The Baltics are not often the first places that come to mind when you imagine northern Europe. Yet, these three charming countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have much to offer. Nestled between Russia and the Gulf of Finland, they are not quite as cold and mysterious as you would imagine. Join us on a list of what to see in the Baltics.
The Old Town of Vilnius is a wonder. It encompasses pastel-coloured baroque houses, cobbled streets and churches situated in relaxed courtyards. There is a mix of influences between Polish, Jewish and Russian culture and the city comes alive in the summer. The first stop on any list of what to see in the Baltics should involve gazing at the architecture. Cathedral Square is the perfect place to do this in Vilnius. Vilnius Cathedral is spectacular and is the geographical centre of the city. The square surrounding it is the perfect place to people-watch as people come and go from the church.
There is also a magic tile, which when found, has the power to grant a wish (only if you spin on it clockwise). Just behind the square is Gediminas Hill, which houses a castle. This castle dates from the 13th century and is also the birthplace of Vilnius. The views from the top are marvellous and can be reached by hiking or funicular. One of the most beautiful churches to see in the Baltics is that of St. Anne´s. It is a perfect example of the Gothic style and once so impressed Napoleon, he wanted to remove it to France. St. Casimir´s is also worth visiting as it is the oldest baroque church in Vilnius and is quite striking. Before leaving Vilnius, visit the Gates of Dawn. This is an entry built into the old town walls and is a magnificent glimpse into the past of Vilnius. There is a painting of Madonna which is reputed to perform miracles as well as a pretty little chapel.
Riga is an up and coming city. It is extremely relaxed, picturesque and has a charming historical centre. Riga is also famous for having the highest concentration of art nouveau architecture in Europe. This is worth keeping an eye open for and certainly makes it one of the best sights to see in the Baltics. Riga Cathedral is unique in the fact that it has three distinct styles, Roman, Baroque and Gothic. It is also the largest cathedral to see in the Baltics. The Riga History museum is located inside the monastery, which has some interesting artefacts about the history of the city.
Another legendary place to see in the Baltics is the Cat House. This is an art nouveau building which is covered in black cats. The cats were built to show the consternation of a local merchant towards the guild, and the building is now symbolic of Riga. St. Peter´s church can be seen all around Riga and is one of the oldest churches to see in the Baltics. There is also a viewing platform which gives a fantastic viewpoint around the city, and the church itself often houses art exhibitions. If you are more interested in the modern history of Latvia, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is worth taking the time to visit. This portrays both the Nazi and Soviet occupations and it has many artefacts relating to the genocides that took place throughout the country.
Estonia has a wonderful blend of Eastern European and Scandinavian culture, being so close to Finland. Tallinn is one of the most charming cities to see in the Baltics, if not in the whole of Europe. It has plenty of modern and medieval delights that exist side by side. The first stop on your trip should be to Toompea. This is the burial mound of the first leader of the tribal Estonians. From here, you can see over the city out to sea and truly get a taste of why Tallinn is so unique. The castle is also splendid and includes three towers left over from the 13th century.
To see a little more of Tallinn´s history, you can visit Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral. This is one of the most impressive Russian Orthodox cathedrals to see in the Baltics and shows the impact that Russia had on its Baltic neighbours. The Lower Town of Tallinn is also an unmissable sight to see in the Baltics. It is almost like travelling back in time. The houses and shops all have a medieval theme, not to mention the restaurants. The Town Hall Square is one of the best places to people watch in Tallinn, and is extremely pretty. There are plenty of terraces to enjoy the sun and take in the view of the Gothic town hall.
More to see in the Baltics
For more information on trips to the Baltics, please visit Exoticca.