Kempinski Cathedral Square Hotel - Vilnius, Lithuania Riga, Latvia, detail

Essential Jewish Baltics

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Day 1
Arrival | Vilnius Vilnius, Lithuania

Arrival into Vilnius. Your driver will meet you outside of baggage claim and customs and transfer you to your hotel in the center of the city.

The historic center of Vilnius boasts outstanding architectural diversity in one of the largest and best-preserved old towns in Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage 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: Transfer

Hotel: Kempinski Cathedral Square

Day 2
Vilnius | Vilnius Vilnius, Lithuania

This morning, meet your guide in the lobby of your hotel for an overview tour of Vilnius’ Old Town.

Across the street from your hotel is the Cathedral Square – the main downtown square just in front of the Vilnius Cathedral. It is believed that in pre-Christian times, a Baltic pagan god was worshiped here before the Lithuanian King Mindaugas built the original cathedral in 1251 after his conversion to Christianity. Nowadays, it is the spiritual heart of the country 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 PolishLithuanian prince Casimir and patron saint of both countries rest.

You will see some of Vilnius’s beautiful churches and the Gediminas Castle Museum, which is part of the National Museum of Lithuania. 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 cathedral, and the administrative buildings along the main avenue. The 14th century, three-storey octagonal brick tower houses a small exhibit of archaeological findings and the history of the castle which is one of the symbols of Lithuania’s independence.

Just behind the Cathedral, is the Royal Palace. 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.

This afternoon, your driver will join you for a visit to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum which tells the tragic story of the Jewish community in Vilnius. The museum comprises of several buildings and offers many different exhibitions as well as educational programs about the Jewish history and customs in Lithuania.

Close by is a memorial dedicated to Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul to Lithuania between 1939 and 1940. Together, with a Dutch colleague, he saved thousands of Polish Jews by issuing visas against the orders of the

Japanese government, to save them from the holocaust. Many of these survivors found their way to Israel after the war and have championed his cause ever since.

Later, you can also visit the Pylimo Street Synagogue, the only remaining prayer house for the small surviving Jewish community, which today numbers about 5,000. The synagogue bears the marks of the Jewish Enlightenment with the inclusion of a choir section, a feature considered a revolutionary form of modernization at the time it was built.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 hours)

Hotel: Kempinski Cathedral Square

Day 3
Vilnius | Vilnius Vilnius Jewish Ghetto, Lithuania

Today your guide and driver will meet you to journey to Paneriai, which was once a quiet small suburb before being turned into a mass-murder site by the Nazis in World War II. Nowadays, the entrance to the Paneriai memorial complex is marked by three stone slabs with inscriptions in Russian, Lithuanian and Hebrew honoring the memory of the 70,000 brutal executions carried out by Nazi forces from July 1941 to July 1944. Today there are monuments throughout the site honoring the deceased.

Continue onto Trakai, the ancient capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 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.

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.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 hours)

Hotel: Kempinski Cathedral Square

Day 4
Vilnius - Riga | Vilnius - Riga Vilnius - Lithuania

Today you will depart with your driver 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.

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.

You may wish to have lunch at the restaurant located inside the palace today, payable locally

Note: The drive between Vilnius and Riga takes approximately five hours plus the time to stop at Rundale.

Exeter Services: Transfer with one stop

Hotel: Kempinski Riga

Day 5
Riga | Riga Latvia, Riga, Flower Girls

This morning meet your Riga guide for a tour of the Old Town. Your will 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 tour is a top the spire, where you can see the whole of Riga laid out before you. This is the perfect way to get 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 (it is under reconstruction for the next few years). Begun in the 13th Century, the cathedral has gone through one construction after another and is now a curious combination of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and other styles. The church walls are crammed with plaques celebrating the glories of Latvia’s medieval rulers. The Dome Cathedral is also renowned for its gigantic church organ, the fourth largest organ in the world, complete with 6,768 pipes.

Later today, 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.

You will also visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, dedicated to the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Latvia. The various exhibits display the atrocities committed against the people of Latvia and the systematic destruction of their nation’s sovereignty. Visitors can walk into reconstructed gulag barracks and catch a glimpse of the intolerable living conditions in the Siberian labor camps.

This afternoon, your guide will show you the area around Elizabetes and Alberta Streets is 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!

If looking for a pick-me-up, be sure to stop into the charming Siena café across from the Stockholm Economic School building. Upon entering, you will feel like you are stepping back in time, into a cozy home from the early 1900s.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 hours): Vehicle & Driver (4 hours)

Hotel: Kempinski Riga

Day 6
Riga | Riga Cat Building Riga

This morning, your guide will meet you for a visit to the Jewish community of Riga, which is home to the Jewish Museum, a Jewish School as well as the Old and New Jewish Cemetery. Your guide will also take you to the newly reconstructed synagogue (Peitav Shul) that was originally built in 1905. This is one of the only two still functioning synagogues in Riga.

In the afternoon, your guide will take you to Bikernieki Forest to visit the memorial built on the site where about 40,000 Jews were murdered during the Nazi occupation.

Continue onto Salaspils concentration camp (also known as German Kurtenhof), built by Jewish prisoners in 1941. Standing in place of the former barracks are now four large statues representing the emotions of the inhabitants-unbroken, solidarity, humiliated and protector. There is a museum on-site as well.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 hours)

Hotel: Kempinski Riga

Day 7
Riga - Tallinn | Riga - Tallinn Tallinn, Estonia

Your driver will meet you this morning for your transfer to Tallinn.

Your drive can take you 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.

Note: The drive between Vilnius and Riga takes approximately four hours plus the time to stop at Parnu.

Exeter Services: Transfer with one stop

Hotel: Hotel Schlossle

Day 8
Tallinn | Tallinn Tallinn, Estonia

Today, meet your guide in the hotel lobby for a walking tour. First head to the Upper Old City, or Toompea Hill, the oldest part of Tallinn. 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 1500s 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.

Your guide can point out where the Cantonists’ synagogue was located in the1800’s. Today the building serves as a Maritime Museum.

This afternoon, continue to explore the city’s Jewish history. The Jewish Gymnasium in Tallinn was established in 1924, when the building that houses currently the Jewish School and office of the Jewish Community in Estonia was completed.

The main synagogue (built in 1880-1883) of Tallinn was in use for Jewish religious services until 1941 when German military occupied it and started to use it as a warehouse. Later it was destroyed by the Soviet air raid in 1944. A new synagogue was completed in 2007.

Continue onto the local Jewish cemetery, Rahumäe cemetery which was created in the early 1900’s. A symbolic tomb of the Holocaust victims is located on the grounds.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 hours)

Hotel: Hotel Schlossle

Day 9
Departure | Tallinn Flower Market - Tallinn, Estonia

Your driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport for your onward flight.

Exeter Services: Transfer

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