8 off the beaten track destinations in Estonia
Estonia is a great place to get off the beaten path into the wild nature. It is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe, half of its land is covered with forest and it has an extensive shoreline and 2222 islands.
Here are 8 places to go if you are looking for some adventure.
1. Hike to the Vilsandi island across the sea
Get your backpack ready and hike to a remote western island in a nature reserve. During the 2 km hike to the island, you will cross several small islands and sea in turns. At the deepest point, the sea will raise to about your stomach level.
Once on the island, follow the hiking tracks. You will see a lot of juniper forest, beautiful shorelines and a lighthouse. In late summer, you can eat wild juniper berries and mountain currants. There is a campsite at the other side of the island. Next day, you can walk or take a boat back to the Saaremaa island.
2. Take a sea kayaking trip
Take your camping equipment, rent a kayak and go explore Estonian islands while camping on a remote island by the sea. Make a bonfire, cook your food and look into the starry night sky by the sea. What could be more relaxing than this!
Your options are plentiful - go to Hobulaid (rent a kayak in Haapsalu), Vormsi, Pakri, Hiiumaa or Saaremaa islands. Plan the trip yourself or go with a tour guide.
3. Hike on the Harilaid peninsula
Some Estonians have discovered this magnificent place, but tourists still rarely know about it. Harilaid’s versatile coastal nature and the sound of waves crashing the beach is mesmerizing. Walk along either side of the peninsula to the tip and follow a hiking trail on your way back.
At the western side of the tip, you will see a lighthouse in the sea. Just some time ago, it was on land and on the eastern side, but the peninsula's coastline is constantly changing – that's how it ended up on the other side in the sea! If you are lucky, you will spot seals in the sea.
4. Hike in swamp and swim in swamp lake
Going for a walk in a swamp is a spiritual experience for many Estonians. Because you can't build houses or roads, grow crops or even properly walk on these wetlands, they have naturally preserved their wilderness. Remoteness and stunted trees give the swamps a mystical vibe.
There are several walking trails built on these swamps for easier access and to protect its fractile land. In winter, however, you can get an even more authentic experience by renting snowshoes and following an unbeaten path across a swamp.
In the summer, be sure to jump into a swamp lake. It's a totally different experience than swimming at any other place. Water is opaque and dark, almost black – it's a bit horrifying at first, but soon you will get used to it and it feels so refreshing.
The Viru swamp has an easy access to jump into a swamp lake, but the path can get a bit crowded as it's close to Tallinn. Kõnnu Suursoo near the Viru bog, Muraka, Laeva and Meenikunno are more remote options for a swamp hike.
5. Hike and camp in a deep forest
Pack your backpack, take some food, a tent and go hike in the forest for a couple of days. Only about one-hour drive from the capital Tallinn, you can already find wilderness where to hike without seeing a soul. For example, follow the Liiapeksi-Aegviidu 27 km hiking trail. You can get to Liiapeksi by bus and take a train back to Tallinn. In between, you will find nice camping areas by a lake.
There are lots of cool official camping places all around Estonia, often there is even firewood there to take for a campfire. See the RMK site or this map (in Estonian) for exact locations.
6. Bike trip across the remote villages in Estonia
Another option is to go on a bike trip. You can easily take your bike on a train, then cycle for a couple of days and get back from another stop. Some great options are to go from Orava to Viljandi or from Taevaskoda to Kiviõli by the Pepus lake. Also the islands Saaremaa, Hiiumaa and Muhu are nice places for a bike trip. You can sleep out at beautiful RMK camping sites or huts by lakes or sea.
At least for one night, rent a place with a sauna by a lake, river or sea and enjoy your holiday like Estonians do: get yourself hot in an 80-100 degree sauna, use a birch branch to slap yourself for some massage and then jump into the lake, river or sea. Then repeat. A good Estonian beer or kvass will refresh you in between sauna sessions.
7. Pick wild berries, mushrooms in the forest
Going to a forest to pick wild berries and mushrooms is a popular activity for most local Estonians during summer and autumn. Usually it's an activity for the whole family. Midsummer is the time for wild strawberries, late summer for blueberries, cranberries, cowberries and blackberries. Late summer and autumn is the time for mushrooms: chanterelles are the most popular, but check out also false saffron milkcaps, parasol mushrooms and horse mushrooms.
As a tourist, finding great places for berries and mushrooms can be tricky, however. Every Estonian knows a couple of places, but usually they keep it a secret that doesn't go out of their family. Your best option will be to befriend an Estonian to reveal her secret or go to remote areas on islands or hiking trails far off roads, because there will be less competition for these gems in the forest.
If you find yourself in an Estonian forest in spring without food, don't despair either. Herbs like ramons and wood sorrel leaves as well as spruce tips will keep your stomach full of vitamins.
8. Climb on top of boulders in Estonia
You are hiking in a deep forest and suddenly, see a huge lonely boulder that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. These are called traveling boulders because during the last ice age, the melting icecap has brought them where they are now, far from their birthplace. It is believed that about 90% of European traveling boulders are located in Estonia.
What's fun about these boulders is to climb on top of them. Some are quite challenging and while finding your way to them, you can see remote places of Estonia that most tourists miss. Just follow the list or map of boulders. See also a list of giant boulders and inconclusive list of all boulders.
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