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Estonia is a Baltic state in Northeastern 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. 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 renowned for warm weather. And therein lies something that any visitor to Estonia must be aware of — summer is short and winter is severe.
Tallinn’s Old Town remains much as it was during the 14th and 15th centuries. Historic buildings in Tallinn include the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Toompea Hill view platforms and Kiek in de Kök, a six-storey cannon tower dating from the 15th century.
Pärnu, established in the 13th century, is a health resort and seaport on the Gulf of Riga.
The city of Tartu, on the Emajõgi River, features historic buildings, including the Vyshgorod Cathedral, the old university and the Town Hall. The city also features a Botanical Garden.
Estonians have a special love for nature, and many will tell you that they would rather sit under a tree in an empty forest or hike in a national park than almost anything else. World War II and the subsequent occupation were devastating on humans, but the destruction and the closure of large areas for military use actually increased Estonia's forest coverage 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.
Overseen by the country's Ministry of the Environment or "Keskkonnaministeerium", the five renowned national parks are:
* Karula National Park
* Lahemaa National Park, 50km east of Tallinn, with 1000 sq km of bays, peninsulas and forests.
* Matsalu National Park
* Soomaa National Park (Soomaa translates to "Land of Bogs"). Features bog walking, one of Estonia’s most unique experiences. The park contains four large peat bogs, and guided tours are available. Some of the bog pools are reputedly good for swimming.
* Vilsandi National Park, covers 238 sq km, including 163 sq km of sea and 75 sq km of land, plus 160 islands and islets.
Tranquil, laidback and unspoiled, Estonia's 1,500 Baltic islands provide a splendid getaway to nature. Located off the west coast of Estonia, the two largest islands are:
* Saaremaa, including the town of Kuressaare and one of few well-preserved medieval castles in the Baltics
* Hiiumaa, including the town of Kärdla. The Hiiumaa Islets Landscape Reserve features an abundance of animal and plant life.
Travelers can visit the national parks and islands on their own or as part of an eco-tourism adventure tour, like those led by TrekBaltics.
The Jägala Falls is Estonia's largest waterfall.
The island of Saaremaa features historic buildings, windmills, home-brewed beer and a unique culture formed of centuries of isolation. The town of Kuressaare features a castle dating back to the 13th century.
Driving in Estonia
When driving in Estonia, remember to adhere to the road rules. All motorists must use headlights at all times and it is illegal to use your horn in towns and villages except when in danger. Remember to use guarded parking facilities when parking in the main towns, due to risk of theft or break-in. Road conditions outside of towns are quite good. Take care when driving at night due to slow moving vehicles and obstacles on the road.