Road trip through the manors and castles of Estonia
Tags: Estonia, road trip, travel by car, manor, castle
You are about to enter the birthplace of Rentalmoose! So welcome to Estonia – the country with the cleanest air, greenest forests, and well, I have to mention the Nordic temperatures. Discover the best manors and castles in Estonia with this road trip itinerary!
612 kilometers (380 miles) in total
This travel guide will take you from our capital, Tallinn, to the East-Estonia (almost close to the Russian border!), then to the center of Estonia, then driving West from there and again back to North – where our capital Tallinn, the most Northern city lies.
There are so many manors in Estonia but during this trip, I am going to lead you through the most famous ones, the ones that have managed to survive the bite of time (with a bit of renovation, of course) and are again working as restaurants, spas and hotels, and welcoming guests.
Other than that, we have 414 preserved manors that are all worth seeing but even us, Estonians, haven’t managed to see all of those (with maybe some manor-enthusiasts exceptions).
The best time to plan a trip to Estonia will definitely be European summer (let’s say from May to September). Although we do have some pretty awesome winters if you like loads of snow and frosty minus degrees (in Celsius).
But this current road trip should preferably be done during summer because only then you can explore the beauty of the Estonian manors to the fullest.
You can explore the region even further and head on an epic road trip across the Baltics! See the best of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, with this Rentalmoose travel guide. It’s an ideal summer getaway.
The total driving distance is 612km / 380mi and the duration is about 8 hours. It’s perfect for a weekend getaway! I recommend taking 4 days for this trip so you could fully enjoy all the facilities different manors have to offer.
When you just want to visit the manors without using the experiences then it’s possible to finish the road trip in 2-3 days as well.
Just in case to avoid any future misunderstandings, don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app to take photos of the condition of the car when receiving it. Check-in photos before starting your journey qualify for a 50% rebate from the excess coverage fee.
Yes! Estonia – the country where Rentalmoose, Skype, and TransferWise all come from – accepts most of the driving licenses in the world. International Driving Permits (click to learn all about them) are not mandatory when driving in Estonia.
You can take your rental car from the Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport and drop it off at the same place. Find your suitable rental car for the journey via Rentalmoose.
Our airport (called Lennart Meri after our very loved second president, may he rest in peace) is in the capital city – Tallinn. And this is our first stop on this trip.
So let’s start the exciting journey on the trails of history!
The capital city Tallinn is the biggest city in Estonia, yet it’s still so small compared to other countries. The population in Estonia is 1,3 million and about 426,538 people live in Tallinn.
If you have more time on hand, I definitely suggest exploring Tallinn as well. The old town is very lovely but tends to get crowded from tourists during summer. Check out Tales Of Reval for daily free tours of Tallinn’s old town.
The route I planned will also take you to Kadriorg, a very nice area in Tallinn with cute wooden houses. It’s quite a fancy area I must say – even the Presidential Palace is there and it is no surprise – The Palaces and the park with the flowers and the ponds with swans swimming around are truly gorgeous.
Kadriorg Palace is a Petrine Baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. Both the Estonian and the German name for the palace (and the area!) means “Catherine’s valley”. It’s located just next to the President Palace. So this will be our first manor stop. Nowadays, the palace is a location for the art museum.
Just a little walk from the palace there is a new, huge modern art museum called KUMU. Kumu is the headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia, as well as the largest and most impressive exhibition venue in Estonia. The venue has also been used for different events and parties.
After spending the day in the old town and Kadriorg (both are the most expensive areas to live in Tallinn), you should put a new location in the GPS and head east.
Next: Vihula manor, 1 hour
There are actually 3 different great manors in the very small area here. The driving distance between the three is less than 10 minutes and exactly on the way, so you don’t have to take a detour to see them all.
The first of the three manors is called Palmse manor. They have a restaurant, a manor museum (with a ticket) and a guesthouse. As of mid-2020, the entry ticket costs 9 euros per adult and 7 euros for children. Guided tours are available at an extra price
Another one is Sagadi manor – it has been said that Sagadi looks the most like a true manor in Estonia. They offer the same experiences as Palmse does, though the prices are lower. As of mid-2020, admission to the museum costs 4 euros per adult and 2 euros per student.
The third one is the elegant Vihula Manor Country Club & Spa. It is renovated but still has the steep stairs, old original wooden floors, and wide stone walls from the 16th century. But it also has all the modern luxuries one can wish for.
Of course! Vihula’s renovation has been the latest of the three, it has everything the other two offer but also a spa – a pool, sauna, massages and beauty treatments. So for these reasons, I recommend visiting the first two and staying in the third one!
They also have many activities you can enjoy in nature – like renting a boat for a little ride across their lakes or playing minigolf. The staff can help you organise a picnic in the forests, for example.
Then there are museums and different workshops and they also have different tours – even one with a horse carriage to make you feel like living the real old manor life.
After these activities, you can go swimming in the pool or use the sauna or treat yourself to a really luxurious massage or beauty treatment. A perfect end to the evening would be in their most beautiful restaurant, and if you’re lucky – accompanied by live piano music.
Next: Saka manor, 1 hour
Ready to drive closer to the Russian border? Our next manor, Saka, is located on the East of Estonia. The manor was reopened in 2010, before that it was just being forgotten and deserted (as so many manors in Estonia still are, unfortunately).
The manor was bought by a private owner, the property underwent a full renovation and opened its doors to the public. The bright white manor works as a hotel with wellness and spa areas.
There is quite a lot to do here – play tennis or arrow games, walk in the 19th-century manor park, or have a picnic out in the fresh air. Or go hiking – the nature here is wonderful as the manor is located on the Northern-Estonian highest cliff (up to 55 metres).
There are also wild forests with many waterfalls closeby. Great hiking trails will get you everywhere – these are also possible to ride through with a bike (available to rent from the manor). Below the cliff, there is a wonderful white sand beach.
Before you could only see the beach from the cliffs as there were no stairs to get there, but the new owner changed that. He built a stairway that brought a high architectural award to its architect.
From Saka manor it’s about a 50-minute drive to the Estonian-Russian border and the last city before Russia, called Narva. This roadtrip won’t take you there as it will make you turn to the South instead.
The trip to Narva is optional – you can actually see Russia from Narva – it’s just across the river (river being the border). Unfortunately, you can’t visit Russia without a visa.
Mäetaguse manor is on the list because of the different interesting activities they offer. To fully enjoy them all, it’s good to stay here for the night.
The manor has hotel rooms, a restaurant and a spa but it also offers the options to play disc golf, a visit to the sauna (which can be turned into an enjoyable sauna ritual, combining a pleasant sauna and hot tub experience with skin exfoliation, nutrition, and moisturization. To do that, the special instructor will teach you in the private sauna how to make body scrubs and sauna masks from expedient means.).
You can also have a picnic on the bog on the bank of the Seli lake and a course to make dumplings – which has become Mäetaguse manor hotel’s most popular activity.
It is up to you to decide the shape of dumplings you want to get, either with beef, potatoes, or mushroom stuffing.
The hotel has a very conveniently located nice handicrafts workshop right across the yard, where you can engage in a number of exciting handicrafts activities – in addition to making dumplings, there is a ceramics workshop, glass-making classes, sewing, and blacksmithing and carpentry workshops.
You won’t feel boredom in that place, that’s for sure!
Next: Alatskivi castle, 1 hour
The Alatskivi castle is located in a 16th-century manor house. This is the true fairytale castle! I mean – Walt Disney would be jealous if he saw the one in Alatskivi.
Alatskivi has very classical wooden furniture in its rooms. By the way – if you want to feel like a real princess or king, book yourself a room at their tower!
Just 200 meters away there is the Alatskivi lake, and 3km / 1,8mi away there is the biggest lake in Estonia – Peipus (Peipsi in Estonian). It does look like a sea from the beaches there and the Russian border goes through the lake, half of it actually belongs to Russia.
The Alatskivi castle is located in the middle of The Onion Route. The Onion Route is in fact a chain of meandering villages on the shore of the Lake Peipus, inhabited both by Estonians and Russians living side by side, and which is famous for its rich cultural diversity and, yes you guessed right – for its very tasty onions. Read more about the activities in The Onion Route here.
Põhjaka manor is, together with Kadriorg Palace, a manor that does not work as a hotel. The whole building still has a rustic feel to it. But this place does work as a restaurant – and it’s one of the greatest in Estonia!
What they say about themselves: “When the three chefs Märt, Ott and Joel discovered Põhjaka Manor in the early spring of 2007, the building, dating back to the year 1820, was in a rather poor condition.
Windows and doors had been veneered and boarded up, half of the wood flooring was stolen, the fine stoves had been plundered and carried away.
Despite all this, the chefs were convinced that the old manor would be the perfect place to open a restaurant. It took them three years to construct and renovate the building with their own hands. Sometimes friends came to help and so the manor was given the new shape as one can see today.
The restaurant was opened in 2010. By now, the chefs have proven to everyone (themselves included) that is it possible to prepare delicious food using nothing else but local Estonian raw material, being thus wholly dependent on seasons.
Therefore, in the winter more filling meals are prepared, during the summertime they serve lighter food – all the fresh and green that our fields and forests have to offer.
“Not to mention the vast amounts of preserves that are stored in our cellar, so that the juices, compotes and jams could be enjoyed in the winter! Much game is used in our kitchen. By now we have our own garden and farmland, as well as a chicken coop. From this spring also four piglets can be heard oinking in the yard.”
It’s definitely worth a visit for a great lunch! Notice that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Rentalmoose order tip: Make yourself a favor and try their Napoleon cake aka Mille Feuille – one of the best in the world!
Next: Kau manor, 30 minutes
Kau manor is one of the most special manors in all of Estonia. It belongs to private owners who have done a very different interior design from the other manors, it’s even kind of exotic and eclectic because most of the furnishings have been bought from the different corners of the world where the owners have traveled.
Kau is at once an art center, an academy, a pristine nature preserve, and a boutique hotel and restaurant. Just so you could explore more of this place, Rentalmoose suggests spending the night here.
Every item in this manor has a story to tell and the hosts are more than happy to share these with you. Kau is the perfect retreat to enjoy nature, gastronomy and culture in their highest forms.
Next: Laitse castle, 1 hour
Laitse castle is not just a castle – but a knight’s castle, like the ones in the wide world.
The story is the same as with most manors, it used to be full of life, everyone was welcome here – travelers, merchants, artisans, and dandies from the city.
There were foods and drinks for everyone, and beds to let the weary ones rest. Time passed, and the land was ravaged by great floods, conflagrations, and wars.
Rulers changed and the stones of Laitse Castle started to crumble, its beams started to rot. Then one day, a court jester with his faithful wife happened to pass by. Two lovers looking for a place to dream.
From the very first sight, they fell in love with the castle and decided to stay there. Under the stewardship of the new proprietors, the appearance of the castle began to slowly restore itself.
And once again the castle welcomes all travelers, merchants, lovers, and other good people. The exuding romance and allure of Laitse castle make a unique and royal experience for the visitors.
This fairytale old castle offers a variety of activities for families, for those in love, for gourmands, for colleagues or for thrill-seekers. Yes – for thrill-seekers, as the place hosts an evening of murder mysteries. The evening with 4-course dinner and role-play is like traveling back in time – people wearing costumes from different eras.
There is a dinner party during which murder happens – everyone can find their inner Poirot to solve the murder mystery. People stay in roles the whole evening.
How the evening takes its course depends on the contribution of each participant. The game is run by experienced and clever game hosts. If you are traveling with a group, it’s possible to order the murder mystery game night just for your group. More information on their website here.
Rentalmoose insider tip: When participating in the game night it’s recommended to stay in the hotel for the night as they also offer alcoholic drinks at the dinner and the evening will end late.
If you wish to visit then there is another manor en route from Kau to Laitse. It’s called Saue manor and it also works as a hotel.
Next: Joa castle, 30 minutes
Keila-Joa manor is the last manor on the road trip list and it’s one of the newest and trendiest of all Estonian manors.
Its name is Keila-Joa Schloss Fall and it’s also actually more like a castle. The extensive renovation on the Neo-Gothic castle ended in 2013 and then it opened its doors to the public.
The boutique hotel was opened just in 2016 – offering time-true and stylishly furnished luxury suites, an excellent restaurant and a winery with well-chosen wines. It also includes a fascinating museum where different exhibitions are displayed and many concerts and theatres are held.
Of course, there is an elegant fine dining restaurant Cher Ami. “Cher Ami” aka “Dear Friend” – that is how all the letters between Tsar Nikolai I and the manor owner Alexander von Benckendorff begun and that is how the Keila-Joa Castle restaurant’s head chef invites the visitors to enjoy the exquisite flavors. Check the menu here.
There are both guided tours or the possibility to visit the manor or its museum separately. Of course, there is a small ticket price. But do check their website because on some dates the castle might be booked for events and be closed – the venue is popular for weddings and other big festivities.
From Keila-Joa it’s only about 30 minutes’ drive to get back to Tallinn.
Once you’ve arrived back in Tallinn, you can drop your rental car off to Tallinn Airport. Tallinn doesn’t have many direct flights but there are good connecting flights through Helsinki and Riga. Browse through car rental options that support airport drop-off via Rentalmoose.
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