Estonia is best known for its capital Tallinn. But did you know that the Estonian west coast is home to some of the most beautiful places in the Baltic States? In this article we would like to take you to a Estonia vacation to the west of the country.
Swimming and national parks – Your Estonia vacation in the West
The Estonian coastal region in the west of the country can look back on a long and eventful history. Many Swedes once lived here, and many of their traditions have been preserved in the local culture. In the towns of Pärnu and Haapsalu, you will see the colourful wooden houses typical of the West, and Pärnu is even considered the summer capital of Estonia. But nature with its national parks also offers exciting discoveries. Birdwatchers in particular get their money’s worth here. In addition, there are a number of secluded beaches and many sporting opportunities on water and on land. Do you fancy a holiday in Estonia? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Pärnu lies in a bay at the end of the river of the same name, which flows into the Baltic Sea here. Pärnu has only 50,000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is the fourth largest city in Estonia. Pärnu is best known for its wooden houses and town villas. But the town also has a park with observation towers from which you can watch birds. Pärnu is a popular spa centre, so there are also spa hotels here where you can spend a relaxing Estonia vacation. But the long beach also attracts many visitors. And although Pärnu is regularly visited by many tourists, you can almost always find a free place here. We will soon present Pärnu to you in more detail in a separate article.
Valgeranna is a small village in the bay of Pärnu and is located about 7 kilometres west of the city. Only a handful of people live here. But the village has some interesting places to offer.
This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Estonia. Here, the finest sand meets a pristine forest that seems to reach almost to the water’s edge. A promenade leads you through the forest to the beach, where you are guaranteed to always find a spot. Especially when it gets a bit crowded in Pärnu and you want to enjoy nature, this is the place to be. And so that you don’t get bored, there is also a playground for the kids, a climbing park and plenty of opportunities for picnics.
Here on the beach there is also an unusual hotel building from the 70s and 80s. The Villa Andropoff was no ordinary hotel, but reserved for Soviet government members and their guests. The name goes back to Yuri Andropov, who was head of the KGB at the time and later head of state of the USSR for a short time. One of the most frequent guests was Karl Vaino, an Estonian-born Soviet politician who was largely responsible for the Russification of Estonia. The complex was off-limits to outsiders and strictly guarded. Today, however, you can stay overnight in the architecturally exciting building and enjoy your Estonia holiday on the beach. Further south, on the Estonian coast, there is a holiday settlement where Soviet cosmonauts used to spend their holidays.
If you are travelling with the family and don’t just want to lie on the beach, you can go climbing at the Valgeranna Adventure Park. It consists of six courses with different levels of difficulty. Children as young as 2 can climb here or let off steam on the swings and ropeways.
Matsalu National Park
Estonia has a total of five national parks, two of which are located in the west of the country. Matsalu National Park was established as a protected area as early as 1957 and has officially been a national park since 2004, making it the country’s youngest. Matsalu covers an area of over 48,000 hectares around the bay of the same name. It is best known for the many species of birds that nest here. There are said to be nearly 300 different species here at times, and about 2 million birds roam the area each year. The birds stay here on their journey from the Arctic to Africa, many nesting in Kasari, the largest bare floodplain in Europe. In addition, there are many fish and mammals that also live on and around the 50 islands that are part of the national park.
Haapsalu is the second largest town in the west of the Estonian mainland. Just like Pärnu, Haapsalu is also a popular seaside resort. Russian aristocrats, including the tsar’s family, holidayed here as early as the time of the tsarist empire. The town is famous for its music festivals, which take place here in the summer. And here, too, you will find many of the colourful wooden houses so typical of western Estonia, including an impressive spa hall.
Culture, history and museums
In Haapsalu you can also find out about the history of the Estonian Swedes in a museum. By the way, Haapsalu is home to the oldest surviving Schiller monument in the world (now housed in another museum). Railway enthusiasts should take a look at the railway museum at the old railway station. The locomotives can already be seen from the street outside. The most impressive building, however, are the ruins of Bischofsburg Castle.
Haapsalu used to be the seat of a bishop, but he later moved his seat to Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa. The bishop’s castle of Haapsalu was built as early as the 13th century and some monks also lived here. Unfortunately, the castle was badly damaged during the Livonian War in the 16th century. A few years later, to make matters worse, it burnt down completely. In the course of time, however, parts of Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle were restored and a museum was established. From the highest accessible towers, there is a great view of the town and the bay on which Haapsalu lies.
Such an old castle naturally also surrounds some legends and stories. For example, one of the monks is said to have fallen in love with a girl and smuggled her into the castle. When the two were discovered, he was executed and she was locked in the dungeon. And even today she is said to appear at the window next to the church belonging to the castle on moonlit nights and wait for her lover. In addition, there is said to have been a treasure here in the past, guarded by a demonic dog. But a Swede is said to have made a pact with the dog and the latter left him the treasure. The Swede was now rich and bought up half the town, but hanged himself in the forest a short time later for unexplained reasons …
Soomaa National Park
With an area of 36,000 ha, Soomaa National Park is a lot smaller than the Matsalu Nature Reserve. It is also not located on the coast, but a little further inland. However, it is also worth a visit, because the landscape with its moors, forests and swamps is very different from that on the coast. There are regular floods here, and in Estonia they speak of the “fifth season”. In addition to wolves, bears and moose, you will also encounter numerous bird species here. Above all, the national park is a paradise for hikers, canoeists and kayakers.
Noarootsi is a peninsula with less than 1000 inhabitants. Nevertheless, Noarootsi is a popular place for an Estonia vacation on the Baltic Sea coast. Swedes used to live in many places along the coast, but most of them fled the region during World War II or were resettled. On Noarootsi, however, you can still search for traces of the rich cultural heritage of the Estonian Swedes. In neighbouring Nõva, the oldest wooden church in the country can be found alongside many Swedish houses. Otherwise, there is a lot on offer here, especially for active holidays, and you can go hiking, surfing, kayaking or sailing and explore the pine forests or the Baltic Sea.
The Lonely Planet for all Baltic States is a good resource to check not just for Tallinn but all of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Great recommendations and descriptions.
- Lonely Planet (Author)
- 456 Pages - 07/16/2020 (Publication Date) - Lonely Planet (Publisher)
Neil Taylor wrote a short history of this beautiful Baltic country and its people. Very much worth the read and makes you much better understand your trip.
- Taylor, Neil (Author)
- 256 Pages - 07/12/2018 (Publication Date) - C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (Publisher)
In this book, Estonian-born Finnish author Ilmar Taska deals with the postwar period in Estonia in an unconventional way.
- Taska, Ilmar (Author)
- 246 Pages - 02/02/2018 (Publication Date) - Norvik Press (Publisher)
We hope you enjoyed our trip to the west coast. What is your favourite place for an Estonia vacation? Let us know and leave a comment!