Finland’s capital city, Helsinki, is one that is easy to love. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities, its appeal is apparent most notably in its streetscape. Helsinki’s charming neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings sit in harmony with the city’s more daring modern architecture.
After we arrive in Helsinki we enjoy a group welcome dinner to meet our fellow travelers.
In European terms, Helsinki is a relatively young city established in the 16th century as a strategic trading post between the kingdoms of Russia and Sweden. Today, the city has shaken off the yoke of its neighbors forging its own unique identity.
Our small group explores Helsinki this morning, including the linchpin to the city’s neoclassical design — Senate Square, the enormous Uspenski Cathedral, Parliament House, Finlandia Hall, Sibelius Park & Monument and the Underground Temple.
We enjoy free time for lunch at a local market before a walk to the city harbor where we board the ferry to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Suomenlinna, an 18th century sea fortress built to protect the Swedish kingdom from Russian expansionism. Today it is a popular place for picnickers and sightseers alike.
Nordic cuisine has enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade with its focus on fresh, seasonal produce. Today we get to sample some of its highlights on a food walking tour through Helsinki. Our local guide shows us around, telling us about life in the city as we get to taste delicious food along the way.
In the afternoon we catch the ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia and its medieval jewel, Tallinn. We check into our hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.
Tallinn is a protected city on the UNESCO World Heritage list, identified as one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe. The city has a rich cultural past, from its days in the medieval Hanseatic League through to its history with the imposing German, Swedish and Russian empires.
We spend a full day exploring the city on a tour that includes views of the Old Town, the medieval city wall, Upper Town and the Toompea Castle site. We then start to explore the cobblestone streets of the Lower Town on foot. We see the 14th to 15th century Gothic Town Hall, St Nicholas Church, the 15th century Old Chemists Shop and the Hanseatic Merchants’ Houses. We walk through the main shopping street with time for lunch.
Next, we visit Kadriorg Park where we have some time to explore Estonia’s most impressive palatial park. Our afternoon is at leisure to do as we please.
This evening we learn more about the Hanseatic traditions of the city as we are served the Master Cook’s feast at the Olde Hansa restaurant. We step back in time to the 15th century and indulge in a feast of medieval recipes including game meat dishes, local vegetables and more.
[Breakfast and Dinner]
Travel through the Estonian and Latvian countryside today to a city more than 800 years old, Latvia’s capital of Riga.
We depart Tallinn after breakfast, driving to the small town of Sigulda, which is home to some impressive castles. We visit Turaida Castle, a restored medieval castle set on the River Gauja.
Latvia was part of Soviet Russia until its independence in 1990. Its cities still have reminders of the Cold War and today we have an unparalleled insight into this not-too-distant past. We arrive at the declassified Ligatne Bunker, constructed for the Soviet elite 9-meters below the surface.
We continue to Riga arriving in the early evening.
Our small group explores Riga, the largest of the Baltic capitals, on a full day city tour that takes us along the city’s central boulevards. We view the remnants of the city’s medieval defenses including the city’s old moat Pilsetas kanals (City Canals), Bastion Hill and Powder Tower. We pass the Latvian National Theater, the Fine Arts Museum, the Freedom Monument, the University of Latvia and the Daugava River. Our sightseeing continues past the Church of St Peter, the old guild houses, Swedish Gate, Old Riga Castle, and Riga’s oldest medieval houses lovingly referred to as the Three Brothers, built from the 15th to 17th centuries. We also see St Jacob’s Church and Parliament House before a visit to Old Riga Dome Cathedral.
In the afternoon we tour the Art Nouveau district before we travel to the observation deck of the Latvian Academy of Sciences. The panorama views of Riga’s Old Town and the river are picture perfect.
It’s time to discover the Latvian countryside. We drive west to the small town of Kuldiga stopping en route at Ventas Rumba, Europe’s widest waterfall. In Kuldiga our sightseeing tour takes us past the town’s streams, its 17th century baroque buildings and charming cobblestone streets. We have free time for lunch before we continue to Sabile, a 13th century village established in the ancient valley of the River Abava.
Created between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Sabile Hill Winery is the northernmost vineyard in the world. Today we have the special opportunity to visit this historic winery and enjoy a tasting of the wine it produces.
Latvia is home to a proud baroque heritage with the rococo Rundale Palace one of the finest examples of 18th century ornamentation. We enjoy a tour of the palace and its French-style gardens.
We continue across the countryside to Lithuania stopping to visit the Hill of Crosses, a peaceful symbol of enduring Lithuanian Catholicism.
We stop for a tour and lunch at Pakruoji Manor, an old manor house that has been converted into a hotel and restaurant. We visit the Inn Traktierius on site, touring its brewery and sampling the regional homemade beer it produces following ancient traditions.
In the evening we arrive in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
[Breakfast and Lunch]
Located on the banks of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers, Vilnius oozes northern European charm. Its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town is where our touring commences today. We see the Cathedral of Vilnius, the gothic 16th century St Anne’s Church and the 17th century baroque St Peter & Paul’s Cathedral. We tour Vilnius University, founded in 1579, before continuing to the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn and the Amber Museum Gallery where we learn about Baltic amber.
In the afternoon we visit Trakai Castle, a 14th century stone castle set on an island in the middle of Lake Galvé. We return to Vilnius before meeting this evening for our final dinner together at a local restaurant.
[Breakfast and Dinner]
Our tour concludes after breakfast this morning. We bid farewell to our new friends and to the varied splendor of Helsinki and the Baltics.
A small group tour to Slovenia will introduce you to an incredible natural environment, picturesque cities and a relaxed way of life. From the beautiful architecture of Ljubljana, the incredible scenery of Lake Bled, to the primeval forests of Slovenia’s countryside; breathe in the alpine fresh air, embrace the outdoors and enjoy city sightseeing as we discover Ljubljana, Bled, Novo Mesto and Piran.Explore more
Crisp air, pristine forests and breathtaking fjords await on this small group tour through Norway. It’s not all nature though as we visit charming rural villages and cities. Journey along the thrilling Flåm railway, cruise along the fjords and learn of the proud Viking heritage of northern Europe.Explore more
An enchanting small group tour across the south of central Europe calls. Discover the jewels of the Adriatic countries of Croatia and Slovenia. From the ancient ramparts of Dubrovnik, along Croatia’s splendid coastline, Montenegro’s magnificent Bay of Kotor, the Roman ruins of Split, to the primeval forests, mysterious Karst caves of Postojna and architecturally beautiful Ljubljana. Be prepared to fall in love with these splendid countries.Explore more
A small group tour to Italy is a lesson in living the good life. From Rome to Venice, we explore the best this stylish country has to offer. Discover the imperial history of Rome, the influence of Renaissance art and architecture in Florence, delight in the beauty of Venice all while indulging in the fine produce that makes a tour here so stimulating.Explore more