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About Estonia

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Estonia’s subtle, quiet charm weaves its way into your heart before you’re aware of it.
Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is one of the coolest sports in Europe. Visitors trade stories about haunting Gothic spires poking out from the seductive Old Town (northern Europe’s best preserved), the tasty local beer, the wild discos, and how mobile phone-addicted and Internet-literate everyone is. Outside the capital, there are interesting and nature-soaked excursions.



Estonia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising east European platform between 57.3° and 59.5° N and 21.5° and 28.1° E. Average elevation reaches only 50metres, and the country's highest point is the Suur Munamägi in the southeast at 318metres.
Oil shale and limestone deposits, along with forests which cover 47% of the land, play key economic roles in this generally resource-poor country. Estonia boasts over 1,400 lakes (most very small, with the largest, Lake Peipus, being 3555 km²; numerous bogs, and 3794 kilometers of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. The number of islands and islets is estimated at some 1,500, with two of them large enough to constitute their own counties, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.


Estonia has a temperate climate, with warm summers and severe winters. Temperatures range from a summer average of 70°F (30°C) to an average in winter of 18°F (-8°C). Being on the Baltic Sea the country is subjected to sea breezes and humidity, and its northern latitude means long summer daylight hours (the longest summer day stretches to 19 hours), and dark winters when daylight lasts sometimes only six hours. The cold winter does not necessarily mean constant snow; in fact snowfalls are few and far between. When it falls it stays though, and there tends to be a layer of snow on the ground constantly between December and March. Summertime brings unexpected rain showers.



The dominant religion in Estonia is Evangelical Lutheranism. In 1992 there were 153 Lutheran congregations in Estonia with an estimated 200,000 members. Active members totaled about 70,000.
Orthodox Christianity is the second largest faith, with eighty congregations and about 15,000 members in 1992. Forty-three Orthodox congregations are Estonian, twenty-five are Russian, and twelve are mixed. There are eleven congregations of Old Believers (see Glossary) and a convent in Kuremäe, in northeastern Estonia. In 1992 the Estonian Orthodox Church, despite local Russian objections, requested autonomy from Moscow. The issue was a delicate one for Russian Orthodox patriarch Aleksiy II, who had been born in Estonia and had served there as a metropolitan. However, in April 1993 he agreed to grant the Estonian Orthodox Church autonomy.
Among other religions in Estonia in the early 1990s there were eighty-three Baptist congregations with about 6,000 adult members, as well as about fifteen Methodist and several Seventh-Day Adventist congregations. Estonia's small Roman Catholic community was visited by Pope John Paul II during a tour of the Baltic states in September 1993, and the Dalai Lama came to Estonia soon after independence, in October 1991. The Jewish community has a synagogue in Tallinn.



Estonian is the official language of Estonia, spoken by about 1.1 million people in Estonia and by some ten thousands in various émigré communities. It is a Finno-Ugric language and is related to Finnish and distantly to Hungarian.
Other languages spoken in Estonia are Russian, Ukrainian, English, Finnish.

Population and Ethnic Composition


In 2003 the total population of Estonia was estimated to be1,408,556 with the following ethnic breakdown: Estonian 68.6%, Russian 25.7%, Ukrainian 2.1%, Belarusian 1.2%, Finn 0.8%, other 1.6% (2006).



Estonia is a constitutional democracy, with a president elected by the parliament (elections every five years) and a unicameral parliament. The government or the executive branch is formed by the prime minister, nominated by the president, and a total of 15 ministers. The government is appointed by the president after approval by the parliament.
Legislative power lies with the unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu or State Assembly, which holds 101 seats. Members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The supreme judiciary court is the National Court or Riigikohus, with 17 justices whose chairman is appointed by the parliament for life on nomination by the president.

Administrative Division


Estonia numbers 15 main administrative subdivisions, called counties (maakonnad).

Time Zone


Estonia is in the Eastern European Time Zone. Eastern European Standard Time (EET) is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2).
Like most states in Europe, Summer (Daylight-Saving) Time is observed in Estonia, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour; 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3).
After the Summer months the time in Estonia is shifted back by 1 hour to Eastern European Time (EET) or (GMT+2)

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


Estonian currency, the kroon (EEK, pronounced ‘krohn’) comes in two, five, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500EEK notes. One kroon is divided into 100 sents, and there are coins of five, 10, 20 and 50 sents, as well as one- and five-kroon coins.
All Western currencies are readily exchangeable.
All major credit cards are widely accepted, although Visa is the most popular. Most banks (but not shops and restaurants) accept travelers cheques, but their commissions can be high.

Capital City


Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, is one of Europe’s smallest capitals. To a city that already had a lot going for it (beaches, parks, one of Europe’s most enchanting and best-preserved Old Towns, raucous night clubs and cheap beer) add a freshly built, new downtown and recent entry into the EU.
The jewel min Tallinn’s crown remains the beautiful two-tiered Old Town, a 14th- and 15th-century jumble of turrets, spires and winding cobbled streets. An old Hanseatic trading town, Tallinn was dominated mainly by German barons, then Russian/Soviet forces until its rebirth as an independent capital in 1991. Despite its small size and easy-going rhythm of life, it boasts a vibrant populace (400,000 total) of Estonians and Russians (about 40% of the population) and loads of opportunities for fun and discovery.

Official Holidays



Airports and Public Transportation


The national carrier Estonian Air links Tallinn with 13 cities in Europe and Russia, and at reasonable prices. A number of other airlines serve the Tallinn airport (just 3 km from the centre), including Polish LOT, Czech Airlines, SAS, Lufthansa and Air Baltic.
Buses are the cheapest but least comfortable way of reaching the Baltics. All long-distance domestic and international buses arrive and depart from the Autobussijaam (central bus station).
Long distance buses serve all major Estonian cities. Buses are generally cheaper, more frequent and faster, and they cover many destinations not services by trains.
Trains are slower and rarer than buses; the most frequent trains service the suburbs of Tallinn.

Traditional Cuisine


Estonian cuisine has been influenced over the centuries by the traditions of more powerful neighbours, but the main characteristic of the local fare is its peasant origin. Estonians were for the most part country folk before the last century, and since food was scarce, they had to be inventive in preserving and stretching what little meat they had on hand. Among traditional favoutites are: Marineeritud angerjas (Marinated eel, served cold); Sült (Boiled pork in jelly); Verivorst (Blood and barley sausage); Mulgikapsad
(Sauerkraut stew with pork, served with boiled potatoes); Silgusoust (Baltic sprats with bacon in sourcream); Karask (cake-like barley bread desert).

Brief History


Most of Estonia’s history has been one of occupation and domination. Bandied about between European major powers, it has enjoyed only sparse periods of independence, notably in the 20th century between the World Wars and since 1991.
In the third millennium BC Finno-Ugric tribes from the east mixed with the Baltic tribes already there.
The Germanic Teutonic Order took control in 1346, placing Estonians under servitude to a German nobility that would last until the early 20th century despite Danish, Swedish and Russian rulers.
After the Great Northern War (1700-21), Estonia became part of the Russian Empire. During WWI, the Soviet government relinquished Estonia. Until 1940 Estonia was ruled by benevolent dictator Konstantin pats, who was forced to accept Soviet occupation. After fabricated elections, over 10,000 Estonians were killed or deported before German occupation. Between 1945 and 1949, with Stalinism back on course, industry was nationalized and agriculture collectivized, and a further 60,000 Estonians were killed or deported.
Estonia’s declaration of full independence on 20 August 1991 was immediately recognized by the West and by the USSR on 6 September. The following decade saw frequent changes of government and no shortage of scandal as it tried to find its footing. Estonia is an independent parliamentary republic led by Prime Minister, with President serving as the head of state. It’s currently a member of NATO and the EU.