Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius?

I spent 5 days in the Baltics, exploring 5 cities/ towns in 4 different countries. Some may this a bit too intense for their liking, but as a lone traveller, I went where my heart fancied without feeling rushed at any point of time. The great thing about these countries is that they are all individually very small (exception being Finland), and with a bit of planning, 5 days is perfectly do-able.

While I did not spend a great deal of time in each country, being able to meet some locals (mainly hostel staff and owner) and other travellers gave me a good idea of what each is about. My favourite part of any travel is the time spent on local transports, in this particular scenario, buses and ferries, as it gave me time to appreciate the non-touristy part of any place. It is also a good time to reflect and to unwind from the stressful day job and other commitments I have in my daily life.

Here I summarise my thoughts of each city:

Tallinn, Estonia

Colourful streets of Old Town Tallinn
Colourful streets of Old Town Tallinn

Possibly the cutest and prettiest of the Baltics capitals, Tallinn most represent Amsterdam, if a Western European city comparison is called for. Its old town is petite, offering great views of medieval towers and imposing spires of churches in easy distance, the entire of which can be seen in less than a day. Its fairy town-esque demeanor is somewhat thwarted by the large numbers of stag and pen parties I encountered, though this is believed to have been improved over the years. Despite this, Tallinn is in my opinion a must-visit as far as Baltics cities are concerned.

Helsinki, Finland

Street market
Street market in Helsinki

The plan to visit Helsinki for a day trip was a last minute plan as I found myself lacking in things to do in Tallinn after a day, and how great a decision it was! Helsinki is a short ferry ride (the fastest in less than 2 hours) from the port of Tallinn. Finland and Estonia are culturally and linguistically the most similar of the countries in this region, but one may struggle to observe so arriving in Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland.

The capital of Finland resembles more the clean-cut cities of many Northern European countries of Scandinavia, though it is also more low-key and subtle. One would have to admire the high living standards of its people (its high cost, perhaps less so!). I made a last minute decision to visit the Kotiharjun sauna, which is the last standing public bath house remaining in Helsinki. All visitors to Helsinki should attempt doing the same.

Riga, Latvia

Old town Riga from across the Daugava river
Old town Riga from across the Daugava river

Riga is reachable from Tallinn by many of the excellent bus services in approximately 4 hours. Unofficially the capital of the Baltics, Riga is the big cosmopolitan city of the region. It is often compared to Paris for the elegance of its many streets, many of which peppered with stunning and haunting art nouveau architecture. As a fan of beautiful and interesting buildings, Riga is my firm favourite of the 4 capitals I visited. The Riga old central market is also vastly interesting, offering something different from the old town/ new town scene of typical European city travels.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Panoramic views of the Vilnius
Panoramic views of the Vilnius

Vilnius is similar connected to Riga by bus, and the travel time is also approximately 4 hours. Following the trend of comparing these cities to Western European counterpart, Vilnius will probably most resemble Rome, with its heavy Baroque architecture lining along the streets of its old town, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. Of the 3 Baltics capital, the capital of Lithuanian is probably the most sophisticated and subtle. Visitors used to mega sights or land marks may be disappointed by the decidedly laid back attitude of the city, but personally it was the perfect end to my trip.

In all, the Baltic region has been criminally overlooked in favour as a travel destination. It offers an interesting mix of Northern/ Eastern European and Soviet influences (most notably, Estonia), at half the cost of many other places. Other picture/ posts on my Baltics trip can be found here:

Exploring the Baltics 

Exploring the Baltics (continued)

Exploring the Baltics (end)

 

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Exploring the Baltics (end)

Whilst I admittedly found Vilnius to be less fascinating than the other 2 Baltic cities I arrived from (Tallinn and Riga), it is a beautiful city in its own right. Its beauty extends to its lovely people I met…

I arrived at my hostel, aptly named ‘Come to Vilnius’, a mere 5 minutes walk from the central bus station. When accepting my cash for the night’s stay of LTL 40, the owner brushed off the LTL 0.50 which I owed. “Return me when you have the change”, she said with a huge grin on her face.

We chat. About travels. And about how she quit her day job to join a partner to run this hostel. We talked about the type of travelers she accept in the hostel. “Hopefully not the drunken group kinds.” She smiled, while toasting me more pancakes during breakfast. “Nothing wrong with wanting to having fun in Vilnius and get yourselves drunk, but many people who stay with us spend most of the day exploring the city. We would like them to have a homely and quite stay with us at night.” Homely indeed, this was a rather special hostel.

Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral

Vilnius is pretty; easily the most understated kind, and if hostel owner is any indication, its very people too. I remembered the beautiful old town, the views from the top of castle hill, and the pearl white Vilnius Cathedral which I probably spent too much time snapping pictures away. I recalled Trakai for its incredibly picturesque island castle, a small village located a short distance away, but also miles apart.

Trakai, a village not far from the capital city of Vilnius
Trakai, a village not far from the capital city of Vilnius

My time in Lithuania was made most special because of the people I met. Whilst handing over the keys to the owner, I reached my pockets for the LTL 0.50 specially tucked away the previous night. “I remembered!”, I smiled, before making my way out.