The Baltics Uncovered

Fairytale castles, Gothic architecture and folk traditions; the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania offer a glimpse into a Europe that has long disappeared elsewhere.

This two-week Baltic tour travels from the northern city of Tallinn, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, through layers of history to Lithuania, once a European powerhouse and now emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. We explore the exceptionally well preserved medieval centres of the three capitals, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, with their numerous examples of churches, merchants’ houses and guildhalls. As we wander through the cobbled streets and narrow alleys we’ll soak up the atmosphere of a bygone era.

On the tiny island of Kihnu we spend time in a rural fishing community where people still wear traditional dress. We also discover the unique bog landscapes of Lahemaa National Park.

On the Latvian coast we visit the seaside town of Jurmala. This was once a favourite with Soviet dignitaries, brimming with character. Spend the night in a grand manor house in the style of the old nobility.

Moving on to Lithuania we stop at the ‘hill of crosses’, a potent symbol of Lithuanian nationalism and resistance. Here we visit a local winery to sample unusual local produce, and explore the sand dunes and villages of the Curonian Spit.

On our Baltic Uncovered tour, we visit old castles, beautiful monasteries and explore some of Europe’s most unique landscapes, learning about the forces that have shaped the region over time, as well as gaining an insight into the Baltics today. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were little known for many years, seen as part of the Communist monolith that was Soviet Russia. But this journey uncovers their rich cultural heritage and traditions, that seldom fail to enchant those who visit.

Estonia itinerary

Highlights

  • Explore the medieval cities of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius
  • Meet the locals on the laid back island of Kihnu
  • Explore the landscapes of the Curonian Spit
  • Visit the traditional fishing village of Altja

Day 1 - Tallinn

Arrive in Tallinn and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Hotel Bern or similar.


Day 2 - Tallinn

Spend the morning discovering the sites of Tallinn. We explore the charming Old Town including the picturesque district of Toompea, the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the Gothic architecture of the Town Hall and the KGB museum, for an understanding of Estonia under Soviet rule. The afternoon is free for you to wander at your leisure. Overnight Hotel Bern or similar. (B)

Tallinn
Dating back to the 12th century, Tallinn has a rich and varied history. It is thought to have been founded by Danish invaders, and has been conquered by many over the years, including the Swedes, Russians and the German Teutonic Knights, a sect of warrior monks which played a huge role in the history of the Baltic region.

Today Tallinn is a bustling, gleaming city of more than 400,000 inhabitants. However, among the tall glassy buildings and corporate headquarters, Tallinn retains an inner charm seldom found elsewhere. Estonia considers itself a Northern European/Nordic country, with very close ethnic, linguistic and cultural ties to Finland  and cultural ties to Scandinavia, and within Tallinn you will find a mix of at least three architectures in this very visual city – old Europe (with its rustic buildings and colourful wooden houses), Soviet brutalist (concrete apartment blocks), and modern Europe.

The city’s main attraction is its well preserved Old Town, packed with medieval era buildings and churches. The most notable of these are the 15th century Town Hall, the House of Blackheads and the Pikk Hermann tower, but wandering through the quaint narrow streets will reward you with numerous examples of impressive buildings and monuments wherever you go – Tallinn is perhaps one of the best medieval cities in Europe.

Day 3 - Lahemaa National Park

Heading out of the city we drive to Lahemaa National Park, on the Baltic Coast. The park takes in a long stretch of deeply indented coast with several peninsulas and more than a dozen lakes and numerous rivers and waterfalls. Explore the park via a boardwalk trail through the bogs, and visit the well preserved Palmse Manor and the traditional fishing village of Altja. Return to Tallin in the evening. Overnight Hotel Bern or similar. (B)


Day 4 - Kihnu

Drive south to the coast, then take the ferry to the island community of Kihnu. Old Estonian customs are still important here, with many people wearing traditional dress, and the island has been listed by UNESCO on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. We spend the rest of the day exploring its small villages and learning about the island’s unique culture. We stay overnight in a local family run guesthouse. (BD)

Kihnu
While many tours visit the larger island of Saaremaa – undoubtedly beautiful – we prefer the much smaller and low key island of Kihnu, a few kilometres off Estonia’s south east coast and with a population of just 600 or so. Here the pace of life is delightfully slow, and it feels a few decades behind the mainland, so it’s a good place to get to grips with Estonian customs that are all too easily hidden by the pace of the modern world. The main sources of income here are farming and fishing.

Day 5 - Viljandi - Tartu

Return to the mainland and drive to Viljandi, with its medieval castle ruins and quaint wooden architecture. From here continue to Tartu, where we visit the historic university and explore the town centre on foot. Overnight Pallas Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 6 - Cesis

This morning we visit the National Museum, learning about the history of Estonia and its people, then head south and cross the border into Latvia. Our destination is the town of Cesis, the gateway to Gauja National Park. Overnight Hotel Cesis or similar. (B)


Day 7 - Gauja National Park - Riga

Visit Gauja National Park, situated in a wooded valley and dotted with numerous caves, along the Gauja River. We explore the park itself and the reconstructed medieval castle of Turaida, as well as some traditional workshops making crafts from leather and amber, a speciality in this area. Continue to Riga for the night. Overnight Opera Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Riga

Spend the morning exploring Riga, in particular its historic Old Town with buildings dating back to the 13th century such as the Dome church, medieval houses and the Swedish Gate, the original entrance to the city. We then visit the lively market at Kalnciema with its fresh local produce and typical handicrafts, and finish with a visit to the Art Nouveau district with its distinctive architecture. The rest of the day is free to explore at your leisure. Overnight Opera Hotel or similar. (B)

Riga
Riga began to develop as a centre of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages, but the modern city was founded around the 12th century when German warrior monks – the ‘Knights of the Sword’ – arrived to convert the surrounding pagan tribes to Christianity. In the 13th century it became a member of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant towns in northern Europe, and over the course of history was conquered by Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles and Russian forces.

Riga is sometimes called the ‘Paris of the North’ as it has one of the biggest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. Art Nouveau did not prevail in Riga for a long period of time but managed to leave behind exceptionally striking examples of architecture. The Old Town of Riga contains some exceptional examples of medieval buildings, and like Tallinn also has a ‘House of the Blackheads’ – the Blackheads were a powerful group of merchants in the Baltic region. The guildhalls, Dome church and famously the ‘Three Brothers’ – old houses with remarkable facades – are just a few of the exceptional old buildings to be found here. Riga seems to be made for casual exploration, and it’s very easy to spend a few hours pleasantly lost in its cobbled streets.

Day 9 - Jurmala - Mazmezotne

Drive to Jurmala, a pretty seaside resort with wooden Art Nouveau villas and a long sandy beach. We visit Kemeri National Park, exploring its bog landscapes by an extensive boardwalk and observation platform for panoramic views. Continue to Mazmezotne, a renovated manor house on the banks of the Lielupe River, where we spend the night. (B)


Day 10 - Siauliai - Klaipeda

Visit the grand Baroque palace of Rundale, before crossing the border into Lithuania. Our first stop is Siauliai and it’s ‘hill of crosses’ where thousands of crosses have been planted, originally as a symbol of Lithuanian nationalism against foreign rule. Continue to Klaipeda where we see its German and Scandinavian wooden houses and explore its historic quarter. Overnight Amberton Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 11 - Curonian Spit

Today we explore the Curonian Spit, heading to the pretty village of Nida. This is an area of sand dunes and pines, one of Lithuania’s most enigmatic landscapes, and we explore via the boardwalks and observation deck. We also explore Nida itself, visiting its old cemetery, and the Hill of Witches at Joudkrante, with sculptures depicting characters from Lithuanian folklore. Overnight Amberton Hotel or similar. (B)

Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit is an outstanding example of a sand dune landscape, and is under constant threat from natural forces (wind and tide). After disastrous human interventions that menaced its survival, the Spit was reclaimed by massive protection and stabilization works begun in the 19th century and still continuing to the present day. The Spit is a peninsula that separates the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon for 98 km from the Kaliningrad Peninsula to the town of Klaipeda. The Curonian Spit is home to the highest moving sand dunes in Europe, with an average height of 35 metres but sometimes reaching 60 metres. Several different ecosystems exist here, from its outer beaches to dune ridges, wetlands, meadows, and forests. Its location means it is frequently visited by migratory waterfowl, and wildlife here includes deer and wild boar. Between 10 and 20 million birds fly over the feature during spring and autumn migrations, and many pause to rest or breed there.

Day 12 - Kaunas

Visit the Vilkenta winery to sample its wares, made from local specialities such as dandelion, cherries, honey and other fruits. After lunch here drive to Kaunas and visit the Ninth Fort, used by both the Nazis and the Soviets, now a museum. We also visit the 13th century castle and the beautiful Pazaislis monastery. Overnight Kaunas City Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 13 - Vilnius

Drive to Vilnius, stopping at the Rumsiskes open air museum along the way to see its collection of traditional buildings and exhibits on village life – a snapshot of Lithuania’s yesteryear. Overnight Hotel Panorama or similar. (B)

Vilnius
The capital of Lithuania and home to around half a million people, Vilnius is another of the Baltics’ great medieval cities, and one of the largest of its kind in Europe. This is heaven for history enthusiasts – over a thousand monuments can be find within its boundaries, with a mixture of styles ranging from Baroque to Gothic to Renaissance.

It has always been an ethnically mixed city, with Poles, Slavs and Germans as well as Lithuanians making up the population here, although most of the Polish population was expelled by Stalin after the Second World War. Before the war, Vilnius had an extensive Jewish population – its conquest by the Nazis resulted in the formation of a Jewish ghetto, from which few eventually survived.

Day 14 - Vilnius - Trakai

Spend the morning exploring Vilnius and its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of he largest medieval town centres in Europe. In the afternoon head to the stunningly picturesque castle at Trakai, dating back to the 14th century and situated on an island in a lake. Return to Vilnius for the evening. Overnight Hotel Panorama or similar. (B)


Day 15 - Vilnius

Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)


Historic street in Tallinn - Estonia tours and Holidays
Historic centre of Vilnius - Liithuania Holidays and Tours
Women in traditional dress on Kihnu Island - Estonia holidays and tours

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

     

  • Guides

    In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most nationalities, including UK, EU and US travellers, do not need visas for these countries. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

All three countries use the Euro as currency.

It’s not difficult to change money here if you need to, either at banks, exchange booths or the hotels and your guide can assist with this.

When to go

With its northerly location, the best time to visit the Baltic countries is without a doubt in the summer, from May to August. Temperatures are their best here – although it can still be a little cool – and you avoid the dreary rain and snow of winter. In midsummer you can also experience the ‘white nights’, when the sun barely dips below the horizon and it doesn’t quite get dark.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. The Baltic countries have come a long way since leaving the Soviet Union, but still a few things are catching up.  Travelling requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not always be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to any of the parts of these countries.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Historic street in Tallinn - Estonia tours and Holidays
Historic centre of Vilnius - Liithuania Holidays and Tours
Women in traditional dress on Kihnu Island - Estonia holidays and tours
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
26 June 2021
Price (PP) -
£2,599
Single Supplement -
£400
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
25 June 2022
Price (PP) -
£2,599
Single Supplement -
£400
Trip Status -
Available