Arrive in Tallinn, Estonia’s seacoast capital in the Gulf of Finland. Tallinn was once two separate feuding medieval towns. Toompea, the upper part of town, set on a hill, was the seat of the government, while the lower town was an independent Hanseatic trading center inhabited by Swedish, Danish, and German traders. On arrival in Tallinn, transfer to the Hotel Telegraaf for overnight. Lunch and dinner are on your own...B
Your walking tour today begins at Kadriorg, a summer palace and park built by Peter the Great. The palace’s architect, Michetti, was later involved in building Peterhof, Peter’s summer palace outside of St. Petersburg. The parkland around the palace originally encompassed almost 250 acres. Stroll through the beautiful park to the Song Bowl, where Estonians defied the Soviet Union in 1988, and where every five years, an enormous international festival is held.
Next, visit Toompea, the hilltop center of Tallinn, nearly 90 feet higher than the rest of the city. Toompea Castle sits near the highest point, rebuilt by Catherine the Great over the remains of the 13th century castle of the Knights of the Sword. The spectacular, onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which crowns the hill in Toompea, is designed in the classic Russian Revival style and is the grandest orthodox church in the city. You will also visit the Foreign Art Museum of the Kadriorg Palace, which displays paintings, sculptures, graphic art, and applied art of Western Europe and the Russia from the 16th to 20th centuries. The rest of the day is for independent exploration. Lunch and dinner are on your own. Overnight at Hotel Telegraaf...B
In the morning, depart by private minivan for a drive to Riga, Latvia. Along the way, visit Pärnu, a charming Hanseatic city that contains a nice 19th century shopping district. While walking in the city, enjoy its parks and the streets. After lunch on your own, continue on to Riga, first a fishing village founded by native Livonians, a Finno-Ugrik people related to the Estonians and the Finns. When the proto-Balts, an Indo-European people, arrived, they gradually assimilated most of the Livonians. The resulting mix of people, now called Latvians, lived in small kingdoms, easy prey for the German crusaders who came to spread Christianity at the beginning of the 13th century. For the next 500 years, while the leadership of the country changed hands among the Swedes, Poles, and Russians, the ethnic German aristocracy hung on to its autonomy and its feudal estates. Peter the Great finally conquered Latvia in the early 1700s, and Riga began to grow as a trade and industrial center. Although the town was badly damaged during both world wars and neglected during its Soviet period, today Riga is Latvia’s flourishing and lively center of the arts, Art Nouveau architecture, and nightlife. Dinner is on your own. Overnight at the Grand Palace Hotel...B
After breakfast, set out on a half-day walking tour of Riga. With walls six feet thick, the 13th century Dome Cathedral in Riga is the biggest working church in the Baltics and houses one of the world’s largest pipe organs. Visit the 14th century Great Guild Hall, which housed the town's merchants (mostly ethnic Germans) and the Small Guild Hall, which was for the artisans. Today, the Great Guild Hall hosts the Riga Philharmonic. The three oldest stone residential buildings in town are called the Three Brothers, standing shoulder to shoulder. The oldest dates to the 15th century, while the other two were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Riga Castle was built in 1330 on the banks of the Daugava to oversee all the ships that came into the port. Today it houses the offices of the Latvian government. The rest of the day is for independent exploration. Dinner is on your own tonight. Overnight at Grand Palace Hotel...B
In the morning, depart by private minivan for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. En route, visit the baroque Rundale Castle, designed in the early 18th century by Rastrelli, who also built St. Petersburg’s winter palace. The palace was the home of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Birland, a favorite of Russia’s Empress Anna. Today about 40 of the rococo rooms are open, including the royal kitchens. After crossing into Lithuania, transfer to the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius for overnight. Dinner is on your own...B
Enjoy a walking tour of Vilnius’ Old Town this morning, one of the oldest and most charming Old Towns in Europe (and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). You’ll stroll on the most famous street in Vilnius, Pilies Street, which means “Castle Street.” Many artisans sell their goods on this busy stretch, and it’s a good place to find traditional souvenirs such as amber, Russian dolls, and woolen mittens. Other sites of interest include the 16th century Gates of Dawn, a fine example of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and the 17th century baroque church of Saints Peter and Paul, adorned with over 2,000 stucco statues and carvings. The rest of the day is free for independent exploration. Lunch and dinner are on your own. Overnight at Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square...B
Transfer to the Vilnius airport for departures...B