From the Arctic Circle, we headed over to the Baltic region for some Eastern European charm. Latvia and Estonia have been at the top of my travel list for quite some time, and they did not disappoint.
The Baltic adventure started in Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where we explored its charming old town and devoured full-size yet bargain meals and local brews. We even went on a night kayaking tour of the river and canals, which was great, but probably more of a summer activity.
My top recommendation for Riga, in terms of what to do while you’re there, is to go to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (entry: optional donation) and the Latvian War Museum (entry: free). Both of these museums offer a fascinating insight into the tumultuous yet resilient history of Latvia and the Latvian people.
My top recommendation for Riga, in terms of where to eat while you’re there, is Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, which is a delightful basement folk club with live music five nights a week, a delectable local menu, and an overwhelming assortment of beer on tap. I had the risotto, and, I don’t want to hype it up too much, but have since dreamed about it. Another must try is Riga’s Black Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur that boasts about 90 proof.
From Riga, we took a bus to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Town of Tallinn is a wonderfully preserved medieval city with an endless supply of charm and panoramic views of the Baltic Sea. Ideally located, Tallinn is only a couple hours away from Helsinki by ferry, four hours drive to Riga, and five hours drive to St. Petersburg (insert notes for future trip here!). Vana Tallinn, Estonia’s Black Balsam counterpart is a must-try.
Besides meandering Tallinn’s Old Town, I suggest exploring Kalamaja, Tallinn’s “hipster district.” The Telliskivi creative city is an area of abandoned and renovated Soviet-era factories that now house local shops, galleries, cafes, and bars. It’s just a short walk from the Old Town walls, but still off the beaten path.
The people in both Riga and Tallinn were friendly, welcoming, and always keen to recommend a local beer that went with whatever I happened to be eating that moment. This was wonderful, although tricky as I returned to my training schedule this week. My favorite thing to do in cities like these is to take advantage of free walking tours. The local guides show you around, teach you the history of the town, and recommend great places to see and eat like a local. Most cities offer free walking tours every day of the week, and it’s a great starting point to get your bearings when you arrive in a new city!