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Arrival to Vilnius airport where you will be met by your Exeter International driver and taken to your hotel in the historic center of the city. Your hotel is the finest in Vilnius, the Kempinski Cathedral Square. This new hotel is located in the heart of Vilnius’ Old Town and is walking distance to all the major sites.
Vilnius Old Town boasts outstanding architectural diversity in one of the largest and best-preserved old towns in Europe. This UNESCO site is filled with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces. Narrow medieval streets, secluded courtyards, town castles and fortifications and an incredible number of churches reflect the city’s rich and vibrant history.
Exeter Services: Airport Transfer
Hotel: Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius
This morning, you will meet your guide in the lobby of your hotel for a walking overview tour. The best place to start your tour of the city is from the top of the Gediminas Tower – the only remaining part of the Upper Castle overlooking the red-tiled roofs and the church towers of the Old Town. The 14th century, three-story octagonal brick tower houses a small exhibit of archaeological findings and the history of the castle.
Take a walk across Cathedral Square, the main downtown square, to the Vilnius Cathedral. This is where the coronations of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania once took place and many important historical figures are interred in the crypts and catacombs. Also here, you will see the Chapel of St. Casimir, where the remains of the Polish- Lithuanian prince Casimir and patron saint of both countries rest.
Just behind the Cathedral, the Royal Palace has been under re-construction since 2002. The original 15th-century palace was damaged by fire in the 17th century and remained unused for over a century. In the late 18th century Lithuania was annexed by Russia and the derelict palace was dismantled and the bricks and stones were sold.
A tour of the Old Town is not complete without a visit to the Vilnius University, founded in 1570 by Jesuits and one of the most important centers of the Counter-Reformation. The university complex has more than 10 courtyards. The observatory tower dates back to 1569 and the library contains nearly 5 million volumes, making it the richest collection of Lithuanian books and one of the best-known libraries in Eastern Europe.
In the Old Town, you will see the Presidential Palace, which has been the official seat of Lithuania’s President since 1997. A flag displaying the coat of arms of the President is hoisted when the President is in the Palace and in Vilnius.
You will continue your tour of Vilnius’ Old Town, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. On these cobble-stoned streets lie numerous historical buildings including the balcony of No. 26 Pilies Street where Lithuania’s independence was declared in 1918. You will see the Town Hall Square and the Gates of Dawn. It is well worth venturing into the side streets and courtyards for a glimpse of this 19th-century city. There are a number of antique shops and cafes tucked away down these quiet lanes.
You may wish to make a visit in the Amber Gallery and Museum which explains the origins and history of this precious material and exhibits amber of various sizes, forms and color. Exhibitions of works of art from amber are constantly held at the museum’s gallery. Amber jewelry of modern and classical design is available for purchase as well.
At the end of the day, you will head towards the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, which was opened in 1992 in the former KGB headquarters. The museum is the only one of its kind in the former Soviet republics. The execution chamber in the basement, where more than a thousand prisoners were killed between 1944 and the early 1960s, can also be visited. The Museum stirred a bit of controversy by renaming itself somewhat misleadingly a Museum of Genocide Victims (it does not include much about the Holocaust.)
Exeter Services: Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours); Guide (8 Hours)
Hotel: Grand Hotel Kempinski Vilnius
Meet your driver and guide this morning for your transfer to Klaipeda.
On your way, stop at Trakai, about 20 miles west of the city. Trakai, the ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, is situated amidst picturesque lakes, the largest of which – Galve – has over 20 islands. It is best known for its captivating 14th Century fairytale castle which was presumably one of the largest in Lithuania of those times and served as residence for a number of Lithuanian rulers before the insular castle was constructed a short distance away on an island of Lake Galve. The Castle Museum offers a view into Lithuania’s past, when Trakai ruled an empire from the Baltics to the Black Sea. The Tartars, once part of this empire’s royal bodyguards, still live in Trakai today.
Trakai was also home to a large Karaite community. The origin of the Karaites is very interesting. Some scholars link them to the Khazars, Turkic people that converted to Judaism in the eighth century while others view them as descendants of the Karaite Jews who lived in Crimea. They were brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas from the Crimea and served as his bodyguards. Today you may visit the Karaites’ house of worship, called kenesa, and a museum of Karaite culture.
Your guide will say farewell and you will continue your transfer towards Klaipeda, on the Baltic coast. If you wish, you might want to stop for lunch at the city of Kaunas, a center of Jewish culture.
Upon arrival in Klaipeda, you will be transferred to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.
Exeter Services: Transfer to Klapipeda; Guide in Trakai
Today, we recommend you to first visit the Neringa National Park at the Curonian Spit – a UNESCO listed 98 km long peninsula, which features dramatic white sand dunes and beautiful pine forests.
First you will board a ferry crossing over the strait separating the spit from the mainland, and from there your driver and guide will take you south along this interesting natural area. Besides climbing dunes for beautiful views, you may wish to visit Hill of Witches and Amber Gallery in Juodkrante, or the Thomas Mann house in Nida, where the famous German writer used to vacation.
The town of Nida is a charming coastal resort with colored houses and a very relaxed atmosphere, and Lithuanians will travel from all over the country to spend there some time during the summer. It is the perfect place to stroll and enjoy lunch.
In the afternoon, and if time allows, return to Klaipeda for an overview tour of the Old Town. You will see the Castle Museum and walk to the Drama Theatre Square with a famous sculpture of “Annchen von Tharau”.
Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)
Today you will depart with your driver and guide for the journey to Riga. Before arriving, visit the 17th century Rundale Palace. Rundale was the apogee of the fusion of German and Russian society which came together and flourished in the region in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Visit this imposing, well-restored palace of 138 rooms, approached through a grand drive flanked by twin semi-circular stables. You may wish to have lunch at the restaurant located inside the palace today. Please note the palace is under renovations in 2020; the inner courtyard will be inaccessible, and some areas will be covered in scaffolding. The main exhibition and gardens are still open for visitors.
Rundale Palace was designed by the famous architect Rastrelli as a summer residence for the Duke of Courland, and is an exquisite masterpiece of symmetry and beauty. The palace was built from 17361740 and the Rococo interior decorations were added from 1765-1768. The parade rooms, the duke’s private apartments and the duchess’ boudoir are open to visitors.
The Palace has some cafes serving up simple, if not delicious food. The perfect place to enjoy some lunch. Payable locally.
Nearby is Bauska Castle – time permitting you may wish to make a stop here as well. Situated between two rivers, the complex comprises the ruins of a 15th century Livonian Order fortress as well as the fortified residential palace of the Dukes of Courland and Semigallia.
Note: The drive between Klaipeda and Riga takes approximately five hours plus the time to stop at Rundale.
Exeter Services: Transfer; Guide in Rundale
Hotel: Grand Palace Riga
Meet your guide for an introductory walking tour of Riga. You will first visit the 13th -century St. Peter’s Church which was damaged by fire during World War II and later rebuilt by the Russians. A good place to start any tourisatopthespire,whereyoucanseethewholeofRigalaidoutbeforeyou. Thisistheperfectwaytoget your bearings before you actually wander down the cobble-stoned streets. From here you may see the exterior of the Dome Cathedral one of the largest and most distinctive houses of worship in the region.
You will view the famous House of Cats with cat sculptures perched on the top of its roof and hear about the intrigue surrounding these feline figures. Just across the street, you will also see the former headquarters of the Great Guild, now the home of the Riga Philharmonic. Other good examples of medieval dwellings are the Three Brothers, dating to the 15th Century when Riga was part of the Hanseatic League. It is one of the oldest stone buildings in Latvia and now houses an architecture museum. Many of the buildings here and the cobblestone square around them were destroyed in a 1941 bombing raid. The Swedish Gate, an old city gate built by ruling Swedes in 1698, is the only gate still standing from Riga’s old-city wall torn down in the 1800’s.
Continuing along Elizabetes Street, you will reach the Central Market where some old Zeppelin hangars have been converted into market halls specializing in different types of wares.
Exeter Services: Guide (4 Hours)
Hotel: Grand Palace Riga
Meet your guide and driver this morning and continue your tour of Riga. Your guide will point out the Freedom Monument – a memorial honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence from 1918-1920. The 138 feet high monument made of granite and copper is a major orientation point and often serves for public gatherings and official ceremonies. You will also see the Riga Opera House. This magnificent 19th-century building has undergone a thorough renovation. Your guide will tell you about the history of the Opera House and some of its famous performers.
Finally, you will reach the area around Elizabetes and Alberta Streets, known as Riga’s Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil) District, which features impressive examples of the style. In total, there are some 800 Art Nouveau buildings in Riga, many of which were designed and built by Latvian architects including Mikhail Eisenstein (the father of the famous director Sergei Eisenstein).
Here, you might want to visit the Art Nouveau Museum, located in the apartment where the Latvian architect Konstantins Peksens lived. The Art Nouveau staircase is among the most impressive in Europe, and links the digital interactive exhibition in the basement with the actual apartment on the second floor, which shows the characteristic furnishing and decoration of a 20th century house in Riga. There is where you can try on some of the accessories people used to wear for a back in time experience!
You may wish to visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. The museum is currently housed in a temporary building as major renovations occur at the permanent premises.
Time permitting, you may decide to spend some time in the Bergs Bazaar – a pedestrian area of shops and restaurants inspired by the 19th -century arcades then so popular all over Europe. It was originally built between 1887-1900 by Kristaps Bergs, who was one of Latvia’s first modern real estate developers.
Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (4 Hours)
Today check out of your hotel meet your driver for the journey to the neighboring Estonia.
You will drive north along the coast to Parnu, where you may wish to stop for a nice lunch break. Parnu is Estonia’s main summer resort but has a laid back atmosphere of a small charming town. During Soviet times it was a popular spa escape for the Russians and is now gaining popularity among Scandinavians. You can stroll through the Old Town or on the beach, or, if you like modern art, you should not miss the Museum of the New Art.
Continue your drive to Muhu Island. You will head to the town of Virtsu to board a ferry that will take you to the Island. Then you will drive to the village of Pädaste and check-in at the wonderful hotel Pädaste Manor.
Exeter Services: Transfer
Hotel: Pädaste Manor
Today is at leisure to enjoy the beautiful nature of the Muhu Island.
Alternatively, you may explore the neighboring islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
Hiiumaa is home to several Nature Preserves, ideal for hiking and bird watching, while Saaremaa is especially attractive for retaining its prewar character. You should visit the Bishop’s Castle in Kurresaare, the main town on Saaremaa, that dates back to the 14th century. A half-hour drive from Kurresaare you will encounter a group of beautifully preserved wooden windmills and the medieval Karja Church.
Today, check out of your hotel meet your driver for the journey to Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.
Tallinn has a unique history of seafaring, foreign occupation and merchant activity dating to the 13th century. A beautiful city of ancient castles, stone towers, and medieval streets, its ageless charm is unmistakable
Check in at your hotel and enjoy the evening at your leisure.
Exeter Services: Transfer
Hotel: Hotel Schlössle
This morning meet your guide in the hotel lobby for a walking tour. The Upper Old City or Toompea Hill, is the oldest part of Tallinn, inhabited since pre-history. Note the defensive wall and towers ringing the old city, which are the town’s most striking feature. Unlike Vilnius and Riga whose walls were destroyed, eighty percent of the original wall around Tallinn in the 1500’s is still intact today. In addition to having Tallinn’s oldest buildings, the upper old town has good viewing platforms to view the entire old town. Toompea Castle is one of Estonia’s most treasured landmarks, built by Danes and Germans after they defeated the Estonians in the early 1200’s. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an Orthodox church built in 1900 in the Moscow style of the 17th century. This church is topped with 11 bells, including the largest (15 tons) in all of Estonia.
Also on Toompea Hill, you may make a brief stop at the Cathedral of St. Mary, also called the Dome Cathedral. Originally built by the Danes in the 13th century, it is the oldest church in Tallinn and the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th century fire. Most of the furniture inside dates to the period of the 17th – 18th centuries. The altar, chandeliers, and the numerous coats-of arms are from the 17th – 20th centuries.
At the foot of the hill, you will see the St. Nicholas Church, which was originally built in the 13th century by German merchants and dedicated to the patron saint of sailors and merchants. It was partially destroyed when the Soviet air force bombed the city in World War II.
You will also visit a small museum in the imposing Great Guild Hall. The building itself was built in the early 15th century and housed Tallinn’s merchant guild. The permanent exhibition “Spirit of Survival” offers an insight into Estonian History.
This afternoon, your guide and driver will take you to Kardiorg Park, outside of the Old Town. Housed in the renovated kitchen building on the grounds of the Kadriorg Palace and Park, the Mikkel Museum is a branch of the Estonian Art Museum one of the country’s most impressive private art collections. Johannes Mikkel donated his vast collection of European, Russian and Chinese paintings, prints, porcelain and icons to the Estonian Art Museum in 1994.
Later, you may decide to continue to the KUMU art museum – Estonia’s largest. Opened in 2006 in an enormous, cutting-edge facility built into a limestone cliff in Kadriorg, the KUMU exhibits works from Estonian artists dating from the 18th Century through the end of World War II, as well as a permanent exhibition of Estonian contemporary art dating from 1945-1991. This last collection, located on the third floor, portrays the interesting relationship that existed between the art in Estonia and the Soviet State.
Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)
Hotel: Hotel Schlössle
Meet your driver for your transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
Exeter Services: Airport Transfer