About a month ago I was sitting with my dad behind our sauna house, enjoying a glass of wine and having a chat. We were discussing that I had to leave Estonia soon and would be back a couple weeks later but only for a few days. I mentioned casually that I would love to go to Saaremaa since I’d never been but that I probably wouldn’t have the time to go this summer. Cue gasping, swearing & yelling.
I’m completely overreacting but for someone who is as unemotional as my dad, his reaction was pretty extreme (in reality he just asked me “what, really?!”). Anyhows…when I returned to Estonia a few weeks later my dad said he had booked us ferry tickets over to Saaremaa for the following weekend.
We were there for only 24h in total but it was the perfect amount of time to explore some of the main sights and get a feel for the place. I’m definitely planning on taking my husband there next summer and have even convinced my in-laws to want to go there. Winning!
So..if you’re planning a quick trip to Saaremaa read on about how to get there, what to see and do, where to eat and stay.
How to get there
Getting to Saaremaa isn’t particularly difficult but takes a tiny bit of planning. You’ll need to get a ferry from the mainland across to a smaller island called Muhu that is connected to Saaremaa via a bridge.
We drove about 1.5h from Tallinn to Virtsu Harbour, where the ferry goes from. From there we took a 30 minute ferry across to Muhu and drove about 15 minutes to get to the bridge connecting the two islands. If you’re driving straight to Kuressaare it should take approx. 4 hours in total from Tallinn, which is a pretty long time. I recommend buying ferry tickets online beforehand because it’s so easy to just show up and check-in without any hassle, plus the ticket is flexible so you can change your departure time if needed.
There are also direct flights from Tallinn to Kuressaare from Tallinn Airport, but it’s nice to have a car if you’re on the island to explore better.
I thought Muhu was just this tiny boring island. Wrong. Muhu is a really cute little island with tons of things to see! And eat obv but I’ll post those below along with some Saaremaa food picks.
Most importantly, for other black bread lovers like myself, Muhu island is home to Muhu bakery, as the name would suggest. Their bakery is in Liiva village, about a ten minute drive from the harbour so a perfect location for your first stop 😉 Even though you can buy Muhu bread in Tallinn, we actually ended up going to their bakery twice during our 24h mini-trip.
Besides Muhu bakery we also went to Koguva Port, which is a lovely little harbour with a museum, cafe slash restaurant and boat rental spot.
What to see in Saaremaa
If you’ll be in Saaremaa for only 24 hours you won’t have time to do everything. But there are a couple of key things you really should try and check out and since the island is so small it doesn’t take long to drive between them. Below are the places we went to see:
These are the last remaining group of windmills on the island. At one point every village would have their own group of windmills since they made their own bread and needed the mills to grind the grain.
For €3.50 you can even go inside the Angla windmills.
I’m not usually the kind of person who goes and checks out churches when I’m on holiday but I had seen it pop up on travel sites and when we drove by it we just had to go in. Karja church is the smallest on the island made out of limestone. A very simple design and structure, but super pretty!
I was most excited to go and see Panga cliff after seeing photos of it on Google. The cliff is 21.3 meters high and 2.5 km long. Even though it’s hard to get a photo of if from the side, it’s definitely worth going to! You could even take some picnic food with you and sit at the top and enjoy the view.
Of course, this is the main attraction of Saaremaa- the capital of the island. There’s lots to do in Kuressaare, from going to the castle to wandering around in the town. I really liked the buildings in Kuressaare, they remind me a little bit of the colorful buildings you would see in Tallinn’s old town.
Where to stay
Saaremaa is home to many spa hotels- some of the best in Estonia, in fact! Even though we didn’t stay in one this time around (left it too late), they are hugely recommended for anyone visiting. Some of the best ones are:
As I said, we didn’t end up staying in a spa hotel but there are endless other options to choose from. You can stay in an old farm house, B&B’s or cabins, which is what we ended up doing. I booked us into a little cabin in Ninase Puhkekula campsite which only cost us €30 for the night! We didn’t have high expectations since all we needed was a place to crash before taking off early the next morning. But this place was SO GREAT! First of all, the little red cabin was perfect for two people- two single beds in the forest but only a few steps away from the beach. The weather was great that day and evening so we actually ended up spending way more time at Ninase than we anticipated. It was calm, in a beautiful location, the rooms were clean and everyone staying there was very friendly and respectful of each other.
Where to eat/drink
So..food. My fave thing ever. Here are the places we tried during our trip:
Muhu Kalakohvik (Muhu fish cafe)
Saaremaa and Muhu are big on fish, especially smoked fish. Our first stop was at Muhu Kalakohvik which serves….only fish duh. Their menu is small but everything sounded delicious. My dad had their fish stew and I had some kind of fried fish with fresh potatoes and pickles. Yum.
Smoked fish stalls/restaurants
On the topic of fish, there are sooooooo many places where you can buy smoked fish. We stopped off a family owned restaurant and shop in Nasva and picked up a few kilos of freshly smoked fish for dinner that night.
This seems to be one of Kuressaare’s most popular food spots (accordiing to Instagram, that is). As soon as we parked the car in Kuressaare on Saturday morning I made a bee-line straight for Kohvik Retro. Only to find it closed. I was pretty peckish and in need for a coffee so unfortunately couldn’t wait the two hours for it to open. Anyways, I was a little bummed but then found…
This place is really, really cute and has great outdoor seats right on the street (see pic somewhere below). They don’t do actual food but it was the perfect place to have a morning coffee! Mega recommend.