Help me plan some amazing Baltic summer travel.
June 8, 2009 3:49 AM   Subscribe

TravelFilter: Trying to plan a 1-monthish trip through the Baltics.

I'm hoping to spend about a month travelling through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania this summer. I'm planning to fly into Tallinn in mid/late July (somewhere around the 18th), and spend a month travelling south--passing through Warsaw to visit a friend, and ending up in Budapest for St. Stephen's Day on 20 August.

I don't know much about the Baltics, and am looking primarily for travel suggestions--where to go, what to see, etc., for someone who's more into culture and environment than partying and shopping. Any recommendations on transport and general travel tips would be appreciated as well.
posted by the luke parker fiasco to Travel & Transportation around Baltic, OH (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just off the top of mye head:

All three capitals have old city centres (Riga's my favourite), and there are left a load of palaces from old occupants. Rundale is the one I know best, built in the 1730s. Lithuania's Hill of Crosses is unique.

All three contries have a very strong singing and choir tradition, so try to catch a few concerts to sample the local flavour. Crafts like ceramics and textiles are widespread, some artisans will allow you to watch.

The locals enjoy their beer, and a lot of different types are brewed. Lido in Latvia serve a good approximation of Latvian traditional food at very reasonable prices.

People might seem a bit gruff, but are open and hospitable once you get to know them a little. Trying the language can't hurt. Your English will not help you everywhere. Most grown-ups understand Russian, but try English first, and your attempts at Russian will be better received (if you speak it)!
posted by Harald74 at 4:30 AM on June 8, 2009

Helsinki is worth a quick visit from Tallinn- it's about 90 minutes away by ferry. Tallinn-Riga is easy by bus, not sure about other means of transport.

Tallinn's a good town for wandering, but not very big. Two days is probably enough for the city itself. People I met along the way had very good things to say about Saareema. Hell Hund is a good pub in the old town. Kompressor does good value meals too.

Riga is good fun, their's plenty to do. Go for a wander around the Art Nouveau area to the east of the old town, there are some gorgeous buildings there. The central markets are fun- where else are you going to see a zeppelin hangar full of raw meat? Keep an eye out for organ recitals at Riga Dom. Jurmala is worth half a day too. Lido is indeed alright for a cheap feed.

The museum of the occupations in Riga is well worth a visit.

The Riga Cityspy map is handy.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:45 AM on June 8, 2009

Lithuania: Vilnius has a unique KGB museum (which was closed when I went there, but is said to be a don't-miss). I really liked Trakai, which is a half-hour bus ride outside Vilnius-- there are a couple of castle museums on some small islands, some nice seaside restaurants, and it is the home of the Lithuanian Karaite community with a small museum and some interesting architecture. I liked the city of Kaunas, which was pretty and kind of laid-back. Fort IX, just outside Kaunas, was interesting but depressing. The open-air ethnographic museum at Rumsiskes is pretty cool; it was actually closed when I went but some guy let me in the back entrance and I enjoyed wandering around for a couple of hours taking pictures of interesting architecture. (I visited via bus from Kaunas.) If you develop a craving for beaches, the Curonian Spit in Lithuania is a national park and I gather you can go camping on it. I liked the spit but the nearby mainland city of Klaipeda is industrial and ugly, although if you really enjoy admiring the modern shipping industry, Klaipeda is a good place to do it. I understand that the place is overrun with tourists in the summertime so it might be worth skipping that area entirely.

Theoretically, Kaliningrad/Konigsburg is but a train ride away from Vilnius. However, it requires a Russian visa, and opinions of how much trouble it's worth vary. I found myself in Lithuania with a multiple-entry Russian visa and no set schedule, but I still didn't bother to see Kaliningrad because none of my guidebooks could provide me with a compelling enough reason.

I agree with those who said that Tallinn is nice but not worth more than two days. Honestly, even one might be enough. Outside of the Old Town, Tallinn is pretty industrial and dull. The Old Town is lovely, though. Helsinki is another very nice city and there are daily ferries between Helsinki and Tallinn if you just want to go wander around somewhere new for a few hours. (Warning: the Tallinn-Helsinki leg is called "the booze cruise" for a reason. Finland has heavy taxes on alcohol. Estonia, not so much.) Suomenlinna, an island fortress/active suburb of Helsinki/tourist destination/artists' colony, is definitely worth checking out if you end up in Helsinki. The city also has some really good modern art museums/galleries.

Buses and trains are the usual method of travel between Baltic cities. They also have marshrutki (I don't know what the Lithuanian/Estonian/Latvian words for them are), which are basically smaller, slightly more expensive, privately-run buses (actually, vans). Be careful, however, because at least in Lithuania the numbers of the marshrutka routes do not match the numbers of the regular bus routes. Hitchhiking-with-pay seems pretty common (basically you flag down a private car, see if they're going in the same direction you are, and agree on a price for them to take you with them) but I never found it to be necessary (i.e. there were always buses) and I personally would not feel safe doing it in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language. Or where I did, for that matter. But ymmv.
posted by posadnitsa at 4:24 PM on June 8, 2009

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