Best things to do in Lahemaa National Park
Find out more about those top places in Lahemaa National Park
Established in 1971, Lahemaa National Park is a watery wonderland where the Gulf of Finland blends into an enchanting landscape of peat bogs, pristine lakes and tranquil lagoons. Despite being a short drive from Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, Lahemaa is a hidden gem. It is one of the best places in Europe to spot lynx, brown bears, wild boars and moose while the park is dotted with enchanting wooden villages that date from the era of the Russian Empire. Lahemma is magical during the snowy winter or Estonia’s surprisingly warm summer months when the picturesque national park town of Võsu becomes a popular getaway for young Tallinners looking to relax on unspoiled golden sands.
Set amongst the dense woodlands of Lahemaa National Park is Palmse Manor, one of the best places to get an understanding of Estonia’s rich history. Built in the early 18th century, the baroque manor house stands as testament to the political power of the Baltic’s former German-speaking serf-owning aristocracy, who immigrated to the region following the Teutonic Order’s medieval Baltic Crusade. The manor house is impeccably restored and guided tours are regularly available.
To get an understanding of what life was like for regular Estonians in the 18th and 19th centuries, head to the picturesque village of Altja. Arriving in the small hamlet is like stepping back in time with clapperboard houses lining the unpaved roads and regular festivals taking place that have origins in the Baltic’s pagan past. For the best experience, walk the Nature and Culture Trail, which leads past many of the village’s most beguiling attractions.
Another relic of Estonia’s former German aristocracy is the imposing Sagadi Manor. While the house itself, which was built in the 1750s, can be explored on guided tours, the main attraction is undoubtedly the immaculate gardens, which were once the Baltic’s finest example of Western European landscaping techniques. In the late-Soviet period numerous works of modern art were also added to the gardens making for an unforgettable experience.
The tumbledown village of Käsmu has scarcely changed since its 19th century heyday as the center of Estonia’s maritime trade. Formerly the site is a maritime school, the village at one stage was home to nearly half of all boats registered in the country! While the days of Käsmu’s maritime buzz may be long gone, its picture-perfect streets and fields of erratic boulders remain one of Lahemaa’s must see attractions.
Unusually, Estonia’s premier art gallery is not located in its capital but in the sleepy seaside village of Viinistu at the tip of the Pärispea Peninsula. Housing an astounding collection of 19th to 21st century Estonian art, the gallery is in fact the private collection of Jaan Manitski, who grew up in the remote village before rising to fame as the manager of the Swedish pop troupe ABBA.
More ramshackle than Sagadi or Palmse, the Kolga Manor house is all the better for it. While visitors cannot enter the crumbling aristocratic palace (attempts to restore it have ultimately run out of funds), you can take pictures of its photogenic exterior and explore the neighboring history museum, which gives an insight into the house’s former owners and the autocratic rule of the Russian Empire.
Lahemaa’s most important natural habitats are the seemingly endless bogs that stretch along the Baltic Sea coast. The most accessible of these is Viru, which can be explored thanks to an elevated boardwalk trail that takes you through dense forests, misty swamplands and towering sand dunes.