Baltic states

The Baltic states are three countries of north-eastern Europe, on the Baltic Sea. The three small countries have big histories and diverse cultures. The region's 175,015 km2 are home to 6.3 million people, nearly half of them in Lithuania.

Countries

North to south:

Estonia
The most Nordic of the three Baltic countries, with linguistic connections to Finland.
Latvia
A predominately Protestant country, its forefathers were of Germanic background.
Lithuania
An expanding economic market, it has some of the best natural countryside in Europe.

Other regions

Kaliningrad – a bizarre small slice of Russia between Lithuania and Poland that makes for an interesting addition to a Baltic trip. Entering the exclave requires a Russian visa.

Cities

Capitals

Neris river flowing through Vilnius

The three capitals all have UNESCO-listed old towns, Soviet concrete new towns and occasional 21th century buildings in between.

Other

Other destinations

Jurmala is a popular beach destination

Understand

History

The Baltic states have had vibrant histories. Christianity, Germans and feudalism arrived together in the 13th century. Also in the 13th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania emerged as a major political player in Medieval Europe.

In the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took over control of the area. It lasted until the late 18th century. The area of the Baltic states was then largely absorbed into the Russian Empire, with a slice of modern-day Lithuania being given to Prussia.

As part of revolutionary Russia's speedy exit from the World War I in 1918, the early Soviet government relinquished claim on the region, creating the states which exist today. Prussia was also considerably reduced after the war.

The Soviet Union rebounded and re-annexed all three states during World War II in a move greatly resented by their populations. The Nazis used anti-Soviet sentiment to help them form Baltic divisions that assisted the Nazis in wiping out almost all of the area's Jewish population and others considered ethnic or ideological enemies (notably including Poles), though the Nazis' claims to being liberators were not widely believed for long. The Soviets yet again annexed the Baltics in 1944, in a move condemned as illegal in the West but tolerated as part of the emerging Cold War diplomacy. In 1990–91, the Baltic states led the breaking away of the USSR's constituent republics from the central government. They all turned away from Moscow and all joined both the European Union and NATO in 2004. Estonia and Latvia have already joined the Euro, and Lithuania is expected to do so in 2015.

Kaliningrad, subject of ethnic cleansing and repopulated by Russians loyal to Moscow, became an exclave of Russia after the fall of the USSR.

Religion

Traditional Christian affiliations were Lutheranism in much of Latvia and Estonia, and Catholicism in Eastern Latvia and Lithuania. Communism and the general loss of religion across the Western world have eroded the traditional affiliations: in Estonia, 49% say they have no belief in God; in Lithuania, 49% say they do. A smattering of pagan belief persists, for example the Romuva faith, perhaps because this was one of the last areas of Europe to be Christianized.

Talk

Downtown Pärnu

Each of the three countries has its own language, with Russian as a common second, or even first, language of many, particularly in the cities. English is increasingly spoken, and is largely supplanting Russian as the language of choice among the younger generation. German is also often understood. Any attempt to speak the native language is greatly appreciated.

The Estonian language's similarities with Finnish, along with Finnish cultural influences, allow much mutual comprehension. In Tallinn Finnish is spoken or understood at most places of interest for the average visitor. Some Polish is spoken in Lithuania.

Given that Russian was the language of the perceived colonial oppressor, it may not be well received. Try first communicating in the native language or in English, at least for greetings and to ask whether the person prefers to speak Russian. The negative attitude towards Russian tends to persist in Estonia and Latvia, with Lithuania having less anti-Russian language sentiment.

Latvian and Lithuanian are related to each other as Indo-European Baltic languages. Estonian is a relation of the Finnish language, and unrelated to Latvian and Lithuanian.

Get in

All three states are part of Europe's Schengen area.

By plane

The Latvian carrier Air Baltic is the largest based in the region

Generally speaking there are fairly good connections from other parts of Europe and from the western half of the former Soviet Union. Save for a few exceptions, getting to the Baltics from elsewhere always includes at least one change of planes.

Riga Airport (IATA: RIX) in Latvia is by a large margin the busiest airport in the Baltic countries. It is the main hub of AirBaltic, which flies to around 60 European cities and has seasonal routes to the Middle East. Uzbekistan Airways stops in Riga en route between New York (JFK) and Tashkent.

Tallinn Airport (IATA: TLL) is a hub for Estonian Air.

Vilnius Airport (IATA: VNO) in Lithuania is best served by budget airlines Wizz Air and Ryan Air. The latter also provides several connections to Kaunas Airport (IATA: KUN). Palanga Airport serves as a small regional airport for the western part of Lithuania with a few routes.

By boat

Ferries criss-cross the Baltic. A popular route is HelsinkiTallinn. There are also many Baltic cruises.

By train

Rail connections are pretty shoddy. Vilnius is the entry hub for rail travelers from Warsaw, Kaliningrad and Belarus. All three capitals have at least daily connection to Moscow and St Petersburg. Note that the trains from Vilnius to Moscow and from Kaliningrad to St Petersburg via Vilnius (do not confuse with direct train form Vilnius to St Petersburg) pass through Belarus, which would require an additional visa.

Get around

Highway E67 "Via Baltica" in Lithuania

By air

The capitals are all connected to each other by short flights. From Riga there are flights to Kaunas and Palanga. From Tallinn there are flights to Tartu, Kuressaare and Kärdla.

By bus

The international bus network is pretty well developed making for easy movement. Bus is in most cases the fastest and most practical way for intercity travel if you don't have a car.

By train

None of the capitals have direct services between them, though each country has a usable and cheap domestic network. Riga to Tallinn can be traveled by train in one day by changing in Valga. Riga to Vilnius requires an overnight stop in Daugavpils.

By bicycle

The international bicycle project, BaltiCCycle may provide you with a lot of information and help.

By car

Your own car or a rented one is also an option, especially if you want to get to places outside major cities. Large highways are in a good shape and almost comparable to the ones in the Nordic countries, sideways and streets (in particular in smaller towns) much less so.

See

Hill of Crosses

Itineraries

Eat

The Baltic cuisine has similarities with the Nordic cuisine, as well as Russian and Central European cooking. They have a wide range of bread, eaten to nearly every dish. The most traditional alcoholic beverages are beer and vodka.

Go next

Stay on the Baltic coast with:

Or head inland to:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 09, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.