On my recent trip through the Baltics, I had the impression that there are two types of backpackers: the "regular" backpackers – and me. Whereas the former typically concentrate on the three capitals, I have spent most of my time exploring the nature, which is (in my opinion) the true gem of this region.
In order to provide some food for thought for future travelers, I would like to present my Top 5 of the Baltics. Of course, this is a very subjective rating. Still, it shows that there is much more to the Baltics than just Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn.
My Top 5 of the Baltics
- The Curonian Spit got the first place by a nose, thanks to its extraordinary combination of forest and sanddunes.
- It is closely followed by Lahemaa National Park with its great mixture of bay and bog.
- A Jāņi celebration should not be missed (especially as June is a great time for travelling the Baltics anyway, due to the long days).
- Cēsis Castle provides a unique way of exploring its tower with a candle lantern. Moreover, it is situated amidst the beautiful Gauja National Park, which is also worth a visit.
- Finally – and that might come as a surprise – the Hill of Crosses has made it on this list. Even though I only spent a short time time, this place simply has a very special atmosphere.
As an additional insider tip (an "Honorable Mention", so to speak), I would like to recommend Dzūkija National Park. Whether you explore it by canoe, or (like me) "only" by hiking along the Grūda River, this national park is definitely worth a visit – even though (or rather: because) it hardly sees any Western tourists.
The Baltics are quite easy to visit for backpackers. There are lots of bus (and sometimes, especially in Lithuania, also train) connections. Therefore, you do not necessarily need a car to explore this region. The only places where a car would have been helpful where the Daugava Bends, and Saaremaa, respectively. In this regard, I would like to mention the Onauto car rental in Kuressaare (which I discovered only at the end of my stay). Allegedly, it offers a rental car from 20,– Euros per day. However, I cannot comment on the state of repair of the vehicles or the insurance conditions.
For planning my bus and train trips, the following websites proved to be helpful:
- Bus schedules in Lithuania (search results only reliable for dates within the next few days)
Train schedules in Lithuanian (on the English website, click on
- Bus and train schedules in Latvia (Please be aware that some cities/towns are listed with mutliple stations/stops, of which you must select exactly one. This might influence the number of search results.)
- Bus schedules in Estonia
The level of prices generally increases the further north you go. Lithuania is considerably cheaper than Austria, whereas Tallinn seems to be more or less on the same level as Vienna as far as the prices are concerned. However, I have to admit that my shopping habits (concerning food) might be considered slightly weird. Therefore, my view of the level of prices might be distorted, too.
Interestingly enough, the knowlegde of English increases along with the prices: In Lithuania, for example, the ticket vendors at the main train station in Vilnius did not speak English. In Estonia, however, even the bus driver of a local bus did speak (a bit of) English.
A good (or even better) alternative to English is, of course, Russian (due to the history of this region, and due to the – sometimes quite large – Russian communities here). Still, it is easily possible to travel these countries without any knowledge of Russian and/or the local languages.