Nestled together on the shoreline of the Baltic Sea, the Baltic states are made up of three small countries bordered by Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Kaliningrad (Russia).
With UNESCO World Heritage historical centers, architectural splendor, well-preserved cobbled streets and concert halls featuring top-level artists, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic states have become one of the most desirable places to visit in Europe.
This superb one-week itinerary takes you to the medieval towns’ rich Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Art Nouveau architecture, and you’ll have enough time to get acquainted with the cafe culture and innovative approaches to food and wine of the region.
Our journey begins in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius and ends in Tallinn. You can do it in reverse by starting in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
For the first evening in Vilnius, enjoy a concert in one of the many beautiful concert halls. We suggest the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Get your tickets to the ballet, opera or classical music performance before your arrival as most of the favorite performances are often sold out.
Named the European Capital of Culture in 2009, Vilnius concert halls and parks are jam-packed with concerts, music festivals and in summer guests and locals get to enjoy the many free public shows.
Join a walking tour and a half-day trip to Trakai Castle on the second day. Wander the cobbled streets and visit these attractions:
- Cathedral Square and Palace of the Grand Dukes
- Ensemble of St. Anne and Bernardine Church
- The Republics of Uzupis – Bohemian part of the city
- Bernardine Gardens
- Gediminas Avenue – the main avenue in Vilnius
- Vilnius University – particularly St. John’s Church
And if you have the time, check out The Museum of Genocide Victims (The KGB Museum).
A half-day tour to Trakai Castle adds another dimension to the history and culture of Lithuania. Located around 20 miles from Vilnius, Trakai is home to a few hundred Karaims (Medieval Jewish sect) originally from Crimea. You will have a chance to try traditional Karaim dishes like pastry with clear soup.
En route to Riga
After a two-night stay in Vilnius, we suggest heading north to Riga with visits to Hill of Crosses and Rundale Palace.
There are over 100,000 crucifixes at the Hill of Crosses located north of Vilnius just outside the town of Siauliai. No one knows how it all started, but some believe that the Hill of Crosses began during the mid-1800s when the Russian regime advocated the suppression of religion.
Located in Latvia, Rundale Palace was the summer residence of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Biron, built from 1736 to 1740, and from 1764 to 1768. Be sure to look at the period rooms showcasing the Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical, Biedermeier and Art Nouveau styles. Also worth seeing is the palace’s Baroque garden. It has over 2,000 variety of roses in the rose gardens.
You can self-drive, hire a private driver or join Vilnius-Riga Sightseeing Tour Bus with stops at Kaunas, Hill of Crosses and Rundale Palace.
Riga is the largest city in the Baltic states. It has the world’s best Art Nouveau architecture and precious architectural gems that span over 800 years. Two days is not enough to explore the wonders of Riga. You’ll need at least three full days with one day reserved for a trip to Jurmala, a seaside town 30 minutes from Riga.
Some of the highlights not to be missed:
- Art Nouveau buildings on Elizabeth Street particularly Elizabetes iela 10a & 10b and Art Nouveau Museum
- Three Brothers – residential homes dating back to the 15th century
- The Powder Tower – built around 1330
- Riga’s Nativity of Christ Cathedral
- The Central Market
- Dome Square
- Livu Square
- Town Hall Square
- St. Peter’s Church
- The House of Blackheads
The food and drink in Riga are just as good as the sights and architecture. Try the following food and drinks:
- Rhubarb wine
- Venison dishes
- Birch juice
- Locally brewed beer
En route to Tallinn
We stopped at Turaida Museum Reserve (in Latvia) on our way to Tallinn from Riga. There are other options with RigaTraveller.com:
- The 7-hour Riga-Parnu-Tallinn tour
- The 12-hour Riga-Sigulda-Gauja National Park-Viljandi tour
The original Turaida Medieval Castle was built in 1214. There’s so much to discover about the Livonian state between the 1300s to mid-1600s.
You can wander the original Middle Ages’ cobbled streets, medieval churches, merchant houses, and warehouses in the Baltics best preserved medieval city. Tallinn’s old town is divided into upper town (also known as Toompea) and lower town. The upper town offers magnificent views of the lower town. Gates once separated these two towns – there were eight gates and 46 towers. Only half are left now.
When in Tallinn, check out these attractions in the Old Town:
- Town Hall Square
- Tallinn Town Hall
- Dome Church
- Town Hall Pharmacy
- St. Catherine’s Passage
- St. Olav’s Church and Tower
- St. Alexander Nevsky Church
- Toompea Castle
- Kohtuotsha viewing platform
- Holy Spirit Church
And every Saturday at noon you can enjoy 20 minutes of live organ music at Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin (Dome Church). Tickets are available on-site.
Other attractions worth (outside the old town):
- Estonia’s Parliament
- Kadriorg Palace
- Song Festival Grounds where every five years choir groups from around the world are invited to sing
- Pirita Harbor, the venue for the 1980 Moscow Olympics sailing regatta
You’ll need at least two full days to enjoy the coffee, food and explore Tallinn.