A stroll along the promenade in Narva

Now I bet my readers are wondering where the heck is Narva? Well, I tell you. It is located in the north-eastern region of Estonia which borders (literally) with Russia. The third biggest city in the country, Narva has had a lot of history, events and battles over the centuries but today is seen as a bustling city, a transit city, a commercial hub for shipping and is upcoming within the tourism sector. The residents are mainly Russian speaking around here (due to Soviet occupation last century) but Estonian is written everywhere, in shops, in restaurants, in bars, on road signs. It was time to head to the city and check the place out.

Narva, Estonia

I love crazy places which I have seen on maps. Narva is no exception. Located on the River Narva about eight miles inland (13km) from the Baltic Sea, Narva is adjacent to the Russian town of Ivangorod. Standing at the closest point in the town at the Friendship Bridge (which is the road going in between both countries), I could probably touch Russian soil with the grasp of my hands. Well, it wasn’t as close as that, about two hundred meters or so. However don’t think about swimming across to reach Russia, the current of the river is way too strong and there are security cameras everywhere. Russia is very protective about their border. Downstream it’s all fenced up probably with laser sensors everywhere. Even when I went to the top of Norway where it borders Russia, it is very secure with fences and cameras and so fourth.

Narva, Estonia Narva, Estonia
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to Russia before. I love visiting the place, just don’t get involved with politics. For me to jump into the river and swim across didn’t interest me at all. But it was nice to stand on the promenade and look out to the massive country with so many interesting things. Where I was standing could have been the start of one amazing road trip. I had the car but my visa has run out and Covid-19 is running around like crazy. It could have been a road trip across Siberia, all the way to Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, all 6,095 miles (9,809km). To see it’s all mysteries. The people. The different cultures. One day I hope to be back here to do one amazing journey. Standing here I was closer to Saint Petersburg than Estonia’s capital of Tallinn. I could have kept dreaming but for one, I was going to tick off one thing off my Estonian bucket list, a stroll down the promenade in Narva.

Narva, Estonia

It sounds boring right? Well, to me it wasn’t. It wasn’t just about taking a walk. There are a few things to see and do on the way. The family and I parked the car near the Victoria Bastioni Kasematid (The Victorian Bastion) which is part of the fortresses and underground tunnels and chambers which were built by the Swedish army to defend Narva (which at the time was under Swedish rule) against the tribes of Russia. I really wanted to check out the tunnels but it wasn’t durable with a pushchair and children so maybe next time. At this point of the walk, we were walking through parks which were above the promenade. Here we had great views of Ivangorod on the other side of the river. 

Narva, Estonia

Narva, Estonia

Narva, Estonia Narva, Estonia
Down a slope (and I am a very steep slope) and we were at the bottom, right next to the river, walking along the promenade. Watch out for cyclists along here. As the promenade is closed to other traffic, cyclists love doing rides along here. There were playgrounds for children and an outside gym for adults. The locals sure love their fitness around here.

Narva, Estonia Narva, Estonia
Heading south and we came across border posts on the Estonian side. I have seen this dotted around in the south of the country (alongside with Latvia) and here they are dotted along the riverfront. It’s just to point out to people that you are in Estonia. Forget about the international border crossing above where the bridge is and you get your passports and visas checked, it’s these posts which tell you where you are. (I am joking, but these posts were very important in olden times). On the other side of the river, we did see some border posts but not as many as the Estonian side of the river. Russia uses green and red on theirs.

Narva, Estonia
Can you see the green and red striped border post belonging to Russia?

Around the bridge, there is a modern toilet block, ice cream seller (amongst other items) in the summer months (which was handy for us as it was a very warm day when we went) and plenty of places to sit down.

Narva, Estonia
Standing underneath the Narva Castle

South of the bridge we got to take in the impressive sight of the Ivangorod Fortress which was built to defend the town from the Swedish. It looks like it hasn’t been touched, I mean, destroyed or rebuilt. It was huge. I just wanted to visit it straight away and check out what was held inside. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Narva, Estonia
Narva to the left and Ivangorod to the right bank of the river with the Friendship Bridge in the middle, the only crossing between the two countries of Estonia and Russia in the area.

Opposite the Ivangorod Fortress is the impressive (but rebuilt) Narva Castle which has a tall tower. That was needed as the Swedes needed to see when it was needed to prepare for an attack on the Russians.

Narva, Estonia
Narva Castle

The history here is very interesting. I mean between the Swedes and Russians back then and the two towns across the river, facing each other. I mean since the Middle Ages, it has been mostly Russian apart from a few decades when the Swedes held the area. The towns kept going back and forth, handing over power to the other army now and again. It was only around 1704 when the Russians kicked the Swedes out of touch and claimed the area. Then it was kinda peaceful for two hundred years until the fall of the Tsars and World War I coming in. However it remained with Russia until 1919 when Estonia gained its first independence. This is where it got interesting as Ivangorod was part of the Narva administrative area so Estonia owned Ivangorod. This was held until 1940 when the Soviet Union decided to suck Estonia into their country to ‘protect’ them (as well as other countries like Latvia and Lithuania). Ivangorod and Narva were Russian again (apart from one year when Nazi Germany held the area but were pushed back very quickly). After the Second World War, Narva still remained in Soviet hands until Estonia got its second independence in 1991. Since then there has been disputes where Estonia say Ivangorod is a part of their country but the Russians say no. However a treaty was signed (kind off) in 2005 where both countries say Ivangorod is a part of Russia and the border along the river is the correct one, but because of the wording on the treaty, where the Estonians say they were occupied by the Soviet Union, to which Russia says they weren’t occupied but protected. Sounds like school children having an argument in the playground doesn’t it? Till this day, there is still political tension between the two countries but the residents of Narva and Ivangorod just get on with their daily lives.

Narva, Estonia
Ivangorod Fortress

Narva, Estonia

Narva, Estonia

My short time here came to an end. Is there anything else to do in Narva? Sure there is, like the centre of the city, the cathedrals or even getting across the bridge into Russia. One day hopefully I will return. There is also the resort of Narva-Jõesuu on the Baltic Sea with it’s beautiful forests, parks and beaches as well as spa hotels (check out my review on one of them here). As I was on a road trip going between places, the main aim was to take a stroll along this beautiful river on a warm summer’s day. If Covid-19 wasn’t about, the fortresses may have been open so I could take a look inside. However the locals here just got on with their business and were enjoying life.

Narva, Estonia

But as I stood here looking across the river, I thought about a quote by Nikolai Gogol which sums up how I was feeling there and then. 

Russia! Russia… Everything in you is open, desolate and level; your squat towns barely protrude in the midst of the plains like dots, like counters; there is nothing to tempt or enchant the onlooker’s gaze. But what is this inscrutable, mysterious force that draws me to you? 

Narva, Estonia
Amelie looking out to Russia

Hopefully one day I will have the answer and explore more of your hidden beauty. And hopefully one day I will come back to Narva to check out more of the history and to gaze over the river again.

Looking to stay at Narva. Check out my review on the Meresuu Spa and Hotel here.

Narva, Estonia Narva, Estonia Narva, Estonia