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Saaremaa and Hiiumaa

I'm currently planning a two-week trip to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in July 2018.

This may be a little obscure for most readers here (hey, I like obscure places) but based on my initial cursory research, these two large Estonian islands in the Baltic look appealing...on trips that include a lot of time in old cities, I like to get away to more natural places for a brief "vacation from my vacation," and these islands look like they would work well as a nice contrast to the Baltic capitols.

I already have two full days (3 nights) planned in Tallinn (also Vilnius and Riga). I'm considering a day each on Saaremaa and also Hiiumaa, via ferry (we will have a rental car). My questions for those who know these islands/have been there...

  • It seems that Saaremaa (the larger of the two) is pretty popular and gets its share of visitors, but I'm assuming it's not jammed with tourists....correct? I don't enjoy dealing with huge crowds but I'm guessing that even in high season these two islands would be fairly low-key. True? No large cruise ships here...right?
  • Is Hiiumaa also worth visiting, or are the two very similar?
  • The ferry connections (both from the mainland and between the two islands) appear to be frequent and reliable (at least in the mid-summer). Are they? I am planning mainland -> Saaremaa then (after spending a day and a night there) take the ferry from Triigi (north coast of Saaremaa) to Parna (south coast of Hiiumaa), then (after spending a day and a night there) ferry back to the mainland. After that, we would head for Tallinn.
  • I have not yet investigated which part of either island to stay at (I plan one overnight on each). Any recommendations?

I'd welcome any tips/suggestions/impressions of these two islands from any of you who have been there before.

Thanks!

Posted by
3 posts

Hi David,
I have the same questions about Saaremaa and I'm wondering if you have found out more. We are traveling in Late July/Early August and Saaremaa is one of the islands we are considering.

Julie

Posted by
5017 posts

Julie - I ended up booking 2 nights in Kuressaare, the largest town on Saaremaa (man, all these place names with groups of double-vowels sprinkled through them...I am sure I will be butchering a lot of pronunciations...). Rather than doing "one night stands" we will use Kuressaare as our base. We will be driving from Latvia (coming from the area around Cesis), via Pärnu to Virtsu, then taking the ferry to Saaremaa. We should have a day and a half to relax on Saaremaa, based in Kuressaare. After two nights there, I plan to drive to the north shore town of Triigi and take the ferry to Parna (on the south coast of Hiiumaa). We will spend most of that day exploring Hiiumaa but we will not be spending the night there. Instead, later in th afternoon we will take the ferry to Haapsalu, on the mainland. Haapsalu looks intriguing, with an old town and a vast, now-abandoned Soviet air base (both of which I'm interested in checking out, if only briefly), then we will continue on to Tallinn.

From what I've been able to tell, Saaremaa seems to be the island with the more developed tourism infrastructure: it's got a historic old town with major fortifications, a couple castles, windmills, and it appears to get its share of tourists. Hiiumaa seems much less developed, wilder, and more natural. Hiiumaa does have several intriguing-looking lighthouses. Although I'm sure it's lovely, I figure we can visit the most scenic spots in half a day if we're efficient.

The problem, of course, is that Estonia looks like I could easily spend a month there and not see it all. The same looks true for Latvia and Lithuania. But I don't have 3 months, so...it's always a trade-off. We're going late-June through mid-July, so at least we will enjoy long days.

I expect to be back around 7/18, so if you haven't already left for your trip by then, I can post an update. Looks like a really interesting corner of Europe!