Lumped together geographically and culturally, the Baltic countries are Europe’s best kept secret. With the entry of each country into the European Union, there’s no better time to visit northern Europe’s crown jewels. Arguably the best way to see the region is through Israel Tour’s Baltic Jewish Heritage Tour. Below, we rank the top attractions in each country, giving you a comprehensive guide to the Baltic nations.
Built in the 14th century, with some elements added between the 15th and 18th centuries, Kuressaare Castle is a must-see for anyone visiting Estonia. Located on Saaremaa Island, the Castle was originally built as both an administrative/political center and a stronghold in times of attack. The grounds are completely open to the public, but to see all the features, you’ll need to buy a ticket to the Saaremaa Museum. The mood surrounding the castle is a mixture of brevity and sobriety: outdoor concerts are held on the grounds but there are also several memorials dedicated to the suffering experienced under Nazi and Soviet occupation.
Town Hall Square:
This popular square in Tallinn, called “Raekoja Plats” by locals, is quintessentially Estonian and looks like something straight out of Epcot. Flanked on one side by a gothic-style town hall building and ringed by colorful 15th to 17th century edifices on the other, this square boasts cozy outdoor cafes and beer gardens. During the holiday season, a large christmas tree stands in the middle of the square, reminiscent of the first christmas tree, a tradition Lithuania and Latvia compete over supposedly initiating.
Old Town Riga:
Old Town Riga is full of treasures, easily accessible on an afternoon stroll. Some of the most picturesque spots include: Livu Square (beer gardens galore), Dome Square (a stone’s throw from parliament and the president’s palace) and the Town Hall Square, where the Occupation Museum, a somber but moving informational experience, is located. Also, be sure to check out the Latvian Freedom Monument. Erected in 1935, it features Milda, the symbolic feminine Latvian character.
A picturesque beach town situated right on the Baltic Sea, Jurmala is a great place to relax, beach it up, breathe in ridiculously fresh air, hit the spa and witness eclectic architecture. A major attraction is Dzintari Concert Hall, which hosts impressive performers all year long.
Old Town Vilnius:
In typical Baltic fashion, Vilnius seems like something straight out of a fairytale. Featuring beautiful architecture and old-fashioned squares, some of the top sights in Vilnius are: Gediminas’ Tower, the Gate of Dawn, the Vilnius Cathedral, the Church of St. Anne and the Museum of Genocide Victims.
Trakai Island Castle: Located on Trakai Island in Lake Galvé, Trakai Island Castle was created by Kęstutis, a medieval ruler and completed around 1409. The castle and its surroundings incredibly picturesque, so expect a lot of tourists.
If any of the attractions above struck your fancy, make sure to check out Israel Tour’s Baltic Jewish Heritage Tour, a nine day adventure through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.