Baltic Capitals - View from the Inside

07 May 2024 Charlie Nudd
Group in Vilnius, Lithuania VFI Header Image Riga, Latvia Front, Runedale Palace, Pilsrundale, Latvia Front Black Magic Bar, Riga, Latvia

A personal account from Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia


A place of hidden gems, fascinating history and sublime architecture!

The start to our trip was ushered in with a magnificent feast of traditional Lithuanian dishes in an utterly charming little restaurant called Bernelių Užeiga, just a stone’s throw from our wonderful hotel! Our meal consisted of a tasting menu featuring traditional Borscht - a warm beetroot soup typical of the area, as well as various iterations of sausage and potatoes. The Cepelinai were particularly delicious! This hidden gem is a must if you are visiting Vilnius, the atmosphere is so peaceful and the food is delicious. Just come prepared for a large meal!

The next morning, we were met by our guide for the walking tour of Vilnius Old Town. Starting in the vast expanse of Vilnius Cathedral Square, we strolled along quiet and quaint cobbled streets, admiring the Baroque-style architecture and learning about the fascinating history of Vilnius. What surprised me was how clean and tranquil the city was. There was a real sense of calm about Vilnius that set our minds at ease. Our weather made everything much more pleasant, with an unseasonable high of 25 degrees! 

Following our walking tour of the Old Town, we took a short drive out to the Lake District, just outside of Vilnius to see the Lake Castle of Trakai. Set upon an island in the middle of a lake, proudly sits a 14th-century fortress. We took a short tour inside of the castle, learning of its history and mysterious folklore. However, if the weather permits, a boat trip around the castle on one of the small boats is an absolute must. We enjoyed the gentle breeze as the boat meandered out past the castle to sneak a peek of the striking white Manor House perched on the water’s edge.

Day two was perhaps my most memorable, and favourite excursion of the whole trip! From Vilnius, we drove out into the countryside, crossing into Latvia and stopping on the outskirts of Riga for a guided tour of Rundāle Palace. Another inspiring Baroque masterpiece, built for the Dukes of Courland in the 18th century. Our guide, Olafs was superb. He brought the history of the palace to life in a style totally unique to him. Hanging on every word of his humorous commentary, we toured the palace of the Dukes. What was most interesting was the palaces potted history, spanning the pre-revolutionary era to Stalinist Russia. The palace has had many guises over the years, from a Duke’s playground to a school and even grain storage under Soviet occupation!

After our delightful tour of Rundale Palace, we took a short drive into the centre of Riga for our next city stay. We were met by our guide the next morning for another walking tour. What was interesting about Riga, in comparison to Vilnius was the transition from Baroque style architecture to the towering Art Nouveau mansion blocks that lined the streets. The highlight of the day, however, was the unique and quirky little cafe, Riga’s Black Magic Bar. The cafe/bar is famous for its black balsam cocktail - an aromatic mix of herbs and spices, curated into a hot, mulled wine-like drink. This is truly one of Riga’s best-hidden gems. If you visit, be sure to take a closer look at the bookshelf in the corner!

The next day, we travelled across the countryside into Estonia, arriving promptly for a quick bite to eat before meeting our guide for our final walking tour. Tallinn, in contrast to Vilnius and Riga, was a charming  Medieval town, featuring original Medieval taverns and restaurants, and an imposing city wall that stands firm to this day. The city is divided into an upper and lower city, accessed either by the aptly named “long-leg street” or “short-leg street”. High upon the hill in the upper city, sits an amazing Russian Orthodox Church with towering domes and ornate architraves. Walking the city is a must to see all the little secrets and alleyways that offer a glimpse into this city’s history!

An example of this, and what was perhaps my highlight of the day, was the cute little alleyway called St. Anne’s Passage. Nestled into a side street and paved with large cobblestones, sits a hub of artisan workshops and cafes. It stood out to me that Tallinn was a city full of traders and craftsmen, much as it would have been in Medieval times! There is a proud history of craftsmanship that is entirely visible throughout the whole of Tallinn, making it a truly fascinating city to visit.

Overall, the trip was incredible and brought three countries that I would have overlooked into a new light. If you are considering a trip somewhere unique and lesser known to tourists, then The Baltic Capitals are one for you!

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