Facts about the Baltics often talk about each country separately. And while Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are fascinating individually, the Baltic countries share some similarities that make for surprising and fun information.
Did you know the following facts about the Baltics?
Baltic States Fact #1: Linguistically Different, Culturally Similar (Sort of)
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are grouped together more out of convenience than anything.
They are all located on the Baltic Sea, and Lithuania and Latvia were inhabited by tribes of Balts and speak Baltic languages.
However, ancient Estonians were of a different makeup—Baltic Finns. Like the Finnish, they also speak a Finno-Ugric language. These languages are only some of those that make up the languages of the Baltic countries.
And while the peoples of the Baltic states are descended from different ancient tribes, you may notice some cultural differences.
- For instance, Baltic Paganism and pagan symbols are used as a way for Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians alike to express attachment to their roots, as is a love of nature.
- Furthermore, you may find that people from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia share a similar reservedness. Their culture tends to be quieter and more introverted than some other cultures in Europe.
- And finally, food culture in these three countries shows some similarities in ingredients and dishes, though each has their own take on favorites. They all focus on local fare, and potatoes are never far from the table. For example, all three countries enjoy cold pink soup during the summer, a refreshing dish of kefir, cucumbers, and other refreshing ingredients.
Baltic States Fact #2: The Baltic Countries Are Clean
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians take deep pride in their beautiful nature. You’ll find pristine forests, clear waters, and beaches free of litter.
But the people of the Baltic countries take cleanliness a step further. You’ll notice tidy towns with well-weeded gardens. Even capital cities are swept clean of garbage. If a market takes place one day, if it’s gone the next, you’ll see no evidence it was ever there!
They even make time to clean graves, clearing them of leaves or old flowers. This often happens close to All Souls and All Saints Days, but it can happen during other times of the year, as well.
Baltic States Fact #3: The Baltic Countries Are Flat
One of the facts about the Baltics that nobody argues is that they are flat countries. You may notice that some landmarks have the name “mountain” in them, but no mountains, in their proper form, exist here.
Glaciers covered much of Northern Europe in the last Ice Age, and the Baltic Sea was created by glaciers receding.
- Aukstojas Hill is the highest point in Lithuania at almost 294 meters/964 feet.
- Gaisinkalns Hill is the highest point in Latvia at 311 meters/1,020 feet.
- But Estonia officially has the highest point in the Baltics: at 318 meters/1,043 feet, Suur Munamagi is the highest point in Estonia.
This flatness may be why you’ll find observation towers in national parks and people climbing former hill-fort hills in order to get a view of the surrounding area.
#4: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Were the First Countries to Declare Independence from the USSR
We can consider Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to be small but mighty!
In fact, in the 1990s, they were the first of many nations to declare independence from the much larger USSR.
- Lithuania was the first to declare independence on March 11, 1990.
- Latvia declared independence on May 4, 1990 to finalize it on August 21, 1991.
- Estonia finalized its declaration of independence on August 20, 1991.
And on September 6, 1991, the Soviet government officially acknowledged these declarations of independence. The flags of the Baltic countries are symbols of their independence.
#5: They Used to Be a Part of the Russian Empire
The Baltics and Russia may be associated in some people’s minds not only because of their annexation to the USSR, but also because they belonged to the Russian Empire prior to that. The Russian Empire expanded into the territories of current-day Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in the 18th century.
#6: It’s Possible to Hike from Lithuania to Estonia Along One Route
The Forest Trail is a hiking route over 2,000 km long developed to take hikers from the southern tip of Lithuania to the northern coast of Estonia. Each segment takes between 30 and 40 days, where hikers pass through the countries’ loveliest parks and forests.
#7: The Baltic Countries Are a Land of Songs
All of the Baltic countries have old, traditional types of folk song that were instrumental in their fight for independence and are integral to their culture.
In fact, the Baltic Song and Dance Festivals have been inscribed by UNESCO as world cultural heritage.
The Singing Revolution, which saw thousands of people gathering, some in traditional costume, to sing patriotic songs, was a way to express native cultural heritage while protesting the Soviet regime.
Today, folk songs, some of them multipart or polyphonic songs, are still sung for holidays, as a part of festivals, and for other celebratory occasions. They are an important part of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian culture.
#8: They Are Great for Travelers
Though not yet connected by rail, the Baltic capitals are easy to get between via car, bus, or plane. In fact, you can get from one to another in less than an hour if you fly, and if you drive or take a bus, it’s about four hours on the road from Riga to either Tallinn or Vilnius.
Furthermore, they are generally safe, and even solo travelers will feel comfortable exploring on their own.
Their inexpensiveness compared to Scandinavia or much of Western Europe also makes them an attractive destination. In fact, travel in the Baltic countries is becoming more popular every year.
#9: The Baltic Countries Use the Euro, Are a Part of the European Union, and Are within the Schengen Zone
If you’re traveling through Europe, you won’t have a problem visiting Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. All three use the euro currency. They also belong to the Schengen Zone of free movement within Europe, meaning people traveling between countries in this zone can do so without border checks.
All three countries of the Baltics have been a part of the European Union since 2004.
#10: They’re Leaders in Fintech, Digital Innovation, and Startups
Estonia may be best-known for its e-state digitalization efforts, but the entire Baltic region is hot for entrepreneurial creativity, tech-focused solutions, and even medical breakthroughs. A well-educated population, a high energy level, and the understanding that people are the best resource have enabled the Baltics to shake up industries with clever answers to old problems.
Apps and services from money transfer to crowdsourcing to ridesharing have been developed in the Baltics and marketed and used in other countries.
The Baltic countries are inspiring, interesting places whether you’re seeking to travel there or simply learn more about them. May these facts about the Baltics encourage you to plan a trip or dig more deeply into their history and culture!