With its perfectly preserved medieval wall and watchtowers, Tallinn’s quaint Old Town is a great place to explore on foot.. Explore 13th-century Turaida Castle on a guided tour, then wander through pristine woodlands and along the winding Guaja River.. Aukstaitija National Park offers unique opportunities for both action and relaxation. Kayak across pristine lakes, indulge in home-cooked meals or cleanse yourself in a traditional sauna.. Cycle along the endless dunes and stunning beaches of Lithuania’s Curonian Spit National Park on a full-day bike tour, making a visit to charming Nida village.
Experience the diverse delights of the Baltic states on this adventurous journey through Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. From the medieval spires of Tallinn and the funky bars of Riga to the Baroque-styled quirks of Vilnius, hidden delights await. Visit colourful markets, be immersed in art and architecture and kayak Lithuanian lakes. Join us and discover the rich history and fascinating customs of this region on our journey from Helsinki to Vilnius.
Breakfast Included: 11 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included: 2
Welcome to Helsinki, Finland! Your tour kicks off with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. If in the city early, maybe check out the magnificent Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Senate Square or catch a performance at the National Theatre. You may want to consider purchasing the Helsinki Card – which is both an economical way to travel on Helsinki City Transport (HKL) services and free admission to the main Helsinki sights and nearly 50 museums.
Leave Helsinki after breakfast and catch a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to the Estonian capital of Tallinn (approximately 3 hours). Arrive mid-afternoon, check into your hotel and start your time here with a short orientation walk through the city. The rest of your day is then free to enjoy this exceptionally preserved medieval city and all it has to offer. Perhaps head out and enjoy some of the region's culinary specialties or stop for a drink and people watching on the main square. With its steep red roofs, spires, pastel-coloured buildings and new restaurants and bars, Estonia's capital is a real treat to explore. Seeing the vibrant streets of Tallinn now, it's difficult to fathom that Soviet occupation only ended in 1991.
Today is free to do as you wish, but an exploration of the Old Town is recommended. Located here is the last remaining gothic town hall in northern Europe, Old Thomas; the Raapteek, which has housed a pharmacy since the 15th century; and St Olaf Church, a major landmark of Tallinn. You can head towards Upper Tallinn, home to the noble families, to see amazing views of Lower Tallinn and the medieval spires of the town walls. The 13th-century Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament sits, and the 19th-century orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are some of the main attractions of Upper Tallinn. Alternatively, you could head to Pirita to chill out at Tallinn's most popular beach, or visit Kadriorg Palace, a palace built by czar Peter the Great for his second wife Catherine I. Make sure you spend some time in the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. Or perhaps head to the Kalamaja district, with it's well-preserved streets lined with colourful wooden houses.
Tallinn / Riga
Spend the morning in Tallinn and visit any sites you missed yesterday. Depart by bus after lunch, cross the border and arrive in the Latvian capital of Riga in the early evening. The 4-hour journey is a good chance to take a nap or relax with a podcast. Riga is renowned for its welcoming locals and a fascinating art nouveau heritage. Tonight, perhaps grab a drink at one of the many bars in the Old Town after you’ve settled into your lodgings.
Sigulda / Riga
Travel by public transport to Sigulda, a pretty town with medieval history that backs onto Gauja National Park. Take the cablecar across the river to Turaida Castle, which began construction in 1214 and is made from striking red bricks. Take a guided tour and then explore the castle grounds which feature sculptures set in evergreen woodland. Take a hike along the winding Gauja River with your leader, taking in the clear air and thick Latvian forest. Return to Riga in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day as you please.
Today you will finally get the chance to explore your base for the past two nights, beautiful Riga. Take an orientation tour and see the Doma Cathedral, St Peter's Basilica, House of Blackheads, the Swedish Gate, The Great Guild & Small Guild and the Cat House. There is nothing scheduled for the rest of the day, so you are free to explore at your own pace. Perhaps pay a visit to The Museum of Occupation of Latvia, which offers insight into the hardships suffered by Latvians during its occupation by, first, the Germans and, later, the Soviets. The Central Market Halls are a great place to haggle for supplies for a picnic lunch if it takes your fancy. Make sure you give the bitter but reputedly healthy Riga Black Balsam a try. The recipe is secret, but it contains rare ingredients such as Valerian, Wormwood, Black Pepper, Ginger, Gentian and Linden flower.
Siauliai / Klaipeda
Set off by private bus after breakfast and cross the border into Lithuania. After a stop at the famous Hill of Crosses at Siauliai, continue onto the former Prussian city of Klaipeda (approximately 6 hours in total), the city of sculptures and jazz. Klaipeda used to be a member of the Hanseatic League and is the gateway to the Curonian Spit – a long and narrow sand dune peninsula separating the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Upon arrival check into our local family-owned guesthouse, then head out to the waterfront and explore the Old Town centre, which features 18th-century wooden buildings and other historic monuments.
Curonian Spit National Park / Klaipeda
Today, take a day trip to explore the unique World Heritage-listed Curonian Spit National Park – the second-oldest national park in the former Soviet Union. This is a spectacular landscape full of beaches, sand dunes and forested areas. The peninsula is only 400 metres wide in parts but 98 kilometres long. It formed only 5000 years ago by strong winds and currents which constantly change the shape of the landscape to this day. Only recently a whole village was swallowed by the inexorable sand. According to legend, the spit was formed by the girl giant Neringa, who poured sand into the Baltic Sea to protect the bay from storms and create an embankment for fishermen to live. On our day trip you will explore the tiny village of Nida and the surrounding beaches by bike. Look in the distance to see the Russian border, and learn about amber, which has been mined here since the 19th century. Spot the rather unique attribute of the area, the weather vanes. Each village has its own unique design. For lunch, perhaps try the smoked pike for which the spit is famous.
Aukstaitija National Park
After breakfast, travel by a mix of private transport and local trains to the town of Ignalina (approximately 6 hours) and then on to Aukstaitija (pronounced owk-sty-chee-ah) National Park and the charming village of Ginuciai where our home stay is located. As one of the most delightful national parks in the Baltic states, Aukstaitija has 126 lakes, an abundance of waterways, hills and woods. Enjoy the hospitality and home-cooking of our host family for the next two days.
Aukstaitija National Park
This morning you will take a guided kayak ride through the lakes and rivers, past villages and through forests, to an ancient pagan site on top of a hill with a wishing tree. The top affords great views across the surrounding forests and lakes. The rest of the day is free to visit some of the local attractions, such as the nearby villages that date from the 14th century and consist of traditional wooden houses and farmsteads. The 19th-century Ginuciai Watermill is another point of interest. You can hike to some glorious lookouts, do some fishing, take a swim in the lake or river rapids, or just relax. Perhaps ask our host family to fire up the sauna for the ultimate relaxation and cleansing experience.
Continue your journey today by local train to the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius (approximately 4 hours). Having once been occupied by Sweden, Poland, France and Russia, each occupier has left its mark in some way on this picturesque city. Vilnius offers a different picture of the Baltics than Riga and Tallinn, but it’s every bit as interesting. On arrival, take an orientation walk with your leader that covers Cathedral Square and its free-standing belfry an the length of pedestrianised Pilies Gatve, lined by baroque churches. The rest of the day is free. A definite must is a visit to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, previously called the Museum of Genocide Victims and better known under the name KGB Museum, as it is located in the former KGB headquarters of Vilnius. If you’d like a break from Vilnius’ historic monuments, maybe take a walk through some of the charming gardens around the city. Perhaps visit the ‘republic’ of Uzupis. This inner-city quarter declared independence from Lithuania in 1997 and has statue of Frank Zappa.
Your Baltic Experience comes to an end today. Have the time to stay on and dive deeper in Vilnius? An Urban Adventure is the perfect way to see the city through local eyes. Check out urbanadventures.com/destination/Vilnius-tours for information.