- Cycle by beaches, windmills, and lighthouses on Saaremaa Island
- Hike through the protected wetlands of Estonia's national parks
- Drive the Onion Route through traditional villages on Lake Peipus
- Tour the UNESCO World Heritage Peterhof Palace, in St. Petersburg
- See the world's largest collection of paintings at the Hermitage Museum
|Day 1||Arrival in Tallinn - Transfer to Lahemaa National Park||Vihula|
|Day 2||From Vihula to Haapsalu - Hike Kakerdaja Bog||Haapsalu|
|Day 3||Transfer to Saaremaa - Island Tour||Kuressaare|
|Day 4||Saaremaa Island to Soomaa National Park||Soomaa|
|Day 5||Visit Lake Peipus & Alatskivi Castle||Nina|
|Day 6||Discover the Villages along Lake Peipus||Narva|
|Day 7||Drive to St. Petersburg - Tour Peterhof Palace||Saint Petersburg|
|Day 8||St. Petersburg City Tour||Saint Petersburg|
|Day 9||Hermitage Museum Tour - Matryoshka Class||Saint Petersburg|
|Day 10||Depart St. Petersburg|
Day 1: Arrival in Tallinn - Transfer to Lahemaa National Park
Welcome to the capital of Estonia!
Located on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn is the country's most populous city. Besides being one of the Baltic region's most well-preserved medieval cities, there's a modern edge that you can discover in Tallinn's dining and nightlife scene. It's also a popular destination in summer due to the waterfront promenades and nearby beaches. Offering great views of the city and coast, they're the perfect spots for a romantic stroll.
Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will pick you up for the short drive east out of the city to Lahemma National Park. Located on the north coast of the country, Lahemaa sits on 1,877 square miles (725 square km) and has many hiking trails that will take you through bogs, forests, and up to the largest natural waterfall in Estonia. There's also incredible biodiversity here, and it's home to many species of birds and animals like wolves, red deer, wild boars, and even lynxes.
On a walking tour of the park, you'll enjoy the nature plus head to the small town of Vihula to visit the impressive Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa. This neo-Renaissance manor estate dates to the turn of the 15th-century, although the current main building was rebuilt in 1892. You'll not only have dinner here but you'll overnight in the estate as well.
Day 2: Drive to Haapsalu - Hike in Kakerdaja Bog
In the morning, you'll head south from Lahemaa National Park to Kakerdaja Bog. Some 22% of Estonia's total area is comprised of wetlands, and this particular bog covers 2,471 acres (1,000 hectares). Any time of year is perfect to visit, as there's a 4-mile (7 km) hiking trail that follows a network of wooden boardwalks.
You'll embark on a hike around various areas of the bog. Be on the lookout for waterbirds, particularly the black-throated loon. The area is named after this particular bird, which prefers to spend its time swimming around the waters like a duck. At the end of the hike, you'll stop at a bonfire site for, lunch.
Afterward, you´ll leave the wetlands and drive west to the coastal resort town of Haapsalu. Beyond the romantic wooden houses and a seaside promenade, the town is most famous for its iconic Haapsalu Castle. This fortress dates to the 13th century and was used as a defensive stronghold until the end of the 17th century.
You'll check into your hotel and then can enjoy dinner at one of the town's many pubs and restaurants.
Day 3: Transfer to Saaremaa - Island Tour
In the morning you'll hop aboard a ferry for the ride to Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island. People flock here in summer for the weather, while in winter there's no shortage of sumptuous spas in which to pamper yourself. Just in the main town of Kuressaare, there's supposedly one spa for every 10 residents. Other highlights include Saaremaa's medieval villages, castles, and stone cathedrals. Nature lovers will be pleased that the island has both a national park and nature reserve.
After checking into your hotel, you'll head out for a day tour that begins at the Kuressaare Episcopal Castle, a medieval fortification that remains mostly in its original state. It was built in the 14th century by crusaders looking to Christianize the island and remained a strategic stronghold until the early 19th century. You'll learn more about this history with a visit to the castle's museum followed by a hike up the towers where you'll be treated to unforgettable views.
Later, you'll continue south to Sõrve Peninsula. There's a famous lighthouse here that stands 170 feet (52 meters). Head up the stairs to the top and you can look out over Irbe Strait all the way out to mainland Lativa. At lunchtime, you'll head to the north end of the island and the village of Angla, where you'll tour Angla Windmill Park. The park complex exists to preserve the area's wooden trestle windmills, which were built in the early 20th century and are now part of the Angla Heritage Culture Center.
In the late afternoon, you'll continue to the north coast and Panga Cliffs. This unique geologic formation consists of bedrock outcroppings that start on the island of Gotland, in Sweden, then pass through the Baltic Sea and surface on Estonia's west coast. Along the way, they form part of Saaremaa Island's north coast. Here you can enjoy some leisure time, sitting at the cliffs' edge as you watch the sun dip below the horizon.
Day 4: Saaremaa Island to Soomaa National Park
After breakfast, you'll return to Estonia's mainland by ferry. You'll then continue east by car to Soomaa National Park, a 150-square-mile (390-square-km) section of protected wetlands in southwestern Estonia. If you visit during the summer months, you'll use wooden paths to traverse the park as you pass through bogs, wooded meadows, and forests.
Throughout the visit, you'll learn a bit about the geological history of the region. “Soomaa” literally means “land of bogs” in Estonian. The Estonian swamplands started to develop after the last ice age about 12,000 years ago, with the largest covering over 24,000 acres (10, 000 hectares).
There are many hiking routes in Soomaa, the most popular being the nature trails to the Riisa and Kuuraniidu areas. Many opt to travel along the Ingatsi boardwalk, which leads to the highest bog in Europe. Birders take note: you can also trek to watchtowers and suspension bridges, which offer great vantage points to observe the avian varieties in the park. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a rare species like the golden eagle.
Throughout the excursion, you'll also pass various bog pools that are great for swimming. According to Estonian legend, doing so will make you seven years younger.
After the hike, you'll head to a lodge in the park where you'll overnight.
Day 5: Visit Lake Peipus & Alatskivi Castle
Today's drive takes you east through the beautiful countryside to the village of Kolkja, on the shores of Lake Peipus. Not only is this the fifth-largest lake in Europe but it's also the largest trans-boundary lake on the continent, as it straddles the border with Russia. The Estonian side is home to religious refugees who opposed the official teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church, creating one of the largest populations of traditional Russian Orthodox "Old Believers" in Europe. They settled in Estonia in the 17th century.
You'll get a sense of this culture with a visit to the Kolkja Museum of Old Believers. On display here are the traditional clothes, household items, handicrafts, tools, photos and other items associated with the Old Believers. These exhibits cover a long period of history, as the Old Believers have been practicing these religious traditions for more than 1000 years.
In the late afternoon, you'll settle into your accommodation in the small lakeside village of Nina. A major attraction here is the neo-Gothic Alatskivi Castle, which you can visit. Although it was first constructed in the 17th century, the estate was rebuilt in the late 19th century and modeled after Balmoral Castle in Scotland. After exploring its grounds, you can enjoy a traditional dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 6: Discover the Villages along Lake Peipus
Today's drive will take you along the shore of Lake Peipus through a series of small villages inhabited both by Russians and Estonians. Known as the Onion Route, these villages are famous for their rich cultural diversity and include populations of Russian Old Believers, Baltic Germans, and Estonian peasants.
You'll pass through the towns of Varnja and Kasepää, exploring museums, prayer houses, and cemeteries, as well as markets and craft workshops. Other stops include the home (now a museum) of famous Estonian poet Juhan Liiv (1864-1913), and several sites mentioned in the Estonian epic poem Kalevipoeg, a folkloric masterwork.
In the late afternoon, you'll arrive in the city of Narva, which sits on the Russian border. After settling into your hotel, you can walk the promenade along the Narva River and visit the museum inside the 14th century Narva Castle if you wish to learn more about the city.
Day 7: Drive to St. Petersburg - Tour Peterhof Palace
Get up early and hop in the car for the 2.5-hour drive to St Petersburg, the "Northern Capital" of Russia. In point of fact, before the October Revolution of 1918, St. Petersburg had been the capital of Russia since Peter the Great Founded it in 1703. Its location on the Neva River delta, plus its Louis XV-inspired grandiosity, resulted in one of the most impressive imperial cities anywhere in the world. It's one part Russia, one part Versaille, and one part Venice.
In the intervening years, the grand palaces, cathedrals, and canals of St. Petersburg have lost none of their splendor. You'll see this for yourself as you enter the city. Before arriving at the city limits, though, you'll stop at one of the area's highlight attractions, the palace park of Peterhof, also known as Petrodvorets.
This collection of palaces and gardens was commissioned by Peter the Great in 1714 and today it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and a masterpiece of architectural and landscape design. After its initial construction, Peterhof was expanded over the years to the point it now covers a total area of 9,721 acres (3,934 hectares) right on the waterfront west of St. Petersburg.
Today you'll tour the complex. Highlights include the Baroque Grand Palace, a 30-room royal estate whose interior is the very picture of luxury. It features ceremonial staircases, gilded statues, rocaille adornments in the Rococo style, and an expansive Throne Room that takes up 3,552 square feet (330 square meters). In Peter the Great's ambition to rival Louis XV of France, he succeeded admirably.
Right outside the Grand Palace are elaborate parks and gardens plus the star of the show: the Grand Cascade. This three-level series of fountains in a large grotto sits in front of the entrance to the palace and is fronted by marble balustrades. Leading from the Grand Cascade is Water Avenue, a long canal that leads to the water and a hydrofoil dock.
After touring the palace you'll continue to nearby St. Petersburg. Upon arrival at your hotel, you'll check-in and can then meander down the city's main throughway, Nevsky Prospect, in search of dinner and a nightcap.
Day 8: St. Petersburg City Tour
St. Petersburg is ground zero for culture and imperial history in Russia. The city is positively overflowing with grand palaces, cathedrals, and museums. Today you'll have a full schedule as you pack as many of these historic and beautiful sights as possible into a single tour. This full-day excursion begins in the morning with a focus on the city's churches and palaces.
Today you'll tour the Peter and Paul Fortress, located on the bank of the Neva River. This defensive structure is considered the birthplace of the city, as it was founded by Peter the Great in 1703. Over the years it has been used as everything from a military base to a prison/execution site by the Bolshevik government. Today it's home to the State Museum of St. Petersburg History, which displays temporary and permanent exhibits detailing the city's past through the 20th century.
You'll also visit the Winter Palace, the massive 1,500 room estate that was the official residence of Russian tsars from 1732 to 1972. The palace itself is part of a complex of buildings that comprise the Hermitage Museum, which displays an incredible collection of artworks acquired by Empress Catherine the Great in 1764.
Regarding historic churches, a few you'll visit include St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a neoclassical church built in 1818 that is now a museum; the colorful, onion-domed Church of the Bleeding Savior, constructed in 1883 on the site where Alexander II was assassinated; and Alexander Nevsky Monastery, which was founded in 1710 by Peter the Great and boasts a cemetery home to the remains of Russian luminaries like the composers Tchaikovsky and Glinka and the writer Dostoevsky.
In the afternoon you'll head to the town of Pushkin and Zarskoye Selo, an imperial palace complex home to Catherine Palace, which was dedicated to Empress Catherine I. Originally constructed in 1717, this Baroque palace has been rebuilt and expanded so much over the years that it's now extravagant enough to make Marie Antoinette blush. It spans an incredible 2,427 feet (740 meters) in length and features an ornate stucco facade gilded in 250 pounds (100 kilograms) of gold.
Inside, the decor is pure Rococo bliss, with the various staterooms, portrait halls, dining rooms, imperial stairways, and grand halls splashed with even more gold leaf and topped with crystal chandeliers and elaborate ceiling frescoes. The star of this palace's many impressive rooms, however, is the Amber Room. This ode to opulence is outfitted entirely with amber panels and mosaics hugged by gilded carvings and splashed with rare gems.
Afterward, you'll return to St. Petersburg and give your legs a break when you stop in at a historic apartment in the city center to take high tea with locals. Then continue the walking tour to Tauride Palace, a Palladian manor and garden complex that is one of the largest in the city, and Smolny Cathedral, an 18th-century Baroque church regarded as perhaps the most beautiful in all of Russia.
Day 9: Hermitage Museum Tour - Matryoshka Class
In the morning, you'll make your way to Palace Square, which is home to museums and palaces done in grand Baroque style, including the State Hermitage Museum. This is your destination.
Founded by Catherine the Great in 1764, this museum is home to vast collections of artworks and relics from the city's past. And we do mean vast—there are over three million items on display here, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. The museum spans five different buildings and even features international artworks in the form of antiquities, jewelry, home furnishings, architecture, and modern art, to name a few.
The afternoon is reserved for a unique class with a matryoshka craftsman. Matryoshka is a traditional wooden nesting doll that is the most famous Russian souvenir. The master class is a fun opportunity to make your own under the tutelage of a master craftsperson. Throughout the class, you'll learn about traditional woodworking methods and design techniques that are still used today to create the iconic doll.
Day 10: Depart St. Petersburg
Enjoy one last sumptuous breakfast amid the opulence of St. Petersburg. Then, at the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. See you soon!