- Tour the medieval cities of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn
- Bike along the Curonian Spit, a long sand-dune peninsula
- Hike through the Baltics' most beautiful national parks
- Take a kayak excursion down the Gauja River
- Visit castle ruins and go wine tasting in 19th-century villages
|Day 1||Arrive in Vilnius - Explore the City||Vilnius|
|Day 2||Walking Tour of Vilnius - Trakai Castle||Vilnius|
|Day 3||Hike near the medieval capital of Kernavė – Transfer to Klaipeda||Klaipeda|
|Day 4||Cycle the Curonian Spit||Klaipeda|
|Day 5||Klaipėda to Riga - Lake Plateliai & Hill of Crosses||Riga|
|Day 6||Walking Tour of Riga - Cycle the Coast Near Jūrmala||Riga|
|Day 7||Riga to Cēsis - Gauja National Park & Wine Tasting||Cēsis|
|Day 8||From Cēsis to Tallinn - Soomaa National Park & City Tour||Tallinn|
|Day 9||Day Trip to Lahemaa National Park||Tallinn|
|Day 10||Depart Tallinn|
Day 1: Arrive in Vilnius - Explore the City
Welcome to the capital of Lithuania! Like many European capitals, Vilnius has a rich history.
This city, which sits on the Neris River, dates to the 14th century and in its heyday was a melting pot of cultures. People flocked here from as near as Poland and as far as Eurasia, many of them coming to attend Vilnius University. Founded in the 16th century, this was one of the premier learning institutions in Europe. 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. The nice 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: Walking Tour of Vilnius - Trakai Castle
Spend the morning on a guided walking tour of the city. It begins in Old Town, the medieval heart of Vilnius. Throughout the morning you'll visit historic landmarks of varying architectural styles.
One highlight is Vilnius Cathedral. Consecrated in 1783 and sitting on the expansive Cathedral Square, this is Lithuania's premier Roman-Catholic church. Moreover, its mausoleum is the final resting place of some notable figures throughout history including grand dukes of Lithuania and even King Alexander of Poland.
Other stops include Gediminas Tower, a 15th-century defensive castle on the banks of the river; the Church of St. Peter and Paul, a 17th-century Lithuanian Baroque cathedral; the 15th-century St. Anne's Church, another Baroque gem; Vilnius University, which, having been founded in 1579, is the oldest university in the Baltics; and the Gate of Dawn, the city's medieval defensive fortification, which was built around a chapel that remains a major catholic pilgrimage site in Lithuania.
Afterward, you'll transfer a half-hour west of Vilnius to the town of Trakai. Situated on a peninsula on Lake Galvė, this village, home to about 5,000 people, is as much a scenic national park as it is a town. Here, amid the unspoiled woodlands and lake islands, rises medieval Trakai Castle, the star landmark of the area. You'll visit this handsome fortification, which 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 then spend some time in the town of Trakai. You can discover this village on your own or join a kayaking tour around the lake. On the latter excursion, you'll paddle through tranquil waters around islands while enjoying great views of the castle, the Užutrakis Tyszkiewicz Mansion, and the ruins of Peninsular Castle, a fortification located on the south end of the lake and commissioned by the Duke of Trakai in the 14th century.
Afterward, you can take a swim in the lake and relax on the shore before heading back to Vilnius.
Day 3: From Vilnius to Klaipėda - Hike in Neris Regional Park
Your morning starts with a short drive northwest from Vilnius to the village of Kernavė, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating to the 13th century. Outside of town, you'll embark on a 3-mile (5-km) hike of the oak forests, river valleys, and rolling green hills of Neris Regional Park, a group of nature reserves. Also here are ancient settlements dating all the way back to 9000 BCE. After the hike, you'll relax for a bit in the town of Kernavė.
In the afternoon, you'll continue the drive to the west coast of Lithuania and the city of Klaipėda. Although it has a long history as a German town called Memel, Klaipeda became a part of Lithuania in 1923. You'll enjoy a quick sightseeing tour of the city's Old Town, strolling its narrow cobblestone streets lined with old guild houses. Along the way you'll stop at Theatre Square and Ann from Tharau Fountain. The latter is dedicated to Simon Dach, a famous German poet born in Klaipėda and which features a sculpture of his muse, Ann.
After settling into your hotel, you can continue exploring Klaipėda on your own or take a stroll along its beach. In the evening, head into the city and find a cozy bistro for dinner.
Day 4: Cycle the Curonian Spit
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.
After crossing the lagoon by ferry, you'll enjoy a cycling tour of the Curonian Spit. You'll have two options for routes: You can bike to the seaside resort village of Juodkrantė, which is about 18 miles (30 km) from Klaipėda, or keep going south to Nida, another beach town about 30 miles (50 km) from the city. Along either route, you'll explore small fishing villages, pine forests, and endless sand dunes. You'll also make plenty of stops to admire the scenery and relax on the beach.
Later in the afternoon, you'll make the way back to your hotel in Klaipėda by bike. You'll then have the evening free.
Day 5: Klaipėda to Riga - Lake Plateliai & Hill of Crosses
After breakfast, you'll leave Klaipėda and head north to Samogitia National Park. This 83-square-mile (283-square-km) protected area is situated in the Samogitia highlands and is home to traditional villages and beautiful lakes. You'll embark on a hike near the largest of these, Lake Plateliai, which leads to a viewpoint offering incredible vistas of the countryside.
After that, you'll continue 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.
Then you'll head north and cross into Latvia, reaching the capital of 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 6: Walking Tour of Riga - Cycle the Coast Near Jūrmala
In the morning, you'll see the highlights of Riga on a walking tour of its historic Old Town. Medieval landmarks here include 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.
Other historic buildings you'll see include Three Brothers, a trio of homes dating to the 15th/16th/17th centuries, and the Large and Small Guild House, a merchant organization built in the 14th century and later redone in the English Gothic style. You'll also visit the Freedom Monument, which is located on the waterfront and memorializes soldiers killed in the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920).
In the afternoon, you'll have the option to head west of Riga to the coastal resort town of Jūrmala. This popular holiday destination on the Gulf of Riga is famous for its elegant wooden homes done in the Art Nouveau style plus its long, white-sand beach. Jūrmala is something of a wellness center, too, known for its natural mud and mineral-water baths, which rid the body of toxins.
Once here, you'll hop on your bike and cycle along a scenic path that follows along the gorgeous coast. Along the way, you'll pass pine-covered sand dunes and stop for a swim at one of the public beaches. Afterward, you'll return to your hotel in Riga.
Day 7: Riga to Cēsis - Gauja National Park & Wine Tasting
Today you'll depart Riga and make the short drive northeast to Gauja National Park, the largest and oldest national park in Latvia. Here you'll spend the morning kayaking on Gauja River flanked by pine-covered sandstone cliffs. The route covers 5 miles (8 km) from Viešas to Sigulda. Afterward, you'll hop on a cable car and take a fun and scenic ride over the unspoiled Gauja Valley.
After an active morning, you'll transfer to the forested village of Līgatne. This riverside village is interesting in that, beginning in the 19th century, locals dug a network of caves out of vertical sandstone banks that they used for cellars, and these still exist today. You'll take a break in the village to enjoy some local food and wine.
Your final stop of the day is Cēsis. This town dates to the 13th century, as does its most noteworthy landmark, Cēsis Castle. After settling into your accommodation, you can head out and see the medieval buildings in Cēsis' Old Town plus the famous castle. Be sure to also visit the onion-domed Orthodox church and take a stroll through romantic Maija Park, which features ponds, gardens, and walkways lined with linden trees.
Day 8: From Cēsis to Tallinn - Soomaa National Park & City Tour
Your tour through the Baltics continues from Cēsis north into Estonia and the nation's capital of Tallinn. There's plenty to see along the way, and you'll make a stop in Soomaa National Park, a 150-square-mile (390-square-km) section of protected wetlands in southwestern Estonia. If you're traveling in the summer months, you'll use wooden paths to traverse the park as you pass through bogs, wooded meadows, and forests.
There are several hiking routes within the park, the most popular being the nature trails to the Riisa and Kuuraniidu areas. Many opt to travel along the Ingatsi boardwalk, which leads to the highest bog in Europe. Birders take note: you can also trek to watchtowers and suspension bridges, which offer great vantage points to observe the avian varieties in the park.
After about 3 miles (5 km) of hiking, you'll continue to Tallinn, arriving in the afternoon. Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel where you'll settle in before meeting your guide for a short walking tour.
The tour begins in Tallinn's Old Town, where you'll stroll the cobbled streets and visit many historic gems. These include Toompea Castle, a stately Baroque castle now home to Estonia's parliament; the 13th century Dome Church (St. Mary's Cathedral), which is the city's oldest church; the Russian Revival Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; and the Great Guild Hall, which was a guild for merchants and artisans in the 14th century and is now the Estonian History Museum.
After the tour, you can continue exploring the city on your own. A great option is Kadriorg Palace, an impressive baroque palace built for Catherine I of Russia. Peruse the art museum on site, which features exhibits from the 16th-20th centuries, then head out for a walk around the manicured lawns, Dutch-style canals, and Russian formal gardens. Nearby is the Presidential Palace and KUMU, an excellent art museum featuring works by both Estonians and international artists.
In the evening, head out for some traditional Estonian cuisine at a local restaurant before retiring to your hotel.
Day 9: Day Trip to Lahemaa National Park
In the morning you´ll take a short drive out of Tallinn east to Lahemma National Park. Located on the north coast of the country, Lahemaa sits on 1,877 square miles (725 square km) and has many hiking trails that will take you through bogs, forests, and up to the largest natural waterfall in Estonia. There's also incredible biodiversity here, and it's home to many species of birds and animals like wolves, red deer, wild boars, and even lynxes.
On a walking tour of the park, you'll enjoy the nature plus visit Palmse Manor. This opulent manor estate dates to the early 16th century and is considered one of the country's most impressive examples of Baroque architecture. Besides the main house, the expansive grounds feature a greenhouse, hedgerows, gardens, and a park with gazebos and a bathhouse overlooking a pond.
After touring the grounds, you can choose to indulge in a wine tasting. The impressive wine cellar at Palmse Manor boasts more than 130 varietals, including local sweet-berry wines. Then you´ll return to Tallinn and will have the evening free.
Day 10: Depart Tallinn
Enjoy one last leisurely breakfast in Estonia. At the appropriate time, a driver will pick you up for the drive to Tallinn Airport, where you'll catch your flight home. Until next time!