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From Its Ancient Customs To Its Modern Food Scene: Discover Estonia

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This post is sponsored by Visit Estonia. All opinions are mine and photographs are attributed. 


In March of 1990, I found myself aboard a train leaving Leningrad (as it was known at the time) for Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. Then under Soviet rule, I knew little about this Baltic State. Imagine my surprise when I got off the train and experienced this country with such ancient ties laid out before me. The beauty of the Estonian countryside, the warmth of the people and the stunningly well-preserved medieval architecture have all stayed with me. It has remained on my list of countries I would love to revisit.

Tallinn, Estonia, 1990, Travel,

A photo of the gates of Old Tallinn in March of 1990. Photo by Patricia Steffy.


Why Do I Want to Revisit Estonia?

Ancient Estonia

I want to hear more (and see more) of the ancient country. And I’m not kidding when I say “ancient.” It is reported that Estonian ancestors began to settle on the coast in 9,000 B.C. What would become known as “traditional” Estonian village societies came into being in 800 A.D., and you can still see remains of them today. Tallinn itself was established in 1248, but like other areas of the country, it can trace its earliest human inhabitants back more than 5,000 years.

Old Town Days in Tallinn, Estonia, Travel

Old Town Days in Tallinn. Photo by Toomas Volmer.


Folk Songs

The rhythmic verse of ancient Estonians has been carried through the years on the lilt of folk songs. They say that Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs in the world, and judging by festivals like the Viljandi Folk Music Festival and Estonian Song Festival in Tallinn, the tradition continues to be supported and is thriving.

Viljandi Folk Music Festival, Estonia, Travel

Viljandi Folk Music Festival. Photo by Urmas Volmer.


Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, Estonia, Travel

Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Photo by Sven Zacek.


Tallinn Song Festival, Estonia, Travel

Tallinn Song Festival. Photo by Jaak Nilson.


The Countryside

I did not see nearly enough of the countryside the last time I visited. What I did see by train was magical, but knowing how heavily influenced their art, music and food are by the natural world; I’d love to see more. While I’m not quite fit enough to handle the 820 km long hiking trail through Estonia, I would love to explore ancient bogs and the mystical pine forests. I think Andy and I would both enjoy taking a kaleboat tour of Lake Võrtsjärv.

Hikers in Nature, Estonia, Travel

Hikers in Nature — Photo by Toomas Tuul


The Castles

I’m fascinated by Toompea Castle. To me, it represents the beauty of Estonia, as it merges the ancient with the modern. How? While the castle has been reinforced stronghold since the 9th century for whoever ruled Estonia, today it houses the Estonian Parliament. I love the idea that the current government is literally surrounded by the history of their country. I also want to explore the 13th century Haapsalu Castle (home to a stunning single-nave cathedral) and Kuressaare Castle on Saaremaa Island. Let’s face it – if there is a castle anywhere in Estonia, I’m probably going to want to visit.

Toompea Castle, Travel, Estonia

A view of Toompea Castle. Photo by Kaupo Kalda.


Tallinn: The Old and The New

Old Town Tallinn is a medieval city, and every part of it is a lesson in how Estonia first began. As such, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But more than just an incredible example of ancient times, Tallinn has now become a leader of the digital revolution. Estonia is considered one of the most advanced digital nations in the world. You can vote online, deal with healthcare issues and start a business in under 30 minutes. It’s no wonder that the country has more start-ups per person than any other country in Europe. And if you have ever used Skype or TransferWise, you have already benefitted from their entrepreneurial ways.

Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia, Travel

Tallinn Christmas Market. Photo by Jaanus Ree.


Tallinn City, Estonia, Travel

Tallinn City — Modern Meets Ancient. Photo by Gen Vagula.


The Food Scene

It’s hard to imagine that a place with this much going on is also a foodie’s paradise, but it appears to be true. Everything I’ve read has me salivating and longing to visit during one of their many food festivals (Andy would definitely be on board with Grillfest and RäimeWest Herring Festival). My friends and I loved the cozy restaurants in Tallinn when we visited all those years ago, but now they have blossomed. Traditional restaurants sourced with locally grown produce are plentiful. Dishes have been influenced by their Nordic, Russian and German neighbors, but don’t be surprised if you find very popular Asian-fusion and French kitchens in the city. Fresh, seasonal and pure tastes rule the day here, and, of course, the famous Estonian black bread is always worth a detour.

Food, Estonia, Travel

Traditional Estonian Pork Dish. Photo by Toomas Tuul.


Oobiku Gastronomy Farm, Travel, Estonia, Food

Oobiku Gastronomy Farm. Photo by Mart Vares.


As you can see, I want to explore just about everywhere and everything in Estonia. With Andy ready for a new adventure, don’t be surprised if revisiting the country makes our summer travel bucket list!


This post is sponsored by Visit Estonia. All opinions are mine and photographs are attributed. 

23 Comments on From Its Ancient Customs To Its Modern Food Scene: Discover Estonia

  1. I have only read good things about Estonia. The business climate is also very favorable for expats and long-term travelers. Estonia is also on my travel wish list!

    • PatriciaSteffy // November 30, 2016 at 7:23 pm // Reply

      It does look very business friendly! I loved it when I was there so many years ago, and I’m really anxious to go back and see how much has changed.

  2. Ooh Estonia is now on my bucket list! I think I would want to go in Summer and Winter to fully appreciate this country.

    • PatriciaSteffy // November 30, 2016 at 7:34 pm // Reply

      Yes! I want to see the Christmas markets, but I also want to see all the summer festivals. When we were there in March, it was nice, but too cold for anything to be in bloom yet.

  3. Sounds like such a cultured place to go! Between the food, the history, the castles and everything else, I understand why you want to go back and explore some more!

  4. I have always wanted to visit Estonia but never realized or knew it had so much history! I definitely would want to visit during Christmas time and take advantage of that amazing looking market! The castle also looks like an unforgettable experience!

    • PatriciaSteffy // November 30, 2016 at 11:58 pm // Reply

      The market really does look magical — like somehow it is inside a snow globe rather than real. There’s so much that I’d like to return to see. I hope you get a chance to go!

  5. The history and the castles are what would draw me to Estonia, but I think some of the other things you mentioned would really help round out the experience. It seems like they have really held onto and protected their culture. I would love to experience the music and obviously the food! I love trying different foods while I am traveling.

  6. Estonia is on my bucket list! They have such a rich history and I have a soft spot for castles! And the Christmas market looks amazeballs!

  7. This looks so magical! I had no idea Estonia was so rich in history. The Christmas tree is totally what dreams are made of. The castle belongs in a fairytale!

  8. I don’t know very much about Estonia – definitely I had no idea it was settled so long ago. That photo of the choir is funny – everyone is blonde and beautiful!

  9. This sounds lovely! I always see photos of Tallin, and it makes me want to visit Estonia more and more. I’d love to learn more about the history, especially since I don’t know much about the country at all!

  10. I have heard so many fascinating things about Estonia. I think they are becoming very much like the rest of Scandinavia and becoming known for their amazing, cutting edge food. Love that it has castles too – who doesn’t love a castle. Definitely will get here one day as part of my continuing European trips.

  11. The more I read about Estonia, the more I want to go! I had never really thought about exploring the Baltic countries, but Estonia looks wonderful! The food sounds delicious too 🙂

  12. Great Article! Thank you for your sharing!

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