That word in the title is Estonian for “in a nutshell.” Estonians know that it signals a really long explanation is coming.
Clay and I decided that this trip we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before. We wanted the place(s) to be different from the usual vacation spots we go (& others, too). Our other criteria included being cooler than Austin, Texas in the summertime (easy one), affordable (to make up for Norway, Finland, and Denmark), and have an interesting history that would expand our knowledge of the world. The Baltics met all our criteria, so we began the process of learning about traveling there.
We decided to visit the three Capital cities in the three countries, and perhaps take day trips from there as well. The three are: Tallinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; and Vilnius, Lithuania. Travel between the countries is very easy (via bus!) and affordable (about 10-15 Euros each). We booked our Airbnb using our criteria which is easy to filter on the Airbnb Web Site: Our place must have good reviews, be affordable (easy in the Baltics), have a washing machine, be close to public transportation, and a have bedroom that’s separate from the living area. I read every review before making a decision on where to stay.
I asked an Austin friend who had traveled to the three Baltic countries about her favorite. She liked all of them, but seemed at a loss to pick her favorite. Now, I get it. I struggle with that myself when I was trying to pick “my” favorite. At the end of this section, I will tell you my favorite and ask Clay to do the same, but it really (of course) does depend on what you like.
Here are the positive and negatives of visiting the three cities in my opinion:
- Beautiful old town
- Excellent Museums
- Beautiful Parks and Palaces
- Good public transportation
- Incredible Maritime Museum
- Wonderful food at affordable prices
- A little too Touristy (cruise ship people make old town hard to navigate)
- Locals not as friendly as I had expected
- Beautiful Old Town
- Affordable (slightly more affordable than Tallinn)
- Public transportation – outstanding!
- Live music (best of the Baltics!)
- Outstanding Art Nouveau architecture (wow)
- Outstanding Auto Museum (see earlier blog)
- Great restaurants at affordable prices
- Beautiful Old Town
- Incredible number of outstanding churches
- Extremely affordable (lowest of all 3)
- Public transportation (good but not outstanding)
- Outstanding Museum of Genocide Victims (wow!)
- Good restaurants at extremely affordable prices
- Not so many tourists! (not a port city)
- Friendliest People in the Baltics
- Museums good, but not the quality & number of Tallinn & Riga
Now, I would have to say that all the places were fun and entertaining. We never left a place that we were happy to be leaving. I have to say that Riga was my favorite, edging out Vilnius by a very small margin. Tallinn was great, but just too touristy, but after the cruise ships left, the city became my favorite!
I will let Clay have the last word and get his thoughts on this subject.
I’ll add on to what Maggie said about our favorite cities: Riga was our favorite city as far as things to do: interesting history and art museums, entertaining night life, nice (and affordable) restaurants – it’s all there.
That said, our favorite people were the Lithuanians. Estonians and Latvians are helpful and earnest, but they are very reserved. Out in public, they simply don’t acknowledge a stranger’s presence unless it’s absolutely necessary. Likewise, they don’t make their presence known in public unless there’s a really good reason. Lithuanians are a totally different breed. People would smile back at us when we smiled at them. They would say hello. They seemed to be having more fun than anybody else. Vilnius has a lot of churches, but it’s not big for art and history museums, but the people more than made up for that.