Sure you’ve been to Italy and Germany and maybe even Poland – but have you ever considered exploring Europe’s Baltic countries?
Tucked up in the north-eastern corner of Europe lies three attractive countries featuring vibrant capitals, moody green forests and interesting Soviet history.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all share a border with Russia and were once part of the Soviet Union. These days, each of these countries have their own identity mixing Soviet influences and restored medieval Old Towns with modern European.
You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking for what to see and do in the Baltics.
Roam the Old Town of Tallinn
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, and it’s 14th century Old Town is filled with pretty cobblestone streets, medieval churches and restored city walls.
Must see sights include Freedom Square with its 23-metre glass plated War of Independence Victory column memorial; the Kiek in de Kök cannon tower, Toompea Hill and Town Hall Square.
For a panoramic view of Tallinn, head up to the city walls, St Olaf’s Church, the bell tower in St Nicholas’ Church or the Patkuli and Kohtuotsa viewing platforms in Toompea.
Get a bird’s eye view of Vilnius
Seeking out a bird’s eye view in Lithuania’s capital? Then head up to the top of the bell tower in St John’s Church – the highest point in the Old Town. Cost is €2.50.
If you’re chasing a sunset view during your stay in Vilnius, then you have a couple of choices. The first viewpoint is from the Hill of Three Crosses – you can spot it when you’re standing at the top of St John’s Church. Or if you don’t fancy much of a walk, simply head on over to the park next to the Bastion of the Vilnius city walls – and do as the locals do and watch the sunset with some wine and cheese.
Get lost in the Old Town streets of Riga
Riga’s Old Town offers a labyrinth of streets to explore. Sights include the Powder Tower, Riga Castle, House of the Blackheads, and the Three Brothers dwellings, as well as all the other picturesque pastel coloured buildings and churches.
It’s also worth a walk along the Daugava River and checking out the view of the Old Town from one of the bridges spanning the river.
Discover hidden underground pubs in Latvia
The craft beer scene is huge in Riga and you’ll have plenty of fun barhopping and enjoying some folk music. Riga is filled with many themed and traditional bars. Your choices include the underground Ala Pub, which is housed inside a 14th century building, a Belgian beer café or even an Aussie Backpackers pub.
Explore the Baltic forests
Need a nature fix during your time in the Baltics? Then check out some of the moody green forests in the Baltics.
My top picks are Gauja National Park in Sigulda, a short train ride from the capital of Latvia – or Lahemaa National Park, near Tallinn, Estonia.
Latvia claims to be one of the greenest countries in Europe and you’ll see why when you set foot in Gauja National Park. You can walk up wooden staircases to beautiful viewpoints and go castle spotting; walk through castle ruins bordering the forest; and traverse quiet trails surrounded by tall trees. Trains run frequently from Riga’s main train station to Sigulda – or you can also catch a bus.
Lahemaa National Park is Estonia’s largest national park, and it’s known for its unique peat bogs and picturesque pine forests.
Visit an old Soviet prison
For a slightly creepy Baltic experience, head along to the former Soviet prison – the Patarei Sea Fortress Prison. Patarei was a high security prison from 1919 to as recently as 2004, with prisoners living in very poor conditions. But the building was originally built as a sea fortress in the 1800s.
Take a tour through former KGB headquarters
The Corner House in Riga is a former KGB Headquarters and prison turned into a museum. You can visit the former headquarters including its cells by tour only – led by a former prisoner.
The guided tour of the former holding cells and a fascinating history lesson costs €5. Tours are run twice daily in English.
The museum also offers lots of information on panels as well as a video interviewing survivors of the Corner House.
Another interesting museum is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The museum focusses on what Latvia was like under occupation during World War II and by the USSR through information panels, photos and artefacts.
Walk under the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius
The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania is significant because it’s the only remaining gate from when the city was ringed by walls. It’s also a pilgrimage site.
Find the street art in Vilnius
Vilnius is famous for its street art – you’ll even find the best viewing points marked on the official tourist map. See how many you can find in the streets of Vilnius. You’ll probably find some in the streets of the bohemian neighbourhood of Uzupis – which is one’s of Vilnius’ oldest districts and also has its own anthem and constitution.
Grab snacks at the Riga markets
Feeling hungry? Then head along to the fresh food market in Riga. The market is said to be one of the biggest in Europe, and parts of it are located in old German Zeppelin airship hangars. You’ll find all your fresh food favourites here ranging from berries to bread.