A Short and Sweet Baltic Road Trip: Explore The Baltic Countries In 8 Days

red turrets and spires from viewpoint in the old town of in Tallinn Estonia

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are snuggled between the Baltic Sea and Russia, in northern Europe and they are perfect for a short road trip. They’re small but perfectly formed, with plenty of character – so you have plenty to discover without having to drive for days and days. You can easily drive across all these countries without having to do excessive amounts of driving.

And for my perfect Baltic road trip, I’ve tacked on Finland, as well. Is Finland a Baltic country, you ask?  No, it’s not! But it does have a coast on the Baltic Sea and is a short ferry ride from Tallinn, making it an easy add-on to a Baltic Road trip.

This Baltic Road Trip itinerary is an amalgamation of two trips I’ve taken to the Baltic countries – and I hope it helps you plan a Baltic adventure that you love.

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Baltic Road Trip: in a nutshell

  • 2 Days in Helsinki, capital of Finland
  • Ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn
  • 2 Days in Tallinn, capital of Estonia
  • Drive from Tallinn to Riga, via Pärnu
  • 2 Days in Riga, capital of Latvia
  • Drive from Riga to Vilnius, via Panevėžys
  • 2 Days in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania

These are my suggested timings – but of course, you can spend longer in any of the locations if you have the time.

Baltic Road Trip: itinerary in detail

2 Days in Helsinki, Finland

I recommend you start your Baltic adventure in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. However, if you only want to go to the Baltic states themselves, skip this part and start your road trip in Tallinn, Estonia.

Helsinki Cathedral - white building with columns and green and gold domes
Helsinki Cathedral

Things to do in Helsinki

  • Take a boat tour around the city, Suomenlinna Fortress and the Helsinki archipelago, seeing the leafy islands and many, many waterside saunas
  • Marvel at the proud white and green Helsinki Cathedral
  • Grab lunch at the old Vanha Kauppahalli Market Hall by the harbour
  • Wander the lovely Esplanadi Park
  • Have a moment of peace in the minimalist style Chapel of Peace (Kamppi Chapel)
  • If you eat meat, try reindeer fillet meat at the traditional Ravintola Sea Horse
  • Watch the sun go down from Ateljee Bar on the 14th floor of the Hotel Torni Helsinki (unless it’s the height of summer, when the sun might not go down all the way!)
Kamppi Chapel, Helsinki - asymmetrical, rounded wooden building next to a tree
Kamppi Chapel

Where to stay in Helsinki

There’s are some centrally-located options including the 3-star Hotel Finn hotel near Esplanadi park or the 4-star Hotel F6, also near Esplanadi Park and the harbour.

How to get there and around

Helsinki Airport is a destination served by a range of European and long-haul airlines. Try Skyscanner for the best flight options.

To get from the airport to the city, there are buses, trains and taxis available. I use the Citymapper app when I’m exploring new cities via public transport. It is not in every city in the world yet, but it does cover Helsinki.

green water and and small green building on the shore of a wooded island in the Helsinki archipelago
One of the many beautiful islands near Helsinki

Ferry to Tallinn, Estonia

The ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn goes from Helsinki West Terminal in the west of Helsinki. It is possible to walk there from central Helsinki, but if you have luggage, a tram or taxi might be better. The number 7 and 9 trams go from the city centre to the ferry terminal (again, you can use Citymapper to work out the route). 

Ferries go several times a day and take approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes – and you can find the latest ferry times on Direct Ferries.

When I did this route, I booked an upgraded ‘Lounge Access’ ticket with Eckerö Line, I had a comfy seat, lunch and drinks for approx. £25 extra per person. However, I also spent some time out on the deck because it’s quite cool when you’re pulling away from Helsinki to see all the tiny islands as you pass by.

2 Days in Tallinn

View of red rooftops, turrets and a church spire in Tallinn's Old Town
Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and a very charming city.  Its medieval old town is gorgeous, possibly one of the most charming to explore in Europe.  And you can eat really well in Tallinn – we had some great meals there. Plus, things are generally less expensive in Tallinn so you can get quite a lot for your money in terms of food and accommodation, compared to Helsinki.

Things to do in Tallinn

  • Enter the impressive Old Town gate, guarded by turreted towers
  • Enjoy a terrace drink in the attractive main square, Raekoja plats
  • Marvel at the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
  • Enjoy the stunning viewpoints over rooftops and turrets at Kohtuotsa or Aussichtsplattform
  • Wander the quiet streets of the Old Town
  • Enjoy some high quality food at Restaurant Kaerajaan or Rado Restaurant
row of multi-coloured house fronts with steep roofs in Tallinn, Estonia
Raekoja plats, in Tallinn’s Old Town

Where to stay in Tallinn

A good option near the old town is the 4-star Palace Hotel and a 3-star option is City Yard Inn Hotel.

walls, towers with red turretted rooves in Tallinn's Old Town
Defensive walls of Tallinn’s Old Town

Drive to Riga, Latvia

I recommend you pick up a hire car at the end of your time in Tallinn – you don’t need it while you’re exploring the city; only when you want to head out.

There are various car rental companies that will allow you to pick up the car in Tallinn and drop it off in a different country, which is perfect if you want to drive on to Latvia and Lithuania.

The drive from Tallinn to Riga is just over 4 hours, and it will take you through some lovely green, forest countryside. My husband and I broke the journey with a stop for lunch at Pärnu, on the Baltic seafront in Estonia. We had lunch in the Art Deco-style Rannahotel and after lunch, wandered along the beach for a bit.

NB. Roads in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, like the rest of continental Europe, are left-hand drive.

2 Days in Riga

I really loved Riga: it was the highlight of the Baltics for me. Like Tallinn, it has a medieval old town, but I was more interested in Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture. Before visiting Riga, I would have most associated Barcelona or Paris with Art Nouveau architecture, but Riga actually has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in its city centre, making it the Art Nouveau capital of the world!

blue mantion builsing with white crests in art nouveau style
Art Nouveau architecture on Elizabetes Iela, Riga

Things to do in Riga

  • Explore Riga’s art nouveau gems with this FREE self-guided art nouveau walking tour
  • Enjoy one of the many lovely green areas, such as Esplanade Park or Canal Park
  • Admire the dazzling gold-domed Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral
  • Try some traditional Latvian food at LIDO Vērmanītis
  • Explore the medieval Old Town, including the 13th Century House of the Blackheads
  • Grab a drink in one of the many bars in the Old Town and try the local speciality spirit, Black Balsam (it’s an acquired taste!)
  • Take a sight-seeing boat tour around the gorgeous canal, the Daugava River and Riga Castle
canal surrounded by mature trees with wooden boats docked in Riga
Riga’s gorgeous canal

Where to stay in Riga

Sticking with the Art Nouveau theme, why not stay at the Art Nouveau style Hotel Monika, which is also where my self-guided walking tour starts.  A central 3-star option is Boutique Hotel KRISTOFS.

pink and white art nouveau style facade of the Hotel Monika in Riga
Hotel Monika

Drive to Vilnius, Lithuania

The route from Riga to Vilnius should only take approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes, and a good mid-way place to stop is Panevėžys.

You could give the car back once you arrive in Vilnius, as this is your last stop and you won’t want to be paying for a car while you explore the city on foot.

2 Days in Vilnius

Vilnius is a really lovely city. My impressions of it were that it was really handsome, vibrant and clean. I also learned a lot about the political history of the Baltic states in Vilnius.  

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were part of the USSR until 1991, following demonstrations and protests over several years, the most famous of which is the Baltic Way. This peaceful protest involved approximately 2 million people joining hands to form a human chain along a 675km route from Vilnius to Tallinn. I found it so moving to learn about this: what an amazing show of humanity and unity!

View of red rooftops and towers in Vilnius, Lithuania
View of Vilnius from Gediminas’ Tower. Photo by Laura Bushell (I lost my Vilnius photos!)

Things to do in Vilnius

  • Wander the cobbled streets of the pretty Old Town
  • Admire the pink façade and ornate baroque interior of Saint Catherine’s Church, as well as Vilnius Cathedral and its free-standing Bell Tower.
  • Recognise the atrocities of both the Nazis and the KGB at the Genocide Museum in the former KGB building
  • Eat traditional potato dumplings or potato pancakes at Etno Dvaras. I prefer the flat, fried potato pancakes and my favourite toppings were cowberry jam or smoked salmon and sour cream
  • Enjoy the view from the 15th Century Gediminas’ Tower
  • Watch the world go by in the smart Rotušės aikštė (Town Hall Square)
red brick tower on a grassy mound in Vilnius
Gediminas’ Tower. Photo by Laura Bushell

Where to stay in Vilnius

The 4-star Joseph Signature Suites is are near the river and the 3-star Domus Maria is right in the Old Town.

Baltic Road Trip: Map

Here’s a map of the route I recommend in this Baltic Road (& Ferry!) trip.

When is best to do this Baltic Road Trip?

I recommend doing this Baltics road trip in the summertime, either June, July or August.  The Baltic countries are in the north of Europe, which is generally colder in winter. If you start in Helsinki, it will be fairly cool there even in the height of summer (average highs of 19, 21 & 20 degrees Centigrade in June, July and August respectively), and will get slightly warmer as you head south (in Vilnius, the average highs are 21, 23 & 22 degrees Centigrade in June, July and August respectively). 

Unlike other parts of Europe, in summer, these destinations are unlikely to be overrun with tourists in summer and the temperatures won’t be oppressively hot either, so its comfortable to be walking around, exploring. 

Enjoy your Baltic Road Trip!

I hope a great time and enjoy these lovely countries as much as I did.

And if you’re looking for a more adventurous European road trip, have you considered the Ring Road in Iceland?

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