In 2007, Estonia and its Baltic neighbours joined the Schengen group of EU countries so there are now no border controls between them and no visas are needed for travellers from the UK, EU countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
For those who do need a Schengen visa, it is now valid in the three Baltic countries. The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lists Estonian embassies around the world that can issue visas to people entering the Schengen area through Estonia. It also lists foreign embassies based in Tallinn.
Getting there and away
From 1965 until 1988, Estonia’s sole link with the West was a twice-weekly ferry to Helsinki, yet it had daily flights to most of the then capitals of other Soviet republics. Now the situation is completely reversed, with minimal links east and an ever-increasing range of links to the West. Ferries go hourly to Helsinki and there are direct flights from Tallinn to most European countries. Bus routes link Estonia with Russia and with Latvia and some buses continue through Lithuania and Poland to western Europe. Trains operate daily from Tallinn to St Petersburg and to Moscow.
Direct flights to Tallinn are operated by Air Baltic, easyJet and Ryanair from London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports. There are sometimes direct flights from Manchester and Edinburgh. Air Baltic also offer connections via Riga from London Gatwick and many European cities.
Helsinki is often used as a gateway for travel to Estonia; Finnair have multiple flights a day to Tallinn so there will always be connections with their onward flights to Europe, America and Asia. SAS offers a similarly wide range of connections via Stockholm and Copenhagen, while Turkish Airlines has a daily flight to Istanbul with extensive onward connections to all major airports in Asia. Finnair had a daily flight to Tartu from Helsinki until early 2020, but it is likely to be restored during 2022.
The Port of Tallinn website gives full details of all services from/to Helsinki and from/to Stockholm.
Rail services within Estonia and to/from the neighbouring countries consistently declined from independence until 2005 and were of little use either to business travellers or to tourists. However, there was then a sudden turnaround, with improvements every year in the quality of the rolling-stock, in frequencies and in speeds. The Tallinn–Narva and the Tallinn–Tartu routes are those of most interest to visitors. Tickets booked online in advance save about 15% on the prices charged on the train. There is a further reduction of around 20% for travellers aged 65 and above.
There is a daily service from Tallinn to Moscow, via St Petersburg, which takes 18 hours, and which is operated by Gorail, the company that runs the Schnelli Hotel next to the station in Tallinn. Tickets for this train can and should be prebooked abroad since the Russian visa will specify dates of entry and exit.
This is the easiest and cheapest way to reach Estonia from Russia and Latvia. Public buses always have priority over other traffic at the Russian border so delays there are minimal, but they are long enough to provide a respite for smokers.
International buses are operated by Eco Lines and by Lux Express. Wi-Fi is available on all buses and they all take about 4 ½ hours between Tallinn and Riga, with a short stop en route at Pärnu, where is also possible to join the service. About ten buses a day operate between Tallinn and Riga, usually with two classes on board, standard and luxury. Tickets can be bought at the bus stations, but given wildly variable prices, it is best to do some research before travel on the websites quoted above. Buses also operate from Tartu to St Petersburg and to Riga.
Car drivers in the 1990s often had to face delays of several hours crossing each of the borders (eg: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia) between Germany and Estonia. Now that all the relevant countries are in Schengen, the borders are completely open. However, police do stop cars from time to time to check that drivers have all the correct documentation. The car ferries from Helsinki and Stockholm are convenient but expensive.
Car-hire rates are competitive in Estonia but in the short summer season it is normally essential to prebook. Travellers to Saaremaa or Hiiumaa can make considerable savings by asking their travel agents to arrange car hire separately on the islands and travelling by bus to and from Tallinn. This also avoids the difficulty of prebooking the car ferries from the mainland. Drop-off charges are high for cars picked up in one Baltic country and left in another so it is more economical to hire a new car in each country and to travel by bus in between.