A Gap Year in Estonia

Why go backpacking in Estonia?

Backpacking in Estonia might not sit high on many travel bucket lists, but it has so much to offer an intrepid traveller.

Estonia is a country of short summers, long winters, and home to some of the best preserved medieval castles in the world. Game of Thrones fans will love it. Located in Northern Europe, bordering Latvia and Russia, there is a huge cultural mix within Estonia. The Germans, Polish, Danish, Swedish and Russian have all ruled Estonia at some point, with the country having to gain independence twice! Because of this, the Baltic state has adopted a diverse mix of culture, cuisine and architecture, as well as its outstanding landscapes and unique wildlife.

Clear your schedules and get this on your InterRailing itinerary; there is a lot to see here.

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Where to go in Estonia

Rated as one of Europe’s best medieval towns, Estonia’s capital, Tallinn is a great destination for a city break on your gap year. The old town is believed to have been built by German crusaders in the late middle ages, and the tall medieval walls and towers loom over this beautiful European city. The streets are lined perfectly with symmetrical pale buildings, opening up to the huge Town Hall Square which transform into a Christmas market in the winter months. Something that you don’t see in all medieval cities though, is a Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The black and white Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was built between 1894 and 1900, is a landmark of the city, with the typical domed roof and spherical towers, it can’t be missed.

Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia and a notorious student town as its home to Estonia’s oldest and most renowned University. Being a student town there is quite a big nightlife with lots of clubs, pubs, and bars where you’re guaranteed to have a wild night out with the younger locals. Zavood is one of the main student hotspots, with cheap beer and live music it’s a hub of fun and drinking and memories…or lack of…

If you find yourself in Estonia in the warm summer months then the Western Islands are a great place to head to. Saaremaa Island is the holiday spot for the locals as well as families from Finland, and was once being home to the Eastern Vikings. If history is your thing then The Kuressaare Fortress is worth checking out, this castle (fortress sounds cooler) began appearing on maps in 1154, and it’s pretty darn big. For the keen photographer the Angla Windmills should not be missed, these long-retired windmills look beautiful against the back drop of the Estonian scenery. The history doesn’t stop there either, in the village of Kaali travellers can awe at the nine craters, which are thought to have been created by a meteorite which fell to the earth in fragments over 7,000 years ago. Basically, Estonia is one big museum which, unlike other countries, did not rush to knock down the quirks and stamps left by past generations.

What to do

In the Sooma National Park, known as the ‘land of bogs’, outgoing travellers can master the skill of bog shoe walking. It may not sound very attractive but its great fun. Wet lands, also called bogs, are common in the Estonian countryside, and are particularly deep during the springtime floods, which are known as Estonia’s fifth month. The bogs can only be walked across using bog walking shoes, which are basically tennis rackets strapped to your feet to stops you sinking in to the thick mud. Bog walking has been described by travellers as being like discovering a new planet as you float above the spongy ground. You can even go swimming in it if you really dare! If that’s not for you then you can walk across the bogs on wooden planks or canoe down the rivers winding through Sooma National Park.

Located in Northern Estonia, Lahemaa National Park and Nature Reserve is one of Europe’s largest national parks. Combining forest, sea, rivers, limestone cliffs, and historical villages, there are so many ways you can spend your time in this corner of Estonia. In this park alone, backpackers can spot elk, boars, brown bears, lynxes, beavers, wolves and deer roaming through its woodland. If you’re stuck for time then Lahemaa is a great option as it’s only a day trip from Tallinn and you can hire a bike to ride through the diverse terrain of this incredible national park.

In the winter, the town of Otepaa opens up for ski season as Estonia becomes engulfed in a thick layer of snow. Travellers can make the most of their days by snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, snow tubing and sledging down cross country tracks. After all that fun in the snow you can take a shot of vodka and warm up in one of the hot saunas and hot tubs. Winter sport enthusiasts can also check out the Tehvandi Centre, which is the training area for Estonia’s Olympic medalists.

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