Day 1: Trip begins in Vilnius, Lithuania
Arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania's capital city, where you can get a first taste of the city's vibrant cafe and restaurant scene.
You will be met on arrival at Vilnius International Airport (VNO) by a local guide, and driven to your centrally-located hotel, which is around 10 minutes from the airport. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Vilnius at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, we recommend walking into the old town and taking the opportunity to taste some traditional food this evening. The majority of visitors to the Baltic States will be surprised by the quality, variety and value of food and drink on offer. The majority is locally sourced and part of the regions heritage is being able to forage for food and make local brews. There's a wide variety on the menu including soups, casseroles, salads, meat and fish dishes. Beer is locally brewed and you can find light and dark beers, filtered or unfiltered all for a reasonable price. You can also find flavoured wines such as raspberry and cherry wine and each country has its own herbal liquor which is a popular after dinner tipple.
Day 2: Walking tour of Vilnius and wine tasting; afternoon at leisure to visit to the KGB Museum
The Catholic influence on Vilnius is very evident from the numerous Baroque churches. By the turn of the last century, Vilnius also had an 80,000-strong Jewish community. However, by the end of World War II, it had been completely decimated. Head out on foot with a local guide this morning to visit the ancient university founded by the Jesuits - a centre of the Counter Reformation and a source of Lithuanian culture, as well as the cathedral and Church of the Dawn. In the newer part of Vilnius lies the main shopping street with the opera house, parliament building and a number of cafes. After the walking tour, a local restaurant for a tasting of traditional Lithuanian wine and cheese. Surprisingly, this small country has a deep history of wine-making, and until the 20th century wine was produced in most rural houses from the nobility to the humblest farmer - particularly dessert wine, handmade from berries and fruits that thrive in the area. Taste four distinct wines, each paired with a different local cheese.
You'll have the afternoon free to do some solo exploration. One recommended visit is to the KGB Museum, which is located in the former KGB Headquarters and has exhibits documenting the crimes that were planned and committed from this very spot during Soviet rule. The displays show how the Lithuanians fought back to re-claim their independence, and you can see the inner prison cell that has been preserved in the same condition as when the headquarters closed in 1991. Alternatively, if you wanted to get out of the city, you could visit the fairytale-esque red castle of Trakai, just 30 minutes outside of Vilnius. This 14th-Century castle is situated on an island and only accessible by a footbridge connecting it with the mainland. In summer, paddleboats are available to rent here, so that you can circumnavigate the castle by paddling around the lake. It's possible to get a train or bus here (the bus and train stations are right next to each other in Vilnius centre), and well worth a visit if you want to escape the city.
Day 3: Take a coach to Riga, Latvia
Take a public coach to Riga this morning, in Latvia. The coach station is only a three-minute walk from your hotel. We endeavour to book a ticket for a 10am departure, arriving into Riga at 14.15pm, but final timings will be on your tickets when you arrive into Vilnius. The Baltic states have an excellent long-distance coach service which benefits from comfortable seats, WiFi throughout, seat-back screens with films and TV shows available, a restroom and hand sanitizers on board. We recommend taking a packed lunch, snacks or sandwiches on board with you for the journey.
In the afternoon, arrive into Riga and head to your hotel, only a 10-minute walk from the bus station. The rest of the day is free for you to discover more of the city. Riga is an old Hanseatic city on the banks of the Daugava River and is arguably the most beautiful in the Baltics. Its skyline is pierced with spires, towers and weather vanes, making the streets a joy to amble through. The Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum and Riga Castle are well worth a visit or you may choose to enjoy a long lunch in one of the many restaurants. Cheese and meat filled pastries served with wild berry preserves are popular, especially when washed down with a local beer or perhaps a glass of Riga Black Balsam, a traditional herbal liqueur - an acquired taste!
Day 4: Walking tour of Riga; taste produce at Riga Central Market
Most of the important sights in Riga are concentrated in a small area, so walking is the most effective way to explore. Head out with a local guide to learn more about the history of the city, taking in the Freedom Monument, Gunpowder Tower, Saint Jacob's Church and the city's cathedral. Buildings have been painstakingly restored over the last twenty years and commanding Gothic structures sit adjacent to Baroque and lavish Art Nouveau architecture. Also visit the huge and lively Central Market, where you'll find traditional produce on sale here, such as smoked fish, sauerkraut, pickled garlic and crusty cheeses - many of which you can try before buying!
This afternoon is free for you to relax. You could look to get out of the city with a visit to the largest seaside resort in the Baltics - Jurmala. Only 30 minutes outside of Riga, and easily accessed on the train to Majori or Dzintari station, this town is unsurprisingly popular in summer among the city-dwellers. More surprisingly is that it still holds interest in winter - in the bitterest temperatures the sea in the Gulf of Riga can freeze over, forming ice ridges several metres high. The town itself is mishmash of architectural styles - from art nouveau and classical to Soviet-era buildings.
Day 5: Coach journey to Tallinn, Estonia
This morning, bid farewell to Latvia and head for Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia. Travelling again with the same coach company, we aim to purchase a ticket for a 10am departure, arriving at 14.30pm. You'll be met on arrival and driven to your hotel, only a 10-minute journey.
With just half a million citizens, Tallinn is not a sprawling metropolis. This adds to its charm, as it is easy to explore on foot, with minimal traffic. Famed for its medieval architecture, the Old Town is one of the best preserved Hanseatic city centres in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival you'll have some free time, and you might want to visit the Bastion Tunnels, beneath the city. The tunnels were constructed in the 1670's and were used by the military as defensive tunnels beneath the city walls and buildings above. The tunnels lay unused for many years, but at the start of World War II they were renovated to be used as bomb shelters and then during Soviet rule they were installed with electricity, ventilation, water and telephones. During the excursion you'll get to see the tunnels still in their Medieval state and those that have been modernised in the 20th century. It's worth noting that the tunnels are closed on Sundays and Public Holidays, so you may like to check the dates of your trip if this is of interest.
Day 6: Walking tour of Tallinn; optional visit to the Bastion Tunnels
Less than 100 kilometres across the water from Helsinki and midway between St. Petersburg and Stockholm, Tallinn has come under several different cultural influences since the first stronghold was built in the 10th century. Linguistically and economically, Estonia's closest ties are to Finland, despite the best efforts of other nations. In 1561, as a coveted trading port, it was seized by the Swedes and held for 150 years until the Russians took over and industrialised much of the medieval town. Perched on a hill overlooking the sea, explore the cobbled Old Town on foot with a local guide this morning. The colourful houses of the crooked streets reflect the German, Scandinavian and Russian periods of Tallinn's history. Walk through the quarter where merchants once traded and take in the historical and architectural highlights. The busy town square is a hectic mix of pavement cafes and shops, dominated by the 14th century Gothic Town Hall. The pink Parliament buildings and Toompea Castle lie near the imposing deep yellow Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
You're free for some solo exploration this afternoon. The city has a lot of charm, so you might want to stay here and stroll through the atmospheric Old Town, sipping coffee and trying local treats like Vastlakukkel - wheat buns stuffed with whipped cream, traditionally eaten before Lent but now available in most bakeries throughout the year.
Day 7: Trip ends in Tallinn, Estonia
Your trip ends today, and you will be taken to the airport to meet your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport (TLL), which is about 10 minutes' drive. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel.
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