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Five Days in Baltic States

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Can anyone suggest an itinerary for a short overview of Tallinn, Parnu and Riga and/or Sigulda? We will be taking a cruise that begins in Copenhagen, and would like to get a glimpse of these places beforehand since the cruise does not take us there. Is it possible? Would a guided tour be best, or is it feasible to drive ourselves?

Thanks for any information you have.

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    Hi mzblizz,
    I have only been to Tallinn. I was on a cruise-- it was a port for one day. We had plenty of time to have a tour, see Old Town, eat lunch and shop. Unless you want to see something other than Old Town a day here is probably enough. I believe the rest of the city is just that--a city which reminds you of the former Soviet Union but recovering. My son lived in Tallin for about a year. I was there in summer. He said in winter there is very little daylight and even that is often gray. I assume your trip is not in winter. He also has lived in Parnu for a short while and I cannot recall any must sees there but I may have forgotten. Also, are you allowing extra time in Copenhagen? We extended after our cruise there for about three days. I liked it a lot. You can do a search on this site by putting in Parnu, Tiga , Tallin, etc. and there is some older info. Bon vayage.

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    mzblizz,

    I think the region is perfectly self drivable- no need for a guided tour which might be a little too unflexible.

    The first issue is "How to get there". I would recommend to fly into Tallinn. Apart from that you could rent a car and drive through Sweden to Stockholm and then catch a ferry (operated by Tallink, an Estonian shipping company, www.tallink.ee) for an overnight cruise to Tallinn.

    Try to reserve one day for Tallinn. It has a very nice and well preserved Old Town dating back to the Hanse Period. It is a bit touristy today, but still quite impressive. Apart from Old Town, there is not that much to see, if you do not want to include a visit to the Open Air Museum Rocca al Mare that displays old Estonian houses.
    In Old Town, walk the old cobblestone streets from the lower town up to the Dome hill (Toompea). Take a glimpse at the impressive old city wall down opposite of the Reval Express Hotel close to the harbour and just take in the atmosphere.
    Again, apart from Old Town, the rest of Tallinn is not that pretty as there are countless old Soviet Style buildings. If you arrive sometime in the late morning or early afternoon and allow for some sort of city tour that day and the following, thus spending one and a half day in the city you should be able to get a good feeling for the city.
    For accomodation, there is the Schloessle Hotel, a five star small luxury hotel which is extremely expensive, though.
    Its sister property in the four star category is the St. Petersbourg. Still expensive, but also right in the middle of Old Town. These two might not be the best options if you have a car as navigating the Old Streets might not be easy.
    A safe bet is the new convention oriented Radisson SAS but also the Reval Hotel Olümpia, which is huge but very comfortable with friendly staff and a gorgeous rooftop sauna (www.revalhotels.com). Both hotels are about a 10- 15 minute stroll from Old Town.
    Domina Hotel City has been getting good reviews, but I cannot comment on this as I have not been there.
    There is also the Scandic Hotel Palace, an old classic, just across the street from Old Town which is not as huge as the Radisson or the Olümpia. The rooms are clean and nice but slightly dated with smallish bathrooms.
    For dinner you might try Olde Hanza for a medieval feast, one has to like it, though. Vana Tunnel might be an option, too.
    If you are flying, do rent a car in Tallinn!
    Proceed South to Pärnu (approx. 2 to 3 hour drive). It is quite a nice drive through very green Estonian countryland.
    Pärnu is very appealing to me, especially when you are going in late spring, or during summer.
    There is a charming Old Town, but the main attraction is the beach. It is wide and sandy. The water is very shallow and therefore heats up to temperatures in the mid to high sixtees (Fahrenheit, of course) during the season.
    Stay only one night, preferably at Scandic Rannahotel, a Bauhaus style structure right on the beach. Scandic Hotels can be booked through the Hilton website, as they are an affiliated brand. They serve good pastry in their cafe!
    Proceed the next day to Riga. The drive will take you through small villages along the coastline. It will take another 2 to 3 hours.
    Allow at least two days for Riga.
    Riga consists basically of three city sections. There is a very well preserved medieval Old Town, which is surrounded by a belt of approx. 1.5 km radius consisting of Art Nouveau buildings from the turn of the last century. Only outside of this there are the inevitable and unattractive Soviet style suburbs which thus are not that noticable from the city center where you will be spending your time.
    Start your days in Riga with a walking tour (self guided e.g. with the help of a local copy of Riga in your Pocket, a guide that you can purchase at almost every hotel or at a drugstore chain called Narvesen which has several outlets across town). Get started at the entrance to Old Town in front of Hotel de Rome and by the Laima clock (where Latvian lovers meet- and this does not imply that it would be a red light district;-)). From there take a look at the Small and Big Guild buildings on Filharmonijas Laukums and the Black Cat house. Proceed to Domas laukums (Dome square) and take a look into the Dome cathedral, where if you are lucky the organ will be played, which is very impressive.
    Proceed North to Maza Pils iela where you can take a look at the famous three buildings called Three Brothers. A little further North there is Riga Castle, which today is the residence of the Latvian President and cannot be toured.
    Make it back in the direction of Dome square passing the Anglican church (St. Saviour) and head for the Museum of Latvian Occupation which is pretty impressive or even moving on Latviesu strelnieku laukums. Close by there is the beautifully rebuilt House of the Blackheads. From here, proceed to St. Peter's cathedral and take the lift to the platform on the tower for a splendid view of Riga.
    If you are still in great shape, you might consider a hike across the bridge over the Daugava River to the Radisson SAS hotel. From the top floor (there is a hidden platform there) you can have a great view of Old Town's skyline.
    If you decide to stay in Old Town proceed back to your starting point or stroll to the Market Halls adjacent to Old Town (15 minutes at a leisurely pace). Do not miss the Market Halls by any chance during your visit- there is a vast choice of foods, and a very telling mixture of individuals which will give you a feeling for the Latvian society and its problems.
    On the next day, you might want to take a tour of the Art Nouveau buildings. Start again at Laima clock and walk up Brivibas bulvaris and pay respect to the Freedom Monument. continue up Brivibas (take a glance into the Orthodox cathedral) and head North/ North West on Elizabetes (turn left at the Reval Hotel Latvija).
    Walk down Elizabetes to Antonijas iela, turn right and then left into Alberta. I won't go more into detail, just drift along and adore the playful architecture.
    In the afternoon, stop in the at Berga's Bazaar in the other direction but still on Elizabetes. There is a very nice cafe there.
    If you still have time, you might want to pay a visit to Meza Park (Wood Park) a bit outside the City. Enjoy the clean air and take a look at Lielais Estrade, a sort of stadium where the Latvian Song contests are held. This excursion, though, is not mandatory, it might be too much of a hastle and you can do without, if you are in a hurry.
    For accomodation there is a basic choice to be made: Old Town or not. Advantage of staying in Old Town is that you are close to all the Sightseeing.
    Good restaurants are often found outside and staying in the Art Nouveau District might be more convenient in the evenings.
    In Old Town there is the five star Grand Hotel Palace, which is charming and not too big. I have not stayed there, though.
    Also in Old Town, there is Konventa Seta (German management), a complex of beautifully restored buildings housing a very nice three star hotel. The location is fabulous right behind St. Peter.
    Right behind the Dome there is Hotel Gutenbergs, which has gotten some good reviews since its opening about two years ago.
    For a cheaper option there is Radi un Draugi (English management), also right behing St. Peter, which is heavily booked, though.
    At the border of Old Town there is Hotel de Rome, a four star property which has the same management as Konventa Seta, which has great breakfast but is expensive.
    Also bordering Old Town, there is Parkhotel Ridzene, a four/ five star hotel which is more modern than the Palace.
    On Elizabetes, there is Reval Hotel Latvija, a bit monstrous from the outside (a 27 story skyscraper), that has been immaculately restored, though and sports pleasant rooms with great views and friendly staff- as well as a rooftop sauna with views even better than that of St. Peter.
    The advantage of staying outside of Old Town would be that it will be easier to navigate by car, as Old Town is off limits to cars in general, and only special permits can be purchased at steep fees.
    For Restaurants:
    Charlestons: international cuisine, leisurely atmosphere
    Symposium: Mediterranean cuisine, romantic setting
    Vincents: Gourmet food, nice setting
    Staburags: Latvian fare with oom- pah- pah music but fun
    Other options are manifold.
    After your days in Riga continue on Brivibas bulvaris and head out of town into the direction of Sigulda. The drive will take about 1.5 hours.
    There is an old castle on the brink of the Gauja river valley- and there is the only bobsleigh track of the former Soviet Union. You might enjoy a drive across the Gauja in a cable car and a small hike to Turaida castle.
    The question is whether you will return to Riga to fly back to Copenhagen or catch a ferry (www.rigasealine.com) to Stockholm or whether you want to go back to Tallinn and fly out of Tallinn back to Copenhagen (or return by ferry).
    In the latter case, you might want to proceed North via Cesis (impressive Old Castle) and Valmiera (Latvian "mountain" resort town, not much to see, though, and the mountains are rather smallish hills) into Estonia, taking an inland route. This is a very long drive, though.
    The other (and probably quicker) option would include to get back to the coastal route via Pärnu.
    Depending on your time, it would seem that an open jaw flight, with landing in Tallinn and flying out of Riga might be your best choice. I do not know about the possibility of one way car rentals, though.
    Enjoy your trip, and post if you have any further questions
    Regards
    hsv

    P.S. Finally a webpage I always encourage to use for authentic info on these countries: www.inyourpocket.com

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    Just something I forgot:

    An overnight stay in Pärnu is probably not necessary. You might also just take an extended stop of about 2 to three hours depending on the weather in Pärnu and proceed to Riga on the same day. This would probably ease your schedule a bit.

    Plus, here are some more websites you might find informative and helpful:

    For Hotel de Rome in Riga
    www.derome.lv

    For Hotel Konventa Seta in Riga
    www.derome.lv

    For Park Hotel Ridzene in Riga
    www.revalhotels.com

    For Hotel Latvija
    www.revalhotels.com

    For Grand Hotel Palace in Riga
    www.schlossle-hotels.com

    For a travel agency with some good deals on hotel rates
    www.viariga.lv

    For Hotels Grand Schlössle and St. Petersbourg in Tallinn
    www.schlossle-hotels.com

    All pages are available in English language.

    Regards
    hsv

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    mzblizz,

    just a short follow- up on this:

    I just read in a very credible newspaper that there is a new small luxury hotel in Tallinn taking up its business. It is called Three Sisters and is owned by an Estonian who used to be chairman with the Revalhotels chain, which might add to its reliability.
    Revalhotels (of which I already suggested some) could easily pass for a Marriott elsewhere in my opinion, at least their properties Olümpia in Tallinn, Latvija and Parkhotel Ridzene in Riga. They also offer some other properties in Tallinn that feature less stars bit should be quite alright quality- wise, too.
    Prices in the new independently operated Three Sisters appear to be pretty steep, though, starting at approx. EUR 250.-
    By the way it is already listed at www.inyourpocket.com.
    Have a great time planning your trip and do not hesitate to post should you have any further questions!
    hsv

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