Steeped in common history yet each with its own individual charms, the Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius are packed with appeal. If you plan to travel to these beautiful and budget-friendly locations, check out the following guide for an introduction to some of Europe’s most underrated gems.
Accented by spires such as Oleviste Church and home to one of the best-preserved medieval cores anywhere in the world, Tallinn appears to be straight out of a fairy tale. While the Estonian capital suffered under Russian imperial rule and later 50 years of Soviet repression, Tallinn has fully embraced its former glory, and often feels more like Scandinavia than the former USSR. Undoubtedly the most touristy of the three Baltic capitals, Tallinn is home to a huge selection of places to visit, most notably Toompea Hill. Long the seat of power for Tallinn’s rulers, this fortified outcropping hosts the grand Alexander Nevsky cathedral and Toompea Castle, seat of the Estonian Parliament. Of course, the rest of the old town is nothing to sneeze at, either. The square in front of the town hall is always bustling with activity, and wandering the winding medieval streets browsing the shops and restaurants is a treat in itself. At some point, you’re bound to run into Tallinn’s imposing 13th-century city wall, an intricate system of defenses topped off with sturdy towers like the lovingly nicknamed Fat Margaret.
Try starting your day in the Latvian capital with a visit to Riga’s central market, a raucous local hub overflowing with fruits, knickknacks, and delicious, homemade treats like smoked salmon and fresh cheese. History buffs can appreciate the fact that it’s housed in a World War I-era German zeppelin hangar. Then take a wander through the city’s old quarter, a hallmark of any trip to Riga. Admire the host of architectural styles and fragments of ancient defensive walls that once surrounded the settlement; the 17th-century Swedish Gate is particularly impressive, as is the can’t-miss town hall square, once an epicenter of activity in medieval Latvia. Riga took a beating during World War II, and though Nazi bombs obliterated much of the old town, it’s been lovingly restored to its former grandeur, along with the iconic House of Blackheads. Rising above town, St. Peter’s Church and its iconic spire are not to be missed—if you climb your way to the top, you’ll have an awe-inspiring view over Riga from the observation deck. The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia offers a chilling glimpse into the terror the Soviet regime once imposed upon the nation, and leaves little doubt as to how many Latvians feel about Russia today. For something a little more lighthearted, try immersing yourself in the quaint Latvian country life at the open-air ethnographic museum.
Packed with a huge array of Renaissance, Neoclassical, and Baroque structures, Vilnius can certainly stake a solid claim as the Baltic’s most beautiful city. The old town occupies a spot on the World Heritage List, and wandering its cobbled streets is a delight. Vilnius has retained a sizable chunk of its medieval walls, and entering through the city’s Gates of Dawn, home to a secret chapel, takes you back in time. Walking down the main thoroughfare towards the town hall takes you past numerous religious buildings, including a Polish Catholic church, a Russian Orthodox cathedral, and a Greek Orthodox chapel tucked away in a secluded courtyard. Head down to the base of Castle Hill and the impressive plaza of the Palace of the Grand Dukes and its magnificent cathedral. For one of the prettiest views around, make for Gediminas Tower, where the stunning spires of the old town contrast sharply with the glimmering skyscrapers of new Vilnius across the river. Don’t miss the intricate St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church or Church of St. Anne. Grab a bite to eat in alternative Uzupis afterwards to enjoy the vibe of the capital’s self-declared bohemian quarter. If you’re itching to get out of town, try heading for Trakai and its stunning island castle: just a short bus ride away from Vilnius, it makes for a perfect day trip.
Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius are chock-full of entertaining things to do and incredible places to visit, and these centers of culture offer far more than their countries’ small size might suggest. Get out and explore these spectacular Baltic capitals, using the following itinerary as a guide when you plann your trip with Inspirock: