The three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have emerged from the shadow of their USSR past to be among the most popular tourist destinations in Europe today. Once these countries were surrounded in mystery, now they are open for the world to explore.
Though the Baltics comprises three countries, organising the perfect itinerary can take a little bit of planning. Many visiting this incredible region will only plan to visit the capital cities of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, which would be a huge mistake. Whilst these 3 capitals are lovely, vibrant and diverse, a visitor should miss the smaller cities and country towns. There is so much more to see and experience in the Baltics that you really should make some time to plan your best route.
Tallinn, Estonia is the most northerly capital of them all, boasting both Germanic and Scandinavian influences, as well as an onion-domed Russian Orthodox Cathedral that will take your breath away, and a beautifully compact Medieval Old Town built on a hill from which you could look out over the Baltic Sea and to Finland beyond. One of Europe's most enchanting cities, Tallinn offers a wonderful mix of medieval and modern, ensuring that you'll find plenty of distractions to fill your itinerary especially in the World Heritage Listed Old Town.
Beyond Tallinn, Estonia has a lot to offer, so why not visit the summer capital of Pärnu, where you will find some of the most luxurious spa resorts. For those more interested in nature then bring your binoculars to one of the world's best birdwatching destinations at the Matsalu National Park. Fitness fanatics will also find some of the nicest cycle paths including the beautiful Narva River Promenade. If the mainland hasn’t attracted you already then why not come and visit one of the 2,355 islands that sit off the coastline.
Riga, capital of Latvia is the gem of the Baltics, this charming city will stir you with its Germanic looking spires and steeples and some of the best examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world; also resulting in UNESCO making it a World Heritage Site. Located on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava this multicultural city is rich in ancient history and cultural heritage.
It is not difficult to see why the Latvian locals have so many legends about Sigulda. For one, the hills around the town come topped with the keeps, bulwarks and crumbling crenulations of one Turaida Castle. Then there are the misty woodlands and groves of the Gauja Valley, a veritable jewel of the nation’s backcountry that comes crisscrossed by twisting rivers and hiking trails, sprinkled with caves and undulating hills. Sigulda itself flourishes with Cherry trees and pretty regal architecture offering the opportunity for either Nordic walking or Skiing in the wintertime. Latvia is a place of surprises with Jurmala the place to go during the warmer months, stretching nearly 30kms along the Riga Gulf.
Not to be outdone Lithuania's capital, Vilnius will seduce you with its magnificent Baroque and Gothic Churches, rolling green hills and splendid Old Town charm and cobbled streets. Even UNESCO was bewitched, by Europe's largest Baroque Old Town, so much so they made it a World Heritage Site.
One of the most impressive places to visit when in Lithuania would have to be Trakai Castle, a fanciful breakup of islets and shimmering waters. Many visitors come to see this Lord of the Rings style Castle at the heart of the Trakai Historical National Park with its red brick keeps and turrets that mirrors perfectly against the lake waters that surround it. Lithuania’s 2nd largest city is Kaunas, the city comes together at the Nemunas and Neris Rivers right in the central part of the country, while Klaipeda was once one of the strongholds of Teutonic rule in the Baltic, later becoming a thriving port and trading town of the Duchy of Prussia and then becoming the northernmost city in the German Empire of the late 19th Century. When visiting Siauliai, most come in search of the legendary Hill of Crosses, which rises in a haunting array of crucifixes and effigies of Christ to the north of the town proper. This town itself has an array of pretty tree lined streets and a buzzing café culture.