This compact corner of the Baltic is drawing trendy visitors seeking new destinations. Although a former Soviet Republic (regaining independence in 1991), Estonia shares ethnic and linguistic roots with the Finns. The countryside is dotted with medieval castles and manors.
Tallinn, the capital, is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities, famed for its ancient stone walls; winding, cobbled streets and torchlit alleys; secret stairways; and tower ramparts. See especially the early 13th-century Toompea Castle, Toomkirik (domed church) and Raekoja Plats (the city hall square). In summer, the sun never really sets, bringing out locals and visitors alike to enjoy the numerous outdoor cafes. Come winter, and the cafe scene moves into the unique cellar bars
The southern city Tartu is neo-classical in style and home of a 365-year-old university, as well as of ancient ruins and leafy parks.
Narva lies on the river separating Estonia and Russia. The inspiring restored tower of medieval Narva Fortress overlooks Ivangorod fortress on the Russian bank. Inside is a gallery and museum to the battles fought here by Swedes, Russians and Teutonic Knights.
Parnu, on the western coast, is the summer capital and known for its sandy beaches, mud baths and Art Deco hotels. Nearby is Haapsalu, a longtime resort popular in the 19th century with Russian royals.
The large islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa were quite isolated during Soviet times. Hiiumaa remains wild and silent, perfect for getaways. Saaremaa is known for wooden windmills; stone-and-thatch cottages; and the perfectly preserved Bishop’s Castle.
A day trip from Tallinn takes you to Lahemaa National Park on the highway to St. Petersburg. The park’s 162,500 acres are great for swimming and hiking, or just exploring the manors.