Planning a trip to the Baltic states? In summer 2017 I spent three weeks exploring Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Check out my Baltic countries itinerary and trip report.
Baltic Countries Itinerary
|1||Fly to Vilnius from Düsseldorf||Vilnius|
|5||Day Trip - Trakai||Vilnius|
|6||Travel -> Kaunas||Kaunas|
|8||Travel -> Klaipeda||Klaipeda|
|10||Travel -> Nida||Nida|
|13||Travel -> Klaipeda||Klaipeda|
|14||Travel -> Riga||Riga|
|17||Day trip - Cēsis||Riga|
|18||Travel -> Talinn||Talinn|
|20||Day trip - Western Estonia||Talinn|
|21||Day trip - Lahemaa||Talinn|
|22||Fly from Talinn to Amsterdam|
My Lithuanian relatives advised me the best time to visit the Baltic states was July or August to maximize the chances of good weather. Also, I wanted to visit the Curonian Spit on Lithuania’s Baltic coast, which essentially shuts down outside of summer. Unfortunately, Northern Europe has recently experienced unusually cold and rainy summers, and this trip was no exception. As I moved further north to Estonia, temperatures dropped, and I needed a light jacket even on sunny days. My umbrella and raincoat were essentials on this trip!
Getting There and Away: I started in Germany, where I was visiting family. I opted to fly to the Baltics since flights are faster and often cheaper than bus, train, or ferry. I flew Air Baltic and was impressed by their efficiency and low cost.
Getting Around: Long-distance trains in the Baltics are rare, so I took buses the majority of the time. When possible, try to take a large bus with a company such as Eurolines instead of a microbus. The ride is smoother so you can sleep and there is an on-board toilet. Fortunately, the Baltics are small and my bus rides were never more than about four hours.
Consider also taking a sightseeing bus with an indie tour company such as this one between Riga and Tallinn, which stops at interesting and offbeat sights along the way. I didn’t find out about this option until I was already in Tallinn or I would have taken it — beats a boring bus ride any day.
The Baltic capitals are small enough to be very walkable, but when needed public transport in the cities is generally excellent. One word of warning: Google Maps did not work very reliably in Riga for mapping bus routes.
Uber is also now available in the major cities. In smaller towns, try local taxi service apps such as Taxify and eTAKSI (Lithuania only).
I stayed with relatives in Vilnius, but otherwise overnighted in Airbnbs. The Baltics offer some incredible bargains, especially outside the tourist hubs.
I used Google Fi on my Nexus 5X, and it worked well in all three countries. Make sure to follow these instructions before you leave home so your phone will roam internationally.
The Museum of Illusions in Vilnius is a fun stop and offers a lot of great photo ops.
Vilnius is a good place to buy amber, especially if you want quality higher-end pieces. I found the selection of inexpensive amber jewelry even better though on Klaipeda’s main square.
The KGB museum provides an excellent if harrowing introduction to Lithuania’s darkest years of repression. All three Baltic capitals have a KGB museum, but this one is considered the largest and most informative.
My relatives and I also took a day trip to northeastern Lithuania. The scenery is gorgeous.
I also recommend a day trip to Trakai to visit the castle and try kibinai, locally famous savory pastries.
Kaunas is Lithuania’s second city and former capital. It’s got a more gritty, authentic feel than Vilnius and far fewer tourists. Some fantastic Airbnb deals here: I stayed in a spacious, modern apartment just off Kaunas’ main pedestrian avenue for 30€ per night.
Klaipeda is a charming seaport and gateway to the famous Curonian Spit.
From Klaipeda I took a day trip to visit the towns of Šilutė, formerly Prussian Heydekrug, and Pagėgiai, formerly Pogegen, where my mother and her family were from. Like most ethnic Germans in Lithuania, they fled to Germany at the end of World War II when the Russians moved in.
Disclaimer: There is absolutely no reason for anyone to visit these towns unless they have a family connection or a strong interest in Prussian history. However, it was a good reminder that often the most interesting and authentic travel experiences happen when you venture off the beaten tourist track.
Lovely Nida is the biggest settlement on the Curonian Spit. It has a relaxed vibe and has long been a magnet for artists and writers.
From Nida, I did a five-hour boat trip along the Curonian Lagoon with the Romas Slezas Company. It was very well-organized and enjoyable despite the rainy weather.
We visited the village of Mingė and the captain made us his famous fish soup for lunch. We also got a tour of Ventės Ragas, the biggest bird catching and ringing base in Europe.
From Nida I returned by bus and ferry to Klaipeda, and from there caught a bus to Riga, Latvia.
My Baltic states itinerary continued with Riga, my favorite of the Baltic capitals. Loved the Art Nouveau architecture and the traditional old wooden houses.
I took advantage of the sunny weather one day to make a trip to Jūrmala, a nearby seaside resort popular with Russian tourists. I’m not really a beach person, but Jūrmala has enough attractions and nice walks to make a pleasant half-day outing.
I also took a day trip by bus to Cēsis to see the castle and medieval church and wander around its charming streets. Sadly, my explorations were eventually cut short by a massive rainstorm.
I took a regular Eurolines bus direct from Riga to Tallinn, but you can also take a sightseeing bus with an indie tour company between Riga and Tallinn, which stops at interesting and offbeat sights along the way. I didn’t find out about this option until I was already in Tallinn or I would have taken it — beats a boring direct bus any day.
My Baltic travel itinerary ended in Tallinn, the most touristy of the Baltic capitals, due to the large numbers of cruise ship visitors that often crowd its narrow medieval lanes.
Tallinn’s old town still has an undeniable fairy-tale quality, though. I recommend also taking a day trip or two to visit nearby attractions like Lahemaa National Park.
I took an excellent small group day tour around western Estonia with Tallinn Traveller Tours. The tour visits a variety of natural and historical attractions with a focus on abandoned Soviet sites.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of traditional Russian food in Paldiski.
The next day, I did an eight-hour small group tour of Lahemaa National Park with EstAdventures (2019 update: EstAdventures no longer offers a Lahemaa tour, but Tallinn Traveller Tours does).
Our EstAdventures Lahemaa tour also went on the Viru Bog Walk and visited Palmse Manor House. I thought this indie tour company was equally as excellent as Tallinn Traveller Tours. Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much luck with the weather, so my photos didn’t turn out great.
From Tallinn I caught a non-stop flight on to Amsterdam to visit friends. Tallinn airport is small and super easy to reach by public transport from the center. I wish all airports were this stress-free!
Liked it? Pin it!
Amazing photos … loved seeing the ones I hadn’t seen before especially. Thanks for letting me experience your trip vicariously! 🙂 The kitty sleeping on amber has to be my favorite. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, April! Loved the kitty snoozing on amber too. 😉
As usual, this post is chock full of gorgeous photos and useful info. I’d go for all the reasons you share here: the scenery, architecture, museums… and OMG, the food! Too bad the weather wasn’t great. Speaking of which, we had dinner with one of Steve’s colleagues last night (whose ancestors are also from Ostpreußen btw, though he grew up in the Ruhrgebiet) and he mentioned that it seems like climate change is also bringing Northern/Mid-Germany much more summer-rain and chill. Looking forward to traveling vicariously to Mexico with you again 🙂 !
Hi Rainier, thanks for your kind comments! I hope you get to go sometime… I would love to hear your impressions of Kaliningrad. It’s fascinating to me how many Germans have East Prussian ancestry. I remember my aunt and grandmother used to do little comedy skits in East Prussian dialect as part of the Kölner Karneval. And really bummed to hear that about the weather! Fingers crossed next summer will be better.
Thanks so much for sharing your trip. I am planning to travel to the Baltics next June, and this is very helpful. Love your photos!
So glad you found it helpful, Cheryl!
Many years ago we drove from UK to Southern Estonia. Travelled Dover (night ferry looking back at the white cliffs), France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland (stopped for the night), Lithuania, Latvia, and into Estonia. Amazing tour 🙂
We came home from Tallinn last week. So quiet due to COVID-19. My daughter decided she wants to live there … she was surprised to find out she was in fact baptised in the Nevsky Cathedral. My wife was an amazing tour guide – now our little girl is old enough (8 y/o) to walk for a day we made the best of it.
Sounds like an amazing road trip you took back then, Philip. And I guess one of the silver linings of COVID-19 is the decline in overtourism. When I was there, the old town was crowded with daytrippers from the cruise ships. Lucky your family got to experience it as it must have been years ago.