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Started in 2014 by the co-founders of Skype Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, Starship Technologies developed the world’s first self-driving delivery robots, some of which can be seen driving around Tallinn’s outer suburbs.
For a country that covers only a little over 45,000 km2, it has an estimated population of 1.3 million and it one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, with almost 50% covered by forest.
According to some sources, St. Olaf’s Church was once the tallest building in the world from 1549-1625. In 1590, the height of the church tower was 125 metres and has been hit by lightning around ten times. The church has also burned down three times since its building in the 1200s.
The Seaplane Hangars at that now house the Seaplane Harbour Museum, were built between 1916 and 1917, as part of Peter the Great’s sea fortress. The hangars were unique at the time, as they were the world’s first reinforced concrete shell structures of such a great size. Charles Lindbergh even landed there in the 1930s.
Estonians are not afraid to try new things and that can certainly be seen with all of the startups that, well, started in Estonia. Some of the more famous ones include: Skype, Transferwise, Pipedrive, Cloutex, Click & Grow, Grabcad, Erply, Fortumo, Lingvist, Taxify, Funderbeam and more.
Minox’s subminiature camera, otherwise known as a “spy camera”, was developed in 1936 by Baltic German Walter Zapp, while living in the Estonia. Minox stills exists today and is producing optical and photographic equipment.
Estonia is considered one of the “least religious” countries in the world, according to a 2011 poll, where only 29% of the population declared that religion was an important part in their daily lives. That’s not to say that the rest of the Estonian population is atheist, over the last decade there has been an increase in Neo Pagan, Buddhist, and Hindu beliefs.
Every country has its own share of Christmas customs, some of which may seem a little strange to foreigners, and Estonia is no exception. Instead of leaving milk and cookies out for Father Christmas, Estonian children leave slippers on the window sill for the elves, who will, in return leave sweets in the morning.
Traditional Estonian Christmas food includes blood sausage, usually served with lingonberry jam and sauerkraut, sült (head cheese), roasted pork and potatoes. Many restaurants in Tallinn prepare special Christmas menus for the holidays where you can try some of these local delicacies. Blood sausage and sauerkraut can also be tasted at the Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square, along with a hot cup of glögg (mulled wine).
During the Soviet period, many holidays, including Christmas were banned. Estonians celebrated näärid instead. Although church was also banned, many Estonians still attended in secret on Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas unofficially in their homes with close friends and relatives, usually behind closed curtains.
There has been a long debate over who erected the first Christmas tree, Tallinn or Riga. We’re not going to take sides, but some historical sources report that in 1441, the Brotherhood of Blackheads brought trees into their guild houses for the holidays in Reval (Tallinn). On the last night of holiday celebrations, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square. This tradition still continues today in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square. If you’re looking to get your own tree this holiday, download the RMK mobile app, which shows you where you can cut your own tree from the state forests. Afterwards, you’re asked to pay a small fee, by internet bank transfer of course, and voilà, the tree is yours!
Pööripäev or Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year in Estonia, taking place on 21 December. On the solstice, there are only 6 hours of daylight, whereas in summer, the longest day of the year has 18 hours of daylight.
A common tradition on New Year’s Eve is õnne valamine or the ‘pouring of luck’. Lead is melted over a stove in a metal ladle and then poured quickly, or slowly into ice cold water. What appears are interesting lead figures, which can then tell you your fortune for the upcoming year.
The coldest months in Estonia are January and February, where temperatures can drop down to -35C. The coldest temperature ever measured in Estonia is -43.5C, recorded in eastern Estonia on 17 January, 1940.
Did you know there are dialects in different regions of Estonia? For example, the Setos in southern Estonia have their own dialect and their own kingdom, with about 12,000 speakers. Võru also has its own dialect with about 75,000 speakers. Both dialects are on the UNESCO list of threatened dialects.
Estonia is a small nation, but did you know that only three cities have a population greater than 50,000? Tallinn, Tartu, and Narva take the prize for largest cities.
Did you know that some of Estonia’s towns are given a title? Otepää is the winter capital, Türi is the spring capital, Pärnu is the summer capital and Narva is the autumn capital.
Every year thousands of skiers gather in Otepää for the annual Tartu Marathon. The marathon is part of the international Worldloppet cross-country skiing series and offers two distances - 63km and 31km. There are even special activities for kids too!
Estonia is not all flat land. Its highest point is Suur Munamägi (Big Egg Hill) standing at 317,2m. Suur Munamägi is also the highest point in the Baltics, something which Estonians are very proud about.
Did you know that you can drive on the ice in Estonia? That is if it’s cold enough. During particularly cold winters (like the ones we used to have) you can drive between some of Estonia’s islands. The roads are marked with signs and speed limits.
You may have noticed that it’s quite dark this time of year, but there’s a little bit of light that comes from the fluttering reflectors (helkurid) that are attached to everyone’s coats and bags. Lots of children wear them, but it’s mandatory for adults as well.
Estonian wooden house manufacturers are among the biggest exporters of wooden houses in Europe. Estonian companies export 85-90% to Scandinavia, Germany, and the UK, as well as Japan, South Africa, and South Korea.
Estonia has considerably more women than men – for every 100 females, there are 84 men; only the Northern Mariana Islands have a smaller percentage of men.
Have you ever heard about the fifth season? Soomaa National Park is best known for its great flood or “fifth season”, when the water from melted snow and heavy rains floods the forest.
Eno Raud’s children’s books ‘Naksitrallid‘ and ‘Jälle neid naksitrallid‘ are the most translated Estonian books. You can read about the adventures of Muhv, Sammalhabe, and Kingpool in Bulgarian, Georgian, English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Eastern and Western Mari, Romanian, Norwegian, Polish, German, Slovak, Finland, Danish, Czech, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Russian.
Arvo Pärt is the world’s most performed living composer. He is known for his minimalist style that uses his own invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli.
Estonia’s largest factory, Krenholm, began operation in 1858. By 1913, the company employed 10,200 people, making it Europe's largest textiles factory, at the time. The factory complex, which altogether was close to half a million square metres, housed a school, chemist, sauna, churches, hospital, cemetery, and even its own police force and jail.
Being an ancient maritime nation, the Estonian coastline is dotted with historical lighthouses that continue to top world listings for most spectacular architecture. The oldest lighthouses in Estonia have stood strong and guided seafarers of all nations since the 16th century. The world’s oldest continuously operating lighthouse is located in Kõpu, Hiiumaa. Seven lighthouses are open for visitors.
Tallinn can be regarded as an Olympic city. In 1980, when the summer Olympics took place in Moscow, the Olympic regatta was held in Tallinn.
Estonia is only slightly bigger than Denmark and has a coastline fragmented with islands. Estonia has 2222 islands, of which 318 are larger than a hectar. Twenty two islands are inhabited year round.
Fact: Estonians love sprats. If you want to try something truly Estonian, pick up a tin of vürtsikilu and eat them on black bread.
The first meal consumed in space was prepared in Estonia. A factory in Põltsamaa became the caterer to the Soviet space programme in 1962 and started packaging ready-made food into tin tubes, the only available means at the time.
The wolf is one of the most popular animals in Estonian folklore; there are over 500 names and stories about this animal. So, it’s only appropriate that the wolf was chosen as Estonia’s national animal this year.
One of the biggest meteorites to hit the Earth in the recent history landed in Saaremaa, in what today is the village of Kaali. Saaremaa is also where, according to one measurement, the centre of Europe is located.
Over 50,000 Estonians, comprising about 5% of the population, have a personal gene map, providing hints about risks of hereditary diseases, as well as many other ailments. Furthermore, the Estonian Genome Centre now aims to collect the genetic data of 100,000 people and integrate it into everyday medical practice.
Smoke sauna. The Võru smoke sauna tradition is in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The tradition, known as “suidsusannakombõ” in the local dialect, is an important part of everyday life in Võru, a 75,000- strong community located in southern Estonia.
Marzipan is one of the oldest sweets made in Estonia, first used as a medicine as it was thought to have healing properties. There are still six marzipan painters left in Estonia, thought to be some of the last professional marzipan painters in Europe.
Estonians invented their own sport – kiiking. It involves a swing with its arms made of steel to enable a person to swing 360 degrees going over the fulcrum of the wing. In the sport, the person able to swing over the fulcrum with the longest swing arms, is the winner.
The Estonia-wide clean up program Teeme ära! got its start in 2008, when close to 50,000 volunteers cleaned up almost 10,000 tonnes of garbage from Estonia. The trend has caught on and now takes place in over 100 countries worldwide. This year’s Let’s Do It! World takes place on September 15.
The Tallinn Town Hall is Northern Europe’s only preserved Gothic city hall. Raeapteek in Tallinn is the oldest town council pharmacy in Europe and the oldest continuously operating medical institution in Estonia.
Look for the swallow symbol on food packets throughout Estonia. It’s given to products that are of 100% Estonian origin. In 2017, it became apparent that Estonian food was among the cleanest in Europe, meaning that it uses the least amount of pesticides, according to an EFSA report.