Estonia’s easternmost city is separated from Ivangorod in Russia by the Narva River and is almost entirely populated by Russians. It’s quite literally a border town: the bridge at the end of the main street is the country’s principal link with Russia and no-man’s-land protrudes right up to the edge of the town square.
Roughly halfway between Tallinn and Narva, Rakvere is a thoroughly pleasant place for a pit stop or an overnight stay. The vibe here is upbeat, youthful and modern – quite unlike Narva. An interesting castle and a very large sculpture overlook the small town centre, which is grouped around the expansive Turuplats (market square).
Perhaps destined to be caught perpetually between the USSR (on a good day) and modern Estonia, the coastal town of Sillamäe is an intriguing place and a must for fans of Stalinist neoclassical architecture. Planned by Leningrad architects, its grand buildings include a town hall designed to resemble a Lutheran church.
About 13km north of Narva, the holiday resort of Narva-Jõesuu is a pretty but ramshackle town, popular since the 19th century for its long, golden-sand beach backed by pine forests. Impressive early-20th-century wooden houses and villas are scattered around, along with half a dozen hotels and spas – making this a good base for exploring Narva.