Lithuania - Latvia - Estonia - Finland
September 20–October 4, 2023 (15 days)
with Optional Stockholm & Oslo post-tour
October 4–8, 2023
✔ Discover charming cities, traditional villages, uniquely beautiful countryside and the fascinating history of the Baltic countries, through the period of Russian occupation up to their more recent independence and incorporation into the European Union.
✔ Visit the old towns of the three Baltic capitals – Baroque Vilnius, Art Nouveau Riga and medieval Tallinn – all of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and enjoy a day trip to the vibrant seaside city of Helsinki.
✔ Discover the region’s surviving castles of Trakai, Kaunas, Turaida, Cēsis, Kuressaare, as well as the grand palaces of Rundāle and Kadriorg.
✔ Enjoy unrivalled natural beauty as you explore the Curonian Spit with its huge sand dunes crushed by the waves of the Baltic Sea, Gauja National Park and the unspoilt islands of Saaremaa and Muhu.
✔ Optional extension to Stockholm, Sweden and the sophisticated Norwegian capital, Oslo.
Depart for Lithuania.
After arrival in Vilnius, Lithuania, transfer to your hotel. Free time to relax until dinner. (D)
Start your exploration of Vilnius with a tour of the Old Town, a maze of narrow cobblestone streets lined with historic monuments. See the stunning Gothic Church of St. Anne, the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, the cathedral, the Jesuit University, the Gates of Dawn and Gediminas' Tower.
This afternoon discover Trakai Castle, the former capital of Lithuania. Dramatically situated on an island in Lake Galvė, the iconic 14th-century red brick castle is now home to the History Museum. Return to Vilnius for a special folklore dinner at a local restaurant. (B,D)
This morning proceed to Kaunas, the second largest city in the country, strategically wedged at the confluence of the Nemunas and Neris rivers. Spared in World War II, its old town is a concentration of monuments.
On a city tour, see the 13th-century castle, the town hall, nicknamed the “White Swan”, the cathedral-basilica, the Baroque church of St. Francis Xavier and Jesuit monastery, the House of Perkūnas and Vytautas Church. Late afternoon arrival in Klaipėda. (B,D)
Morning city tour of Klaipėda, formerly known as Memel and part of the Prussian Kingdom until the region wrestled to autonomy in 1923. Lithuania’s main seaport, dubbed the “Gateway to the Sea”, has a distinctly German flavour. Highlights include the old post office and Theatre Square.
Take the ferry to Neringa and explore the Curonian Spit, a thin stretch of land between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon with small fishing villages, pine forests and pristine sand dunes. Visit the scenic fisherman’s village of Nida and Thomas Mann's summer house. Return to Klaipėda for dinner. (B,D)
Depart Klaipėda and stop at Siaulai’s amazing Hill of Crosses, one of the holiest sites of Catholic Lithuania.
Continue to Latvia. Discover the most magnificent Baroque jewel in the Baltic States – Rundāle Palace. Built in the first part of the 18th century by the Italian architect Rastrelli, whose genius created the Hermitage and set the style for St. Petersburg and many of Europe’s finest buildings of that era. The palace boasts a beautiful French-style park and rooms restored with authentic 18th-century furnishings. Late afternoon arrival in Riga, the Latvian capital. (B,D)
This morning explore Riga, the largest of the three Baltics capitals. A medieval Hanseatic town, Riga displays Europe’s greatest concentration of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) buildings. The style dominated European architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and an architectural historian will highlight details of the finest city facades. See St. Peter’s Cathedral, Riga Castle, the cathedral and the old guild houses.
Afternoon tour of the Open-Air Museum of Latvia on the banks of Lake Jugla. This stretch of forest contains more than 100 wooden buildings, such as churches, windmills and farmhouses from each of Latvia’s four cultural regions. Started in 1924, it is one of the oldest open-air museums in Europe. Folklore show and dinner at a local restaurant. (B,D)
Today explore Gauja National Park, also known as the "Switzerland of Latvia". Visit the historical centre of Turaida, which comprises a museum of art and archeological artifacts dating back to the 11th century. Melt back into the Middle Ages of heroes and romantic legends in Sigulda as you visit the ruins of the 13th-century Crusader Castle and 19th-century Kropotkin’s Palace. Drive along the scenic river valley and walk to the sandstone grottoes by the ancient river bank.
Continue on to Cēsis, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the Baltics, for a tour. Built in the 13th century, Cēsis Castle was the seat of the Livonian Order and one of its greatest strongholds. Its surrounding park was established in 1812 and is a popular place for locals and visitors alike. (B,D)
Today make a stop at Valmiera. High above the banks of the Gauja River, Valmiera is a former member of the Hanseatic League. The city was destroyed by wars and fires, and was rebuilt from scratch a total of eleven times during its existence.
Continue to Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, often referred to as the “Athens on the Emajõgi”. The Neoclassical style in which central Tartu was reconstructed in the 18th century, combined with an ancient university founded in 1632 inspires this comparison. Take a walking tour of the charming old town including the university, Tartu Art Museum, the observatory, St. John's Church, the quiet, leafy Toome Hill and the ruins of the old Dome Church. (B,D)
This morning proceed to Virtsu and take the ferry to Muhu Island. Continue on to Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island. Saaremaa has retained its historic character and is a world apart where beautiful national costumes and local dialects are still in use. The island is still substantially covered in forests of pine, spruce and juniper. Unspoilt nature, unique dolomite formations, windmills, lighthouses and houses with thatched roofs are typical of the island, which is also known for its handcrafted beer. Late afternoon arrival in Kuressaare. (B,D)
Travel back in time during a walking tour of the small town of Kuressaare. Discover the outstanding 13th-century castle fortifications and surrounding park, the picturesque triangular squares of the old town and the 1663 Weighhouse from the Swedish era.
On the north coast of Saaremaa, see the dramatic Panga cliff, a place of worship and sacrifice for the ancient Saarlanders. It is known that until well into the 19th century, local fishermen poured libations of beer and whisky over the edge of the cliff to ensure good catches and calm seas. Then proceed to the village of Angla, site of the largest and most photogenic grouping of windmills on the islands. In 1925, when the village consisted of thirteen farms, this windy hilltop held as many as nine different mills. (B,D)
Today return to the mainland by ferry and drive to Tallinn, the capital. Embark on a tour of the picturesque old town, where entire districts have preserved their medieval glory. Walk along its quaint narrow streets and see beautiful Gothic merchants’ houses, Toompea Castle, the 13th-century Dome Church, the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Town Hall Square, the Great Guild, built to celebrate Tallinn’s membership in the Hanseatic League, and St. Olaf’s Church. (B,D)
Morning visit to the extravagant Kadriorg Palace, built as a gift by Peter the Great to his wife Catherine I in the 1720s and an excellent example of Baroque architecture. The palace currently houses an art museum displaying foreign art from the 16th to 20th centuries. Continue to the cutting-edge KUMU Art Museum, which serves both as Estonia's national gallery and as a centre for contemporary art.
Afternoon at leisure to further explore Tallinn on your own. (B,D)
Today take a ferry to Helsinki, Finland. During your orientation tour through the historic centre, see Senate Square, the Presidential Palace, City Hall, the imposing Parliament House, Finlandia Hall – one of Alvar Aalto’s most famous works and home to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and the opera house. Make stops at the Sibelius Monument and, if services permit, at the spectacular Temppeliaukio Church – the Church in the Rock. Designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and consecrated in 1969, the church was built directly into the rock and crowned with a solid copper dome. Enjoy some free time in the city before returning to Tallinn by ferry. (B,D)
Transfer to Tallinn Airport for your flight(s) home. Those joining the optional extension will take the 90-min flight to the Swedish capital, Stockholm. (B)