To start in an Around the World journey, you have to start with obscure cities! I was able to purchase an oddly cheap flight from Boston to Vilnius, and since I had never been to Lithuania, I figured “why not?”
Once I arrived in Vilnius and had a much needed rest, my first thing to do was a walking tour around the Old Town of Vilnius – the largest Old Town area of any of the Baltic capitals. The highlight of the Old Town is from atop the hill in the center of the Old Town, which also has the Gediminas Castle Tower.
When it comes to the actual landmarks of Vilnius, do not expect to find as many as you would in Western Europe. The feel of the cities comes from walking through the streets, and notably, the courtyards. You can find statues in the middle of many of the courtyards as a representation of past Lithuanian life, such as notable figures in history or a symbol of their Pagan past, having been the last area of Europe to give up Paganism as a religious following.
The feel of the city is quite similar to that of Western European cities, you could easily mistake yourself being in France or Italy.
If you find yourself satisfied with your time in Vilnius and you’re looking to venture out of the city for a day – keep Trakai on your list. About 30 minutes outside of the city, by bus, you can find an incredible castle in the middle of a lake. The cost of the bus ride is about $1.50 each way.
My next stop was Riga, Latvia. If you only had time for one, I would choose Riga over Vilnius. While the Old Town is smaller, it seems more unique than Vilnius and more Eastern European. There are two main sectors of Riga, the Old Town which has a distinctive Baltic look, and an Art Nouveau neighborhood which feels more Western European.
Riga is noticeably more expensive than Vilnius, however it is still certainly a budget friendly city. I was easily able to keep my budget under $40 per day for food and activities.
Another day trip I highly recommend is to Cēsis, Latvia, about a 2 hour train ride away. The cost of the trip there and back is $8 total. Again, you will find a castle in the center of a town that has been dubbed, “The Most Latvian Town.” The town is quaint and the castle is from the Middle Ages, and in my opinion, much prettier than the one I saw in Lithuania.
Explore the Medieval Castle by candle-lit lantern, from the chambers to the dungeons and also the New Castle which is right next door. In the New Castle, there is a museum explaining the sad history of the castle – including its sieges and one of the largest mass suicides of European history. You can visit the entire castle complex for about $8 total.
Castle Park at the foot of the hill that the castle resides on is an Instagram dream, with beautiful staircases leading up to the medieval castle.
Be sure to also visit the Old Town, where you can enjoy a beer in the main square for 2 euros, and also the church which has free admission.