If you've been keeping up with me in real-time (maybe on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat), you'll know that I've spent the last couple of weeks hopping around the UK. But today it's time for me to bid this part of Europe farewell and head to a region that's totally new to me: I'm going to the Baltics!
The Baltics are made up of three countries that border the Baltic Sea in northern Europe: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. And, with a week to kill in between the UK and a river cruise in Russia, I figured why not head to this part of the world since it's in between where I'm coming from and where I'm going?
With just one week, though, I didn't really want to try to tackle all three countries. In fact, one week isn't even long enough to fully explore ONE of these countries. So I settled on 3 nights each in two of the major Baltic cities: Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania).
I'm also partnering up with Skyscanner on this trip, which is one of my favorite travel search sites – especially for travel within Europe.
My Baltics trip
Because I know from the hints I've dropped about this trip that many of you are very curious to learn more about this part of Europe, here's a look at what I'm getting up to in Riga and Vilnius:
Day 1: Fly to Riga
I'll be arriving around dinnertime and have some work to get done in the evening, so this will be just a “get to my hotel and chill” kind of evening.
Day 2: Soviet Secrets of Riga
Today I'm going on a walking tour with Urban Adventures called Soviet Secrets of Riga that will trace Riga's more recent history, from its Soviet days to its naming as a European Capital of Culture. I'm a huge history nerd (as you probably know if you're a regular reader), so I'm really looking forward to exploring the old Russian quarter of the city, seeing the Freedom Monument, and learning more about the revolution that defined this period of Latvia's history.
Day 3: Riga exploration
I'm dedicating my last day in Riga to just exploring the city: wandering around the old town and the Art Nouveau district, seeing the view from the spire of St. Peter's, shopping at the Central Market (found in old German zeppelin hangars), and maybe going on a canal cruise to see the fall colors.
Day 4: Take the bus to Vilnius
Next it's on to Lithuania! Some people have already asked why I chose Vilnius over a couple days in Tallinn (Estonia), and the answer is simple: I don't know much about Vilnius (or Lithuania, for that matter), and I also don't know of many bloggers who have written about it. So of course I'm intrigued! I'm taking a bus from Riga to Vilnius, and will probably spend the evening just wandering around the Old Town.
Day 5: Vilnius exploration
Vilnius looks like another gorgeous city, so I'm excited to spend a day just wandering. So far on my list is seeing some churches, wandering through the Old Town, getting a bird's-eye view (or two), and trying beaver – because apparently it's a popular meat in Lithuania?
Day 6: Undiscovered Vilnius tour
I've got another Urban Adventures tour planned in Vilnius to learn more about its history and quirks. The highlight of the tour (I think), will be visiting Užupis, an independent republic within the city.
If you have any tips on what else to see/do in either of these cities, please let me know!
How I use Skyscanner to search for travel
Skyscanner is (very legitimately and not just because I'm working with them on this trip) one of my favorite travel search engines. It's my favorite for a few reasons: 1. because it's easy to use; 2. because it shows a lot of flights on budget airlines in Europe; and 3. because it's *just* a search site – you don't book anything through Skyscanner itself, but instead have the option to book directly with an airline or your favorite hotel booking site.
My first step to planning this trip to the Baltics was to search for a flight, which is the most straightforward thing you can do on Skyscanner. You simply input your starting and ending locations and the date(s) and hit “Search flights.”
The results almost always include a mixture of major airlines and budget airlines, automatically sorted by price (though you can use the filters on the left of the screen to narrow your search by other parameters, too).
Skyscanner is great for Europe flight searches, because it always shows all the budget airlines (you know, the ones none of us really love flying but that are so darn cheap that we do it anyway).
I found a very affordable flight from London to Riga, and then moved on to hotels.
Skyscanner's hotel search works pretty much the same way as its flight search, with results that you can filter by everything from location to price to amenities. The results are automatically sorted by “most popular” and you can easily see a hotel's rating and number of reviews that Skyscanner has aggregated from a variety of hotel booking sites. You can also easily see which booking website is offering the best deal on each hotel.
I used the map feature while researching this trip, too, because I knew I wanted to stay in or near the old town/city center in each city I was visiting.
All told, it took me less than an hour to book my flight and pick out hotels for my entire trip.
Skyscanner also has a mobile app, which is handy if you're searching for travel on-the-go. (I actually used it last month in Scotland when I realized at the last minute that I was missing a flight leg in between Manchester and Edinburgh!) Check it out here.
Be sure to follow along on my social media accounts for real-time updates from the Baltics, and leave any tips you have in the comments below!