It’s time to explore the Baltics

Baltic travel

Going beyond Norway, it's time to explore the Baltic countries.

I've spent three years exploring Norway and the Nordics, taking in such places and sights as Bergen, the Flåm Railway, the northern lights, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. I've ventured further afield to Tenerife, taken several trips back to the UK, and even hopped across the pond to Minneapolis. But one region that's completely escaped my attention is the Baltics – until now.

Having said that, the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – have been on my to-do list for years. Much like the Nordic countries, each of the Baltic states has its own history, culture, language and customs.

Although I know the basics (Estonia is closely aligned to Finland, for example), I'm really looking forward to finding out more for myself. With cheap flights galore to all three capitals – Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn – there's no excuse for not checking out the other side of northern Europe in 2014. Off we go..!

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Estonia

The adventure kicks off next weekend with a visit to Tallinn. I'm taking the new Estonian Air flight direct from Trondheim to Tallinn and spending the weekend there. Not enough time to fully explore a country of course, but enough time to get a feel for its capital. I've been recommended / warned about the cobbled streets of the old town, so sturdy shoes are the first item going in my backpack! Others have recommended the communist museum and various bars.

When I travel solo – as I will be to Tallinn – I take a very different approach. I like to spend entire days wandering nowhere in particular, almost getting lost on purpose, rather than ticking off the tourist sights. By taking this approach I always find interesting streets, people, museums and parks, all helping me to better understand the local way of life.

Update: read  my postcard from Tallinn.

Riga, Latvia

Riga Latvia

To the south of Tallinn is the Latvian capital Riga. Me and Gerry are heading here in April after snapping up super-cheap flights, again direct from Trondheim. What I know about Riga is this:

  • The city has a lot of Art Nouveau architecture, much like Ålesund
  • It has the liveliest nightlife of the three capitals
  • It's popular with British stag and hen parties

This could go either way!

Update: read my postcard from Tallinn.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania

Gerry came back from a conference in Lithuania a few years ago raving about the country, so there's been a vague plan in my mind to return ever since. The old town of the capital Vilnius looks beautiful and I get the impression it will be the most unspoilt of the three capitals, with local culture prevailing over tourist traps. Am I completely wrong?

Also on the list for Lithuania is the second-largest city Kaunas, a city that's quite literally been “through the wars”. I don't have a date set for Lithuania yet, but I'll be watching out for cheap flights so it could well end up being a last minute thing.

Tips and recommendations

I'm interested in hearing from you about any great local restaurants, interesting bars, and quirky museums. Given that I live in one of the most expensive countries in the world, I'd also like to know if any goods are particularly cheap and therefore worth shopping for in the Baltic states…

So, over to you!

Photo credits: XisPicsPaula Soler-MoyaStephen Downes, Mamuff

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

2 Comments

  1. im so glad you’re getting to explore this part of the world. its one of my favorites for sure 😉

    i dont really have tallinn tips and my vilnius tips are limited, despite spending over 2 weeks collectively there…but i do know some riga tips.

    my favorite street is miera iela. it is outside the city center and has some cool cafes and restaurants there. https://www.facebook.com/Mieriela. i had a really good georgian/armenian meal at a place there called ‘aragats’. not sure if its still open (they dont do social media or websites), but it exists. the dolma are to die for. you can also sometimes smell the chocolate factory, laima, from this area. or a few streets over 🙂 its divine.

    i also really like walking along elizabetes iela. its a very beautiful street w/ amazing architecture. a lot of embassies are located here and its quite international. there is a bar/cafe there called the flying frog cafe. i really like the place. 🙂 http://www.flying-frog.lv/

    kind of close to here is andrejsala. it is a very industrial area of riga that is slowly building itself up into an artsy area. there is a restaurant here called koya that i ate at and it was really delicious and offered beautiful views of the water and cruise ships. i highly recommend it. close to it is also the museum of naive art. very hipsterish. i never went inside but prob will when i go back.

    on the other side of the train and bus station is the spikeri district. http://spikeri.lv/en it is a musical/pub/culture area. it is really cool if you hit it at the right time! good bars and live music venues 🙂 it is newer to the area and was only there on my last trip to riga, none of the trips before. be careful around this area late at night as it is located around some sketchy neighborhoods if you go the wrong way. but spikeri itself is safe.

    i really enjoyed this restaurant called international SV. not in the main part of the city at all, but it had really good soups and appetizers. staff was also super friendly when i was there (and they had wifi lol) https://www.facebook.com/SVInternational

    as for the city center (old riga)….i dont really know as much specifically, but its easy to walk around and get lost and drink and eat. a lot of the restaurants are SUPER overpriced and touristy and not that great. id steer clear of many of them. but i would try lido. lido is a cafeteria style place that doesnt have the worlds best food, but its cheap and is totally a riga institution. http://lido.lv/eng/ i would def try for lunch one day just for the experience and to say youve eaten there 🙂 they have locations in minsk i ate at too 🙂 it offers a very old fashioned sovietesque experience and is a good way to try a lot of latvian dishes at once w/out paying too much. as for drinks in the city center, i just kind of stop in every place and have one and leave. the only place i really remember was called mojo cafe https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mojo-Cafe/334020529385 because i spent a lot of time in there doing a business call for some assignments i was working on. it was good service and quiet in the day, but had really good pizza if i recall….

    best views of riga are here: http://www.skylinebar.lv/

    for a true taste of the baltics, try cili pica (pizza place). i think there are a few. if you cant find them in riga, they def have some in vilnius too. its not the worlds best pizza, but is a very baltic experience and something to eat if you get tired of latvian food 🙂

    a suggested day trip would be to go to jurmala. it is around 30 min by train from riga and right on teh baltic sea. its pretty and offers a really unique historical atmosphere. the area was the resort place for the soviet elite. i went during winter, so it didnt look as pretty as it normally would im sure 🙂 its a cool morning trip or afternoon trip depending on your amount of time in riga. http://www.meganstarr.com/2013/02/spending-an-afternoon-by-the-sea-in-jurmala-latvia.html

    hmmm….that is all i can think of now 🙂 let me know if you need any more tips or would like people to be put in touch with 🙂 hope you love this region as much as i do!

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