We’ve been writing plenty about Moscow, St Petersburg, Trans-Siberian rail and many other fascinating places in Russia. But just before you cross the border, there are the three countries that could easily be named the most underrated travel destinations in Europe.
What are the Baltic states? Where are the Baltic states? Do their people speak Russian? What follows is a list of useful facts that will for sure make you want to check out the three countries for yourself.
What are Baltic States?
The Baltic States is a geopolitical term used for three sovereign states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The 3 countries do not form an official union but certainly have much in common. All three countries are also members of the European Union, NATO and the eurozone.
What about the language? To be fair, it’s not difficult to see why people tend to think everybody speaks Russian. The Baltic states were part of the Russian cultural space for a long time and the older generation still speak Russian fluently, having grown up during the Soviet times. The 3 countries do have their own respective languages: Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian, but English is so well spread that you will have no problem to communicate at all.
Where are Baltic States and how to get there?
Baltic States are located in Northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Budget airlines Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air fly numerous routes from Ireland and the UK to the Baltics, including departures from many small regional airports. But for those wishing to see a bit more of the region, the Tallink ferry offers comfortable and fast connections with Sweden and Finland…and from there just a quick trip to Russia’s St Petersburg!
And how to travel within the Baltic States? The region is well served by buses; direct bus services link the three capitals and there are other cross-border services between main towns. If you plan to visit Russia afterwards, you can get there by ferry with a change in Helsinki and you’ll visit St Petersburg visa free! But if you are planning to get to Moscow as well, we recommend an overnight sleeper train from Riga. Remember to get a Russian visa before travel though!
Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius? Who's Who of Baltic capitals...
Let’s admit, we all get a bit confused when it comes to the Baltic capitals!
Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay
Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, is mostly known for its architecture. The city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town offers an inviting mix of gothic, renaissance and baroque works, all set within picturesque cobblestone streets. Aside from the rare architectural beauty, the pebbly streets are pure delight to wander through, getting lost and finding yourself in one of the many bars hiding in almost every corner.
Walking around, you can uncover centuries of the Jewish history and find yourself in a country within a city! The creative neighbourhood of Užupis declared itself an independent republic in 1997 and you can now have your passport stamped in the Užupis Information Centre.
You can also discover the city from the Hill of Crosses, a monument to a group of martyred monks; it offers a spectacular panorama!
And just half an hour away from Vilnius you’ll find yourself in a fairy tale with the magnificent island castle at Trakai. The surrounding forest is also part of the small national park and offers a perfect natural detox.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the largest of all three Baltic capitals. Famous for the architecture of its old town, Riga also boasts one of the largest markets in Europe. With the massive Central Market offering Latvian food such as smoked meat and fish, black bread, cheese, and honey you will be amazed at the freshness and diversity of the local produce.
Image by 680451 from Pixabay
Just outside the city is the beautiful Jurmala with its sandy beach; perfect for a short break from city sightseeing.
You will get a chance to discover your wild side with a trip to Ķemeri National Park and the Gauja National Park, the latter one offering one of the best local walks taking in the remains of three medieval castles and a large cave, completely covered with graffiti dating back to the 16th century.
For those interested in history, Rundāle Palace, often called ‘the Versailles of the Baltic’, is an absolute must see.
Last but not least, Tallinn, the proud capital of Estonia, is a magical place where the past and the future meet. The legacy of Middle ages and the Soviet Era will amaze you during long strolls along the cobblestones streets. Tallinn’s old town, peppered with spires, domes and turrets will amaze you; and a stone’s throw away you’ll find the city’s business centre with modern towers and luxurious hotels, trendy neighbourhoods and large shopping centres.
Image by Nick Tomlinson from Pixabay
The city is very easy to access, being the first point of entry to Estonia for most visitors. Its alluring coastline is dotted with promenades and sandy beaches and especially rewarding during the summer but offers charming views of the iconic cityscape throughout the year.
There are many sites to be seen in Estonia; medieval castles, quirky museums… but what must be the highlight of the visit is the Lahemaa National park, 70 km east from the capital. Lahemaa is perfect for a hiking trip and nature watching and can be easily done in a one day trip from Tallinn.