It’s almost time for my much anticipated annual spring trip. Last year’s trip to France was fantastic. I explored Burgundy wine country, sipped bubbly in Champagne, discovered one of my new favorite cities in the world and was able to finally experience Paris in the springtime. France was great, but my upcoming trip is the type of trip that “feeds my soul” and gets me super excited as “a traveler.” What I love most is that this trip is a little further off the typical tourist track and “beaten path” by most (American) travelers’ standards.
This spring, I’m not headed back to Western Europe, but heading to eastern Europe. FAR eastern Europe. The majority of my trip will be spent in “The Baltics” – a grouping of (former soviet) countries which has been high on my travel list for several years now. Why? For many reasons, but mainly because I have an enormous weak spot for European cities with “Old Towns,” or smaller, historic (especially medieval) city centers. I could stroll through the winding cobblestone streets and admire the remarkable architecture for days on end…
This particular itinerary has a “heavy focus” on historic capital cities with beautiful “Old Towns.”
My adventure starts in Warsaw, Poland. Practicing what I preach in my “How to Fly to Europe for Cheap” post, I found a fantastic flight deal from the States into Warsaw. I’ve visited Poland before and simply adored my time in Krakow. Since that trip, I’ve been itching to head back and see more of the fascinating country. I’ll admit that initially Warsaw was not my next choice of Polish cities to explore (as I’ve mentioned before, Wroclaw was), but rather than spend time in transit traveling to and from Wroclaw (and then heading back east to Lithuania), Warsaw will be my home base this trip back to “my homeland.”
But, now that I’ve adequately researched Warsaw, I’m really quite excited! I plan to explore the city’s picturesque “Old Town” (which, is an oxymoron since the “Old Town” was rebuilt after being leveled to the ground during World War II by the Nazis), brush up on my history at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, hang out with Polish hipsters in Praga and gorge myself with Polish fare (pierogis!) on a food tour with Eat Warsaw. While in Warsaw, I’ll be staying at the lovely four star Mercure Warazawa Grand hotel.
From Warsaw, I’m headed to Vilnius, Lithuania. Out of all the Baltic countries, Lithuania seems to be the one that is most overlooked by tourists (which just further adds to its allure for me). Vilnius is best known for its large, medieval “Old Town,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with beautiful baroque style architecture. Aside from sauntering around the city and sampling the country’s unique cuisine, I’m also interested in visiting the Museum of Genocide Victims and the TV Tower Observation Deck to peer down to the city from above. While in Vilnius, I’ll be staying at the Litinterp Guest House.
Before leaving Lithuania, I’ll head about 30 km west to visit Trakai, Lithuania. Trakai is best known for its island castle in the midst of Lake Galvė. As if touring this gorgeous castle wouldn’t be fantastic enough, I also plan to take a hot air balloon ride over the island with Oro Balionai, an experience that is surely bound to be one of the highlights of the trip!
Related Post: 3rd Time’s a Charm: Ballooning in Lithuania.
From Lithuania, I’ll continue on to Riga, Latvia, which was designated as last year’s European Capital of Culture. Aside from exploring medieval Old Riga’s winding alleyways and charming city squares, I’m excited to gander through Quiet Center, the city’s district that is known to have some of the finest examples of art nouveau architecture in the world. While in Riga, I’ll be staying at Primo Hotel in Riga’s Agenskalns district.
Related Post: 11 Things You Must Do in Riga, Latvia.
After Riga, I’ll be exploring Tallinn, Estonia. Tallinn is a medieval waterfront town that seems to be torn straight out of the pages of a storybook. And, a city that most everyone who has been seems to fall in love with. (After looking at pictures of Tallinn, it’s not hard to see why). While there, I’m looking forward to visiting the Occupation Museum, the KGB Museum and climbing the Town Hall Tower for sweeping views of the city and its many spires. While in Tallinn, I’m staying at the PK Ilmarine Hotel.
Related Post: 5 Reasons to Love About Tallinn, Estonia.
I expected to end this European adventure in Tallinn due to time constraints; however, I found a crazy cheap flight back to the States ($173!) leaving from Helsinki, Finland. So, from Tallinn I’m taking a two hour ferry ride to Helsinki. Since this leg of the trip was unexpected (and initially, unplanned), I’ll only have about 24 hours to explore the harbor-side Finnish capital. But, I’m looking forward to the experience, nonetheless. After recently visiting Oslo and Stockholm, I’m curious to see how this Scandinavian capital differs. While in Helsinki, I’m staying at the luxurious design hotel, Klaus K.
Related Post: Exploring Helsinki in a Day.
Update: Since I’m already back from this adventure, you can click on the links above to read my posts on each destination!
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Although I’m a guest of the aforementioned hotels and tour operators, all opinions (as always) will be my own.
CC Photo Credits from Flickr: Warsaw Old Town by Alexander Baxevanis, Vilnius old town skyline, Lithuania by David Iliff, DSCF 1566 by Familie Streefkirk, untitled by [jim], 2011-10-19 – 024 by Michael Muraz, Helsinki_finland by janneth.