For such a small country, there are a lot of things to do in Estonia. I am narrowing it down by making this article about day trips from Tallinn, the Estonia capital. All of these Tallinn day trips are within two hours of the city (or not much more than two hours). You can plan to stay in Tallinn and venture out. Conversely, you could easily spend more than a day in a lot of these Estonian cities and national parks.
Things To Do in Estonia: Day Trips From Tallinn
If you read my post about things to do in Tallinn, Estonia, you’ll notice that there is a mix of medieval history, Soviet Era oddities, and natural areas. It’s the same when you are looking for what to do in Estonia. These Tallinn day tours can be taken on your own or with a guide. I’ll let you know which I think is the better choice for each one. I’ll also walk you through the transportation options for your tour of Estonia. Most places can be accessed by train or bus, but some will require a car, whether driven by you or as part of a tour.
Best Place to Stay in Estonia
Since you are reading this, I am guessing that you will be staying in Tallinn on your trip to Estonia. I mentioned several hotels and apartments in the Tallinn Guide and I will repeat them here. There are ten hotels in Tallinn that meet Green Key criteria. While not every eco-friendly hotel in Tallinn has the certification, these are a good place to start.
Tallinn Hotels Old Town or Near Old Town
Nordic Hotel Forum — a four-star business and conference hotel in the very heart of Tallinn, at the prominent location on the edge of the picturesque Tallinn Old Town. They are the first hotel in Tallinn to raise bees! They have six beehives with over 360,000 bees on the roof.
Radisson Blu Sky Hotel Tallinn – a luxury skyscraper looking out over the city’s medieval spires and towers towards the beautiful Gulf of Finland. You’ll find Tallinn Spa inside the hotel along with fine restaurants.
Park Inn by Radisson Meriton Conference & Spa Hotel – colorful, comfy rooms between the walls of Old Town and Telliskivi. Another hotel spa Tallinn offers as part of the Estonian spa culture.
Solo Sokos Hotel Estoria – Estonia is known for design and some of the best Estonian designers are featured in this hotel just outside Old Town. This may be the best hotel in Tallinn due to its design and location. Plus, free breakfast.
Original Sokos Hotel Viru – former home to the KGB and still a temporary home to many foreigners, the Hotel Viru gives you a chance to stay where history was made. Enjoy the KGB Bar on the 23rd floor with views of Old Town Tallinn.
von Stackelberg Hotel – an elegant lifestyle hotel built in 1874 and totally renovated in 2015. Its limestone walls, wooden ceiling and floors reflect the hotel’s historical atmosphere.
Economy Hotel – this budget-friendly hotel is located between Old Town and Telliskivi.
Central Tallinn Hotels
Radisson Blu Hotel Olümpia – located in the center of Tallinn, this Radisson Blu has a fitness and health center on the 26th floor with the opportunity to take a refreshing swim in a pool, work out in a well-equipped gym, or relax in a hot sauna overlooking the city.
Park Inn by Radisson Central Tallinn – modern comfort, an international restaurant, and vibrant, cozy rooms in central Tallinn.
Hotels in Nõmme
Tähetorni Hotel – a warmly decorated hotel in green and lush Nömme. With its spires and winding stairs, it feels a bit like a castle.
Getting Around Estonia
If you are staying in Tallinn, you won’t find much need for a car. Everything is accessible by walking, public transportation, or with a ride sharing service like Bolt. Once you head out of town that changes, however. I’ll tell you the best way to get to each of the things to see in Estonia, but there are a couple things to consider beforehand.
Public Transportation in Estonia
Estonia travel is very easy. You can take a bus or train to almost anywhere. The downside is that the buses and trains may not run as often as you’d like. So, you’ll have to plan your trip accordingly. You can plug in where you want to go on the Tallinna Transport site (and switch to “regional transport”) and find your route and time tables.
Car Hire Estonia
You can easily and affordably rent a car for a day out of town. Driving in Estonia is easy, especially if you come from the United States or elsewhere in mainland Europe. Estonians drive on the right side of the road and those roads are mostly well maintained. When we read about car rental in Estonia, we read that U.S. citizens must have a valid U.S. driver’s license and an International Driving Permit. But when we called about renting a car, the International Driving Permit was not required. If you haven’t left the country yet, you might as well stop by AAA and get an international permit.
You must have your lights on at all times and the driver and front seat passenger must wear a seatbelt (but, obviously, everyone in the car should wear a seatbelt.) Child seats are not mandatory. If you want to use one, check that the rental car place has one ahead of time… or bring your own. Speed Limits in Estonia
- City: 30mph/50kph
- Open Roads: 60mph/100kph
- Highways: 54mpg/90kph
Now let’s get onto what to see in Estonia on a day trip from Tallinn. I’m bringing in some blogging friends, because we didn’t see all these places ourselves.
Map of Estonia Day Trips
Lahemaa National Park and Viru Raba
“Lahemaa National Park is one of the very unknown parks of Estonia, but that can only mean that you can have it all to yourself when you get there. First, we visited the Kasmu fishing village to learn some history of the region and then we continued to the “adrenaline” part of the day.
“We hadn’t heard the term ‘bog walking’ before we got to Viru Raba. As the word bog suggests, it’s extremely hard/impossible to walk over bogs without actually bogging down the wet grounds. The national park has taken care of the visitors, who want to explore it on foot and built wooden boardwalks. So as long as you stick to the boardwalk (which can be very narrow at times), there’s no chance of bogging down.
“You just walk surrounded by trees and bogs, finding amazing species of flora and fauna with a few signs explaining what you see. There are some legends that say people used to get lost in the bogs – especially when there is the winter fog. The whole place feels mystical and a bit creepy. We recommend Viru Raba to anyone who wants to try off-the-beaten-path (even literally) places in Estonia.” — Bistra and Nace from The Magic of Traveling
Lahemaa National Park was the first area of the former Soviet Union to be designated a National Park. It’s an easy day trip from Tallinn as it’s just 70 kilometers to the east, along the Gulf of Finland. Lahemaa is known for its raised bogs, including 7,000-year-old Laukasoo Reserve, and its wildlife: lynx, wolves, red deer, boar, and cranes stopping on their migration to the Bosphorus and Egypt.
There are several manors in the park and a (formerly) secret Soviet submarine base: Hara Submarine Base.
This is one of the top Estonia places to visit as it has so much diversity to offer. These bus lines stop near Viru Raba: 155E, 363, 367. It’s around a one-hour ride. The closest stop is Loksa Tee, which is 1,020 meters away or a 13 min walk.
Rummu Quarry and Rummu Underwater Prison
In Estonia, things to do can be pretty unusual. Like swimming around a Soviet prison, for example.
“Tired of seeing museums, building and walking through parks in Tallinn? Then you are in the right place. Located 45 km southwest of Tallinn is a unique attraction called Rummu Underwater Prison (Rummu Karjäär) that not many people have heard of.
“The Rummu underwater prison has been abandoned since 1991, when Estonia defeated the Soviets and regained its independence. The purpose of the prison was to force inmates to work at the nearby limestone quarry. However, after it was abandoned, water began to seep through the limestone from the quarry. With no one there to stop it, water began to quickly fill up the nearby land started to submerge the prison. Nowadays, more of the prison is underwater than above water.
“Rummu underwater prison has become like a beach destination where people come and sit by the lake and relax. Some visitors like to dive in the lake to see the remaining parts of the Rummu underwater prison while some others like to jump off the top. It is an excellent day-trip idea for travelers staying in Tallinn.” — Sean from LivingoutLau
From Tallinn’s Balti Jaam, take bus 136, 146, 149, or 712 toward Laimi or Harju-Risti. Get off the bus at Rummu and walk about 20 minutes. It’s around a one-hour drive or a one and a half hour bus trip. While you are there you can visit Padise manor and monastery ruins. You can also visit our next destination, the Ämari Air Base Soviet Relics, on the same outing from Tallinn.
Ämari Air Base Soviet Relics
As you are starting to see, Estonia tourism includes many Soviet relics. Here’s another.
“Situated just 45 km west of Tallinn, near the town of Ämari, this Soviet times relic is an interesting day trip for those who like historical sights. We got there while cycling in Estonia. It’s also very close to the Rummu Quarry (see above) so the two can be easily done in one day.
“Hidden in the woods near the Ämari Air Base, this small but atmospheric pilots’ graveyard hosts the bodies of Soviet airmen buried beneath the fins of the very aircraft they probably died in.
“Although Estonians, understandably, do their best to forget their times under the Soviet regime, the many relics of those times as still scattered around the country, and are a piece of Estonian history worth knowing. The Amari Pilot Cemetery indeed has no signs pointing at it, like most of the Soviet era stuff in Estonia – it’s pretty easy to spot once past the little village of Ämari.” — Daniele from Cycloscope – Bicycle Touring Planet Earth
To reach the Soviet cemetery, take bus 107, 145, or 146 toward Munalaskme, Harju-Risti, or Laimi. Get off the bus at the Amari stop. You will spend between one hour and an hour and 15 minutes on the bus. You can drive there in 40 minutes from Tallinn.
When we were in Estonia, Christine (The Uncorked Librarian) kept encouraging us to visit Parnu. Unfortunately, we didn’t follow her advice and we missed out on this cool Estonia city. Don’t make the same mistake we did; check out all the things to do in Parnu, Estonia.
“Did you ever just drive into a city and know that it was love at first sight? “While road tripping through the Baltics, we decided to stop in Parnu, Estonia on the way to Tallinn from Riga, Latvia. Parnu is about 1.5 hours by car from the fairytale walled city of Old Town Tallinn and is easily drivable. Who knew that this off the beaten track pit stop would be the most memorable part of our trip?
“Parnu greets visitors with cobblestone streets, picturesque churches and doorways, and al fresco cafes. In the summer, Parnu is a jumping beach town full of piping hot pizza, ice cream, and sunbathers. The promenade offers a way to stretch your legs and breath in the salty fresh air.
“If you only have a few hours to spend in the city, peruse the colorful street murals and doorways. Stroll past St. Elizabeth’s and St. Catherine’s Russian-inspired churches and window shop for the best hippie fashion and wooden toys. Contemplate contemporary art at the Parnu Museum.
“I am always hungry—so grab a bite to eat too. Mahedik offers delicious brunch and coffees while Mum Café fills tired and grumbling bellies with trendy burgers. Plus, the Mum Café lines their walls with wine and books. I promise, you won’t regret a visit to Parnu when looking for things to do in Estonia.” — Christine from The Uncorked Librarian
To reach Parnu from Tallinn, you have the option of several bus lines or driving. Both the bus and self-driving take a little under two hours.
One of the places we loved visiting in our Tallinn travel time was Naissaar Island. The 11 by four-kilometer island is a one-hour boat ride from Tallinn Harbor. While it is a small island, there is a lot to do during a Tallinn day trip.
Anders and I rented bikes and rode to one end of the island and to the lighthouse, while Henry and Finn walked to the other end. We picked blueberries and sat on one of the nicest beaches in Estonia.
There is interesting history on Naissaar. When you start looking at where to go in Estonia, you will find the Russians got there before you did. Naissaar is no exception. In 1912, Tsarist Russians built narrow gauge rail lines, which you can still ride on in a tourist train. In 1934, the Soviets were back and turned the island into a military base to manufacture sea mines, the casings of which litter the island to this day. And, you can take a tour of the island in Soviet military jeeps. Now the island is mostly a nature preserve with six families living there.
There are two little cafés on the island. We got drinks and ice cream, but you can get more substantial food there as well.
Unless you have your own boat, you’ll need to hop on the Katharina. The boat departs from Seaplane Harbour port pier A3. A round trip ticket is €20. Or board the ships Monica or Elina. These ships leave from the Fish Market Port and a round trip ticket costs €20.
Another island that you can easily access from Tallinn Harbor on a day trip is Prangli Island. This is one of the more popular Estonia tourist attractions. The downside is that you will see more people than on nearby Naissaar Island, but the upside is that there is more to do.
Prangli Island is Estonia’s only permanently inhabited northern island and the closest with a native settlement. A trip to Prangli Island can include time in nature, as well as a cultural and historical experience. Even though it is so close to the mainland of Estonia, the approximately 70 people who live there speak their own dialect of Estonian and use specialized boats.
The island has sandy beaches, pine forests, fishing villages, a couple museums, and in the summer, a restaurant.
Most day trips to Prangli Island from Tallinn include:
- A transfer from Tallinn’s City Center to Leppneeme Port
- A 2.5-hour guided truck tour around the island
- A visit to the Prangli church
- Exploration of the traditional fishing villages
- A visit to a gas well
- A chance to see the island’s largest boulder (sounds weird, but it is an impressive glacial erratic)
- Seeing the memorial for the ship Eestirand
If you prefer to visit on your own, you can take the local ferry, Wrangö, from Leppneeme Port (about 30 minute drive from Tallinn), rent your own speed boat or sailboat from Leppneeme Port, or ride aboard Sunlines’ Katharina. From Tallinn to Leppneeme port you can either take a taxi (approx. 10-15 euros one way) or use public transport bus no. 1A and V2.
Soomaa National Park
Soomaa National Park can be found within Pärnu and Viljandi counties in Estonia. Ever since I discovered the park has a Fifth Season – the period of spring flooding in the national park – I have wanted to visit. Of course, the ancient history from the Stone Age will draw you to this Estonia must see sight as well.
This national park is almost completely comprised of bogs, and heavy rain and melting snow cause flooding among those bogs and even the roads.
The fifth season is the perfect time to visit Estonia and this national park, despite the extra water, because this is when it is possible to explore Soomaa National Park via canoe or kayak. This is a great way to see the spectacular wildlife that lives throughout the park, including, wild boar, deer, elk, wolves, bears, lynx, and beavers and their dams. Birds of all kinds also live in Soomaa, so you will definitely see a few new species during your time there.
While floating on the water is a must in Soomaa, every Estonia travel guide recommends a little hiking too. The Beaver Trail is an excellent starting point, as it is just under two kilometers and leads directly to the beavers’ homes. The Rissa Nature Trail is also interesting, and while it is approximately five kilometers, it shouldn’t be too difficult since the entire trail is on a carefully maintained boardwalk.
The easiest way to get to Soomaa from Tallinn is to rent a car, as there isn’t a direct route to the park. Once you are in the Estonian National Park, you will need to get around, so having a car helps there, too.
You can take a bus or train to Pärnu and then take a local bus to Tori. You can also take a train to Tori from Tallinn. Once you are in the park, there are several guiding companies that can show you around and set you up with canoeing or bog walking/hiking. For more information, visit Soomaa.com.
The town of Paldiski has quite the history, which includes a number of name changes over the years. When it was a village, it was known as Rågervik before changing into Балтийский Порт, Baltiski, and finally the current name. I chose this day trip destination, because I was intrigued with how such a bustling military area could become practically desolate in a short amount of time.
The rare wildlife that lives there and the stunning scenic views make it one of the best Estonia beautiful places to visit. There is so much to do in Paldiski and you will need to use your time wisely to see and appreciate all the Estonia attractions.
Start at Peter’s Fortress before continuing to see both the St. George Orthodox Church and the Lutheran St. Nicholas Church. The former was constructed in 1787 and the latter in 1842. After that, take some time to see the limestone cliffs over on the west side and enjoy some lunch before you wander through the numerous ruins and see the experimental reactor. If you can, spend some time in the two cemeteries, but if you are short on daylight (not a problem in the summer when it seems to be light almost 24 hours a day) focus on the Lutheran cemetery and skip the Orthodox one.
Paldiski is about 45 miles west of Tallinn and can be reached by car, taxi (Uber or Bolt), bus, or train. Paldiski has a terminal station on the Elron rail line. As part of the town’s redevelopment, this once near-derelict station has been renovated and painted in bright yellow and white colors and is a beautiful way to arrive in the city. The bus and the train are both substantially cheaper than taking a taxi or rideshare (under $5 vs. $35).
Haapsalu might be a small town, but it is full of spas, restaurants, and more international festivals than one can count. Plus, it’s slightly closer to Tallinn than the more popular Paru, which means you can spend more time exploring the narrow winding streets on a day trip. If you can only pick one of these cities in Estonia, you’ll have a bit of a trial.
The main goal in Haapsalu is to visit a spa and get a massage or other type of treatment, but there is much more to this fascinating destination. Your itinerary can also include wandering through a wooden house or two, spending time at the Episcopal Castle, and visiting the local museum. Don’t miss the Hapsal Dietrich and Muuriaare Café in Haapsalu to grab a bite to eat. Bonus if you get to both of those restaurants.
Before leaving one of the best places to visit in Estonia, plan to walk along the promenade one last time to capture the panoramic views and simply enjoy the history, wildlife, and ambiance for every second you can.
Haapsalu is about 100 kilometers southwest of Tallinn and can be reached by car or bus (there is no longer a train route). It’s about a 1.5-hour bus ride from Tallinn to Haapsalu.
There are several companies to choose from which leave from Tallinn to Haapsalu once or twice an hour. The buses generally have air conditioning and Wi-Fi, so it’s a pleasant ride. You can buy tickets at the Tallinn Central Bus Station (Tallinna Bussijaam, Lastekodu 46) or online.
Alutaguse National Park
I love animals of all kinds and while I know that I can never get all snuggly with wildlife, there is no rule that says that I cannot enjoy those creatures from a distance.
If you also love wildlife, you should try to do a little bear watching in Alutaguse when in Estonia. It is thought that there are at least seven hundred bears in Estonia and at least half of them live within Alutaguse. This Estonia sightseeing trip will have you spending time inside a bear watching hide or blind, which hopefully is more comfortable than it looks.
Bear watching Estonia is best done from the end of April through the middle of July and again from the middle of August until the end of October. That is not to say that you would not see bears throughout the rest of the year, but they are more active during these times.
When you aren’t in the bear hide, you can walk through the forest with a guide to look for bear tracks and see if you can spot any of the other animals that live among the bears. Alutaguse is Estonia’s sixth and newest national park. It’s been around a few years, but hasn’t made it on to Google Maps, yet.
Alutaguse National Park is a two hour and 15 minute drive from Tallinn (183 kilometers southeast). It’s probably easiest to drive there, but you can do a combination of bus and taxi. If you go the bus/taxi route, talk to your tour guide before you go and ask him or her what they suggest. Natourest and Estonian Wildlife Tours are both great companies and you will have an enjoyable trip with either.
One of the things we really enjoyed while staying in Estonia is spending one day in Helsinki. (We actually spent the night and spent two half-days in Helsinki, as we were there to catch a ferry to St. Petersburg.)
The capital city of Finland offers a laid back vibe that is unusual in many bustling city streets. After traveling from Tallinn to Helsinki, we checked into our hotel and went looking for food.
If you are on a day trip, go straight from the ferry to the Helsinki Cathedral. Once you’ve seen the cathedral up close, your one day in Helsinki might include stops at the Temppeliaukio Church, Uspenski Cathedral, Old Market Hall, and the National Museum of Finland. You could also rent a bike or scooter to explore the seven-kilometer trail along the waterfront, and then ride the vintage tram, or enjoy a picnic lunch at Esplanadi.
Part of the Finnish experience is to visit an authentic sauna in the country that made them famous. Seurasaari Island could also be on your list of things to do in Helsinki in a day. This open-air museum is filled with old workshops, cottages, manor houses, and even farms. The employees wear traditional clothing and share how the locals would have lived and worked during specific periods of the last four hundred plus years.
Honestly, it will be hard to get the full Helsinki experience in a day trip, but you can get a taste that will have you coming back for more.
Hotels in Helsinki
If you decide to spend the night in Helsinki, I recommend:
Hotel F6 has a great location between the Esplandi and the harbor. You will be able to walk to all the best sites in Helsinki right from the hotel. The hotel is cozy and feels like Finland. Quality furnishings and linens make this upscale hotel one of the top rated in Helsinki. Find the best deal on Hotel F6 and see more reviews here.
Hotel Lilla Roberts is another lovely hotel with a great location. Like Hotel F6, you’ll be surrounded by Helsinki’s attractions and restaurants. This swanky chic hotel was built in the Art Deco style and has spacious rooms and friendly staff. Find the best deal on Hotel Lilla Roberts and see more reviews here.
Getting to Helsinki From Tallinn
For this day trip, take the ferry to Helsinki from Tallinn. There are ferries running from Helsinki to Tallinn and back all day. A lot of Finns take the ferry over, load up on cheap booze, and take the ferry back without spending any time in Tallinn other than at one of the many alcohol stores near the port. (We had a view of Super Alko from our apartment window!)
Whether you bring alcohol with you or not on the Tallinn Helsinki ferry, you will have several lines to choose from. We found the Eckerö Line Tallinn to have to best deals and offer great service. The Tallinn Helsinki ferry price will depend on the time of day, day of the week, and time of year, as well as the ferry line.
We use Direct Ferries to book our ferry tickets from Tallinn to Helsinki because they compare all the prices for us.
- Tallinn to Helsinki Ferry Time: 2 hours – 2 hours and 15 minutes
- Tallinn to Helsinki Ferry Cost: $35 – $55 per person
Guidebooks For Estonia
There are a lot of great guide books for Estonia. Most of them include Latvia and Lithuania, as well, since many people visit all three. You could take the day trips from Tallinn in the article and combine them to make a road trip through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.