For visitors hoping to bring home something more interesting than an ‘I heart Estonia’ coffee mug, a little local knowledge can go a long way.
When travelling, especially to a new country, it’s only natural to want to pick up a few mementos and gifts for your nearest and dearest. The many ‘Souveniir’ shops in Estonia’s city centres offer an array of the old standards. Many of today’s more experienced globetrotters, however, are looking for options that are more original, memorable and quintessentially Estonian. Here are some suggestions from the ECB team.
Sugar rush, Estonian style
Nothing hits the souvenir sweet spot quite like sweets. In Estonia’s case, the ones to seek out are those made by the nation’s long-time confectionery, Kalev, a company that traces its roots back to the early-1800s and has become synonymous here with high-sucrose temptation. Gift boxes of assorted Kalev chocolates or pralines are popular souvenirs, especially the boxes decorated with traditional Estonian themes or romantic views of Tallinn. These are universally available in food shops and at the airport.
Another mouthwatering – and a bit more unusual – option is marzipan. The almond paste-based treat has been popular in Estonia since the Middle Ages, when it was used as a curative. Shops sell marzipan bars, also made by Kalev, as well as hand-painted marzipan figurines.
Hot from the oven
We Estonians take our rye bread seriously. Worlds different from the typical supermarket rye, this traditional staple is closer to what our ancestors have been baking for centuries. The island of Muhu is particularly loved for its ‘Muhu leib’, which connoisseurs consider the absolute best in the country. You don’t have to travel to the island to find it – speciality bakers such as Muhu Pagarid sell it in their shops around Tallinn and Tartu. In central Tallinn, near the Solaris complex, it’s available at a café/shop called Rohujuur. It’s also on sale at Tallinn Airport.
Fruits of the forest
Berries, jams and honey are also fundamentally Estonian gifts, as they speak to our highly eco-oriented nature. We’ll spend entire days wandering through a forest picking berries and mushrooms, then spend the entire evening making jam. It’s no surprise then that you can find shops full of amazing, homemade jams by producers like KoduSahver and others. Our own member from Lahemaa National Park Vihula Manor Country Club and Spa boasts a unique Lifestyle collection of carefully selected natural and ecologically balanced products reflecting an innovative fusion of traditional craftsmanship with a contemporary vision of the world. Likewise, we have a strong beekeeping tradition and like to share the results with the world with cool products like Artisan Honey.
Ireland has its whiskey, Italy has its lemoncello and Latvia has its Riga Black Balzam. If you’re a traveller who likes to pick up a bottle of the local tipple from each country you visit, the name you need to know is Vana Tallinn. The sugary, rum-based liqueur works well as a dessert drink and is often added to coffee to give it extra kick. A healthy, but less known, alternative is Sea-Buckthorn Schnapps made by the Põhjaka Distillery. The gold-coloured schnapps has an intense, sweet and sour taste and is supposedly packed with vitamins.
A world of wood
More than 50 percent of Estonia is covered in forest, so it’s no shocker that items made from wood have always been a big part of our lives. Souvenir shops are packed with wooden boxes, beer mugs, kitchen utensils, etc., with the ones made from fragrant juniper wood looking and smelling the best. Lately, some of our edgy designers have taken the idea to a new level by offering wooden wrist watches, glasses frames, bow ties and mobile phone covers.
For the ladies
Looking for something stylish, elegant and small enough to fit in your carry-on luggage? Estonian jewellery and accessories are a fantastic option. With so many creative locals making waves on the design scene, you’ll be spoiled for choice. A few worth mentioning are the edgy Time to Rock wristbands from New Vintage by Kriss, leather wristbands by Stella Soomlais, earrings by Tanel Veenre and by Lisa Kröber, and butterfly brooches from KUMA. A great place to browse items like these is the Estonian Design House showroom in central Tallinn.
Whether for wearing around town or decorating the home, Estonian textile products do a great job of capturing the country’s aesthetic spirit. You can pick out an eco-friendly, upcycled T-shirt or dress by Reet Aus, one of the animal cushion covers by Emma Lepperman or one of many other off-beat designs available in local boutiques and fashion houses.
Like all Nordic people, Estonians like to bundle up in the winter using anything and everything that can be knitted from wool. Woolen jumpers, hats, scarves, mittens, socks and the like are readily available at city centre shops. In Tallinn, are famously sold along a stretch of the medieval Town Wall adjacent Viru street. Choose items bearing traditional national patterns, especially if you’re going for that ‘Norse’ look.
For the little ones
Need something for kids? Estonia’s homegrown cartoon hero is Lotte, the dog girl star of numerous animated features created by Heiki Ernits and Janno Põldma. Estonians are absolutely wild about Lotte and have come out with a Lotte theme park, a Lotte ice show, a Lotte café and even a Lotte shampoo. Huggable Lotte plush toys or any of the other Lotte-themed books, games and playthings sold in larger shops are guaranteed to put smiles on young faces.
The header picture is by Kristiin Kõosalu and the earrings by Lisa Kröber.