Which Baltic country should I go to? Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia

Which Baltic country should I go to? Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia

This post is for anyone who wants to know which Baltic country to visit.

The Baltics consist of Latvia, Lithuanian and Estonia. They are located in Northern Europe, next to the Baltic sea and until 1990 were part of the USSR. The Baltics shouldn’t be confused with the Balkans which are in South East Europe on the Balkan Peninsular.

When asked “which Baltic country should I go to?” my first answer is – take a few weeks off work and visit all three (and throw in a trip to Helsinki, Finland). But of course not everyone has this luxury.

I went to Latvia in the winter, Lithuania in spring and Estonia in the summer. I visited the capital cities; Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Tallinn (Estonia). Riga is the largest city in the Baltics with a population of 639,630, a third of the whole population of Latvia. Vilnius comes in second with 542,664 and Tallinn only has 445,054. The currency in the Baltics is the Euro but they all speak different languages.

To compare the cities I’ve given a score of 0 to 3, where 3 is the best, on different factors.

Getting there and transport

Prices

The women

The men

Beaches

Old Town

The vibe

Accommodation

Trips to other countries

Food and Drink

Cat Cafe

Overall

 

Getting there and transport

Tallinn Airport is the seventh closest airport in the world to the city that it serves. Only 3 miles away. It costs €2 for a bus ticket to the centre and the journey takes 10 minutes.

Riga and Vilnius are also very close to their airports. From Riga you can only get a bus or taxi. The bus (number 22) takes 30 mins and also costs €2 to the Old Town. I took a taxi from the Old Town to the Airport, it was pre-booked and cost €7 for the 15 minute journey.

Entering Riga's city centre from the bus
Entering Riga’s city centre from the bus

Note: on national holidays, 4 May (Day of the Restoration of Independence of Republic of Latvia) and 18 November (Proclamation Day of The Republic of Latvia) buses, trolleybuses and trams are all free of charge.

Vilnius Airport is connected by train, bus and private buses. I chose the train which cost €0.70 and took 7 minutes to reach the main train station next to Vilnius’ Old Town. On the way back I took a pre-booked taxi from the Old Town and it cost €4 for the 20 minute journey.

Walkway to the train at Vilnius Airport
Walkway to the train at Vilnius Airport

Vilnius also had Uber, which has recently been introduced in Tallinn. Having used Uber in Croatia and Bangkok, I found this the best way of getting around when there aren’t regular buses.

While all the airports have easy connections to the cities I’m giving Vilnius the extra point because it had the train, taxis were cheaper and it had Uber.

Getting there and transport scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 2

Prices

Tallinn was a lot more expensive than I was prepared for. Due to its proximity to Finland (a direct 1h 40min ferry ride away), visits from the Finns and Swedes have pushed up prices here. I paid €7 for a cocktail in a low-class bar in the Old Town and beers were €3 as opposed to the €2 I paid in Riga and Vilnius.

Bars of Tallinn Old Town
Bars of Tallinn Old Town

But Tallinn does have the Depeche Mode Baar for any 80s electro fans, which is worth the extra euro on a 0.5L beer for the novelty value.

Depeche Mode Baar, Tallinn
Depeche Mode Baar, Tallinn

Riga and Vilnius were similarly priced but Riga had cheaper accommodation, so I’ve given it the extra point.

Prices scores

Riga – 3

Vilnius – 2

Tallinn – 1

The women

Estonia produces the most supermodels per capita. Walking around Tallinn and spending time on the beach, it was obvious why they have so many supermodels. The young women are very pretty – slim and tall with strong cheek bones.

Estonian girls
Estonian girls

Supermodel Carmen Kass is an excellent example:

Supermodel Carmen Kass
Supermodel Carmen Kass

As the Baltics are cheap and budget airlines fly here, they’re very popular with stag parties, especially the British. Tallinn is the most popular of the Baltics for Brits to go for stags, followed by Riga. There is a less glamorous strip bar and prostitute side of the Baltics. I found this most obvious in Tallinn.

Stag party in Tallinn
Stag party in Tallinn

The women scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 2

Tallinn – 3

The men

The Lithuanian men are the most attractive men I have ever met in my travels. They have striking looks with dark blonde hair and piecing blue and green eyes. Many are tall, 6 foot plus and well put together. I sat next to a Lithuanian man on the train and was intimidated by his handsomeness.

Lithuania even produces professional hockey players that are also male models, like Mantas Armalis who plays for the San Jose Sharks.

Lithuanian Mantas Armalis
Lithuanian Mantas Armalis

Meanwhile in Tallinn, I didn’t see any men that stood out. Those that were tall and good-looking turned out to be Finns visiting from Helsinki.

The men in Riga were good looking but nothing special like the Lithuanians.

The men scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 1

Beaches

Tallinn – Pirita Beach. I went to Tallinn in August and I was surprised at how hot the weather was (around 30°C) and how beautiful the beaches were. I went to Pirita Beach, a short bus ride from the Old Town and I took a few cans of Estonian beer Saku Originaal with me. There were a lot of attractive Estonian women in bikinis and the water was warm, calm and perfect to swim in.

Pirita Beach, Tallinn
Pirita Beach, Tallinn
Pirita Beach, Tallinn
Pirita Beach, Tallinn
Saku beer
Saku beer

Riga – Jurmala. In Riga the main beach area is the resort city of Jurmala. It’s a 45 minute drive from Riga’s Old Town and there are also trains which take 35 minutes. Jurmala is known for its forest woodland area with long sandy beaches. There are many bars and cafes as well as the pedestrianized Jomas street. If you do go, it’s more of a day trip than a quick visit to the beach.

Vilnius – No beaches. The nearest seaside town is over 4 hours away by bus or train.

Beaches scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 0

Tallinn – 3

Old Town

The Historic Centre of Riga, Vilnius Historic Centre and Historic Centre (Old Town) of Tallinn, are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Riga and Tallinn’s Old Towns were very similar and a lot smaller than Vilnius’.

Tallinn’s Old Town

From the outside, Tallinn’s Old Town is the prettiest with orange triangular rooftops, gothic spires and a medieval feel. It offers the best photo opportunities. There are many small areas of greenery to sit down and as Tallinn is on the Baltic sea the air feels fresh.

Tallinn Old Town in August
Tallinn Old Town in August
Cobbled streets of Tallinn
Cobbled streets of Tallinn
Spires of Tallinn Old Town
Spires of Tallinn Old Town
Looking over Tallinn Old Town
Looking over Tallinn Old Town
Me in Tallinn
Me in Tallinn
Public garden in Tallinn with a waterfall and statue of a roe
Public garden with a waterfall and statue of a roe

Vilnius Old Town

Vilnius on the other hand is grey but has 28 churches in its Old Town – 21 Roman Catholic, 4 Russian Orthodox and 1 Lutheran, Reformed and Eastern Rite Catholic. This gives it lots of different architecture. Tallinn has a mere 10 churches. These churches in Vilnius are free to enter and the insides are beautiful – see St Anne’s Flamboyant Gothic style church.

St Anne's Church, Vilnius
St Anne’s Church, Vilnius
Inside St Anne's Church
Inside St Anne’s Church
Vilnius' Cathedral that doesn't look like a one
Vilnius’ Cathedral that doesn’t look like a cathedral

It’s also full of street art and hills where you can get a good view of the city.

Street Art in Vilnius
Street Art in Vilnius
View from the windy Three Crosses Hill
View from the windy Three Crosses Hill
Market outside St Parasceve Russian Orthodox Church Vilnius
Market outside St Parasceve Russian Orthodox Church Vilnius

What makes Vilnius different is Užupis, a self-proclaimed “republic” located mainly in the Old Town, full of Bohemians and arty types. You can read about Užupis in my blog post: Vilnius, Lithuania – a place you’ve probably never heard of but where the alternatives go

Sign at the entrance to Užupis
Sign at the entrance to Užupis
Love locks on the bridge to Užupis
Love locks on the bridge to Užupis
At Užupis's constitution
At Užupis’s constitution
Jesus the backpacker statue in Užupis
Jesus the backpacker statue in Užupis

Riga’s Old Town

In Riga the Old Town has a mixture of styles including Gothic, Nordic, Medieval and Baroque. The main sights to see are Peter’s Church, the Swedish Gate and the Freedom Monument.

Tip: I felt 9 euros to go inside and up the spire of Peter’s Church was a lot of money relative to the country. If you go to the top floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Riga, you can get a cocktail and the view for the same price.

Riga's Old Town
Riga’s Old Town, Peter’s church spire
Main square Riga Old Town
Main square
Riga's Cathedral
Riga’s Cathedral
Freedom Monument, Riga
Freedom Monument, Riga

Both Riga and Tallinn have a traditional feel with their winding cobbled streets and more medieval buildings. For example, Riga has some cool architecture including the Three Brothers. This consists of three houses that form the oldest dwellings in Riga. If this if what you prefer then head to Riga and Tallinn, but if you’re looking for a larger city with an alternative edge then I suggest Vilnius, especially as it has Užupis.

All the Old Towns have daily Free Tours which I hope everyone takes advantage of.

Old town scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 2

The vibe

Some people are put off by the idea that the Baltics are “grey”, “poor” or “Post-Soviet states”. In each city you can tell they’re trying to move on from this and promote how they are part of the EU. However, an unsettled vibe remains.

I felt this mainly in Latvia where 27% of Latvia’s population is ethnic Russian. Here the Latvians were more critical of Russia and I suggest going to the Museum of Occupation of Latvia to understand why this is.

In Estonia it is around 24% ethnic Russian, however, the Estonians want to be more like the Nordic countries and this is due to their ferry routes to Finland and Sweden.

Lithuania on the other hand is very different. It is only 6% ethnic Russian and in Vilnius they spoke less about the Russian occupations and covered more of the Jewish history. Before the second world war there were over 100,000 Jewish people living in Vilnius, contributing to 45% of the city’s population. After The Holocaust and 45 years of soviet occupation the number of Jewish people living here has nearly vanished.

Plaque in memory to the great Jewish religious thinker Vilniaus Gaon Elijahu on the building next to the site of his house
Plaque in memory to the great Jewish religious thinker Vilniaus Gaon Elijahu on the building next to the site of his house

The Baltics are also developing “hipster” areas. These areas have a young artistic vibe. Vilnius has Užupis and Tallinn has Telliskivi Loomelinnak, an old factory that’s been converted into an area of cafes and flea markets, which shows how much Tallinn is expanding.

The vibe scores

Riga – 1

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 2

Accommodation

I recommend staying in or near the Old Town part of the cities as this is where the main train stations and tourist sites are.

If you’ve read my post on Things you must do in Riga in winter the you’ll know how much I loved Cinnamon Sally Hostel in Riga. It’s the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in – small, sociable, next to the Old Town and very cheap. Riga also has some very nice hotels, such as the Radisson Blu with its top floor view of the city, the boutique hotel Neiburgs Hotel and the Dome Hotel & SPA, where you’re most likely to meet a Russian oligarch.

Cinnamon Sally Hostel in Riga
Cinnamon Sally Hostel in Riga

In Vilnius I stayed at Jimmy Jumps House. It was fairly large hostel, very social and they had free waffle for breakfast. It was aimed at younger people with an age limit of 40. I found Vilnius had less choice of hostels compared to Riga and Tallinn. Vilnius also has a nice selection of classy hotels, with the Shakespeare Hotel located in the Old Town, which is decorated with references to literature.

Back streets of Vilnius
Back streets of Vilnius
Jimmy Jumps House in Vilnius
Jimmy Jumps House in Vilnius

In Tallinn, I stayed at Tallinn Backpackers. I chose this hostel because I knew someone on Facebook who used to work there and it looked good. But they had new staff who didn’t know anything and I wasn’t impressed. The 6 bed dorm room was tiny and there weren’t many bathrooms.

I also hung out at the Monk’s Bunk as they ran the pub crawl. It had a bar and was a crazy party hostel. It also wasn’t very welcoming, again due to the staff. These hostels depend so much on who’s working there.

There’s a large selection of hostels in Tallinn, and it’s easy to find cheap, central accommodation. My negative experience put me off hostels there so try and get a recommendation or if you’re with friends then Airbnb may be a better option.

Accommodation scores

Riga – 3

Vilnius – 2

Tallinn – 1

Trips to other countries

While you’re in a Baltic country you might want to explore nearby countries and take an overnight trip to another city.

Tallinn

I went from Tallinn to Helsinki, Finland by ferry. Tallinn’s ferry port is within walking distance of the Old Town. I chose to go with Viking Line and booked a few weeks before on their website and it cost €21 one way and took 1h 45mins. They only have 5 boats a day but there are other ferry companies. It is possible to visit Helsinki just for the day but I recommend staying over so you can visit the Fortress of Suomenlinna.

Viking Line ferry at Tallinn port
Viking Line ferry at Tallinn port
Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Canon on Suomenlinna
Canon on Suomenlinna

Vilnius

Vilnius is a good stepping stone to Minsk, Belarus. There are regular trains running there, as well as a bus. The bus takes 3h 45mins and costs €11, you can see details here https://ecolines.net/lt/en/offers/abroad/vilnius-minsk

HOWEVER, Belarus isn’t in the EU and is often referred to as “the last dictatorship in Europe”. Many nationals require a visa to enter. UK citizens can enter for up to 5 days but only if they arrive at Belarus’ airport and exit via that airport. Which means arriving by bus or train isn’t possible. You can check if your country is listed for the same rules here.

If you want to travel to Belarus and then on to Russia or the Ukraine, transit visas are available. Otherwise you can take a short flight for £80 return to Minsk from Vilnius. For most nationalities this is the only chance to visit Belarus without spending £££.

Alternatively, rather than visiting Belarus, a trip to Šiauliai and the Hill of Crosses in northern Lithuania is a must. Read about how to do that here.

The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania

Riga

There are no countries other than the Baltics in easy reach. However, both Kemeri and Gauja national parks aren’t far from Riga.

Trips to other countries scores

Riga – 0

Vilnius – 1

Tallinn – 3

Food and Drink

Traditional foods in the Baltics include dishes made from barley and potatoes, with dumplings being very popular.

Black Balsam in a must in Riga! This drink is available in every bar there. It’s a traditional Latvian liqueur made with herbs mixed with vodka, and it’s strong – 45% abv.

Black Balsam
Black Balsam

I sipped the shot and could immediately taste the herbs. It definitely had a strong kick to it! I washed it down with a Heineken which I recommend to do. The taste wasn’t as bad as people had warned me but even after one shot and the beer I felt the effects.

Beer to wash down the shot
Beer to wash down the shot

If you want to feel like a local I suggest trying a shot to get the taste and then mixing it with blackcurrant or even in a coffee.

To try some traditional Latvian food in Riga, I suggest heading to Folkklubs ALA pagrabs. They also have the largest number of beers in Riga with 28 different beers on tap.

In Lithuania didžkukuliai are very popular. This is a traditional Lithuanian dish of potato dumplings stuffed with ground meat and sour cream.

Didžkukuliai - sour cream and meat
Didžkukuliai – sour cream and meat

The other traditional food is pig ears. They have a rubbery texture and a very strong meaty smell. You can often find them in Vilnius as a beer bar snack. A good place to try Lithuanian food is Forto Dvaras in Vilnius’ Old Town.

Vilnius - Pig ears
Vilnius – Pig ears
Tucking into to pig ears and a half a litre of white wheat beer
Tucking into to pig ears and a half a litre of white wheat beer

As Tallinn is on the Baltic sea, it’s the best place to get sea food. It’s also influenced by Finnish foods.

Kama (in Estonian) or talkkuna (in Finnish) is popular. It’s a fine grain flour made from roasted barley, rye, oat and pea flour that’s mixed with an ingredient such as; curdled milk, buttermilk or mascarpone to make it into a thick drink or flour balls.

I like Baltic food and I most enjoyed the food in Vilnius. While it looked greasy, it wasn’t as fatty as the food in Riga. Even though I love seafood, in Tallinn the seafood felt generic.

Food and drink scores

Riga – 2

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 2

Cat Cafe

I love cats. When I heard Riga had a cat cafe I was over the moon. But when I went there I found it had suddenly closed down 🙁 Locals told me it was very popular and they were confused about what happened.

However, in Vilnius there is a cat cafe – Cat Cafe KaciU Kavine, with 15 cats! Cat lovers in the Baltics can rejoice. If you’ve never been to a cat cafe then I have to warn you, the cats aren’t always all over you, you have to wait for them to come to you – you can’t go and pick them up.

Cat Cafe poster in Vilnius Old Town
Cat Cafe poster in Vilnius Old Town

Tallinn also has a cat cafe – Cat Cafe Nurri. This is less promoted than the one in Vilnius and has a €5 entrance fee which goes towards looking after cats. It’s more expensive than other cafes in Tallinn but it has cats so who cares?

Cat cafe scores

Riga – 0

Vilnius – 3

Tallinn – 2

Overall

I’ve added up the scores below.

Riga – 19

Vilnius – 25

Tallinn – 22

Vilnius comes top overall. This is mainly because it’s a large city with more transport options, a modern feel and Užupis.

Each city has its own merits:

Riga – awesome hostel, cheap beer, black balsam and interesting landmarks.

Vilnius – good looking men, churches, street art and the bohemian district Užupis.

Tallinn – it’s medieval old town, beautiful women, Pirita Beach and it’s only a short ferry to Finland.

If you’ve visited the Baltics or are planning to, let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

2 Replies to “Which Baltic country should I go to? Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia”

  1. Wow!! Very nice and interesting. I would appreciate you talk about the employment rate in the Baltic States

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.