This part of Europe may not be a massive travel hotbed but our Baltic backpacking route might just surprise you. There is no well-trodden backpacker trail to follow here. Every traveller you meet will tend to have their own unique reasons for being in the Baltic region while the locals are generally friendly and (particularly outside of the capitals) welcoming of anyone who has chosen to visit their little corner of the planet. Starting out in Helsinki, we’ll then cross the Baltic Sea to visit the three Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Backpacking The Baltic – Route Info
TIME NEEDED – 2-3 WEEKS
You can easily see most places on this Baltic travel itinerary in a day or two and even the capital cities aren’t huge. It’s quite a small region too so you won’t really lose any days to long bus or train journeys. 3 weeks should certainly be enough to cover it and it could be squeezed into 2 weeks if you’re really pushed for time.
POSSIBLE SHOESTRING BUDGET – £700 €800 $800
These figures are based on spending three weeks in the region as a budget traveller. We have used August 2022 exchange rates. The estimated costs include daily travel costs in the region only and do not include any visa costs or flights to/from the region.
Helsinki will be comfortably the most expensive destination on the route detailed below. Overall, the Baltics are cheap to visit, although costs are increasing. Lithuania is perhaps marginally the cheapest Baltic country but Estonia and Latvia are also very affordable by most European standards. For more see our backpacking costs in different European countries.
All of the countries on this Baltic backpacking route are in the European Union. As a result standard EU visa requirements apply and those with EU citizenship can visit for free and stay as long as they like.
It is advisable to get insured for all trips abroad, particularly during uncertain times such as these. It is safe to travel to the Baltic States at the time of writing (August 2022), although tensions are rising following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are some fears that the former Soviet nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania could also become a target for Russia at some point. However it is important to note that unlike Ukraine, all three countries are full EU and NATO members making any imminent conflict far more unlikely.
Read more here about options for finding the best travel insurance for backpackers.
Backpacking The Baltic – A 2-3 Week Itinerary
1. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki may not be known for being one of Europe’s most beautiful or most popular capital cities and the expense of pretty much everything here will also put you off staying for long. However it does have its charms with highlights including ice skating in the city’s squares during the long dark winter and joining the metal-loving Finns in moshing to heavy rock music in the bars and clubs.
Finland also boasts some quite unique cultural quirks that separate it from the rest of Scandinavia and the nearby Baltic States so it’s an interesting country to visit and you could easily travel around Finland if you have more time and sufficient funds, before hopping on a ferry to Estonia.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
The medieval city of Tallinn perches on a hill overlooking the icy Baltic Sea. It’s only around two hours on a ferry from Helsinki but after decades as part of the Soviet Union, the differences are still very evident. Its Old Town is beautiful and the grand castle still dominates the skyline but it is also a modern, tech-friendly city that is regarded as a genuine Eastern European success story. Tallinn is also known for its lively and cheap nightlife which attracts weekend visitors from all over the continent.
3. Tartu, Estonia
A small but charming riverside city in Southern Estonia. It’s a thriving student centre full of young intellectuals who get together in one of the many traditional underground cellar bars when night falls. Tartu featured on our countdown of new backpacking hotspots a few years back and is a pleasant “off the beaten path” stop for a day or two.
4. Sigulda, Latvia
Located in a deep valley this is definitely a place for the adventure traveller. Castles, caves and eerie ruins are there to be explored. Meanwhile other exhilarating activities include breaking the laws of gravity in the state-of-the art flight simulator. There is also the opportunity to rapidly slide down the town’s bobsled track (if you come in summer the track is converted for ‘wheel-bobs’).
5. Riga, Latvia
With an impressive old town and some crazy nightlife, the Latvian capital draws parallels with Tallinn. However it is much bigger than its Baltic neighbour and in parts is a bit ‘rough around the edges’. There are plenty of hostels and some backpacker geared bars but there is plenty to see and do with the city famous for its distinctive Art Nouveau architecture.
6. Liepaja, Latvia
This seaside town boasts some of the best beaches in the Baltic and is a must-visit if you come during summer when it hosts several music festivals. The northern part of the city (Karosta) used to be a secret Soviet military town and makes for a fascinating visit. You can even stay overnight in Karosta Prison where you will be treated just like the military prisoners who were held here until as recently as 1997!
7. Klaipeda & Curonian Spit, Lithuania
Klaipeda has a history which stretches back to the 13th Century. This coastal town is easily one of Lithuania’s most culturally significant. From the harbour you can visit the Curonian Spit, a World Heritage site that separates Lithuania from the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad. It is basically a narrow but very long (100 km) sandy strip of land. It is home to some enormous dunes reaching a height of 60 metres in parts.
8. Kaunas, Lithuania
The ancient city of Kaunas is one of the jewels in Lithuania’s crown. Over the centuries, it has survived numerous occupations by various foreign powers but is now flourishing as part of independent Lithuania and in some respects is more significant than the capital city, Vilnius. The Old Town boasts some striking Gothic and Renaissance architecture while the newer parts are a hub of Lithuanian art and culture. Take a ride on the rickety Funicular for the best views of the city.
9. Vilnius, Lithuania
Finally Vilnius which is home to a fascinating mix of people with many Poles, Belarusians and Russians also calling this city home. The once thriving Jewish districts that played a significant role in the development of Vilnius are still there but Jews only represent a small portion of the population today. Cemeteries and Sculpture Parks are amongst the curious attractions here whilst the food is perhaps the best in the region with a healthy mix of tasty yet affordable cuisines on offer.
Baltic States Map & Itinerary Overview
Getting around the region is relatively cheap and hassle-free with plenty of bus and rail connections. As a very rough guide, a typical journey on this Baltics backpacking itinerary might take around 2 hours and cost in the region of 10 Euros with some slightly shorter and cheaper legs such as Kaunas-Vilnius and Sigulda-Riga. The Helsinki-Tallinn ferry journey may be a bit more expensive but you can still find advance one-way ferry tickets with Eckero Line for under 20 Euros if you’re a bit flexible.
Baltic Backpacking Route – How long to spend in each place?
|7||Klaipeda & Curonian Spit||2-3 Days|
The above is only a rough guide for this Baltic itinerary (2-3 weeks in total). Much will depend on when exactly you visit.
Winters are bitterly cold and you’ll certainly need to wrap up very warm as you work your way around the frozen Baltic Sea. Advantages are some wonderful Christmas markets and the snow which blanket covers this region from December to February. Both certainly add to the region’s overall charm. There is also the outside chance of witnessing the Northern Lights but you may need to head further north for that.
Come in summer and the contrast is huge. Days are long and the sun doesn’t set until 11:00 p.m. in places like Helsinki, only to rise again just a few hours later. The coastal towns suddenly come alive during this period which is arguably the best time of year to visit the Baltics, although warm, sunny weather is still not an absolute guarantee.
If you pick up a taste for Eastern Europe, you could also consider combining this with our backpacking route for the Balkans – another affordable part of the continent to travel in.
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This Baltic travel itinerary was last updated in August 2022.