28 interesting facts about Estonia

with No Comments

From wife carrying to Kiiking, a sport where participants rotate 360° on giant swings, these are the most interesting facts about Estonia.

Interesting facts about Estonia include its historic capital
Interesting facts about Estonia include its historic capital (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Estonia
Population: 1.2 million
Area: 45,228 sq km
Capital city: Tallinn
Major languages: Estonian, Russian 
Major religions: Christianity
Time zone: UTC+2 (Eastern European Time)
– Source: CIA World Factbook

Interesting facts about Estonia

1. Estonia is a Baltic country in Eastern Europe bordering Latvia and Russia.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

2. Humans have lived in Estonia since around 8500 BC when they settled in the region after the last ice age.
– Source: Subrenat, Jean-Jacques (2007). Estonia: Identity and Independence. Rodopi: Amsterdam

3. Over the centuries, Estonia has been repeatedly occupied and invaded by various peoples including the Vikings, Danes, Swedes, Russians and Germans.
– Source: Britannica

A map of Estonia and the Baltic region
A map of Estonia (Shutterstock)

4. Estonia’s local name is Eesti. It’s believed that it derives from the Aesti, an ancient people who lived along the eastern Baltic Sea in the first century AD.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

5. After the 1917 Russian Revolution during World War I, Estonia first proclaimed independence in 1918.
– Source: Britannica

6. The Estonian flag is horizontally striped blue, black and white. The colours represent the sky (blue), the soil (black) and the ambition for freedom (white).
– Source: Moira Butterfield (2019) The Flag Book. Lonely Planet Kids: London

Estonia's flag flying
Estonia’s flag (Shutterstock)

7. From 1940 to 1991, Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and known as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, the USSR collapsed and Estonia gained independence again.
– Source: BBC News, CIA World Factbook

8. The UNESCO-listed Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Estonia. The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching 2,820km (1,752 miles) across 10 countries from Norway to the Black Sea. The survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Struve, helped to establish the exact size and shape of the Earth.
– Source: UNESCO

9. Estonia’s only other UNESCO site is the Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn, its capital city. The well-preserved medieval city centre dates back to the 13th century and is one of Europe’s most complete walled cities.
– Source: UNESCO, Lonely Planet

A city scape showing Tallinn's Old Town on a sunny day
Tallinn’s Old Town (Shutterstock)

10. During the Second World War, Estonia had one of the worst death tolls in terms of percentage of population. Around 83,000 people died which represented 7.3% its 1939 population.
– Source: Misc. sources: see Wikipedia for table of comparison

11. With a mean elevation of just 61m (200ft), Estonia has one of the world’s lowest average elevations.
– Source: CIA World Fact BookThe Telegraph

12. Estonians excel at wife carrying, a contest where male competitors race an obstacle course while carrying a female body. From 1998 to 2008, Estonian couples won the Wife Carrying World Championships for 11 consecutive years. There is even a carrying technique known as the “Estonian lift”.
– Source: Irish Times, The Guardian, Wife Carrying World Championships, BBC News

13. Singing is an important part of Estonian culture. The country holds enormous song festivals, which date back to 1869. The festivals feature a choir of between 20,000 and 30,000 singers and draw audiences of over 100,000 people – nearly a 10th of the population.
– Source: The Atlantic

14. Additionally, the events that led to independence in 1991 are known as the “Singing Revolution” when a series of mass protests were held under the guise of gathering to sing during a period when the Soviets banned demonstrations. For five nights in 1988, 100,000 people assembled to sing protest songs until sunrise.
– Source: The Atlantic

15. Kiiking is a popular sport in Estonia. Invented in 1993 in Estonia, Kiiking sees participants secure themselves to giant swings that rotate 360°. Additionally, an Estonian jolds the world record for the longest swing shaft used to successfully complete a 360° rotation in kiiking which was 7.38m (24.3ft).
– Source: Visit Estonia, Guinness World Records

A man upside down while Kiiking in Estonia
Interesting facts about Estonia include the sport of Kiiking (Eesti Kiikingi Liit/CC BY-SA 3.0)

16. Tallinn has been dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe due to its high number of startups and unicorns (startups valued at over US$1 billion). Video calling app Skype and mobility app Bolt were both founded in Tallinn.
– Source: The Times, BBC News

17. Estonia has one of the world’s highest adult literacy rates – over 99.8%.
– Source: World Bank

18. St. Olav’s Church Tower in Tallinn was reportedly the world’s tallest building from 1549 to 1625. Unfortunately, in 1625, its 159m (522ft) spire was struck by lightning and burnt down. Today it is 124m (407ft) high.
– Source: Lonely Planet, Visit Tallinn

St. Olav’s Church Tower in Tallinn
St. Olav’s Church Tower in Tallinn (Shutterstock)

19. In a 2009 survey of 114 countries, Estonia was ranked the world’s least religious country with just 16% of people saying religion was an important part of their daily. A similar 2015 poll put Estonia in third, still at 16%, but behind Japan (13%) and China (7%).
– Source: Gallup, The Telegraph

20. Estonia has the world’s third-highest prevalence of depression. 5.9% of its population suffers from depressive disorders.
– Source: World Health Organisation (WHO) 

21. Estonia has a so-called “fifth season” known as “ujutus” that arrives after winter in early Spring between March and April. Every year, heavy rains cause flash flooding across the peatland district of Soomaa National Park in southwestern Estonia.
– Source: Washington Post, BBC Travel

A canoe on flooded peatland
Soomaa National Park during ujutus (Shutterstock)

22. The Estonian name for Tallinn is widely believed to come from “Taani-linn” (meaning “Danish castle” or “Danish town”) after a stronghold was built in the area by the Danes.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

23. Tallinn was one of the 2011 European Capitals of Culture.
– Source: European Commission

24. In 2015, an oak tree on a football pitch in Estonia was crowned European Tree of the Year after receiving almost 60,000 votes.
– Source: The Guardian, European Tree of the Year

The oak tree in the middle of a football pitch
The winning tree (Environmental Partnership Association)

25. It is claimed the first Christmas tree was erected in Estonia. In 1441, a tree was put up in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square by the Brotherhood of Black Heads guild, making it the first public Christmas tree ever put on display in Europe. However, it’s worth noting that neighbour Latvia also makes a similar claim.
– Source: Wall Street Journal

26. In 1994, Estonia became the first country to adopt a flat tax system – a technique that applies the same tax rate to every taxpayer regardless of income bracket.
– Source: New York Times

27. One of Tallinn’s most famous landmarks is the “onion-domed” Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral. Completed in 1900, the Russian Orthodox cathedral is renowned for its striking interior and exterior design,
– Source: Lonely Planet

The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral in Tallinn at sunset
The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral in Tallinn (Shutterstock)

28. In 1989, approximately two million people joined hands to form a 600km long human chain through the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania known as The Baltic Way. It was part of a peaceful political demonstration against Soviet rule.
– Source: The Baltic Way

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Estonia using primary sources. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.