Embracing the Estonian Seaside in Pärnu

When people think of visiting the Baltic states like Estonia, its unlikely they think about spending much time by the beach. That’s more a southern Europe, Italy or Greece kind of thing right? As it turns out, the seaside city of Pärnu is one of Estonia’s more popular tourist destinations for exactly that purpose. Heading north out of Latvia, Pärnu was to be my first stop in Estonia and I was curious to see what the Estonian seaside was like in early August.

After spending several days exploring the castles and woods of the Gauja Valley in Latvia, I was looking forward to a sea change and a chance to see a different side to Baltic life. Pärnu really is a great choice to do just that, as the 4th largest city in Estonia but also one of it’s best summer holiday choices. My two days in Pärnu showed my why the city is so popular even if I what came across was different from what I was expecting in a beach trip.

 

Pärnu Beach

Path to Beach, Pärnu

Let’s start with the beach shall we? Separated from the city centre by a nice stretch of parkland is the Pärnu Rand, the main beachfront of the city. Right along the beach is a broad boulevard for walking and cycling as well as allowing access to a particularly nice hotel. There are also several spa resorts found within the parkland, as Pärnu is also quite well known as a spa town. As that isn’t really my kind of thing, I’ll have to take their word for it.

Anyway, given that it was August which is generally the height of summer, you would expect that it would be warm, sunny and pleasant. It wasn’t. By the time I arrived in Pärnu it seems the weather had already turned and what I was greeted with was cooler weather and fairly strong winds, whipping sand about forcefully. I can imagine that the beach is actually really nice when the weather is good as the sand is soft, there’s plenty of space and the waves didn’t seem too intense. So maybe aim for July if you’re after premium beach weather in Pärnu.

Pärnu Beach

 

Pärnu Pier

Pärnu Pier

At the end of the beach, you’ll find the Pärnu Muul or pier in English. I was told by the owner of my guesthouse that it was a good spot to both see along the beach but also to see the boats leaving the marina. As it happens, the pier is also the setting for a popular local legend. The legend states that if a couple walks hand in hand all the way to the end of the pier and kisses, they’ll stay together forever. Romantic stuff!

Wanting to see what was at the end of the pier (even though I was alone, no hand holding for me) I made my way down the pier until I came across a section that had been flooded over by the tide. Seems unending love isn’t without its obstacles!

 

Town Centre

Pärnu Streets

After getting a feel for the beach, I decided to explore the centre of Pärnu and see what the seaside town had going on. Pärnu is not a large city – the centre is maybe 500 metres across – so you can easily get around the city centre on foot. Here you’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants as well as a few bars, with a great mix of both local and international cuisine. As it was still officially summer, most restaurants had their outdoor seating areas set up and if the weather had been better it would have been a great option.

As for sightseeing in the city, there aren’t too many big attractions. Aside from the local theatre, several churches and the Pärnu Museum you’re not going to find many must see spots. However, one thing I quickly noticed when exploring the city was that the people of Pärnu have a thing for elaborately ornate doors. I soon found myself taking plenty of photos of the doors around town as they really stand out.

Doors of Pärnu

 

Street Art

Street Art of Pärnu

Quite surprisingly, Pärnu also boasts some vivid street art which I don’t think you would expect from a seaside city of this size. Most of the art can be found along the side of a building on Pühavaimu Street in the centre of town, with different pieces occupying the windows and doors along the roadside. Don’t forget to also look around the corner to the right where you’ll see the big sea-themed mural above. Unexpected but definitely interesting.

Laneway Art, Pärnu

 

Colourful Houses

Colourful House Pärnu

While there certainly some nice buildings in the centre of the city, it wasn’t until headed out a bit further that I came across some really quaint and colourful houses. Now many of the houses in the city were older, panel board houses but the ones on Suur Sepa Street were especially interesting. Apart from their more noticeable colour palettes, the houses had quite ornate bargeboards. There were also some charming ones heading down towards the beachfront along Supeluse Street. The streets of Pärnu away from the city centre are fantastic if you just want a gentle stroll and admire some pretty local houses.

Colourful Shop in Pärnu

 

Urban Cows

Pärnu Nature Reserve

Probably the aspect of Pärnu my guesthouse host was most excited to tell me about were the Urban Cows. If like me, you found that phrase puzzling, allow me to explain. First of all, it has to do with the coastal meadows that border the beach southeast of Pärnu. These areas have been under threat from human activity and so the city designated the area the Pärnu Rannaniidu Nature Reserve to protect the wetlands and the native wildlife. The conservation efforts to protect the wetlands environment involved various measures but the most talked about is the “Urban Cows” that have been brought in.

Pärnu Boardwalk

These cows are “urban” in the sense that you can find them within walking distance from the city and beach.  The reasoning for the cows is that for centuries the wetlands were used for pasture and the cattle provided a natural form of maintenance for the environment, in particular by preventing the lagoons from silting up. Once the areas along the beachside stopping being used for farming, they began to suffer from coastal erosion. Hence these “Urban Cows” have been reintroduced to help preserve this important local habitat.

Pärnu Nature Reserve

To further the causes of the Nature Reserve, the city of Pärnu has looked to ecotourism as another means of protecting the area. So far they have built several boardwalks that allow visitors to explore the wetlands without disturbing the wildlife and harming the wetlands. There’s even a viewing tower that outlines all the different forms of local wildlife you may see while visiting. It brings me much pain to say that while I did see plenty of birds, I saw a grand total of zero cows. Still, it was nice to explore the wetlands and appreciate what they are trying to protect.

 

Kitesurfing

Kitesurfing Pärnu

After exploring the Nature Reserve and having no luck spotting any cows, I followed the boardwalk until it reached the beach. Once by the beach, I spotted several people nearby kitesurfing as the conditions and weather were perfect for it. While I’ve never been kitesurfing, I do enjoy just sitting back and watching them fly along. There’s something fantastic about the motion of it all and I never seem to get tired of seeing it. While it is possible to get lessons in Pärnu, I wasn’t in any mood to try. One day though.

Twin Kitesurfers of Pärnu

 


Have you ever visited the beachside in an unlikely place? Have you been to Pärnu? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Embracing the Estonian Seaside in Pärnu via @travelsewhere

 


This post is part of The Weekly Postcard over at Two Traveling Texans. Please head on over for more great posts.

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27 Comment

  1. Garth says:

    Yep you’re right I’ve never heard or seen an Estonian beach, thanks for showing us that. Pärnu looks really colourful, love brightly coloured painted homes. Your door porn compilation is great 🙂

  2. The place looks very beautiful! I also love a good “door photography”, some are so beautiful you cannot resist it!

  3. Anisa says:

    Wow pretty beaches and lovely street art, right up my alley. Thanks again for introducing me to a new location on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  4. Wow, that boardwalk through the Nature Preserve looks really inviting. Nice place for a walk, as well as the beach itself. Oddly enough, the area reminds me of the southern US coast in the Carolinas. Very pretty!

  5. That is fascinating about the cows. Pretty ingenious of them to find such a natural solution. I would be snapping photos of all the doors too. I so love that green door! We have kite surfers in Washington. I’ve never been too keen on trying it out myself, but they are fun to watch. I don’t know much about Estonia, so thanks for sharing your travels in this part of the world.

  6. Midori says:

    It looks really beautiful! Specially the tradicional architecture! beautiful

  7. The contrast of the blues and yellows and other bright colors in the homes are lovely. I also enjoyed the story about the belief that if a couple holds hands and kisses at the pier they will be together forever. Always fun to learn about stories that believe in the possibility of true love.

  8. I haven’t thought about visiting Estonia but it seems to be a great travel destination. Love the coloured houses. Thank you for sharing this location with us.

  9. What a lovely spot. Estonia hasn’t been high on my list, but it’s there. I may need to move it up a few notches.

  10. Parnu looks like a nice seaside town. I’d love to spend some time there.

  11. Wonderful as usual! Another location I’d love to visit! Such a bummer about the weather already being kind of crummy for ya when you got to the beach, but it just doesn’t seem like somewhere to go for hot beach weather. I do wonder if July would be that much warmer. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. David says:

      I think I had bad timing when I visited as I went to other Baltic beaches a couple weeks later and it was sunny and there were plenty of people so it really depends. Water is going to be cold no matter when O think. Thanks as always for commenting!

  12. Tanja says:

    pretty town:) #TheWeeklyPostcard

  13. Upeksha says:

    Parnu looks really pretty. We went to Estonia last month – We visited the beach on our way to Paldiski. It was the dead of winter, so we didn’t fancy a dip in the water. You are very lucky to have visited in the summer. #theweeklypostcard

  14. paulandcarolelovetotravel says:

    Not heard of Pärnu so thanks for that, looks an interesting place to visit. #feetdotravel

  15. The weather here does look rather gloomy – I’m sorry it wasn’t better for you! But, once again, you’ve managed to showcase a lovely town that deserves some more attention!

  16. Love the doors! So pretty and unique.

  17. Vlad says:

    I’ve never been to Estonia, but Tallinn is high on my list, guess I’ll have to add Pärnu as well. Your photos are very beautiful, even though I’m sure the weather wasn’t what you had hoped for, I think the clouds made for some very atmospheric photos 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  18. Lisa (Simple Sojourner) says:

    This looks like my kind of off the beaten path place to visit. Quaint town to wander slowly around and a beach to explore with no tourists. Thanks for sharing a place I was not familiar with and I will pin for later.

  19. Love the street art and ornate doors. It gives this town some character! Love the urban cows but wish you saw at least one to take a picture to share with us haha

  20. Beautiful! Never considered Estonia as a beach place! so pretty 🙂

    1. David says:

      Me neither but I can totally see it as one now

  21. This town looks really interesting and I could definitely have spent some time taking lots of photos of those doors too! I love the bright colours, which really liven a place up, especially on a dreary day. 😀

  22. So great to read about your experience in Pärnu where I went to uni. In the winter time it’s very quiet, cold and dark with only students and locals hanging about. It does get very busy in the summer, however, and like you said, on hot summer days there could be close to 20 000 people on the beach. This is a huge number of people for a country of 1,3 million. Some of the things you say, I didn’t even know! Like the urban cows for example. How interesting! Did you ever visit Steffani Pizza Restaurant? That’s like the main place and main reason for Estonians to travel to Pärnu. The pizza there is unlike I have ever experienced and on a busy day the line is several blocks out the door ha!

    1. David says:

      Was looking forward to hearing what you thought Kreete, thanks for reading. Haha, I walked past Steffani’s several times and it was always busy. I was recommend to go there if I wanted a local experience but never did. There were several smaller places I tried that were great too. Parnu seems to hold a special place for Estonians both for the beach and the pizza haha.

  23. Wow, looks very colourful and beautiful!

  24. I really don’t remember Estonia as I was very young when I travelled there with my mum but this looks so beautiful and a fantastic place to escape to. There is something special about the Baltic countries and I definitely would add it to my itinerary when I eventually return!

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