The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have their own unique landscapes and cultures rich in history. While many films continue to depict the Baltic countries under the Soviet Union, such as Hannibal Rising taking the viewers through the childhood of Hannibal Lecter in Soviet Lithuania, the reality of these countries could not be more different.
So, if you are planning a trip to Eastern Europe, why not explore what life in the Baltic states is like? Here are 6 must-see places your Interrail trip should include.
The capital city on a bay of the Baltic Sea is a must-see for history buffs. Tallinn counts among the best preserved medieval cities across northern Europe, home to a 15-century defensive tower and a 13th-century Gothic Hall. The Old Town draws visitors for its beautifully preserved architecture and delightful cafes. And you can even come across locals wearing medieval clothes! But let’s not forget the KGB museum for a feel of what Soviet life would have been like.
Toompea Hill by the castle offers a peaceful spot for Insta-worthy shots of the city, which is popular with local musicians, so you can enjoy the view with background music.
Tartu is an intellectual town, gathering students, creatives, intellectuals, and museums. The second largest city and oldest town in Estonia is home to one of Northern Europe’s oldest universities, the University of Tartu, founded in the 17th century. The Kissing Students Fountain, an iconic sight of the city at the heart of Raekoja Square, has been symbolising good luck for newlyweds since 1948. But most visitors know it as a most iconic backdrop for an impromptu street concert.
Perhaps, it is worth planning to stop at one of the restaurants in town as you head to visit Tartu’s Supilinn neighbourhood, aka Soup Town district. In Soup Town, streets are named after popular ingredients, such as Pea Street or Potato Street. You’ll want to stop at the Kempel Kohvik cafe for a soup of the day and a sandwich after that!
Riga is the largest capital city in the three Baltic states and shines with youthful vitality. Busy nightlife, unmissable trendy restaurants and a rich alternative scene share the stage with the UNESCO World Heritage medieval old centre and over 800 Art Nouveau buildings. The best season to visit Riga has to be Christmas. Look for the stone marker by the Town Hall marking the spot where the world’s first decorated Christmas Tree stood in 1510, erected by the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Not far, you can spot the House of the Blackheads, built in the 14th century for bachelor merchants and ship-owners.
For an Insta-worthy memory, take your shot in front of the Three Brothers, the three 15-century houses in Mazā Pils Street that demonstrate the architectural evolution of the city. Finally, inject a little sweetness into a long day with a trip to the Central Market, held in repurposed German zeppelin hangers. You can find the most delicious Rupjmaizes kārtojums!
Cēsis is often described as one of Latvia’s most beautiful towns, and a day trip to this small historic town can convince you of its worth! In the city centre, you’ll be greeted by the Old Man of Time, a statue symbolising one of the legends of the city. The old man was guarding the peace in the city and keeping inhabitants safe at night. Not far, you can admire St. John’s Church, with its 15-metre-high Gothic spire. The 13th-century church is home to one of Latvia’s largest historical concert organs that frequently welcomes some of the world’s renowned maestros to play.
Perhaps, the best way to commemorate your encounter with the statue carrying a lantern is to visit Cēsus Alus, the oldest brewery in Northern Europe, dating back to the 16th century. The brewery has moved to a modern building on the outskirt of town, but the old building remains on the edge of Castle Park.
The capital city of Lithuania is the ideal destination for a weekend break. Home to wonderful street art, including the famous piece depicting an enamoured Trump and Putin in a smokey embrace, Vilnius encourages graffiti art. As you hunt street art through the street, you can seize the opportunity to follow the church trail. Many Catholic churches lost their worship status under the Soviet occupation, becoming museums, sports halls, etc.
Talking about Soviet independence, take time to visit the Republic of Uzupis in Vilnius, the home of dreamers whose motto is “don’t fight, don’t win, and don’t surrender”.
West of Vilnius, you’ll find Trakai and its gorgeous Trakai Island Castle, a 14-century castle built in the middle of a lake. Trakai is only 30 minutes away from the capital city by bus and is home to a magical gothic landscape. The observation deck gives you the best spot for a picture-perfect castle profile! While the Trakai is a small place, it is rich in history. Don’t leave before trying the Kibinai pastry, a pastry traditionally filled with mutton and onions originating from the Karaite ethnic minority in the 14th century.