Once we went through a demanding process of renting an apartment in Tallinn, we could finally take a deep breath and start traveling around Estonia. Having visited some attractions near the capital, we decided to go a bit further when the right moment comes. I did a quick calendar check and noticed August 20th, the Independence Restoration Day, falls on Tuesday this year. As it is a bank holiday, taking Monday off from work, we had four consecutive days of vacation. Saaremaa was an obvious choice.
We read and heard only good reviews of the largest Estonian island, and it was about the time to verify it ourselves. Although we stayed on Saaremaa longer than just a weekend, we still think it is a perfect two-days destination. Since we saw most of the island’s tourist, as well as local sights, we made a list of our absolute favorites. I organized them in clockwise order.
1. Things that happened Before Christ
Saaremaa island was hit by a meteorite more than seven thousand years ago. Right before touching the ground, the meteorite split into pieces, which created nine craters. Nowadays, Kaali Kraater, the biggest one of them, is considered to be the main of Saaremaa tourist attractions. After all, it is the 8th largest meteorite crater in the world! Under no circumstances should you skip this natural wonder during your trip to Saaremaa. The area is well-prepared tourist-wise. There is a big parking lot, a restaurant, and a souvenir shop. But we must give it to the locals – you will not feel ripped off. The parking, as well as the Kaali Crater field, are free of charge. There is a path running around the crater on top and stairs leading to the bottom.
2. Westernmost town in Estonia
Even if you planned your Saaremaa trip to be exclusively about nature, find a moment or two for a short visit to Kuressaare. Strolling through the center, you can feel the spirit of a small Estonian town. But the most captivating place is Kuressaare Castle. Explore its courtyard and walk all the way through, until you reach the public beach, Kuressaare Titerand. If you are brave enough, you can also walk on the walls of the stronghold, at your own risk. It’s not that scary, though. Both Fabio and I have a fear of heights, and we felt safe up there. Near the Kuressaare Castle, in front of the big spa hotel, there is a funny sculpture called Suur Tõll ja Piret. It is worth extending your walk, only to take a photo of it.
3. The tallest lighthouse by the Baltic Sea
When you look at Saaremaa on the map, you will spot the tail on its southwestern part. It is crowned by the Sõrve Peninsula, which is a small stretch of land that you should include in your itinerary. There is a parking lot at the end of the road. But you will spot the Sõrve Lighthouse, the highest one on the Baltic coast (or, at least, advertised as such), way before. It is 52 meters tall, and it is possible to climb on top of it. Instead of doing so, we, however, decided to take a walk until the very tip of the peninsula and we enjoyed it a lot. The area surrounding the lighthouse is so peaceful and beautiful we managed to discharge our camera’s battery.
4. An effort that pays off
This is the most exhausting and, at the same time, the most rewarding thing we did while on Saaremaa. The Harilaiu hiking trail is 11 or 13 km long, depending on the route you choose. We did the 13 km loop, as we didn’t want to come back the same way. That was a proper decision. It was not all about the spectacular nature, or the destination. It was about the road.
Before the Harilaiu trail, we somehow always had an impression any trekking this long would be too much for us. And this is how Saaremaa changed the way we perceive ourselves. This beach and forest hike was a pure pleasure. Half-sunken Kiipsaare Lighthouse was its highlight. If like us, you take the direction against the trail signs, you will reach the camping area near the end of your hike. Doing so seemed an optimal solution. The sandwiches we prepared for the road wouldn’t be as tasty if eaten at the beginning of our walk.
5. The most beautiful beach
During our vacation on the island, we visited many of Saaremaa beaches. Each of them is special in its way. The most popular is Järve beach. I only found information about this particular one, during the research for the trip. It is even mentioned on visitestonia.com among the greatest Saaremaa tourist attractions. But Järve beach is not our favorite. On the northern side of the Saaremaa island, lies the beautiful Tuhkana beach. It is not easy to find unless you know what you’re looking for. There are parking areas hidden in the forest, but you will need to walk about half a kilometer until you see the beach. It is, however, a pleasant stroll, and there is a boardwalk that leads to the beach campsite. The fine, white sand is comforting, and the view couldn’t be more relaxing.
How to get to Saaremaa?
The easiest way to explore Saaremaa island is to go there by car. The drive to Saaremaa from Tallinn takes over 2 hours. Ferry to Saaremaa or, to be more precise, Muhu, leaves from the port of Virtsu, situated about 130 km from the Estonian capital. The schedule of the Saaremaa ferry is very convenient, as there are a few ships in the fleet. From our experience, there is no need to book the tickets online in advance, but that would ease the boarding process. The Saaremaa ferry price depends on the number of passengers, type of car, and the time of departure. The vehicle rates are 50% higher on Friday afternoons and evenings on the way to Saaremaa, and respectively on Sundays on the way to the mainland.
Apart from Virtsu, it is also possible to reach Saaremaa by ferry from Hiiumaa, the second biggest island in Estonia. However, the connection Sõru-Triigi is operated by another company, and ferries between the islands are less frequent.
Other than by car, you can get to Saaremaa by plane, as well. The tongue-twister Saartelennuliinid airline provides a connection from Tallinn to Kuressaare. The flight tickets prices start at 26 euros per person per way, and the journey takes 40 minutes.
Last but not least, you can reach Saaremaa by bus, too. There are many bus companies covering the Tallinn-Kuressaare route. The trip takes about 4 hours.
Once on Muhu…
It is very likely, that same as us, you will choose the most obvious way of getting to Saaremaa, which is by ferry from Virtsu. After arriving on Muhu, don’t just rush through this small island. It is no less worthy of your time than Saaremaa. The place you should absolutely go to is Koguva village. Especially if you’re a time travel enthusiast. The village looks as if it was still the 19th century. As you walk through it, you pass by stone fences and old buildings remembering the feudal system under Swedish rule. By the shore, you will find the charming marina of Koguva, which is a perfect spot to rest for a moment.
Saaremaa with a dog
Even though the previous road trip we did was not Fabio’s favorite as our dog got bitten by a snake, we were still looking forward to taking him to Saaremaa. Of course, we were very precautious and also a bit dramatic, carefully scanning our surroundings before letting the pooch out of the car. Long story short: Saaremaa is a perfect dog travel destination, and Fabio loved it.
The ferry to the island is free for pets and dogs are welcome on deck, with some restrictions. Fabio visited every tourist attraction we mentioned, including the courtyard of Kuressaare Castle, Koguva village and Kaali Crater. But the thing he enjoyed the most was wild nature. All hiking trails on Saaremaa, including those within national parks, are dog-friendly. The only areas where dogs are not allowed are some of the beaches, especially in high season. Just for the record: we are not sure whether it is a regulated thing in Estonia, but we always keep Fabio on the leash.
Vanlife on Saaremaa – where to stay?
This is one of the things we love the most about Estonia. Vanlife is just so easy in here. We have traveled by our campervan named Patata through the vast majority of the countries of Western and Northern Europe. Without a doubt, Estonia deserves the title of the most van-friendly country in this part of the world. All thanks to the State Forest Management Centre (RMK). This amazing organization takes care of the Estonian forests and introduces wild nature to everybody. It means you are invited to enter the forest in your car and spend a night there. You only need to choose one of the campsites built by RMK, that can be used free of charge. Each of them consists of at least one fireplace, wooden tables, and a dry toilet. We fell head over heels in love with the campsites on Saaremaa. These areas made our trip special.
Estonia in a nutshell
Saaremaa is by now among the top most beautiful places we’ve seen in Estonia. It has everything that this country boasts: the charm of a small town, the beauty of nature, and the peacefulness. During our trip, we spotted an owl, a fox, wild boars, and even a moose, which we still haven’t seen anywhere else in Estonia. If we find an opportunity, we will surely come back to Saaremaa. Tourism facilities are well developed, but you will see no crowds there, even in summer. I already miss chilling out in my hammock hanging in between the trees, observing the calm water surface.