There is so much waiting to be discovered in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn.
The three Baltic capital cities of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn are being discovered by more and more British tourists since the introduction of low cost flights from the UK in recent years.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, has a fascinating history and travellers from the UK will find plenty of interesting sights to occupy their interest for a few days. I’m off to Riga myself with a group of friends at the end of April so I’ll write more about the city after my visit. I’ve been told that a good place to start any exploration of the city is in Old Riga. Old Riga covers a relatively small part of the 13th-18th century fortifications, including medieval monuments which survived the two world wars. Whilst in Riga I’ll be on the look-out for buildings built in the Art Nouveau style, as the city is often called the Capital of Art Nouveau architecture.
Tallinn’s old town is a good place to start any exploration of the city. The Town Hall Square is in the heart of the city and has several outdoor cafés where you can sit and enjoy a coffee and watch the world go by. Twisting cobblestone lanes, half-hidden courtyards and colourful gabled houses combine with Gothic spires and make an irresistible mix for any tourist. The city’s main period of growth was between the 13th and 16th centuries, when Tallinn – or Reval as it was known then – was a thriving member of the Hanseatic trade league. The Gothic Town Hall operates as a museum and a concert hall and is well worth a visit. For a panoramic view of Tallinn you can climb to the viewing platform of St Olaf’s Church.
Vilnius also has a charming medieval old town, which has been described as a living museum. Cathedral Square, at the heart of the old town, is dominated by the impressive Cathedral of St. Stanislav & St. Vladislav and its bell tower. The tower of Gediminas Castle can be seen from all over the city but unfortunately it is currently closed to visitors due to repair works. Over many centuries Vilnius became a home for Polish, Jewish, Russian and German communities, all of which have influenced the cultural scene in the city today. Many artists were drawn to Vilnius, as can be seen if you visit the Lithuanian Art Museum.
All three cities represent very good value for money for British tourists, and this includes eating out. The three countries are proud of their own distinctive culinary traditions. Traditional foods including potatoes, smoked fish, smoked pork and various stews can be found in many restaurants but the new wave of modern gastronomy has arrived in all three cities, with bistros and a Baltic interpretation of Italian restaurants being almost commonplace. In Vilnius restaurants are opening which serve traditional Lithuanian dishes with a new take, from a rustic salad of lamb’s tongue with ewe’s milk yoghurt and blackcurrants, costing about half as much as a dish of this quality in many other European capital cities.