Located between Russia and the Baltic Sea, the Baltic countries include Estonia in the North, Latviain the centre, and Lithuania in the South (although other countries that border the Baltic Sea include Denmark, Poland, Finland, Sweden and Russia, these are not considered to be in ‘the Baltics’). The Baltics are named not just for their geographical location bordering the Baltic Sea, but also for certain parallels in their history.
The history of the Baltics is somewhat turbulent, having been invaded multiple times throughout the previous century by Tsarist Russia, Nazi Germany, and the USSR. The Baltics have also declared their independence on several occasions (almost simultaneously), and have watched their economies flourish as a result of their emancipation.
As with any European country with a turbulent history, the character of the cities (in particular the capital cities) are shaped by the generations that have lived there before, and the troubles the cities have had to endure. The Baltics are becoming an increasingly popular travel destination -beginning to compete with the more popular destinations such as Prague- as cheap places rich in history, culture and heritage, as well as stunning views and raw natural landscapes.
Estonia’s coastline is dotted with over 1000 islands and islets, along with pristine, untouched beaches. The capital city of Tallinn boasts imposing medieval castles, winding cobblestone roads that boast a multitude of pavements cafes and little shops. Tallinn’s Kadriorg Palace –built by Peter the Great in 1725 for Catherine I of Russia- is a popular attraction, not just for its Baroque architecture, but it’s collection of artwork dating back to the 16th century.
Latvia plays host to a plethora of natural and historic beauties. With its rich and vast forests, glittering lakes and unblemished Baltic coastline, Latvia has a wealth of natural beauty. Aside from the beautiful countryside, Latvia also has a number of historic towns and well-preserved medieval fortifications dotted all over the country. The capital city of Riga plays host to the biggest indoor market in Europe, boasting locally grown produce and some hidden bargains. Riga also boasts an Italian courtyard, a serene park, and a Russian-style town on the edge of the city.
Lithuania has an array of dense forests, crystalline lakes, and white sand beaches. Lithuania’s coastline is definitely worth a visit, punctuated with lakes and an almost untouched coastline. The capital Vilnius boasts an array of Baroque buildings, many old churches, the fascinating “Old Town” (heavily influenced by the Baroque style), and the Republic of Artists; an area which can only be accessed by those who promise to be creative.For those who want to travel a place which is less influenced by tourism, Lithuania is the place to be.
A great way to explore the Baltics is through one of the many cruise packages available to holidaymakers. Baltic cruises allow you to explore all of the countries bordering the Baltic Sea, including Bergen; home to the Fjords of Norway, Stockholm; Europe’s cultural capital, Helsinki; with its rich array of neoclassical architecture, Copenhagen; with it’s beautiful Tivoli gardens, and of course the capital cities of Riga and Talinn.
The Baltics are relatively flat countries, making the opportunity for gentle hikes and long walks very appealing; there are also a great number of national parks, filled with spruce, pine and birch trees and glittering lakes.
The Baltics are very sparsely populated, with Lithuania and Latvia being less than 1/10th as densely populated as England (and Estonia only slightly more densely populated than this). The Northern and Western coastlines are largely untouched and pristine, but if you prefer a little more company, I’d recommend visiting some of the more popular coastal towns such as Palanga in Lithuania, Parnu in Estonia, and Jurmala and Liepaja in Latvia.