What to Know Before You Travel to the Baltics

Lithuania, Vilnius, View of old town
Mauricio Abreu / Getty Images

The Baltic Region of Eastern Europe is a unique territory inhabited by non-Slavic natives as well as ethnic Slavs. Travelers to the Baltic Region will discover the centuries-old folk culture, strong national pride, and the refreshing air of the Baltic Coast.

Visiting this region offers sights and activities not found in other countries in East or East Central Europe. The capital cities may offer the most as far as entertainment, sights, and shopping go, but a trek into the countryside will mean the exploration of castle ruins, enjoying a day at an open-air museum, or spending a revitalizing holiday by the sea.

Furthermore, villages and towns showcase interesting snapshots of life in the Baltic Region.

While most people visit the Baltics in the summer, other seasons have a wealth of options for the off-season traveler. Autumn or spring are beautiful times to visit these three countries, while winter has the remarkable advantage of being the season during which Christmas markets and related events allow visitors to participate in holiday traditions. When you dine out in the Baltics, seasonal dishes such as cold beet soup in the summer and hearty stews in the winter will be popular fair at restaurants serving traditional fare.

Countries of the Baltic Region: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia

Nestled together on the coast of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia make up the Baltic Region of Eastern Europe.

Latvia is situated between Estonia, its neighbor to the north, and Lithuania, its neighbor to the south.

To get a better idea of location, look at these maps of the Eastern European countries. Because Russia (and Belarus), Poland, and even Germany have shared borders with the Baltic Region, the Baltic countries may share some characteristics of nearby countries. Each Baltic nation has a coast on the Baltic Sea, which has provided fish, amber, and other ocean resources to Baltic Region locals.

Visiting all three Baltic countries is easy, with regular flights between the capital cities of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. Short distances between the cities also mean that travel by bus is convenient, affordable, and comfortable and that seeing all three cities in one visit is possible.

The Culture of the Baltic Region

Although Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are grouped together geographically as the Baltic Region, they differ from one another culturally and linguistically and consistently strive to encourage the world to see them as unique nations. Locals and visitors alike can learn about the folk cultures and the evolution of languages in art and history museums in the Baltic Region. 

As far as language goes, both Lithuanians and Latvians share some similarities of language, though the two are not mutually intelligible; Lithuanian is considered to be the more conservative of the two. Meanwhile, the Estonian language derives from the Finno-Ugric branch of the language tree, making it entirely different from both.

Festivals and markets across the region year-round also highlight unique elements of each nation's culture and history through folk dances, songs, crafts, and food. These song and dance festivals preserve this essential part of these countries' cultures, which was integral to gaining their independence during the Singing Revolution.

Countries in the Baltic Region also celebrate holidays according to local customs, so Christmas in Lithuania, while similar to​ Christmas in Eastern Europe, is definitely unique, with many special customs and traditions of its own.