Cognitive impairments, including spatial memory and learning deficiencies, are common after ischemic stroke. Estrogen substitution improves cognitive functions in post-menopausal women and ovariectomized rodents, partially through induction of neuroplasticity in the hippocampal formation. Post-ischemic housing of male rats in an enriched environment (EE) improves functional outcome, without changing infarct volume. We hypothesized that 17β-estradiol combined with an EE would accelerate cognitive recovery after focal brain ischemia in ovariectomized rats and that recovery would be related to altered expression of nerve growth factor-induced gene (NGFI)-A in the hippocampus. 17β-estradiol or placebo pellets were implanted 6 h after transient middle cerebral artery occlusion. Two days later, rats were placed in an EE or a deprived environment (DE) for 6 weeks. At 5 weeks after middle cerebral artery occlusion, 17β-estradiol-treated rats housed in an EE showed improvements in cognitive function (i.e. shorter latency and path in the Morris water maze task) compared with placebo-treated animals housed in an EE. Furthermore, beneficial effects on latency and path were observed when comparing EE-housed vs. DE-housed 17β-estradiol-treated rats. When comparing 17β-estradiol-treated EE-housed rats vs. placebo-treated DE-housed rats, pronounced effects on latency and path were observed. Infarct volumes did not differ between groups. 17β-estradiol-treated EE-housed rats had significantly higher NGFI-A mRNA expression bilaterally in the cornu ammonis 1 region and in the ipsilateral dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, compared with placebo-treated EE-housed rats. In conclusion, 17β-estradiol treatment combined with an EE improved recovery of cognitive function after experimental brain ischemia, putatively through the upregulation of NGFI-A in hippocampal subregions.