Last Friday, Russia repealed COVID-related travel restrictions, allowing its residents to travel abroad by land for tourism purposes. The dropping of restrictions hasn't brought with it a significant increase in arrivals to Estonia, however — over the weekend, just slightly more than 500 Russian tourists came through the border checkpoint in Narva.
Compared with the pre-pandemic period, current border crossing numbers in Narva are fairly modest. While the border checkpoint in Narva previously saw more than 2 million crossings in the span of just half a year, the first half of this year has seen nearly four times fewer.
Russia repealing its COVID-related travel restrictions on July 15 has led to an increase in the number of Russian tourists arriving in Estonia, however the increase has not yet been significant.
"Prior to the restrictions being removed, there were some 150 tourists among the Russian citizens," said Marek Liiva, director of the border checkpoint in Narva. "This weekend now has brought with it a nearly twofold increase — each day over the weekend, I'd say 280 people declared themselves tourists. Compared with pre-pandemic times, these volumes haven't yet recovered, and we still have sufficient resources."
As Estonia is no longer issuing new tourist visas to residents of the Russian Federation, Russian tourists are currently using previously issued and still valid visas to travel to Estonia. They're visiting Estonia to relax and for entertainment.
"We enjoy traveling, seeing different countries and getting to know different cultures," Viktoria and Ksenia from St. Petersburg told ERR. "Tomorrow we're going to the Rammstein concert in Tallinn — now we can do that easily. We really love Estonia; we're tourists, and we're gonna start walking, enjoying European views and eating."
Some visitors are also buying things to take back with them that are difficult to find in Russia.
"I plan on buying my daughter clothes, as we don't have those stores anymore," Ksenia said. "And cat food, that's gone for us as well — I have to bring it with me."
Going forward, the Border Guard estimates they may see an additional up to 10,000 border crossings in Narva per month.
Editor: Aili Vahtla