21 days
Duration
Europe
Destination
Level 2 - Moderate
Activity

Small Group Tour of the Baltic states

This Baltic small group tour examines how Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have developed historically and culturally since the 1980s. The adoption of change and integration into Europe and Scandinavia has been an important transition. This small group tour explores the way our destinations flex their economic muscles, continuing to become a focus of interest for the rest of the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany bound the region into the engine of the European economy. Rarely, though, have any places been comprised of so many differing ideologies, peoples, and languages: German, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and Finn. It is this diversity that makes the Baltic nations small group tour so fascinating.

Baltics Small Group Tour Itinerary & Highlights

The Baltic small group escorted tour explores the diverse histories of, and influences on, these states. During this fully escorted tour you study how each of them is making the most of its different form of independence. The trip covers the history of the Baltic region, seeking to show how it has developed since the 1980s. We also recognise the events and significant places associated with the Second World War. We visit many significant places that contribute to our overall understanding of world history in the last century.

We stop in 8 places and 7 countries over the 21 days. We travel through Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland and Russia. We have some 16 days with local guides who share their knowledge of each of our destinations with the group.

Germany

Germany is one of Europe’s largest countries and the second most populous European state after Russia. The country is now known as an economic powerhouse and the biggest force in the European Union, but it has a turbulent and complex history: from tribes to loosely connected sovereign states, monarchs, a short lived republic, the Third Reich, the divide of East and West Germany and reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This rich history is especially on display in Berlin, the starting point for our Baltics tour. We’ll spend a day learning about the modern history of the city and Nazi Germany, as well as visiting the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, remnants of the Berlin Wall and more.

Poland

Poland lies at the heart of the European continent, between Western and Eastern Europe, and because of that, the country’s history is full of wars, invasions, occupations, partitions, and ever-changing borders. They finally gained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was the first post-communist country to reach its pre-1989 GDP levels thanks to a booming economy. Memories of the turbulent history are visible all over the country, but Poland also made great efforts to preserve and restore its monuments. Our tour takes us to Warsaw and its Old Town, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its unique architectural style.

Lithuania

Melding pristine nature and historic cities, Lithuania is a nation with a truly unique history and culture. The Baltics region has always been a clash zone between Russia, Western Europe and Scandinavia, and the country often struggled to maintain its independence. Finally being able to leave the Soviet Union in 1991, the country successfully converted to a market economy, joined the EU and the Schengen Area and adopted the Euro as its currency. The capital city, Vilnius, is a baroque masterpiece, dotted with churches and cathedrals, while the power of medieval Lithuania is tangible at the looming Trakai Castle. And Lithuania is also a natural wonderland, home to pristine beaches on the Baltic coastline and a lakeland seemingly designed for summer boating, kayaking, and berrying, and we’ll be able to see the best of the country during the next leg of our trip, as we stay in Vilnius and make daytrips to nearby attractions and monuments.

Latvia

Latvia is one of Europe’s hidden gems, despite the fact that the history of the country has been one of centuries of foreign rule, invaded by Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Poland-Lithuania and Russia through the years. Latvia finally declared its independence in 1991 (just as all the other Baltic countries) and been on the rise since then, successfully converting to a market economy, and joining the EU to strengthen their Western ties rather than Russians. The capital city, Riga has a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a distinct and well-preserved historic quarter. It is home to architectural jewels both medieval and modern, including the 13th century Riga Cathedral and the world’s most extensive collection of Art Nouveau architecture, and we all get to see it as we continue to make our way up North. Outside the capital, Latvia can claim some of Europe’s most pristine landscapes, including dense forests and beautiful sandy beaches.

Estonia

Estonia is often labelled as the ‘most Scandinavian’ Baltic state as it is the northernmost and culturally the closest to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. It is also the smallest of the three countries but it embraced modern times the best: faced with the struggle of adapting economically after the fall of the Soviet Union, Estonian leaders saw the fledgling internet as an opportunity for a small country to make a mark, and put considerable resources into getting Estonia online. The country became a tech hot spot when Skype was invented here, and anyone can become an e-resident of the country to found a 100% paperless e-company within minutes. The capital, Tallinn itself will take visitors on an amazing journey through time: the Old Town with its castles, domes and spires mixing with cafés, restaurants and start-up hubs, and we’ll have plenty of time to explore this blend.

Finland

Influenced by Russia and Scandinavia, yet maintaining its own distinct culture, Finland is one of Europe’s most intriguing countries. Even though they’re sharing 700 years of history with Sweden, Finns often pride themselves in not being Scandinavian due to their different origins, and most notably, their distinctively different language that is only one of the 6 in Europe not part of the Indo-European language family. They are also the only Nordic country to join the Euro zone. After World War 2 Finland managed to maintain its independence and have a market economy despite some very strong ties to the Soviet Union, and achieved rapid growth, building one of the most extensive welfare states. Finnish education is also world-famous and often cited as a role model by other countries. The capital, Helsinki, is a showcase for architecture both old and new. Under the Russian rule, it was built in a neoclassical style, modelled off the then Russian capital, St. Petersburg. At the turn of the 20th century, Finnish architects inspired by the nationalist movement designed in art nouveau style, incorporating influences from Finnish folklore and nature into the ornate style. And we’ll spend a day exploring the best of this mix.

Russia

We finish our tour in Russia, the world’s largest country, spanning 11 time zones and bordering 16 countries, spread over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. It extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. To the north is the Arctic Ocean, and down south is the Black Sea and the Caucasus. Russia’s huge territory incorporates a wide range of environments and landscapes, evident on a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway: the landscapes change as the train moves across Siberia. If Siberia were a country in itself, it would be the largest country by area at 13.1 million square kilometres (5,100,000 sq mi), and it accounts for 77% of Russia’s total land area.

We’ll take the train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, labelled as Russia’s most European city, and have plenty of time to view the most famous attractions, such as the Hermitage Museum, Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and Catherine’s Palace and enjoy a canal cruise as well.

If you're interested in learning more about the Baltics, we prepared a Baltics State Guide, and the article on their history. You can learn more about each country this tour visit with our profiles: Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland and Russia.

For more details about this Odyssey Traveller tour, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Baltics

The best time to visit the Baltics is late spring and summer – from May to September. Winter in the Baltics is long and cold, and can get down to minus 15 – 20 celsius during cold spells.
Reflecting this, our tours run in May and September of each year, so you can enjoy the mild weather yet avoid the crowds of peak season. Make sure to bring a raincoat and warm coat – while summer can be hot and dry, you might also encounter rainy days and cooler nights.

Citizens of the EU, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States do not require visas for entry into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, and Poland for less than 90 days.
However, most visitors do need a visa to visit Russia. Make sure to start the application process at least a month before you leave – we recommend getting it sorted in your home country, rather than on the tour. It’s also essential to select the correct type of visa – most likely, you will want a tourist visa, which is valid for a maximum of thirty days.
Since applying for a visa to enter Russia can be complicated, we are able to provide further information about the application process, along with relevant documentation that you might need in making your application.

All Odyssey Traveller tours include a Program Leader who accompanies the group for the duration of the tour. In addition, we engage local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture as well as the hidden gems of your destinations.

Tour Notes
  • Group size is limited to a maximum of 12 participants.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: Upon arrival in Berlin, we will transfer to our hotel individually. Suggested arrival at our hotel is no later than 16:00 pm. In the evening, we have an orientation tour of central Berlin, before enjoying a welcome dinner with complementary wine.

Berlin was founded as a small provincial town, but became the militaristic capital of the Prussian state. Its standing grew with the rise of the national socialist party, until Berlin was the much-maligned capital of Nazi Germany. Defeat meant that Berlin became a divided city and it is remembered by many for the wall that ran through the city’s heart. It also conjures up the many, often suicidal, attempts to escape from east to west. In the post-communist era, Berlin is now the new capital of the united and democratic Germany.

Accommodation: Abba Berlin or similar

Overview: We will see icons and monuments in Berlin today, including the Reichstag dome, Checkpoint Charlie, the victorious Brandenberg Gate, the Reichstag, and the Kaiser Willhelm Memorial Church, which was left as a bombed ruin to remind people of the ravages of the Second World War. We also see the site of the former Democratic Republic’s Parliament and the city’s ancient cathedral. With our local guide we also visit Alexanderplatz. We enjoy a group dinner in the evening.

Accommodation: Abba Berlin or similar

Overview: Today we will travel to Potsdam, where a our local guide will take us through the Prussian Palace of Sanssouci as well as Cecilienhof palace. We stop to view the Russian and Dutch villages as well as the Gleinicke bridge (a site of spy exchanges during the Cold War). We enjoy dinner in a local restaurant.

Accommodation: Abba Berlin or similar

Overview: After breakfast, we take the train from Berlin to Warsaw. After arriving in Warsaw in the afternoon, the rest of your day is at leisure. We meet again for dinner at the hotel. Poland has long suffered from the vicissitudes of war as its geographical location on the flat northern European Plain means that it has acted as a thoroughfare for great armies of Europe. From Swedish invasions to the north, to Napoleonic armies from the west, the Grand Duchy, and later Kingdom of Poland, never benefited from great periods of peace. The latest occupation by the Soviets followed an almost complete destruction of the city of Warsaw by bombing raids. It took the efforts of Solidarity to commence the removal of the Soviet forces from Polish territory. Warsaw, therefore, is a completely reconstructed city rebuilt from medieval plans and follows the painstaking paintings of the Italian artist Canaletto.

Accommodation: 3 nights at Hotel Leonardo Royal or similar.

Overview: After breakfast, a local guide will take us on a tour of Warsaw. We will visit the mains sites of the city, including the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift to the city from Stalin. During De-Stalinisation in the 1950s, after the dictator’s death, any reference to Stalin (including his name in the title) was removed from the building. We take time to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum that focuses on events of 1944, followed by a trip to the regal Wilanow palace and gardens.   During the afternoon, you may explore the city at your leisure. We have dinner together at the hotel.

Accommodation: Hotel Leonardo Royal similar.

Overview: For our third day in Warsaw we will first travel to the Royal Castle, a shell of a building made from contributions from the Polish people around the world, which stands in contrast to the the Wilanow palace viewed the day before. We will then visit the Historical Museum and learn about Poland’s greatest cultural hero, the composer Chopin. We enjoy a recital of his most famous works a the Archidiocese museum, which will offer a unique insight into Poland’s cultural history.

Accommodation: Hotel Leonardo Royal or similar.

Overview: As we journey across Poland to the Baltic states, we stop along the way to view historical sites and natural wonders of regional Poland. The first stop is at the Treblinka memorial, on the site of the infamous concentration camp. We then travel to the Polish lake district to the very pretty town of Mikolajki. We take a cruise around the the lake. Tonight, we stay in a hotel overlooking the lake. Mikolajki is a very small place, but it is beautiful and the perfect place for a pleasant stroll.

Accommodation: Hotel Mikolajki or similar.

Overview: Now an excursion in the area, first to the marvellous baroque church at Swieta Lipka – the interior is astonishing. Additionally, the Roman Catholic church was an important part of the people’s resistance to communism. Then, in the afternoon we continue to Ketryzn and a trip to the infamous Wolf’s Lair. Now a collection of ruins hidden away in the forest, Hitler spent more time here than in Germany during WWII. We enjoy dinner together at the hotel tonight

Accommodation: Hotel Mikolajki or similar.

Overview: We continue our journey across the countryside to Vilnius. We make a couple of stops to break the journey. One of these stops today is at the Grutas park – it has lots of old Soviet era statues and other memorabilia. The owner made his fortune in the post-Soviet era, but wanted to create something to remind people of the repressive past. We enjoy dinner as a group this evening.

Accommodation: 3 nights at the Novotel Vilnius or similar.

Overview: Lithuania is the southernmost Baltic state and in some ways the most vibrant. Along with its neighbour, Poland, it once shared an empire stretching to the Black Sea. Like Poland, it harnessed the devout faith in Roman Catholicism to strive for independence from the Soviet Union. Vilnius is the historic and lively capital of Lithuania and is often regarded as the greenest of the Baltic capitals. It has winding medieval streets and many fine Baroque and classical buildings. We will learn about Lithuania’s history and culture, as well as its economic and political situation, with an introductory lecture on the country and its capital. We take time out to stand on the Stebuklas (Miracle) paving slab near the cathedral – this site marks the end of a two million person, hand-to-hand human chain that spanned 650 kms, from Tallinn to Vilnius. This remarkable event took place in 1989, and represented the locals’ protest for their freedom from the Soviet Union. We will follow up with a visit to Vilnius’s KGB Museum, to further understand the country’s fascinating but complex relationship with its own past. We will then head out of the city center, and sample Lithuania’s rich heritage with a guided tour of the 13th century castle of Trakai.  We enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodation: Novotel Vilnius or similar.

Overview: We will take a full day tour of Kaunas, a city which includes a former Nazi Camp. Kaunas is the former Lithuanian capital (founded in the 13th century) and it is often considered to be more “Lithuanian” than Vilnius.

Accommodation: Novotel Vilnius or similar.

Overview: En route to Riga, we will stop off at the Hill of the Crosses in Sauliai. We then cross over into Latvia, where our first stop will be a guided tour of the fine 18th century Baroque Palace of Rundale and its famous gardens. From Rundale we head straight to Riga. Latvia lacks Estonia’s close proximity to Western Europe, and Lithuania’s fame achieved on its path to independence. But Riga has always been the Baltic States’ major metropolis. In lieu of the picture postcard appeal of Tallinn or Vilnius, it has a distinctive cosmopolitan atmosphere, and a well-preserved Historic Quarter. During the 1930s, the city was the West’s major post for listening in to “the Russian Bear” to the east. It was a thrumming mix of diplomats, traders and intrigues, earning it the accolade, “the Paris of the East.” Later, we enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Accommodation: Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel or similar.

Overview: In the morning we will visit some of Riga’s most iconic sites. We will see the facade of the Blackheads House, a 14th century guild hall which was recently renovated, before visiting St. Peter’s church and the iconic Cathedral. We will finish at the Art Nouveau museum, which offers some context to Riga’s iconic architecture, most of which dates to the decade before world war one. We will then visit the Baltic Sea resort of Jurmala, where we will have lunch at a local restaurant and a guided tour of the city, before returning to Riga in the evening.

Accommodation: Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel or similar.

Overview: Today we travel onto to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. En route, we visit Sigulda Castle and Turaida castle, before heading on to Talinn. We have dinner together at the hotel.

Accommodation: Radisson Blue Olympia or similar.

Overview: This morning, we learn about Estonia’s history and culture, as well as its economic and political situation, with an introductory lecture on the country and its capital. Estonia is the most northerly of the three Baltic States, and the most Scandinavian in atmosphere. Ethnically, the Estonians and Finns are cousins, and with Estonia just 80 kilometres across the Gulf of Finland from Helsinki, the country is creeping socially and economically closer week by week to the western-style economy of Finland. Tallinn has an aura of the 14th and 15th centuries, with its jumble of medieval walls and turrets, spires, and winding cobbled streets. We will experience the history and architecture of Tallinn with a guided walk of the city. Our walking tour includes a visit to the Dome Cathedral, views of the Town Hall, and St. Nevsky Russian Cathedral. We also benefit from a fascinating insight into the rural economy of Estonia, with a visit to the open-air ethnographic museum. We enjoy dinner as a group this evening.

Accommodation: Radisson Blue Olympia or similar.

Overview: Today is set aside as a free day. You may explore beautiful Talinn at your leisure.

Accommodation: Raddisson Blu Olympia  or similar.

Overview: We travel to Helsinki by ferry. Finland is a large country with friendly people, pristine nature, and interesting culture. It is usually considered a Scandinavian country, a categorisation based on geographic proximity that ignores Finland’s unique character. Finland has shared almost 700 years of history with Sweden, but the Russian tradition has also been a strong influence in the East. The Finns have one of the longest traceable tenancies and have stubbornly resisted servitude or eviction. However, the blooming of Finnish nationalism was late and delicate. Helsinki is a small and intimate city with buildings designed by C. L. Engel, who had been responsible for much of the work in St. Petersburg. There is a half day tour of Helsinki organised for the group. We take briefly to the water for a short archipelago cruise. We see the Suomenlinna fortress, then, winding through the small islands, glimpse the waterside homes of the more wealthy Finns. Dinner is provided tonight.

Accommodation: Hotel Sokos Helsinki or similar

Overview: In the morning we will travel by train from Helsinki to St Petersburg. If Moscow is Europe’s most Asiatic capital, St. Petersburg is Russia’s most European city. It was created by Peter the Great as his “window on the west”, at the only point where traditional Russian territory meets a seaway to northern Europe. It was built with 18th and 19th century pomp and orderliness by mainly European architects. The result is a city that reminds us of Europe’s most beautiful metropoleis, relatively untouched by Stalinist reconstruction. A group dinner is provided this evening.

Accommodation: Radisson Sonya hotel or similar or similar.

Overview: We learn about recent Russian history and culture with an introductory lecture on St. Petersburg. We also experience the extravagance of Russian architecture with a visit to Catherine’s Palace. We experience the history and architecture of St. Petersburg with a guided walk of the city, including a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and Catherine’s Palace. We enjoy a group dinner in the hotel this evening.

Accommodation: Raddisson Sonya hotel or similar.

Overview: Today, we experience a full day tour of St. Petersburg including a short canal cruise. Since St Petersburg is built on many small islands, this cruise reveals parts of the city that are usually hidden. This makes it a very interesting – and relaxing – travel option in a busy city. This afternoon we visit Peterhof. We travel as the architect intended, across water. The palace was designed to impress those arriving this way and it most certainly does as you walk along the landing and up past all the fountains and waterfalls. The inside of the palace is not so startling, as it was destroyed in WWII, but it is still a great visit. On our return by coach we visit the superb Hermitage Museum. Our group dinner this evening includes a Russian folklore show.

Accommodation: Raddison Sonya or similar

Overview: Our tour concludes after breakfast in St Petersburg

1
Tour Warsaw and the Old Town, with its unique architectural style. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
2
In Berlin visit the Reichstag, Brandenberg Gate, and remnants of the Berlin Wall.
3
Visit Russia’s old Imperial Capital of St. Petersburg. Tour the Imperial Palace, and see the Hermitage Museum.
4
In Vilnius, explore the remnants of the Communist era including the KGB museum.
5
Tour includes some 16 days with local guides sharing their knowledge as we visit some 40 places together.

What’s included in our Tour

  • 20 nights accommodation.
  • 20 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 15 dinners.
  • Applicable entry fees and services of local guides.
  • Touring by comfortable and modern coach and rail services.
  • Service charges and gratuities.
  • Services of an Odyssey Tour Leader.
  • Detailed tour information booklet.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • International airfares and departure taxes.
  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • Meals not specified in the itinerary.
  • Items of a personal nature.
  • Visa processing fees.
Baltics Small Group escorted Tour Latvia Estonia Lithuania
Checkpoint Charlie sign
Berlin glass dome Reichstag Germany
Druskininkai Church Lithuania
St. Nicholas Cathedral St.Petersburg
Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia
Scenic summer panorama of the Market Square (Kauppatori) at the Old Town pier in Helsinki, Finland
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