Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Few regions possess a more turbulent history than the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. After countless wars, occupations—even a “singing” revolution—these countries have re-emerged to reveal their splendor to the world. Travel to the Baltic capitals and discover the turrets, spires, and winding cobbled streets of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn—three capitals that managed to lovingly preserve the timeless elegance of their Old Towns as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Then cast your eyes to Mother Russia for an in-depth discovery of the wonders of St. Petersburg, the glorious city on the Neva founded by Peter the Great early in the 18th century as a showcase for Russia’s imperial might. Travel to St. Petersburg and the Baltic capitals and take in the rich sweep of  history, unique cultures, and natural beauty of one of Europe's long-buried treasures.

Vilnius St. Petersburg Expand All
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    You depart the U.S. for Vilnius, Lithuania.

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    After an overnight flight, arrive at the Vilnius airport, where an OAT representative will greet you. Once we check into our hotel, we have an orientation walk, followed by a brief orientation session and a Welcome Drink, and meet travelers from the pre-trip extension to Kiev, Ukraine. This evening, enjoy an introduction to hearty Lithuanian cuisine during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, we embark on a tour of the Lithuanian capital. Although the exact location of its original capital city has been lost to time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the first established state in this region. Vilnius distinguished itself as an important cultural center when Vilnius University opened in 1579, immediately attracting students from as far away as Sweden and Hungary. The 20th century proved a turbulent time for the Baltic city, but its historical buildings survived. We begin our exploration by walking the cobbled streets of the city's compact Old Town to admire the carefully restored Baroque buildings and medieval charm that earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. We'll also explore the linked courtyards of Vilnius University before taking a bus to view the magnificent stucco sculptures that adorn the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Following the city tour, enjoy your afternoon exploring Old Town on your own.

    Lunch and dinner are on your own today.

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    This morning, join an optional hot-air balloon tour for a unique perspective on the medieval city and surrounding countryside. After, we'll take a brief journey outside of Vilnius to Trakai, considered the de facto medieval Lithuanian capital because Duke Vytautas the Great preferred the dreamy landscape punctuated by scenic lakes and islands over Vilnius. First, we take a short boat ride to visit the island of Trakai Castle, a red brick, fairy-tale fortress built by Vytautas and his father in the 15th century to fend off German knights. Then we'll meet with some local Karaims, who belong to the oldest Turkish tribe—Kipchaks—who were brought from Crimea to Trakai in the 14th century as bodyguards for the castle. During a cooking demonstration, they will share some insights into their culture with us and we'll enjoy a lunch of traditional Karaite specialties, such as kibinai or chebureki (savory meat pastries). We'll then depart for Vilnius by local train.

    Following our arrival in Vilnius, we'll take a tour of the Museum of Genocide Victims—commonly called the "KGB Museum" because it occupies the former KGB headquarters. For much of the 20th century, Vilnius was under brutal, communist Soviet occupation, both before and after a three-year Nazi occupation during World War II. While Lithuania was a state of the USSR, anti-Soviet resistance gained power and the people finally elected a government in 1990 that declared Lithuanian independence. The Soviets gave up the city the same way they had taken it—violently. We'll view exhibits that serve as a memorial to the victims of the atrocities that took place here, including a walk through the prison where the KGB held dissidents and freedom fighters. Following our visit, we enjoy a discussion with a local expert about Lithuania's struggle for independence.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    On our way to Klaipeda, we first stop at Rumsiskes. Here, we’ll explore a fascinating, open-air ethnographic museum. We’ll walk through a collection of 18th- and 19th-century rural dwellings and farmsteads, gaining an understanding of the history, lifestyles, and character of Lithuania’s four main regions. We’ll also visit an artisan workshop and a dwelling used by Lithuanians who were deported to Siberia by the communists. We arrive in Kaunas—Lithuania’s second-largest city—in time for an included lunch at a local restaurant. Kaunas served as Lithuania’s capital while the country fought to reclaim Vilnius from Poland after World War I.

    Upon our arrival in Klaipeda—Lithuania’s oldest city—we’ll have time to check into our hotel before gathering together for dinner in a local restaurant.

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    Klaipeda is the gateway to a coastal stretch known as the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This fragile sand dune peninsula—shared by both Russia and Lithuania—is separated by a protected lagoon on one side and exposed to the harsh Baltic Sea on the other. We begin our day with a brief ferry ride to the Nida Peninsula. First we’ll hunt for some of the amber—known as Baltic gold—that washes up on the beaches during winter storms. Then we’ll hike to the “Hill of Witches,” a forested path through the dunes filled with more than 80 unique wooden sculptures based on Lithuanian folk legends.

    After lunch in the private tavern of a local family, we’ll drive up to Parnidzio Dune, where we'll enjoy views of the Baltic Sea, Curonian Lagoon, and nearby Russia. Next, we’ll visit an amber workshop and gallery for a hands-on demonstration of the many uses for this beautiful fossil resin found along the Baltic Sea.

    Dinner is at a local restaurant this evening.

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    After breakfast, we drive towards Latvia and stop at a local restaurant along the way. We'll then visit the Hill of Crosses, a grassy double hillock blanketed by several thousand crosses. Some say the tradition of planting crosses here began in the 14th century, and the area has long served as a place of peaceful resistance for Lithuanian Catholics, who used the site as a memorial to their fallen freedom fighters and as a way to stay connected to their roots and traditions during the long Soviet occupation. Despite several Soviet attempts to bulldoze the hill, determined locals would quickly rebuild the cherished place of pilgrimage. After leaving the Hill of Crosses we'll stop at the beautifully restored 18th-century Baroque palace of Rundale, which was designed by the architect of St. Petersburg's Hermitage, Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

    Upon our arrival in the Latvian capital of Riga, we'll check into our hotel and enjoy our first glimpse of this enchanting medieval city with dinner at our hotel.

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    Set close to the mouth of the Daugava River, which travels from the Baltic Sea into Russia, Riga was historically an important trade port. Its prosperity also made it a target for conquerors; before Latvia declared itself an independent nation in 1918, Riga was claimed by Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, and Germany. As a diverse, thriving city with a prominent upper class, Riga experienced radical change under occupation by the Soviets and Nazis. Buildings from Riga’s most prosperous eras—particularly the Art Nouveau period—still stand throughout the city.

    After breakfast, we walk through Riga’s Old Town, a dizzying collection of cobbled lanes, gargoyle-adorned buildings, and lovingly restored 17th-century architectural treasures under UNESCO World Heritage Site protection. We’ll also wander through the city’s Central Market. Located in converted German Zeppelin hangars from the 1930s, the market's pavilions encompass more than three-quarters of a million square feet of space and are also under UNESCO protection. After an included lunch in a local restaurant, you’ll have free time to soak in more of Riga’s timeless elegance on your own. Perhaps you’ll view the Latvian Academy of Sciences, a rare piece of Soviet architecture known as “Stalin’s birthday cake” to the locals. Or relax in a café and, if you dare, order a beverage with Riga Black Balsam—an herbal liqueur that Latvians celebrate as an invigorating cure-all for whatever ails you. Later, we’ll enjoy a discussion about contemporary Latvia and its past. Dinner is on our own this evening.

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    After breakfast, we'll depart for A Day in the Life experience at Ligatne Village. Located 45 miles outside of Riga within Gauja National Park, Ligatne is both a scenic and historical complex with a nearly 200 year old working paper mill surrounded by rolling hills, cliffs, rivers, and caves. We'll meet with a representative of the village and have a discussion at the Ligatne Cultural Center. From there, we'll walk through the settlement of the paper factory, viewing the grounds of one of Europe's oldest paper mills.

    After that, our group will visit with a kindergarten class or a children's craft center before heading to a Home-Hosted Lunch within the village. After lunch, we'll tour a private winery before heading back to our hotel in Riga. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    On our way to Estonia, we stop for an included lunch in Cesis, a picturesque medieval town situated within the natural beauty of Latvia’s Gauja National Park. Cesis was the capital of Livonia during the Middle Ages, and we’ll revel in its authentic medieval ambiance and admire the well-preserved ruins of a 13th-century castle built here by the Knights of the Sword.

    We’ll also enjoy a brief stop in Parnu—a chance to stretch our legs and catch a glimpse of Estonia’s premier seaside resort—before arriving in Tallinn, the northernmost of the Baltic capitals—for an included dinner.

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    Estonia’s capital and largest city, Tallinn sits on the Bay of Finland, directly across from Helsinki. We’ll find both Scandinavian and Russian influences in the language, culture, and architecture here. As with most major Baltic cities, Tallinn was occupied by the Soviets, then the Nazis, and then the Soviets again, who forced Estonia into the USSR. Tallinn was the site of Estonia’s “Singing Revolution”—a series of protests in the late 1980s where thousands gathered and sang for independence from the Soviet Union. After four years of singing and other acts of protest, Estonia achieved something remarkable—independence from the Soviets through a relatively bloodless revolution. Today Tallinn manages to preserve its history and quaint medieval buildings, while at the same time modernizing and thriving in the technology industry. As of January 1, 2011, Estonia’s official currency is the euro—making it the first Baltic nation and only post-Soviet state to meet the European Union’s criteria for adopting the currency.

    We begin our day in Tallinn with a walking tour of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town, a tangled warren of cobbled streets lined with outdoor cafés and wonderfully preserved 14th- and 15th-century buildings. Then we drive out to the grounds of the Tallinn Song Festival, where the first of many singing protests took place. When we return to Old Town, you’ll have time at leisure, followed by a discussion on Estonian independence.

    Dinner is at a local restaurant this evening.

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    After breakfast, we take a local tram out to Kadriorg Park to view the resplendent palace residence built by Russian Tsar Peter the Great for his empress Catherine I, and to walk its lovely, manicured grounds. (Kadriorg means “Catherine’s Valley.”) Then we visit the KUMU, a modern art museum located on the edge of Kadriorg Park, featuring the leading names in Estonian art and sculpture from the 18th century to the present day, including an impressive collection of Soviet-era works. After an included lunch in Kadriorg, we take the tram back to our hotel (or back to Old Town).

    The rest of the day is yours to explore independently. You may choose to venture to the Rotermann Quarter. After Estonia gained independence, this run-down neighborhood experienced a great renewal. Now full of modern buildings, it’s become a center for shopping and culture—whether you browse the open-air markets, relax in a café or drop into the studios in the Loovala art collective, it’s an ideal place to absorb the revitalized spirit of the Estonian people. Or, to delve deeper into Tallinn’s history, visit the Toompea Castle and Town Wall. These well-preserved 13th-century landmarks highlight the medieval realities of defending a town against attacks from the outside—plus, from atop the Town Wall, which is only reachable from the outside, enjoy a towering view above Old Town.

    Dinner is on your own tonight. Perhaps you’ll sample kissell, a popular fruit soup that Estonians serve for dessert.

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    Today we journey further east by coach across the border into Russia, stopping for an included lunch in Narva, Estonia. Upon our arrival in St. Petersburg, we check into our hotel and enjoy our first view of the city that Pushkin described as “Tsar Peter the Great’s Window to the West” during an orientation walk. This evening we head out to a local restaurant for an included dinner.

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    Discover St Petersburg on a guided tour

    Today we explore the wonders of St. Petersburg, one of the world's most magnificent cities. It was built at the mouth of the River Neva early in the 18th century by Peter the Great, who wished to create a Russian capital to rival the splendor of Paris. Before the monarchy was overthrown in the Russian Revolution, the tsars and tsarinas of the empire lived the high life in St. Petersburg. They built colorful opulent palaces, inspired arts and architecture throughout the city, and created a virtual soap opera of betrayal, Faberge egg collections, and tidily handled peasant rebellions.

    We'll see why St. Petersburg is called the "Venice of the North” as our visit reveals several of the city's picturesque islands, canals, and bridges, including a stop at St. Isaac's Cathedral, whose magnificent gilded dome dominates St. Petersburg's skyline.

    A hearty Russian lunch at a local restaurant should give us sustenance for our afternoon visit to the stunning gilt Baroque Hermitage Museum. Today, this one-time palace of the tsars—founded by Catherine the Great in 1764—is one of the world's largest and oldest museums, boasting a massive fine art collection.

    Dinner is on your own this evening. You may also take advantage of an optional excursion to take in a Russian ballet performance, right here in the cradle of the art form, where the dancing style was first developed to entertain the tsars. Or, when the ballet is not available, enjoy an evening of music and dance at the optional Russian Folk Show.

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    The day begins with a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress, constructed in 1703 as the primary defense for the new city but mostly utilized as a prison for the likes of Dostoevsky, Trotsky, and even Peter’s own son, Alexei. Within the fortress walls—with its lovely spire and Baroque interior—resides Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place of most of the Russian tsars since the city’s namesake was buried here, including the last Romanov family—Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children, who were murdered during the Russian Revolution.

    After lunch on your own, we'll venture to Tsarskoe Selo (the “tsar’s village”) for a visit to the magnificently restored Catherine Palace. Here, we'll walk the grounds, and see the Grand Hall of Mirrors, Marble Staircase, and even the legendary Amber Room. 

    In the evening, we’ll all gather for a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate our adventures.

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    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, travel to the airport for your flight to the U.S. Or, begin your post-trip extension to Moscow, Russia.


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Want to know more about one of our adventures? Now, when you post a question, travelers who have been on that trip can provide you with an honest, unbiased answer based on their experience—providing you with a true insider’s perspective.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

Currency Cheat Sheet: Submit

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect


  • 5 locations in 15 days
  • Several long overland drives of 3-5 hours each

Physical Requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You should be able to walk 3 miles unassisted over the course of each day, participating in 6-8 hours of daily physical activities


  • Due to the varied geography of the destinations on this adventure, you will experience a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions


  • Travel over on city streets and paved roads
  • Go for several walking tours along cobblestone streets and an uphill hike in the Curonian Spit


  • Travel by 30-passenger, air-conditioned coach, tram, train, small boat, and ferry

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotels feature a variety of Western-style amenities and personal services
  • All accommodations feature private baths

Travel Documents


Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.


U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Estonia: No visa required.
  • Latvia: No visa required.
  • Lithuania: No visa required.
  • Russia (main trip and optional post-trip extension): Visa required.
  • Poland (optional pre-trip extension only): No visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips


Main Trip

  • Mabre Residence Hotel

    Vilnius, Lithuania

    A quiet haven in the Lithuanian capital city, the Mabre Hotel is a converted monastery that blends medieval styling with modern comfort. If you venture beyond the serene courtyard, it’s only a five-minute walk to the bustling city center. The quaint hotel includes 40 climate-controlled rooms, each with cable TV, minibar, Internet access, and private bath.

  • National Hotel Klaipeda

    Klaipeda, Lithuania

    Set in a thoroughly reconstructed 19th-century structure, the National Hotel Klaipeda is conveniently located in Old Town. A stroll through the neighborhood reveals timber-framed buildings on cobblestone streets. The hotel features an on-site bar and restaurant. There are 50 air-conditioned rooms, each with a safe, cable TV, Internet access, minibar, and private bath.

  • PK Riga Hotel

    Riga, Latvia

    The PK Riga Hotel is centrally located within Riga’s charming Art Nouveau neighborhood, and offers 88 comfortable and contemporary guestrooms. A short walk from Old Town, this hotel features a full-service spa center and restaurant. Rooms are air-conditioned and come with a television, private bath, mini-bar, coffee maker, and Internet access.

  • Radisson Blu Sky Hotel Tallinn

    Tallinn, Estonia

    The Radisson Blu Sky Hotel Tallinn is conveniently located near Tallinn’s Old Town. Hotel facilities include a lobby bar, rooftop bar and terrace, two restaurants, fitness center, and sauna. There are 280 air-conditioned rooms, each with direct-dial phone, safe, iron and ironing board, satellite TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with hair dryer. There is also free Internet access throughout the hotel.

  • Domina Prestige Hotel

    St. Petersburg, Russia

    Located on the Moika River Enbankment within the heart of St. Petersburg, the Domina Prestige Hotel boasts 109 guestrooms decorated with contemporary yet comfortable furnishing and design. Hotel amenities include a business center, 24-hour room service, a restaurant serving European cuisine, and cocktail bar.


  • Hotel Kossak

    Krakow, Poland

    Located in the heart of Krakow, Hotel Kossak is located near attractions like Wawel Castle and the medieval Market Square. Each of its 60 air-conditioned rooms includes an LCD TV, minibar, safe, iron, coffee- and tea-making facilities, complimentary wireless Internet, and a private bath with hairdryer.

  • Polonia Palace Hotel

    Warsaw, Poland

    Located within the city center of Warsaw, the Polonia Palace Hotel has 206 guestrooms and suites that each offer modern accommodations and amenities, including a safe, complimentary access to the fitness center, Internet connection, and unqique views of Warsaw.The in-house restaurant serves Polish and international cuisine, and the bar offers live music in the evenings.

  • Hotel Metropol

    Moscow, Russia

    Hotel Metropol is located just minutes from Moscow's famed Red Square, and offers guests a blend of historic Art Nouveau style and modern amenities. Guestrooms are traditionally furnished and each come with a mini bar, satellite television, air conditioning and free wireless Internet. Other hotel amenities include room service, bar, and restaurant serving Russian and European cuisine.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

Whether you choose to take just a base trip or add an optional pre- and post-trip extension, you have many options when it comes to personalizing your air—and creating the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

Personalized Air Routing

  • Work with our expert Air Travel Consultants to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Customize your trip by staying overnight in a connecting city, arriving at your destination a few days early, or spending additional time in a nearby city on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value

Your Own Air Routing

  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline
  • Purchase optional airport transfers to and from your hotel
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent flyer miles

OR, leave your air routing up to us and your airfare (as well as airport transfers) will be included in your final trip cost.

Partner since: 2012
Total donated: $16,812

A Day in the Life of Ligatne Village

OAT was founded upon the principle that travel needs to be about more than just sightseeing if it's going to change people's lives—which is why most OAT adventures feature a day of in-depth cultural exchange through Grand Circle Foundation’s A Day in the Life program. By continuing to expand our worldview through exposure to other cultures, we are learning and growing throughout our lives—and the more we engage ourselves in the daily lives of the villages we visit, the more valuable our learning becomes.

Meet the People of Ligatne Village

Located 45 miles outside of Riga within Gauja National Park, Ligatne is both a scenic and historical complex with a nearly 200 year old working paper mill surrounded by rolling hills, cliffs, rivers, and caves. Home to one of Europe's oldest paper mills, Ligatne is also a village with a cultural center, schools, private winery, and myriad of nature activities.

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Private Departures

Explore The Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg in an Exclusive Group

Reserve a Private Departure of The Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg for your exclusive group of as few as 8 travelers, and enjoy a truly special adventure for just you and your family or friends—for an additional $1000 per person.

For more details—or to reserve your Private Departure—call your Group Sales Account Representative toll-free at 1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.

Please note: Some restrictions apply. See our Private Departures page for details.

Three Nations, One Spirit

The seeds of protest and the Baltic Capitals’ resurgence

An estimated two million Baltic people all joined hands to physically and symbolically link their three capital cities of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn.

Eastern Europe may still seem closed off to many—after all, most of what Americans know about Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania was associated with the Eastern Bloc. But while the Soviet shadow still lingers in the architecture and monuments, the flags raised in their capitals have changed to reflect national and ethnic identities. Regardless of the political affiliation of the countries, one fact remains steadfast: The Baltic people love their homeland, and they aren’t afraid to fight—or, in some cases sing—to protect their unique cultural and ethnic identities.

The “Singing Revolution:” Tallin’s peaceful protest

Between the years of 1987 and 1991, yearning to shake off the yoke of Soviet rule, the Baltic people began to engage in a series of public singing demonstrations—often chanting national anthems and cherished folk songs. Soviet officials discouraged these patriotic sing-alongs, wanting to unify disparate populations under the USSR umbrella. As these once-localized musical outbursts became larger and more fervent, the voices of the Baltic people echoed all the way to the highest offices of the Soviets.

On September 11, 1988, approximately 300,000 people gathered at the Tallin Song Festival Arena to sing national songs and hymns, while rock musicians supported and encouraged them onstage. More than a quarter of the entire Estonian population was in attendance—how’s that for unity? Song festivals continue to be popular across all three Baltic countries, beloved as a way to champion national identity and help preserve the past.

Chain of Freedom: peaceful protest or “nationalist hysteria”?

As it turned out, the Singing Revolution was only the beginning of a march towards democracy. On August 23, 1989, an estimated two million Baltic people all joined hands to physically and symbolically link their three capital cities of Vilnius, Lithuania; Riga, Latvia; and Tallinn, Estonia. This human chain—referred to as the “Baltic Way” or, more locally, “Chain of Freedom”—extended over a length that exceeded 400 miles. While this may sound like a feat straight out of the Guinness Book of World Records, the message was serious: It was an expression of joint solidarity against decades of Soviet rule. The year of the chain marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that annexed the Baltic States to the USSR. A growing number of activists, eager to bring the issue of illegal Soviet occupation to the world stage, organized the human chain.

Each state had its own pro-independence movement to help coordinate the effort: the Popular Front of Estonia (Rahvarinne), the Popular Front of Latvia (Latvijas Tautas Fronte), and the Reform Movement in Lithuania (Sajudis). Local support was encouraging; thousands of signatures had been gathered in multiple petitions, and organizers provided free bus transportation to ensure an unbroken chain in rural areas. Estonia declared the day to be a public holiday, and many businesses closed to allow employee participation. Aided by radio broadcasts to help organize the massive demonstration, the participants joined hands for 15 minutes.

Although it would take an additional two years of diplomatic and political victories, the Chain of Freedom was ultimately successful: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were recognized as independent states by the end of 1991. Though freedom from Soviet control took over 50 years to attain, the citizens of these three nations adapted quickly to their hard-won liberties. The transformation of the neighborhood of Užupis in Vilnius demonstrates how the creativity and revolutionary spirit of the pro-national movements lives on in their current democratic states.

Užupis: The bohemian utopia

Located just one mile east of Vilnius University (the oldest in Lithuania), Užupis is an eccentric neighborhood that makes for a perfect detour during a free afternoon in Vilnius. In the native Lithuanian tongue, Užupis literally means “on the other side of the river.” In this case, the river in question is the Vilnia River. But a more familiar moniker could just as easily be “on the wrong side of the tracks.” Užupis was nearly deserted during World War II, when Nazi forces drove out the mostly Jewish population. For years, the empty buildings and abandoned storefronts became a haven for criminals, prostitutes, the homeless, and others that lived—some intentionally and others by circumstance—on the fringes of society.

Over the past several centuries, the population has shifted from medieval craftsmen to Jewish communities, but the bohemian spirit of the neighborhood is forever sealed in the DNA of the colorful, dilapidated buildings. Nowadays, Užupis is populated by a new mix of lifestyles: students living cheaply, artists seeking inspiration, and the free spirits who balk at the idea of living in the more “respectable” capital city of Vilnius. The muses of art, craftsmanship, and self-reliance still seem to haunt these streets.

In the place where a former statue of Lenin once stood watch over the town, a new icon has emerged, one that is far more fitting for the artistic and eclectic population: Frank Zappa, the American musician, composer, and kindred free spirit.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how OAT travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our The Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg adventure. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite OAT trip photos.


Jo Newhouse, 3-time traveler from Portland, Oregon, photographed this expansive view of a centuries-old castle in Latvia.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to:

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.