What a strange white light, I thought, as I blinked, having a hard time keeping my sleepy eyes open. We had only been wandering the buzzing streets of central
Taking advantage of the very cheap flights between
The Baltic states weren’t my first choice when I was looking for the perfect destination a few months ago. I was dying to go to Scandinavia to explore the cool cities of Sweden and walk in the wild nature of Norway. Scandinavian countries are amazing – but they are also pricey.
The Baltic states were close enough geographically, much cheaper and from what I read seemed to offer vibrant cities and beautiful nature too. So, I expected our trip to be like a cheap Scandinavian venture.
But that wasn’t the case. The Baltic states convinced me on their very own. Here are five surprises waiting for your in the Baltic states, making sure that your trip is nothing like your expectation.
1) The architecture
While I really enjoy reading everything I can find about my next travel destination, I try to avoid to look at too many pictures. I want to discover and not recognize. I arrived in Riga, capital of Latvia, having no clue about what the city would look like. I was very soon amazed by the mix of architecture on the streets of Riga: modern, anonymous glass glass giants by the river, grey communist-looking blocks of buildings, colorful Orthodox churches with golden domes, Art Nouveau facades full of magical details and all those little wooden houses packed in between.
Riga’s Old Town is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and medieval-looking houses, and all them lead to the central square surrounded by buildings in all kinds of styles and the town hall. No wonder then, that the historical center of Riga is registered with the UNESCO World Heritage Center – but I have to admit that it didn’t seem too special in relation to the rest of Central Europe.
The Old Town of
A few minutes outside the Old Town lies the Linnahall, an old communist concert hall that is now abandoned and covered in graffiti. It faces the water and its roof is the perfect spot to witness the sun rise or set!
I was particularly intrigued by the typical wooden houses that we found all over the Baltic states and Finland. While the ones we saw in Helsinki were perfectly painted in a beautiful dark red or black, the Estonian and Latvian examples came in all kinds of colors and very different states of restoration.
The beautiful buildings are scattered all around Riga and Tallinn, the homes of shops or people, and add a certain charm to any street. If you want to see more of them, take a stroll in the neighborhood of Kalnciema, situated in the western part of Riga. Leave the main street to discover the beautiful wooden houses and gardens of this residential area. I couldn’t believe how close we were to the city center, and yet the neighbourhood felt so calm, as if from another time.
2) The people
I wasn’t fully convinced by the people in the beginning – the long and harsh winter seemed to have taken its toll on their spirits. And yet, as the cold was lifting, so were their moods! Everyone we encountered was lovely, helpful and welcoming.
I think in particular of the waiter who had just closed the restaurant for the night, but invited us in either way to dish up the most delicious dinner while his colleagues were already cleaning the place.
In each country we tried to pick up some basic words and phrases, but in fact everybody spoke great English and welcomed us warmly.
3) The food
Fresh berries and homemade whipped cream, tasty soups, tender meat and local vegetables – it won’t come as a surprise that the food was one of the best parts of our trip. Wherever we went to eat in Estonia and Latvia we were served extremely fresh and tasty dishes – they’re real
Food in Riga
Our Airbnb hosts in Riga had given us many recommendations for cafés and restaurants and we made a point of trying almost all of them. When wandering near the Art Nouveau neighborhood of Riga, grab a tasty coffee at the very hip
We had another very Latvian experience in the strange yet fascinating Kalnciema neighbourhood. We walked into
Food in Tallinn
For a meal in the hip atmosphere of a little design gem, try Tallinn’s café
The Old Town of Tallinn is full of cafés and cheap places to eat, which you can easily discover by yourself or follow recommendations on the Locals Map distributed in hostels and tourist info points.
But there is more than the cobbled lanes of the Old Town! Head to Telliskivi, an old factory complex that is now home to several cafés, bars and restaurants. We ate at
4) The nature
The one thing I didn’t expect as we were taking the bus from Riga to
While the winter was slowly fading in other places, the weather was still quite harsh on the Latvian seaside; the temperature dropped from 8°C in Riga to below zero and we froze while walking to the beach of Pärnu. The town is a popular destination where locals go to sunbathe on the long sandy beaches during the summer, but on that day we were the only ones who could witness the impressive show of the frozen sea. In this typical northern white light, the pier made of rocks led us far away into the icy sea, with not a soul or sound in sight. It was mesmerizing!
5) The public transport system
To be fair, the train system wasn’t particularly good but the buses are incredibly cheap and comfortable. You can easily book tickets online or directly at the bus station. You will never spend more than €10 for reaching the next big city. While on the bus from Riga to Pärnu I helped myself to plenty of hot chocolates and caught up on the latest science-fiction movies on my little private entertainment screen. Anyone fancy seeing X-men in Russian without subtitles?
The Baltic states did surprise me in many ways – and gave me some mixed feelings. Either way, this the most interesting trip of my year and so rich in new experiences. Riga and Tallinn have a certain vibe, somewhere between old and modern, stuck between Scandinavia and Russia, whose cultural influences can be found in architecture, nature and languages.
It made me want to come back during the summer, to meet more locals, enjoy the beautiful nature in all its glory and see the many sites we didn’t have time to discover in one week.
Have you ever been to the Baltic states? Which places should I definitely put on my itinerary?
This is a guest post by Marine Kervizic.
Marine Kervizic comes from the wild Atlantic coast of Brittany, France. While her love for nature is big, it equals the fascination she has for cities. After studying in the North of France, she lived in Berlin for two years and came back France to finish her studies. She’s now doing her master’s degree in Cultural Management in Paris and still wonders if she could find a job that would consist in roaming cities street and taking pictures. She documents the everyday student life, city strolls and travels on her blog: