3 Weeks in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – June/July 2017
In June and July 2017 I spent three weeks exploring Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.
|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 strongly advised me to come in July or August to maximize my 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 Talinn, which stops at interesting and offbeat sights along the way. I didn’t find out about this option until I was already in Talinn 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.
I stayed with relatives in Vilnius, but otherwise overnighted in Airbnbs. The Baltics offer some incredible bargains, especially outside the tourist hubs.
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.
Riga was 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 Talinn, but you could also consider taking a sightseeing bus with an indie tour company between Riga and Talinn, which stops at interesting and offbeat sights along the way. I didn’t find out about this option until I was already in Talinn or I would have taken it — beats a boring direct bus any day.
Talinn is the most touristy of the Baltic capitals, due to the large numbers of cruise ship visitors that often crowd its narrow medieval lanes. Talinn’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. We also went on the Viru Bog Walk and visited Palmse Manor House. I thought this indie tour company was equally as excellent as Talinn Traveller Tours. Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much luck with the weather, so my photos didn’t turn out great.
From Talinn I caught a non-stop flight on to Amsterdam to visit friends. Talinn airport is small and super easy to reach by public transport from the center. I wish all airports were this stress-free!