6 Obscure & Irresistable Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

6 Obscure & Irresistable Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, lined up along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, stepped out from the shadow of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century.

Lithuania was first to reinstate independence, in 1990, and the others soon followed. Since then, these beautiful pastoral countries have
 become flourishing members of the European Union, considering themselves kin with the Nordic countries across the water, rather than their closer neighbors, Russia, Belarus, and Poland.

The Old Towns of each of their capitals – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – are UNESCO 
World Heritage Sites, with cobbled streets and handsome medieval churches
. Each of the three independent Baltic nations has a rich history and a variegated cultural heritage – which makes visiting all three of them a fascinating journey.

Besides their complicated histories and red-roofed capitals, there are other reasons to travel to the Baltics. Here are two striking elements for each of these yet-to-be-discovered countries that make them so irresistible.


Estonia's Singing Revolution

Estonia’s International Song Festival
Photo credit: Jaak Nilson

Estonia: Music and the Internet

Estonia lies just across the Baltic Sea from Finland, and its people are closely related to the Finns. Approximately 1,500 islands dot the Estonian coastline, and 1,400 lakes glisten in the countryside. Large tracts of forest harbor the European lynx, brown bear and moose. Estonia’s citizens were responsible for the Singing Revolution in 1988, which eventually resulted in the restoration of its independence from the Soviet Union.

MusicIn fact, singing is a big part of what sets Estonians apart from the nationalities surrounding them. Estonia’s cultural identity is closely linked to music. The oldest Estonian song type, the runic chant, dates to the first millennium BC. Centuries of Danish, Swedish, German and Russian rule proved unable to erase their folk music, passed down by ear from generation to generation.

The blossoming of Estonian national identity in the 19th century was inspired partly by the recognition of the riches of Estonian folk music. The country’s first Song Festival was held in 1869, and today Estonia claims written records of some 133,000 folk songs, one of the largest collections in the world. In Tallinn, you can visit the Song Festival Grounds where Estonians defied the Soviet Union in 1988 by singing forbidden songs, and where every five years an enormous international festival is held.

InternetEstonia has been heralded as the “most wired country on earth.” Estonian computer geeks wrote the code for Skype, and for an important 2001 file-sharing network. When the country re-established its independence in 1991, less than half the populace had a phone line, but by 1997, almost all Estonian schools were online.

By 2007, online voting became available, and by 2012, most people were filing their taxes online. In parliament, according to Wired, “every draft law is available to the public to read online, at every stage of the legislative process; a complete breakdown of the substance and authorship of every change offers significant transparency over lobbying and potential corruption.”

How did it happen? Held back by the Soviet’s forced annexation, the country was able to start with a clean electronic slate in 1991, and built its information infrastructure from the ground up, skipping the cumbersome paper-clogged bureaucracy of the 20th century. Today e-Estonia, as it’s called, features one of the world’s fastest broadband networks, free WiFi nearly everywhere, online government services, and the headquarters of NATO’s cyber defense system.

Aerial view of Riga, Latvia Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

Aerial view of Riga, capital of Latvia
Photo credit: Latvia Tourism

Latvia: Art Nouveau and – Drone Boarding?

Latvia is a green and pleasant land of pastures, farms and forests. Over 42% of the country is covered with trees, mainly Scots Pine and Norway spruce. The Gulf of Riga, a shallow inlet of the Baltic Sea, gives Latvia 531 kilometers of coastline. Latvia re-established its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was accepted into the European Union in May 2004.

Art NouveauLatvia’s capital, Riga, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1997, and is recognized as having the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe. The imaginative and decorative art nouveau style took root in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and resulted in beautifully decorated facades adorned with sculpture, iron work, and stylized motifs drawn from nature. More than 700 of Riga’s buildings drew on this school of design, as Riga flourished just as the art nouveau style took hold.

As a subject of imperial Russia, Riga became the main Baltic port, and the city expanded significantly during the ensuing years. You can take a tour a few blocks north of the city center where Riga’s most famous art nouveau buildings are grouped, many designed by Mikhail Eisenstein (father of film director Sergei Eisenstein).

Stunning architecture in Riga’s Art Nouveau district

Ornamental embellishments in Riga’s art nouveau district
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Drone boarding?What is drone boarding, you ask? Well, when you live in a place like Latvia, where most of the land is less than 330 feet above sea level, you have to get creative when it comes to winter sports. A team of Latvian engineers solved the problem in early 2016 by building a powerful drone capable of pulling two snowboarders along behind it. By January 2017, they had upped the ante to four snowboarders. And in the U.S., YouTube personality and daredevil Casey Neistat and friends took the Latvian idea and built their own even more powerful drone to use not only for drone boarding, but for drone flying!

Lithuania's flag, interpreted as yellow – goodness, green – freedom, and red – blood shed for independence Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Lithuania’s flag – yellow for goodness, green for freedom, and red for the blood that was shed for independence
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Lithuania: Amber and Birding

A verdant country of rolling hills, deep forests and a lovely Baltic Sea coastline, Lithuania was the last pagan country in Europe, and the first of the Baltics to declare the re-establishment of independence from the Soviet Union. Its capital, Vilnius, boasts a baroque Old Town, as well as a life-size statue of Frank Zappa – a heady mix of the old and the new.

AmberSpeaking of old, let’s consider amber. Baltic amber ­– fossilized resin from pine forests that grew in this area – was formed some 44 million years ago. It’s estimated that perhaps 100,000 tons of amber were created during this epoch. It’s the largest known deposit of amber in the world, and it still washes up on the beaches in Lithuania. Since the Neolithic Age, from 10,000 BC on, humans have prized amber for decoration, and for talismans or amulets to ward off evil. Baltic amber jewelry has turned up in ancient graves in places like England, Greece and Egypt.

In Palanga, along Lithuania’s coast, you can visit the Amber Museum, occupying the former manor house of the noble Tyszkiewicz family, who built the neo-Renaissance palace in the late 19th century. Transformed into a museum in 1963, the stately structure is the perfect foil for the exhibits of luminous amber that it features. The collection reflects the history of amber, its formation and the wealth of information it offers the scientific community about the ecosystems, climate and species of the past, as well as its use for adornment.

On display in the Amber Museum Photo: Lithuania Tours

Embedded history at the Amber Museum
Photo: Lithuania Tours

BirdingVente Cape is a headland on Lithuania’s Neman River Delta where an ornithological center has been counting and ringing birds since 1929. Located on the east side of the Curonian Lagoon, a freshwater lagoon between the mainland of Lithuania and the UNESCO-listed Curonian Spit, the cape is under a major migratory bird flyway. More than 15 million birds pass this way every autumn. The globally important Neman River Delta wetlands are protected by the Ramsar Conventions. While Lithuania was still a part of the Soviet Union, ornithologists knew little about this area, where there are vast stretches of the wet forest habitat that is scarce in Europe. From early spring through the autumn migrations, 343 bird species come through, with many of them staying for the breeding season.

Visit the Baltics with MIR

MIR has more than two decades of Baltics travel experience, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust and guides and tour managers that clients rave about. 

You can explore the history, culture, and landmarks of the Baltics on these MIR itineraries:

Or book your own uniquely designed custom private journey to the Baltics . Chat with a MIR travel specialist to discuss travel to this intriguing part of the world.

Contact MIR today at info@mircorp.com or 1-800-424-7289.


Top photo: Celebrations in Vilnius, Lithuania.

PUBLISHED: February 15, 2017

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2 thoughts on “6 Obscure & Irresistable Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

  • I am familiar with these countries because of the presence of a Nordic Chamber of Commerce in our country, the Philippines, but this time, I have more knowledge about these countries because of this article.

  • Julian C Calzada

    You need to include ‘Blonde Day’ in Latvia/ last Friday of
    Of May