There are few areas of the European Union that have been explored less than the three Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. While Tallinn, Estonia has seen a massive influx of tourism in recent years due to its capacity as a cruise ship port and Riga, Latvia has increased in popularity as Ryanair began to offer cheap connections from other major European cities, the rest of the Baltics remain essentially untouched by foreign tourism. The sheer lack of tourist crowds can make Baltics travel an appealing option for those looking to get truly off the beaten path in Europe.
This Baltics travel guide will cover the basic information needed for you to begin to plan your Baltic adventure. Topics including currency, transportation, budget and accommodation information, safety concerns, religious and cultural nuances, and regional cuisine are all things worth considering before you embark upon your journey through these three undiscovered countries.
When To Go
Elsewhere in Europe we generally recommend travelling the shoulder seasons of March-May and September-October in order to get good weather while avoiding tourist crowds. However, arguably the best time of year for Baltics travel would be in the high season months of June-August. Because the Baltic nations are so far north, they see disparate temperatures — winter highs fall well below freezing and both autumn and spring and be quite chilly and rainy as well.
If you truly want to get the most out of your Baltics itinerary, going in the summer months is highly recommended, especially if you want to enjoy the pristine coastline and white-sand beaches that rival many of those found in the tropics. The weather is mild and never gets too hot, but be warned that there are mosquitos! We both were feasted upon while in the Baltics in July, so come armed with some bug spray if you don’t want to be covered in itchy welts for the majority of your holiday.
There aren’t huge tourist crowds in the summer, either, particularly if you venture outside of the capital cities. Another benefit to travelling in the high season vs shoulder or off-seasons is that all of the interesting tourist attractions, museums, and tours will be fully operational. Many business catered toward tourists close from October-May due to a lack of crowds, so if you want to be able to experience everything the Baltic nations have to offer, travelling in summer is the best decision!
There is something to be said for visiting the Baltics in December, however. The snow-covered cities and towns look like something out of a fairytale and there are Christmas markets to rival those of Bavaria — just make sure to bundle up!
Autumn can be another appealing time to visit the Baltic States if you don’t mind a little bit of rain and cold. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are incredibly green countries (all three have gone through a massive period of reforestation since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991) and the fall foliage is any nature-lovers dream! Just make sure to pack appropriately.
Unlike travelling in the Balkans or even backpacking through Central Europe, where most countries use different currencies, all the countries in the Baltics use the Euro! Estonia was the first to adopt the Euro in 2011 while Latvia and Lithuania followed in 2014 and 2015 respectively making exchanging and converting currency a breeze when travelling through the Baltic states!
Just one point on the long list of pros for Baltics travel is that they are quite possibly the most affordable region in the EU. Your money can go a long way in all three countries and the affordability of the region can allow even the most miserly of budget travellers to live a bit more luxuriously.
Every aspect of a travel budget is noticeably discounted in the Baltics and one could easily get by on a daily stipend of €35 – 40 per day without sacrificing any activities. It is worth noting, however, that prices in the Old Towns of Tallinn and, to a lesser extent, Riga can see prices that are nearly double than what you can find in less touristy areas of the city. These are really the only areas where you might need to penny-pinch like you were travelling in Central Europe.
If you are trying to save money, we recommend staying away from the tourist centres in the capital cities where prices can be very high. Find accommodation outside of the Old Towns and search for restaurants that cater to locals rather than tourists. This will not only help you stick to a tight budget but will also give you greater insight into how and where residents of whichever city you’re visiting live on a day-to-day basis.
Whilst trains do exist for some routes, generally, it is more convenient and practical to use buses when travelling between Baltic countries. Lux Express is the main bus company that operate routes between the Baltic States, Russia and Poland. Their buses are fantastic and very comfortable and offer amenities such as individual TV screens, WIFI, hot drinks and plenty of legroom! Furthermore, as the three Baltic states are part of the Schengen Area border crossings are seamless!
It is worth noting that, especially in summer, buses can book out early so it is good practice to book at least a couple of days in advance. This can save money as well, as it is usually cheaper to book online as many travel deals are offered. If you know which days you are planning on moving from city-to-city, this is a great option.
When moving between cities within one country during your Baltics travel, it’s worth investigating whether buses or trains are best for your route. Buses usually have the most extensive network however in some countries, particularly Latvia, there is a great train network for moving between the major cities surrounding Riga.
Though the public transit between cities in the Baltics is frequent and reliable, if you want to venture into more rural parts of the country or just don’t want to be at the mercy of bus timetables, it can be very worth renting a car. We use Rentalcars.com to search for the best prices from all car hire companies. We also recommend taking out an excess insurance policy with iCarHireInsurance in order to afford you some peace of mind should anything happen to your car without having to pay the high fees provided by the rental company.
One minor inconvenience of Baltics travel a budget backpacker might find is that there is a lack of hostels outside of the bigger cities. This, however, doesn’t mean that there is a shortage of budget accommodation in the Baltics. Airbnb rentals are prevalent, and most places you can rent a private apartment for around €30 per night and private rooms are about half of that price.
There are also more traditional guesthouses and BnBs in most larger towns and cities that can be an affordable accommodation option.
One thing to keep in mind that if you happen to be travelling in the high season is to make sure to book a bit in advance, especially in the capitals and coastal towns as the best places tend to book out early.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Baltic countries went through a process of reinstating their national language as the official language of their country. Latvian and Lithuanian are Indo-European languages that share similarities while Estonian is more closely related to Finnish.
The second language for many people from the Baltics is Russian, particularly for older people that went to school during the Soviet occupation. In some cities, particularly those closer to the Russian border, the main language will actually be Russian rather than the Baltic equivalent.
There is a higher Russian population in Latvia and Estonia than in Lithuania and you are more likely to hear Russian being spoken in these two countries than in Lithuania, with the possible exception of the Curonian Spit, which shares a border with Russia and therefore receives a fair amount of Russian tourism.
If you do speak Russian and want to use it to communicate in the Baltics, it is worth knowing that most people would prefer that you speak English to them first. Baltic people from all three countries are very proud of their national identity and don’t necessarily want to be associated with Russia today — including in language.
Younger people and those living in the capital cities will be more likely to be able to speak some English while German will also be common in some parts of the Baltic states.
The majority of people from the Baltic states subscribe to a particular form of Christianity. In Lithuania, the majority of people are Catholic, in Latvia, there is a more diverse mix of Lutherans, Catholics and Orthodox Christians while Estonia is predominately a mix of Lutherans and Orthodox Christians.
Many younger people, in particular, don’t see religion as a significant part of their lives. As an example, Estonia has one of the largest per capita populations of people who don’t believe in God.
Baltic food is incredibly diverse and draws significant influences from its neighbours including Russia, Poland and Nordic countries. Plenty of dishes you’ll encounter during your Baltics travel will be very similar to other Eastern European countries such as potatoes, pelmeni (dumplings), rye bread, dairy products and soups. What sets the Baltic states apart from other Eastern European countries is their geographic location on the Baltic Sea meaning there is plenty of fish incorporated into their diet, such as smoked salmon and pickled herring!
Apart from standard drinks such as beer and vodka, it’s worth sampling local spirits such as Black Balsam (herbal liqueur) in Latvia, Vana Tallin (rum liqueur) in Estonia and Krupnikas (honey liqueur) in Lithuania. Fermented soft drinks made from rye bread known as Kvass in Latvia and Gira in Lithuania are also worth trying and taste similar to root beer.
Baltics travel is safe — safer, in fact, than most anywhere on the European continent. The biggest physical safety concern one might face in the Baltic nations is, if you happen to be travelling in winter, to beware of walking beneath icicles — they can be dangerous if they fall!
Obviously, like everywhere, things like petty theft are more common in areas that see higher numbers of tourists, so just be sure to keep an eye on your belongings while traipsing through the Riga Old Town. Like everywhere else in the world, wearing a money belt or something similar will prove more inconvenient than helpful and is altogether unnecessary in the Baltics.
Men who intend to party when visiting Tallinn or Riga or Vilnius should also be aware of the scam run in party cities across the globe, where an attractive woman will encourage to buy you drinks all night and stick you with an exorbitant bar tab. Oftentimes this will result in you being “escorted” to an ATM to withdraw the amount. These scams are more common at some bars and clubs than others, so ask around to know which areas to avoid and you should have a smooth and easy trip to the Baltics.
Another thing to consider when travelling in the Baltics is travel insurance. We personally used World Nomads however it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.
Baltics Travel: Country by Country
Language: Estonian (uses the Latin alphabet) & Russian
Religion: Predominately Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox as well as significant atheist population.
- Tallinn – Estonian capital with a beautiful medieval Old Town that is popular with day-trippers
- Tartu – second largest city in Estonia with a large student population and a thriving arts scene, and a good base to explore rural Estonia
- Pärnu – often lauded as the summer capital of Estonia, this seaside town is a perfect Baltic beach getaway
Language: Latvian(uses the Latin alphabet) & Russian
Religion: Predominately Lutheran, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
- Riga – bustling Latvian capital famous for its Art Nouveau architecture and thriving nightlife
- Jurmala – beach town only a 30-minute train ride from Riga making this a great day trip option
- Liepaja – third-largest Latvian city on the Baltic sea with a beautiful untouched coastline
Language: Lithuanian (uses the Latin alphabet) & Russian
Religion: Majority Catholic
- Vilnius – picturesque Lithuanian capital that is significantly less touristy than Riga or Tallinn
- Kaunas – the second largest city in Lithuania with a beautiful castle and surrounding nature
- Palanga – popular Lithuanian beach town with miles of white sandy beach
- Klaipeda/Curonian Spit – the third-largest city in Lithuania, Klaipeda is a wonderful seaside town to visit. It is often used as a jumping-off point to explore the Curonian Spit, a narrow strip of land famous for its beautiful beaches, massive sand dunes, and bucolic fishing villages
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are three fantastic countries to travel to. The fact that they see so few foreign tourists combined with the ease and safety of travelling within the Schengen-area, Baltics travel is an appealing option for those looking to venture into Eastern Europe. All three countries that make up the Baltic states have incredible, lively cities, charming, bucolic countrysides, and idyllic, unspoilt beaches. Hopefully, this guide helps you plan your travels to this underrated corner of the European continent!
Are you planning any Baltic States travel? Have you been to the Baltics? Leave a comment below and let us know!