Estonian People Share Stories of Their Culture

| | Updated: September 13, 2022

Estonian People Offer Backstories of Their Home and Culture

The Estonian people have a diverse heritage and unique traditions can be found across the country, from the capital of Tallinn, to the islands of Muhu, Saaremaa and Kihnu, the culture capital of Tartu, the shores of Lake Peipsi, and Seto Kingdom in the southeastern corner. One of three countries that make up the Baltic states (along with Latvia and Lithuania) Estonia is located in Northern Europe along the Baltic Sea.

Estonia is a Baltic state and former part of the Soviet Union, located on the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. Its terrain is diverse–the country is more than half-covered in forests and has more than 1,500 islands and 1,400 lakes.

The skyline of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, is speared by the steeples of churches ranging from that of 13th century St. Olav’s and the 20th century onion-domed Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky cathedral. The outskirts of the medieval center encompass the inspiring Song Festival Grounds as well as the grim former Patarei Prison.

Through the stories below, People Are Culture offers readers insight into travel in Estonia, the best experiences of Estonian culture and the personal stories of Estonian people from across the country.

Estonian People | Tartu, the Culture Capital

The country’s cultural capital is home to the Estonian National Museum and the Song Festival Museum as well as Tartu University and St. Anthony’s Guild, where master craftsmen and artisans can be seen engaging in ancient creative traditions.

Estonian Islands | Muhu, Saaremaa and Kihnu

Muhu Island is a timeless place of thatched cottages, iconic Estonian swings, ancient churches, sacred stones, and swirling patterns–where evidence of Soviet occupation endures in the form of an old missile base. Saaremaa is Estonia’s biggest island and is reached via a causeway from Muhu over tranquil waters. Its coastline is dotted with windmills and fairytale-like castle adorns the picturesque spa town of Kuressaare. At an atmospheric church in the village of Kaarma, I attended a choral concert held to celebrate Estonia’s 20th anniversary of its pre-independence from the Soviet Union.

Estonia’s seventh-largest island is home to four communities and 600 people, who keep alive rich traditions of handicrafts and song. Colorful folk costumes are daily wear for the women and about 70 local men continue the age-old maritime way of life. UNESCO proclaimed Kihnu’s cultural space and traditions as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.

Explore Muhu Island

Explore Muhu, Estonia’s third largest island and experience pagan practices, a 16th century manor house and relics of Cold War.

Estonian People of Lake Peipsi and Seto Nation

The fifth-largest lake in Europe spans the Russian border along its shores live the Old Believers. This community of 11 congregations was founded here in the 17th century by members of the Russian Orthodox religion being persecuted for their conservative views at the time the church underwent a reformation. Today, the villages are known for their cultivation of onions.

In the southeastern corner of Estonia is Setomaa or “Seto Nation,” an ethnic and linguistic minority who practice the Orthodox faith and the tradition of “leelo” singing, a style of folk songs where the singer improvises the words, which the choir then repeats.

Estonia’s Land of the Setos

Explore distinctive traditions of Estonia’s Land of Setos, an ethnic community on Russian border known for leelo singing, colorful textiles and King Peko.