Travelling The Baltics
The Baltic states are made up of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. If you are planning on travelling the Baltics, I share my tips for travelling in this region.
There's no doubt about it, the Balkans had definitely been a highlight on my four month tour of Europe. Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia had totally surpassed my expectations and I was ready to explore the rest of Europe. This time though, it was the turn of the Baltic states made up of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in northern Europe, near Russia.
These former Soviet states are fast becoming the new hot spots for European breaks. Cheap drinks and a variety of nightlife attract groups of lads replacing Prague as a stag do location. Although there is a shortage of girls travelling alone here, the Baltics are incredibly safe, great for those on a budget, and are popular with travellers who travel from north to south or vice versa.
You’ll find all sorts of activities here from staying overnight in a former Soviet prison (unfortunately only available from the summer months as I soon found out), bobsledding, husky dog sledging, paintballing or shooting an AK47 – yes, you did hear right! Latvia even has an Australian Backpackers Bar – a stationary campervan cleverly fitted out into a bar. Estonia offers party hostels with evening bar crawls where hoards of travellers descend upon the city drinking shots, snorting Absinth and drinking until 6 am in the morning.
Transport is cheap, getting from capital to capital costs approx €15 with Ecolines or Simple Express. The food is cheap. Eat in traditional restaurants and you could spend less than €7 for a two-course meal, or you can always try their own version of fast-food – Hesburger, their equivalent of Macdonald’s (although this has made its way across the Channel and does make an appearance). If you prefer coffee shops, Coffee Inn has scrumptious veggie wraps and mango smoothies with comfy seats to people-watch and wile away the hours.
If you prefer somewhere a little less quiet, and more authentic with a European charm then I definitely recommend Lithuania. The city of Vilnius with its Baroque-style buildings and cobbled streets is the place to go to for those wanting to avoid the tourists. It’s more untouched by tourism than Latvia and Estonia and is my favourite capital out of the three.
Take an alternative walking tour to explore a different side of Vilnius. Visit the quirky area of the Republic of Artists, only entered by those who promise to be creative. A road sign of the Mona Lisa before you cross the bridge is a warning for those who do not smile whilst entering. Lithuanians definitely have a sense of humour; from the statue of Jesus wearing a backpack (Lithuanians say he was the first backpacker) to the Square of Genocide with a cat’s nose with the tale that once rubbed, promises to grant your wish.
Although small, it has a Little Manhattan with skyscrapers that you can see from the panoramic view of Vilnius Hill and a Little Shanghai – home to the gypsy population with shabby chic buildings. Although Lithuania neighbours Poland, its language is closer to that of Latvia – a great country for my second stop.
Just a few hours by bus is Riga, the capital of Latvia with a stunning old town and a huge indoor market which was once the biggest in Europe. Most of the produce here is locally grown and if you visit at 6pm you’ll be able to pick up a bargain cheaper than any Latvian grocery store. No where is far here and it seems that just around every corner is another area to be discovered.
There’s an Italian courtyard, modern shops, a peaceful park, and even a Moscow-style town just a short tram ride away, transporting you back one hundred years. If you stay in Riga, you should definitely stay in the Old Town. It’s cosy, colourful and has a really comforting feel to it.
Imagine being back in the Medieval times, playing archery, drinking hot wine and meandering around an old fortress. Well, you can in Tallin, the capital of Estonia. Only 4.5 hours from Riga by bus, Tallin appears to have the largest Old Town where you can spot people dressed in traditional costumes and feel as though you have been transported back centuries before. It’s a picturesque city to walk around in and has the same style of colourful buildings in pastel pinks and yellow which seem typical for the Baltic capitals.
So how do they compare to the Balkans? They are definitely much colder (now I know where the saying “It’s Baltic” comes from), and the Russian influence is there. But being only a 2.5-hour flight from the UK, they are perfect for a long weekend. Just don’t forget to take a fleece with you…
If you are looking for some company on all or part of your trip, G Adventures is a responsible tour company and has group tours in The Baltics for 11 days with prices starting at £1399 including Latvia, Finland, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Accommodation in the Baltics
I stayed at Centre Stay Hostel in Vilnius, Lithuania, which, to be honest, wasn't that great. If you are heading to Vilnius I would definitely recommend Fabrika Hostel instead which is in a great location and popular with solo travellers.
In Riga, Latvia, I stayed in the coolest hostel called Seagulls Garret Hostel. It was in a pretty part of the city and within walking distance from a supermarket which had an amazing salad bar. It was really sociable and I managed to get a big group of us together to check out the Latvian nightlife.
Tallinn in Estonia has lots of hostels and again I picked a not-very-good one to stay in which had long-term residents living there (they are always a bit hit and miss). But I did visit The Monk's Bunk Party Hostel for their bar crawl. This hostel was incredibly sociable (hence the name ‘party hostel') and although I did feel a little bit old, it was great for those who wanted to party. (I imagine it can be a bit noisy though).
Have you ever been to the Baltics?
wow not far from the UK at all, Looks great, I’ll have to make a trip that way.
All three Baltic countries are for sure worth a visit, they got a lot of similarities, but are at the same time really different. 🙂
Definitely. Thanks Jesper 🙂
Hi, may I know how many days you took to travel all 3 countries? Thanks!
Hi Syu, I spent 9 days and just saw all 3 capitals. The buses are good and only took about 4 hours between each one 🙂
Thank you for your quick reply! Do you think it is possible to see each capital in a day?
Yes definitely 🙂
We made a similar trip but went north to south, went by coach too which was fast, cheap and very comfy (TV screens on the back of seats and wifi!). The cities are historical and fascinating, but if people have time I’d definitely recommend trips out to the stunning countryside like Sigulda and Lahemma.
Thanks Steve 🙂
I am travelling alone to the Baltic state form the UK.i would like to know about the transport in lithuania. Is there a tourist pass or did you buy the ticket for bus or train when you need it ? Also where did you buy the ticket from ?
Hi Fen, I booked though Euro Lines. Here’s their website http://www.eurolines.com/en/countries/lithuania/
How long to do your recommend spending in each city or in the Baltics in general?
Hi Olivia, I spent 9 days and just visited each capital. I would say at least 3/4 days in each country or more if you wanted to venture outside the capital.
Great article, would be interested in travelling the Baltics myself sometime next year.
I booked a cruise to 6 Baltic countries next month. Downside is only one day in each place and several excursions from which to choose. I’m wondering if the organized excursions are worth the time and money; e.g. it sounds like just wandering around Tallinn would be the best bet. Any thoughts/suggestions on what to see/do in Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, Helsingborg, Goteborg? I’m 80 so not able to do the “strenuous” activities. Thanks for your help…
They offer free walking tours in some cities which last for about 3 hours. I definitely recommend this is Tallinn. I took the tram around Helsinki and did my own tour taking photos out the window of the city.
I’m really happy that more and more tourists are choosing to visit my home country. For those who are planning their trip, I would recommend to see not only our capital Vilnius, but other sights that are in smaller towns or even villages. Lithuania is beautiful not for its cities for sure. You can take a look at this website http://www.gotolithuania.com which can be really helpful before visiting Lithuania 🙂
Hello dear. Great read, first of all. Are there taxis in the Baltic? Or touring around the cities can be easily done by foot? Thank you!
Hi, I think there are taxis. You can explore the capital cities by foot though as they are not that large.
I’m planning a trip to the Baltics this summer, primarily Lithuania (family heritage and all that). The other two capitals have to be kind of quicker stops- would you recommend spending more time in Riga or in Tallin?
Hi Caitlyn, they are both really nice cities. You only need a couple of days for both of them. If I had to say one or the other I would say Tallin. Have an amazing time x
I woukd like to visit the Baltics this summer, but do you think that would it be safe for a solo traveler (girl)????
Hi Mar, definitley. I loved the Baltics and it felt really safe x
Hi guys im doing the 3 capitals in november im really interested in ww2 topics is there anything i should look out for?
Thanks for the great article. I’m going to the Baltics for a month next April. Is there any hostels that aren’t party hostes you can recommend? Could you suggest any places outside of the capital cities in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia?