Vilnius Street Art | Image courtesy of Kate Sobol

Three weeks in the Baltics – An itinerary for independent travellers

Paul Ryken and Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Friday 30 October 2020 Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania 1 Comment

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If you’ve got three weeks to spare and wonder whether you should use them to visit the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, this article is for you. The Baltics had been on our travel bucket list for aeons, and we finally managed to visit all three of them in May 2019.

The flags of the three Baltic countries (from left to right): Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The flags of the three Baltic countries (from left to right): Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Why visit the Baltics?

While there is a young and dynamic feel about them, the Baltics have a lot of history waiting to be discovered. From Teutonic Knights to Russian Tsars, and both Fascist and Socialist dictatorships, the Baltic countries had (more than) their fair share of invaders. The remnants from those times are everywhere: Quaint medieval old towns sit side by side with austere Soviet-era architecture, Catholic and Protestant churches next to the onion-shaped domes of Eastern Orthodox edifices. Even the Baltic cuisine can tell you stories.

Cold Beetroot Soup in Lithuania
Baltic food is hearty, with influences from the foreign forces that invaded and occupied the Baltics over the centuries

If that’s not enough: August 2019 marks 30 years of the Baltic way, when 2 million people joined hands to form a chain reaching from Vilnius via Riga to Tallinn. And in 2020/21, all three countries celebrate the 30th anniversary of regaining their independence after 40+ years of Soviet occupation. One thing is sure: Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians everywhere will proudly celebrate the occasion.

2019 marks the 30th Anniversary of the Baltic Way, which ultimately led to the Baltics regaining their independence

If you’re more into nature and the outdoors, the Baltics have you covered too. Firstly, there are several thousand kilometres of Baltic coastline (Estonia alone has more than 2,000 islands), over 10,000 lakes and more than 5,000 kilometres of rivers. So, if anything water-related is your thing, you’re spoilt for choice. Likewise, if you love hiking or cycling, you can choose between 14 National Parks.

The Baltics are home to 14 national parks | Photo by Cristiano Sequeira on Pixabay
The Baltics are home to 14 national parks | Photo by Cristiano Sequeira on Pixabay

These days, the Baltics are a peaceful place. It feels safe travelling around Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. People are friendly, albeit often a bit shy: most people over 40 don’t speak English.

The countries are also relatively undiscovered when it comes to tourism. Most visitors seem to focus on the UNESCO protected historic old towns of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn which are advertised in every tourism marketing brochure. But there is so much more to the Baltics than the capital cities and their medieval hearts. So, what are you waiting for?

Baltic streetscapes are not all about quaint medieval old towns

When is the best time to visit?

While our favourite travel time of the year is usually Spring (mid-March to mid-June) and Autumn (mid-September to mid-December), the three Baltic countries are best visited between end May/early June and mid-end August, when the temperatures are in the low 20s (centigrade that is), and the days are super long. If you want to experience the Baltics in the winter, come in February or March, when snow is still likely, but the days are longer.

The Baltics are best visited in summer when the temperatures are warm and the days are long | Photo by Kate Sobol
The Baltics are best visited in summer when the temperatures are warm and the days are long | Photo by Kate Sobol

Why choose this itinerary?

We’ve put together an itinerary that shows you a bit of everything: historic cities, National Parks and the Baltic Sea. While our itinerary starts in Vilnius and finishes in Tallinn, it can easily be done the other way around.

All the places we recommend are reachable by public transport. Although to make things a bit easier for you, we do recommend one-day car rentals on the island of Saaremaa and for the day trip from Vilnius (and maybe Riga). Don’t worry: we provide you with all the links you need to organise your transportation further down in this post.

While this itinerary is built around a week in each country – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – you can easily add days here and there if you’ve got more time. Alternatively, if you’ve got only time to visit one country just pick the one that sounds most interesting to you (and come back for more another time).

So, let’s have a look which places we have in mind for you.

Suggested route

Three week itinerary in the Baltics for independent travellers
Three week itinerary in the Baltics for independent travellers
Suggested Stay (Nights)Destination
Arrival Airport: Vilnius
3 nightsVilnius
3 nightsKaunas
1 nightŠiauliai
3 nightsRiga
2 nightsSigulda
2 nightsCēsis
2 nightsTartu
3 nightsTallinn
2 nightsKuressaare
Departure Airport: Tallinn

To find out more about each country, click on the tiles below. For destination-specific information, click on the links in the above table.

Lithuania Button
Latvia Button
Estonia Button

How easy is it to travel the Baltics by bus or train, and where to buy tickets?

Travelling around the Baltics by bus and/or train is super easy. Our go-to website to determine what transport options exist between points A and B (and to get an idea as to how long it takes and how much it costs) is Rome2Rio.

While there are reliable bus connections pretty much everywhere in the Baltics, we find trains more comfortable and chose trains over buses wherever possible:

FromToRecommended mode of transport
VilniusKaunasTrain
KaunasŠiauliaiBus
ŠiauliaiRigaBus
RigaSiguldaTrain
SiguldaCēsisTrain
CēsisTartu via ValgaTrain from Cēsis to Valga | Train from Valga to Tartu
TartuTallinnTrain
TallinnKuressaareBus/Ferry
KuressaareTallinnBus/Ferry

Another bonus: trains in Latvia and Estonia have (reasonably good) Wi-Fi. So, if you need to catch up on some emails or travel with kids who find looking out of the window boring, no problem.

Here are all the important links to organise your travels around the Baltics:

Train travel in the Baltics

In both Lithuania and Latvia, you can buy train tickets at the train station or on the train (both without surcharge). Alternatively, if you prefer to purchase online (electronic tickets are accepted):

In Estonia, you can only buy train tickets online (electronic tickets are accepted) or on the train (with a surcharge). The train stations we traveled through had no ticket counters or machines at the stations.

Trains in the Baltics are clean, comfortable, cheap and reliable (and in Latvia and Estonia they even have Wifi)
Trains in the Baltics are clean, comfortable, cheap and reliable (and in Latvia and Estonia they even have Wifi)

Bus travel in the Baltics

We booked our bus tickets in Lithuania and from Lithuania to Latvia online (electronic tickets are accepted):

but you can also buy them at the bus stations.

The Peatus website provides comprehensive route/timetable/bus company information for Estonia and between Estonia and Latvia/Lithuania, but you can’t buy a ticket through the website. Instead, you can buy your bus ticket at the bus station or online with the bus company directly:

There are reliable bus connections pretty much everywhere in the Baltics
There are reliable bus connections pretty much everywhere in the Baltics

Hiring a car in the Baltics

While you don’t really need a car to explore the Baltics, we know some of you prefer their own wheels. To hire a car in Vilnius or Riga, we recommend using one of the aggregator websites like Skyscanner or Expedia. On Saaremaa, we found three rental companies:

We used Rendi Autorent (we just booked over the phone, and they dropped the car off at/picked it up from our accommodation). The car was an older model, but fine for a day. Expect to pay around EUR30 (with basic insurance).

If you do not hold an EU or UK drivers licence, note that the car rental company may require you to bring an International Driving Permit. We encountered that issue when trying to rent a car in Tallinn (as we have New Zealand drivers licences). If that is a concern for you too, make sure you read the terms and conditions (and if need be confirm over the phone) before you book a car.

Book your flights now

SaleBestseller No. 1
Rick Steves Scandinavian & Northern European Cruise Ports
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DK Eyewitness Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Travel Guide)
DK Eyewitness (Author); English (Publication Language); 416 Pages - 08/15/2017 (Publication Date) - DK Eyewitness Travel (Publisher)
$18.99
SaleBestseller No. 3
Insight Guides Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania (Travel Guide with Free eBook)
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Fodor's European Cruise Ports of Call (Travel Guide (3))
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Have you explored the Baltic states? What other tips would you add? Please leave a comment below.

Feature image courtesy of Kate Sobol

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Want to explore the Baltics, ideally by bus or train? We have the ultimate itinerary for you: an unforgettable mix of history, nature and culture.
Want to explore the Baltics, ideally by bus or train? We have the ultimate itinerary for you: an unforgettable mix of history, nature and culture.
Want to explore the Baltics, ideally by bus or train? We have the ultimate itinerary for you: an unforgettable mix of history, nature and culture.

Comments 1

  1. I can see why the Baltic states are so appealing with the rich history, minimal tourists and loads of hiking! And this is such a helpful itinerary to visit them! I especially love the chart breakdown with each day laid out.

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