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Daytrip from Tallinn to Haapsalu

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By Noora Karppi  •  24.05.2018

Haapsalu is a small resort town on the west coast of Estonia. It is well known for its therapeutic mud, picturesque architecture, beautiful promenade, shawls and the legend of the White Lady. You can easily make a daytrip from Tallinn to Haapsalu.

Haapsalu is one of the oldest towns in Estonia. It got town rights in 1279, when it became the centre of Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek. The historical attractions of Haapsalu, the Haapsalu Episcopal Castle and St. Nicolas Cathedral, date back to this period.

Estonian doctor Carl Abraham Hunnius established the first mud cure resort here in 1825. He analysed the sea mud of Haapsalu, which locals claimed to have healing qualities. In 1845, he opened a second healing spa and turned Haapsalu into the health resort it still is today.

Haapsalu is the perfect destination for families, romantics and people who want to take care of their health. Visiting Haapsalu, you will find a quiet and friendly small town with rich history and interesting cultural events.

Getting to Haapsalu

Haapsalu is located on the seaside in Western Estonia, 101 kilometres from Tallinn. It is easy to reach from Tallinn by bus.

Regular rail connection between Tallinn and Haapsalu operated until 1995. Currently it is not possible to travel to Haapsalu by train.

By bus
The bus ride from Tallinn to Haapsalu takes approximately 1,5 hours. Several companies operate between the two cities. Buses leave from Tallinn to Haapsalu once or twice an hour.

All the buses depart from Tallinn Central Bus Station (Tallinna Bussijaam, Lastekodu 46) and arrive to Haapsalu Bus Station (Haapsalu Bussijaam, Raudtee 2). In Haapsalu, some bus companies offer an extra stop (Niine), where you can exit or board the bus, if needed. To exit or board the bus at Niine, please check before hand, if the option is available.

Almost all of the buses are air-conditioned and have free WiFi. Several buses have also power outlets and entertainment units for movies, music and games.

Tickets are available online, from the bus station or from the driver. If you wish to travel at a certain time, please buy your ticket in advance.

Must see sights in Haapsalu

Haapsalu Railway Station
Haapsalu Railway Station, located next to the bus station, is the perfect spot to start exploring the town. The railway station dates back to the beginning of 20th century.

This a beautiful wooden railway station has an impressive 216 meter long covered platform. The platform used to be the longest in North-Europe, the same length as the train of the Russian tsar, who was a frequent visitor in Haapsalu.

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Today the building houses the Estonian Railway and Communications Museum.

In front from the railway station you can board the sightseeing train, Peetrike. Peetrike takes you on a 40 minutes long round tour around Haapsalu. Peetrike operates during summer season.

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Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle and Cathedral
The castle and cathedral, built in the 13th century, are one of the best-preserved medieval complexes in Estonia. The castle grounds are surrounded by medieval wall with seven towers and four gates. The castle was in active use until the end of 17th century.

The castle museum is closed for conservation and will be opened again in 2019, but you can visit the romantic and exciting castle grounds, which has been turned into a lovely park, and the cathedral.

The cathedral was used as a grain storage in the Soviet period. Today it is a popular concert venue and used by the local congregation. The cathedral has only one large hall. It is the largest single-nave church in the Nordic countries.

The baptistery of the cathedral is part of one of the most popular legends in Estonia. During the full moon in August, the White Lady, the most famous ghost in Estonia, appears in the window of the baptistery. According to the legend, the White Lady was a local girl, who fell in love with a young priest. Because women were not allowed to enter the castle, the priest dressed his lover as a boy and smuggled her in to the castle. One time the bishop caught the lovers. He god mad and ordered the girl to be walled up alive into the wall of the baptistery.

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The romantic Old Town
From the castle starts the area of Haapsalu Old Town. The Old Town in Haapsalu can be divided into two parts; the medieval section and the 20th century resort area.

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Explore the narrow, pretty streets and the wooden houses. Here you’ll find St. John’s Lutheran Church and Estonian Orthodox Maria-Magdaleena Church, which has opened in 1852 in the presence of Russian tsar Alexander II.

Pay a visit to Haapsalu Town Hall, the charming yellow building in Kooli street. Inside there’s a museum presenting life in the beginning of 20th century Haapsalu through the eyes of a visitor.

A must see sight is Ilon’s Wonderland, a centre dedicated to the life and work of the Estonian artist Ilon Wikland. She is the illustrator of Swedish children’s books (the Brothers Lionheart, Karlsson-on-the-Roof, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, etc) written by Astrid Lindgren. Ilon Wikland was born in Tartu and raised in Haapsalu. Many of the sights and buildings in Haapsalu have inspired Ilon in her illustrations for Astrid Lindgren books. In Ilon’s Wonderland you can find a gallery, cinema, exhibition hall, playrooms and courtyard with fun activities.

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Seaside dream
Between the Old Town and the sea, lies Africa promenade and park. Climb to the bird-watching tower in Africa beach playground and see Haapsalu from another perspective.

Walk along the promenade and breathe in the fresh sea air. If you are afraid you are losing the track of time (which just might happen in Haapsalu), you can check the sundial designed by Roman Haavamäe. Gaze out to the sea and see if you can spot a local polarbear.

The sweetest spot on the promenade just might be the “gingerbread house” of Haapsalu Resort Hall. The timber-laced building will take your breath away with its romantic and striking architecture. This was also one of the favourite places of the Russian tsar and aristocracy.

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As you continue walking down the promenade, you will pass by a statue of Carl Abraham Hunnius and end up at the Chocolate promenade and Tchaikovsky’s Bench. The famous Russian composer stayed in Haapsalu in 1867. He loved to watch the sunrise and swans from the scenic promenade.

You can continue on, and visit the Museum of the Coastal Swedes. The museum introduces the unique cultural heritage and old settlements of coastal Swedes in Estonia

Art galleries and museums
Haapsalu is famous for its fine knitted lace shawls, so delicate you can pull it through a wedding ring. The tradition dates back to the 19th century. The lovely patterns are inspired by Estonian nature and cultural history. To admire the exceptional local handicraft, visit the Haapsalu Lace Center created by the Knitters Guild of Haapsalu.

Close by the Lace Center, you also find several art galleries and museums, that are definitely worth stopping by.

Epp Maria Gallery presents the artwork of popular Estonian artist Epp Maria Kokamägi and her family members.

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Evald Okas Museum is dedicated to the art of Evald Okas, an Estonian art figure and a member of the Florence Art Academy. The museum presents the art created by Okas and his family as well as other notable artists.

Haapsalu City Gallery introduces Estonian art and Haapsalu Art School Gallery presents art from local children and older artists.

Eat and drink

Most of the restaurants and cafés in Haapsalu are located on Karja street.

Pretty cafés, Hapsal Dietrich and Müüriääre café offer tasty dishes in a friendly and cosy atmosphere. During summer season you can also opt to dine out in the sunshine.

For an exciting dining experience head to Kärme Küülik restaurant in the heart of Haapsalu. Küülik means rabbit in Estonian, and rabbit meat in some form is always on the menu in Kärme Küülik.

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If you are looking for an easy-going atmosphere and a good meal to fill your hunger, head to Taksi PubTalumehe Pub or Pizza Grande.

Summer restaurant of Kuursaal and Wiigi Café are located right by the waterfront. Step in for a good food and breath-taking views over Haapsalu Bay and lake Väike Viik.

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Locals and visitors favour these places and during popular times, it can be difficult to find a free table. If you want to visit a special restaurant or café, we advise you to make a reservation. Please note that some restaurant operate only during summer months. You can find more information from Visit Haapsalu’s website.

Events not to be missed

Being a quiet resort town, Haapsalu wakes up in the spring and blooms in summer months. From June to August the main events take place and Haapsalu is filled with visitors and energy.

Many of the festivals in Haapsalu are popular and awaited events among Estonians. If you are in Estonia during the summer, be sure to check these events in Haapsalu.

April – Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy Film Festival
June – Italian wine party, International contemporary circus festival HOOG, Haapsalu Tchaikovsky Festival
July – American Beauty Car Show, Haapsalu Yoga Festival, Rock in Haapsalu
August – Bluesfest “Augustibluus”, Street Food Festival Haapsalu’s Promenade of Flavours, White Lady Festival
September – Nostalgia Days

For more information about the events in Haapsalu check Visit Haapsalu’s website.

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Relax before heading back to Tallinn

Dip your toes to the warmest sea water in Estonia or cool down at a spa before heading back to Tallinn.

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Haapsalu mud has therapeutic qualities and has been used to cure rheumatism and other joint problems. It has helped local residents, Russian imperial family and wealthy citizens of Western Europe. If you have time for one treatment, choose something with local Haapsalu therapeutic mud.

Laine spa is located inside Haapsalu town, by the lake Väike Viik. Other good option is Fra Mare Thalasso SPA, located just one kilometre from Haapsalu Bus Station.

With these tips you’ll get to know the many sides of the lovely resort town, Haapsalu. Haapsalu will charm you with its’ pretty streets, lovely nature, good cafés and lively events. After visiting Haapsalu you’ll understand why it was one of the favourite spots of Russian imperial family, Tchaikovsky and other notable European and Russian figures.

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