A new and distinct European travel experience abounds in the Baltics budding with tourism
A new and distinct European travel experience abounds in the Baltics budding with tourism. Discover a natural bounty of cultural riches in the forests and lakes that cover endless stretches of countryside.
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First-timers should aim for the capitals
All three have historic city centres, and are beautiful in strikingly different ways
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, the largest and most southerly of the three Baltic republics, the only inland Baltic capital, lies in a leafy bowl on the confluence of two rivers.
Its Old Town is warm and mellow: with ochre-coloured houses, wrought-iron shop signs, extravagant baroque buildings and an enticing labyrinth of inner courtyards, it’s less commercial and more bohemian than its northern counterparts.
Riga is capital of Latvia. Riga’s Old Town is also pretty, but the city’s main strengths are its lively nightlife and the astonishing concentration of Jugendstil buildings. Riga regaining the vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that moved Hemingway to call it, with remarkable lack of imagination, the “Paris of the North“.
Estonian capital Tallinn, once a member of the Hanseatic League, is thoroughly modern in outlook, but it’s also one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world, with a spiky skyline, orange-topped castle towers and pastel-coloured houses.
The wooded upper town has an uplifting, airy feel, with dreamy sea views and seagulls wheeling over the ramparts.
The capitals are good bases for day or overnight trips
From Vilnius, visit Kaunas, the elegant second city (home to the Museum of Devils), or the windswept Hill of Crosses, in Siauliai; a moving testament to resistance: it was repeatedly bulldozed by the Soviets, but courageous Lithuanians kept rebuilding the mound.
From Riga, take a trip to the medieval ruins of Sigulda Castle, the 18th-century Rundale Palace or the Jewish memorial at Salaspils, where giant sculptures commemorate the thousands murdered there by the Nazis.
Estonia‘s second city, the largely neoclassical university town of Tartu, is seen by many Estonians as the nation’s spiritual capital.
It was also the site of the country’s first song festival, held to celebrate the abolition of serfdom in 1869.
For a more exotic experience, go east to the shores of Lake Peipus, Europe’s fifth-largest, to see the villages where persecuted Old Believers fleeing Russia found refuge in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cruise the splendid Baltic Sea coastline
Tour the wonders of the Islet of Neringa, The Estonian archipelago, and The Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Look for pebbles of golden amber on the coast and then follow the Amber Road to Venice.
Marvel in the medieval ramparts, the world’s preeminent collection of art nouveau architecture, and a rich crossroads of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings in the region’s proud capitals.
Surround yourself with exotic languages, a history of merchant cultures and burgeoning tourist experiences.