Over 10 days in the Baltics, you'll discover Lithuania and Latvia's historic landmarks plus embark on a cultural tour of Jewish heritage. It's a comprehensive itinerary covering museums, Jewish minority communities, historic synagogues, former ghettoes, and various memorials to the thousands of Jews in the Baltics who were murdered by the Nazis. You will also have time to visit seaside towns and cities, home to some of the most gorgeous coastline in the region.

Highlights

  • Tour Vilnius' Old Town and its hundreds of medieval buildings
  • Take a coastal drive down the Curonian Spit, a long sand dune peninsula
  • Visit Trakai Castle and the Paneriai Memorial, dedicated to Jews murdered in WWII
  • Relax in the gorgeous beach towns of Palanga and Jūrmala
  • See the historic castles and former Jewish ghetto in Riga

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Vilnius Vilnius
Day 2 Day Trip to Trakai Vilnius
Day 3 Walking Tour of Kaunas Kaunas
Day 4 From Kaunas to Klaipėda - Stop in Palanga Vilnius
Day 5 Day Trip along the Curonian Spit Klaipeda
Day 6 Hill of Crosses & Rundāle Palace Riga
Day 7 Jewish Heritage Tour of Riga Riga
Day 8 Day Trip to Jūrmala Riga
Day 9 Day Trip to Gauja National Park Riga
Day 10 Departure from Riga  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Vilnius

Vilnius
Vilnius

Welcome to the capital of Lithuania! Like many European capitals, Vilnius has a rich history.

The city, which sits on the Neris River, dates to the 14th century and in its heyday was a melting pot of cultures. Migrants flocked here from as near as Poland and as far as Eurasia, with many coming to attend Vilnius University. Founded in the 16th century, this was one of the premier learning institutions in Europe at the time. Over the next few centuries, Lithuania was conquered by everyone from Napolean to Hitler, and it fell under Russian rule after WWII until it seceded from the Soviet Union in 1990. 

Head to Vilnius´ Old Town and you can see its rich medieval history exemplified in the well-preserved architecture. All told, there are 1,200 medieval buildings and 48 churches in this city that have earned historic status. Architectural styles run the gamut from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque, and religious denominations include Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox. Judaism, Lutheran, and Protestant. 

But Vilnius is more than medieval history. This forward-thinking city has a modern edge to it. Former residential areas once home to drab communist-era apartment blocs have been given a facelift and turned into bohemian enclaves splashed with street art. The downtown area is a financial nerve center filled with banks and tech startups. And the great thing is that you can see Vilnius' central neighborhoods on a day tour, as this city is easily navigable on foot.

Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you at the terminal and transfer you to your hotel in the city. After checking in, you'll have the remainder of the day or evening free to spend however you wish.

Day 2: Day Trip to Trakai & Museum Tours

Trakai Island Castle
Trakai Island Castle

After breakfast, a driver will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the town of Trakai, the ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. You'll stop about 6 miles (10 km) outside of Vilnius at the village of Paneriai, which is notable for being the site of a massacre during WWII during which about 100,000 people in the region were murdered by the Nazis. Here you'll visit the Paneriai Memorial Museum.

Afterward, you'll continue to Trakai, which for centuries has been home to the Turkic Karaites, a Jewish minority community with their own independent traditions. Trakai is most famous, however, Trakai Island Castle, which is nestled amid woodlands and perched on a lake island. This fortification was built in the latter half of the 14th century out of red brick and stone and is done in the Gothic style. You'll take a tour of the castle before returning to Vilnius.

Back in Vilnius, you'll spend the remainder of the afternoon visiting the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum and Samuel Bak Museum. During these tours, you'll learn about Jewish life, art, culture, and the impacts of the Shoah in the region. After your tours, you can visit Vilna Cemetery to see the grave of Vilna Gaon, an 18th-century Jewish leader from Vilnius. 

Day 3: From Vilnius to Kaunas - Walking Tour

Kaunas Castle
Kaunas Castle

In the morning, a driver will pick you up at your hotel for the 1.5-hour drive west from Vilnius to Kaunas. En route, you'll stop briefly to visit Žiežmariai Synagogue, one of the rare 19th-century wooden synagogues that still exists in Europe.

You'll then continue on to Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania. Upon arrival, you'll take a sightseeing tour of Old Town and visit landmarks like Town Hall Square, and the House of Perkūnas, a Gothic merchant house that dates to the 15th century. You'll of course also visit Kaunas Castle, a Gothic fortress built on a hill overlooking the Nemunas River and which dates to the middle of the 14th century.

You can then visit the memorial at the former Kaunas Jewish ghetto, where thousands of Jews were murdered in 1941. You'll also have the option to visit Kaunas Synagogue, one of two choral synagogues in Lithuania. It has a memorial dedicated to the roughly 50,000 Lithuanian Jewish children killed during the Holocaust.  

Day 4: From Kaunas to Klaipėda - Stop in Palanga

The waterfront city of Klaipėda
The waterfront city of Klaipėda

In the morning you'll leave Kaunas on a 2.5-hour drive west to the Lithuanian coast and Palanga, Lithuania´s most popular seaside resort town. Besides its wide beaches, Palanga is known for its Amber Museum, which you'll visit. Located in a 19th-century palace, it features a collection of about 28,000 amber pieces, many of which contain insects, spiders, and plants.

Afterward, you'll continue the drive a short way south to the port city Klaipėda. Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and then embark on a sightseeing tour. It begins in Klaipėda's Old Town, known for its old cobblestone streets lined with medieval guild houses. You'll then visit landmarks like Theatre Square and the Ann from Tharau Fountain, which is dedicated to Simon Dach, a famous German poet born in Klaipėda and which features a sculpture of his muse, Ann.

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Day 5: Day Trip along the Curonian Spit

The Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit

You'll have the option to spend the day on a tour of the Baltic coast. In the morning you'll leave from Klaipėda and head south along the Curonian Spit, a long, thin sandspit that runs 62 miles (100 km) between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon. Dotting this narrow strip of land are sleepy fishing villages, isolated pine forests, and endless sand dunes.

The first stop on this route will be at the Hill of Witches, located at the lagoonside resort village of Juodkrantė. Despite the spooky name, this landmark is actually a collection of wooden sculptures atop a forested sand dune. There are over 80 sculptures here done by local artists that depict themes of paganism and Lithuanian folklore. 

After that, you'll continue south towards the border with the Russian province of Kaliningrad. Here you'll stop at another resort town, Nida. It's a popular summer vacation spot home to high coastal sand dunes and Thomas Mann’s summer house. You'll take a stroll around town and enjoy dinner at a traditional Lithuanian restaurant before driving back to Klaipėda.

Day 6: Klaipėda to Riga - Hill of Crosses & Rundāle Palace

Walking through the Hill of Crosses
Walking through the Hill of Crosses

After breakfast, you'll leave Klaipėda and head east to Šiauliai. Just north of this city lies the Hill of Crosses, one of the holiest Catholic sites in Lithuania. Pilgrims have been leaving crosses on this small rural hill since at least 1830 when the site was a pivotal landmark in Lithuania's resistance against Russian aggressors. In the intervening years, the arrival of pilgrims has been so regular that today the hill boasts over 100,000 crosses, crucifixes, and statues of the Virgin Mary.

After the Hill of Crosses, you'll continue driving north into Latvia, toward its capital of Riga, stopping for a tour of Rundāle Palace. This expansive Baroque palace and gardens complex is situated in the plains of southern Latvia and is a little bit of Versaille in the Baltics. It was commissioned by the Duke of Rundāle in 1736 to be used as his summer residence. Today it's a museum.

Then you'll finish the day's journey, arriving at the coast and Riga in the late afternoon. The city was founded in 1201 by the German bishop Albert of Riga, who later went on to found the city's cathedral in 1221. Riga is the largest of the three Baltic capitals and boasts an eclectic array of architectural styles, with the most historic examples concentrated in its Old Town neighborhood.

Upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and will have the evening free to relax.

Day 7: Jewish Heritage Tour of Riga

Art Nouveau District, Riga
Art Nouveau District, Riga

Today, you'll be able to get acquainted with Riga's medieval Old Town as you take a stroll along its through the cobbled streets. There are many historic landmarks here, including the 14th century Riga Castle; the Lutheran Dome Cathedral, which was built in 1211; the 15th-century St. Peter’s Church; and the Swedish Gate, a fortification built in 1698 as part of defensive city walls.

You'll also get to visit the Art Nouveau District. Believe it or not, a third of all buildings in Riga are classified as Art Nouveau, and thus it has the highest concentration of such architecture anywhere in the world. Moreover, this district was once home to many prominent Jewish Latvians, including philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin. 

In keeping with this theme, you'll visit the Jews in Latvia Museum, also located in Old Town. Here you'll learn more about the history and culture of Jews in this part of the world. Then you'll visit the only remaining synagogue in the city, which serves as the central meeting place for the Jewish community in Latvia today.

If you're eager for more history, you can make an optional visit to the Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum, located just south of Old Town. And for even more info on Latvia during the Holocaust, continue to Salaspils, just outside of Riga, where a memorial park now stands at the site of the former concentration camp. 

When you're finished, a driver will return you to your hotel in Riga, and you'll have the evening free.

Day 8: Day Trip to Jūrmala

Spend time at the beach in Jūrmala
Spend time at the beach in Jūrmala

In the morning, a driver will pick you up at your hotel for a day-trip to the coastal resort town of Jūrmala. Located about 24 miles (40 km) west of the capital, this popular holiday destination on the Gulf of Riga is famous for its elegant wooden homes done in the Art Nouveau style as well as its long, white-sand beach.

It's the perfect place to spend a morning and afternoon relaxing. You'll have the day free to explore the town, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant or café, and spend time at the beach, should you choose.   in the evening you can also enjoy a traditional Latvian dinner at a local restaurant. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Riga. Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy the juxtaposition of ornate timber cottages beside giant concrete Soviet structures.

Day 9: Day Trip to Gauja National Park - Optional Bobsled Ride

The Gauja Valley in winter
The Gauja Valley in winter

After breakfast, you'll journey about 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Riga to Sigulda. This small rural town is situated in Latvia's largest protected protected area of Gauja National Park, which takes up 354 square miles (917 square km), most of which is forest.

Upon arrival, you'll embark on a 10k hike amid this stunning scenery, which will also take you to the biggest cave in the Baltics. You'll also visit local towns to see the ruins of Sigulda Castle, which was built by crusaders in the year 1207 ACE, and Turaida Castle, which was commissioned by the Archbishop of Riga in 1214 ACE.

To cap the experience, you'll hop in a cable car for a fun and scenic ride above the unspoiled Gauja Valley, a trip that affords views of the woods, countryside castles, and even a bobsled track. Should you choose, you can hop in a bobsled yourself and go for a ride. Afterward, you'll return to Riga, where you'll overnight.

Day 10: Departure from Riga

Goodbye, Riga
Goodbye, Riga

Today you'll say a bittersweet farewell to Riga and the Baltics. If there's time in the schedule, enjoy one last stroll around Old Town. Then you'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of Jewish Heritage in Lithuania & Latvia - 10 Days
Map of Jewish Heritage in Lithuania & Latvia - 10 Days