Though the Baltic countries kind of resent being grouped together, grouping them together on one vacation is a great idea and makes for a convenient road trip. Driving from Estonia to Latvia to Lithuania can be done comfortably in 11 days and allows you to see the highlights from each country.
Recommended starting location: Tallinn, Estonia
Though you could theoretically start anywhere, the most time-saving route is to start at the northernmost country and move south or the most southernmost country and move north. I recommend doing the former because Estonia is more expensive. When your finances are dwindling, you probably don’t want to land in the priciest city. On the other hand, it’ll be easier to moderate your spending when you travel toward the cheaper Lithuania.
It’s often cheapest to fly into Riga, which is in the center. Though you might save a few bucks, you’ll waste a lot of time getting back there to go home. So avoid the temptation and make your trip one way, so you don’t have to circle back.
Day 1-2 Tallinn, Estonia
You probably don’t need a car just yet to explore Estonia’s capital city. Spend a day in the city’s walled-up Old Town seeing the churches and climbing up the towers of the city’s walls.
Spend the second day exploring the parts of the city outside of Old Town including Telliskivi and the bay, where you can tour different boats in the harbor or take a stroll around an abandoned prison.
Day 3 Lahemaa National Park
For your car rental, I highly recommend Baltic Netcar. I’ve never experienced anything more convenient. They dropped off the car at our hotel at a pre-determined time and picked it up at our end point in Vilnius. So you don’t even have to go out of your way or waste time to pick it up.
Once you have your car, head east to Jägala Waterfall and Lahemaa National Park. Both are less than an hour out of Tallinn. In Lahemaa, you can spend the day hiking different trails through the bog and the forest. The areas around the National Park are full of small isolated villages that are very beautiful and good to stop for lunch if you can find anything open.
Day 4 Saaremaa, Estonia
This Estonian island is not to be missed. Here you’ll be able to tour the traditional Koguva village, see a meteorite crater, and then relax with a beer in one of the many spas in Kuressaare.
To get to Saaremaa, you have to take a ferry each way. Knowing the timetables will help you plan around the 30 minute ferry ride.
Day 5 Pärnu, Estonia and Sigulda National Park, Latvia
The drive from Saaremaa to Latvia is fairly long. If you leave Saaremaa first thing in the morning, a good place to stop for lunch is the coastal city of Pärnu. There’s a nice beach, so if you’re doing the trip in the summer, it’s not a bad idea to stick around and enjoy the sun. Otherwise, the city is full of fun little restaurants where you can stop just for lunch.
Once in Latvia, your first stop will be Sigulda National Park. This valley is home to several castles and Gutmanis Cave. The valley area is great for hiking. In fact, during off-season when the cable car to the Krimuldas Castle ruins isn’t running, hiking up is your only option. One lengthy route is to hike on foot down into the valley and walk to all the castles starting at the Sigulada Medieval Castle ruins and the new Sigulda castle, then across the river to the Krimuldas ruins, and then to Turaida Castle. On the way back to your staring point, you can go down to Gutmanis Cave. This route takes about 4 hours comfortably, but you can skip some of the hike by driving to Turaida Castle.
Day 6-7 Riga, Latvia
Latvia’s capital city is totally worth staying for two nights, especially because of the city’s interesting nightlife and the different neighborhoods. As in Tallinn, you should dedicate one day to Old Town, seeing the churches, touring the House of the Blackheads, and generally being a tourist in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
The second day, you can take Riga’s Alternative Walking tour that takes you through the suburbs of Riga and gives you more information about the culture. The tour includes the Riga Central Market, the largest in Europe outside of Istanbul, which is a great stop to return to eat. You can also spend some time in the foodie street of Nometņu in the Kurzeme district.
Day 8 Lithuania’s awesome countryside
There are a lot of amazing places to stop in Lithuania on the way to any of the bigger cities. One of the most famous stops is the Hill of Crosses, which is a site of Catholic pilgrimage and an incredibly beautiful area.
Then take a detour into the Soviet era and visit the decommissioned nuclear missile site of Plokstine. The site is in the middle of another beautiful national park next to Plateliai Lake. But the main attraction is the underground bunker and nuclear silo you can see up close and personal.
End the night in Klaipeda, where you can enjoy a great introduction to Lithuanian cuisine at Forto Dvaras. The modest quasi-industrial town with a small Old Town area is a convenient stop to see the Corunian Spit.
Day 9 Corunian Spit and Trakai, Lithuania
You should dedicate at least half a day to the various sights in Luthuania’s Corunian Spit. The long stretch of land includes forest areas, beaches, bay views and sea views and the sand dunes its famous for. You can drive all the way to the end of the Spit to Nida where you can see the sand dunes at Parnidžio pažintinis takas and have an early lunch. On the way back, stop at the Grey Dunes (Pilkosios kopos), which are nothing short of spectacular. The best views of the water on either side of the Spit are from here. Don’t forget to visit the wooded hiking area of the Hill of Witches, which is full of intricate wooden sculptures and statues.
On the way to Vilnius, stop at Trakai, one of the most treasured and beautiful castles in Lithuania. You can tour the castle grounds and even take a boat tour around the castle before it gets dark. You can also have a more active afternoon by renting a paddle boat. And if you want to feel really medieval, try some archery in the castle.
Day 10-11 Vilnius, Lithuania
After you’ve visited Trakai and you’ve arrived in Vilnius, you can return the car and explore the Lithuanian capital on foot for two days. The city has no shortage of beautiful churches, parks, and viewpoints to give you a bird’s eye view of the Vilnius.
And best of all, the nightlife is fucking out of control. With the average bar or club closing at 4 am, this is the perfect place to unwind after a long drive through the Baltics.