"There's more to Estonia than Tallinn!"
Last summer my girlfriend and I
decided that this must be true. And so we planned an adventure to take us off the beaten track to the Estonian Baltic island of Hiiumaa
Estonia has four main islands and they all sound really great but we chose this one because it was a manageable size and because there seemed to have been very little Russian influence on the island during the Soviet years.
As it turned out, Hiiumaa is a world away from the increasingly well-worn streets and squares of the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
From Tallinn to Haapsalu on the Baltic
Hiiumaa is very easy to travel to. For the first part of the journey you can take a three hour bus ride from Tallinn to Haapsalu on Estonia's western coast for around five euros.
As the capital of Estonia's western province of Lääne, Haapsalu itself is a very pleasant coastal town. If you have time, check out the superb Bishop's Castle and hope that there will be an evening concert on there!
From Haapsalu it's just a short ferry ride to Hiiumaa island.
Arriving on the island of Hiiumaa
We didn't have our own transport when we landed on the island and so we decided to stay at the Hotell Padu in Kärdla, the only settlement of any size. It's the most expensive place on the island at 22 euros per night for bed and breakfast - though this was still pretty good, we thought!
If you need somewhere cheaper to stay there are a lot of farms that do bed and breakfast for 12 euros - which is a great option if you're touring by bicycle.
As Hiiumaa was more or less ignored by the Russians it has retained a real Estonian feel. Like most of the Baltic area it's quite flat and there are few tourists and very little traffic.
Kärdla is a quiet collection of colourful painted wooden houses,scattered shops and a coastline that feels as calm and remote as any Scandinavian lake - make sure you see it at sunset!
To explore the island beyond Kärdla more extensively you will need your own transport. We hired a jeep for 25 euros a day.
Things to visit in and around Kärdla
There are many places to visit on the island within easy reach of the town of Kärdla. Here is a short list of some of Hiiumaa's highlights:
Don't miss the beautiful little 18th century chapel by the shore. Here and elsewhere you see locals with little plastic pans with teeth on,used for scooping up bilberries-much better than bending down and picking them one by one. But I found that you need quite a lot of skill not to scoop up lots of vegetation as well!
Don't forget to visit the Hill of Crosses west of Kärdla! In the 18th century during one of Russia's meaner periods they sent all the Swedish settlers on Hiiumaa off to Siberia and this was the last place that they worshipped before leaving. All first time visitors to Hiiumaa should leave their own cross here, made of twigs and branches, to bring them good luck in the future.
Estonia's most famous composer, Rudolf Tobias, (I'd not heard of him either!) lived in a thatched cottage just outside the village of Käina. It's a beautiful, peaceful place run by a lady who in Soviet times was a translator and had translated Dostoevsky into Estonian!
Kassari island, south of Käina, is well worth a visit for a walk down Saare Tirp - an unusual sand spit, three kilometres long, on which stands a statue of Leijer, one of the heroes of Hiiumaa mythology. He has a rock on his back, presumably to help lengthen the spit!
You must see the Kopu Lighthouse on the western peninsula - it's the third oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the world. Just climb to the top to realise exactly how much forest there is on the island! You'll find fantastic views and great beaches nearby. On the way back to Kärdla call in on the gorgeous Reigi Church which has one of the biggest and most beautiful graveyards you'll ever see!
The most poignant place to go to on the island is the Tahkuna Lighthouse which stands above a magnificent beach on the north coast. This spot is the nearest land point to where the Estonia passenger ferry sank while on its way to Stockholm in 1994, leading to the loss of 852 lives. There is a memorial here with a bell that rings only when the wind blows at the same speed and from the same direction as it did on the night that the boat went down.
For more information on where to go and what to see on Hiiumaa and how to get around the island - as well as where to find cheap flights to Estonia - see the information boxes on the right.
A final word on the Estonian Baltic...
Estonia is a country to go to if you want to experience a Scandinavian lifestyle at budget prices.The summer evenings seem endless and the pastel blue skies seem to go on for ever.
Hiiumaa is a place for people who like fresh air, peaceful surroundings, few other tourists and who want to have a feel of what the traditional Estonian lifestyle is like.
Here you can enjoy the local, freshly-prepared food including sprats, rye bread, wild boar, wild raspberries and bilberries. Here you'll meet friendly people and soak up the understated yet beautifully serene landscape.
© John Barnett, Bristol, February 2006
John Barnett speaks several languages and teaches, tutors, translates and interprets. He has travelled to most corners of the world and is particularly keen on easrern Europe.
At present, three dedicated low cost airlines operate cheap flights to Tallinn. Another three European airlines have reasonably cheap flights to Estonia - including the Swedish low fare airline Skyways which flies direct to Kuressaare on the Estonian Baltic island of Saaremaa.
Further Reading on Hiiumaa
- Hiiumaa Lighthouse Tour
An alternative way to discover Hiiumaa
The Idea of the Lighthouse Tour began in the early 1990s, when Peace Corps volunteer Douglas Wells was assigned to Hiiumaa. The Nebraskan became a local legend, going on to write a book about his adventures in Estonia. Read more...
- Hiiumaa Travel Guide by World 66
The inhabitants of Hiiumaa are peaceful and tolerant by character. They live close to nature, love it and are children of nature in their soul. The most important thing is to have a sense of humor - people of Hiiumaa love jokes. Read more...
- Hiiumaa by Wikipedia
Archaelogical evidence of first human settlement in Hiiumaa dates to as early as the 4th century BC. The first documented record of the island of Dageida was made by contemporary chroniclers in 1228, at the time when Hiiumaa, along with the rest of Estonia, had been conquered by Germanic crusaders. Read more...