Beautiful Baltic Capitals: Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn

If you are planning a 10 day holiday around the Baltic Countries we suggest spending all your time in their capitals: Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. Each city is unique and for sure worth visiting. They all boast fantastic architecture and offer plenty of cool daytrips. While Riga and Tallinn as part of the Hanseatic League were both important medieval cities, Vilnius came to prominence a bit later. Tallinn is home to one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. Likewise, Riga houses another wonderful medieval Old Town and is full of fabulous Art Nouveau buildings. Finally, Vilnius has an impressive collection of Baroque buildings.

Traveling between the Baltic Capitals

There are currently no trains connecting the three Baltic Capitals, but there are plenty of comfortable buses with wifi onboard. Taking a bus is easy, inexpensive and a great way to enjoy Baltic nature. In fact, it’s a 4 hour journey in both directions (Vilnius – Riga and Riga – Tallinn). Additionally, stopping between Tallinn and Riga at the beautiful coastal town of Pärnu is a must. All three capitals have great restaurants and hotels. Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians know how to treat tourists!

Baltica Capitals: Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn

Vilnius

Vilnius, the capital of the most populated Baltic state, Lithuania, belonged virtually to almost everybody at one time or the other. Walk around and you’ll see Russian and Polish heritage next to Lithuanian. While its Old Town may not be as impressive as the ones in Riga or Tallinn, Vilnius churches are crown jewels of baroque architecture. We were surprised by the number of beautifully decorated cafes and bars that dot Vilnius streets. Of course we had to sit down and enjoy delicious coffee and cakes while watching charming modern Lithuanians walk by.

Vilnius - Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn

Outline

Vilnius is located in Eastern Lithuania, 25 km from the border with Belarus, on the confluence of two rivers: Vilnia and Neris. The medieval Old Town – known as Senamiestis lies to the south of the Neris River with the Pilies – Didžioji Street, displaying the best examples of baroque architecture in the city. To the West of the Old Town you’ll find the New Town – known as Naujamiestis. The northern part of the city with its huge avenues and motorways is where massive superblocks were built during the USSR period.

Baltic Capitals - Vilnius

What to see in Vilnius’ Old Town

Most of the main sights are religious buildings and are in or around the Old Town. The Vilnius Cathedral, the center of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, was built in the late 18th century in a neoclassical style. Next to the Cathedral, the Bell Tower was built over a wall in the 16th century to defend the lower castle. In the same area, the Upper and Lower Castles include the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The St. Kasimir’s Church, the Vilnius University and the Church of St. John are among the most glamorous baroque buildings in the city. On the eastern end of the Old Town, near the Vilnia River the St. Anne Church and the Church of San Bernard represent Lithuania’s most important gothic pieces.

Vilna - Vilna, Riga y Tallin

The rest of the city

Vilnius main street Gediminas Avenue is partly in the old Town and partly in the New Town. It is full of beautiful neoclassical buildings, shops and restaurants. To the east of the Old Town, across the Vilnia River, is Užupis District, the art hub of the city. Apparently, not long ago, alternative spontaneous parties took place all the time here, but the police decided to kill the vibe. Nevertheless, the place is a must for art lovers and relaxed people. If you have some extra time check the Commercial District across the river Neris. A little further up north you’ll find some cool modern superblocks built during the Soviet times.

In Vilnius we stayed at the centrally located Real House Apartments.

Vilnius is a great base for visiting Trakai and Europos Parkas



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Riga

Riga is the Baltic’s most important metropolis. It is the largest city in the region and the one with the most diverse architecture. The medieval Old town is not as preserved as Tallinn’s, but has more outstanding buildings such as the House of the Blackheads. Additionally it is home to one of the largest collections of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, with several extraordinary examples. Finally, the whole city centre is a neoclassical festival, and a pretty large one. Wait, there is more: just half an hour away lies a beautiful beach.

Riga - Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn

Outline

Riga is located in central Latvia, where the Daugava River meets the sea in the Gulf of Riga. Riga’s Old Town is located just north of Daugava, in an area of roughly 500m x 1000m. A lush green park with a canal, where ancient city walls used to be, surrounds it. Next to it you’ll find the neighbourhood called Centrs (the Centre), where most of public life takes place. The main street Brīvības crosses the whole city from the Old Town to its north-eastern end. The other bank of the river is sparsely populated and has no real historical core or area of interest, just some isolated examples.

Baltic Capitals - Riga

What to see in Riga’s Old Town

Almost all of Riga’s attractions are located in the Old Town, including numerous historically important buildings. Probably the most famous one is the lavishly decorated House of Blackheads, where merchants used to have their guild. A few steps away St. Peter’s Church has a distinct tall baroque steeple. Nearby Livu Square is at the center of several important landmarks, like the Large and the Small Guilds and the Cat’s House. To the south, the Riga Cathedral is the largest sacral building in Latvia. North of the Cathedral the Three brothers are fantastic examples of medieval residential buildings. In front of them there is another church with a tall steeple: St. James’s Cathedral, the main Catholic Church in the city. Riga Castle, the official residence of Latvia’s president occupies the western end of the Old Town.

Riga - Vilna, Riga y Tallin

The rest of the city

Just outside of the Old Town, along the Brivibas Boulevard, you’ll see the Freedom Monument and later on the Russian Othodox Church. North of the Old Town, Elizabetes and Alberta streets showcase the world’s best Art Nouveau heritage. If you are a fan of cool wooden houses visit the cute Kalnciema Kvartals across the river. Also check out Riga’s Central Market for its atmosphere and Spikeri Quarter and Bergs Bazaar for great shopping and dining. The Latvian Academy of Sciences is a cool Soviet building.

In Riga we stayed at the beautiful Mercure Centre Hotel.

Riga is a great base for visiting Jurmala and Sigulda



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Tallinn

Tallinn is special to me because a couple of friends live there. It was super special to be picked up by Jako at the bus station and to have him as a personal guide. In fact, thanks to him I was able to get to know some alternative places. The Old Town is by far the most complete in the region and its city walls are the most preserved in the whole of Europe. Unfortunately it is pretty much taken by crowds of tourists, but with a little patience and flexibility you might get to enjoy some corners by yourself, and at nights it’s practically deserted. Additionally, there are gorgeous wooden houses all around the city!

Tallinn - Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn

Outline

Tallinn is located in central Estonia on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, just across Helsinki. Again a wonderful Old Town is the highlight of the City, divided into the Upper town, still the Administrative center of Estonia, and the Lower town. While most of the streets date back to the 13th century, many buildings are from the 14th to 16th centuries. The 17th century fortification still surrounds the Old Town. The 19th century industrial complex in Rotermann Quarter, east from there, is a brilliant showcase of how the old can be incorporated into a new environment in a chic contemporary way.

Baltic Capitals - Tallinn

What to see in Tallinn’s Old Town

The largest and most centrally located square in the Old Town is the grand Raekoja Plats, surrounded by the Town hall built in 1371 and several merchant houses. It can be accessed through the Viru Gates at the beginning of the live Viru Street. The oldest church in Tallinn, the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin, was built during different historical periods, and was originally a catholic church. It is located inside the Upper town near the Toompea Castle, home to the Estonian Parliament. As a remnant of the tsarist Russian empire, the Saint Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral standing in front the Castle is a festival of colors and shapes.

Tallin - Vilna, Riga y Tallin

The rest of the city

Tallinn is home to two cool neighborhoods: Rotermann and Telliskivi. Check them out for the best shopping and dining experiences. The best area for discovering the beautiful traditional Estonian wooden houses is the Kalamaja Neighborhood. Tallinn’s nicest park, Kadriorg Park (with its museums), is a bit away from the center, but surely worth a visit. If you have more spare time visit the Pirita Convent ruins, next to Tallinn Bay.

In Tallinn we stayed at the cool Kalev Spa Hotel.

Tallinn is a great base for visiting Lahemaa National Park and Pärnu



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Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn now and before

I had the privilege of visiting the three Baltic Capitals Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn two times. The first time was in 2011 to attend the Estonian Song Festival, one of the largest choral events in the world. This great festival is held only every five years, so imagine my luck! The second time I went with my husband in 2016, after TBEX in Stockholm.

Consequently, I’ve had the chance to see how much each city has changed. Vilnius has become more sophisticated, with cool young people and good vibes everywhere. On the other hand, Riga is still impressive but seems to be crumbling a bit. Finally, Tallinn though modern and hip felt overcrowded with drunken tourists around its Old Town.

I reckon that I must come back in 2021, who knows what I may find!?

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Slovenian seaside: Koper, Izola and Piran

8 Responses

  1. Victor Wouters
    | Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful tour and lovely pics!!!

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      It’s easy to write when having fun. Thanks!

  2. Darinka
    | Reply

    I will quote you “Each city is unique and for sure worth a visit” and I deeply agree with you. Country with great history, mostly unknown to us and with so worth architecture, I will mention “three brothers houses” that have some special charm and story 🙂 Have a nice trip, and weather, of course.

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      The beauty is that they are actually different. And it’s very easy to visit all three of them in a short trip.

  3. Filipa
    | Reply

    Zdravo! Kako ste?

    I just discovered your blog/site today in a facebook group and let me tell you that this is a really nice place of inspiration and great photos! Congrats!

    When it comes to this trip you did i am really curious to visit all the cities! Being from Portugal i never know how is the other side of Europe eh eh.

    P.S. I also visited Serbia and i loved it! I miss Pljeskavica and Ćevapi so much!

    Do videnja and Happy travels =)

    Filipa

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      Ola Filipa,
      Many thanks for your kind comment. Ja sam dobro, hvala! Kako ste vi?
      When it comes to the Baltic states’ capitals I suggest visiting all of them.
      Happy Travels,
      Milos

  4. Brian "Ambitious Trekker"
    | Reply

    Wonderful post with lots of great information! I loved the pictures. Makes me want to plan a similar trip there sometime! I recently did a weeklong trip to Northern Europe in May 2018, including Scandinavia, which was a lot of fun. I’ll have to keep these Baltic cities in mind for future trips and posts!

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      I think you might like Baltic countries even more. People are more relaxed, it is much cheaper and the food is better!

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