protection Area with its centre in Aegviidu, which includes a former Soviet military polygon, and Kõrvemaa Landscape Protection Area with its centre in Simisalu make sure that the natural landscapes remain pristine. Kõrvemaa is a habitat for various protected bird species including the golden eagle, the lesser spotted eagle and the black stork, and a number of fascinating plants.
In northern Kõrvemaa one can hike along the nature study route of Paukjärve, Jussi and Uuejärve. There are watchtowers on the Paukjärve glacial moraine and Venemägi. One of the most remarkable examples of untouched nature is the two-level Kakerdaja bog in Albu in the southern part of Kõrvemaa. Valgehobusemägi Hill nearby has hiking and ski trails and a watchtower.
Kõrvemaa also offers cultural experiences. The museum of A. H. Tammsaare, the great Estonian writer, offers a look at farm life in the past, hosts theatrical performances in the summer, and is a starting point for nature hikes in Kõrvemaa. Jäneda Manor houses a unique musical observatory of the composer Urmas Sisask. Popular eating and partying places in Jäneda are Musta Täku Tall and the seafood restaurant Suurvanker which is built on a huge horse carriage. In summertime tourists can also visit Albu Albu Manor and admire its colourful wall paintings; nearby in Albu Toiduait you can have a bite to eat.