A small country in the Baltics, a region in the far northeastern corner of Europe, Estonia is one of those places that’s less visited by the mass crowds. Those, however, who do visit Estonia are nearly always overwhelmed by the country’s gorgeous architecture, fascinating culture and history, and—not in the least—the national parks in Estonia.
A Modern Nation in a Less Visited Part of Europe
Estonia is one of the world’s most modern nations. Its economy is advanced and one of Europe’s fastest growing. Ranking consistently high in the Human Development Index, it has some of the world’s best civil liberties, press freedom and education. For example, both education and health care are free to its citizens. Additionally, Estonians also have the longest paid maternity leave of any country in the world.
Besides these socially progressive standpoints, Estonia is also one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries. Only one fact is needed to illustrate this: the software of Skype—now one of the world’s most popular communications media—was created by Estonians.
In 2005, Estonia became the first nation in the world to hold e-elections (elections via the Internet). A decade later, in 2014, it was the first country to provide e-residency to non-Estonians. Simply put, Estonia does pretty much everything online.
Many foreigners tend to be rather oblivious to the highly advanced society in which Estonians live nowadays. These few facts will, hopefully, show you what you can expect when visiting Estonia.
A Deep Connection With Nature
There’s also an entirely different side to the country—a side that is, perhaps, necessary in the ultramodern world of modern-day Estonia. Estonia is also an exceptionally green country. Covered for almost 50% in forest and home to more than 2,000 lakes, nature is never far away.
This offers locals, as well as visitors, the chance to escape the digital world, recharge and reconnect with nature. Even though most Estonians now live urban lives in cities, they’re still very much rooted in nature. On weekends and days off, they continue to visit the country’s beautiful natural areas to reinvigorate their bodies and minds.
Get Back to Nature in the National Parks in Estonia
The national parks in Estonia are fantastic places to do just that—get back to nature, settle your wandering mind and enjoy some physical exercise.
Lahemaa National Park
Situated 45 miles (or 70 kilometers) east of the Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park was the first area that became a national park in the entire former Soviet Union. Protecting 280 square miles (or 725 square kilometers) of coastal cliffs, pine forests, bogs and sandy shores, this is the largest of the national parks in Estonia and one of the largest in Europe.
Due to its coastal location, it’s also one of Europe’s most significant conservation areas. Several hiking trails cross the park, offering outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to spot iconic wildlife, such as lynx, wolves and brown bears.
Soomaa National Park
Its name meaning “land of bogs”, Soomaa National Park is one of Europe’s greatest wilderness areas. With its raw natural beauty and scenic landscapes, it attracts adventurers, photographers and tourists alike. The park protects a region characterized by meandering rivers, raised bogs, grasslands and forests.
It is home to the largest peat bog system on the continent. Other noteworthy features are the Kuresoo raised bog and the highest sand dunes in Estonia. This is one of northeastern Europe’s wildest areas, a place of expansive wilderness and plenty of high-profile wildlife. Animals ranging from wild boars and moose to brown bears and wolves call the park home.
Matsalu National Park
Matsalu National Park protects one of Europe’s most important coastal wetlands. It lies on the so-called East Atlantic Flyway, a popular route for migratory birds. The park encompasses Matsalu village, Matsalu Bay and the delta of the Kasari River. It’s one of the top bird-watching destinations on the entire continent—more than 250 different bird species have been spotted there.
You can explore Matsalu National Park on foot, by bicycle or by boat. Several bird-watching towers dot the landscape, providing a place to rest and scout the landscape for rare birds.
Vilsandi National Park
Located on the island of Vilsandi in the Baltic Sea, Estonia’s westernmost island, Vilsandi National Park also comprises numerous smaller islands and western parts of Saaremaa island. This park, too, lies on the above-mentioned East Atlantic Flyway. Originated as a bird reserve, its status has been upgraded to national park, simply because of its immense ecological importance.
One-third of all of Estonia’s protected species of plants are found in the park. In addition to its major significance as a stopover place for migratory birds, it’s also an important breeding ground for more than 200 different bird species.
Karula National Park
Created to revive the country culture of southern Estonia and to promote an environment-friendly lifestyle, Karula National Park is the smallest of the national parks in Estonia. Despite its small size, it’s home to a wide variety of landscapes and habitats, ranging from bogs and swamps to forests, highlands and dozens of lakes. This diversity in biotopes is responsible for the area’s rich flora and fauna. The park provides a habitat for endangered plant species, such as daisyleaf grape ferns and Baltic orchids. Animal life includes elk, European polecats, eagles and black storks.
Karula National Park not only protects the area natural features; it also preserves the local lifestyle and cultural heritage. People living in the area have always lived close to nature and, in these times of increased ecological awareness, can offer an insight in how to keep one’s ecological footprint as low as possible.
When visiting Estonia, you’re strongly encouraged to visit some of its ancient cities—Tallinn is phenomenal!—but also don’t forget to bring your hiking boots and explore the national parks in Estonia.