While Tallinn is a glorious city, Estonia has a lot more to offer visitors than just its capital. One of the country’s major tourist draws is the idyllic Laheema National Park. So, we decided to get away from it all and take a weekend break in this stretch of fairytale forests, beautiful bogland, and captivating coastlines.
At 279 square miles, Laheema is Estonia’s largest national park. Its name literally translates as the “Land of Bays”, given the fact its home to four panoramic natural harbours (and plenty of dreamy beaches, to boot).
The area was first declared a national park in 1971, becoming the first of its kind within the former Soviet Union. Over 70% of the land here is covered by dense forest, which provides a leafy abode for plenty of species of wild animals including moose, boars, brown bears and lynxes. Raised bogs form another large chunk of the park, some of them dating back 7,000 years. At the north of the park sits the Gulf of Finland, meaning miles and miles of unspoiled coastline.
Situated just 43 miles east of Tallinn, Laheema is in easy-reaching distance of the Estonian capital. Several buses travel from the city’s main bus station to the national park each day. The journey is just short of an hour and costs between €3-6.
Alternatively, if you’re planning to see a wide swathe of the park, it might be best to hire a car. We rented a small vehicle from ABC Autorent in Tallinn. It cost us around €100 to take a car from Saturday morning until Sunday night. As usual, we were pretty last minute with our plans, so it might be possible to get a deal cheaper if you book in advance. But, with that said, I still feel like we got our money’s worth…as we did a lot of flitting around, as you’ll see.
What To See:
Probably one of the main attractions within Laheema is the Viru Raba bog trail. This two mile plank walk takes visitors on a journey through soggy peatlands, thick forests and sparkling bog pools.
The boardwalk trail was renovated in 2013, so it’s a pretty undemanding hike and there’s an observation deck where explorers can get a bird’s eye view of the bog below.
One of the park’s many coastal locales, Käsmu is a popular holiday destination for Estonians. Known affectionately as the “captains’ village”, thanks to the maritime school that once existed there, the beauty spot is home to a natural beach and a striking boulder-lined coastline.
Although closed for “renovations” it’s still possible to access this secluded boardwalk and it’s definitely worth the visit. The trail is almost 4 miles in total, however we only completed a short section on the north side. Once again, the walk takes in some of Laheema’s characteristic bogs and woodland. Also, if boulders are your thing, the third largest in Estonia resides in a scenic spot along the trail. We made use of the wooden ladders attached and climbed upon its crest to enjoy a spot of lunch. It was the perfect picnic spot!
Another seaside spot worthy of a visit is Võsu. One of the park’s most popular sandy beaches, on a summer’s day this peaceful cove transforms into a vibrant resort. Complete with a lifeguard, public toilets and changing cabins, the beach is the ideal location to spend the day soaking up the sun.
Hara Submarine Base
On the more unique side of Laheema’s features is the Hara Submarine Base. Now abandoned, the Russian military first opened the base in the 1950s. It was used as a demagnetizing base (I’ve Googled it and still don’t understand, so I plan to simply brush that fact aside). However, when the Estonians gained their independence in 1991, the base fell into disrepair and now serves as a ghostly reminder of the country’s Soviet past.
While not strictly in the park (and, by that, I mean not in the park at all) Jägala Waterfall is only a 25-minute drive from Laheema. Besides, it sits right in between the park and Tallinn, so it’s a good place to break up that arduous 40-minute drive.
Anyway, Jägala Waterfall is Estonia’s biggest waterfall. At just eight meters tall, it’s hardly up for any world records. But, it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
Where to Stay:
Although a visit to Laheema is achievable in one day, it’s worthy of an overnight stay. There are plenty of places to bed down for a night or two on Airbnb. Just type in “Lahemaa rahvuspark” and zoom out on the map a little. Alternatively, Booking.com have plenty of hostels and hotels listed.
For those wanting a true forest experience, we stayed at Projekt Kodu. This eco-retreat, not far from Loksa, offers guests a taste of off-grid living. You can read more about our experience there here.
It’s safe to say, that over our two days, we only just scratched the surface when it came to sightseeing in the park. I know that there are some impressive manors manor houses visitors can visit and countless more quaint villages. The places above were just things that tickled our fancy. So, if you discover any hidden gems in the park, do let me know in the comments below. 🙂