Estonian Islands: Top 10 Pretty Islands in Estonia to Visit
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There are many islands in Estonia having an ancient history and endless charm, and the most popular islands being Hiiumaa, Saaremaa, Kihnu, Vormsi, and Ruhnu. Thanks to the authentic location, sustainability, and tranquility of living, the West Estonian Archipelago belongs to Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Everyone can enjoy art, food, and crafts inspired by nature by visiting here.
A lot of islands in Estonia are just a short ferry ride from the western coast of the country. You will find juniper groves, and pine forests stretched over Hiiumaa and Saaremaa, the largest islands in Estonia. So, take your time to walk along the rural and dusty roads passing through the coastline, with few signs of growth along with old windmills and 19th-century lighthouses.
There are plenty of adventure activities to enjoy like cycling, hiking, or riding in the car for crumbling fortresses and old churches in Estonian islands that are left behind by pagan warriors, Soviet military, and German knights. You can also enjoy a festival, visit a spa and go camping on an empty beach or be part of many festivities with the local culture.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Where to stay in Estonia?
- 2 Short in time? Go sightseeing in Estonia on tour!
- 3 List of Islands to visit in Estonia
- 4 Plan your trip in Estonia
- 5 Other destinations to visit in Europe
- 6 Are you on Pinterest? Pin these for later read!
Where to stay in Estonia?
Short in time? Go sightseeing in Estonia on tour!
List of Islands to visit in Estonia
One largest islands in Estonia, Saaremaa is spread over 2673 sq. Km and belongs to West Estonian Archipelago. Saaremaa is the only destination in Estonia which has long-back Viking history which has been the ground for pirates from the Baltic Sea.
There are also a lot of things to see and do on this island. From the crusade of the 13th century to two World Wars, you can find the signs of a lot of wars here. First visit the center of Saaremaa, Kuressaare to learn about its history.
It has a 14th-century Episcopal castle, which has been well preserved, as well as its history museum. You can explore the whole island from here and visit Mihkli’s farm museum to see the old way of living.
Suur-Pakri and Väike-Pakri are twin Estonian islands which are located in the Finnish Gulf. They belong to the administration of Paldiski. Irrespective to their names, Väike-Pakri (Small Pakri) is larger than Suur Pakri (Big Pakri). Both islands, technically, belong to Paldiski City on the mainland.
Nevertheless, no one lives in these islands, except cows. There are around a few hundred cows on the island which are somewhat scared of strangers. More than 400 Swedes lived in Pakri islands before World War II. However, islands were abandoned, and they were forced to leave the islands during the 1940s.
These two islands were used for target practice during Soviet reign. The Soviet army was used to bomb the islands relentlessly to test out the functions of fighter plans and different types of bombs. It is believed that they tested rockets which could have been fitted to carry biological and nuclear weapons.
However, islands are safe for the visitors today. You can still spot the craters with signs of bigger bombs. The islands preserve wildlife, and you can go there for a long hike and enjoy the serenity.
Spreading over 989 sq. Km, Hiiumaa is the second largest Estonian island well known for its unspoiled nature, historic lighthouses, and makes for an ideal rural getaway all the year-round. You can drive to the island during the coldest winter across the longest ice road in Europe.
The island is loved equally by sailors, surfers, hikers, and nature lovers. It is the best island to find the ultimate serenity and peace. The most anticipated Kopu lighthouse has stunning sights to behold, which is among the world’s oldest lighthouses, built in the 16th century. It lies in the Baltic Sea, north of Saaremaa Island in the West Estonian archipelago.
You can reach Hiiumaa through road transport from Estonian mainland, including a 28 km (90-min) ferry from Rohestoniaula to Heltermaa, which is located 25 km from Kardla from the road. Around ten boats depart every day. You need to book the ferry in advance during summer weekends for space for the car.
From the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, and Kardla, there are two buses scheduled per day. You can easily reach the island in the winter, according to the conditions via 26.5 km ice road across the Baltic Sea when it is frozen.
The third-largest island in Estonia, followed by Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, Muhu spreads over 198 sq. Km in the Baltic Sea. With the smaller neighboring islands of Virelaid, Kesselaid, Suurlaid, and Voilaid, it forms the rural municipality of Muhu Parish in Saare County.
Muhu is also known for its lime-rich soil and mild climate, ideal for a diversity of flora and fauna. Hence, it is one of the best Estonian islands to visit in the summer. Here, nature lovers can easily explore the trails at the Vilsandi National Park and Viidumae Nature Reserve, with thousands of wild orchids and migratory birds to explore.
Some of the significant highlights in Muhu are St. Catherine’s Church with pagan tombstones, which is one of the oldest holy places in Estonia, Üügu Cliff, and Koguva village, which is known for stone fences. Muhu still holds the age-old tradition of decorating and painting doors with mystic symbols.
It also has the Tihuse horse tourism farm and ostrich farm. Beautiful handicrafts, well known Muhu dark brad, and restaurants are found at Liiva Centre. You can have pleasant dining experiences and rich architecture in Padaste Manor.
The seventh-largest Estonian island, Kihnu is an ancient angler and seafarers island. The language, clothing, music, and handcrafts are the cultural heritage of the island belong to the Intangible Cultural Heritage List by UNESCO.
The island houses the close-connected community of over 700 residents, who value the songs and language of Kihnu and old tradition. Dancing and singing are essential parts of life here.
The men in Kihnu island spent most of the time at sea over the centuries and women have kept the cultural heritage and passed it over generations, including dance, handicrafts, games, dances, and music. Women in this island are also seen riding motorbikes while wearing the homespun striped skirts.
It is recommended to get there during the church or folk calendar holidays to experience old traditions, like Midsummer Day, Christmas, or St. Catherine’s Day. On the island, some of the exciting events organized are the Day of Kihnu Home Cafes in June, Kihnu Heritage Hike in May, and so on.
The Kihnu Museum is open to the visitors all the year round and shows the history of the island, as the lifestyle of Kihnu Jonn, the famous captain.
Spreading over 7.8 sq. Km, Piirisaar is the largest Estonian island in Lake Peipus, which belongs to Tartu County. It was the first permanently settled island by a group of Old Believers during the Great Northern War who were seeking to leave religious reforms and trying to avoid selection in the military. Most of the inhabitants of the island still believe in this confession. Here, the residents are vegetable growers and diligent gardeners.
Piirisaar is well known for friendly locals, and it seems that time has stopped here. Locals have stunning gardens and onions naturally grow in every house on the island. The island dates back to the period of a peace treaty between Sweden and Russia “Uusikaupunki” in 1721.
The small island was left between these two empires due to the agreement. At that time, the island lacked the permanent settlement. The existing residents moved in only in the 18th century as Old Russian believers escaped the reforms in Russia in that period.
Also known as, Ormsö, Vormsi is the fourth largest Estonian island between the mainland and Hiiumaa with the entire landscape of 92 sq. Km. It belongs to a rural municipality of Vormsi Parish. The locals in the island belong to various regions and countries like Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Åland Islands, and Switzerland. It has had a long Swedish tradition like a lot of other islands off the coast of Estonia.
Hence, the names of a lot of villages sound much similar to the names of different products by the well-known furniture makers like Hullo, Borrby, or Karrslatt.
From tourism aspects, Vormsi has a lot of stunning sights and details. The island’s church and cemetery are some of the best architectural interests. They were built around the Late Middle Ages, and some stone crosses dated back to several centuries in the grave.
There are three magnificent lighthouses in the east in Norrby and west around Saxby. Vormsi is also located at a pristine setting, i.e., between the Noarootsi peninsula and Hiiumaa in the northwest of Estonia. The island, which belongs to Laanemaa is fourth-largest in Estonia, with a total land area of only under 100 sq. Km.
It is the furthest Estonian island you should visit. It is closely located to Latvia rather than Estonian mainland. It is 37 km from Latvian Coast. It is historically one of the most inhabited islands by Swedes.
Latvia was more inclined to claim Ruhnu as its island in 1920, and it would have been the only island in Latvia. But Estonia demanded the island, and it couldn’t let it happen, and Latvia hadn’t had any experience with islands.
It is a place where nothing much takes place, and life is steady and quiet. The island was inhabited by ethnic Swedes before 1944 for centuries as well as Swedish law was applied. Ruhnu has only 100 residents, and most of them are ethnic Estonian who prefers to keep to their own.
There was a beauty contest on the island in 1937 organized by the Kalevipoeg’s crew. The winner was Elizabeth Swan, and the Pirates of the Caribbean were based on a true story. Fun stories aside, Ruhnu also has the oldest wooden building in Estonia, St. Magdalena’s church, which dates back to the 17th century, which is worth to visit.
Vilsandi is an island of Saare County in Saaremaa Parish located in Baltic Sea. It is stretched over nine sq. Km and the westernmost populated in Estonia. It has shallow waters and rocky terrains.
Many ships have perished around it which was traveling Baltic Sea. You can reach the island of Vilsandi by boat, on foot from Saaremaa and by the truck with clearance. Most of the island now belongs to Vilsandi National Park, which was a bird reserve in 1910.
A lot of migratory birds use it as their nesting and breeding ground. So, it has a sensitive ecosystem. Hence, hunting is completely prohibited here. It is a well-known tourist destination well known not just for Estonians, but also for those visiting Estonia in large numbers.
In the early 1990s, Vilsandi was covered under the national park, and only a few people live there. It is recommended to visit this island during summers to enjoy kayaking. Thousands of waterfowl migrate or nest here like most of the grey seals in Baltic Sea.
West Estonian archipelago
Also known as, Moonsund archipelago, the West Estonian archipelago belongs to Estonian islands located in Baltic Sea, around Vainameri. It is spread over 4000 sq. Km in total. The archipelago houses the islands named Hiiumaa, Saaremaa, Muhu, Vormsi, and around 900 other little islands. UNESCO established the West Estonian Archipelago Biosphere Reserve in 1990 under the initiative ‘Man and the Biosphere.’
The West Estonian Archipelago belongs to the south of Boreal forest area in the northern hemisphere, where the subzone of south taiga forest turns into hardwood subzone. It belongs to the Euro-Siberian area of Holarctic kingdom.
The archipelago has the ecosystems, which have been formed on the formations of various phases of development in the Baltic Sea over the past 10000 years. The diversity of nature and unique features in West Estonian islands is entirely influenced by geographical location, the lime richness of soils, as well as a human presence for centuries.
Other destinations to visit in Europe
Portugal, France, Andorra, Spain, Greece, Italy, Malta, Gibraltar, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, The Netherlands, The UK, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia an Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Armenia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Macedonia.
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