Paldiski is a port town (population: 3,500 in 2021) on the shore of Baltic Sea, in Harjumaa county in northwestern Estonia. Here the drab Soviet past meets the sea and the cliffs with wind power plants.
Paldiski is on the Pakri peninsula stretching out into the Baltic Sea. As such the port rarely freezes over during winter (unlike Tallinn for instance). The Swedes were the first to discover this and established the settlement of Rågervik in the 14th century. After the Great Northern War in the early 18th century, present-day Estonia became Russian, and Peter the Great had a fortress built here. The settlement first functioned as a penal colony, though over the decades the port was developed and in 1762 the settlement was renamed Baltiiskiy Port (Валтийский Порт), whereas also the German name Baltischport was used as Baltic Germans held a high position in the Baltic commercial life, and the Estonians called the town Paldiski.
In 1870 the railway from St. Petersburg along the north Estonian coast reached Paldiski, and the railway also served as an "axis of development" for the cities along it. In addition to commerce and industry, the military also had strong position in the town during Russian Imperial and Soviet rule. Between the world wars Estonia was an independent country, and the town's name was established as Paldiski. Then the country fell into Soviet hands, Paldiski became a military outpost towards the western bloc and as such a closed city – off-limits to foreigners, non-resident Soviet citizens, even non-resident Estonians themselves because of its military importance. By the 1960s it had grown in size considerably and was the largest submarine base in the Soviet Union. In 1994, three years after the fall of the USSR, it became a normal town with the nuclear reactors used for training crews for nuclear submarines buried in concrete sarcophaguses.
However it meant a decline of the town as its main activity had been dissolved. Today the main activity is the civilian freight, oil, and to some extent passenger port, and a kind of decaying Soviet (and to some extent Imperial Russian) open air museum, open to everyone. It's worth a visit if you're interested in the grey world of the Soviet Union: Paldiski and the Pakri peninsula are covered with abandoned bunkers, piles of unidentifiable junk and various military debris. Moreover, like many former Soviet cities that housed major functions, most inhabitants are Russian-speaking, "left behind" when the USSR disappeared, which gives the town a different feel from surrounding Estonia. Indeed the scenes taking place in a location introduced to the audience as “somewhere in the former Soviet Union” in the film Lilya 4-Ever were shot in Paldiski.
Also the natural surroundings are interesting; the cliffs to the sea, the lighthouses outside town, and the wind farms of which there are probably more than anywhere else in the country.
Get in Edit
Best to take the train one way and the bus the other way to enjoy both sides of the ride. Bus and train schedules are easily available online – read more under Estonia.
By train Edit
Trains run from Tallinn Balti Jaam, departures about every 1.5 hours. The trip takes just over an hour and it costs €3.15.
- 1 Paldiski railway station. At the southern end of the city, near the oil terminals. Though it's more of a railway stop as the old wooden station building (a listed heritage building) isn't in use.
By bus Edit
Buses - the Tallinn region bus line 145 - depart almost hourly during daytime, though not from the bus station. The depart from Tallinn Balti Jaam, going clockwise around the old town via Viru Hotel and Vabaduse väljak before heading west to the Zoo, Rocca al Mare shopping mall and Paldiski highway. The trip takes about 1 hr 10 min and it costs €3.
The 2 central bus stop to get in and out is along Sadama street in the centre (they also have a timetable posted there), the one on Kivi is quite central also. But there are other stops between and including the railway station.
By car Edit
By boat Edit
Get around Edit
There's no public transport but as a small town, Paldiski can be explored on foot. Rae, a continuation of the highway from Tallinn, is the main street, and the town stretches about two blocks east and west of this street where its delimited by the port or forest. If you wish to access the sea, you can do this north of the city where it's not blocked off by the port functions. For the lighthouse, 5 km north, try taking a taxi, hitch or walk anyway.
Most of Paldiski dates to Soviet times or later; don't expect a picturesque old town like for instance in Haapsalu. Poorly maintained two- and five-floor apartment buildings, and newer buildings in between make up the bulk of the town. Virtually all of the military buildings, including the large submarine training center, have been demolished also. They have given place to the port, or just been turned into something between meadows and lawns.
In town Edit
- 1 Amandus Adamson Studio Museum (Amandus Adamsoni Ateljeemuuseum), Adamsoni 3, ☏ . Tu-Su 11-18 (May-Sep), Th-Su 11-16 (Oct-Apr). Old summer studio of Amandus Adamson (1855-1929), one of the most famous sculptors in Estonian history. Built according to his own design, the quirky wooden building is an attraction in itself. Today works of Estonian artists are exhibited here, and it's also an event venue. €4.
- 2 Petrovskaya fortress (Peetri kindluse bastionid / Muula mäed). The remains of a fortress on a hill, with low overgrown ramparts. There are great views to the sea and the port functions.
- 3 St. George church (Püha Georgi kirik), Pakri 2. Here the first Orthodox church in Paldiski was built in 1721, and in the late 18th century it was rebuilt in its current grey stone form. It looks pretty modest as it lacks a tower and is almost hidden by trees.
- 4 St. Nicholas church (Nikolai kirik), Mere 12. Built in 1842, though its "cubist" form may make you think it's newer. The church fell into serious decay during Soviet times, and was restored into its current shape.
- 5 Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh, Tuule 1. A modern wooden Orthodox church.
- 6 Monument to Salavat Yulaev (corner of Pakri and Rae). Salavat Yulaev was one of the leaders of the 1773-75 Bashkir uprising (also known as Pugachev's Rebellion) against the Russian Empire. He was caught, tortured, and sent to a penal colony the opposite end of the empire like the common practice was back then, which meant Rogervik (Paldiski retained its Swedish name) where he reportedly died in 1800. In 1989 Soviet authorities erected a monument to him, which still stands.
The Pakri peninsula, whose southwestern shore Paldiski occupies, has a rocky coast. The best place for seeing the waves crashing into the rocks is the tip of the peninsula where the Pakri lighthouse is. There are actually two lighthouses. The old one was built in 1722 on orders by Peter the Great, nowadays falling apart and dangerously located at the cliff. Across the road is the new lighthouse, built in 1889.
- 7 Pakri lighthouse, Majaka tee (4 km from Paldiski), ☏ . May-Sep: daily 10:00-20:00; Oct-Apr: Sa Su 12:00-18:00. From Estonia's highest lighthouse (52 meters) you can enjoy views of the Baltic sea, but it's rather expensive compared to the lighthouses on Hiiumaa island. €5/3 adult/student.
Near the lighthouse(s) there's also a staircase leading down to the sea. Overall the peninsula is a good place for just wandering around the shore and watching the Baltic Sea. Do not go too close to the edge as the ground is unstable (and forget about any fences).
- 8 Leetse manor (Leetse mõis) (5 km west of Paldiski). The remains of a grand manor, just the walls remain of the main building, in addition to stairs down to the sea, the decorated gate, and the manager's house. On the way here, you will pass the "sarcophagi" with the deactivated nuclear reactors from the former submarine training facility.
A couple of kilometers west of Paldiski are the 9 Pakri islands (Pakri saared), that are a nature reserve. The islands were inhabited by Swedes from 1345 onwards, who were growing rye there, wherefore the island were named Rågöarna - the Rye Islands. They were evicted in WWII by the Soviet military, who turned the islands into a base and later a bombing range. After restoration of independence, the islands were cleared of ordnance and turned into a nature reserve. In addition to nature, you can see the remains of abandoned Swedish villages including a church bell tower and Soviet military buildings.
The reserve authorities operate tour boats that leave from 4 Kurkse each morning in the summer at 10:00, returning in the afternoon - these trips take place only if there are enough passengers. Return tickets cost €33 and trips need to be booked 36 hours before departure.
10 Klooga. is a village along the railway, 10 km east of Paldiski. After WWII, when the peninsula with surroundings was militarized, the civilian population was evicted. Nowadays its a normal village, but there are still some abandoned buildings built by the Soviets.
North of the village, the Nazis operated a concentration camp during the German occupation in World War II, where more than two thousand Jews were murdered. Of the camp, a 11 memorial. remains. During the same time, Ingrian Finns escaping the Soviet Union were placed in a camp in the nearby village of Põllküla, and many died due to the poor conditions there; of this camp too a 12 memorial. remains.
Further south Edit
- 13 Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery (Ämari lennuväe kalmistu), Ämari tee (between Ämari village and the current airforce base). This cemetery is the last resting place of a number of Estonia's fighter pilots who served in the airforce under Soviet rule before 1991. Pilots of which the aircraft were downed and recovered have their graves decorated with the tail fin of their aircraft instead of a generic tomb stone, making the cemetery look like a squadron of jet fighters buried in the forest.
If you have a good map that has many foot paths (like OpenStreetMap, which many mobile Apps like OsmAnd or Mapy.cz use), you can walk around the port and continue north along the cliffs towards the lighthouse.
- 1 Pakri Straus, Sadama 38, ☏ . Sa-Su 10-18. Ostrich farm.
- 3 Kaubamaja, Rae 23. 9-21. The first floor is a supermarket, on the second household goods. A good place to find Slavic products, Russian beers, confectionary.
In addition the town has a few kiosks and second hand stores.
Eat and drink Edit
- 1 Peetri Pizza, Rae 17, ☏ . Daily 11:00–21:00. Pizzeria with very good ratings online, part of a national franchising chain. €4-6.
- 2 Peetri Toll, Mere 10, ☏ , email@example.com. 11-24. Tavern in an old customs house (from the Imperial time) just outside the port. Slavic and international cuisine; not everything on the menu is always available, just the dishes written on the blackboard. On the second floor there's a photo exhibition of Paldiski in the bygone times. €7-11.
Other than these, self-catering is also possible (see Buy above). The closest thing to bars and nightlife is the tavern, which is rather quiet in the evenings too.
- 1 Pakri Hostel, Kivi 4, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Very bad ratings. Check them first before deciding to stay here. Dorm from €16.
- 1 City Library (Paldiski Linnaraamatukogu), Rae 38. Tu-F 11-18, Sa 11-16. Library with Internet access point.
- 1 Post office (Paldiski postkontor), Rae 14B-14C. M-Tu, F 10-15, W-Th 13-18. The town's post office.
All mobile operators (Elisa, Tele2 and Telia) have 4G coverage in and around Paldiski.
Go next Edit
- Laulasmaa – 20 km east to the east from Paldiski towards Tallinn there is this small coastal village.
- Nõva – 20 km towards Haapsalu is this beautiful coastal village with untouched pine forests and a clean beach.