Museum of the Estonian Swedes is a small museum over Estonia’s Swedish speaking population that lived in the coastal are from the 13th century to 1944, when many of the 8000 Swedes fled to Sweden during the World War II.
In one room there are many photos and also items like fishing nets and a boat. In a small room there is a long timeline tapestry showing the history of the Estonian Swedes and upstairs there is an exhibition of traditional weaving and needlework.
There were signs in Estonian and Swedish, but I think there were also leaflets with information in other languages. Admission was 30 EEK (April 2010).
The museum is open Tuesdays - Saturdays between 10 - 18 (May - August) and between 11 - 16 (September - April).
Läänemaa Museum is situated in the old Town Hall and it has been housed here since 1949. There are many old photos from Haapsalu, most of them with explanation only in Estonian. The woman working in the museum pointed out a photo with the Swedish crown prince that visited in 1932, and she also showed me a book with photographs where there was a photo from the visit of the present Swedish king and queen.
Other items in the exhibition have explanation also in English. Among other things there is the leg protease of an old smuggling captain.
The museum is open Wednesdays - Sundays between 10 - 18 (mid May - mid September) and between 11 - 16 (mid September - mid May). Admission was 25 EEK (April 2010).
When I visited in April the museum, the Dome Church and the 38 metre tall clock tower were unfortunately closed, because that time of the year you can only walk around the grounds. The grounds are open daily between 7am - midnight.
A wall surrounds the grounds and you can climb one of the towers in the wall for better views. In the mound behind the castle there is a children’s park.
The Bishop’s Castle dates from the 13th century and it was then the centre of the Saare-Lääne Diocese.
A few hundred metres northeast of the castle , where the promenade begins, there is a 15 metres high bird watching tower. From the top you will have a nice view over the surrounding area and when I visited there were lots of swans and ducks in the water below.
Ilon Wikland was born in Tartu in 1930. As a child she often spent her summers in Haapsalu where her grandparents lived. When Ilon was 14 years old she came to Sweden as a refugee and there she has lived ever since.
Ilon Wikland is famous for illustrating many of Astrid Lindgren’s books, for example Pippi Longstocking, The Children of Noisy Village and Karlsson on the Roof. Ilon has donated many of her illustrations to the Estonian state and some of them can be seen in the gallery of Ilon’s Wonderland.
Admission for only visiting the gallery was 25 EEK (April 2010). To visit the them park for children it cost more.
Ilon’s wonderland is open between 11 - 18 every day in May - August, and between 11 - 18 Wednesday - Sunday the rest of the year.
The main touristic object in Haapsalu is the old Bishops castle. When built it was one of the strongest fortresses in area, it's walls are about 1.5m thick. Castle was built in the middle of XIII century when Haapsalu still had no town bylaws......Well- they should thank my fellow-countrymen Lithuanians that destroid former Bishop residence in Vana-Parnu, so the center of Bishopric was moved to Haapsalu. The cathedral was built first and then stronghold around it. During the centuries some improvements were made according to the change of weapons. In XVII century the castle lost it's importance as a defence fortress.
The st. Nicholas Dome was the start of the fortress building. Although it was damaged many times it still stands and serves the churchgoers. Built in Gothic-Roman style it's the biggest single-naved church in Baltic countries. Round baptismal chapel is built at the church side and every August lots of people gather in the castle yard to see the Ghost of White Lady in the chapel window. Legend says that there was a young girl who felt in love with one of the monks. But it was forbidden for women to enter the monastery grounds. She dressed up like a boy but she got caught .She was burried alive in stone walls. And now her ghost appears in the window of the chapel during the nights of full-moon in August.
But even during other months of the year Haapsalu castle is nice place for visiting. People can walk around the park, visit the museum, have some coffee in castle restaurant, play gigantic chess in the yard.....
The railway first was built in Estonia in 1870. In 1905 it reached Haapsalu. The town was one of official resorts for royal family. So the station was designed with a great chic. The building has 4 parts- the Emperor's Pavillion and passengers waiting hall are divided by roofed hall and they are set along roofed platform. Beautifully decorated wooden platform was one of the longest platforms in the world when built - it is 216 m long. In 1970 the railway was closed in Haapsalu and museum was established in the station building. Often the old platform and the building are used as film scenery, for example once it "played" Moscow railway station when Anna Karenina was jumping under the train.
The castle is Haapsalu's main sight. It was erected in the 13th century when the place was the seat of the Bishop of Ösel-Wiek. Those were the times of the Christian mission when the tribes and peoples east of the Baltic Sea were still pagans, Haapsalu was a border fortress on the edge of the Christian world and wars were frequent.
The castle is mostly in ruins but still impressive. Some intact rooms around the inner courtyard host a museum about the history of the place and life in the middle ages. Access to the cathedral and the baptismal chapel is also through the courtyard and museum (see separate tips).
Entry to the castle grounds is free, access through the small gate in Lossi plaats (hint: free public toilets in the corner on the left). For the inner courtyard, museum, and cathedral an entrance fee applies.
Stalin's dictature hit Estonia with full force, just like the other territories that became part of the Soviet Union. After the occupation of Estonia in 1940, deportations set in. Estonians were sent to forced labour oin Siberia for the tiniest reason, or for no reason at all except that they were Estonians. There is hardly a family in today's Estonia without a story of a deported family member.
There is a train among the exhibition on the tracks behind the railway station that recalls these deportations under Stalin's regime. The locomotive is painted in camouflage grey like in the war. It pulls a row of narrow cargo wagons. Such wagons were used, people were crammed in them and transported all the way to Siberia.
Some returned after maybe 15 years. Others disappeared forever.
The 'square' is actually a triangle - is there a word for a triangular 'square' in English? Anyway, this location in the town centre used to be where the Swedes from the islands sold their produce. Haapsalu has a strong connection with Sweden and Swedes who settled in Estonia through history.
Among the trees in the middle a fountain with a cute sculpture has been put up: a boy with a fish.
The yellowish building with the red roof on the northern side is of particular interest to visitors. It contains an exhibition on Haapsalu's tradition in knitting, the famous Haapsalu scarves (see Local customs tip), and some arts and crafts shops where you can buy the products of local artisans, highest quality at affordable prices - herewith recommended for souvenir shopping.
The 214m long covered platform at Haapsalu's railway station is the longest in the former Soviet empire. The red and yellow platform was built to shelter those arriving here, especially those of the Russian elite and Imperial family, in the early 1900s. The railway museum next door provides an overview of Haapsalu's golden years of train travel.
The tourist information about Haapsalu makes quite a point about the fact that Piotr Tchaikovsky spent some time during the summer months of 1867 in Haapsalu and indeed was inspired by a folk song heard in the town from which he developed the melody for his sixth symphony.
Apparently the composer would sit on the promenade and watch the sun go down from here. To commemorate this fact there is a stone seat with a plaque bearing his name and a couple of bars of the tune adapted from the folk song are engraved onto it.
I must say that on the day I visited it was a crystal clear evening with very impressive cloudscapes over the bay. There were numerous waterfowl swimming around and hardly any people. It was indeed a very peaceful moment and I can easily imagine the genius being inspired by this lovely setting.
The buildings along the promenade are all very attractive and include the Kursaal - a small, wooden concert venue where summer concerts are held by touring musical groups. Nearby is an outdoor stage where other performances are held presumably for a smaller fee.
If you do just one thing in Haapsalu make sure it is to take a stroll along the promenade late in the afternoon. If there were a few waterfront cafés selling good coffee they would surely make a fortune. Sadly there are none but don't let that put you off. It's a very pleasant place to be even on a Saturday night.
The train station was built in 1907 in all splendour as befits a building for the Russian Czar. Nikolaus II., the last Czar of Russia, liked Haapslau very much and often came to visit the seaside resort in summer, with a large entourage from the court in St. Petersburg. To make transportation for so many people easier and more comfortable, he had the railway line to Haapsalu built. The train station had the longest covered platform in Europe (in those times). Later it was nicknamed "the Czar's bowling alley".
In Soviet times the railway line was closed down and partly demolished. The train station is not in use any more but has been beautifully restored and turned into a railway museum. The tracks assemble historical locomotives and train cars. Visiting the station and the museum is free except the restroom, which however should not be missed (see separate tip).
Haapsalu has a beautiful waterside promenade along the bay, along the shore named Aafrika, and to the Kursaal. However, in 2009 this promenade is a construction site. Access is not allowed but the sign is in Estonian and we, including our local guide, pretended not to understand so we could at least have a quick look. We had no access to the Kursaal and Tchaikovsky's Bench, though. It was very muddy and there was a huge shovel approaching so we quickly retreated. The quay wall and the whole pavement are being renewed. I do not know how long these works are expected to take. Maybe in spring 2010 everything will be new and beautiful, maybe not.
Stroll and explore the narrow lanes of old Haapsalu with their little wooden houses and gardens. Bring your camera, there are many picturesque views. Due to Haapsalu's location on a peninsula, the water is never far away.
More photos in the travelogues.