The composer Tchaikovsky already admired the sunrises in Haapsalu over 150 years ago
Texts Mark Taylor Photos Tõnu Tunnel, Andrei Chertkov, Ingel Kink
Less than a two-hour drive from Tallinn is the small town of Haapsalu. This medieval town by the sea in Western Estonia has a long tradition as a summer resort.
Already in the 19th century, Haapsalu was a popular spa holiday destination for the Russian upper class who sought the therapeutic mud found in the town. Today, the city still has spas, but it is also known for its many festivals, museums, good restaurants and unique ambience, which stem from its narrow streets lined with wooden houses and peaceful atmosphere.
Along the seafront promenade is the picture perfect Kuursaal, which is one of the most beautiful wooden buildings in Estonia. There is also the Tchaikovsky bench on the promenade, where the composer loved to watch the sunrise. The promenade runs from Africa Beach, where there is a large playground for kids and an observation tower for birdwatching, all the way to the chocolate promenade, which is named after a former café.
Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle is the city’s jewel
Haapsalu has always competed with another summer city, Pärnu. When Old Pärnu was burned to the ground as a result of a Lithuanian invasion, the bishop of Saare-Lääne decided in 1263 to establish Haapsalu in the much more peaceful North. The location of the new city was chosen because it was also much harder to attack from both the land and the sea than Pärnu.
A castle was, of course, built. Today, this medieval castle is the heart of the city. The walls of the bishop’s castle and the castle courtyard can be visited free of charge. Concerts, music festivals and other events are held in and around the castle courtyard throughout the summer. After five years and 5 million euros of investment, the interior of the castle has been restored and is now 98% accessible to visitors with disabilities. Exploring the Episcopal Castle takes you on a journey through the history of the castle and the city as a whole.
Rannarootsi Museum of Coastal Swedes
The history of the West coast of Estonia and its islands is one that is intertwined with Sweden and Swedish people. Today, even though almost all of the native Swedish speakers have gone, mostly in part to the wars of the last century, there is still a big influence in place names across the west of Estonia and its islands. The Rannarootsi Museum, which was opened by the King of Sweden, takes you on a journey to these small islands and coastal communities, and the subtle differences between them in their languages and customs.
This small, but friendly museum, is one of very few museums in Estonia to have all information available in Swedish as well as Estonian and English. There are also a number of more concise translations to Russian, German, French and Finnish too, which help to give a very good understanding without missing out on much.
A slowly forgotten railway
The last train departed from Haapsalu back in 1995. However, the station remains, with its long and unique platform, which has become an iconic place to take pictures in the city. On the tracks, there are also a number of trains from various eras and in various states of repair. Inside the main building of the station you will find the small Railway and Communications Museum, where you will be able to explore a candy store of old phones, televisions and tech. Although there is only Estonian signage in the museum, they do provide a very informative booklet in English which has much more information than that available on the exhibits.
- 3.-4.6. Italian Wine Festival. The event will be held in the center of Haapsalu on Karja Street.
- 3.6. Italian Music Festival in the courtyard of Haapsalu Castle. This year it will feature the legendary Umberto Tozzi and The Italian Tenors.
- 1. – 4.7. Tchaikovsky Festival. Eight concerts, ballet and theater performances and a large children’s concert. The Latvian National Ballet, Dmitri Sinkovski and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, as well as the Terem Quartet will step onto the main stage of the Haapsalu Castle.
- July 8-9 TAFF Jazz festival. At the festival, different trends in music will meet, driven by jazz.
- 15.7. American Beauty Car Show. Haapsalu will be filled with beautiful American cars and a slice of American car culture. The program includes a car show, a racing event, a cruising event and concerts.
Cafes, restaurants and bars:
- Café Wiigi, Suur-Lossi 25.
- Café Von Gernet, Supeluse 2.
- Purtse Gastro Pub, Jaani 2.
- Cocktail-bar Lounge Hoov, Ehte 4.
- Restaurant Hapsal Dietrich, Karja 10.
- Restaurant Rado, Posti 7.
- Restaurant Kärme Küülik, Karja 5.
- Hestia Hotel Haapsalu Spa, Sadama 9/11.
- Fra Mare Thalasso SPA, Ranna tee 2.
- Hotel Promenaadi, Sadama 22.
- Villa Friedheim, Supeluse 2.
- Päeva Villa Hotel, Lai 7.
- Hotel Kongo, Kalda 19.
- Lahe Maja Guesthouse, Lahe 7.
- Soffa Apartments, Posti 1.