Everything you need to know before Visiting the Baltics (2022)

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks on the sort of trip that changes you a bit, makes you re-evaluate and see things from another perspective. I started writing up my guides and reviews of various stops on the trip, but felt I needed to do an overview post to talk a bit more about my impressions, thoughts and learnings on this fascinating region of Europe in today’s political climate, before jumping in to city guides and posts.


Where are The Baltics?

The Baltics is an area of Europe covering three separate countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They sit on the north coast of Europe, with Russia and Belarus bordering them to the North, East and South.

Our route

The route we followed on our trip took us through all 3 countries as per the map above. At the very bottom of the map you can see Kaliningrad – this is a small area of Russia below Lithuania. Then to the right you will see St Petersburg, also in Russia, with Belarus the country sharing a border with Lithuania and Latvia.

All three Baltic states are in NATO, but all three have long and complicated histories with Russia which can’t be ignored. But let’s start with the non-war related observations.


What are The Baltics like to visit?

In short, INCREDIBLE. I had an amazing time exploring the region. There were areas that felt very much on the tourist trail, and others which felt a world away from it. It was a place of similarities – to Western Europe, to each other – and a place of huge differences. It was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, and I’d recommend it to anyone considering a trip here.

Tallinn, Estonia

Here are my non-war and non-political related observations.

1) Each Baltic capital city feels different. Vilnius (Lithuania) felt completely off the tourist track – we heard mainly Lithuanian and were not aware of many English visitors. In Riga (Latvia), it was overwhelmingly German visitors we saw. We also saw and heard many more Russians in Latvia. In Tallinn (Estonia), it seemed largely English and felt much more Western European – firmly on the tourist trail. However, all 3 Baltic countries speak AMAZING English, so it was easy to communicate.

Away from the capital cities of Riga and Tallinn, Latvia and Estonia also felt off the tourist trail and I really enjoyed seeing more of these beautiful countries.

Away from the crowds in Estonian National Parks

2) In Lithuania people are not openly friendly, but that doesn’t mean they’re not nice. People don’t say hello or smile in the street. There’s not really any customer service, it’s more nods and grunts if anything. People looked away if I made eye contact and smiled. It’s cultural and not at all meant to be rude. It was slightly different in Latvia and Estonia but still don’t expect enthusiastic greetings and well wishes, especially outside of the capital cities.

3) Traditional food is meat. Most menus are meat heavy across the region – there are lots of vegan and vegetarian places now popping up, but traditional food is game meat and rye bread. We sampled it across the region and it was VERY heavy, but great quality.

4) The streets are clean and beautiful. All three Baltic nations are completely spotless – like not even gum on the pavements. I saw someone throw a receipt on the pavement, and 2 locals told him off! We also ‘jay walked’ (crossed the road on a red light as there were no cars) and people told us off and looked at us with complete disdain.

5) All three Baltic countries feel super safe. Not once did I feel threatened, in danger or even looked at funny. In fact the opposite; literally no-one bothered me at all.

6) The Baltic states are largely white. I didn’t see a non-white person for my entire time in Lithuania, and in Latvia and Estonia it was rare. In total in 2 weeks I think I saw 5 black people, most of whom were American tourists. I found it uncomfortable, and if I wasn’t white I think my experience in these countries could have been different (but obviously I can’t attest to that, and certainly wasn’t aware of anything but open minds and people being welcome to all visitors).

7) Travelling around is easy. Whilst there is no train network easily connecting the countries, the roads are good and easy to navigate. Within countries (i.e. Vilnius to Kaunas, Tartu to Tallinn), the trains were incredible. Very cheap, efficient, clean and with snacks offered too.

8) It’s cheaper than Western Europe, but not that cheap. We noticed a big difference in accommodation, transport and museum prices across the region vs in the UK. However food and drink was roughly the same. In the capital cities the price differential wasn’t that big, especially in Tallinn which we found to be the most touristy area. All 3 countries use the Euro.


And what about the war?

Let’s talk about the main thing affecting this area at the time of my visit. The Baltics are completely surrounded by Russia and in the living memory of most of the people here are previous occupations, oppression and mass killings of friends and family by the same country. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all only gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The war in Ukraine is a huge focus here, with the Baltics a likely target if Russia decide to go further. This is not a new threat to the region and we can’t understand how these countries feel today without looking at the past.

Since the 1200s there hasn’t been longer than 50 years without an invasion or occupation by Russia in this region. In every single family, in every generation since the 1200s, Russian aggression is in the consciousness. 2022 is no different, meaning the threat today is history repeating itself. Yet again, as it has for the last 800+ years already.

As we travelled through the region we learnt in detail about the history.


1200s – 1918 (end of WW1)

Lithuania was formed in the late 1200s as The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and was independent/allied with Poland until 1795. During that time it fought many battles against Russian invaders. Eventually the Duchy fell and from 1795-1918, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire right up until the end of WW1.

Trakai – a stronghold for the Grand Duchy in Lithuania

Latvia & Estonia didn’t have a national border or identity as countries until the end of WW1. Unlike Lithuania they formed the Kingdom of Livonia in the 1200s, which effectively meant they were ruled by the German Crusaders and power was in the hands of the Germans (hence the German links everywhere in Riga/Tallinn). Then as the Reformation swept through Europe, the Catholic Livonian Empire lost its sway and Latvia/Estonia became a battle ground for everyone – The Danish came, the Swedes were in charge for a while, the Russians continued to attack. And then, like in Lithuania, they took over for good in the 1800s, with the area becoming part of the Russian Empire until 1918.

Cesis Castle – a Livonian Castle in Latvia

In 1914-1918, Russia fought in WW1 and lost. After WW1, with Russia weakened, all 3 Baltic nations claimed independence following 2 years of battles. This was the first time Latvia and Estonia became recognised as countries.

The spot where the 1918 Independence agreement was signed in Lithuania
Freedom Fighters Monument in Riga, dedicated to those who lost their lives in the fight for independence in 1918

1920 – today

Independence didn’t last long. Just over 20 years later, in 1940, with WW2 raging in other countries, Russia took over the Baltics yet again. By 1941, Germany had invaded and the area was under Nazi control, and then in 1944 the Russians were back and Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were incorporated in to the Soviet Union (USSR), right up until 1991.

Patarei Prison, Estonia

It was during this period that some of the biggest atrocities happened – Estonia lost 25% of its population, for example. This was because thousands of people were forcibly sent to labour camps, killed by the Soviet forces, or sent to live in exile in Siberia for no reason (just being a teacher, or politician or farmer was enough). Virtually no families were left untouched, and the USSR economically and financially destroyed the Baltics for its own growth back ‘home’.

20m deaths in the Soviet Union

In the 1980s, the USSR was weakened following years of terrible economic policies, and there was rising unrest in The Baltics with calls for independence alongside the USSR’s new policy where restrictions were not as severe as they had been in the past.

Through peaceful protest, independence was restored for all 3 nations in 1991. One of the main symbols of independence was the Baltic Way – where people from all 3 countries joined hands all the way from Vilnius to Tallinn to peacefully protest for independence.

In The Baltic Way – a line of people holding hands from Vilnius to Tallinn to peacefully protest for Independence in 1991


No wonder protests against the Ukraine war are strong across this region. The prospect of Russian invasion is real, every day here. In Lithuania, support for Ukraine was overwhelming – every shop we walked past was decked out in the Ukrainian colours, we saw demonstrations and concerts and public speeches on the topic of the war. Lithuania has a much lower population of Russians (5%) than Latvia and Estonia (25%), and it felt the most vocal against the war by far.

In Latvia and Estonia, the open support wasn’t everywhere like in Lithuania, but there were pockets of really strong protest. We spoke to a number of people in all 3 countries and all were vocally against the war, and fearful of Russia coming back to occupy the Baltics. Everyone we spoke to said it was now dangerous to support the war or be pro-Russian.

In Western Europe we are slightly removed, in other continents even more so. But to these people here, they have lost loved ones in previous conflict with Russia, they have a national consciousness in living memory of oppression through occupation and there is fear here. There is an active motion here to align as much as possible with Western Europe – English is the second language not Russian and there was definitely an anti-Russian feeling in areas of the region, especially in Lithuania where Russian guides had even been removed from museums for example.

I pray history doesn’t repeat itself in The Baltics, lord knows these people have endured enough already.

Vilnius making it pretty clear


As I said, over the coming weeks and months I will publish multiple guides to places across the Baltics, but I wanted to start with the context as I think it’s far too important to ignore it. What do you think? Thanks for reading, stay safe and happy travelling.

43 Comments

  1. I visited Estonia (just Tallinn) in 2012, and Lithuania/Latvia on a joint trip in 2019. Small countries, but very beautiful, clean, and safe, as you wrote! I’m actually surprised you wrote that you didn’t hear much English in Lithuania/Latvia, as I heard quite a bit (granted, I stayed in hostels and spoke to younger locals when I was out in town, so mileage may vary). And for me, being Asian-American, I didn’t encounter any racism when out and about, not even stares that I’d otherwise gotten while living in France! The people might’ve been a bit standoffish, but culturally, I think they’re quite open to outsiders, at least for visiting. Thank you for sharing your time in the Baltics; they’re some of my favorite countries to visit, too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah that’s amazing you’ve been to all 3 countries Rebecca, they are so beautiful to visit. I did hear a lot of English in that they spoke to us in brilliant English – just most seemed to be non-native – i.e. not many tourists. It was refreshing and nice actually to feel a bit away from the crowds! I agree on the culture piece as well, such a cool region to travel through. Thanks for reading and providing your thoughts 🙂

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  2. Wow, thank you so much for explaining all of this. I wasn’t fully aware of the history of these countries and just how many atrocities they have suffered. My thoughts are with the people of all three countries. I’m glad you were able to visit and experience all three… I look forward to learning more about them from your upcoming posts.

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  3. A really good overview of these three wonderful countries Hannah. I’ve visited Tallinn numerous times by ferry from Helsinki and have taken short breaks in both Riga and Vilnius and enjoyed them too. I’ll look forward to more posts about your recent visit. Hope you’ve enjoyed the Jubilee weekend too.

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  4. I must say, generally, dear Hannah, that your travel presentations are really splendid! Perhaps, a book coming? Your visit to the Baltics sounds great, and it was interesting to read about how different groups of nationalities were found in each region. I chuckled about the nods and grunts (“Hello!”), and it was great that the people take the cleanliness of their city, and adherence to rules, so seriously. Jaywalking!! haha. The history was also interesting – I certainly didn’t know that such conflicts with Russia were so long standing (since the 1200’s!). Thanks for sharing, my friend 🙂

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  5. We had planned to visit Poland, where Richard the photographer is from, this coming summer and hoped for a few weeks to visit the 3 Baltic countries. With the Russian invasion, we have put it on hold, but hope to put the plan into action next year. Thanks for this great tour and history of the region, it makes me want to visit it more! Maggie

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    1. Ah Poland and the Baltics would have been amazing, but completely understandable you would put it on hold. We thought it was an incredible region and really hope you get to visit one day soon 🙂

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  6. I’ve never been to the Baltics before, but I’ve just added it to my travel bucket list. Happy to hear that you felt safe and that it’s easy to get around places. Looking forward to reading more about your travels across the Baltics. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I’m so glad my post has given you some travel inspiration – it’s an incredible area of Europe with so much to do and see. I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts too. Thanks so much for reading Linda 🙂

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  7. An excellent and highly considered overview Hannah. I haven’t seen anything of The Baltics really, so all of this is eye-opening. I hope one day we’ll get to see a bit of it as it will be a nice alliterative accompaniment to our three months exploring the Balkans last autumn. Great work, looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Thanks Leighton, really appreciate that. It’s just such an amazing region of Europe with loads of things to offer all types of travellers. I think you’d enjoy them and agree it would be a perfect companion to your Balkan explorations. We’re heading to Bosnia (we hope) next year so will do some Balkan exploration of our own soon too 🙂

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  8. Very powerful overview of this area and everything that they have been through. I’m sure with such a history they are anxiously watching this latest struggle unfold. Looking forward to learning more about this region in your coming posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very simple – there were none! We flew needing no tests or anything, just travelled there and no requirements. Once there, no social distancing or masks or anything…it was just back to ‘normal’

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it. Oh wow, so they must have left just before or after the Soviets occupied in 1940 ahead of the Nazi invasion. That must have been a tough decision to leave Kaunas and head for the unknown. Hopefully you get to visit Kaunas one day 🙂

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  9. When I lived in Prague, I had thought I would take a trip through the Baltic countries, but always ended up traveling to Western Europe. In Prague, I taught English to adults, and when we talked about future tense, I would ask what they thought might happen. Most people said that another country would come and take them over again. Such a sad history. I’m sure these are scary times for the Baltics. The photo of you and the Baltic Way brought tears to my eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that is so sad about the children in Prague – it is in the national consciousness of all the countries in the area. It is such a sad history of displacement and pain. Definitely very scary times. I felt emotional standing there…especially as at the time I could very easily have been the little girl next to me and I wondered where she was now, the same age as me….was she still in Lithuania or has she left. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments Ruth.

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  10. I followed your trip on Instagram and I’m so glad you’re also talking about it more in depth in your blog because it seemed like a fantastic trip! I loved th eoverview of the countries and their history and I can’t wait to learn more about them! Thanks for sharing!

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  11. By just looking at the different type of architecture, I can understand that a visit to The Baltics must be a wonderful experience (btw, great picture of the Estonian National Park). I loved it when you mentioned how clean the three countries are – it must say something about being a proud and respectful nation. Of course one have to taste the local food (but cocktails are important too 😉). Thank you for the broad history about these three countries – they all came a long and difficult way through different wars to where they are today – for which we must praise them. I’m definitely looking forward to read more about your visit and experiences in The Baltics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for catching up on all my posts Corna. The Baltics are absolutely amazing and I’m so glad to have been to be able to learn more about the region. You’re so right about them being clean and proud, and I agree they have been through so much! Lots more posts on the Baltics will be incoming over the following weeks and months 🙂

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