This quiet, sparsely populated island about 22km (14mi) west of the mainland has some beautiful stretches of coast. Though it was off-limits to visitors during the Soviet era, it's striven to catch up in the tourist stakes - so much so that many locals have taken to displaying green stickers in the shape of the island to show their commitment to protecting its environment from over-development.The main town, Kärdla, is a sleepy place full of gardens and trees on the north-eastern coast. Its main interest for travellers is that it's the jumping off spot for the Tahkuna Peninsula, just a few kilometres north-west of town. There's a lighthouse at the northern tip of the peninsula that dates from 1874. You can climb to the top if the lighthouse keeper is inclined to lend you the key. Nearby is a memorial to the victims of the 1994 Estonia ferry disaster. At Ristimägi at the southern base of the peninsula is the Hill of Crosses, where handmade crosses cover a dune, marking the spot where the last 1200 Swedes living here performed their last act of worship before being deported in 1781. Since then it's been a tradition for first-time visitors to the island to place a cross on the hill.Hiiumaa's second largest settlement is Käina, whose main appeal is its idyllic location in the south of the island near the shore of Käina Bay, a major bird reserve. The town's low-key atmosphere is its biggest charm, though the ruins of a fine 15th century stone church are worth a peek. A passenger and vehicle ferry service runs between Rohuküla, 9km (5mi) west of Haapsalu on the mainland, and Heltermaa, at Hiiumaa's eastern end.
Lahemaa National Park
Estonia's largest national park is an interesting mix of coastal bluffs, dense forest, 18th century manor houses, and numerous lakes, rivers and waterfalls, located in northern Estonia. You'd think you were in a Jane Austen novel but for the bears and lynxes. Waterfalls cascade down some of the 56m (184ft) cliffs along the northern edge of the North Estonian limestone plateau known as the Glint, which bisects the park from east to west. The two main areas open to visitors are the Koljaku-Oandu Reserve, an area of wet sea forest in the north-eastern part of the park; and the Laukasoo Reserve, home to the 7000 year old bog in the park's centre.The restored manor house at Palmse, near the eastern edge of the park, is Lahemaa's showpiece. The 18th century baroque house, open to the public, is filled with period furniture, and you can wander the landscaped grounds. In Palmse proper you'll find a restored 17th century distillery, hotel and granary. The town is the setting for the Viru Säru folk music and dance festival, held in the first week of July in even-numbered years.There are some funky villages on the northern coast. A few kilometres north of Palmse, on Käsmu Bay, are the old Soviet Coast Guard barracks at Käsmu, which now house a maritime museum with excellent exhibits on the Soviet era and the history of the village. The 400 year old fishing hamlet of Altja, in the north-western corner of the park, has been beautifully preserved. The traditional Estonian swings on Kiitemägi (Swing Hill) are the centre of the park's Midsummer's Eve festivities. You can knock back a jigger of Vana Tallinn (Estonian liqueur) at a restored 19th century pub.Regular buses run between Tallinn and Viitna, which is in the south-eastern section of the park. The ride is about an hour each way.
Estonia's biggest island has always had an independent streak and was usually the last part of the country to fall to invaders. Just a few kilometres south of Hiiumaa, Saaremaa is a thinly populated place of unspoiled rural landscapes. Farmsteads nestle among forests that still cover nearly half the island. In recent times Saaremaa has become a popular budget tourist destination for Finns, so book accommodation in advance.Kuressaare, Saaremaa's capital, is the site of a 13th century castle founded as the Bishop of Ösel-Wiek's island base. Viidumäe, about 25km (16mi) west of Kuressaare, is a botanical reserve, where the favourable climate and conditions make it home to rare plant species such as the blunt-flowered rush, the Saaremaa yellow rattle and the white-beam.There's a regular ferry crossing from Orjaku, 25km (16mi) south of Kärdla on Hiiumaa, to Triigi on Saaremaa.
In few places in Europe does the aura of the 14th and 15th centuries survive intact the way it does in Tallinn's Old Town jumble of medieval walls and turrets, needling spires and winding, cobbled streets. Nevertheless, Estonia's capital is so modernised that it's been dubbed 'a suburb of Helsinki'.Toompea, the hill on which Tallinn is centred, is a treasure trove for tourists. It's home to the 19th century Russian Orthodox Alexandr Nevsky Cathedral; Toompea Castle, the meeting place of Estonia's parliament, the Riigikogu; Toomkirik, the Lutheran cathedral founded in 1233; the Estonian Art Museum, housed in an 18th century noble's house near the Toomkirik; and Kiek-in-de-Kök, a tall, stout tower built around 1475.The park at Kadriorg, 2km (1.2mi) east of Tallinn's Old Town, is pleasant and wooded with oak, lilac and horse chestnut trees. Together with the baroque Kadriorg Palace, it was designed for the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, by Italian Niccolo Michetti. The palace was built between 1718 and 1736 and the great man himself even laid three of its bricks. Behind the palace there's the little cottage that housed Peter as his palace was being built. It now houses the Peter the Great Home Museum.Tallinn has a good selection of accommodation, but it's important to book ahead in summer, even at hostels. Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) in the Old Town, is the hub of Tallinn's dining and cafe scene. In summer, the entire length and breadth of Raekoja Plats buzzes with temporary open-air cafes and bars, all of which sell light snacks, hotdogs, traditional kotlett and lots of Saku beer. The Old Town is also the setting for Tallinn's booming nightclub scene.
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