My Favourite Country on Earth
Here are some facts about Estonia:
- There are no male Estonians.
- Estonian swings do a full 360 because they hate safety.
- It’s the 9th freest country in Europe.
- And the most highly educated.
Estonia is a fascinating country. It’s kind of like the other Baltic states but not really. It has a Soviet recent past, but you wouldn’t know. It’s basically part of Scandinavia, but it’s definitely not.
This makes it a bit of a puzzle: Enigma Estonia, if you will. I had few expectations before I went, but I knew it was a magnet for digital nomads and I wanted to find out why.
So I boarded a flight to Tallinn, and fell completely in love. Estonia might just be my absolute favourite country on Earth. Here’s what Estonia taught me and why travellers should give it a visit.
1. Estonia is a Technological and Entrepreneurial Superpower
Estonia has more startups per person than any other country on the planet. They’re just constantly launching tech firms for the fun of it. Only two have ever really succeeded, though: Skype and Transferwise. And during the 2020 lockdown, everyone had switched to Zoom anyway.
Well actually, that’s not true at all. Here are some of the other awesome startups to have come out of Estonia:
- Bolt: Fast, reliable and cheap taxis. Think Uber or Lyft, but with drivers who will actually wait a few minutes if you can’t find them right away.
- eAgronom: A tech solution to farming. Helping farmers to become more efficient and profitable. They import your fields online and analyse their yield. It’s like analytics for crops.
- MeetFrank: A clear, easy to use service that helps job seekers into their perfect career. As a global marketplace, this isn’t just for Estonian workers looking for Estonian companies. It connects talent from all over the world.
- Veriff: Another brilliant technical solution, this time to verifying your identity online. While I recently spent weeks trying and failing to confirm my identity online for the UK government, Veriff verifies 95% of people on their first try. Another example of Estonia building innovative platforms that actually work.
This absolute obsession with technology and entrepreneurship makes Estonia one of the greatest places to do business. The entire country receives 4G, for those who like to set up office deep in the woods. You know, like bears looking to launch a tech startup. Some kind of Goldilocks tracking app or something.
WiFi freely floats around the cities and there’s an abundance of coffee shops and coworking spaces. With the freest internet in the world, Estonia is probably the most modern country there is. People vote online, set up businesses online, and you can even buy yourself e-residency. Literally, for around €100, you can become a virtual citizen of Estonia. They even offer a dedicated digital nomad visa. I’m seriously considering it after all this Brexit nonsense.
2. Great Proximity for Satisfying Wanderlust
Estonia is really good for people who want to leave Estonia quickly. Within a few days of arriving, I’d jumped on the ferry and taken a weekend break to Finland. Because it’s easy. If you dislike Finland and their absurd beer prices, you could also head south to Latvia or even pop to Russia.
There are just so many wildly contrasting cultures, crammed into this small corner of Europe. As nice as Estonia is, if you’re the kind of person who gets the urge to explore somewhere new, then Estonia is a great place to be.
Just one hop across a border and you’ve got a brand new language, history, and culture to contend with. And that’s awesome.
3. Tallinn, Estonia: Unspoiled Medieval City
I love an Old Town and Tallinn is my so-far favourite. It is, however, a labyrinth that I will never understand, no matter how long I spend there. Google Maps can’t help you here. All the roads seem to go round in circles and they never quite go where you need to be.
But why would you need to be anywhere? Wandering these wonky roads is enough of a holiday in itself. Tourists: skip the churches. Only 16% of Estonians worship a god, anyway.
Walk through the UNESCO Heritage Old Town in Tallinn (or the Old Town in any other Estonian city) and you’ll have a nice time. Guaranteed.
4. Amazing Countryside (If You Hate Hills)
Estonia is the flattest place on Earth. I know this for a fact because their highest mountain is 318m and the smallest a mountain can be is 300m. It’s called “Big Egg” mountain, presumably because it’s about the size of an ostrich egg.
Nature lovers often pride themselves on being able to survive in mountainous terrain, but I would urge you not to write off Estonia. It’s the third most sparsely populated country in the EU, making it perfect if you love nature but hate people.
The fields, the forests, the swamps: it’s basically Shrek’s fairytale land. Estonia has one of the world’s highest wolf and lynx populations. It also has up to five times more bears per square km than its neighbours. Though I’ve never seen these creatures, just knowing they’re around is much cooler than England. Which has sheep and NOTHING ELSE.
5. Estonian Folk are a Bit Too Confident About their Craft Beer
Why does every place I visit have to be filled with the booze brigade telling me how their craft beer is the greatest in the world? Whether it’s the microbreweries of Denver, the supposed “real ale capital” of the world in South Yorkshire, or Prague, which has beer museums like America has Starbucks.
Before I even went to Estonia, I heard reports of a peerless beer industry. The first pub I entered, Koht, would back this up: hundreds of beer bottles with fancy labels lined the fridge; beer taps sat unmarked; a few pieces of paper hastily taped to the wall had an incomprehensible handwritten menu on them.
Having only just arrived in Estonia, I’d never heard of Saku or any other commonly served beer. I knew nothing. I asked the barmaid for advice, but she couldn’t help. There were simply too many beers to talk me through. You’re either in the know or you’re not.
Now I’m not saying Estonia doesn’t have great beer. All I’m saying is that the best-tasting beer I drank there turned out to have been brewed a 20-minute drive from my hometown in England.
Half of all Estonians are folk musicians, so I understand why they love their craft brews. If you also love beer, you’ll love Estonia. The place is crawling with quaint, beautiful, and timeless tucked-away taverns. They might not have Jack Daniels, but they’ll have a decent if anonymous IPA. They’ll have something you like, you just have to find it.
And that’s what I love most about Enigma Estonia. It’s something of a mystery; a secret that tourists will taste but never quite crack.