If you’re traveling to the Baltic countries—Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—you may have a certain idea in mind about how you’d like to spend your time. That’s where the best Baltic cities come in.
Whether you want to explore history, relax, enjoy festivals, or simply find inspiration off the beaten path, cities throughout the Baltics have the potential to appeal to a wide range of interests.
The Baltic Capitals
First a note about the Baltic capitals: Vilnius, Lithuania; Riga, Latvia; and Tallinn, Estonia.
If you’re only visiting one city in any of the Baltic countries, choose its capital. You’ll find the most things to do, eat, see, and experience in these cities.
However, they shouldn’t be taken to represent the rest of the country. The cities throughout the Baltics all have their own personality and reflect regional history and culture. It’s one of the many reasons to travel to the Baltics!
Venturing beyond the Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius is an excellent way to get to know each of the countries a bit better.
Best Baltic Cities for Castles
Castles are an important part of history in the Baltics. While the Grand Duchy of Lithuania held its own territory for generations, it was the Teutonic Knights in Latvia and Estonia that built their strongholds there.
Take a look at the best Baltic cities for castles.
Trakai’s Island Castle is its biggest draw. This reconstructed red-brick castle seems to float on the water. The Island Castle is now a museum.
Visitors to Trakai can stroll through the village with its colorful wooden houses, shop for souvenirs, or take a paddleboat out onto the water.
Though Latvia is home to several well-preserved or reconstructed castles, Cesis may be the most famous.
Cesis Castle has seen the benefit of significant development around attracting visitors. Travelers can learn all about medieval life when they visit Cesis, from watching metalworking demonstrations to chatting with the castle gardener about medieval herbs.
Narva is impressive for its Narva or Hermann Castle. However, when you visit this northeastern Estonian city, you get the view of two castles for the price of one. Ivangorod Fortress looms large across the Narva River, on which Narva Castle is also built.
Narva, being on the border with Russia, has a large Russian population, which means Russian language is widely spoken here.
Best Baltic Cities for Soviet Sights
The Baltic countries were a part of the Soviet Union for the better part of the 20th century. It’s no wonder so many Soviet sights remain. For some of the best, visit these Baltic cities.
Ignalina, while the surrounding nature attracts locals and visitors alike, is known for its decommissioned nuclear power plant. The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, due to its similarities with the Chernobyl plant, was used for the filming of the miniseries Chernobyl.
Though visitors must book a visit to the plant in advance, it can be visited, allowing guests to understand what a Soviet-style nuclear power plant looked like and how it operated.
Liepaja, one of Latvia’s coastal cities, is also one of its best Sovet sites.
Here, you can visit Karosta Prison. The former military prison, used in the Soviet era, recreates the atmosphere for guests. Guides act out the part of guards, and visitors can either take a tour or “enjoy” the full Karosta Prison experience and stay overnight.
Sillamae is a relatively young Estonian city, with its Soviet-era buildings and wide boulevards mimicking architecture from an earlier period.
While many people imagine Brutalist-style architecture and dark concrete when they think of Soviet architecture, Sillamae bucks the stereotype. Pots full of flowers, colorful facades, clean streets, and a view to the sea make Sillamae a remarkable destination for travelers who enjoy the unexpected.
Best Baltic Cities for Culture
Looking for cultural attractions and events and festivals? The following Baltic cities are good options.
Kaunas is Lithuania’s second city. It’s known for Modernist architecture, being home to the M.K. Ciurlionis Museum, Kaunas Castle, and various festivals and events that take place here.
You can also visit Pazaislis Monastery/Monte Pacis for dinner or to stay overnight and take a walk in the surrounding park. Beyond the city, the Kaunas area has many attractions.
Jelgava hosts various festivals throughout the year, including the Jelgava City Festival and the Milk, Bread, and Honey Festival. An ice sculpture festival in winter and a sand-sculpting festival in summer help round out its calendar of events.
Tartu is an Estonian university town within reach by train from Tallinn. With a pretty historic center, a ruined cathedral, and a peaceful park, the festivals and events that take place here are the icing on the cake.
Outdoor film screenings, celebrations of the city, and other events are schedule throughout the year. Learn more:
Best Baltic Cities for Spas
The Baltics have long been a destination for spa goers—the spa culture here dates back to the time of the Russian Empire. Mineral springs and healthy mud mean that spa towns have developed over centuries and still attract those seeking medical or beauty treatments.
Take a look at some of the best cities in the Baltics for spas.
Druskininkai, in the southern part of Lithuania, is Lithuania’s most famous spa town. Spend some time here in the healthy air made fresh by pine forests and take a rest among fountains and landscaped public gardens.
Whether or not you have time to enjoy Druskininkai’s spa culture, you can enjoy taking in its eclectic architecture. Or get outside the city and experience the surrounding nature. Nearby Grutas Park is a popular attraction.
Birstonas is a lovely riverside town long known for its health-giving waters. Lithuania’s most famous mineral waters, Vytautas and Birute, are bottled here.
Leafy old trees, pretty buildings, and cozy restaurants add to the appeal of this spa town.
Haapsalu is a coastal city in Estonia. Known for its spa culture, it also offers much more, including a medieval castle and interesting museums.
Best Baltic Cities for Beaches
Every year, tourist boards for the Baltics publish lists of the top beaches in the region. And Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia certainly have nice beaches!
While the weather in the summer is sunnier than other times of year, the Baltic Sea often still stays chilly. However, wide beaches with soft sand and welcoming seaside towns make up for the cold water.
Jurmala is a short trip from Riga and is known as Latvia’s premiere summer resort city. With wooden villas—some in Art Nouveau style—lots of hotels and restaurants, and of course, a beach, it fills up with tourists and locals during the warmest months of the year.
Its main drag has a festive atmosphere where people can grab a snack at a street food vendor, shop for souvenirs, people watch, and take photos.
Palanga enjoys a reputation as Lithuania’s top summertime getaway. Neighborhoods shaded with leafy trees, an avenue to the sea lined with restaurants and shops, and a miles-long beach are only some of the things to do in Palanga and Sventoji, another nearby town.
Check out the Amber Museum, housed in a former manor house, where the history of Baltic amber is described through exhibits.
Parnu is a coastal town with attractive beaches, spas, and a charming historic center. Visitors can cleanse away impurities with a mud bath, visit the Red Tower with its garden, or attend a concert in its Art Nouveau-style villa.
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Baltic Cities
Looking for quirky, interesting, or unexpected? Many cities in the Baltics offer such attractions. They may not be high on many lists, but these less-known treasures won’t disappoint.
Rokiskis is a Baltic city known for its painted shutters. That’s right! Artists have decorated the shutters of the wooden buildings around town with certain themes or to tell a story. Beautiful and unique, the shutters of Rokiskis don’t make it into many mainstream guides to Lithuania.
Though Daugavpils is one of Latvia’s largest cities, it often gets overlooked when people plan their Baltic itinerary. Actually, Daugavpils has done much to make itself attractive to visitors by capitalizing on its native attractions.
For example, the Mark Rothko Arts Center exhibits genuine Rothko paintings. This Daugavpils-born American artist is honored here, but other artists’ work is also showcased in this space.
The former military fort, built during the time of the Russian Empire, is another attraction. Get a tour to understand how the fort worked and what purposes it was used for during different eras.
Visiting the Best Cities in the Baltics
The cities in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia can be visited in a way that suits you best. Travel in the Baltics is made convenient with a variety of transportation options.
Given the size of these countries, visiting your top destination cities is convenient via car. A road trip will allow you to experience attractions in the Baltic countries without having to adhere to strict timetables or routes.
On the other hand, public transportation is widely available in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Train connections are convenient between major destinations, and buses have broad coverage throughout each country.
You may also consider bus services such as Lux Express, which uses new, upscale buses that are comfortable and convenient.
The Baltic countries also have various flight options, and flying between the capitals takes no time at all. Smaller airports service other parts of the region.
Of course, if you choose to have someone else plan your itinerary for you, tours of the Baltics are another option. They incorporate many of the top Baltic cities and offer a rich experience with the benefit of a knowledgeable guide.