Perfect 12 Day Baltic Road Trip Itinerary

If you’ve been thinking about visiting the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, you are doing something right! If you haven’t been, I’m hoping to put this region on your radar. Like much of Eastern Europe, these countries are highly underrated and such a pleasure to visit since you don’t have the typical hordes of tourists that you see in Western Europe. For those who are wondering where to start planning, I gotchu. Here is my 12 Day Baltic Road Trip Itinerary.

This itinerary is designed for those who have two weeks to spend in total and I’m assuming one day at the beginning and end for travel time, giving you 12 days IN the Baltics. If you have less time, I recommend the following number of days in each place.  This is the minimum time if you only have a week and just see the capitals. I preferred more time in Riga vs Tallinn but many people feel the opposite.

  • Riga  2-3 days
  • Vilnius 2 days (1/2 day to Trakai included)
  • Tallinn  2-3 days

Keep in mind that you can start in any of the 3 capitals. I found that it was cheaper to fly in and out of Riga rather than start in one city and end in another but it would be more ideal not to make a circle but to start either in Vilnius or Tallinn and make your way north or south respectively.

If you've been thinking about visiting the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, you are doing something right! If you haven't been, I'm hoping to put this region on your radar. Click To Tweet
Small Red Castle on an Island, Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Trakai Castle, Lithuania

Baltics Basics

The three Baltic countries have a long and intense history of Tsarist Russian occupation, Soviet occupation, Nazi occupation and again to Soviet occupation until 1990. This has led to multiple languages, cultures, political views, architectural styles and is fascinating to learn about.

When to Go

If you’ve looked at a map you’ll see that these three little countries are just west of Russia and south of Finland. Not known for the amazing weather however, in the early summer you will enjoy crazy long days of up to 20 hours of sunlight! I went in early June and not only did the sun not set until 1030pm, but there was a heatwave. It was as hot in Riga as Miami. No joke.

I would say that it is an all-year destination depending on what you are looking for. The Christmas season is amazing (I’ve been told). I’m sure that fall and spring are beautiful but probably chilly.

How to Get To the Baltics

Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius all have international airports but flying to them isn’t cheap.  Coming from the United States, I found it easiest and cheapest to book roundtrip nonstop flights to London and then roundtrip from London to Riga. This added 2 days to the trip since I visited a friend in London.

Many arrive in the region via ferry from Helsinki. Some on larger Eastern European trips arrive in Vilnius after visiting Poland.

I suggest checking flights to all the capitals and pick the one that is cheapest since this itinerary works no matter where you start. 

Street with pretty buildings and cafes. Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Riga, Latvia

Getting Around the Baltics

By Car

Driving in the Baltics is easy and rental car prices were not exorbitant. Automatic, as you would expect, is more expensive. The roads were very good throughout the region. Just be mindful of speed limits and know that there are speed cameras everywhere!

By Bus

This itinerary can work without a road trip. You can take the bus in between major cities. You may not be able to stop as often as I did in a car, but it will still be a great trip. The bus system across the region is wonderful and other tourists I met raved about the quality of the buses.

Here are useful links for public transport in the 3 countries.

Latvia Public Transport

Transportation in Lithuania

Travel in Estonia

Flying

You can save time by flying in between the three capitals (each flight roughly an hour) and then take trips via bus to areas outside the capitals.

Language

You will find many people, especially the older generations, speak Russian in all three countries.

Each country has its own language, Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian respectively. In Latvia, roughly half the population is Russian speaking (ethnically Russian) and many do NOT speak Latvian. This is a whole issue that is beyond the scope of this post!  In Tallinn about 20% are Russian.

Useful Words

Hello            Sveiki (Latvian and Lithuanian)    Privet   (Russian)        Tere  (Estonian)

Thank you   Paldies “pol-dee-ess” (Latvian)     Spasibo (Russian)

                     Aitah “i-tah” (Estonian) Ačiū  “ah-choo” (Lithuanian)

Currency

This is the easy part. All the countries use the euro and it is easy to find ATMs.

town square with old pastel buildings Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Vilnius, Lithuania

12 Day Baltic Road Trip Itinerary

Days 1-3  Riga

Riga is the largest of the three capitals and truly oozes with grace and charm. There was a chill vibe here and I felt at home almost immediately. I completely fell in love with Riga and was happy for the extra time to really enjoy it. I had half a day upon arrival and then another 3 full days.

Distinctive Pink buildings in Riga. Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
House of the Blackheads, Riga

Must See in Riga

  • Walking Tour – a must for getting the lay of the land and some basic history and cultural info
  • Art Nouveau District – you can take a tour or just walk and marvel at the well preserved Art Nouveau buildings
  • National Library – on the Daugava river, this modern building has a unique interior and a rooftop cafe
  • Occupation Museum – each city has their version of this museum documenting the dark past
  • Pink Russian Church – This bright pink church is a 30-minute walk from the old city but well worth a visit.
  • Synagogue – This art nouveau building somehow wasn’t destroyed by Nazis and is beautifully restored.

Where to Get Views!

  • St. Peter’s Tower
  • Skyline Bar
  • Panoramic view from the bridges on Daugava river
View from Above of colorful buildings Riga Old City Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
View of Riga from St. Peter’s Tower

Places to Eat in Riga

The food here is admittedly pork and potato heavy BUT there is so much more. Like the garlic bread. If you like garlic, you will practically bathe in it here. And the cakes. Oh the cakes! Latvians make some seriously good cake. I have NEVER been anywhere where I HAD to eat cake every day but in Latvia,  you must try them all. Make sure to try the traditional local herbal liquor, Balsam (I prefer the black currant variety) and brewed Kvass.

  • Lido – The most traditional of all traditional restaurants. There are many throughout the city. I was obsessed with the mushroom potato casserole thingy.
  • Province – Another traditional food place right in the old city. I loved the cozy cave-like atmosphere.
  • Fat Pumpkin – Vegan restaurant that is always packed.I suggest reservations. Save room for dessert!
  • Cafe at the Library – great local food at incredibly great prices!
Caramel cake with berries Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Vegan Caramel Cake

Half-Day Trip to Jurmala

If you are there in the summer and have enough time, consider a half-day trip to the Baltic Sea town of Jurmala. It is only 30 minutes from Riga and a cute little town. I found the Baltic WAY too cold for swimming although there was a crazy heatwave while I was in Riga and the chilly dip was refreshing (even though I only went into my knees!)

*Check out the fancy Baltic Beach Hotel for a great lunch with ocean views!

Baltic Sea View Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Day 4  Drive to Vilnius

The drive between Riga and Vilnius takes around 4 hours.  I suggest taking your time getting to Vilnius and making some stops along the way.

The Hill of Crosses

This is very weird and very cool. There are hundreds of thousands of crosses here. Nobody is sure of the origins but it has come to signify the endurance of Catholicism in Lithuania despite threats throughout history.  The first crosses were likely placed here after the 1831 uprising aka the Polish-Russian war. The Soviets bulldozed this site at least 3 times but here it still stands, attracting tourists!

Hill made of thousands of crosses Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Kaunas

This is a small town 100 km NW of Vilnius. I stopped for dinner here and walked around a bit. I loved the restaurant Avilys, especially the hot cheese doughnuts with garlic mayo!  The tiny castle was closed but pretty to see with the sunset. I was told after the fact that there is a Devils Museum here which sounded fun!

Red casle with purple flowers in front Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Day 5 Vilnius

Vilnius is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the center is UNESCO heritage site. It is also one of the least expensive capitals so splash out!  Vilnius’s old city is wonderfully walkable, full of pretty pastel buildings and overflowing with history.  Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe and has a female president that is a black belt in karate. This is just a few of the interesting things you will learn here.

Baroque Style Pink Church in Vilnius Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
St. Catherine’s Church

Things to Do in Vilnius:

  • Walking Tour – as always, a great way to get an overview of the city along with its history
  • Occupation/KGB museum – there is an old KGB prison in the basement. It is a heavy place but necessary to visit.
  • Jewish Quarter – I loved the “Walls that Remember” project to remember the Jewish history
  • Užupio Respublika: this independent artsy district is a funny neighborhood that declared its independence on April Fools Day and has a “Barliament”.

Where to Get Views

  • Belltower of St. John’s Church (in heart of the old city)
  • Altana Hill (In Uzupis district)
  • Hill of the Three Crosses (involves some mild hiking but worth it)
  • Vilnius Cathedral Bell Tower (view shown below)

View of Vilnius from Above Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Where to Eat in Vilnius

Lithuanian food has many similarities with Polish and Russian food. Bulviniai blynai (potato pancakes), Cold Borscht (beet soup), Varškės apkepas (cheese curd pancake),  and Cepelinai (potato dumplings) are just a few items you must try!

  • Snekutis – traditional Lithuanian food in a pub atmosphere (more than one in the city).
  • Sugamour –   Great for Breakfast and a gorgeous restaurant
  • Balzac  – On a tiny cute alley. French food and expensive but good if you want something different.
  • Amatininku – Traditional food with outdoor seating AND open late (not much to eat after 10 pm),

Day 6 Vilnius and Half-Day Trip to Trakai

Red Castle on the water with purple flowers. Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Trakai is a lovely town 30 minutes from Vilnius with a castle on an island. If you don’t have a car, there are plenty of tours that go there for around $20. After seeing the castle you can take a kayak trip around the island or just sit and have pizza and wine, like I did, and admire the view of the castle across the water from the cafe.

 

Day 7-8 Drive to Sigulda/Gauja National Park in Latvia

The drive between Vilnius (the southernmost Baltic capital) and Tallinn (the northernmost Baltic capital) is 7-8 hours but this trip can be broken up with a stop in Latvia at Gauja National Park. I suggest booking 2 nights here in Sigulda and use it as a base to explore the National Park as well as the cute town of Cesis.

Sigulda has the ruins of a medieval castle from the Livonian Order that is really interesting.  Nearby in the park you can see another castle, Turaida.

*If you are not doing a road trip, Sigulda can be visited as a day trip from Riga. It is only 90 minutes away!

Medeival Castle on a rolling green hill. Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Cesis Castle

In Sigulda definitely eat at Mr. Biskvits. It is a cute cafe with outdoor seating and super kind staff. Great for lunch or light dinner. The soups, pastas, and salads are all wonderful and fresh. The cakes are scrumptious. You already know how I feel about cake in Latvia.

*On the way between Vilnius and Sigulda, you can stop at Bauska castle if you want to break up the trip. Once you cross the border into Latvia, there is a 45-minute section of the drive that is a gravel road through the forest. Be careful here (make sure you have fuel) and you can ask around if there is a better alternative. I just followed what the Google Gods told me.

Day 9 Drive to Tallinn

The drive between Sigulda and Tallinn is roughly 4 hours. Be careful with speed. I received 3 speeding tickets months after my trip from this stretch of road. I had no idea there were cameras everywhere and the speed limit wasn’t made obvious to me.

Colorful Medieval Square with Church Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Another option is to take this tour that will take you from Riga to Tallinn with stops in Sigulda, Cesis and Parnu on the Baltic sea!

 

Day 10-11  Tallinn

Tallinn is a delight. It’s one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. It almost seems like a theme park. The many medieval-themed restaurants definitely add to this medieval fantasy. I admit to having a weird fascination with medieval times although I recognize that it was probably a really crappy time to be alive with all the wars, torture, oppression, etc.

Old stone wall with archway around city. Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

It’s also one of the more expensive Baltic cities since Estonia is sort of the Silicone Valley of Europe.  Definitely take the free walking tour. The guide I had was named Linne and she was seriously one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.

Make sure to take some time to see the cool hipster neighborhood, Telliskivi, just outside the old city.

Half-Day Trip outside Tallinn

If you have a car, you can go see the Jagala Waterfall, Medieval Church and Saula Blue Springs.

Woman in yellow dress in front of Small Waterfall Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

If you don’t have a car, consider this tour.  It doesn’t go to the Blue Springs but covers some other places.

This guide to Tallinn by Wandering Chocobo was my bible while here. Her restaurant recommendations were all incredible. There is some seriously good food here! Will share my personal recs below.

Colorful Old Buildings with cafes Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

Places to Eat in Tallinn

Make sure to try the sparkling wine made from rhubarb. I could not get enough of it. They also love them some garlic here so be warned! Definitely never turn down the traditional black bread. The herbal liquor made from Sea Buckthorn was also something I became obsessed with.

  • Farm To Table –  Traditional yet modern. A tad pricey but worth it. The Black Bread Soup dessert blew my mind.
  • Rataskaevu – extremely popular and you must have a reservation. Incredibly elegant traditional food.
  • Vegan Restorans – Fantastic with great service and great bread!
  • Vegan Inspiration – Casual. I grabbed a cake here once and wish I could have come back to try more things.
  • Peppersack – good for breakfast in the touristy “medieval” section
  • Gelato Ladies  – get the sea buckthorn flavor

Where to Get Views in Tallinn

  • St. Olaf Church Tower – this was my favorite and is the cover photo. It is the tallest building and you must climb over 250 steps!
  • Patkuli Viewing Platform – in the old city on Toompea Hill. You can meander up there through the old city or from the city below via 157 steps.
Pool of Turquoise water surrounded by forest Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Saula Blue Springs

Day 12   Drive to Riga

If your flight is from Riga you will need to return here and spend the night before your flight unless you have an afternoon flight, then you can stay in Tallinn longer if you want. The drive is 4 hours. I wanted more time in Riga so I left Tallinn early, giving me almost another last full day in Riga before flying home the next morning. See the above Riga section for things to do!

Yellow Flowers in front of Colorful Buildings Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

If you have more than 2 weeks here are suggestions for other things to do:

Latvia 

  • Bauska Castle and Rundale Palace (these are en route between Riga and Vilnius or between Vilnius and Sigulda.
  • Kuldiga, Lativa, known for an unusual waterfall
  • Ventspils Latvia, known for street art
  • Liepaja and the Northern Forts, which are ruins of Tsarist bunkers practically crumbling into to the sea

Here is a great summary of Latvian cities to add to your itinerary written by a local!

Lithuania

  • Klaipeda on the coast and the nearby Hill of Witches
  • Anykščiai National Park with a treetop walking path. Day trip from Vilnius

Estonia

  • Lahemaa National Park   This is an ideal day trip from Tallinn, just an hour drive to connect with nature.
  • Tartu  This is the oldest city in Estonian and a University Town close to the Russian border
  • Parnu   This is a Baltic Sea resort city about halfway between Tallinn and Riga
  • Visit Helsinki. Only 2 hours by ferry from Tallinn

Here is more detail about places to visit in Estonia!

View of Riga at Sunset Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary
Sunset over Riga from Skyline Bar

Need a Place to Stay in the Baltics?



Booking.com


Hopefully you found all the info you needed to plan a Baltic Roadtrip. I loved every minute of this trip and definitely plan to go back and visit more thoroughly. I was impressed with the cleanliness of most places and the ease of getting around. Not to mention the incredible charm and beauty of all three capitals. On your next trip to Europe, consider something different and avoid the swarms and crowds of western Europe and see for yourself these underrated treasures, skirting the boundaries of Europe and Russia.

**If you like Eastern Europe and visiting less traveled countries, consider another of my favorite regions with this complete Balkans Itinerary.

Have you been to the Baltics? What were your favorite places?

Pin it!

Pinterest Image for Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary Pinterest Image for Baltic Roadtrip Itinerary

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Alma | 27th Feb 24

    Great post! Will be my bible in planning my trip!
    How about the parking around the old cities/ city centres? Are there hotels with inclusive parking?

    • Cherene Saradar | 4th Mar 24

      Yes most of the places I stayed had parking and if they didn’t they directed me towards the closest parking lot. Many of the old cities you cannot enter (like Tallinn) but I didn’t have too many hardships with this compared to other trips. Other than getting to the hotels and back, I didn’t really drive around the cities.

  2. Esther Harris | 19th Sep 19

    One of my cousins visited Estonia a little while ago and told me it was one of her best experiences. Maybe next year I will travel. Your guide helped me a lot.

    • csaradar | 21st Sep 19

      I hope you make it! It’s a wonderful place to visit

  3. Aparna Verma | 3rd Sep 19

    This was an amazing blog post. Images are just amazing. Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog post. Thanks for the share. Cheers!!!

    • csaradar | 21st Sep 19

      Thanks for your kind comments!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.