Matsalu National Park

Western Estonia & the Islands

A twitcher’s paradise, Matsalu is a prime migration and breeding ground for the Baltic and Europe generally: some 282 bird species have been counted here. Encompassing 486 sq km of wetlands (including 20km-long Matsalu Bay), it was first protected as a reserve in 1957, entered on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 1976, and declared a national park in 2004. Its headquarters are 3km north of the Tallinn–Virtsu road at Penijõe, an early-18th-century manor house near Lihula.

Comprising coastal meadows and woodland, over 50 islands in the Väinameri Sea and the most extensive reed-bed in the Baltics, it's home to 49 species of fish, 47 species of mammal and 772 species of vascular plants. But it's the birds people come to see.

Spring migration peaks in April/May, but swans arrive as early as March. Autumn migration begins in July and can last until November. Birdwatching towers, with extensive views of resting sites over various terrain, have been built at Haeska, Keemu, Suitsu, Penijõe and Kloostri. There are also marked nature trails at Penijõe (3.2km to 7km), Salevere (1.5km) and Suitsu (1km). Bring reliable footwear as the ground is generally boggy, except during summer dry spells.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Western Estonia & the Islands attractions

1. Railway & Communication Museum

14.25 MILES

Haapsalu’s attractive former train station, with its wooden-lace ornamentation and grand colonnade, opened in 1907 to transport the Russian nobility to…

2. Haapsalu Episcopal Castle

14.61 MILES

Haapsalu’s crumbling heart is its bishop’s castle, which was western Estonia’s centre of command from the 13th to the 16th centuries but now stands in…

3. Birdwatching Tower

14.62 MILES

Broad, shallow, reedy Haapsalu Bay is a key habitat for migrating waterfowl in Estonia, and is listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance…

4. St John’s Lutheran Church

14.64 MILES

Although it has its roots in the 16th century, the exterior of this whitewashed church owes much to a renovation in 1858. Inside, look out for the…

5. Town Hall Museum

14.64 MILES

Built in 1775, Haapsalu's former town hall now houses a charming little museum with displays on the history of the resort town, regional history, a re…

6. Ilon’s Wonderland

14.66 MILES

Showcasing the works of Estonian-Swedish illustrator Ilon Wikland, who spent her childhood in Haapsalu and is best known for her illustrations for the…

7. Africa Beach

14.68 MILES

People still take to the waters at this pint-sized beach, despite the water being murky and full of weeds. It earned its name from the statues of wild…

8. Haapsalu Kuursaal

14.81 MILES

This fairy-tale wooden confection, painted pale green and white, sits plumb on the waterfront, surrounded by rose gardens. Stepping into the airy spa hall…