As one of the three Baltic States for which the term ‘Singing Revolution’ was coined, the native home of the Skype software and the first country to allow their citizens to vote for their government online, the Republic of Estonia captivates and charms the imagination.
Estonia’s rich history is reflected not only in the landscape but also in the innovation of its people. There is much to love about this little-known European state that has much to offer and activities of all types for everyone. Here are 6 reasons, in no particular order, why Estonia belongs on your bucket list.
1. It’s home to one of the coolest cultural music festivals in the world.
The Song festival is held every five years, and choirs with members numbering in the tens of thousands perform to more than 80,000 people.
The moment for the books however, occurs when all the choirs that performed and everybody in the audience sings together. It can make for a very emotional experience even if you’re not Estonian. The next staging is in 2019.
Estonia’s relationship with music is known to extend far beyond the usual recreational need for a melodic tune. It goes deeper. Their ties with music are cultural and historical, it is as much a part of them as the air they breathe.
In the late eighties, music was the weapon of choice in their fight for independence. Even before that, song festivals were a source of entertainment which simultaneously served as a celebration of Estonian language and traditions.
2. They invented a sport: Kiiking
If a country invents a sport, it’s worth visiting if only for the fact that you are going there to experience the sport in its natural habitat.
A kiik is a traditional Estonian swing. In fact, the Estonian word kiik is translated to ‘swing’ in English. An Estonian, Ado Kosk, adapted the kiik—traditionally made of wood—to the steel structure with adjustable shafts that is the mainstay of the sport today.
The athlete’s goal is to complete a 360 degree turn over the spindle with the longest shaft possible, standing upright. You need stamina, and lots of it; freedom from the fear of heights would be helpful as well. The sport has garnered a solid following in its 20 year run and the current record holders are Estonian with a 7.08 m kiik shaft for the males and a 5.94 m kiik shaft for the females.
Kiiking is not cheap; so if you are planning to attempt this sport plan to go in a group because the base price is $440.
3. The city of Tallinn is one of the world’s best kept secrets.
photo: Flickr/Mike Beales
If you are an admirer of medieval history, often romanticize the quaint cobblestone lined streets with well-preserved buildings and town centers of old European cities, then seeing Tallinn should be right up there with your plans to take part in Kiiking before you leave Estonia.
Tallinn is not all history however, as the capital of Estonia and the largest city in the country there is always something going on.
They have a food scene fit to appease the harshest critic, a bevy of museums and historical sites for those wishing to dive deep into the history and a number of festivals and events that will introduce you to the wonderful culture that the natives are as anxious to share as you are to take part.
The best part about all of this is that you can purchase a Tallinn card which will give you unlimited bus rides around the city, discounts, and free admissions for most of the events and sites around the city. The card can be purchased for up to three days at a time. Otherwise if you are just passing through a 24 hour card comes in just under $37.
4. It’s cheap.
For those who are of the nocturnal persuasion, Estonia has any number of activities for you to do that will keep you occupied until the wee hours of the morning.
Estonia’s nightlife is famous in Europe for providing vacationers with an affordable getaway that promises a lot of fun. Flights from many of Europe’s main cities and Scandinavian countries to Estonia’s largest and main airport, Tallinn Airport, can cost you less than $200, round trip.
Once you arrive you can find hostels for as little at $14/night.
So dance through the night, make new friends, then get a bite to eat before heading home to sleep the morning away. Some establishments have group discounts and many clubs offer discounts for females (sorry, guys.)
5. It’s the perfect place for the travelling entrepreneur.
Traditionally, when you’re on holiday, work should be the furthest thing from your mind. However, with the increasing support for constant productivity, and the glorification of the ‘work while you play’ lifestyle, a place that promises a good time while allowing you to stay on top of your schedule would be perfect.
Estonia is that place.
This technological paradise, that has Wi-Fi just about everywhere you go and almost every service available online will keep you connected while you take the time to explore the country and learn about the culture.
As the country labeled as having more startups per person than anywhere else in the world (yep, Skype was started here) with a burgeoning tech scene, chances are you will meet someone following a similar business path willing to explore the possibility of a partnership. And just like that, your business is international.
6. You can visit Russia without a visa.
Ok, yes, there is a bit of an exaggeration here. You can’t actually stop, walk, take pictures or do anything while passing through Russia.
BUT, there is a unique protrusion of Russian land into Estonia called the Saatse Boot.
This boot separates two villages, and when Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the two villages were effectively cut off from each other. Russia allowed passage through the boot so long as you drive straight through. The spot has recently become a tourist attraction, and people have showed up to take photos of the Russian street signs, even though it’s not allowed.
That’s it. That’s all you’re allowed. Just tell everybody that when you visited Russia you decided to take the scenic route.