Four estimators of the directed information rate between a pair of jointly stationary ergodic finite-alphabet processes are proposed, based on universal probability assignments. The first one is a Shannon--McMillan--Breiman type estimator, similar to those used by Verd\'u (2005) and Cai, Kulkarni, and Verd\'u (2006) for estimation of other information measures. We show the almost sure and $L_1$ convergence properties of the estimator for any underlying universal probability assignment. The other three estimators map universal probability assignments to different functionals, each exhibiting relative merits such as smoothness, nonnegativity, and boundedness. We establish the consistency of these estimators in almost sure and $L_1$ senses, and derive near-optimal rates of convergence in the minimax sense under mild conditions. These estimators carry over directly to estimating other information measures of stationary ergodic finite-alphabet processes, such as entropy rate and mutual information rate, with near-optimal performance and provide alternatives to classical approaches in the existing literature. Guided by these theoretical results, the proposed estimators are implemented using the context-tree weighting algorithm as the universal probability assignment. Experiments on synthetic and real data are presented, demonstrating the potential of the proposed schemes in practice and the utility of directed information estimation in detecting and measuring causal influence and delay.