Riga city panoramic view Baltics Tour

3 Week Itinerary For An Epic Baltics Tour & Finland Trip

I spent 2 ½ weeks travelling around the Baltics & Finland this summer. My Baltics tour and Finland trip covered over 1700 km and included four capital cities. Gotta be honest, the countries aren’t necessarily a top choice when it comes to your stereotypical summer destination. What made me go? The mystery aspect and being less overcrowded by tourists is always a big pull for me. Here are my tales, random observations, impressions and experiences from my Baltics tour & Finland trip. I hope you will find the information provided encouraging for your planning and inspiration. 

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My Summer Baltics Tour Preparations

On this summer Baltics tour and Finland trip, I set aside three days for each Baltic capital city and booked an additional week for Helsinki in Finland. During my research, I focused on things to do that would keep me engaged and interested, such as special experiences, unusual art installations, viewing points and, of course, anything related to coffee culture, Camino and Leipzig connection. 

Next, I looked at travel between the capital cities and how well they were connected. It became clear that although there is a train network, the fastest transport link is by bus. Flixbus and Eurolines operate in the Baltics, but the best and most luxurious option is LuxBus. Travel time between the cities is approximately 4 1/2 hours, and the crossing over to Finland is about 90 minutes, so you will lose a day to travel on this Baltics tour and Finland trip.

Once I had convenient flight dates, I booked the hotels, bus & ferry tickets and activities. Overall, I planned and booked my summer Baltics tour and Finland trip six weeks in advance for travel in August 2023.

Baltics Tour and Finland trip cost breakdown
Travelling the Baltics & Finland has low to moderate costs involved

Most of my travel budget went on accommodation, followed by food and activities. Travel (flights, bus & ferry ride) covered some of the least amount of my budget, which reflects how easy and accessible it is to move around in this part of the EU.

Please Note: All three capital cities of the Baltics had their own distinctive character and unique spark that engaged me. Therefore it is hard for me to choose a favourite one from my Baltic tour or suggest to you which one, out of the three, was the best. 

Random Observations I noticed on my Baltics Tour & Finland Trip

  • All countries had a low-key obsession with Brussels. The office buildings of the EU Commission are in central locations. There are many Belgian pubs and Brussels restaurants.
  • All countries take a distance from the Soviet occupation. They acknowledge the past; and how it shaped their cultural identity and impacted their core values (e.g. freedom, independence), but there’s no glorification or desire to be associated with Russia.
  • Locals are vocal about the war in Ukraine and their opinions towards Russia.
  • Everyone happily speaks English. Locals are very friendly and open-minded. I had not a single bad encounter on my summer Baltics tour and Finland trip.
  • The summer weather was unpredictable. The forecasts were often unreliable. Do pack rain clothes, a brolly and a jumper or two. 
  • Baltic countries are dog-friendly. Everyone has a dog and they have a presence in society, e.g. cafés in particular stood out.  
  • Bidet showers are common in public spaces and hotels.
  • Baltic locals love foraging. The food market stalls are full of fresh blueberries, chanterelle mushrooms, strawberries, cherries and wildflower bouquets. The size of the food is gigantic!
  • Consumer goods such as books or food were very expensive in the Baltics & Finland. Public transport, on the other hand, was one of the cheapest options I’ve encountered in Europe.
  • Ladies, forget about Sephora and become obsessed with Lyko (Finland) and Tradehouse (Baltics). These beauty supermarkets have an insane offering of high-end quality and house-own brands. 
  • The Baltics & Finland use a fee system for PET and glass bottles. Usually 20-40p on top of the stated price. You’ll find the recycling machines outside the supermarket, often on the side of the building. 
blueberries and strawberries at riga food market on my baltics tour foraging culture
Foraging blueberries & mushrooms and selling them on the local market

Baltics Tour Stop One: Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is cosy and super laid-back. The historic Old Town will feel homely and familiar in no time. The city retains this small-town character with a big international touch and cocoons you quickly. Add to that the friendliness of the introverted locals, an easy and accessible transport system and zero mass tourism.

The pace of life in Vilnius is slow. Take your time and enjoy all the cafés and restaurants in the world or sightsee the many UNESCO-certified churches. There is a bit of an edge to it, as there are many residential areas with panel blocks around, visible from viewpoints across town. But that is Vilnius, too. Often, most people don’t know much about Vilnius or haven’t even heard of it in the first place, which makes this city even more exciting to discover and get to know.

vilnius summer church courtyard with cafe
Vilnius has many churches and quiet courtyards

What’s THE top thing to do in Vilnius?

2023 is THE year to visit Vilnius. The city celebrates its 700th birthday by hosting many events, exhibitions and cultural offerings.

Vilnius received its UNESCO status in 1994 for its historic centre, marked by an array of churches. With 50 churches and 10 different religions, Vilnius is often described as the “Rome of the North”. This makes the city an important pilgrimage centre. More than 30,000 pilgrims visit Vilnius each year and have done so for over 400 years. 

Another top thing to do in Vilnius during a Baltics tour is to experience a hot air balloon ride. Vilnius is one of the rare cities in Europe that allows hot air balloons to take off in the city. These flights can be expensive, but in Vilnius, they are on an affordable scale. There are a couple of tour operators providing trips. My tip would be to speak to the Tourist Information and find a good deal. I booked my experience through Get Your Guide (don’t get me started on them!). Even though I was with a local provider, the experience was in Lithuanian and I felt singled out. In that case, I would have loved a more international experience. A balloon trip costs around 140€. 

Vilnius hot air balloon ride preparation at Vingio Park
Hot air balloon rides leave Vilnius in the early morning or during the evening
vilnius hot air balloon ride over the lithuanian countryside
You will start in Vilnius but not fly over it for long. The flight takes you to the surrounding countryside
Vilnius tourist information and 700 birthday sign
The tourist material was not just sales-y, it contained some substantial facts and covered niche topics

Top Tip: Visit the Tourist Information, which has an array of materials, brochures, mini-guides and niche topics, e.g. hiking in Vilnius, neighbourhoods or pilgrimages. The staff are very knowledgeable, and their interest goes beyond the usual tour and experience sales. Take some of their recommendations with a pinch of salt, though. Their current café recommendations included Backstage Café, Strange Love and Coffee Spells – all places I visited but didn’t rate highly. 

Where to stay in Vilnius

During my Baltics tour, I stayed at the 4*Neringa Hotel on the ever-so-trendy Gedimino Avenue, Vilnius’ eclectic flanering mile. Neringa is a historic landmark with a long history dating back to 1917 and operating as a hotel since the 1940s. It is known for its design and popular restaurant serving Lithuanian cuisine since 1960. The restaurant draws inspiration from a local fairy-tale by Mykolas Sluckis. It tells the story of Neringa, Lithuania’s Curonian spit (a long beach & dune stretch). 

Neringa was fully refurbished in 2021 and has over 120 modern and tastefully decorated rooms. Mine was clean, and spacious, and I could fully relax here. The staff were amazing, too. Neringa’s rooftop bar is the place to be in town during a warm summer eve.

Vilnius charges a 1€ per night city tax.

BOOK*: Neringa Hotel in Vilnius

Neringa Hotel room in Vilnius
My spacious room at Neringa Hotel in Vilnius
Vilnius Neringa hotel rooftop
Neringa Hotel in Vilnius has it’s own generous rooftop terrace and bar with 360 views over town

Did you know? The Lithuanian word for “Thank You” is Ačiū, which is pronounced exactly like the sneezing sound. So if you hear the Lithuanians sneezing all the time, they are just very polite people.

Coffee, Camino & Leipzig Connection

Coffee Culture in Vilnius: cafés and brunch spots are aplenty in Vilnius. There are countless cute independent roasters serving cakes & pastries alongside modern chains (e.g. Chaif, Caffeine, Huracán Coffee). The quality of my coffee was mixed. I found Chaif served the best products in terms of quality/price. Plus their cafés are well designed and not just for coffee drinkers but attractive as a working environment, too. All cafés and brunch spots visited in Vilnius were dog-friendly. 

Count around 3€ for a cappuccino and 8€ for brunch.  

Best Cafés in Vilnius: Chaif, Cuproom and The Urban Garden
Ok: Strange Love
Avoid: Backstage Roasters and Coffee Spells
Consider: Lola, Taste Map and Elska Café

vilnius cafe and coffee
The quality of coffee in Vilnius is a bit hit and miss, but the deco is always top

Camino: Even though Vilnius is a centre for pilgrims, it wasn’t connected to the Camino at all. It was only in 2016 when a small group of local enthusiasts founded the Camino Lituano. The Lithuanian Way leads via Kaunas and connects with the Polish Camino. Theoretically, it passes by Vilnius but not through. However, Vilnius still feels connected to the Catholic Pilgrimage Way and has commemorated some of the “hot spots” in town with the typical Camino mark – a scallop on a yellow & blue backdrop. The Gates of Dawn, the Pilgrim’s office at the Church of St. Theresa and Vilnius Cathedral are Camino sites.

Leipzig Connection: I could not find a direct link to Leipzig. However, Vilnius is just as big. Vilniaus Gatvė food street is similar to Barefoot Alley. However, there is a connection to Vienna. I discovered a café by Julius Meinl – a brand that has a very strong presence in Viennese coffee culture.

vilnius restaurant and food mile
Vilnius’s food mile – once you’re in it’s hard to come back out!
vilnius city view from the three crosses
Vilnius “Rome of the North” – how many churches can you find?

What else is there to know about Vilnius before I move on with my Baltics Tour?

  • The airport is small. Taking the bus into town is the best and fastest option. The train station nearby doesn’t have a ticket machine. You would have to pick up a ticket beforehand from the airport terminal. 
  • The climb up the Gediminas Hill to the tower is a challenge, but the views are stunning (especially worth it for the sunset).
  • Not all churches are churches. One is a pancake restaurant.
  • The nearby Vingis Park is a recreational and festival area. The parkland is natural and has free sports offerings e.g. a disc golfing course.
  • The bus station is unpleasant and not a great area to be around. Make sure you don’t have to stay there for longer as needed. 

Baltics Tour Stop Two: Riga, Latvia

Riga is on another level. This prosperous Hanseatic city by the river Daugava reminded me massively of Antwerp. Picturesque houses, quaint squares, engaging history and a lively atmosphere make Riga a memorable top spot on this Baltics tour. The Old Town of this merchant city is, of course, the touristic centre, but Riga invites you to explore beyond. The high concentration of Art Nouveau buildings with dramatic ornaments in the nearby neighbourhoods keeps the cityscape young and exciting. I’ve only spent a weekend here, but I was engaged non-stop and would love to visit again in winter. 

What’s THE top thing to do in Riga?

Riga also carries the UNESCO title for its historic Old Town. The centre seamed with cobbled streets and cafés is the tourist hotspot. Highlights include the House of Blackheads, Liven Square, the Three Brothers and the Swedish Barracks near the Powder Tower.   

Liven Square in Riga in the summer
If you need an invitation to visit Riga soon, here it comes
Riga art nouveau architecture by Mikhail Eizenstein
There are some serious WTH buildings in Riga – they no longer make masterpieces like this anymore
Miss Latvia art nouveau decoration in riga
The most beautiful woman in Latvia, Miss Latvia, is an art nouveau decoration

The real attraction, however, is the exquisite art nouveau architecture. Indulge in the UNESCO-recognised Baltic art nouveau style, which dominates the cityscape. Over 800 buildings (⅓ of the city) designed by 25 renowned architects adorn Riga’s streets and keep it fresh, young and thriving. Make sure to visit the Art Nouveau triangle Alberta – Strelnieku – Elizabetes Iela. There are several shops, a museum and countless symbolic decorations to admire. For chunky perpendicular and romantic art nouveau style stroll along the Brivibas Iela.

Finally, take in the iconic panorama views from St. Peter’s Church. The generous viewing platform is accessed via a lift. There’s lots of space for moving around and postcard-perfect views of Riga. Standard tickets start from 8€.

Top Tip: A place I surprisingly enjoyed was the shopping centre Galerija Centres. The food court was amazing and came with an intimate rooftop terrace. A free exhibition encourages visitors to use the stairs rather than the escalators. The focus is on the first excavations onsite in 1937. Various artefacts and historical pictures display the developments, plus the centre won a prestigious award by the International Council of Shopping Centers, in 2008. 

Where to stay in Riga

At first, I wasn’t too happy about the location of my hotel, as it was quite a walk away from the bus terminal and Old Town. Then I realised I stayed in the middle of the Art Nouveau triangle with the top-voted cafés nearby. My hotel, the AC by Marriott, was located centrally in the “silent centre”. 

The Art Nouveau triangle was 5 minutes away; the town centre was roughly 15 minutes. The area had several highly rated restaurants and cafés around. My hotel room was smaller than my previous one in Vilnius, but I slept well and had everything I needed. Fluffy towels, daily housekeeping and a secure environment. After a day, I was familiar with the area and found shortcuts to the Old Town. 

Riga charges a 1€ per night city tax.

AC Marriott Hotel room in Riga
My hotel room in Riga: cosy, compact and right in the centre of action

Coffee, Camino & Leipzig Connection

Coffee Culture in Riga: Riga has countless cafés and brunch restaurants. The quality varied in the food, but my coffees were consistently better than in Vilnius. I would happily revisit most of these places, even if not all components have always been fully satisfactory.

Most cafés and brunch spots visited were dog-friendly. Count around 3.20€ for a cappuccino and 8€ for brunch. 

Best Cafés in Riga: Rocket Bean, Conta Speciality Coffee, Cruffin
Ok: Bakery Mikla
Avoid: The Place that doesn’t need a Name
Consider: Have you met Miss Jones? Mr Fox, MiiT Coffee, Terra, Mr Bunny Kitchen

Riga Cafe serving cruffins
Riga has some delicate high-end cruffins for 3pm tea time
camino scallop shell in riga latvian camino network
I spy with my little eye a Camino sign!
the three brothers house row in old town riga
The Three Brothers in Riga, can you spot the Camino waymarker?

Camino: Before my summer Baltics tour, I researched the Camino in Latvia and wasn’t too successful. I asked the Tourist Information which confirmed, that there is an active pilgrim community in Latvia. Riga is connected to the network. The best starting point in Riga is the St. Jacob’s Church near The Three Brothers. You’ll find the familiar scallop. A way marker is nearby, too.

Leipzig Connection: I haven’t stayed long enough in Riga to find a connection to Leipzig, but since Riga is part of the Hanse, there have been ties to Germany. I may have spotted the German language in buildings and on murals. The city of Bremen gifted Riga a replica of their famous Town Musicians in 1990, which you can find near St. Peter’s Church. 

What else is there to know about Riga before I move on with my Baltics Tour?

  • I picked up a fascinating book that caught my eye. It is a mixture of short tales & myths from the Old Town, intertwined with historical context and illustrated with local artwork. The Dali-inspired surreal art style, as well as the storytelling, are exquisite. Check out “Stories of the Old Town or the completely true History of Old Riga”, available at Jānis Roze bookstore.
  • Riga’s Old Town is full of surprises and narrow alleyways. Make sure you explore everywhere, even behind broken city walls. You never know what you may find there…
  • You’ll find the authentic art nouveau café Vilhelms Kuze on Jekaba Iela.
  • Have a wander around the food market halls and the newly gentrified area Spīķeri.

Baltics Tour Stop Three: Tallinn, Estonia

Oh, Tallinn, where to start? Tallinn is a gem of a city. It is supremely manicured, polished, effortlessly modern and gentrified. Tallinn is not as big as Riga, nor are the energies as buzzing. However, the international flair is there, and it is crystal clear that the medieval character is Tallinn’s bread and butter. At times, this was an overkill for me and felt too perfect and pristine. I can appreciate Tallinn for its history and the care that goes daily into the Old Town’s preservation. The neighbouring quarters are equally well maintained and reflect a high standard of living and lifestyle. An area I enjoyed was the Rotmann Quarter, converted warehouses with shopping opportunities, cafés, art and an energetic buzz.

Tallinn city view with medieval turret towers
Tallinn is insanely photogenic thanks to its well preserved UNESCO protected medieval character
tallinn main market square in summer
The pristine and polished market square – an ideal photo opportunity!

What’s THE top thing to do in Tallinn?

The top thing to do in Tallinn is to sightsee and admire the highly preserved medieval city wall with its essential Turret Towers. Approximately 25 towers remain, and you can visit all of them (have your bingo card at the ready!). They provide lovely views and perspectives over the Old Town. The best parts still intact are the Kiek in the Kök museum (with underground passages), Helleman Tower next to the Viro entrance gate, Nunne & Sauna Tower, and the stretch Plate Tower along Laboratooriumi.

Another popular spot is the Telliskivi area, a gentrified creative quarter with many urban and cool cafés, restaurants and local crafts & artists. To the north of the Old Town is the neighbourhood Kalamaja, known for its Estonian wooden house constructions. 

Apart from the city wall, Tallinn is a popular day trip destination from Finland. 

Where to stay in Tallinn

I was not so lucky with my choice, the CityBox Tallinn. I had lots of stress and drama upon my arrival. They had cancelled my booking without telling me. The rest? Well, this accommodation was more a glorified hostel but defo not a 4* hotel. There was zero service and the cleanliness was desirable. I was disappointed as I usually love quirky and minimalistic concepts. This time, my chosen stay felt like “a place to sleep” rather than a relaxing holiday hotel. Bugger! At least the views were good and the bed was comfy.

Alternative accommodation in Tallinn: if I visited Tallinn again, I would look at Nunne Boutique Hotel, Metropol Spa Hotel (the Spa is important as there is a second hotel), Nordic Hotel Forum or Tallinn City Hotel

There is no city tax in Tallinn as of August 2023.

CityBox Tallinn room and view over marina
CityBox Tallinn – ok as a “place to sleep” but not as a relaxing holiday accommodation

Coffee, Camino & Leipzig Connection

Coffee Culture in Tallinn: I didn’t get far at first with my research, but then the Tourist Info pointed out two exhibitions: one about Budapest cafés, and the second about Tallinn. Both exhibitions were shown at the Kiek in de Kök Museum. I learnt that Tallinn has a thriving coffee culture and is home to Estonia’s oldest coffee house, the Café Maiasmokk. This coffee house not only has a historic coffee room but in true Hanse style, there is a marzipan confectionery, too. Overall, the coffees I had in Tallinn were too bitter for my liking. The pastries made up for it. 

Most cafés and brunch spots visited were dog-friendly. Count around 3.50€ for a cappuccino and 11€ for brunch.   

Best Cafés in Tallinn: Maiasmokk, Gallery Café
Ok: OA Coffee, Reval, Levier
Consider: RØST, Trip, Surfcafé, Värav, Orangerie

oldest coffee house in estonia is maiasmokk in tallinn
European coffee house culture in Estonia
Tallinn traditional handpainting of marzipan figurines
In true Hanseatic style, Tallinn has a marzipan confectionery with original hand painting demonstrations
tallinn oldest coffee house
Tallinn’s first coffee house – you’ll see where this is going in another post

Camino: You can start your pilgrimage in Estonia. The Tourist Info wasn’t helpful at all and provided no information for my research. After a long search, I finally found the familiar sign near St. Mary’s Church. Unfortunately, there was no further way marker. Best to study the full Camino Estonia route in advance to avoid getting lost. 

Leipzig Connection: OK, I wouldn’t necessarily take that as a direct link, but the first car number plate I saw in Tallinn listed Leipzig as a car dealer. I unexpectedly found my Leipzig at the Architecture Museum. On the bookshelf between the Helsinki and Berlin sections, there were two books about my Leipzig.

What else is there to know about Tallinn before I move on with my Baltics Tour?

  • Tallinn has many high-end quarters worth checking out if you want to escape the medieval overkill for a while. Currently, the harbourside gets an upgrade. The Rotermann Quarter is another shopping and creative area with converted warehouses.
  • The Baltics are rich in architecture. More on the topic can be researched at the Architecture Museum and its free library.
  • Tallinn has a handful of art nouveau buildings scattered around the walkable town centre. Well-known buildings include the Dragon House (Pikk 18) and the Reval German Theatre.
  • More points of interest outside of the Old Town: Kadriorg Park & Palace, Pirita convent ruins, Vabaohumuuseum, Port cruise terminal with a viewing platform.
  • The harbourside is currently under construction but still worth checking out. Terminal D has a lovely square, perfect for a quiet spot for reading, and there are free exhibition displays in various places. One exhibition is on the reconstruction of the harbour, whilst another is on alcohol culture in Estonia. 
  • Terminal D is the brand-new terminal for ferries to Finland. The slightly more expensive Tallink sails from Terminal D. Terminal A & B are outdated and not as grand, but they are currently under renovation.  

Baltics Tour Final Stop: Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki cathedral in senate square in summer
The mighty Helsinki Cathedral towers over Senate Square in the heart of the city

Helsinki is not your typical sightseeing city. It is not London or Rome, but more like Madrid. You come here to experience its Nordic lifestyle and get to know Finnish culture. That means, for example, going for a sauna session at Allas Sea Pool, riding the Ferris wheel, island hopping with the excellent ferry links, strolling along Senate Square or eating a reindeer hot dog at the market. Of course, Helsinki has an insane amount of unique architecture to admire. You can also party at a music gig at Tavestia Night Club, get sick on the rides at amusement park Linnanmäki (Lintsi), try delicious Fazer chocolate, read at the trendy Oodi library or buy Moomin mugs to take home. Helsinki is all about creating life moments. 

What’s THE top thing to do in Helsinki?

Helsinki has one of seven UNESCO sites in Finland. Suomenlinna, a Swedish sea fortress, is Helsinki’s most visited attraction. The fortress was built over 8 inlets. Two of them are residential areas and home to approximately 800 inhabitants. The overall vibe is rural. You can explore the underground bunkers, visit the museums, or admire the King’s Gate. I have to be honest, Suomenlinna didn’t impress me much. It was too quiet for me and the history engaged me only a little, plus the cobbled streets were exhausting and tiring to walk around all day. It was okay for a stroll around on a Sunday afternoon and luckily the experience was free, as my weekly transport ticket included the ferry to Suomenlinna. 

suomenlinna sea fortress UNESCO finland helsinki
Suomenlinna UNESCO site in Helsinki. Ok, but not so much my style and interest
Huvilakatu Helsinki prettiest street Finnish art nouveau
More Art Nouveau, this time at Huvilakatu in Eira – Helsinki’s prettiest street

Helsinki is a treasure trove for architecture and design. Both have a respective museum in the Design Quarter. The Helsinki Art Nouveau guide is one of the best-selling books in town for self-guided tours around the neighbourhoods. You can easily fill an afternoon or two admiring the buildings. Popular areas are Katajanokka and Huvilakatu in Eira – apparently Helsinki’s prettiest street. The Helsinki City Museum offers guided tours in English, but they aren’t as regular. They need to be booked in advance. Make sure to check the Helsinki City Museum events calendar for the next available tour in English. 

Other tourist favourites are the Helsinki Cathedral and the City Museum. The latter is free to visit and voted Finland’s most popular museum. The small exhibition about Helsinki is well-curated, even though the section on Finnish sauna culture is a bit questionable.

Another museum worthy of your time is the National Museum of Finland. Here you learn all about the history of the Finnish people and how they developed their cultural identity through the centuries. Finns originate from Asia and have been influenced heavily by the Russian and Swedish occupation before becoming independent in 1917. The museum not only covers history but also cultural aspects such as Finnish mythology (the Kalevala), coffee, metal music and the uniqueness of the Ugric language.  

Helsinki City Museum at Senate Square
The Helsinki City Museum was voted the most popular museum in Finland. Free to visit, too!
Lantern men outside helsinki central station finnish art nouveau
Iconic Lantern Men outside Helsinki Central station, of course in Art Nouveau style (1919)

Where to stay in Helsinki

On my summer Baltics tour & Finland trip, I spent a week at the ever-so-cool art-inspired Hotel AX in Jätkäsaari. This stylish new hotel combines art with relaxation. Every room is themed with a local artist. Mine was a phoenix fighting an octopus inspired by a Finnish poem. The bedding was so luxurious and super soft, I slept well here and I usually have a light sleep in hotels. AX was lovely, modern, top service and exactly what I look for in a hotel.

Hotel AX in Helsinki
Inspired by a Finnish poem: phoenix fighting an octopus. Yep, count me in

BOOK*: Hotel AX Helsinki

Jätkäsaari was a wonderful area: modern, developed and well-connected to the centre. It took 10 minutes by tram 9 to get to the central train station. Nearby were supermarkets, a lovely harbourside and a quirky art installation that could rival Manneken Pis in Brussels (have a look at art installation Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija). The views from the SkyBar at Clarion Hotel were exquisite. 

There is no city tax in Helsinki as of August 2023.

Coffee, Camino & Leipzig Connection

Coffee Culture in Helsinki: A Finnish café visit is certainly not cheap with an average of 10€ for coffee and a treat. I’m happy to report though that all coffees and kakkukhavi (coffee and cake) sessions were of great quality. I tested chains (e.g. Paul’s, Fazer, Espresso House) and small independent ones. The Finnish chain Fazer was my favourite as the coffee was delicious and their confectionery was divine. I found Finnish establishments had a friendlier demeanour than some of the independent cafés run by internationals. 

Best Cafés in Helsinki: Kaffeezentralen, Fazer Café, Good Coffee Company
Ok: Andante Café, Paul’s Café, Johan & Nyström, Lauran Kaffila (Vantaa)
Consider: Cafétoria, Bakery Levain, Kaffa Roastery, Ekberg 1852, Café Savoy, Café Esplanad

Find Out More: Brand New Coffee Guide to Helsinki Cafes & Finnish Coffee Culture

Helsinki cafes and pastry treats
Coffee is pricey in Helsinki, but dang it tastes good!

Camino & Leipzig Connection: Unfortunately no Camino connection. Finland’s historical development provides better context and understanding here: the country is primarily pagan and its rich mythology (Kalevala) has great significance for them. Finns weren’t too keen on getting christianised when the Catholic Church gained influence in Sweden in the 11th century. It never really took off. There is, however, one Roman Catholic pilgrimage site, the Kirkkokari. Connected to it is the legend of bishop Henry who was killed by Lalli on the ice of Lake Köyliönjärvi. There is, however, no fundamental proof that these characters have actually existed. Every summer, you can join an organised pilgrimage tour to the site. Pilgrimages as such are seen as a way of slow travel and Finns do appreciate quietness and spending time finding their inner balance. Find out more about Pilgrimages in Finland at the pilgrimage centre at Turku Cathedral.

No Leipzig connection so far, but I got to see, do and experience other things instead. Overall I loved my time in Helsinki and really look forward to visiting again.

Allas sea poopl rooftop bar and ferris wheel in helsinki
Allas Sea Pool is my kinda place. Sunny, great views, house music, what else could I ask for?

What else is there to know about Helsinki before I travel home?

  • Swedish is an official language and is very present in everyday life. It sometimes felt more dominant than Finnish. 
  • Finns are very happy when you make some effort and speak their language. They are the nicest people I’ve ever encountered on my travels. Introverted yes, but kind, direct & honest. I vibed well with their general demeanour and humour. 
  • Books, food & drinks are expensive in Finland. Public transport on the other hand was affordable.
  • Maybe not: the churches (Cathedral, Rock church, Kampin chapel, Uspenski) required a 5€ entrance fee.
  • Finnish restaurants are often fine dining establishments. A meal starts from 80€ onwards. 
  • Moomin mugs cost around 25-40€. I found mine for 18€ at the supermarket S-Market Kasarmitori. 
  • If you have fallen in love with Fazer chocolate, too, there is an experience centre in Vantaa.
  • Helsinki’s name goes back to the Swedish “Helsinge fors” (Helsinge rapids), which is a real place, the Vanhankaupunginkoski waterfall. You can find it in the north-east of town. 
  • The Finnish summer may be warmer and nicer in June/July. The weather in August was temperamental and cold. There was also no Midnight sun.
Vanhankaupunginkoski waterfall in Helsinki
The waterfalls that gave Helsinki its name | Picture Credit: Tapio Haaja, Unsplash

FAQs on My Summer Baltics Tour and Finland Trip

I understand this is quite a lengthy post, and you may have some quick questions about my Baltics tour and Finland trip. You can, of course, always come back to any section of my post and read in more detail what you’d need for your trip. If you have questions or need help, please get in touch and I’m happy to assist.

How did you travel around the Baltics?

The Baltics and Finland belong to the EU and Schengen Zone. Therefore there are no border checks, and travelling around the area is easy. There are train connections, but most of the logistics are done via a comprehensive bus network. Flixbus as well as Eurolines operate in the Baltics. I found the best price/quality (and most luxurious) option is LuxBus, an Estonian company that connects Vilnius with Riga, Tallinn and beyond. The LuxBus buses are clean and modern with comfortable seats. There is onboard entertainment, including films, TV shows and free Wi-Fi. The routes from Vilnius to Riga and Riga to Tallinn took 4 1/2 hours. 

When should I book my Baltics Tour & Finland Trip?

I booked my Baltics tour and Finland trip 6 weeks in advance for August, the pinnacle of European summer. However, the weather was very mixed and often, the forecast was unreliable. The average temperature was 20 degrees, overcast and moderate rain showers. Not necessarily “summer” like. Next time, I will try and book a Baltics tour & Finland trip for June or July.

Do they speak English in the Baltics & Finland?

All locals speak English and happily switch when you explain to them politely that you can’t speak their language. They are very understanding and accommodating. The level of English proficiency is good. They can use a wrong noun or preposition, but you’ll get the meaning nonetheless. Baltics and Finns make efforts to communicate and strongly identify with the EU. Of course, they will be impressed if you make some effort, too and speak their language.

Is this Baltics Tour and Finland Trip solo travel-friendly?

Yes, the Baltics and Finland are safe countries to travel to. I got asked twice if I travelled solo and received positive encouragement from the locals who asked. The people of the Baltics and Finland are also introverted and will not actively seek out contact with you, so you can relax and most likely won’t get harassed. 

Thanks so much for reading. If you’ve enjoyed my Baltics Tour and Finland Trip post and would like to support my blog & research, you can do so via Buy Me a Coffee.

Till next time,

Carolin

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Riana Ang-Canning
    1 September 2023 at 6:33 pm

    What a great tour through the Baltics and Helsinki! Based on your post, I’m most excited to visit Riga, as the architecture and Old Town look beautiful. But you’ve sold me on all of these cities (especially a church that serves pancakes? My kind of church!). Thank you for another amazing, well-researched post with lots of great info and beautiful photos. Can’t wait to visit the area one day soon!

  • Reply
    Barry
    6 September 2023 at 6:26 am

    Looks like we stood in the same place in so many of your photos when I did the exact same tour of the three Baltic countries.
    I loved them all but probably Vilnius came across as the most enchanting for me – for just the same reason as you discovered – that the pace of life is slow here.
    I did enjoy seeing the lifestyle in the three capitals and despite them being do close to each other I found each had a very different character.

  • Reply
    James Fahey
    6 September 2023 at 9:12 am

    Really in-depth post as usual!

    I think the Baltics are both underexplored and underappreciated by most people in Western Europe which is a shame. I’ve only been to Riga and found it to be less crowded than other European cities and a fun place to spend a weekend. Vilnius has since been added to my list and this post shows me what I can expect which is great. A hot air balloon ride would be a pretty amazing thing to do. Six weeks is a good shout when putting together a trip of this stature.

    Good idea placing yourself close to The Art Nouveau triangle which I enjoyed a lot in Riga. Helsinki also looks worth a visit with a good number of UNESCO sites, museums and cathedrals too!

    Looks like you had a huge and wonderful journey so fair play for completing it. Well done!

  • Reply
    Mitch
    6 September 2023 at 9:17 am

    Loved reading about your tour through the Baltics and into Finland. We have visited Riga, Helsinki, and Tallin (just a day trip from Helsinki), but it was a long time ago so your post has prompted us to think about returning as well as finally getting to see Vilnius. How great that you can do a hot air balloon ride from the city. (Interesting about booking via the tourist information if you want a more international experience.) As ever, this post was extremely well researched with lots of practical advice about travelling through these wonderful cities. Like you, we often find that tourist information centres offer a wealth of advice on attractions. As you say, each city has a unique character and it’s difficult to pick a favourite – we’ll just have to visit them all!

  • Reply
    Lyn (aka Jazz)
    7 September 2023 at 2:54 am

    There is so much that I love about this post. I have not seriously considered any of these locations but now I’m really interested. The Art Nouveau architecture would be a major pull for me in the cities but I have to admit, the whole medieval vibe and turret towers in Tallinn would work for me, too.

    I always appreciate your coffee culture focus and reviews and I really liked the tips/what else to know

    As I read each section I kept thinking “oh, this is my favourite” and then I read the next section. I shall have to plan a trip that includes all of them. This list is not getting any shorter!

    Lyn | http://www.ramblynjazz.com

  • Reply
    Jan
    8 September 2023 at 9:23 am

    I had been trying to search for some reading materials about the Baltics for awhile now and this post is a wonderful addition to what I have collated so far. You let us in to some quirks about each city and I think it speaks a lot in trying to find out what makes a city tick. Can’t say I have my favorite yet but it would be exciting to find out and even retraced your steps. To know that it is certainy less crowded in the height of summer in the Baltics is something that every discerning traveler like to poke one’s nose into. Thanks for sharing this with us Carolin and happy travels #flyingbaguette

    Jan – https://flyingbaguette.com/

  • Reply
    Pam
    10 September 2023 at 3:12 pm

    Sounds like an amazing time! I loved Helsinki and wasn’t expecting to, even in the winter. I wish we got to Tallinn but with covid protocols in 2022, we kept it safe and didn’t leave the country. I love the architecture though. I truly believe the Baltics & Scandinavia are really underrated destinations for travelers. They have so much to offer. I’d love to visit in the summer and compare it to the winter.

  • Reply
    Melanie
    11 September 2023 at 1:16 am

    I’m one of those sorry people who know little about the Baltic capitals, sad to say. Hopefully one day I will make it there, as they seem to all be cool places to explore. Helsinki looks beautiful, too, and I especially love that rainbow street. That Suomenlinna UNESCO site may not have captured you, but I think it might be something I’d enjoy so thanks for including it

  • Reply
    Emma
    14 September 2023 at 7:14 pm

    You and I need to swap our experiences. I did this exact trip but in winter (and minus Vilnius which is now top of my list to visit). I absolutely adore Riga though, one of my favorite European capitals and cities in general. I’m glad you got to spend extra time in Helsinki. I really wanted more time there so I’m going to have to go back. and I’ll have to do all of this in summer I think

  • Reply
    Angela
    19 September 2023 at 4:39 pm

    What a fabulous article! If I already had a strong desire to explore the Baltic, now my curiosity has been piqued.
    It’s incredible how these countries are so undervalued and unexplored in terms of tourism, compared to Western Europe.
    All the tips in the post are enlightening and encourage everyone to visit these fabulous cities, but your photos give the content a huge boost!
    If anyone had doubts about putting the Baltic countries on their travel list, I think they’ve been cleared up!

  • Reply
    Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    7 October 2023 at 12:30 pm

    Great post! I would love to do this trip some time, especially the ferry between Tallinn and Helsinki ever since I found out you can do that. Although Riga looks amazing (and has flights from Edinburgh which is always a bonus!) and has been on my list for years.

    We stayed in a CityBox in Oslo but it was just for a night which was fine – I agree though, very no-frills and basic, check in on a screen in the lobby. We just needed somewhere to stay when we arrived before our train the next day, and when we got back to Oslo we stayed in a nicer hotel, which I was glad we did to be honest.

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