10 Great Things to do in Narva, Estonia
This post is about the best things to do in Narva, Estonia. Narva is the third biggest city in Estonia after Tallinn and Tartu. It is in the Idu Viru county at the most eastern point of the country. Right at the border with Russia, the city has a very different atmosphere from others in the country.
Why visit Narva?
Narva is and has always been a frontier town. The iconic Narva river is now the official border between the European Union with Russia. Already in the Middle ages the river separated Catholic Europe in the West from the Orthodox Slavs in the East.
As a result there are two competing castles opposite each other. Narva castle in Estonia and the Ivangorod castle in Russia on the other side. Saint Petersburg is less than 4 hours away from Narva
However, the river is not the strict division line it might look like. Narva feels very different from the other cities in Estonia. Russians who are an ethnic minority elsewhere in Estonia, still form a majority in Narva. Soviet architecture that is quickly disappearing in the rest of the country still dominates the urban landscape here.
Narva was completely demolished in WW2. The Soviets eventually rebuilt the city and even renovated the medieval Narva castle. To be honest, there are not that many things to do in Narva, besides the impressive castle.
Most people visit on a day trip from Tallinn. But, with my interest in Soviet history, I decided to spend a bit more time in Narva.
Things to do in Narva
I stayed two days in Narva. One of the reasons to stay that long in Narva is also because I visited in winter and days were short. This way I could enjoy all the things to do in Narva on a leisurely pace and get a good feel for the city.
The main attraction in Narva is the Narva castle. It is one of the largest and most beautiful castles in Estonia.
The Danes first built a wooden military fort in 1256. Then the German Livonian Order and the Teutonic knights bought it in the 14th century. They built a strong stone castle known as the Hermann castle.
The Hermann Castle certainly made the RUssians a bit nervous and in 1492 Ivan the third built his own castle on the other side of the river as a response. In turn, the Livonians added a large tower on top of the Hermann castle so they could see what was happening inside the Ivangorod castle.
The castle sustained severe damage in WW2, but was renovated during Soviet rule and is now a museum.
The Narva castle is now home to the Narva museum. Entrance allows you entry into the castle grounds and the tower for beautiful views over Narva and Russia.
The museum itself was nice and tells you about the history of the castle. There are also some old pictures of how Narva looked before WW2.
Narva Friendship bridge
The friendship bridge between Narva and Ivangorod forms the actual border and is heavily protected by fenced gates from both sides. The bridge is 162 meters long and to cross it you need the right paperwork.
Almost hidden in the outer courtyard of the palace is the only statue of Lenin that still stands in Estonia. It’s a standard statue with Lenin pointing in front of him. In this case in the direction of Russia
Narva River promenade
The 1 kilometer long Narva river promenade makes for a nice morning or afternoon stroll in any season.
You have nice views into Russia. I could see an old lady feeding the ducks and Russian ice fishers fishing on the frozen parts of the river.
The promenade is the result of funding for an EU cross border project. Ivangorod also had funds to make a beautiful promenade, but theirs is only 120 meters long.
Narva’s city wall and bastions were designed by military architect Erik Dahlberg. Narva had 7 bastions in total.
The Victoria bastion was recently renovated and is now a museum. You can visit the underground storage for gunpowder and the guided tours tell more about the 300 year old history.
At the end of the River promenade is a small park with a memorial to remember the Soviet soldiers that died in the battle of Narva in 1944.
Narva’s Raekoja plats is all that is left of Narva’s old town. The renovated Town hall is Narva’s oldest building.
Right next to it is the Narva college of Tartu university. A modern design that is supposed to combine Narva’s present and past. Personally, I thought it was a bit out of place and overshadowed the beauty of the ancient town hall.
Besides Raekoja plats, Narva is still mostly a standard Soviet city where the communal Khrushchyovka apartments line almost every street.They were built in the early 60’s to house Soviet workers.
The uniform blocks of concrete look drab and dilapidated from the outside. Small as they are, it is always a surprise what you will find inside. We actually stayed the night in a khrushchyovka that we booked on booking.com.
The concrete stairway hall was crumbling down. Pipes and wires that seemed to go nowhere. But once we opened the door we found a modern apartment with beautiful minimalistic Japanese design.
Although you can still find Khrushchyovka blocks in any Estonian city, Narva is really one of the best cities to see them.
Narva has two churches. The Cathedral of the Resurrection is Narva’s orthodox church. Built in 1890 it is one if the few buildings that survived Soviet bombings in WW2.
The Alexander cathedral is a Lutheran church that was built in 1884. The bell tower was destroyed in 1944, but is now restored.
Narva Travel Tips
Where to eat in Narva
Rondeel Restorant: Cafe Rondeel is without doubt one of the best places to eat in Narva. It is a bit upmarket and serves things like duck breast and deer ravioli. I tried both and I thought it was really delicious.
Viva cafe: Viva café is a more budget place to eat in Narva. For its basic cafe set up it serves pretty good food. I can recommend the shashlik.
Where to sleep in Narva
A-studio: I stayed at A-studio. A very small appartmemt that had everything I needed. It is not far from the castle and very budget friendly.
Tallinn: If you visit Narva on a day trip from Tallinn I recommend Hestia hotel Il Marine. A good hotel within walking distance from the Old Town.
How to get to Narva
There are frequent trains and buses from Tallinn to Narva.
To get to Narva I actually took the train. Trains are very modern too and it was a comfortable 3 hour journey. You can check the timetable and book tickets at Elron.
How to get around Narva
Although it is Estonia’s third biggest city, the major sights are all within walking distance. The best way to get around Narva is on foot.
Safety in Narva
Due to its proximity to Russia some people asked me whether it was safe to visit Narva. Obviously the war in Ukraine had a big impact on Narva, but everywhere I went, it felt safe. I am sure people had their opinions, but they also seemed more concerned about other topics, such as inflation.
Narva is in general a safe city and if you follow normal precautions, it is unlikely you will encounter any problems as a tourist. Theft and robberies do happen, as in most cities, and are especially common at night
When to visit Narva
Narva experiences a Northern European climate with distinct seasons. The best time to visit Narva depends on your preferences for weather and activities.
Summer is the peak tourist season in Narva. During these months, the weather is typically warm, and you can enjoy longer daylight hours. Unfortunately this also means that Narva is more crowded and prices for accomodation higher.
Spring and Autumn are more quiet times to visit Narva. Temperatures are still mild and pleasant enough to explore the city.
Winter can be quite cold in Narva, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. As you can see from my pictures, I did visit in winter. In my opinion, the snow makes the town even more beautiful.
Sustainable Travel in Narva
Narva sees more tourists every year. While Tourism is a welcome source of income it can also have negative consequences. Traveling sustainably in Narva, involves conscious choices that minimize your environmental impact and support the local community.
Support the community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local markets and restaurants. It is better to try Baltic cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods.
Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in small-scale guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels. You can also look for hotels that prioritizes sustainable practices.
Use public transport: Narva has a well-developed public transportation system. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of taxis or private cars to reduce carbon emissions. Even better is exploring the city by foot.
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