Our Baltic road trip adventure kicked off in Tallinn, Estonia, then took us through Latvia, Lithuania, and circled back to Tallinn. Unlike the popular sun-soaked destinations, the Baltic states are often overlooked.
Back in 2016, our family made a deliberate choice to break from our usual summer beach holidays in southern Europe and explore the charming yet less-frequented Baltic states.
Our journey unfolded in August, a month that, unfortunately, greeted us with its fair share of rain, clouds, and brisk winds. Undeterred by the weather, we adjusted our Baltic road trip itinerary to make the most of our 12 days in this unique region.
In 12 days, we discovered the magical lakes covering the stretches of the countryside, had hiked in the soaring dunes, explored the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, searched for pebbles of golden amber on the coast, and marveled at the architectural buildings.
Baltic road trip itinerary planning (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania)
Lufthansa offers direct flights from Frankfurt to Tallinn, Vilnius, or Riga. After reviewing the flight schedule, we opted to arrive in Tallinn and secured return flights accordingly. For those heading to Helsinki or Riga, pre-booking a transfer is also an option to seamlessly reach Tallinn.
Rent a small car
Then, following a comprehensive search on the car rental platform, we hired a compact car for our journey. Given uncertainties about parking, having a smaller car seemed more manageable. The pickup location was conveniently situated inside Tallinn Airport.
Afterward, we carefully chose various accommodations along our driving route and made hotel reservations. The five hotels where we stayed are:
- Tallink City Hotel (Tallinn, Estonia)
- Hotel London (Tartu, Estonia)
- Tallink Hotel in Riga (Riga, Latvia)
- Vila Radailiai (Radailiai, Lithuania)
- Vilnius Grand Resort (Vilnius, Lithuania)
- Hotel Ülemiste (Tallinn Airport, Estonia)
Finalized Baltic road trip itinerary
- 1st Day: Arrival in Tallinn (Overnight Tallink City Hotel)
- 2ed Day: Tallinn (Overnight Tallink City Hotel)
- 3rd Day: Mustvee, Lake Peipus, and Tartu (Overnight Hotel London)
- 4th Day: Riga (Overnight Tallink Hotel in Riga)
- 5th Day: Jurmala (Overnight Tallink Hotel in Riga)
- 6th Day: Riga, Overnight Tallink Hotel in Riga
- 7th Day: Palanga, Karkle, Klaipeda, Overnight Vila Radailiai
- 8th Day: Curonian Spit (Overnight Vila Radailiai)
- 9th Day: Vilnius (Overnight Vilnius Grand Resort)
- 10th Day: Trakai Castle, Lake Galve (Overnight Vilnius Grand Resort)
- 11th Day: Vilnius (Overnight Vilnius Grand Resort)
- 12th Day: Saulkrasti, Pärnu, and Tallinn (Overnight Hotel Ülemiste)
1st Day: Tallinn (Estonia)
The Lufthansa Flight landed in Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport on time. Everything worked as planned, got our luggage, and picked up the rental car, all done within one hour.
The Lufthansa flight arrived at Tallinn Lennart Meri Airport punctually. Everything worked as planned—we collected our luggage and efficiently picked up the rental car, accomplishing everything within the span of just one hour.
The airport is conveniently located close to the city center, where the Tallink City Hotel stands. This sizable hotel features a distinctive glass facade. Following our check-in, we headed to Tallinn’s Passenger Port, just a few hundred meters from the hotel, to enjoy dinner.
2ed Day: Tallinn (Estonia)
Tallinn old town
Undoubtedly, our initial destination was the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its distinctive medieval atmosphere. The narrow cobbled streets, centuries-old architecture, and the hidden courtyards and passages around the Town Hall Square form the heart of this historical old town.
Subsequently, we ventured to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform located northeast of Toompea Castle. From this elevated vantage point, we were treated to awe-inspiring vistas of the city, including the iconic Dome Church and its surroundings.
Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum
After a short break in the romantic cafe, we strolled along sections of the old wall, eventually reaching the Maiden’s Tower (Neitsitorn). Adjacent to the tower stands the Kiek in de Kök Fortifications Museum. Imbued with a medieval atmosphere, the museum also boasts mysterious underground passages.
Tallink City Hotel is conveniently located just a few hundred meters from the old center. Offering amenities such as WiFi, a sauna, and a bar, the hotel’s proximity to the old town allowed us to explore its charm well into the evening.
3rd Day: Mustvee, Lake Peipus, and Tartu (Estonia)
Mustvee and Lake Peipus
Mustvee is a quaint settlement nestled on the shores of Lake Peipus. In the Peipus area, a traditional religious minority is acknowledged for their industriousness, skilled craftsmanship in fishing and building, and a fervent dedication to onion cultivation. Mustvee is also situated along the renowned Estonian Onion Route.
The Onion Route is not far from Tartu, known for having one of Northern Europe’s oldest universities. Most things to see, places to eat, and nightlife in Tartu are on a couple of streets close to each other. Not many tourists were around during the day, and some restaurants were empty. But as the evening came, more people came out for dinner. Tartu is the second-largest town in Estonia and is a center for creativity and learning. They have theater shows, concerts, and festivals happening throughout the year.
We spent one night at Hotel London, enjoying a fantastic stay right in the heart of Tartu. The hotel is conveniently located next to excellent restaurants and the University of Tartu.
4th Day: Riga (Latvia)
The distance from Tartu to Riga is approximately 244 km, and it would typically take around three and a half hours without any stops. Due to our late departure from Tartu and a stopover in Sigulda, we reached our next accommodation, Tallink Hotel in Riga, in the late afternoon.
Riga old town
The highlight of Riga is the old town and the Art Nouveau district of Riga. Riga has a few hundred stunning Art Nouveau buildings characterized by elaborate motifs, curvy figures, and curly lines based on natural forms.
When it was getting darker, our desire for food grew. So we opted for the Gutenbergs Rooftop restaurant since it has a pleasant open terrace. From above, we realized the spectacular way to explore the city.
The main attractions in Riga are the Old Town and the Art Nouveau district. The city boasts several hundred stunning Art Nouveau buildings known for their intricate motifs, curvaceous figures, and elegant lines inspired by nature.
As night fell, our appetite for food increased. We decided on the Gutenbergs Rooftop restaurant, drawn to its enjoyable open terrace. From this terrace, we discovered a spectacular way to experience the city.
5th Day: Jurmala (Latvia)
One of the best activities near Riga is visiting the Jurmala beach resort. Jurmala has a 25 km-long white sand beach that is incredibly spacious, allowing everyone to find a quiet spot for sunbathing and swimming. We enjoyed a pleasant time on the beach that day and had a late lunch on Jomas Street (Jomas iela), one of the oldest streets in Jurmala.
The wooden architecture
Jurmala is renowned for its historical wooden architecture in Latvia, showcasing some of the finest examples of the country’s romantic and classical architectural styles. While I’ve observed various types of wooden houses in places like Bavaria, Germany, and Zakopane, Poland, the wooden houses in Jūrmala exhibit a distinct, more intricate style.
The Tallink Hotel in Riga has a convenient location, with both the Central Train Station and the International Bus Station just a short walk away. Riga’s historic Old Town and the Latvian National Opera are also only a few hundred meters away from the hotel.
6th Day: Riga (Latvia)
Riga Central Market
The Riga Central Market is located alongside the River Daugava, just a few hundred meters away from the old town. Not only is it one of the largest marketplaces, but it also ranks among the most visited markets in Eastern Europe.
The market offers a wide variety of Latvian-grown and homemade products, exotic fruits and spices, as well as manufactured merchandise. Organized into five categories—vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, and gastronomy products, the market features stalls and stands in the outdoor area. Noteworthy events like the Night Market and ‘Round the Clock Farmers’ Market add to the vibrant atmosphere. It’s worth mentioning that the Riga Central Market is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The chic restaurant at Tallink Hotel in Riga presents a breakfast buffet along with a diverse range of international cuisines. Additionally, the hotel features amenities such as a sauna and a hot tub for guests to enjoy.
7th Day: Palanga, Karkle, Klaipeda (Lithuania)
The Baltic coast, stretching from Karkle to Melnrage, is renowned for the precious amber pieces tossed ashore by the waves. We had planned to visit and were hopeful of finding a piece of our own. Unfortunately, the weather turned stormy, accompanied by heavy rain.
As a result, we decided to turn back and explore the Amber Museum in Palanga. The showcased amber products were incredibly beautiful, and I ended up purchasing a bracelet for 150 Euros, complete with a certificate of authenticity.
We explored Klaipeda when the rain stopped. As the oldest city in Lithuania and the only port town, Klaipeda carries a unique historical significance. It was originally a German town dating back to the 13th century and only became part of Lithuania in the 20th century. The city has a mix of architecture, featuring distinctive timber-framed houses, contemporary glass structures, and grey building blocks from the 1960s.
We spent two nights at Vila Radailiai, conveniently located next to a Dinosaur Park. The entrance to the park was included in our room rate, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to explore it.
8th Day: Curonian Spit (Lithuania)
Curonian Spit is the most beautiful place in Lithuania with untouched nature. Its beautiful beaches, endless sand dunes, vast pine tree forests, and pretty small fishing villages have left us an unforgettable experience. If you are in Klaipeda, consider booking a Curonian Spit full-day tour to explore the enchanting Curonian Spit area.
The first place we stopped was the 52-metre Parnidis Dune, renowned as one of the tallest shifting dunes in Europe. Surrounded by the white sand dunes and the pine forest, the sand dune offered stunning scenery. Even on that stormy day, the view looked dramatically. At the summit of the dune, a large sundial stands, inviting visitors to have fun figuring out how it works.
In addition to the Parnidis Dune, highlights in Nidda are such as the water promenade along the Curonian Lagoon and the colourful fishermen’s houses. When the rain began, we sought refuge in a restaurant where the guests were predominantly German, and the waiters spoke German.
As the rain persisted for the rest of the day, preventing us from taking a stroll, we visited the Thomas Mann House Museum. Heading further south of Nida leads to the border between Russia and Lithuania, though without a visa, crossing into the Russian side was not an option.
Vila Radailiai is well-suited for families with kids, just like ours. It features a children’s play area and a spa corner.
9th Day: Vilnius (Lithuania)
The drive from our hotel in Radailiai to Vilnius takes approximately three and a half hours. Unfortunately, heavy rain prevented us from exploring Kaunas as initially planned. Consequently, we proceeded directly to the Vilnius Grand Resort, where we would be staying for the next three nights.
Nestled in the midst of a pine and birch forest, the resort offers a SPA and wellness centre. Following check-in, we spent the rest of the day indulging in the amenities of the resort’s wellness facilities.
10th Day: Trakai Castle and Lake Galve (Lithuania)
Parking in Trakai posed a challenge, but resourceful local residents opened their gardens for public parking. Opting for this option, we drove into one such garden, paid a fee of two Euros, and were assigned a parking spot.
Trakai Castle, once a residence for the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, sits on an island in Lake Galve, one of Lithuania’s deepest lakes. Accessible by crossing a long wooden bridge, the castle presents a view straight out of a fairy tale.
Next to the castle, we found boats available for tourists. We rented a motor boat for 35 Euros and enjoyed a scenic tour around Lake Galve. The boat, being new and spacious, provided us with the added thrill of driving it ourselves, all within a reasonable budget.
After our boat tour, we had lunch at a restaurant on the lakeshore, savoring the flavors of Lithuanian Karaim cuisine, including the traditional kibinai (or kybynlar) and meat soups. Following our meal, we strolled through the town, appreciating the wooden architecture that narrates the history of Karaim and Tartar communities.
One of the highlights we truly enjoyed at Vilnius Grand Resort is the charming summer restaurant, Bora Bora, situated by the water near the sandy beach. It proved to be an ideal spot for our family to relax and enjoy a peaceful atmosphere. The restaurant features Asian fusion cuisine, and we had a delicious dinner on that evening.
11th Day: Vilnius (Lithuania)
Architectural building in the old town
In the early morning, the streets of Vilnius were tranquil and mostly devoid of activity. The old town of Vilnius, a UNESCO-listed site, is rich in historical charm, featuring notable buildings such as the Presidential Palace in Daukantas Square, the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius Cathedral, the Town Hall, and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.
Stikliu Street and the restaurant corner
Once the heart of the Jewish Quarter, now Stikliu Street is filled with boutiques and artisan studios. The winding cobblestone streets in this area line up with quaint bars and restaurants. We had our lunch in the Belgium Restaurant Rene.
Gediminas Castle, perched atop a hill, is one of the best places to see the magnificent panoramas of Vilnius. After lunch, we climbed up the Gediminas Hill for the views of the city. The red roofs of Vilnius, the church towers, and the narrow streets of the old town are a stunning sight.
The reception of the Vilnius Grand Resort was very friendly and efficient. On the next day, in the beach town Saulkrasti, we found out that we had forgotten to pack our swimming suits. In a hurry, we connected the reception and informed the situation. After a few minutes, they found our stuff and were in the process of sending them to our home in Germany. And, our swimming suits arrived in Germany earlier than us.
12th Day: Saulkrasti (Latvia), Pärnu (Estonia), and Talinn (Estonia)
On the last day of the Baltic road trip itinerary, we had to cross Lithuania and Latvia to Estonia. Does it sound exciting?
It was quite a long way from Vilnius to Saulkrasti, the beach town. Its coastline stretches for 17 km and is one of the best places to view the sunsets. After a long drive, It was such a pleasant time to walk on the White Dune and breathe the sea breeze while looking over the Gulf of Riga.
Saulkrasti is a holiday area with many recreation possibilities. We had our lunch at the beach restaurant before heading to the next place.
Pärnu is the ultimate summer holiday destination in Estonia and attracts travelers with its large sandy beach, numerous restaurants, cocktail bars, spas, and a relaxed atmosphere. As we left our swimming suits in the last hotel, we just walked on the long, white sandy beaches. Blessed by the best sun in Estonia, the shallow water was quite warm.
Finally, we were back at Tallinn Airport and returned our rental car. Because our flight was in the early morning the next day, we booked the overnight stay at Hotel Ülemiste next to the Airport.
Our last hotel is about 10 minutes of walking to the Airport terminal and has 24X7 reception hours. They also packed breakfast boxes for us upon our check-out. For those who want to catch early or late flights, Hotel Ülemiste is a perfect place to stay.
Travel tips for Baltic road trip itinerary (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania)
The road trip was an unforgettable tourist experience. We were surrounded with exotic languages, a history of merchant cultures, different traditions, and markedly different temperaments.
Alternative Baltic road trip itinerary
Coronian Spit, Pärnu, and Jurmala are the top places for a longer holiday. We could easily spend one week at each of these places since the landscape boosts many outdoor activities. And, we would also like to see more in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius.
Alternative Baltic road trip itinerary
Curonian Spit, Pärnu, and Jurmala are the top places for a more extended holiday. We could easily spend one week at each of these places since the landscape boosts many outdoor activities. And, we would also like to see more in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius.