8 DAYS / 7 NIGHTS
DAY 1 / VILNIUS (ARRIVAL)
Arrival to Vilnius.
First orientation tour and visit of the Hill of three crosses (if arrival is before 14h00). Vilnius is a true baroque jewel bursting with a treasure trove of architectural styles. The city’s Old Town features more than 1500 historical buildings, making it one of the largest in Europe, while its pastel facades, beautiful churches, and cobblestoned streets create a unique, romantic atmosphere.
At the same time, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is still a small city, perfect for walking along its cobblestoned streets, secret yards, and majestic squares. Founded in 1323 by the Grand Duke Gediminas on the banks of the Neris and Vilnia rivers, Vilnius has been a major trade centre in the Baltic region for centuries and was home to the Hansa merchants, not to mention the many invaders who have occupied the country at different points throughout its long history: Germans, Poles, Russians, and Swedes. Vilnius was also the general headquarters of Napoleon’s army when he attempted to occupy Russia. This multinational influence has affected the architecture of the city, with its facades that now feature gothic, renaissance, baroque, and neoclassical styles, as well as its cultural and religious life. Here you can see a variety of Catholic churches with their ornate facades and colonnades, austere Protestant churches with their high spires, and Orthodox cathedrals with their rich decoration and onion-shaped cupolas, all of which serves as just one more reason why the historical centre of Vilnius is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Vilnius was the European Cultural Capital in 2009 as, despite its stateliness, it is an active modern city: its ambiance is young, lively, and dynamic thanks to the fact that Vilnius is the main University City in Lithuania. Every year Vilnius hosts many colourful fairs, theatre performances, and festivals.
Transfer to the hotel.
DAY 2 / VILNIUS – TRAKAI – VILNIUS
Breakfast at the hotel.
Panoramic bus tour of Vilnius. We will first go on a bus tour that will feature a visit to St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, and offer the opportunity to admire many Art Nouveau buildings along Gediminas Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Vilnius. Vilnius Cathedral, with its imposing neoclassical façade, stands at its end, a part of the vast Vilnius Castle Complex that also includes the Upper Castle, Lower Castle, Royal Palace, and Arsenals. The whole complex is dominated by Gediminas Tower, rising from prominent Castle Hill above Old Town, the start of our walking tour. First, we will go by the Presidential Palace, the official residence of the President of Lithuania, and Vilnius University, the oldest in the Baltic States and home to the Catholic Church of St. John. We will then admire renaissance-styled St. Michael’s Church; St. Anne’s Church, which has the most beautiful exterior of all of Vilnius’ churches; the Church of St. Francis of Assisi (Bernardine); and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Theotokos. The other side of the Vilnia River is home to the Uzupis artists’ quartier, where we will enjoy a panoramic view of Vilnius from near the Artillery Bastion before re-entering through the city walls at the Gate of Dawn. We will walk in front of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Casimir’s Church before arriving at Town Hall Square, a beautiful example of 18th century Neoclassicism. Nearby are the Old Jewish Quartier, the Choral Synagogue, Orthodox St. Nicolas Church, and Catholic St. Nicolas Church, the most ancient in Lithuania.
Visit to Antakalnis Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of soldiers, including more than 3000 Frenchmen in Napoleon’s armies who died during the invasion of Russia in 1812, as well as German and Russian soldiers who died during both world wars and the Lithuanian patriots killed in 1991 by Soviet troops during the revolts for the independence of Lithuania.
Visit to St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church. This church is a baroque masterpiece that is often called a “Baroque pearl.” Construction on the church began in 1668 by order of Kazimierz Pac, the Grand Hetman of Lithuania, to commemorate the liberation of the city from its Russian invaders. He was buried in the church with the inscription “Here lies a Sinner” on his tombstone, though it was later destroyed by lightning. You will be impressed by the unique interior of the church: it is decorated with 2000 statues and reliefs of biblical characters and historical heroes, all by famous Italian masters, a magnificence that is without equal among other churches in Vilnius.
Visit to Vilnius Cathedral. The first Christian church was built here in 1251 to replace a pagan temple and commemorate the baptism of Mindaugas, the king of Lithuania. The church was damaged and had to be rebuilt several times throughout the centuries, each rebuild featuring different styles, including gothic, renaissance, and baroque, some of the remains of which still survive and are available for our viewing pleasure. The building’s present neoclassical facade was designed by Lithuanian architect Laurynas Gucevičius at the end of the 18th century, while the cathedral’s interior contains many valuable frescos, pictures, sculptures, and tombstones. The crypt is home to a valuable fresco dating back to the end of the 14th century: The Crucifixion, the oldest wall painting in Lithuania. St Casimir’s Church is a treasure trove of frescos, decorative stucco works, and sculptures, being one of the most valuable examples of mature baroque architecture in Lithuania. A silver coffin made in the 18th century holds the remains of St. Casimir, Grand Duke and patron saint of Lithuania. The cathedral’s external bell tower, a city landmark, was erected in the 15th century on the location of a defensive tower that was part of Vilnius’ Lower Castle.
Walking tour of historical centre.
Visit to Vilnius University courtyard. Founded in 1568 by Polish Jesuits at the initiative of King Stephen Báthory, it was from its inception an important cultural centre in the Baltic region. Built mostly in the baroque style, we will admire its historical halls and the beautiful frescoes that decorate its arches and vaults. The university complex occupies an entire district inside Old Town and is divided into 12 inner courts built during the last four centuries. The main court features the Church of St. John (Sv. Jono), initially built in 1387 in the gothic style and then rebuilt in the 18th century in Lithuanian baroque. Its bell tower, at 69 meters, is the tallest building in Vilnius’ Old Town.
Visit to the Catholic Church of St. John. This location inside the university was once home to a gothic church built at the end of the 14th century that replaced an older wooden one. In the 16th century the church was transferred to the Jesuits, who rebuilt it in the renaissance style and gave it its current structure. The facade was once again modified in the 18th century after a fire, this time in the baroque style. The elegant bell tower is one of the tallest buildings in Old Town, at 69 meters. During the Soviet occupation it became the typography department of the University, while nowadays it has returned to its religious functions and serves as the university’s church. It is dedicated to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
Tour of the Republic of Uzupis. Situated not far from the city centre and separated from it by the Vilnia River, its name means “beyond the river.” This area was declared an independent republic by its inhabitants, mostly artists and their families, who created a flag that changes colours every season, an anthem, passports, a constitution, and even an Independence Day: April 1st! Complete with a president and council of ministers, the district was inhabited mostly by Jews until World War II, after which their deserted houses were neglected, and during the Soviet occupation only strays, criminals, and social outcasts inhabited the place. After Lithuania regained its independence, many artists moved into the houses, restored the buildings, and returned a fresh and creative shine to the district, now sworn brother to Montmartre. These days it is full of cafes, art galleries, and boutiques, while the main clause in the Constitution of Uzupis is the “right to be happy,” and its motto is “don’t fight, don’t win, and don’t surrender.”
Visit to the Art Centre of Baltic Amber (small exhibit and store). Situated in Old Town, the small Art Centre of Baltic Amber is home to an amazing collection that was unearthed in the archaeological excavations of ancient Vilnius. The exhibits are mainly flora and fauna species preserved in amber 50 million years ago, while you will also learn about amber’s role in ancient pagan rites. In addition, you will find out how amber is processed, one of the oldest existing trades. The museum boasts a wide variety of amber colours and shapes, including an amber jewellery collection that will leave you amazed, and you will be able buy a piece of Baltic amber as a keepsake.
Trakai. Situated 15 kilometres from Vilnius, Trakai was declared a national park not only because of the natural beauty of its 200 lakes and dense fir and birch forests, but also because of the historical importance of the place: it was the seat of the Grand Dukedom of Lithuania and the second capital of the country during the Middle Ages. The town has been built in a narrow peninsula and it’s surrounded by marvellous lakes. The area has historically been a crossroad of different ethnicities and nationalities: Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Poles. Its imposing Island Castle is a splendid 14th century building on a small island in the middle of an idyllic lake. The majestic silhouette of its high, red brick walls and slender towers are reflected in the lake’s waters.
Panoramic tour of Trakai. In the small town, besides the charming traditional wooden houses scattered in this marvellous landscape, we will appreciate several buildings of historical importance: The Karaims, Jewish from Crimea that reject the Talmud and speak a Turkic language, settled in Trakai in the 14th century. We will see karaim houses and the Knessa (Knesset), the Karaite Prayer House, whose construction started in the 14th century. The Orthodox Church of the Nativity and the former Russian Imperial Post House were built in the 19th century, during the time when Lithuania was a part of the Russian Empire. The Usutrakis Manor Estate was built at the end of the 19th century by the count Tyszkiewicz. We have of course roman catholic temples, Lithuanians’ majoritarian religion: The Chapel-Column of St. John Nepomuk (17th century), the former Dominican Monastery (18th century) and the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15th century). Finally, we will admire the two castles of Trakai: the Trakai Peninsula Castle (14th century), mostly in ruins, and the majestic Trakai Island Castle, built in the 14th century in an island, an iconic image of Lithuania.
Visit to Trakai Island Castle. After a short journey from Vilnius, we will discover this area with its stunning natural beauty, reaching the magnificent medieval castle of Trakai by crossing a wooden walking bridge over the lake. The castle’s construction began at the end of the 14th century as an enlargement of the neighbouring Peninsula Castle, complete with its imposing Donjon, Ducal Hall, walls, and defensive towers.
Visit of the small exhibit about the Karaim people at Trakai Castle. The Karaims or Karaites are an ethnic group of Turkic-speaking Jewish, that settled in Crimea peninsula and which reject the Talmud and accept only the Bible as a Holy book. In 1397 many of them were brought to Lithuania after a successful military campaign of the Grand Duke Vytautas against the Golden Horde. They established in many areas of the Duchy of Lithuania, including territories in present-day Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. One of the most important settlements was in Trakai. Nowadays there are still more than 250 Karaites in the town. We will see a small exhibit about this community, including typical dresses, furniture, domestic tools, documents, weapons, etc.
Visit of the ruins of the Trakai Peninsula Castle (Great Castle). The Trakai Peninsula Castle was built in the 14th century as a defensive fortress of the Dukes of Lithuania against the Teutonic Knights. During the 15th century it was used as a residence of the Dukes, and then, in the 16th century, as a prison. It was destroyed during the Russo-Polish War in the 17th century and wasn’t rebuilt. We can still admire some of its massive towers.
DAY 3 / VILNIUS – KAUNAS – NIDA – KLAIPEDA
Departure to Kaunas.
Kaunas. This city of rich history that was the capital of Lithuania between the two world wars is located at the confluence of the two major rivers of Lithuania, the Neris and the Nemunas, close to the Kaunas reservoir. This strategic position, at the crossroads of several main trade routes, attracted human settlements from as early as the second millennium BC, while the town is believed to have been founded in 1030. As trade flourished in the 15th century, its importance grew, finally becoming a member of the Hanseatic League in 1441. Due to its importance, the city has been attacked several times throughout its history by the Teutonic knights, Swedes, Russians, and even Napoleonic armies. Regardless, the city still keeps a tight grip on its important cultural legacy, with many monuments and other fascinating sites. Kaunas also has an important Jewish past, a community which composed up to 25% of the city’s population before World War II.
Panoramic tour of Kaunas. During this panoramic visit we will admire Government Square and some of Kaunas’ magnificent churches, among which are the Neo-Byzantine Church of St. Miguel Archangel and Resurrection Church, with its wonderful views of the city. After a stop at busy Laisves Aleja (Liberty Avenue), the city’s main street, near gothic St. Gertrude Church and the neo-baroque building of the Choral Synagogue, we will make our way to the old city. Here we will discover the city’s main treasures, such as Vytautas Church, one of the oldest in the city; the gothic House of Perkunas; baroque Kaunas City Hall; St. George’s Convent; St Francis Xavier Church; and the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica, the biggest gothic edifice in Lithuania, and neighbour to majestic and recently restored Kaunas Castle, dating back to the 14th century.
Departure to Neringa.
The Curonian Spit (Neringa Peninsula). This national park is included in the World Heritage list by UNESCO because of its stunning beauty. Consisting of a narrow strip of land about 100 kilometres long that separates the Baltic Sea from the Curonian Lagoon, it is shared by Lithuania, which owns its northern half, and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Sculpted throughout the centuries by strong Baltic winds carrying fine white sand, the Curonian Spit is covered by pine forests. Here you can admire the largest moving sand dunes in Europe, culminating at 56 meters above sea level at Urbas Dune. This magical place has a major kaup, a pagan sanctuary that has been the site of various rites throughout the centuries. It has also given rise to many legends that claim the spit was created by the giantess child Neringa, the sea goddess, while playing.
Tour of the Curonian Spit (Neringa Peninsula). We will discover the Neringa Peninsula, also called the Curonian Spit, and from Smyltune and its beautiful fishermen’s houses we will go along the only existing road on the spit to Nida. We will stop at Witches’ Hill, or Raganu Kalnas, where, after a short walk along the beautiful forests and dunes, we will admire its amazing, mythological wooden sculptures. We will then continue southwards to Preila and its beautiful cemetery. On our walking tour of Nida, the main village on the peninsula and one that is on the border with Russia, we will be able to see the house where the writer Thomas Mann lived. We will also admire 52-meter Parnidis Dune, the last shifting dune on the peninsula. After climbing wooden stairs to its top, we will enjoy splendid views over Nida; the Curonian Spit, including its Russian part; the “Lithuanian Sahara;” and the Curonian Lagoon.
Ferry crossing to Smyltune and Juodkrante villages.
Stop at the hill of witches « Raganu Kalnas ».
Walk through Nida.
Departure to Klaipeda. Transfer to the hotel.
DAY 4 / KLAIPEDA – SIAULIAI – RUNDALE – JELGAVA – RIGA
Klaipeda. Klaipeda is the third largest city in Lithuania and the country’s most important port. Founded in 1252 by Teutonic knights and German crusaders, the city was controlled by different powers throughout its existence. During most of its history it was known by the Prussian/German name of Memel, and the city grew thanks to the importance of its nearly year-round ice-free port that made it a main trade centre for the whole Baltic area, its primary clients being English merchants. The city suffered extensive damage during World War II and was hastily rebuilt by Soviet authorities. It remains a very dynamic port city.
Panoramic tour of Klaipeda. We will learn about the most interesting and ancient sights in Klaipeda that have survived to the present day, including the remains of Klaipeda Fort on the Curonian Spit (dating back to the 19th century), the remains of Klaipeda Castle in the old town (15-19th centuries), and several of the castle’s bastions. Its first construction was begun in the 13th century by Teutonic knights, and today the castle features a beautiful view of Klaipeda. We will then walk through the small network of charming streets that make up the old town, built between the 13th and the 15th centuries, where we will see the exterior of the historical buildings of the Clock Museum and the Lithuania Minor Museum. We will also admire some old warehouses built in the typically German fachwerk style. From Theatre Square, the main landmark in the old town, we will walk along the Craft Yard, dating back to the 18th century, later seeing the Klaipeda University building complex and the Central Post Office building.
Departure to Siauliai.
Visit to the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai. Surrounded by beautiful nature about 12 kilometres north of Siauliai, this mystical place is a Catholic pilgrimage site that has seen pilgrims come to lay down their crosses and rosaries since the 14th century as a sign of religious and national identity, including even Pope Jean Paul II in 1993. In spite of the destruction of the landmark on numerous occasions by foreign occupiers, the number of crucifixes today is estimated to be more than 100,000, from tiny crosses to the colossal crucifixes devoted to the martyrs and heroes of national independence.
Visit to Rundale Palace. This was the summer residence of the Duke of Courland-Semigallia, Ernest Johann Von Biron. Von Biron was born to a family of servants in the Kettler dynasty, the dukes of Courland-Semigallia, and later entered the service of Bestuzhev, the Russian ambassador, one of the most powerful men in the duchy, and the Russian princess Anna Ivanovna’s lover. A handsome man, Von Biron managed to replace his master as the princess’ lover, and when she became empress (tsarina) in 1730, Ernst Johann Von Biron was rewarded with estates, money, and titles. He followed her to Russia and quickly expanded his influence in the court, becoming the most powerful man in the Russian Empire. When the last Duke of Courland-Semigallia from the Kettler dynasty died without an heir in 1737, Empress Anna Ivanovna managed to secure the duchy for her protégé and lover. Von Biron then returned to his homeland as duke, where he lived a life of opulence and extravagance. Shortly after arriving, he ordered that two luxurious palaces be built by the most famous architect in St. Petersburg, Bartolomeo Rastrelli: Jelgava Palace as his main residence and Rundale Palace as his summer residence. Rastrelli built in Rundale a beautiful baroque, Italian-inspired palace with harmonious proportions, lavish stucco decorations, and beautiful French gardens. After the duke’s death, the palace changed hands several times, including becoming the property of the Shuvalov family and even the Soviet authorities. It has been recently restored and nowadays is used by the Latvian authorities to house the most important visitors of the country and heads of foreign states. Its most stunning halls are the Golden Living Room, the White Living Room, and the Great Gallery, as well as the duke’s private rooms, all of them decorated in the rococo style.
Departure to Jelgava. This ancient Latvian city situated about 40 kilometres from Riga was founded in the 10th century. Later, in the 13th century, it became an important fortress of the Order of the Teutonic Knights, who gave the city its German name of Mitau. After their defeat, the city became the capital of the Great Duchy of Courland-Semigallia, which was a historical Baltic region governed by the Kettler and Biron dynasties. They managed to rule the area for centuries, even under the different powers that conquered these lands, including Lithuanians, Poles, and Swedes, until 1795, when the Duchy became a province of the Russian Empire. Jelgava suffered heavy damage during World War II and was later rebuilt by the Soviet occupiers. Jelgava is today a small city with a calm and provincial atmosphere.
Panoramic tour of Jelgava. In spite of the destruction suffered during World War II and the reconstruction done in the Soviet style, Jelgava still retains some remnants of its important past. We will admire several historical buildings along the streets of the old town and some patrician manors of the German nobility, such as Valdecka Palace. Among the religious monuments, we will discover the Lutheran Church of St. Anne, the oldest building of the city; the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. George and St. Mary, with its neo-gothic style; the Orthodox St. Anna and St. Simeon Cathedral; and the spire of the Holy Trinity Church. Petrina Academy was built during the 18th century using a beautiful mixture of late baroque and early neoclassical styles and is an old spiritual centre of the Duchy. Without doubt, the most impressive of all is Jelgava Palace.
Departure to Riga. Transfer to the hotel.
DAY 5 / RIGA
Panoramic tour of Riga. The center of Riga is richly decorated with an incredible variety of architectural styles, including gothic, renaissance, baroque, classicism, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, and national romanticism. In the modern section, the Art Nouveau buildings and their fantastic decorative elements are extraordinary and unrivalled, while the wooden buildings of the 19th century that still survive are also unique. We will enjoy a panoramic walking tour around the historical center, with its perfectly preserved paved streets and charming medieval atmosphere in which we will admire the magnificent buildings that belonged to the rich merchants of the Hansa. We will start our tour with a view of Riga Castle, built in 1330, one of the most well-preserved castles in Northern Europe, and now the official residence of the President of Latvia and home to the National History Museum of Latvia. We will then visit some parts of the old city walls, including the Swedish Gate and Powder Tower, after which we will continue our visit through the old Nunnery and Hospital of the Holy Spirit. We will admire some of the city’s most ancient civil buildings, such as the House of The Three Brothers, the oldest residence in Riga; the House of the Black Heads, which was the seat of the famous brotherhood of captains and Hanseatic merchants; and the more recently built Small and Great Guild Halls, which were the cultural centers of the craftsmen and merchants, respectively. We will also visit the most important religious buildings in Riga: St. James’ Cathedral, St. John’s Church, St. Peter’s Church, and the Dome, or Riga Cathedral. We will finish our walk in old Market Square in front of the town hall.
Visit to Riga Central Market. It is the largest market in the Baltic States and one of the biggest markets on the European continent. Inaugurated in 1930, its five pavilions were designed to be zeppelin hangars, though they were eventually converted into the central market. Located in the centre of Riga and constructed in the Art Nouveau style, it was the largest construction project in pre-war Latvia. The main function of the central market has not changed since, as it is still the largest and most popular shopping and trading location in the city. Its pavilions and the market’s open area see farmers from all over the country offering their wares: vegetables, berries, fruits, fish, meat, and dairy products, as well as other agricultural produce—a pleasure for the senses!
Exterior visit to St. Peter’s Church. A beautiful gothic building that dates back to 1209, it was carefully renovated after being damaged by fire due to bombings during World War II.
Visit to the Dome (Riga Cathedral). The biggest church in the Baltic countries and a gothic pearl built in 1211 near the Daugava River, it also incorporates elements of many other styles, including Romanesque, baroque, and even Art Nouveau. Dedicated to the Protestant cult, its austere interior gives an impression of solidity, with some of its walls more than two meters thick. It is famous due to its spectacular organ, one that is the greatest in Europe and was inaugurated in 1844 with four keyboards and more than 6,700 pipes.
Visit to Riga’s Art Nouveau district. With more than 750 buildings featuring distinct facades and rich decoration, it is the biggest collection of Art Nouveau in the world. Its construction started between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, but its most famous buildings are wonderful examples of Jugendstil, which was characteristic of the inter-war period. There are two main types of Art Nouveau architecture and decoration in Riga: Rationalist-perpendicular, with vertical lines along many floors, and National-Romanticism, which incorporates elements of traditional architecture and natural materials. In 1997, UNESCO included 475 hectares in Riga’s centre in its World Heritage List, a protected area that embraces the historical heart of the city and the surrounding districts on the right bank of the Daugava River and includes most of the Art Nouveau district.
Visit to Jurmala. The largest resort city in the Baltic States is well known for its natural treasures: its mild climate, sea, healthy air, therapeutic mud, and mineral water. The city’s main attraction is almost 33 kilometres of long white sandy beaches that are hedged by large pine forests and the city’s natural border, the river Lielupe. More than 3,500 traditional wooden houses used to be summer residences for Riga’s elite, while most of these buildings are now declared national monuments.
Transfer to the hotel.
DAY 6 / RIGA – SIGULDA – TURAIDA – PARNU – TALLINN
Departure to Sigulda.
Gauja National Park. The Gauja River valley is one of the most beautiful places in Northern Europe, with its rivers and streams, soft hills, thick forests, and exquisite caves. Finno-Ugrian tribes called the Livonians came to the valley in the 11th century, beginning the construction of numerous castles and wooden fortifications, including Satesele, Turaida, and Kubesele. It has been declared a national park both for its natural beauty and for its historic importance. The main touristic centre of the area is the town of Sigulda.
Panoramic visit to Sigulda. This charming town located in the centre of the Gauja Valley is the area’s main attraction. We will admire Sigulda New Castle, constructed at the end of the 19th century by the Kropotkin family, and the ruins of Sigulda Old Castle, built in 1207 by the Livonian Order. On the other side of the Gauja River is the village of Turaida.
Visit to Gutmanis Cave. Situated on the banks of the Gauja River, it is the biggest and deepest cave in the whole Baltic region, and has been a touristic attraction for centuries. It has also given rise to many stories and legends, the most famous being the “Rose of Turaida.” We will be able to admire some of the cave paintings that adorn the walls.
Visit to Turaida. On the other bank of the Gauja River, across from Sigulda, lies the village of Turaida. Its wooden Lutheran church built in 1750 is one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia. We will also visit the Livonian graveyard where the tomb of Maija, the legendary “Rose of Turaida” is located. On the Daina Hill we will see the sculpture garden, dedicated to the Latvian folklore that was made in honour of the Baron Krisjanis, a great collector of Latvian folk songs. Regardless, its main attraction is undoubtedly the medieval Castle of Turaida. Constructed in 1214, this majestic red brick building occupies a hill above the village and has survived numerous wars, fires, and attacks.
Stop in Cesis. This charming old town is located about 90 kilometres northeast of Riga. The area was populated by a Livonian tribe called the Vends, while Cesis was founded in 1206 with the German name of Wenden, making it the third oldest city in Latvia. The city castle was one of the main centres of the Livonian Order and its masters, while the development of trade with neighbouring Novgorod and the Pskov Republic in Russia during the 14th century brought great prosperity to Wenden/Cesis: in 1323 it officially became a city and in 1367 it became a member of the Hanseatic League. In the second half of the 16th century, the development of Cesis was interrupted by the invasion of Ivan the Terrible, who was succeeded by the Poles and then the Swedes. In 1703, during the Great Northern War, Cesis was occupied by Russian troops and, in 1721, the whole area was incorporated into the Russian Empire. In the 19th century, Cesis developed again as a cultural and vacation centre because of its surrounding beauty and thermal waters. Today the town retains a calm and unique atmosphere with its Medieval Castle, charming old town streets, old stone and wooden buildings, and villas and old estates on the banks of the beautiful Gauja River. Cesis was a candidate for European Cultural Capital in 2014.
Panoramic tour of Cesis. We will walk around this small resort town located in a region of stunning natural beauty that manages to emphasize the charm of its ancient architecture. The town, which is dominated by the ruins of Cesis Medieval Castle on top of a hill, was built in the 13th century and reached its peak in the 15th century under the Livonian Order. The baroque New Castle, or Cesis Manor, was built in the 18th century adjacent to the old castle. In St. John’s Church, built in the 13th century, we can still find the tombstones that mark the graves of the Livonian Order’s masters, while the church’s organ can sometimes be heard even in neighbouring streets. We will then walk along the charming and medieval cobbled streets of the old town. The Square of Roses, old Market Square, is home to the university, while on Valnu and Palasta streets we can still see some medieval remains and on Riga’s Street admire houses that were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. We will end our tour in Cesu Alus, a local brewery that is the oldest in Latvia.
Parnu. Situated 130 kilometres south of Tallinn at the mouth of the Parnu River and on the Baltic Sea, this city is known as the summer capital of Estonia. This is because of how energetic Parnu gets during the summer thanks to the numerous visitors attracted to its sandy beaches and the beautiful forests around them. The city has 750 years of history and a rich Hanseatic past.
Short panoramic tour of Parnu. During our short stop, we will walk around Ruutli, Parnu’s main pedestrian street, which features many typical wooden and stone Estonian buildings. We will see the Tallinn Gates, also known as the King’s Gates, and medieval Red Tower, dating back to the 15th century, making it the oldest monument in Parnu. We will also admire the exteriors of two beautiful baroque churches, Lutheran St. Elisabeth Church and Orthodox St. Catherine Church, the latter of which was built by order of the Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great.
Departure to Tallinn. Transfer to the hotel.
DAY 7 / TALLINN
Panoramic tour of Tallinn. As part of a bus tour we will visit the coastal neighbourhood of Pirita and the Russalka Memorial that is situated on the seafront. We will also catch a glimpse of the front of the ruins of St. Bridget’s (Birgitta) Convent, after which we will enjoy views of Kadriorg Park, enjoying the sharp contrast between the baroque buildings of Kadriorg Palace and the ultramodern Kumu Museum of Modern Art. After that, we will have a walking tour through the charming medieval streets of the historical center. Tallinn’s old town is divided into two main parts: Toompea, or “Cathedral Hill,” and All Linn, or the “Lower Town.” Estonia has always been ruled from Toompea, where we will appreciate Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament meets, and the Stenbock House, the official seat of the Estonian government. This spot also features the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral, and we will also visit the belvedere to enjoy stunning views of the city. Afterward we will head to All Line, or Tallinn’s lower town, where renaissance and baroque facades alternate with world-renowned hanseatic architecture, also called the Brick Gothic Style. The oldest cobblestone streets and buildings here were built in the 13th century, while along Muurivahe Street we will see several bastions and towers from the old city walls, the most remarkable being the Powder Tower, also called Kiek in de Kok. We will then walk past the Dominican Monastery of St. Catherine and the Cistercian Nunnery of St. Michael. The most notable landmarks of the Lower Town are the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads—a guild of young and single merchants—the Church of the Holy Ghost, St. Nicholas’ Church, and St. Olaf’s Church, whose spire was the highest building in the world from 1549 to 1625. We will finish our tour at impressive Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square), where we will find the town hall building that was built in 1404, and the Great Guild, built in 1410, whose gothic hall used to be the meeting place for the city’s merchants. On the opposite side of the square sits Raeapteek (Town Hall Pharmacy), the oldest working pharmacy in Europe, which has been open since the early 15th century.
Visit to the Kadriorg District. Located not far from Tallinn’s centre, the area features a beautiful park and several buildings of interest: imposing Kadriorg Palace (18th century), the old summer residence of Peter the Great; Weizenberg Palace; the current Estonian Presidential Palace; and numerous villas and mansions inhabited by the local middle class and constructed for the most part in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Kadriorg Park offers footpaths and splendid gardens decorated with numerous statues and furrowed by streams and canals. Here we will also find some of the most important museums in Estonia, such as the Kumu Museum of Modern Art and the Mikkel Museum, with its collections of Russian icons and Chinese porcelains.
Exterior visit to Kadriorg Palace. After Peter the Great’s victory over Sweden, Russia annexed Estonia in 1710. In 1718, the Tsar ordered Italian architect Nicolo Michetti to construct this gorgeous palace. It was built in the baroque style in the centre of a French-inspired park and intended as a sumptuous summer residence far from the agitation of St. Petersburg. The palace was named Catherinenthal, or Kadriorg in Estonian, which means “Valley of Catherine,” in honour of his wife, Catherine I. Today the building is a museum in which we can admire the collections exhibited in its sumptuous halls, as well as its lavish outer architecture and the harmony of its gardens. It is also possible to see the house from which the Tsar kept an eye on the construction.
Short walk through Kalamaja quartier. Next to the Old Town, but closer to the sea, Kalamaja has always been the traditional opening of Tallinn to the Baltic Sea. This neighbourhood along the Bay of Tallinn always housed fishermen, fish-sellers and boat-builders. Its name, meaning “House of Fish” is a witness of its marine past, along with its streets’ names, such as “Koie” (Rope) or “Kalaranna” (Fish Beach). Kalamaja’s houses are mostly made of wood, preserving a village-like ambiance. Within this district we can find the old fortress and soviet prison of Patarei, the Maritime Museum -formerly a hangar for Seaplanes- and the Noblessner port -that hosted a submarine factory- forming the “Kultuurikilomeeter”, or “Kilometer of Culture”. We will walk along its calm, village-feeling, cobbled streets, seeing the colourful facades of its wooden houses. At the end of Kalamaja lies the ancient industrial complex of Telliskivi, that has become the trendiest, main creative spot of Tallinn, and the renovated Balti Jaama Market.
Short walk through Telliskivi quarter. This Tallinn neighbourhood is located next to the charming Kalamaja’s wooden houses, separated from the Old Town by the railway tracks. Telliskivi was the Kalinin Factory during the Soviet times, an industrial plant producing locomotives and mechanics for the whole Soviet Union. After Estonia’s independence in 1991, the area became derelict and half-abandoned. In 2009 a group of young Estonian creators opened there “Telliskivi Loomelinnak” or Creative City, slowly attracting many designers and artists to this alternative community. Today, its still industrial-like territory hosts dozens of artists’ galleries, vintage shops and hipster cafés, start-ups offices and co-working spaces, innovative theatres, a modern Photography museum, and even a popular flea market on Saturdays.
Stop at the Balti Jaama Market. The history of this market is closely linked to the adjacent train station. The station was inaugurated in 1870, when Tallin was part of the Russian Empire, along the new railway to St. Petersburg, the imperial capital. Several industrial buildings were erected in the area, among them those that house the market today. Their limestone bricks and metal beams imported from the United Kingdom are original from that time. The vicinity of the halls suffered bombings during World War II but they survived it and, at the end of the Soviet times, started housing dubious sellers and vendors of all kind of produce. It became known as the “Russian Market” and in 2017, after a successful reconstruction, the Balti Jaama Turg (Baltic Station Market) reopened. It is an amazing place, housing more than 300 merchants and shops in 3 different levels. There are also open-air sellers, along with a street-food area with more than 20 eateries. We can admire the farmers’ fresh produce of fish, meat, groceries, pickles, bakery and dairy and also have a look at local handcraft and second-hand clothes in the upper level.
Visit to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This large, richly decorated temple is the most important Orthodox church in Tallinn. Built on Toompea Hill in 1900 when Estonia was part of the Russian Empire, the church is dedicated to Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, and was erected by the Russians in place of a statue of Martin Luther. It boasts Tallinn’s most powerful church bell ensemble, consisting of eleven bells made in St. Petersburg, including one that weighs 15 tons and is the largest in Tallinn. You can hear the entire bell ensemble playing before church services. The interior features several icons and beautiful decorative mosaics, along with a massive central cupola.
Visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral. This cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Tallinn. It was built shortly after the arrival of the Danish crusaders in Tallinn in the early 13th century, while the original wooden church was soon replaced by a gothic stone cathedral. It had to be rebuilt several times, which is why its architecture is a menagerie of styles, the most obvious being gothic and baroque. The cathedral was the burial place for local nobility over the centuries: the Cathedral’s floor is paved with tombstones and its walls are covered with heraldic reliefs of the German Baltic community. There is a magnificent carved wooden pulpit, and the cathedral is also famous for its unique 1914 organ.
Walking tour of the historic center, Lower Town.
Visit to the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum “Rocca al Mare”. This beautiful museum is a splendid reconstruction of an Estonian village made with authentic wooden buildings brought here from all over Estonia. It is located four kilometres west of Tallinn, in a forest on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The open-air museum features 72 buildings, including private houses, barns, a chapel, a school, and traditional wind and water mills. It allows the visitor to discover what country life in Estonia was like during the 18th and the 19th centuries.
DAY 8 / TALLINN (DEPARTURE)
Breakfast. Transfer to the airport.
The order of visits and excursions may be changed due to local requirements.
3* Sup.: Panorama, Art City Inn, or similar
4* Sup.: Crowne Plaza, Best Western, or similar
3* Sup.: Ibis Styles Aurora, Green Park hotel, or similar
4* Sup.: Amberton, Navalis, or similar
3* Sup.: Rija VEF, Rija Port, or similar
4* Sup.: Islande, Bellevue, or similar
3* Sup.: Go Shnelli, Tallink Express, Susi, or similar
4* Sup.: Park Inn Central, Tallink, Ulemiste, or similar