Tallinn Old Town

8 Unmissable Highlights of the Baltics

Northern Europe’s underdogs are just far enough off the tourist track to promise some real gems. From fascinating historic sites, both ancient and modern, to places of outstanding scenic splendour, there’s a wealth of unmissable highlights to be found in the Baltics.

Tallinn Old Town, Estonia

Tallinn Street Scene Estonia

The fairytale rooftops and whimsical spires of Tallinn’s old town are enough to make your neck ache. This charming town is sure to set photographers’ imaginations soaring skyward, but it’s worth noting the little details too: iron-wrought clocks, lampposts, and one eye is best kept on the centuries-smoothed cobbles along the alleys. The heart of it all is the compass rose in the Old Town Square, where wealthy merchant houses and beautiful cathedrals surround you.

Rundale Palace, Latvia

Rundale Palace

It’s hard to know which is more intriguing, the architecture or the history of Rundale Palace, where Baroque and Rococco art decorate every lavish entranceway. It is known as “the Versailles of the Baltics” for its opulence and beauty, and it’s no surprise to learn the architect was the same as designed St Petersburg’s Winter Palace. The ornate gardens are the perfect stroll.

Plokstine Cold War Museum, Lithuania

Plokstine Missile Base Cold War Museum

Though far from light-hearted, this is probably the most interesting modern history museum in the whole of the Baltics. This one-time missile base is in the heart of a stunning national park not far from the peaceful shores of a lake, but reveals a steely truth about the realities of the Cold War.

Image credit: By Mindaugas Macaitis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27926318

Lahemaa National Park, Estonia

Lahemaa National Park

Estonia’s coastline is a jigsaw of endless tiny islands, stunning sandy beaches and a slightly strange, windswept emptiness. Tall, dark trees line the shore, and this national park is a haven for wildlife drawn to this beautiful environment. The bogs may not sound immediately appealing, but the long wooden paths make it easy to traverse under tall trees through a natural beauty spot. It’s perfect to explore by bike, where the flat surface and good terrain lends you a chance to explore.

Jurmala, Latvia

Jurmala Coastline

The pretty one-time fishing community of Jurmala is now more of a collection of resort towns, but with 34km of coastline to explore it’s easy to find the serene stretches between the day trippers in the towns. The Open Air Museum tells tales of its old fishing heritage in pale log cabin surrounded by fragrant pine forests.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

A poignant pause is required at the Hill of Crosses. This is a site of pilgrimage, where Catholics come to lay down crosses and remember their loved and lost ones. It takes on a special significance in light of the persecution the community faced under the Soviet Union, whose authorities were determined to stamp out religion; they attempted to destroy the site with bulldozers no fewer than three times. They were unsuccessful, and estimates put the number at well over 100,000 crosses, with rosaries and effigies dotted around.

Pazaislis Monastery, Lithuania

Pazaislis Monastery

Architecturally, it is a love letter to Italian Baroque, with its visually striking white exterior and richly decorated interiors. This is not just the largest monastery complex in Lithuania, but also amongst the oldest; the church clock tower is the oldest in the country. It’s had many lives since it was first built by Camaldolese monks in the C17th, including a psychiatric hospital under Soviet rule and a modern day festival venue, but without a doubt it is one of the most beautiful spectacles that Lithuania has to offer.

Trakai Castle, Lithuania

Trakai Castle

Probably the Baltics’ best known spot, Trakai Castle’s scenic setting make a visit even more special: perched on its own island in the middle of a lake. The C14th castle is a masterpiece of masonry, with huge vaulted main hall bedecked with a huge chandelier. The only island castle in Eastern Europe has withheld many sieges in its time, and its strategic location and militaristic history mean that the castle’s softer touches come as surprise: cobbled courtyards, stunning stonework, and beautiful frescoes.

Visit the Baltics

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