We finished this year´s epic road trip with driving through Baltic countries and thereby making a large circle in the northern Europe. We visited Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland for the first time ever which made this part of the trip even more exciting. Of course, we could have spent much more time in each of the countries but we are happy we got to know them at least a little bit. Read more about where we went, what we saw and did in this new post.
We were quite unprepared, we had no guidebooks and we chose where to go more or less on the last minute. We only used internet and google maps for better navigation. With an exception of one CAMP SITE in POLAND, it was more of an WILD CAMPIING ROAD TRIP. Because we spent most of our time in NORWAY, we were a little bit in a hurry over here and we drove through LATVIA and LITHUANIA really fast. We spent more time in ESTONIA though. We especially liked Estonia, we were pleasently surprised by POLAND as well.
Places: Tallinn, Lahemaa national park, otok Saaremaa, Pärnu
How: our LR Defender
Stayed in: wild camping
It only took us 2 HOURS on a ferry from HELSINKI TO TALLINN, where we spent 1 DAY. In the evening we drove for about an hour to LAHEMAA NATIONAL PARK where we spent the night. The next day we hiked around this amazing national park and drove to SAAREMAA ISLAND in the evning. Here, we spent a couple of days before moving on via PARNU to LATVIA.
From the FERRY it is an easy ride to the city center. You practically dock in the city. We found a safe PARKING LOT close to one of the city wall towers and were off exploring. Just checking out random menues of restaurants that crossed our way made us good mood – everything was so cheap compared to Scandinavian countries! We immediately went for a beer. Directly to the main CITY SQUARE in the OLD PART OF THE TOWN.
In beautiful sunshine and warmer temperatures we had a look at the CITY HALL (it is possible to climb up the staris to its 30m high tower) and THE OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY WORKING PHARMACY IN EUROPE, which is just close by. Other than that, here are many cute RESTAURANTS and BARS, where you can try out LOCAL SPECIALITIES.
TALLINN IS A RELATIVELY SMALL CITY and its main attractions are to be found in the old city center, surrounded by the remains of MEDIEVAL CITY WALLS and 20 DEFENSE TOWERS. They are known to be one of the best examples of such constructions in the world. You ahve to go up at least to one of the towers, the views are stunning.
ESTONIAN CAPITAL impressed us with its MEDIEVAL CHARM, cute SHOPS and lively BARS & RESTAURANTS, which are literately on every corner. We also visited a couple of CHURCHES, but because we wanted to soend the night outside the city, we did not have enough time to visit the MUSEUMS as well.
We enjoyed TALLINN a lot and we would love to spend a full weekend here. They say it is quite fascination around CHRISTMAS TIME when the whole city smells of mulled wine and there are lights everywhere. Many tourists visit Tallinn on a DAY TRIP FROM HELSINKI as well. Definitely a place I could come back to one day.
LAHEMAA NATIONAL PARK
ONE HOUR DRIVE FROM TALLINN towards the east, we found ESTONIAN LARGEST NATIONAL PARK, Lahemaa. We decided to spend a night around here, because we were sleeping inside our car and it is always a bit of a problem finding free overnight parking spaces in cities. Better to be out in the nature. WILD CAMPING outside populated areas is totaly allowed here. And not just that, we found great spots with TOILETS, FREE WOOD, PICNIC TABLES and BBQ. Vers similar to Finland, where we spent most of our nights in such spots.
Started the next day with a easy 6km HIKE on one of the most fmaous trails in the national park, VIRU BOG. The path first took us through a lovely PINE FOREST, then through SWAMPS and LAKES on WOODEN PATHWAYS to a VIEW TOWER and eventually back to the parking. Happy we did this, it was very nice. There ae more PARKING POSSIBILITIES, we chose the one close to KOLGA.
You might want to consider coming to this national park as a DAY TRIP FROM TALLIN, which is really totaly doable. There is even a PUBLIC BUS CONNECTION if you don´t feel like renting a car. There are many other HIKING TRAILS in the park, so if oyu have more time, you can easiyl spend 2-3 days over here.
And just as we thought we are not taking any more ferries on this trip, there we were, standing in line at one of the piers, waiting to explore ESTONIA´S LARGEST ISLAND. The more we read online, the clearer it was – we should definitely go there. So then we thought, why not.
The island is most known for its WINDMILLS. And here in ANGLA, you can visit some sort of an OPEN AIR MUSEUM (small ENTRY FEE) and check them out from up close. Besides different types of windmills, you can also see tools and other collections inside the main house.
Saaremaa´s CAPITAL CITY, KURESSAARE, is realy a nice place. Again, we had a warm sunny day and decided to have lunch in the MARINA and checked out the city´s main attraction, its CASTLE, afterwards. The castle, surrounded by water channels is worth visiting, you also see some windmills and the views on the city and the sea are great. Lots of RESTAURANTS and SHOPS over here, so it is easy to spend a full day.
In these few days spent on the island, we discovered a couple of really nice places by the sea. In the high season the best SPOTS FOR SPENDING THE NIGHT get full early in the evening (especially over the weekends). We´ve seen locals swim in the sea, but it was too cold for us – we preffered to observe the waves while having dinner or a beer on the shore.
On the northern side of the island you can check out these over 20m HIGH CLIFFS. We made a 2km WALK ON A TRAIL ABOVE THE CLIFFS in the shade of pine trees and accompanied by magnificent views. It kind of reminded me of my home Mediterranean. We didn´t sleep far from here and we managed to prepare dinner with sunset view. Not the worst place to be when the sun goes down.
The island is really big! We didn´t manage to drive all the way to its southern tip where we could have seen the LIGHTHOUSE as well. We also skipped a couple of villages and churches. But we´ve seen enough to get a good impression of this place and we can only recommend coming here while travelling around Estonia.
We spent OUR LAST NIGHT IN ESTONIA somewhere in a beautiful forest at the coastlines of PARNU. Estonia was awesome. Great nature, nice towns, not too expensive, people spoke good English, the roads were good as well. Quite unexpected, but we actually done lots of OFFROAD DRIVING here. Estonia also reminded us of Finland a little b it, but with a little bit of Eastern flavour. Would come again, definitely.
Places: Riga, Jurmala, narodni park Kemeri
How: our LR Defender
Stayed in: wild camping
Latvia is a relatively SMALL COUNTRY and you can see a lot of it even in a small amount of time. We only spent 1 NIGHT here. We arrived in RIGA early enough to explore most of the city, then we continued to the touristy areas of JURMALA at the Baltic coast and spent the ight at the PARKING of KEMERI NATIONAL PARK. The next day we walked around this beautiful park and drove off towards LITHUANIA.
Welcome to Latvia. Diesel is much cheaper, roads are less good. Actually the roads were in the worst condition of this whole trip. But we managed to do all the driving without any incidents so we shouldn´t complain too much, right. After a 3 hours drive from Parnu we came to RIGA, LATVIAN CAPITAL CITY. Here, a thrid of the country´s population lives. Riga is also famous for its huge MARKET, so this is where we were headed first. We were hungry as well so it was a good match. IT IS ONE OF THE LARGEST IN EUROPE and a place you should definitely visit. We found a PARKING close by (the main TRAIN STATION is in the near) and continued to the old city center by foot.
I have to admit though, in general we liked Tallinn a bit more, but the old city of Riga, called VECRIGA, with all its beautiful ART NOUVEAU BUILDINGS is simply amazing. Riga is also on UNSECO´s World Heritage list, with its most famous point being the main CITY HALL SQUARE (the upper picture). Besides this one, we were most impressed by NARROW STREETS flooded with lively RESTAURANTS, BARS and BAKERIES. Overall, Riga is a gorgeous MEDIEVAL HANSEATIC CITY which has always been an important point of trade. We´re happy we got the chance to visit it even if just for one day.
KEMERI NATIONAL PARK
After a day in RIGA, we drove off towards the seaside resort town of JURMALA. The streets were full on a sunny Friday afternon, it looked like eveyone was trying to get out of the city and into the nature. We ended our day on a PARKING LOT of KEMERI NATIONAL PARK, where they let us stay the night for a 2€ fee (this is the daily parking rate anyway). A perfect starting point to visit the park early in the morning next day.
We were told the best time to visit is at SUNRISE, when the FOG starts to rise from the swamps, but to be hones we were to lazy to get up around 4am. So we set off after our morning coffee, but still early enough to beat the main crowds. After a walk through a forest, we soon ventured out in the direction of the SWAMPS and LAKES. Wow, wow and another wow. It was really beautiful. We culdn´t help but compare it to the Estonian Lahemaa park, which was very similar. If we made a competition out of it I have to say Kemeri would have won in our eyes. Just stuning and one of our LATVIAN HIGHLIGHTS. You can also visit the park as a DAY TRIP FROM RIGA, because it is really close.
From here, we could have driven even further west or somewhere else, but we felt a bit in a hurry already. So direction LITHUANIA it was. I can´t realy say all that much about Latvia because we only spend a couple of days here, but it was good times and we liked it (except the roads). Have to come back some day and explore some more.
Places: Šiauliai, Kaunas, Marijampole, Kalvarija
How: our LR Defender
Stayed in: wild cmaping
In LITHUANIA we were a bit in a rush, I can´t really racall why – maybe it was just the feeling that we are really close to home now. First we made a stop in the town of ŠIAULIAI where we took a look at the famous HILL OF CROSSES. It was somewhere here that we decided to take the shortest way towards POLAND. We did make a stop in KAUNAS, the country´s 2nd largest city and passed MARIJAMPOLE and KALVARIJA later on, where we found some great offroad tracks between fields and lakes.
HILL OF CROSSES, ŠIAULIAI
After about an hour of dricing from Kemeri national park we crossed the border and said hello to Lithuania. First impressions? Roads are OK, diesel is insanely cheap (around 1€/L), we passed lots of abandoned houses, but the landscape was nice. It was hot. Very hot. One more hour of drivig and we made our first longer stop.
Well, this was something. A hill of over 100.000 CROSSES and MARY FIGURES (it is impossible to specify exactly), brought here by random visitors in the last decades, has become a major PILGRIMAGE PLACE. And even if you are not religious, it is interesting to see it. On a Saturday afternoon, we had the pleasure to see even some wedding photo shootings. Admission is free, but expect crowds of people, especially on the week ends.
Even though we wanted to visit VILNIUS, LITHUANIA´S CAPITAL, as well, it was just too far away at the moment. Driving all the way to there and back would mean at least 2 extra days and we would have to skip staying in Poland, so we decided to go on some other occasion when we will have more time.
So instead, we made a stop in Kaunas, LITHUANIA´S SECOND LARGEST CITY. Pretty good Eastern-European feel, but it was not bad thing. The change actually felt good. We took a look of the HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL and ended up in a huge SUPERMARKET slash HARDWARE STORE, where we got some food, all sorts of beers and lots of GOODIES FOR OUR CAR. Very inexpensive over here, so we had to take the advantage of that.
MARIJAMPOLE & KALVARIJA
We finished our trip through LITHUANIA in the SOUTH OF THE COUNTRY where we found countless LAKES between WHEAT FIELDS – perfect spots for WILD CAMPING over here.
Places: Gdansk, Leba, Slowinski narodni park
How: our LR Defender
Stayed in: wild camping
We were not sure which way to take across Poland until the very last moment. We could have gone through WARSHAW or along the Baltic coast. Due to the sunny weather, the coast won. Off we were towards GDANSK! From LITHUANIA we took the back roads through a really interesting Polish countryside. We were accompanied by lakes, hills and even ski places. We spent the night in the middle of nowhere and the whole next day in Gdansk .This city left us speechless with its beautiful ARCHITECTURE, museums, restaurants. Just a very cool vibe and we really liked it. From here we continued to LEBA and SLOWINSKI NATIONAL PARK where we admired the sand dunes. The coastal road took us through STETTIN down to BERLIN in Germany and back home.
The way to Gdansk was interesting. Totally unexpectedly we drove by beautiful LAKES, HILLS and even SKIING PLACES. The villages and towns were much different than in Lithuania. Every single village, even if extremely small, had its own CHURCH. To be honest, we don´t even remember exactly where we drove, but sometimes such memories are the best ones.
GDANSK LITERATELLY BLEW US AWAY. Not because it was so windy, but because it was so nice. This city is full of history, amazing architecture, on top of that it is situated by the sea and there are lots of cute SHOPS, RESTAURANTS and BARS on every corner. MUSEUMS. And yes, it is not expensive. Besides, we had lovely sunny warm weather and we got a secured PARKING space in the city center.
We had extremely good mood here. So we splurged on a HUGE LUNCH and tried out some FISH SPECIALITIES. We also bought some little SOUVENIRS. We didn´t do that often and it was mostly when we had this kind of extremely good mood haha. Of course we could not see the whole city in just ONE DAY. A longer week end would be perfect I guess and I would really not mind spending one here. We had to move on this time, but I´m sure we´ll be back one day.
SLOWINSKI NATIONAL PARK
We drove up the coast and unsuccessfully searched for a place to sleep out in the wild. Eventually we ended up in LEBA, a touristic town which was anyway on our „to see list“, because it is the starting point to visit SLOWINSKI NATIONAL PARK. It was getting dark and we were tired so we decided to spend the night in a CAMP SITE. For the first time since Norway. 10€ a night and a very friendly owner made the whole experience even nicer.
This national park was the reason we came to Leba in the first place. It is famous for its MIGHTY WHITE SAND DUNES that stretch along the BALTIC SEA. The sand dunes MOVE EVERY YEAR FOR 3-10m towards the FOREST, where we can see lots of broken and dead trees. The highest sand dunes reach up to 30m, there are great views if you climb on top of them. There is also a LAKE, 7 RIVERS and a nice PINE FOREST.
The easiest way to visit the park is by RENTING A BICYCLE IN LEBA or bring your own. The other option is to go to the nearest parking with your CAR and continue on foot or (as we did) take an ELECTRIC SHARED SHUTTLE BUS from Leba. This one brings you to the PARK ENTRANCE, where you buy the ticket. From here there are different options as well. You can rent a bicycle, take another electric car, take the boat over the lake or simply walk. In any case – come early in the morning, especially if you are there in the main season.
A few words about POLISH CULINARY DELIGHTS. As we were coming to an end of this longer trip, our food/drinks supplies were almost gone and we were OK with eating out. Massive portions and fair prices made this even easier. In the north of the country we mostly had meat and fish, it is definitely not a paradise for vegetarians. Accompanied with cabbage, potatoes, gigantic pickles and creamy sauces, the dishes will surely fill you up for a couple of hours. Or the whole day. We also tried the traditional dumplings called PIEROGI for the first time. Yup, it´s good to eat out in Poland.
POLISH BALTIC COAST
We were coming back to Germany along the BALTIC COAST, which didn´t dissapoint us. Since Iß´ve been living in northern Germany for the past years I kind of had a feeling how it will look like and yes, it is nice. Way to cold for us to swim, but still, perfect for longer walks.
POLAND WAS A HUGE PLEASANT SURPRISE. We can´t understand why, but we were warned by some friends about how the roads are bad and so on – we heard more bad things than good. But we truly cannot say anything bad about our time there and I´m sure we will be back to see more of the country some day soon. To sum up this BALTIC PART OF OUR ROAD TRIP – it was great! Happy we´ve driven this way back to Germany.
BALTSKE DRŽAVE SVA OBISKALA V SKLOPU DALJŠEGA ROAD TRIPA. VEČ O ORGANIZACIJI TAKŠNEGA POTOVANJA, STROŠKIH IN KORISTNIH INFORMACIJAH PA SI PREBERITE TUKAJ:SCANDINAVIA & BALTIC – COSTS, INFO, TIPS