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Travel: Where old and new combine, enchantment of Estonia flies under the radar

© Slezkin GennadiyStunning architecture and a great range of activities will make your Estonia stay a joy at any time of the year
Stunning architecture and a great range of activities will make your Estonia stay a joy at any time of the year.

Despite being the smallest of the Baltic states, Estonia packs a lot in, and my dog-sledding adventure in the tiny suburb of Tallinn was one of the exhilarating highlights of what was an emotional visit to the Land of my Fathers – although no one I spoke to was familiar with my grandad! It seems there was a mass exodus during the Soviet times.

During the winter months, the entire country is covered with snow, so it is ideal for wrapping up and embracing all kinds of outdoor Nordic activities. If you’ve always wanted to transport yourself into a Christmas card, a visit to Small Lapland, a family-run business in the depths of the forest in Uuejärve, is a must.

Trekking in Small Lapland © SYSTEM
Trekking in Small Lapland

Start with a guided kicksled trek through the fairytale forest, which will take you to an ancient farmhouse and newly opened sledding centre. It is home to seven pure-bred and extremely lovable Alaskan malamutes, who enjoy being petted just as much as they love kicking up their paws and zooming you through the snow on your sledding adventure.

Designed as a year-round activity centre, these beautiful beasts can transport you on a solo adventure or in a four-wheeler on a 1.5km ride, which takes in the stunning and unique scenery. And when the temperature rises, you can still hitch a ride, but this time the dogs take the lead whilst you’re atop a fat scooter, so there truly is something for all seasons.

With 50% of the nation covered by forest and wetlands, it is a forager’s dream, and the Estonian State Forest Management Centre has compiled a list of best mushroom and berry picking spots, so you can find out more about this pastime here too.

The country is also famous for saunas, which have been around since the Stone Ages – there is even an annual European Sauna Marathon which takes place over two days in two towns.

Renowned to relieve stress, boost endorphins and provide spiritual connection, I was keen to experience the immersion and embrace this version of self-care – even more so after watching the acclaimed 2023 movie, “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” and hearing about David Beckham’s love of his hot house.

I joined the sauna cult at the cosy Iglupark which is in the heart of Noblessner Marina, the harbour district of Tallinn. In the summer, you can have drinks or dinner with a view of the Baltic sea or rent a yacht – and dipping in the Baltic was encouraged between sessions in the winter too.

My session was led by sauna master Karl Peeter and, although it is not necessary to have a guide, if you want to immerse yourself completely in the traditional routine, it is well worth it. Karl added water to the hot stones to release clouds of scalding steam to take the temperatures to at least 80C, whilst my party of six followed instructions to gently beat one another with our sauna whisks made of birch leaves which nobody could deny was a bonding experience.

Leaving the sauna feeling extremely refreshed, I was keen to explore Estonia’s culture without taking any more clothes off! Famed as being one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world, Tallinn is extremely proactive, but has retained its attractive Old Town, with an array of well-preserved religious sites which date back to the 1500s.

You can stroll through the cobbled streets to soak up the Hanseatic legacy and take in notable sites including the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St Olaf’s Church, which may be one of the unluckiest religious sites as it has been struck by lightning no fewer than 10 times, causing extensive fires in 1625, 1820 and 1931.

St Catherine’s Passage is a great spot to pick up some local handicrafts, whilst the stunning baroque architecture at Kadriorg Palace is a respite during the heady summer months with its lush gardens and water features.

However if you’re craving something a little more edgy, the Rotermanni Quarter, which is separated from the old town by a main road leading to the port, was established by the Rotermann dynasty during the 19th Century. Nowadays, these warehouses have been given a facelift and transformed into modern apartments, offices, shops and cafés. Known locally as the Creative City, it has become a popular meeting place for hipsters, with a great vibe and bustling flea market every Saturday.

No longer just famous for vodka, Estonia is also experiencing a microbrewery boom and the country’s first brewery can be found in the historical Noblessner district. Conveniently close to the Telliskivi Creative City, this side of town is filled with independent galleries, small businesses, boutique restaurants, and the very cool international Fotografiska Tallinn museum which is renowned for its array of imagery.

The most recent addition to the area is the country’s first privately owned art museum. The PoCo Pop & Contemporary Art Museum, is the brainchild of art collector Linnar Viik, who has installed his personal modern art collection to tantalise the senses.

Inside the gallery, you will be transported to another universe where major players from the pop art world are juxtaposed with contemporary Estonian artists resulting in a kaleidoscope of approaches to pop art and culture.

However, those in the know will be heading a little further afield to Estonia’s second city, Tartu, which has been appointed a European Capital of Culture for 2024 and promises a spectrum of exciting events.

The city is famed for its universities and great nightlife, but this year, the year-long schedule promises intriguing exhibitions, theatre shows and music gigs, architectural design projects, ground-breaking digital film screenings and gastronomy pop-ups. You can even get involved in folk medicine workshops and guided forest bathing in the intriguing “Arts of Survival” programme. Situated on the Emajõgi River, the only waterway in Estonia that is fully navigable, enjoy a ride on the medieval wooden barge, Jõmmu, designed for inland waters or immerse yourself in history at the National Museum of Estonia.

If you visit for a long weekend, there is no doubt you will be tempted to return.


For more information visit

Regent Holidays offers a six night twin-centre break to Tallinn and Tartu, includes flights and accommodation from £865 pp, based on two sharing. Activities extra Tallinn & Tartu Twin Centre | Book Estonia Tours (

Hiking Tours: Matkapesa and Indietours

Small Lapland

PoCo Art


Iglu Park

Eesti Nature Information

TARTU 2024