Anywhere you travel in Estonia during the summer is sure to leave you with superb lifelong memories of long nights, warmth, carefree escapades, and new friends. However, the city of Pärnu, Estonia's “summer capital”, is the most effortless in its embodiment of Estonian summer spirit. If ever a locale were to be seen as the “riviera of Estonia”, it would be Pärnu. Here are five ways you can partake in what this city has to offer.
SWIM (Pärnu rand/Pärnu beach): Start out with a relaxing stroll through the heart of town, where, depending on the day, you'll find vendors selling produce, crafts, books, and curios. Dancers move in unison and musicians busk and serenade passersby, creating a particularly bustling atmosphere. Moreover, it'll seem like you stepped back in time if you walk the streets during the Pärnu Hanseatic Days in July.
From the heart of town, make your way south to the beach where you'll see volleyball games played in the soft sand, kids splashing in the shallow water with inflatables, folks laying down and soaking up the sun, and sailboats floating on the horizon. As you promenade down the beach with your shoes slung over your shoulder, relish in that feeling of winter being far, far away.
The water of Pärnu Bay, blending into the Gulf of Riga, is mild, so you can jump in and get a good swim in while you're there without turning blue. From Aloha Surf, you can rent bikes, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, or learn how to kitesurf and skimboard.
When you've dried off, head up from the beach to one of the many bars and cafés where one can hang out with a cup of coffee. Also worth investigating in the vicinity are the bright and smooth functionalist forms of the Pärnu Beach Hotel, a pre-war gem that's been designated as a kultuurimälestis, or national monument.
PLAY: For travellers with young children, connect to one of Estonia's most well-known book and animation series at Lottemaa Theme Park, located just a short taxi ride or drive from the centre of Pärnu. Each ticket for visitors over the age of two costs 24 euros, while seniors pay 17 euros.
Open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM every day from June 11th to August 28th, the theme park has live character performances in costume, the life-sized homes of the stories' characters, an obstacle course, and a whole bunch of interactive inventions (a prominent feature of the world of Lotte). The inventions include a candy wrapper opener and a wooden, scooter-mounted trunk for carrying possessions on the go. If you're not yet familiar with Lotte the dog, her friend Bruno, her little sister Roosi, and their rabbit friend Albert, try watching the animated film Lotte from Gadgetville first.
For sporty adults and teens, drive a quarter of an hour west from the city to White Beach Golf, where you can play a round of 18 holes in the fresh coastal air.
EAT (Café Supelsaksad): When your legs are tired and your stomach is growling, stop by for a comforting meal at this cozy spot, with distinctive blue chairs and vibrant patterns adorning the tablecloths, lampshades, and wallpaper. The interiors—which won a prize from the Eesti Sisearhitektide Liit (Estonian Association of Interior Designers) in 2010—make a stopover at the restaurant akin to dining at a friend's home, if said friend was a charismatic impressionist painter.
They serve a refined mix of seafood appetizers (like shrimp salad on crispy brioche), salads, soups, main dishes (including a five-mushroom ragout with goat cheese, pine nuts, and apple syrup), and dessert (they're famous for the layered pastry and cream of their Napoleon ?cake). Portions are generous, so stop by when you're sufficiently hungry.
SEE (Endla Teater): Actress and educator Stella Adler once said “The theatre is a spiritual and social x-ray of its time.” What better way, then, to witness the culture of Estonia, than through a theatre performance?
After a long day seeing the sights, you can dress up in your most elegant attire and round out the evening with a show at the most prestigious location to see theatre in the city. The theatre, which first opened its doors in 1911, puts on quite a few homegrown comedies and tragicomedies, stand-up from the likes of Märt Avandi, and dramas written by international playwrights and translated to Estonian. For performances in the main hall, balcony seats go for 18 euros and orchestra seats for 20 euros.
While you wait for the show to start, you can take a look at the art on display in their gallery, featuring rotating exhibitions of Estonian artists. Among these have been the annual Pärnu Fotofest and the IN Graafika printmaking festival.
STAY (Wasa Resort): Located just a six minute walk away from the beach through beautiful grassy, tree-lined paths is this hotel that's suitable for families and single travellers alike. Rooms, and entire or two-bedroom apartments next-door, are available for booking.
After a long day around town, you can come back to the spa to reset. Sweat it all out in the sauna, swim some laps in the pool, and ease your muscles in the jacuzzi. The spa also offers guests over two dozen rejuvenating treatments: massages, facials, manicures, and pedicures.
This, of course, is just scratching the surface of what you can do in Pärnu! As with any enjoyable trip, allow plenty of time to wander around and see the city without a schedule. And in each place you visit, make sure to ask for recommendations from locals, who will give you insights on the city that can only come from living there!
Written by Vincent Teetsov, Toronto