estonia in a nutshell

  • most advanced digital society in the world with 99% of public services available online
  • high quality of life and clean nature
  • small in number, big in spirit
  • Official name: Republic of Estonia (Eesti Vabariik)
  • Official language: Estonian (Eesti keel)
  • Ethnic groups: Estonians, Finns, Russians, Ukrainians, and others
  • Population: 1.3 million (2022)
  • Capital city: Tallinn
  • Government: Parliamentary democracy
  • President: Alar Karis
  • Prime minister: Kaja Kallas
  • Currency: Euro
  • Member of the European Union, NATO, OECD, WTO, and Schengen zone
  • Time zone: GMT/UTC +2 in winter; GMT/UTC +3 in summer
  • Calling code: +372
  • Internet TLD: .ee
  • Units of measure: Metric system
  • Electricity: 230 V
  • Right-hand traffic
  • Total area: 45,339 sq. km (17,505 sq. mi.)

Estonia sits snugly on the shores of the Baltic Sea with Finland to the north, Latvia to the south, Sweden to the west, and Russia to the east.

The country’s long coastline is dotted with 2,222 islands, a couple of them big enough to be their own counties, others so tiny you can sprint across them. Forests and wild areas cover about half of the country, including wide expanses of hauntingly beautiful wetlands. These landscapes are home to a number of birding hotspots. The largest of Estonia’s 1,500 lakes is Lake Peipsi (or Peipus), Europe’s biggest trans-boundary lake.

For the most part, Estonia is remarkably green and flat. The further down south you head, the more you’ll see rolling hills and gently undulating landscapes. Suur Munamägi, towering at a whopping 318 metres, marks the highest point in the country and all of the Baltics. It has no basecamp but the walk to the top is still delightful.


Estonia is one of the smallest countries in Europe by both size and population. Of its 1.31 million people, 68% live in cities and towns, most notably Tallinn, home to roughly a third of the population (over 430,000 people).

Estonians make up about two-thirds (68.7%) of the population. In recent years the international community has grown considerably, largely due to the thriving tech and startup ecosystem.

climate and weather

The climate in Estonia is temperate and perhaps milder than you might expect this far up north—the Baltic Sea gives the country a wet climate with warm summers and cold winters. If you like the idea of experiencing four distinct seasons in their full splendour, this is the place to do it.

  • Spring (March to May) is usually sunny but chilly. The world turns green and the days get longer. Conditions can change quickly, so layer up and carry an umbrella with you.
  • Summer (June to August) has an average temperature of 18°C, with the most pleasant range being somewhere in the low or mid-twenties. It’s quite common to see heat waves once or twice per summer, with temperatures hovering around 30°C, give or take a couple degrees (note that it’s a humid heat). In June, the days are very long indeed.
  • Autumn (September to October) is typically the wettest and windiest season. September can still be pretty sunny and warm, offering plenty of gorgeous vistas of leaves changing and bird migrations overhead. The days get shorter.
  • Winter (November to February) can range from cold to really cold—which is much nicer than it sounds, if you have the right clothes and gear. Temperatures may drop as far as below -20°C, usually in January or February, but mostly you can expect something closer to -5°C. At -20°C, the sea freezes over, allowing you to drive from the mainland to the islands on ice roads. Estonian winters usually bring heavy snowfall and occasional snowstorms, creating stunning frozen landscapes.
politics and government

Estonia is a parliamentary democracy in which the prime minister is the head of government. The head of state is the president, elected by the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu) for a five-year term. The president is largely a symbolic figure but does get to appoint officials, has veto power, and is the supreme commander of national defence. Riigikogu has 101 members, elected for a period of four years. The government has executive power.

Estonia regularly ranks among the most liberal countries in the world for political, economic, internet, and press freedom.


Technically, Estonia is predominantly a Christian country, but in practice, about 60% of people don’t profess any religion.

Religious freedom is guaranteed to everyone as a constitutional right.

public holidays

The most important public holidays in Estonia

  • February 24 (Independence Day, iseseisvuspäev or Vabariigi aastapäev) is dedicated to the declaration of Estonian independence in 1918. There’s a military parade in a different city each year, and the head of state holds a reception honouring several hundred of the most prominent people from all walks of life.
  • Good Friday (suur reede). Almost uniquely in Europe, Estonia doesn’t give a day off for Easter Monday, but Good Friday is a holiday.
  • Easter Sunday (ülestõusmispüha). Easter is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection and the arrival of spring. Many people decorate eggs by boiling them wrapped in onion peels or painting them in vivid colours. Traditionally, there is then an egg-knocking competition: whoever breaks the shell of the competitor’s egg without cracking their own is crowned the winner.
  • June 23 – Victory Day (võidupüha) commemorates Estonia’s victory over German forces in the Estonian War of Independence in 1919. There is a military parade, but the highlight of the day is always… read the next entry:
  • June 24 – St. John’s Day (jaanipäev), also known as Midsummer Day, is celebrated the night before the 24th. Estonians gather around the grill or a bonfire with families and friends. Sauna is a must.
  • August 20 – Day of Restoration of Independence (taasiseseisvumispäev). The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to the three Baltic states regaining their independence.
  • December 24 – Christmas Eve (jõululaupäev). The main Christmas celebration, usually involving a hearty dinner. Traditional dishes include roast pork and potatoes, sauerkraut, and blood sausage.
  • December 25 – Christmas Day (esimene jõulupüha)
  • December 26 – Boxing Day (teine jõulupüha)

Days with national significance
You won’t get these days off work, but you’re likely to hear about related events.

  • January 6 – Epiphany (kolmekuningapäev). A Christian holiday and also traditionally the deadline for taking the Christmas tree down.
  • February 2 – Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty signed in 1920 between Soviet Russia and Estonia, recognising Estonian independence.
  • March 14 – Native Language Day (emakeelepäev). 1.1 million Estonian speakers celebrate the birthday of Kristjan Jaak Peterson, the first poet to write in the Estonian language.
  • Second Sunday of May – Mother’s Day (emadepäev)
  • June 4 – National Flag Day (Eesti lipu päev). The Estonian tricolour flag was first consecrated as the flag of the Estonian Students’ Society in 1884.
  • June 14 – Day of Mourning and Commemoration (leinapäev). Commemorates the first mass deportation from the Baltic states in 1941. All told, Soviet authorities forcefully deported over 10,000 Estonians to Siberia.
  • August 23 – Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism
  • Third Saturday of October – Tribal Day (hõimupäev) is a day for celebrating the linguistic and cultural identities of Estonia and other Finno-Ugric peoples.
  • November 2 – All Souls’ Day (hingedepäev). An old folk tradition, the day signifies the belief that the souls of the dead visit their former homes. People usually place candles on window sills.
  • November 10 — St Martin’s Day (mardipäev). A day for children to wear disguises and visit houses, offering songs and blessings in exchange for treats.
  • November 25 — St Catherine’s Day (kadripäev). Believe it or not, another day for children to wear disguises and ask for treats. (Note that Halloween has also reached Estonia, but is not yet fully accepted by the majority of the population.)
  • Second Sunday of November – Father’s Day (isadepäev)

fun facts

over 50% of Estonia is forest

Yes, this means that there aren’t that many people around. It also means that the biodiversity is astounding. One square metre of wooded meadow can be home to more than 70 different species. So watch where you step!

Saaremaa has a prize-winning oak tree

An oak tree in the middle of a football field in Orissaare, Saaremaa, won the European Tree of the Year award in 2015, taking in nearly 60,000 votes. That’s a whopping 32% of votes cast. Estonians were proud.

1,500 islands, 1,000 lakes, and 7,000 rivers

Yes, there are lots of lovely islands, lakes, and rivers in Estonia. But everyone has those. If you want something a bit more exotic, how about the world’s highest number of meteorite craters per square kilometre? The Kaali crater in Saaremaa is what remains of the last giant meteorite to hit an area populated by humans. It fell to Earth with the power of a nuclear bomb over 4,000 years ago.

the highest peak in the Baltics

Granted, it’s not a high bar. Southern Estonia’s Suur Munamägi hill extends an astonishing 318 metres into the skies. Bring an oxygen mask! According to the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg, Suur Munamägi was made by the giant Kalevipoeg as a pillow to rest his head on. Even if there’s not a lot of evidence to back up that claim, the hill is still a good six metres higher than the highest point in Latvia – a point of much pride for its northern neighbours!

singing people: The world’s largest collection of folk songs at over 133,000

Estonia’s Laulupidu (Song Festival), held every five years in Tallinn, is famous for having the most choral singers on stage at once. All told, 34,000 people turn up to sing, up to 18,000 people can be on stage at the same time and over 200,000 people attend the event. That’s nearly 1/6 of the entire population!

spa-addicts: with over 1,200 spa beds for 15,000 inhabitants, Kuressaare is the world’s most spa-dense town

With mud baths, saunas and sea air a-plenty, Estonia has been *the place* for spa procedures since the days of yore. The healing muds of Haapsalu and Narva-Jõesuu (not to mention the pine forests and pristine sands) made the towns popular in the 19th century.

you can take part in competitive sauna

In Estonia, sauna is a way of life. Many homes have their own sauna which gets used at least once a week. If you’re on the move, you can even take a sauna bus or erect a sauna tent. The annual Otepää sauna race, combining orienteering with saunas in the middle of winter, is especially popular.

living in the future – e-Estonia

Estonia embraced online voting as early as 2005. 95% of tax returns are completed online and registering a business takes mere minutes. You can sign legally binding documents using your ID card or mobile ID. Those living outside of Estonia can benefit from e-Residency.

unicorn factory

Estonia is the 132nd-smallest country in the world by land mass but produces more startups per capita than any other country in Europe. With ten unicorns and counting, Skype and Wise among them, the concentration of successful startups is astounding.

tallinn was the european capital of culture in 2011

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the EU every year, giving selected cities the opportunity to advance their culture and show it to the world. In 2011, Tallinn shared its Capital of Culture title with the Finnish town of Turku, and organised over 250 cultural events. Tartu will take on the mantle in 2024.

estonia has one eurovision win

If you’re moving from outside of Europe, you may not be familiar with Eurovision, an annual international song contest between (mostly) European countries. Estonia’s first and only win in 2001 took everyone by surprise – Estonians most of all.

estonian manners

It’s impossible to make sweeping generalisations about a nation without steering into stereotypes, but for the sake of expectation management, we can try. Take this with a grain of salt and proceed at your own risk…

You can expect your average Estonian to be:

  • Almost certainly much more reserved and less prone to showing emotion than Italians. Possibly slightly more sociable than Finns but broadly similar in terms of temperament. Much less interested in small talk than Americans. If you ask an Estonian how it’s going, they’ll tell you how it’s going.
  • By and large, Estonians are rule-followers. Take crossing the road as an example. If you ever see a jaywalker, it’s most likely a tourist. Even with no cars on the horizon, Estonians can wait for minutes for the light to turn green.
  • Eye contact with strangers is rare. Our research indicates (= people often tell us) that Estonians need time to warm up to strangers. Once formed, friendships with Estonians tend to be solid. Known for using words sparingly, Estonians usually mean what they say and stick to their word. Try to take it as a compliment when someone makes a sarcastic comment about you. Unlike the weather, the national sense of humour is on the dry side.
  • Estonians like to plan ahead. If an Estonian asks to see you on a Friday three weeks from now, you’d better put that in your calendar because that’s not just a hypothetical let’s-keep-in-touch kind of arrangement. It’s a plan.