Why A Baltics Tour Should Be At The Top Of Your Bucket List
Discover all the treasures that await in this up-and-coming European destination
Grouped together on the coast of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia make up the Baltic territory of Eastern Europe and these countries are among the least visited in the European Union.
While certain cities – namely Riga and Tallinn – have seen their fair share of tourism boons in recent years, the rest of the Baltics remain less enraptured with foreign tourism – and that’s a good thing. (You can see where we’re going with this.)
Lower visitors mean less gentrification (ahem, Starbucks, and all the trappings of westernized European cities) and more affordability. What it can also say is more authentic experiences, more opportunity to roam freely without the masses, and more intimate moments in the region’s vibrant cities, windswept beaches, and wild landscapes.
Here’s a guide to the best times to visit and some of the most surprising things you can do on a privately-guided Baltics tour.
When You Should Go
The weather in the Baltic countries is, not surprisingly, influenced by the Baltic Sea, particularly in the coastal cities of Riga, Klaipeda, and Tallinn. May and June are the sunniest months of the year, while July and August can be milder. Although the typical advice is to travel to Europe in the shoulder seasons (March-May, September-October), because the nations are so far north, you can expect reasonably different temperatures. Winter goes well below freezing and both the fall and spring season can be cold and rainy as well.
What You Should Do
Venture up the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania
A rural site of Christian pilgrimage 12 km north of Šiauliai in northern Lithuania, the Hill of Crosses is full of folklore and ghosts. Locals believe a church stood on the mound, and during a lightning storm, it (and its tempest) was buried underneath the sand. Ghost-monk processions have been spotted there at sunrise as a result of this tale, while others are convinced it is the site of the souls of fallen pagan warriors from the 1300s. Whatever its genesis, the Soviet government, in efforts to stamp out Christianity in the Eastern Bloc, have at numerous times dismantled this site in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but in the act of defiance against oppression, the crosses miraculously kept multiplying – and they still do today. Pilgrims from all religions and denominations travel here with crosses, Jewish inscriptions and words from the Koran. A holy place indeed, and one worth your curious visit.
Hike through Estonia’s ancient bogs
Bogs and mires cover a fifth of the mainland area in Estonia, of which the peat bogs themselves are considered the most ancient, going back as far as 10,000 years. Wildly natural, eerily quiet, and full of rare animals and fauna, Estonia’s bog trails are covered in misted dark forests, expansive meadows and conceal dozens of “living water” lakes, prime for taking a mid-trek dip should one be so inclined. We strongly encourage it: The marsh water is full of organic compounds reputed to tighten and soften the skin.
Take a tipsy walking tour of black balsam liqueur in Latvia
Riga is revered for many reasons: It’s cosmopolitan, has excellent art nouveau architecture, plus a centuries-old medieval Old Town, but its black balsam liqueur may be one of its best treats. The traditional herbal drink is as black as midnight (and just as heady), and the capital town hosts several distillery tours where travelers can partake in its distinct flavors. A bonus: Riga’s Central Market is home to loaves of homemade rye bread, dumplings, and sauerkraut: The perfect bite after a couple of shots. (It happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, too.)
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