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Quick Facts
CapitalTallinn
Governmentparliamentary republic
CurrencyEstonian kroon (EEK)
pegged to the Euro
Areatotal: 45,226 sq km
note: includes 1,520 islands in the Baltic Sea
water: 2,015 sq km
land: 43,211 sq km
Population1,415,681 (July 2002 est.)
LanguageEstonian (official), Russian, Ukrainian, Finnish, other
ReligionEvangelical Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Estonian Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Word of Life, Jewish

Estonia is a Baltic country in Eastern Europe. It has land borders with Latvia and Russia. With a coastline on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, Estonia also has seaborders with Finland and Sweden.

Regions

Estonia is divided into 15 counties (or maakonnad, singular - maakond)

  • Tallinn : the capital - in Harjumaa
  • Tartu : second largest city - in Tartumaa
  • K�rdla in Hiiumaa
  • J�hvi in Ida-Virumaa
  • Paide in J�rvamaa
  • J�geva in J�gevamaa
  • Haapsalu in L��nemaa
  • Rakvere in L��ne-Virumaa
  • P�rnu in P�rnumaa
  • P�lva in P�lvamaa
  • Rapla in Raplamaa
  • Kuressaare in Saaremaa
  • Valga in Valgamaa
  • Viljandi in Viljandimaa
  • V�ru in V�rumaa

Other destinations

Understand

Estonia is a gem of a country offering visitors the chance to see a country that is both ex-Soviet Union and now proudly European Union. The traces of the Soviet era are still there to see — a deserted Soviet army base that was once off-limits to Estonians themselves can easily be visited. Tallinn's old town is in magnificent condition, with the medieval city walls and towers almost complete, and surely rates amongst Europe's best old towns. Glorious beaches are on offer, although the swimming season is short. After all, the Baltics are not reknown for warm weather. And therein lies something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — summer is short and winter is severe.

History

After 8 centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. It is now one of the more-prosperous former Communist states, enjoying a highly-technological environment, a very open and liberal economy and a transparent government system. On the other hand, it is faced with a fairly low (but growing) GDP per capita in a European Union context, as well as a very low birth rate which is leading to rapid population decline.

Since accession to the EU Estonia is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Europe with EU highest, 30% growth in the number of visitors in 2004, according to Eurostat.

Geography

Climate 
maritime, wet, moderate winters, cool summers
Terrain 
marshy, lowlands; flat in the north, hilly in the south
Elevation extremes 
lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Suur Munamagi 318 m (in the south east of Estonia, 20km north of the main highway that runs from Riga to Russia close to the borders of Estonia with both countries).
Geography - note 
the mainland terrain is flat, boggy, and partly wooded; offshore lie more than 1,500 islands
Nature 
Estonia is perhaps the only EU country outside Scandinavia where wildlife has preserved almost the same since prehistoric times. Thanks to the devastation brought by the Second World War on civil population and abundance of areas closed for USSR military purposes Estonia's forest coverage increased from about 25% before the war to more than 50% by 1991. Wolves, bears, elks, deers as well as some rare bird and plant species are abundant in Estonia. The wild animals from Estonia are exported to some EU countries for forest repopulation programmes. Most of the animals are hunted according to yearly quotas.

Holidays

National holiday 
Independence Day (http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_459/400.html), 24 February (1918); note - 24 February 1918 was the date of independence from Soviet Russia, 20 August 1991 was the date of reindependence from the Soviet Union. Each 24 February a grand ball is held in the building of Estonia Theatre by the president for the prominent and important members of society and foreign dignitaries.
Jaanipaev 
St John's Day or Midsummer Day (http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_174/1190.html) held on the night of 23-24 June. The evening of the 23rd and well into the morning of the 24th is celebrated with bonfires and a traditional festive menu concentrating on barbeque and drinking.
Christmas 
or Joulud (http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_459/2829.html) is also celebrated in Estonia, this is strictly family event.
New Year Eave 
During the period of Soviet occupations the authorities sought to promote New Year as Christmas was all but forbidden for it alleged "religious" and "nationalist" character. After restoration of independence the significancy of the New Year decreased, but it is still a day-off and celebrated. This day is used by the leaders of the country to address the nation.

Get in

As Estonia is a member of the European Union, citizens from these countries can enter Estonia with a valid passport or a valid identity card. In addition more than 30 other nationals (including United States, Canada, Japan) can enter Estonia without visa (detailed list at Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affaires (http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_132/915.html)).

By plane

Estonia's international gateway is Tallinn. In addition to direct daily flights to/from all major Scandinavian (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen,Oslo) and Baltic cities (Riga, Vilnius) there are direct flights from all major European hubs like London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam and regional hubs like Prague and Warsaw. Eastwards connections are from Moscow and Kiev. Local carrier Estonian Air provides half of the services and the rest is provided by Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, LOT, CSA, Air Baltic and others. Starting from late autumn 2004 also major low-cost carriers (Easyjet) entered this market. Hourly helicopter service is operated between Tallinn and Helsinki city centres.

Close proximity and excellent ferry services with Helsinki allow for combination of open-jaw air travel.

Daily domestic flights are from Tallinn to the islands of Hiiumaa (K�rdla) and Saaremaa (Kuressaare).

Detailed information is available from Tallinn Airport timetable (http://www.tallinn-airport.ee/index.php?page=569).

By train

International train services are to/from Russia, Moscow. Domestic services connect Tallinn with Narva in the east and Viljandi, P�rnu in the south and Tartu, V�ru and Valga in the south-east.

By car

Good road connections are to south (Via Baltica routing Tallinn-Riga-Vilnius-Warsaw) and east (Tallinn-St. Petersburg). Domestic road network is dense and covers all regions of the country.

By bus

Lots of good and cheap connections from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Kaliningrad, Warsaw, and all larger Baltic and German cities. For details see Eurolines Estonia (http://www.eurolines.ee/?lang=eng&id=).

Eurolines can provide visa services to Russia, however it takes two weeks (one week rush).

By boat

Ferry lines connect Tallinn with Sweden (Stockholm), Finland (Helsinki, Mariehamn) and during summers also with Germany (Rostock) and Russia (St Petersburg). Tallinn-Helsinki is one of the busiest searoutes in Europe and has dailiy 20 ferry crossings and nearly 30 different fast-boat and hydrofoil crossings (the later do not operate during winter). For details see Port of Tallinn passenger schedules (http://www.portoftallinn.com/passengers/pass_ship_schedule.shtml). Minor international routs include recently re-established connection between Latvian port of Ventspils and the island of Saaremaa and Paldiski - Kapellsk�r (Sweden) with two different operators.

Get around

The road system is quite dense though the quality of roadcover is varying. The speed limit in countryside is 90 km/h and 50 km/h in the cities unless specified otherwise. The passengers are expected to wear seat belts. Lights must always be switched on.

In the central areas of bigger cities a fee is levied on parking cars, but finding a provider of tickets is sometimes difficult as mobile parking is wide-spread.

By train

Estonia's train network does not cover whole territory. The quality of services has suffered considerably from privatization and the main means of local transport is now bus.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Estonia is generally good. The Baltic countries have a lively hitchhiking culture.

By bus

Estonia has a comprehensive line network all over the country. All bigger cities like Tartu, P�rnu, Viljandi and Narva are accessible by bus network. There is a journey planner at Estonian, though many in urban areas (especially younger people) speak good English. Finnish is linguistically closely related to Estonian and, thanks to heavy tourism and TV broadcasts from the other side of the gulf, many Estonians understand it quite well. There is a significant Russian minority (25%) and some other Slavic speaking minorities as well.

Buy

The local currency is the Estonian kroon, with the scary-sounding currency code EEK. One kroon is divided into 100 sent. Since 1993, the kroon has been fixed to the euro at a rate of 15.64664 to 1.

ATMs and money changers (valuutavahetus) are widely available. You will get the best rates by exchanging only after arrival in Estonia.

Estonia is considered fully prepared and is expected to join the Eurozone on the 1st of January 2007.

Costs

It is no secret that in most post-soviet countries consumer prices are considerable lower than in the Western Europe, in part due to lower taxes. This has been one of the main driving forces behind the inflow of the Nordic guests to Estonia through the 1990s, but prices are rising steadily but surely — in heavily touristed districts (say, Tallinn's Old Town) prices are already equivalent to Scandinavia.

Eat

Estonian food draws heavily from German and Scandinavian cuisine. The closest thing to a national dish is verivorst, blood sausage, served with mulgikapsad, which is basically sauerkraut stew.

Many types of food are close to Russian and have their equivalents almost exclusively in former USSR, such as hapukoor, smetana in Russian, a sour 20%-fat milk dressing for salads, especially "kartulisalat" or "potato salad".

As Estonia used to be a food mass-production powerhouse in the times of USSR, some of its foods, unknown to Westerners, are still well-recognized in the lands of the CIS.

Among other everyday food, some game products are offered in food stores in Estonia, mostly wild boar, elk sausages and deer grill. Some restaurants also offer bear meat.

Drink

Like their neighbors the Finns and the Russians, the Estonians know their alcohol. Favorite tipples include the local beer Saku [1] (http://www.saku.ee) or A. Le Coq [2] (http://www.alecoq.ee), the local vodka Viru Valge [3] (http://www.viruvalge.ee/) and the surprisingly smooth and tasty rum-like herbal liquor Vana Tallinn [4] (http://www.liviko.ee/vanatallinn/index.html?lang=en), famous in the countries of former USSR.

Sleep

Number of hotels has exploded from few to tens and hundreds after Estonia restored independence. In 2004 Tallinn achieved first place among the Baltic Sea cities in the number of overnight stays in hotels, though still behind Stockholm and Helsinki in the number of total overnight stays. A list of bigger hotels as well as some restaurants and nightclubs could be found at Estonian Hotel and Restaurant Association [5] (http://www2.ehrl.ee/index.php?lang=2).

As Soviet collective farms were disbanded many farmers switched to running "turismitalu" or tourism farms which are inexpensive and indispensable places for spending holidays in the nature, usually in former farm house. Site on Estonian Rural Tourism [6] (http://www.maaturism.ee/new/index.php?keel=eng) provides information on the tourism farms in Estonia. Extensive database on accommodation in Estonia could be found at Visit Estonia [7] (http://visitestonia.com/index.php?page=9) tourism site.

Learn

Estonia has a fair amount of foreign students studying in its high schools, especially from Nordic countries. As the site of Ministry of Education and Research [8] (http://www.hm.ee/) notifies, Estonia is a member of several important European frameworks, such as the Bologna and Sorbonne conventions establishing a European Higher Education Area, the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications Concerning Higher Education in the European Region. Estonia and EU Member States have thus mutually recognized corresponding qualifications making Estonian diplomas acceptable Europe-wide. Among universities receiving foreign students perhaps most known are Tartu University (established 1632) and Tallinn Technical University. Extensive coverage of all aspects of Estonia's educational system could be found at SmartEstonia [9] (http://www.smartestonia.ee/index.php?page=6&enter=1) website.

Work

Estonia is a former USSR country and therefore is one of the poorest in the enlarged EU, followed only by two other Baltic States. Average monthly salary (2004) is app. 500 EUR.

Since restoration of independence, Estonia has been following a "small open economy" model, achieving in 2000 4th place worldwide on the openness of its economy (Heritage Foundation). Little or no obstacles exist to citizens of EU and NATO countries (except Canada) to come to invest and work in Estonia. Swedes and Finns have by far the largest working community of post-Soviet foreigners in Estonia.

Considerable investments and some workers are constantly coming from CIS countries, though significant legal restrictions are imposed.

Citizenship and Migration Board [10] (http://www.mig.ee/eng/) is the authority responsible for dealing with the paperwork.

CV Online [11] (http://www.cvonline.ee/) is one of the oldest Estonian recruitement and HR services operating in 9 countries (as of 2005).

Stay safe

Crime rate increased dramatically in 1991-1994 after democratic freedoms were introduced. Today it is still significant problem in Estonia. Murder rate per 100000 inhabitants as of 2000 was some 4-5 times higher than in Sweden and Finland, though significantly lower than in biggest neighbour, Russia. Criminal activities are distributed unevenly across the territory with almost no crime in the island areas and narcotics mafia operating in predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area of North-East. In Tallinn crime is a problem and there are some incidents involving tourists, mainly pickpocketing. Tallinn Old City and other main tourist attractions are closely watched by local police and private security companies.

The main advice to anyone worried about personal security is to stay reasonably sober despite tempting alcohol prices. For police dial 110, for other emergencies like fires and so, call 112.

Ordinary Estonians are unlikely to approach a complete stranger or a tourist on their own. If somebody suddenly turns to you in the streets you'd be wise to watch your belongings.

Stay healthy

For an Estonian it is considered "mauvais ton" not to criticize Estonian healthcare system. Recent EU study showed however that Estonia occupies a healthy 4th place in the block by the basic public health service indicators, on the same level as Sweden. In fact, around 1998-2000 Estonian healthcare system was remodeled from obsolete USSR model, directed to coping with disastrous consequences of large-scale war to more up-to-date by the experts from Sweden. Estonia has harmonized its rules on travelers' health insurance with EU requirements. For fast aid or rescue dial 112.

Respect

If being served in an Estonian home, it's considered disrespectful not to eat all the food served on ones plate.

One should be careful when mentioning Estonia in the context of the former USSR. Estonians consider that period occupation and won't appreciate any praising of Soviet practices during that time.

Contact

Check out www.wifi.ee for a list of WiFi enabled hotspots (591 as of September 2005) across the country.

External links