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Central Europe may be famed for lavish Christmas markets, but the Baltic States take them equally seriously. So I discovered when travelling on Stockholm & the Baltics in Winter, travelling from Sweden to Lithuania via Estonia and Latvia.
Christmas in the Baltics
The trip was a relatively fast-paced journey through a group of mostly lesser-known countries with a rich and fascinating history of occupation, religion and culture, resulting in an unusual mixture of architecture, delightful locals and excellent cuisine.
We were transported from one capital city to the next – first by ship and then by minibus. En-route we’d stop to see more of each country we passed through, from interesting coastal towns to the mesmerising Hill of Crosses, which has to be seen to be believed.
The day after arriving in each city we would have a tour in the morning with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local guide, followed by plenty of time for us to explore. This worked perfectly as there was so much of interest to see in each place, including visiting the intricate old towns of each city, the abundant museums, and of course the Christmas markets, which really came alive by the early evenings.
Being December in such northerly countries, it was extremely cold and being a sufferer of very poor blood circulation, I can heartily recommend lots of warm clothes to keep warm – plenty of gloves are a must! Stockholm is, of course, the most built-up and largest of the four capitals, and you could tell.
It was brimming with life and contained some impressive structures such as the parliamentary building and royal palace, museums aplenty and opportunities to visit some very old shops or purchase fresh goods in the largest of the Christmas markets.
Take me there: Trips to Sweden
Riga in Latvia is broken up into multiple old town centres where each of the markets were based, making the city feel in some way different from the rest. It was also the place with the most striking architecture scattered around town, with a mixture of modern and historic buildings within the main area.
Take me there: Trips to Latvia
Vilnius in Lithuania surprised me with some of the best food, including delicious potato and bacon ‘zeppelin’ dumplings, more remarkable churches, a large open market square and an old lookout point with superb sights of the entire region, completing the set of four enchanting capitals in eight days.
Take me there: Trips to Lithuania
For me, none of the cities offered more than Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, with its cobbled streets, strangely large churches (including the one-time tallest building in Europe) interspersed around town amidst tiny residential buildings, and its many lovely cafes and restaurants. Tallinn also had an exceptional viewpoint, Patkuli, and my favourite market which contained the best variety of shops and felt liveliest.
Take me there: Trips to Estonia
Food in the Baltics was constantly impressive, with the opportunity to eat at authentic style restaurants, market stalls or more modern cafes and restaurants available at each stop. On the ship to take us from Stockholm to Tallinn there were a few options but it goes without saying that they did not compare to the local restaurants on the ground, which were superb.
Accommodation in each location was of a good standard with proximity to the old towns prioritised, and the trip was better for it. Stockholm & the Baltics in Winter turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to discover some relatively unknown cities and countries, with captivating history, good cuisine and friendly locals, and you return home just in time for Christmas – perfect!
To explore the Baltics at Christmas, take a look at our trip below in more detail.