Estonia: the land of saunas and start-ups

The land of smoked sauna and start-ups, Estonia, shared its unique tourism portfolio with travel trade professionals at its country pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai. Located in Northeast Europe, this small Baltic country is just a short ferry trip away from Finland and Sweden.

Liina Maria Lepik, Director of the Estonia Tourism Board, was on hand to tell us how the destination is a must-visit for travellers from the UAE.

“Estonia is where the traditional meets the digital. It has always been a combination – from the Unesco recognised smoked sauna to the world’s first e-residency programme is a very short step for us.

“Our uniqueness lies in the compactness of our experience and its diversity. We have a Unesco-heritage protected medieval Old Town in Tallinn, which is very well preserved. We have the nature experience, fresh air, more than half of the country is covered in forest and we have 2,000 islands. In fact, we have calculated that from every spot in Estonia, there's a wetland just 15 kilometres away, nature is around every corner.

“Everything is within a short distance really. There's old traditions, alongside a very vibrant cultural scene. We have great food too.”

“We have a digital mindset and digital people create innovative start-ups and think out of the box, rather than do bureaucracy”
– Liina Maria Lepik


While no direct flight to capital Tallinn from the region operates, the easiest connection is via neighbouring Helsinki, which is about 2 hours by ferry or a 30-minute flight. Finnair, Turkish Airlines, Air Baltic, Emirates and Lufthansa all offer convenient connections from nearby European cities.

“Estonia is a digital first society. When you have so few of people – our population is 1.3 million – you have to appreciate the time and effort. It has been revealed that our digital infrastructure helps us save a lot of time. Our digital signature, which is as legally binding as the handwritten one, saves us more than 2 per cent of GDP time.

“Our defence costs are sponsored by our digital signature. We have a digital mindset and digital people develop new ideas, create innovative start-ups and think out of the box, rather than do bureaucracy,” she
tells us.

Estonia may be a digital-first society but nature and weather play a key role in people’s lives. The population is aware and proud of its natural bounty and the country is high up in Europe’s sustainability index. Estonia is covered in national parks ideal for canoeing, bird watching, bear spotting and exploring deep forests. The locals are often found berry and mushroom picking and comparing their bounties at the end of the day.

Estonia is the natural choice for the nature-seeking nomad and a natural wellbeing destination, especially post-Covid. Estonia's smoke sauna tradition is an important part of everyday life, especially in the southernmost Estonian community of Võromaa. It forms one of the healing powers from Estonia.

Estonia is the authentic choice for culture lovers. Tallin is hosting the European Design Festival in June and there is a lot to talk about on the country’s design elements, notably in its Creative Cities. Also, Estonia's versatile cultural heritage cannot go unnoticed – from old songs, wedding and sauna traditions to the architecture of the capital city, there's a whole range Unesco listed treasures explore for all holiday types.

Estonia's Unesco world heritage capital Tallinn was granted city rights in the 13th century by the King of Denmark. Tallinn's Old Town is filled with medieval houses and alleyways and is still protected by the remnants of the city wall. The wealth of architecture in Tallinn means that there are many legends and stories to explore. In addition to the city's medieval core, newly revamped districts such as Noblessner, Telliskivi, and Rotermann are popping up at lightspeed, offering even more cool architecture to explore.

Lepik tells us, “Estonia regained its independence 30 years ago. We didn’t have much money but we had the ideas. We’re aim to think totally out of the box. We’re fortunate to have had the right people in power at the right time. We're also bolder to try something new.”