In April of this year, my friend Hamilton and I went on a road trip around Latvia and Estonia (well one place in Latvia and a bunch of places in Estonia). I’ve done individual posts on each day of the trip but figured it might be helpful to do an overview of the entire route.
RIGA -> TARTU -> TALLINN -> PARNU -> RIGA
We flew in with Ryanair and returned on Air Baltic, both are obviously basic airlines but its only a 2 hour 40 flight so didn’t really matter to us. We only booked about 6 weeks ahead of time and could still get affordable flights.
Please note that we did this over only 6 days simply because that’s all the time we had, you could definitely do it over a longer period and visit more places/stay in some for more time.
We used Sixt car hire and got a nice little Seat Leon, which did the job. I didn’t drive this time because it was cheaper not to and there wasn’t too much driving, but I can tell you it was enjoyable to sit in. Hamilton also seemed to enjoy driving it. The drives in between each place were never that long and generally the roads were incredibly empty, so if you’ve never driven on the right hand side of the road, Estonia is a good place to start.
We had a really good time away and planned it all quite loosely before hand – we prebooked the accommodation, flights, car etc but didn’t choose precisely what we were going to do at any point. I did look up how much different things roughly cost so we we had an idea before we got there (museums, art galleries etc) but I’ll be honest and say I expected food and drink to be less. They were of course cheaper than in London but I wouldn’t say much less money than when I’ve been away to say France/Germany. We were spoiled by how little we spent on our Croatian road trip, I think (link to our Croatian itinerary here). I have a few recommendations of places to eat/drink here and there but often we ate on the road to save time/money.
(Click on the days for a link to the individual blog posts)
DAY 1 – RIGA
I absolutely loved Riga – its cool and trendy yet has so much history and stunning architecture. One minute you’re walking through fairytale streets and the next you’re in a modern bar. You’re spoilt for choice with food and drink options and there’s plenty to do for a few days stay.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Wellness Centrum Hotel and Spa, which cost £64 (between us). It did everything we needed plus that bit more with spa access, breakfast included and a great location for exploring the old town. The rooms weren’t huge but that didn’t bother us.
Things we did:
- Explore the Old Town: Its really nice just to wander round and soak in all of the cobbled streets, churches, gates and squares around the city. Plus its free!
- St Peter’s Church Tower: Costs €9 for entrance to the church and to go to the top of the tower for good views of the city. When we went there was lots of art on display around the church but I’m unsure if that is always there.
- National Museum of Art: This costs €6.50 and I really recommend going. There is so much Latvian Art to see and its beautifully laid out. There’s also a really nice (and quite upmarket feeling) cafe/restaurant. The only negative thing I have to say about it is that the art gallery staff have no issue really intently watching you look at the art to the point where it becomes slightly unnerving. This may be because the place was almost empty on a Tuesday afternoon though, I can’t be sure.
- Art Nouveau architecture: There are a few streets close to the national museum of art that are full of insane buildings. Whether or not you’re an architecture fan, its worth a look. Again, also free!
DAY 2 – RIGA/TARTU
Tartu wasn’t as large as we had expected – personally just over a day there was long enough for us. It’s pretty but not in the same way as Riga.
Accommodation: In Tartu we stayed at the Alexander Apartments which cost us £40 for the night between us. It had on street parking out front and looked like an adorable dolls house inside. The owner was really sweet and couldn’t have been more helpful.
Things we did:
- Cathedral/University museum: The remains of the cathedral are free to walk around and quite cool to see. In summer the towers are open but you have to pay a fee for access. Right next to here is the University museum, which we went into in all honesty thinking it was the art museum (damn google maps). Its only €5 to go in but depends what your interests are as to whether you’ll want to go; its mostly a history of the museum. If the special exhibit about crime scenes/detective work is on – it has real tapes/stories of crimes that happened in Estonia and information about them that is really, really interesting. And it’s all in English.
- Old Town: Not as large as Riga’s old town in comparison but still has some lovely parts that are worth a look in. It was getting dark by the time we got there so we didn’t get so see that much of it.
- National Museum of Estonia: 100%, definitely go here. Its one of THE best museums I have ever been to. It costs €14 to get in which is a little pricey but worth it. For one thing its huge but also it has so many different objects, displayed in really well thought out ways. Top tip though: get one of the key cards that translates displays into English (or your home language) when you go in. We didn’t get given one when we went in and were super confused most of the time we were in there.
- Upside Down House: This is just a bit of fun really. Well, really fun. We went right at the end of the day and had the place to ourselves. Its right next to the National Museum and its literally a house built upside down, with furniture stuck to the ceiling. It does make you feel a little motion sick but thats part of the fun.
DAY 3 – TARTU/TALLINN
We really enjoyed our time in Tallinn – it was after a day of walking around Estonia’s parks (Lahemaa and Lake Endla) so we were quite tired but Tallinn was worth the effort to walk around. It was a shame that the temperature dropped a little but it only rained once we had gone inside for dinner at Kompressor (a great pancake place). We did things in Tallinn in the evening once we had arrived and the next morning – you could definitely spend a lot more time here than we did.
Accommodation: It cost us £56 between us to stay at Roosikranti apartment near the old town and it worked out well for us. It had underground parking and was quite close to everything we needed.
Things we did:
- Parks – Lahemaa, Lake Endla and Jagala. I’ve given a proper run down of the three amazing places in the longer, dedicated blog post but in short, they are all on the way to Tallinn from Tartu, so if you have a car its easy to stop at all three. Lahemaa and Lake Endla have boardwalks through the bogs which are magical. Best of all, they’re all free!
- Old Town Tallinn – a million and one buildings, churches and streets to see. We arrived too late to go inside any of them but still really enjoyed what we did manage to get a glimpse of.
- Kerhwieder Kohvicum cafe – this isn’t a huge tourist destination, its a cafe that serves hot drinks as well as alcohol, with a really nice interior and good atmosphere that is worth stopping by.
DAY 4 – TALLINN/PARNU
The places we visited on the second morning were slightly out of the city, so we drove there before continuing on to Parnu. Parnu is a summer beach resort and we weren’t there in quite the right weather for that (it was literally snowing) but we didn’t mind that because we had booked ourselves into one of Parnu’s many spa hotels.
Accommodation: The Estonia Resort Hotel and Spa cost £78 between us for one night, which may seem like a lot more than we had been spending previously (I mean, it was) but remember this included breakfast and spa access. Its a well put together place with a good breakfast and free parking. The hotel is quite large – there are two sides to the hotel, we had to walk across the internal bridge to get to the spa but this was no issue.
Things we did:
- KUMU – an amazing art gallery within the most incredible building. Its only 10 euros for a ticket and well worth it (they do also do one euro days and free days but I didn’t attend one of them – the list of those days is here). We went first thing in the morning and it was practically empty, which, for such a large building was a bit eerie at times. Imagine being in an empty Tate Modern.
- Kadriorg Art Museum/Palace – Its €6.50 entry to this former palace, now art museum. As well as a collection of art, it has beautiful rooms and gardens. The gardens were a bit dilapidated when we were there but it was quite cold, I imagine its better in summer.
- Spa – I’ve been to a few spas in my life but not loads. This was Hamilton’s first experience aside from the small hotel spa at the first hotel in Riga. It has a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, saunas of varying heats and different types of steam rooms. It has a relaxed atmosphere and isn’t too uptight/serious. Its also very kid friendly, which may or may not be what you’re looking for.
DAY 5 – PARNU/RIGA
Accommodation: You may have noticed we upped the price for our last hotel, well we decided to go all out for our final night and I’m so glad we did. We stayed at the five star Grand Poet by Semarah which cost us £89 for the night (between us). This meant it cost £45 each to stay in a five star hotel in a European city on a saturday night. It had amazing breakfast and a really nice swimming pool/spa area. Could not recommend this place more.
Things we did:
- House of the Blackheads – Riga’s eiffel tower. You can get a tour and go inside but we were impressed enough by the outside not to be upset that we were there too late for one. Of course, free to look at!
- Rooftop Bar – the original rooftop bar we wanted to go to was closed but the Radisson Blu still has a really nice one that’s worth a visit. Free to go inside!
DAY 6 – RIGA
This was the day we flew home, so I had a wander round the city (which was very pleasant) and got some souvenirs – knitwear and black balsam, to be precise! Then went to the airport (bus/taxi are the easiest options. A bus is €2 and a taxi is around €15.)