The Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – sit isolated right up in the northern most part of mainland Europe, undiscovered by most of the world… or so it once was. These days the Baltics are a massive destination for city stays, stag dos, beach breaks and a cultural hub for traditional music and dance.
Five of our favourite things about the Baltics
Despite the growing tourist numbers there are still some out of the way gems and natural beauties to be discovered – and here’s our pick of five of the best.
The biggest city in the Baltics and an essential trade port since the time of the Vikings, Riga has suffered a little in recent years from its reputation as a stag location. Don’t judge a city by its stags though – there’s much more to Riga than cheap booze (though admittedly that is a draw). Check out the fantastic Central Market – the biggest in Europe where you can find anything edible across five massive halls.
Despite being the capital of Estonia, Tallinn has a less than half a million inhabitants (around the size of Bristol). What it lacks in people power, however, it makes up for in beautiful medieval buildings (including castles, monasteries, churches and ‘Fat Margret’s tower’), dozens of art galleries, and an emerging restaurant scene. If you’re feeling brave you can even chow down on bear!
Chow down on bear (seriously) in Tallin
Hill of Crosses
On a hillside in northern Lithuania stands the Hill of Crosses – a massive jumble of well over 100,000 (at last count, 7 years ago!) crosses, crucifixes, statues and memorials. What began as a rebellion against Russian occupation has developed into a monument to the determination of Lithuanians to remain independent and a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Catholics every year.
Be a part of an icon of determination at the Hill of Crosses
Gauja National Park
Over half of Latvia is covered by forests and one of the best spots to explore it from is Gauja National Park. The largest national park in Latvia, Gauja is riddled with walking trails, historical settlements and even boasts a bobsleigh track and toboggan. Though the area is popular in summer, arguably the best time to visit is early autumn with temperatures still in double digits (just) and the leaves turning golden as the days pass.
Lose yourself in Latvia's largest national park
From the Fire and Ice festival in Riga to the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival to Lithuania’s Sea Festival, there’s an event on the calendar to suit every interest. Travel around the summer solstice and you can catch Jani, the biggest seasonal celebration in Latvia where fires are stoked from sunset to sunrise and beer is consumed in huge quantities to welcome in the summer. Sounds alright to us.
Join the celebrations at the Riga City Festival