The Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are among Europe’s best-kept secrets, but these three nations, which only seceded from the Soviet Union at the end of the twentieth century, are fast becoming the hot new stars on the tourism map.
The Old Town in Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, was largely constructed between the thirteenth and sixteenth century, earning its reputation today as one of northern Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities, but the city itself was also named Lonely Planet’s Best-Value Destination of 2018. Toompea Castle, which sits perched above the city atop a limestone cliff, offers a great vantage point over the rest of the city and out to sea, while the nearby, intriguingly named Kiek in de Kök, which is a 38-metre high medieval cannon tower, offers a fascinating (and at times grim) look at the city’s history. For a fun and family-friendly taste of Estonian culture and heritage, a visit to the Rocca al Mare open-air museum is a must.
Riga is the Baltic’s region’s largest city, and one of its most beautiful. It too has a medieval Old Town, which is a pedestrian-only zone, and elsewhere the city’s stunning Art Nouveau architecture and many green spaces make it a great place to explore on foot. The city’s central markets, housed in a series of World War I zeppelin hangars, allow for great people-watching opportunities while you put together the makings of a picnic lunch. Outside of Riga, a visit to the Gauja River region offers the chance to explore both the Sigulda and Turaida castles, which sit just a few kilometres apart on opposite sides of the valley. Close to the Lithuanian border, the stunning baroque Rundāle Palace has gone through many incarnations since it was built in the eighteenth century, including a German World War I hospital, a residence for Latvian military veterans and a school. Today, following a major restoration project, the palace and its beautiful classical gardens are open as a glimpse into Latvia’s dynamic past.
Just across the border, the Hill of Crosses is a place of national pilgrimage, where people have placed crosses, crucifixes, religious statues and rosaries for close to two hundred years. During Lithuania’s tumultuous twentieth century, it became a beacon of passive resistance and a symbol of Lithuanian identity, religion and heritage – an estimated 100,000 crosses dot the hill today. In the capital city of Vilnius, the Hill of Three Crosses, also known as Kreivasis Hill, is a great location from which to get your bearings, and is named for the monument which stands on its summit. For two very different but equally fascinating insights into Lithuanian history, visits to the picturesque fourteenth century Trakai Castle, and to the KGB Museum, are essential.
There are many stories – some harrowing, some inspiring – to be heard as you explore these three fascinating nations, which is why a guided tour is a great option. Your personal travel manager can help you find the tour that’s right for you.