The season of ‘White Nights’ in Estonia welcomes in the long summer months of glorious Estonian sunshine and offers everything from wilderness walks and magical music to foodie excursions and wildlife tours. Whether travellers are looking for a road-trip, a beach holiday, island hopping, bustling cities, cultural richness or a world-class foodie scene – Estonia has something for everyone this summer.
Experience the Estonian harvest
Estonia has the most edible plants per square kilometre in Northern Europe and what better way to spend the summer than to experience the iconic Estonian harvest. Visitors can pluck vegetables and herbs from gardens, catch wild sea trout off the coast of northern islands, or trek into the forest in search of seasonal lingonberries, blueberries, mushrooms and dandelions. At the Tamme Farm, near Pärnu, learn about all things alternative agriculture including herbs, vegetables and decorative plants for cooking. Alternatively, head to Soomaa National Park and pick produce in the berry and mushroom forests, accompanied by a local Soomaa guide.
As well as seasonal fruit and vegetables, Rye bread is a common staple in the Estonian kitchen. The Avinurme Handicrafts Centre also offers many different workshops, including bread baking and chipwood basket weaving.
‘Heat up the sauna’ in a summer cottage
The go-to phrase in summer in Estonia tends to be “panen sauna kütte” (“I’ll heat up the sauna”) and experiencing a traditional Estonian smoked sauna in a summer cottage is a must. At Mooska Farm in Võru County, travellers can try this ancient Estonian heritage for themselves. A traditional sauna session lasts at least three hours and the smoke sauna of Mooska Farm can comfortably accommodate eight people. The rich aroma of burning wood is complemented by a whispered note of the meat smoked in the sauna, plus birch boughs and sauna honey. For an additional fee, receive a juniper bough, towels, a sauna hat, a bathrobe and home-made beer. Alternatively, the Lammasmäe Holiday Centre now has the world’s only peat sauna, located on the Kunda River. Visitors have to walk along floating pontoons covered with peat tiles to get to the unusual sauna, where they will discover bog plants growing on the walls and seats made from turf piles.
Home to more than 2,000 islands (most of which are just a short ferry ride away), Estonia has a unique island culture which has shaped the nation’s history. As the largest of Estonia’s islands, Saaremaa is famous for its unique spa experiences, scenic hikes, juniper trees and fascinating history. Saaremaa’s capital, Kuressaare has a longstanding history as a resort town, with the highest number of spas per capita in the world (one spa per every ten inhabitants). The Georg Ots Spa Hotel in Kuressaare uses juniper berries in its body peels to extract toxins and offers authentic Estonian ‘whisking’, an exfoliation technique with birch twigs. Alternatively, Toila Spa uses Leiger curative mud collected from the island of Hiiumaa and offers mud wraps and massages with curative mud cream.
Muhu, lying between Estonia’s west coast and Saaremaa, is known for its colourful doors, bright traditional costumes as well as its intricate handicrafts. Explore the Muhu Museum to get a taste of Estonian culture and traditions, admire the Eemu Windmill or hike the Uugu area or the Uugu Buff for views of the sea.
For those after a truly local captivating experience, Kihnu is home to a community of approximately 700 inhabitants, who value old traditions, dress in folk clothing and believe that singing and dancing is an integral part of life. The cultural heritage of Kihnu – the clothing, language, music and handcrafts are part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Experience old traditions like the Day of Kihnu Home Cafes in June, the Kihnu Sea Festival in July and the Kihnu Dance Day in August. Culture lovers are sure to be delighted by home visits, truck car tours and fishing trips offered on the island.
Discover where the wild things are
Soomaa National Park experiences a regular phenomenon of nature called the ‘Fifth Season’ in the summer, whereby the winter snow melts and rain continues to fall as spring approaches, leaving all low-lying forests, roads and even yards flooded. Visitors can canoe or kayak through the forest and along the road and occasionally even right up to the front doors of waterlogged houses. Here tourists can explore a Beaver Trail on a guided canoe tour and discover all sorts of den construction, beaver lodges and dams. Other wildlife can also be spotted on the tour including deer, elk, wild boar, lynx, birds, bears and even wolves. Alternatively, go mushroom picking and follow a local Soomaa tour guide and learn about the various edible and inedible mushrooms. Culture lovers can experience the thrill of walking places that would be otherwise inaccessible on a guided tour with bog shoes (a shoe used by ancient ancestors to navigate the bogs).
Take to the sea
Packed with regattas, Estonia is a place well worth exploring by boat. Popular day sailing trips in Tallinn include the islands of Aegna, Naissaar and Prangli, which can be combined with a visit to the Maritime Museum at the Seaplane Harbour in Tallinn. Estonia’s summer capital Pärnu is one of the most popular sailing destinations in West Estonia with its famous sandy beaches and small islands: Kihnu and Ruhnu. North of Estonia, sailors will find the resort town Haapsalu, where they can make a brief crossing over to Hiiumaa and Saaremaa islands. For a celebration, take a historical voyage on the schooner Hoppet, which accommodates up to 50 people and features seven cabins. The voyage showcases concerts on board, sunset and bay voyages and a visit to Abruka Island.
From opera on a medieval island to the biggest electronic musicians on the beach, these are the top events in Estonia this summer:
- Estonian Song and Dance Festival (4-7 July): In 2019, Estonia will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Estonian Song and Dance Festival, a tradition that draws thousands to Tallinn each year and is celebrated throughout Estonia.
- Medieval Days (11-14 July): Medieval Days takes place in Tallinn’s Old Town every year in July. Feel the atmosphere of the flourishing Hanseatic era, with a large medieval market in the Town Square Hall with merchants and workshops, musicians and dancers, theatre performances, knight tournaments and other exciting activities.
- Saaremaa Opera Days (23-27 July): Saaremaa Opera Days take place in the middle of summer in the historical courtyard of Kuressaare Castle and is the most popular opera festival in the Baltic States. An opera house is erected for this occasion, seating up to 2,000 people. This summer, there are two main performers: the Hungarian State Opera and the Shanghai Opera from China.
- Vijandi Folk Music Festival (25-28 July): The festival takes place every July in the castle park and centre of Vilkani and has become one of the largest festivals of this kind in the Baltic and Nordic countries. The festival features four days of folk music, Fairy Tale Chambers and a Handicraft Yard and exhibition.
- Leigo Lake Music Festival (2-3 August): The Leigo Lake Music Festival uniquely combines nature and music, showcasing classical to rock concerts and culminating in a Leigo-style display of fireworks.
- Intsikurmu Music Festival (2-4 August): The Intsikurmu Music Festival takes visitors back into the wild and is held each year in the woods of Põlva County. The festival features a wide-range of music, video installations and international acts.
- tARTuFF (13-17 August): tARTuFF is the largest outdoor film festival in the Baltics held in Tartu Old Town and showcases a diverse selection of genre and documentary films in a cosy midsummer atmosphere.
- Narva Battle (16-17 August): The Narva Battle has grown into the main event of summer in Narva and brings together military-historical clubs from all over Northern Europe to meet at the courtyard of Narva Castle.