It’s that time of year again.
Days are becoming longer. School semesters are coming to an end. The sun is shining warm & bright.
Summer is finally upon us!
So, where do we go from here? The Baltics of course!
The former Soviet Republics are comprised of three nations: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Each with its own unique charm & lovely distinctions.
The northernmost city of the three capitals is one of the best-preserved old towns in all of Europe. The most attractive part of the city is of course the easily walkable Old Town, which dates back to the 13th century. When the Danes established the city formally known as Reval as part of the Hanseatic League, this fortified city became one of the Baltic Sea’s most important trading hubs. With a long history of constant warfare, invasions, & bombardment, Estonia has managed to keep its proud culture strong & it is clearly visible whilst exploring the lovely Old Town.
Given its short tenure of independence, traces of German occupation, as well as Soviet can still be faintly seen in the city. With a quarter of the population being Russian, the immaculate Alexander Nevsky cathedral is of great importance to the 325,000 Russians living within the country.
Continue walking about Toompea Hill & you’ll discover two lovely vista points. One which overlooks the hipster bohemian district of Kalamaja & on the other side you’ll get a picturesque view of the entire Old Town from above. Once you’ve taken in the beauty of the Kohtuotsa viewing platform, head on down to the Town Square for a delicious authentic meal at Olde Hansa & read up on the story of Old Thomas.
Now that your medieval stay in Tallinn is ending, you’ll probably be heading south to the capital of Latvia, Rīga.
If you are traveling by land, you’ll most likely arrive at the Central Bus Station, which is conveniently located around the corner from the gargantuan Central Market. Here you’ll be offered an array of treasures ranging from all sorts of fish, meats, bread, cheeses, clothing, souvenirs… the list can go on. You can go for a quick walk-through to get a glimpse of the market prior to checking in to your place of accommodation or you can spend an hour perusing the hundreds of stands set up.
Rīga is extremely well known for its lovely gardens & parks. Grab a blanket along with the goodies you purchased at the Central Market & have yourself a day along the city canal. Grab a friend or two and you are officially living your best life.
Rīga too has an Old Town that is just as charming as the one in Tallinn, only with its own unique distinctions. This area is home to cobblestone streets and pathways along with architectural gems to accent it from above. Explore a bit more and you will stumble upon at least three historical structures of the city; The Three Brothers, Rīga Castle, & the Powder Tower, which holds the Latvian War Museum inside. Each holds its own integral part in the long history that is Latvian history.
Moving further down south, you will want to see the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius! Unlike our previous two capital cities, Vilnius is located much more inland near the border of Belarus.
Vilnius is a Baroque marvel with an old town filled with cobblestone alleys, Orthodox churches, and plenty more for you to explore. For those looking to dine, shop, or simply enjoy a coffee with some newly made friends, Castle Street is the place you’ll more than likely find yourself. It’s lined with restaurants, cafes & shops selling mostly amber & linen as those are Lithuania’s two major products.
For those looking for some historical context, Vilnius offers much history to take in. Vilnius University was founded in 1568, which is considered to be the oldest university in Eastern Europe & still holds classes today.
One of Lithuania’s most famous landmarks is the remains of 15th-century Gediminas Castle. Although the majority of the castle no longer stands, a tower from the Upper Castle is still around today for visitors to hike up to & take in the beautiful view of the Old Town from above. If this view isn’t enough for you then head over to the Hill of Three Crosses for a postcard view that will surely be stored in your memory bank for ages to come.
Unfortunately, not all history is happy & gleeful & that is why Vilnius hosts the Museum of Genocide Victims. The former KGB torture & prison chamber gives visitors a bone-chilling look at what life was like for Soviet-occupied Lithuania for just over 50 years. It may not be the brightest part of your visit to Vilnius, however, it is well worth being informed about.
The Baltic region is one of great history, culture, cuisine, & beauty. The summertime accentuates it even furthermore given that nighttime is scarce during this season. The sun is out for the majority of the day, which gives visitors plenty of time to explore, as well as relax without feeling that they are missing out on precious exploration time. This region is sort of an unknown gem as there are not nearly as many tourists as there are in other parts of Europe. This is important for every aspect of traveling because you won’t be battling against heaps of crowds. So, look no more for your summer destination & see the marvel that is the Baltics!
By Kevin Czopek
Kevin is an adventure enthusiast who has managed to travel through 20+ countries as well as 20 states over the past two years, all while juggling part-time jobs & obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Sciences. The devout explorer uses his photography & writing to tell unique, passionate stories about his travels. When he’s not hiking up active volcanos in Indonesia or camel trekking through the Sahara Desert, he’s most likely editing his photography portfolio or typing up a new entry for his blog http://mytravelthoughts.com/ . To find more of Kevin’s photos you can visit https://kevinczopek.pixieset.com/ .