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Haapsalu, Estonia - noise village charm on the coast

In co-operation with the Estonian Tourist Board

Haapsalu in Estonia is a beautiful wooden town on the Estonian coast. It has the luxury of a health resort but also a simple charm reminiscent of Bullerbyn. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ilon Wikland, who illustrated many of Astrid Lindgren's books, grew up here.


Haapsalu in Estonia

Haapsalu in Estonia, or Hapsal as the town is actually called in Swedish, is located on the west coast of Estonia off the island of Dagö.

From Dagö to Haapsalu

We came to Haapsalu by ferry from the island. Dagö, from Heltermaa to Rohuküla Harbour, and from here it took only 10 minutes to drive to Haapsalu.

Färja från Dagö

On the way we passed by a ruin and Peter love ruins, so of course we had to stop for a little photo stop... This has once been a mansion named Ungru. Estonia is really full of old mansions!

An unexpected encounter

When we arrived in Haapsalu, we were hungry and immediately looked for an outdoor restaurant to have a pasta. "Isn't this FREEDOMtravel?" asked the couple at the next table. Here sat Helena and her husband, who lives in Finland and had a week's motorhome holiday in Estonia, and with whom we had some contact on the blog. An unexpectedly nice lunch, with a lot of talk about motorhoming and travel destinations, it was!

Haapsalu i Estland

The beautiful town of Haapsalu

Haapsalu is not a big city, but a very nice little town to stroll around in. The colourful old houses are very charming, and we couldn't help but think of some picturesque fairy tale, for example by Astrid Lindgren.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ilon Wikland, who illustrated many of Astrid Lindgren's books, grew up with her grandmother here in Haapsalu. Today you can visit 'Ilon's Wonderland' in the centre of town if you wish.

Hus i Haapsalu
Haapsalu i Estland
Café i Haapsalu i Estland
Haapsalu i Estland

Haapsalu railway station

The Russian tsars loved Haapsalu and made sure to build a beautiful railway station. The first passengers arrived here in 1904, and the last ones left the station in 1995. Now you can come here just to see the beautiful building, and to check out the small exhibition of old trains.

Järnvägsstationen i Haapsalu i Estland
Haapsalu i Estland
Tåg i Haapsalu i Estland

Haapsalu Bishop's Castle

The Episcopal Castle of Hapsalu rises in the centre of the Old Town, with its mighty towers and walls. The castle dates from the 13th century and was the seat of local power until the 17th century. Today the castle is open to visitors, and parts of the castle are decorated as a museum.

Museum i Haapsalu i Estland

The white lady

On the nights of the full moon in August, the 'white lady' can be seen in the round window of the bishop's cathedral. According to legend, one of the churchmen brought a woman into the monastery, disguised as a man, and it is now she who is seen on the nights of the full moon. In August, Haapsalu also hosts a big festival in honour of the White Lady, with a market and lots of cultural events.

Katedral i Haapsalu i Estland

The seafront in Haapsalu

The seafront promenade in Haapsalu is fantastic. The promenade runs along the waterfront, passing parks, beautiful houses and a variety of monuments and sculptures. You can, for example, take a rest on Tchaikovsky's bench, which is located where the young Tchaikovsky used to stroll while he was in Haapsalu writing his first work.
Strandpromenad i Haapsalu i Estland

Also along the promenade is the Haapsalu Kursaal, which was built at the end of the 19th century. It was very popular with the elite of St Petersburg to come here to rest, and after a long period of decline, the building is now back to its former glory.

Kursal i Haapsalu i Estland

Along the promenade you'll also see small bridges, boats and an outdoor gym with a rather fun running track. If we hadn't had enough of walking, we could have done some zigzagging there ...

Utegym i Haapsalu

More attractions in Haapsalu

There are even more attractions in Haapsalu, and if you want, you can pop into the tourist information centre in the middle of town and get a small map with them marked on it. You can then find your way to Haapsalu Town Hall, for example, which is now a museum.

Haapsalu rådhus

You can also find the Rootsiturg (Swedish Square), where several Estonian-Swedish families used to live, and several different churches, such as St John's Lutheran Church and Maria Magdalena Orthodox Church. If we had more time, it would also have been interesting to visit the Aiboland Museum, which tells the story of the Estonian Swedes who lived in the region for a long, long time.

Ortodox kyrka i Haapsalu i Estland

RV park in Haapsalu

Down by the water, near the centre of Haapsalu, there is a large grass car park where motorhomes, caravans and ordinary cars can be parked free of charge. When we were here, there were also swimming pools and rubbish bins. The only thing to "watch out for" here, according to a sign, are walking ducks ...

Video from Haapsalu

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Facts about Haapsalu in Estonia

  • Country: Estonia
  • Landscape: Läänemaa
  • Municipality: City of Haapsalu
  • Population: Around 10 000 (2017)
  • Travelling here: It takes just over two hours to get to Haapsalu by car from Tallinn, and about the same time from Pärnu.

Attractions in Haapsalu

  • Attractions: Haapsalu bishop's castle and cathedral, the railway station, the Old Town, the Swedish Square (Rotsiturg), Haapsalu Town Hall, Haapsalu Kursaal, the Läänemaa Ühisgümnaasium building (Läänemaa Joint Upper Secondary School), De la Gardie Castle and Uuemõisa Manor.
  • Churches: Mary Magdalene Church (Maria-Magdaleena kirik), St John's Lutheran Church and St Alexander Nevsky Church.
  • Monument: Tchaikovsky's bench, Rudolf Tobias, Carl Abraham Hunnius, Ernst Enno, Cyrillus Kreek, Haapsalu's sundial and the sculpture 'The cape breaker'.

Things to do and experience in Haapsalu

  • Museums: Ilon's Wonderland, Evald Oka's Museum and Aiboland Museum (which tells the thousand-year history of Estonian Swedes in Estonia).
  • Activities: Boat trips, hiking, bird watching, spa and more.
  • Excursions: Starting from Haapsalu, you can take the opportunity to visit different islands such as Dagö (Hiiumaa), Odensholm (Osmussaar) or Vormsi (Vormsi).
  • Craftsmanship: The Haapsalu shawl began to be knitted in the second half of the 19th century and is supposed to be so thin that it can easily be pulled through a woman's ring.

History of Haapsalu

  • Early history: In 1263 Haapsalu was chosen as the bishop's seat for Wiek and Saaremaa, and in 1279 Haapsalu was granted town rights.
  • 19th century: Estonia was part of Russia and Haapsalu served as an exclusive health resort for the Russian elite. The first mud bath opened in 1825. Visitors during this era included Peter I, Alexander I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.
  • 1930s: During Estonia's independence, many Swedes visited the tourist resort of Haapsalu.
  • The Soviet era: During the Cold War, the Soviet Union built a large military airfield at Haapsalu. The town fell into disrepair during the Soviet era, but has since been restored to its former glory.

Accommodation in Haapsalu in Estonia

  • Hotels and apartments: There are different types of hotels, spa hotels, bed & breakfasts, apartments and other accommodation to choose from. Read more about different types of accommodation at Visit Haapsalu.
  • Camping: Camping Pikseke is located just outside the town. It is also possible to park your motorhome or caravan free of charge in a large grass car park by the sea, at the address Lahe.

Programme "Promoting Estonia as a Tourism Destination" is supported by European Union Regional Development Fund.

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