Explore the highlights of Scandinavia before travelling south into the Baltic states on this epic 32-day adventure through northern Europe. As well as hitting the hubs of Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm, discover the lesser-known but no less fascinating cities of Riga and Klaipeda, as well as Aukstaitijia and Curonian Spit national parks. The countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are a few of the continent’s last true undiscovered secrets – the fairy-tale turrets and cobbled lanes of old Tallinn, the baroque flair of Vilnius and the poignant history of Soviet occupation are not to be missed. This really is a one-of-a-kind itinerary.
Hotel (21 nights), Cabin (2 nights), Guesthouse (2 nights), Homestay (2 nights), Pension (3 nights), Overnight ferry (1 night)
Day 1 - Copenhagen
Welcome to Copenhagen. If you arrive early, which is highly recommended, why not visit the pastel-coloured waterfront houses in the Nyhavn area. Drop in at an industrial-chic bar for a drink or stroll around the famous Tivoli Gardens, home to the world's oldest rollercoaster. Another area worth checking out is Norrebro, a residential area known for its wide range of restaurants. Meet your group at 6 pm then head out for an optional group dinner if it takes your fancy.
Day 2 - Copenhagen
When in Copenhagen, do as the locals do and explore the city by bike, undoubtedly the best way to explore the city's many hidden corners. The bike-friendly streets mean cycling to the city's major sites are a breeze. Venture into the Freetown of Christiania with a local guide, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood south-east of the city centre. It is regulated by a special law, the Christiania Law of 1989, and has been a source of controversy since 1971 when squatters took over a former military area. The afternoon is free for you to further explore this Scandinavian city. Stroll along the harbour or head out to the classicist palaces of 18th century Amalienborg, to this day the main residence of the Danish Royal family. Perhaps pay a visit to Frederik's Church, also known as Marble Church, the Court House on Nytorv Square or check out the facade of the red brick town hall. Alternatively, the National Museum is not to be missed, nor is the Christiansborg Palace in the very centre of Copenhagen.
Day 3 - Malmo / Gothenburg
A morning train ride will get us to Malmo in Sweden, via the famous Oresund Bridge that spans the strait separating Denmark and the Scandinavian Peninsula (approx. 1 hour). Malmo has gone through somewhat of a transformation, or should we say revival, over the past twenty years thanks to the construction of the Oresund Bridge and the opening of Malmo University. Now, a city once reliant mainly on shipbuilding is growing steadily with architecture firms, IT companies, students and start-ups. Just under half of Malmo's population is under the age of 35, so it really now is a progressive city that knows how to have fun. Spend some time checking out the Old Town, the castle and the harbour, then continue on to Gothenburg (approximately 3 hours) where you'll spend the night.
Day 4 - Gothenburg
Today is a free day for you to enjoy all that Gothenburg has to offer. Perhaps embark on a cruise this morning through Gothenburg's many waterways, passing the opera house, the famous fish market Feskekörka, and the old docks. Or visit the Göteborg City Museum, housed in the former East India Company House and built during the time when Gothenburg's role was that of a major maritime trading centre. Take in the architectural ensemble on Gustav Adolfs Torg, go shopping along the main boulevard Avenyn, check out the iconic Skansen Kronan, stroll along bohemian Långgatan street or sip a coffee in the charming Haga quarter, known for its picturesque wooden houses, 19th century atmosphere and the so-called hagabulle, a cinnamon pastry similar to kanelbulle.
Day 5 - Vrango Island / Gothenburg
Catch an early-ish ferry from Gothenburg to Vrango Island, approximately one hour and 20 minutes away. Vrango is the most southerly island of the Gothenburg Archipelago, with a permanent population in the low hundreds and a strong fishing industry. The island is known for its stunning beaches and protected nature reserves and you'll explore the coastline in an included kayaking activity (summer only). In the afternoon, enjoy some free time strolling around the town or maybe try an optional floating sauna, before returning to Gothenburg for a free evening.
Day 6 - Oslo
Catch a morning bus across the border to Norway's capital Oslo (approx 4 hours). Your leader will take you on an initial orientation walk so you get a first taste of this quirky, colourful city. It's definitely worthwhile to spend the day perusing delicacies at Maschmanns Food Market, admiring the handiwork of glass blowers at the Hadeland Glassverk, or simply strolling along Karl Johans Gate, the main shopping strip of the city, or head to the National Gallery of Art to glimpse Edvard Munch's famous 19th century painting, The Scream. In the evening say 'skal' ('cheers') to the group over dinner. Why not seek out some traditional Norwegian fare based around cod and mackerel dishes.
Day 7 - Oslo
Today is a free day for you to enjoy all this city has to offer. Perhaps use your free time for island hopping on Oslofjord, putting the hammer down at the Viking Museum, tasting local flavours at the Mathallen food hall, exploring the immense Akershus Castle & Fortress, or checking out the cool shops in the Grunerlokka district. There's so much to get stuck in to. In the evening at 6 pm, check back in with your group at an important meeting – there may be some new travellers and even a new group leader joining you! Get acquainted (or reacquainted) with an optional dinner afterwards.
Day 8 - Oslo
Today is a free day to explore Oslo. Perhaps travel to the nearby area of Holmenkollen for a visit to the Ski Museum, housed inside the famous monumental Holmenkollbakken (ski jump), which looks more like a work of art than a sports venue. Highlights in the museum include the history of skiing over the past 4,000 years, of Norwegian polar expeditions, and lesser known glimpses from the Winter Olympics at Oslo and Lillehammer. At the top of the jump tower there are 360 degree views of the city, its fjords and forests. Alternatively embark on some island hopping on Oslofjord, put the hammer down at the Viking Museum, browse the harbour-front Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, taste local flavours at the food hall Vulkan, explore the immense Akershus Castle & Fortress, or check out the cool shops in the Grunerløkka district. There's so much to get stuck into.
Day 9 - Bergen
Today you'll leave Oslo behind and take the train across the stunning countryside of the Fjell region to Bergen, which will take around seven hours. No other train ride between two cities in Europe is at a higher altitude than this one, and few can match the views passing by your window. Linking Norway's two main cities, this line takes in some spectacular scenery of lush valleys, idyllic villages, dramatic mountains and picturesque lakes as it crosses the Hardangervidda Plateau. As the trip is long and you'll arrive quite late into quirky city of Bergen, there won't be too much time to explore today, but you will have all day tomorrow. There are some great sea food restaurants in town, so possibly venture out with the group for a bite to eat.
Day 10 - Bergen
After breakfast this morning, head out for a guided walk around the Bryggen area of the city. This is a World Heritage listed area of one of the world’s greatest harbour cities, and is where the settlement of Bergen grew from. Wander through the reconstructed medieval homes and warehouses, visit the beautifully preserved wooden Hanseatic Museum (a former trade building), and explore the old Hanseatic port area – the Hanseatic merchant confederation dominated Baltic maritime trade for 400 years from the 15th century. Then you’ll have free time in the afternoon to do as you wish. Perhaps visit the 13th century Bergenhus Fortress, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. Also, make sure you journey on the Floy Mountain Funicular, taking you 1,050 feet abve the city in just seven minutes, and offering amazing views of the deep blues of the sea and the pastel coloured houses from the top of Floyen mountain. It you’d like to get active while you’re up there, the summit has a multitude of hiking paths catering to all abilities.
Day 11 - Norwegian Fjords
Leave Bergen after breakfast and travel by bus to the fjord region, which should take around 3-4 hours. The journey will take you through epic landscapes and remote regions, so have your camera at the ready. The typical Norwegian huts that you’ll stay in tonight are located in a beautiful setting, surrounded by steep cliff walls with a perfect view of the spectacular crystal clear Kjelsfossen waterfall falling from the top of the fjords. It's humbling to look up and consider these giant and ancient geological formations. Your accommodation is located near the village of Gudvangen.
Day 12 - Norwegian Fjords
Today take a boat trip and be captivated by the sight of crisp mountain peaks reflected in the glassy waters of Naeroyfjord, a World Heritage site. The name Naeroyfjord takes its origins from the Norse god of seafarers and the sea, Njord. The fjord itself, formed by glacial erosion of the surrounding bedrock, is 18 kilometres long, only 250 metres wide at its narrowest point, but its depth reaches up to 500 metres. Surrounding mountain peaks rise up to 1400 metres and waterfalls crash down sheer cliff faces – awe-inspiring melancholic beauty and dramatic vistas. The afternoon is free for you to enjoy the scenery of the surrounding area. Perhaps hire bikes and cycle along the shore of the fjord, take to the waters in a kayak or take a bus to the nearby ittle fishing village of Flam in order to ride the famous railway up to Myrdal. This is one of the most picturesque (and steepest) railway journeys in the country. Alternatively explore on foot and discover nearby waterfalls and ancient moraines. Fishing enthusiasts will love the opportunity to throw a line in the crystal waters, sit back and soak up the serenity (a fishing licence is required and costs around NOK 150).
Day 13 - Lillehammer
There will be another long bus journey of around six hours after breakfast today, as you journey to the town Alpine playground of Lillehammer. Cross vast high plains, remote valleys, and drive through the Lærdal Tunnel, the world's longest road tunnel at 24.5 km. The tunnel is divided into four sections, broken up by ‘mountain caves’. These caves are 6 kilometres apart and equipped with special lighting to help drivers concentrate by giving off the illusion of driving into daylight. Lillehammer, which held the Winter Olympics in 1994, is picturesquely situated on Lake Mjøsa. Upon arrival head out for a brief orientation walk to find your bearings in the laid-back 19th century town centre, along the main pedestrian street of storgata (Big Street), lined with wooden houses, boutiques and restaurants.
Day 14 - Lillehammer
Join an orientation walk this morning and get to know Lillehammer. Your leader will take you on an included visit to the Maihaugen Open Air Museum, home of the Garmo Stave Church, which tells the story of people in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley over the last 300 years. This brilliant museum includes timber-built farms, a town and a big residential area that gives you an insight into various eras of Norway's history. Afterwards head to the Olympic Ski Jump Arena where in summer a special surface is laid out that allows professional ski jumpers to practice even though there is no snow. Head to the top of the ski jump via chairlift (or tackle the 954 steps) and enjoy excellent views across Lillehammer and Lake Mjøsa. The afternoon is free for you to further explore. Perhaps conquer misty mountains on a hike. As a town famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehammer has a great Olympic Museum where you can hear tales of heroic feats, and is also an ideal spot for outdoor activities such as wheeled bobsleigh.
Day 15 - Swedish Lakes
Travel for around five hours by private bus today and cross the border into Sweden. Head to the lakeside village Mora, a laidback town that encapsulates the most Swedish of Swedish landscapes, and which sits right in the middle of the Swedish lakes. Settled between the northern shore of Lake Siljan and the southern shore of Lake Orsasjon, Mora is a location steeped in history and culture that's ready to be discovered. Dalarna county is in the heart of the Sweden and is famous for the national symbol of the wooden Dala horse and Mora knives. Check in to the hotel on arrival and relax for the evening, before your day of exploration tomorrow.
Day 16 - Swedish Lakes
Be charmed by tiny countryside villages with deep-red log cottages, towering pine forests and rolling meadows on an included bike ride this morning, a great way of getting to know the area and the beautiful Swedish country side. The rest of the day is free to explore the area of Mora and its lakes. Perhaps take a leisurely boat trip across the lake, sink a line to partake in a little fishing or hike around the gentle rolling surrounds. Admire the work of a meteorite that crashed into the Earth millions of years ago, forming what is today Lake Siljan. Mora is also the home of the world’s biggest cross-country ski race, the 90 kilometre Vasaloppet, and one of Sweden’s most famous artists, Anders Zorn. Here you can visit his former home and a museum gallery of his art.
Day 17 - Stockholm
Leaving the Swedish lakes behind, head to the country's cultural, political and economic capital of Stockholm by train (approximately 4 hours). Often referred to as the 'Venice of the North' and arguably Scandinavia 's most beautiful city, Stockholm is packed full of amazing architecture, pristine parks and clear waters. After an introductory orientation walk, use the rest of your day to settle into your accommodation and explore the area around you. You can perhaps head underground for the world’s longest art exhibition. Connecting the fourteen islands of the city and blasted through hard rocky ground, the subway (Tunnelbana) system's 100 stations are like the longest modern art exhibition in the world, featuring artwork from over 140 different artists. The bedrock of the cavernous stations on the Blue Line for example has been left exposed and artists given free reign to express themselves on the walls. Enjoy the narrow cobble stone streets and the colourful merchant houses. Why not soak up the culture and try a cinnamon roll in Stockholm’s oldest café Sundbergs Konditori located on Jarntorget square, and dating from 1785.
Day 18 - Stockholm
In your free time why not leave the city behind for a few hours and see the waterways of Stockholm on a cruise past tiny islets and along narrow waterways. Consider taking a self-guided Millennium Walking Tour of Stockholm or visit the Abba Museum. Alternatively you can take a trip to Drottningholm Palace, the residence of the Swedish royal family. There's plenty of sights and attractions to keep you busy here in this great Scandinavian city, so plan your activities wisely. Tonight perhaps head to Stockholm's Sodermalm district, the inner-city island with the best nightlife, full of hip shops, bars and cafes. Or maybe sit down at one of the city’s top-notch restaurants, such as the latest venues opened on the cobblestoned islet of Gamla Stan, or in the cool fusion restaurants of Kungsholmen.
Day 19 - Stockholm / Overnight Ferry
After breakfast, go on an included visit to the Vasa Museum on the inner-city island of Djurgarden. The 17th-century warship, Vasa, sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage in the harbour of Stockholm and was salvaged only in 1961. As one of the most visited sights in Sweden, the Vasa Museum collection consists of the Vasa itself and all of the objects that were found within the ship. In the evening, you'll be boarding an overnight ferry for Helsinki, Finland.
Day 20 - Helsinki
After your morning arrival into Helsinki's port you will transfer to your hotel. Discover a wealth of historical sights and gastronomic wonders in Helsinki. Apart from a short orientation walk, today is completely free and you'll be able to explore Helsinki in your own time. A few options to consider during your time here are a visit to the city's cathedral or the interesting Design Museum. Don't miss the harbour-side market and market hall from 1889 for local oddities, and make sure you take a short ferry ride to the magnificent Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the North, a World Heritage-listed site that was once an important point of defence for the city. Surrounded by the sea, Helsinki is a modern European city that offers an endless array of options. Throughout its 450-year history, the city has often been the buffer between the east and west. This is shown in their cuisine, with a mix of root vegetables, berries and fresh fish. Perhaps head out in the evening to sample some traditional dishes at dinner with your group.
Day 21 - Helsinki
Use your free time getting under the skin of diverse Helsinki, which combines elements of Scandinavia, the Baltics and neighbouring Russia in its character. Make sure you spend some time on senate square to see the sights surrounding it. You may want to consider purchasing the Helsinki Card – an economical way to travel on Helsinki City Transport (HKL) services, as well as free admission to the main Helsinki sights and nearly 50 museums. This evening, be sure to attend another briefing, where some new travellers may be joining you for the next stage of your adventure.
Day 22 - Tallinn
Leave Helsinki after breakfast and catch a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to the Estonian capital of Tallinn (approximately 3 hours). Arrive mid-afternoon, check into your hotel and start your time here with a short orientation walk through the city. The rest of your day is then free to enjoy this exceptionally preserved medieval city and all it has to offer. Perhaps head out and enjoy some of the region's culinary specialties or stop for a drink and people watching on the main square. With its steep red roofs, spires, pastel-coloured buildings and new restaurants and bars, Estonia's capital is a real treat to explore. Seeing the vibrant streets of Tallinn now, it's difficult to fathom that Soviet occupation only ended in 1991.
Day 23 - Tallinn
Today is free to do as you wish, but an exploration of the Old Town is recommended. Located here is the last remaining gothic town hall in northern Europe, Old Thomas; the Raapteek, which has housed a pharmacy since the 15th century; and St Olaf Church, a major landmark of Tallinn. You can head towards Upper Tallinn, home to the noble families, to see amazing views of Lower Tallinn and the medieval spires of the town walls. The 13th-century Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament sits, and the 19th-century orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are some of the main attractions of Upper Tallinn. Alternatively, you could head to Pirita to chill out at Tallinn's most popular beach, or visit Kadriorg Palace, a palace built by czar Peter the Great for his second wife Catherine I. Make sure you spend some time in the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace. Or perhaps head to the Kalamaja district, with it's well-preserved streets lined with colourful wooden houses.
Day 24 - Tallinn / Riga
Spend the morning in Tallinn and visit any sites you missed yesterday. Depart by bus after lunch, crossing the border and arriving in the Latvian capital of Riga in the early evening. The 4-hour journey is a good chance to take a nap or relax with a podcast. Riga is renowned for its welcoming locals and a fascinating art nouveau heritage. Tonight, perhaps grab a drink at one of the many bars in the Old Town after you’ve settled into your lodgings.
Day 25 - Sigulda / Riga
Travel by public transport to Sigulda, a pretty town with medieval history that backs onto Gauja National Park. Take the cablecar across the river to Turaida Castle, which began construction in 1214 and is made from striking red bricks. Take a guided tour and then explore the castle grounds which feature sculptures set in evergreen woodland. Take a hike along the winding Gauja River with your leader, taking in the clear air and thick Latvian forest. Return to Riga in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day as you please.
Day 26 - Riga
Today you will finally get the chance to explore your base for the past two nights, beautiful Riga. Take an orientation tour and see the Doma Cathedral, St Peter's Basilica, House of Blackheads, the Swedish Gate, The Great Guild & Small Guild and the Cat House. There is nothing scheduled for the rest of the day, so you are free to explore at your own pace. Perhaps pay a visit to The Museum of Occupation of Latvia, which offers insight into the hardships suffered by Latvians during its occupation by, first, the Germans and, later, the Soviets. The Central Market Halls are a great place to haggle for supplies for a picnic lunch if it takes your fancy. Make sure you give the bitter but reputedly healthy Riga Black Balsam a try. The recipe is secret, but it contains rare ingredients such as Valerian, Wormwood, Black Pepper, Ginger, Gentian and Linden flower.
Day 27 - Siauliai / Klaipeda
Set off by private bus after breakfast and cross the border into Lithuania. After a stop at the famous Hill of Crosses at Siauliai, continue onto the former Prussian city of Klaipeda (approximately 6 hours in total), the city of sculptures and jazz. Klaipeda used to be a member of the Hanseatic League and is the gateway to the Curonian Spit – a long and narrow sand dune peninsula separating the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Upon arrival check into our local family-owned guesthouse, then head out to the waterfront and explore the Old Town centre, which features 18th-century wooden buildings and other historic monuments.
Day 28 - Curonian Spit National Park / Klaipeda
Today, take a day trip to explore the unique World Heritage-listed Curonian Spit National Park – the second-oldest national park in the former Soviet Union. This is a spectacular landscape full of beaches, sand dunes and forested areas. The peninsula is only 400 metres wide in parts but 98 kilometres long. It formed only 5000 years ago by strong winds and currents which constantly change the shape of the landscape to this day. Only recently a whole village was swallowed by the inexorable sand. According to legend, the spit was formed by the girl giant Neringa, who poured sand into the Baltic Sea to protect the bay from storms and create an embankment for fishermen to live. On our day trip you will explore the tiny village of Nida and the surrounding beaches by bike. Look in the distance to see the Russian border, and learn about amber, which has been mined here since the 19th century. Spot the rather unique attribute of the area, the weather vanes. Each village has its own unique design. For lunch, perhaps try the smoked pike for which the spit is famous.
Day 29 - Aukstaitija National Park
After breakfast, travel by a mix of private transport and local trains to the town of Ignalina (approximately 6 hours) and then on to Aukstaitija (pronounced owk-sty-chee-ah) National Park and the charming village of Ginuciai where our home stay is located. As one of the most delightful national parks in the Baltic states, Aukstaitija has 126 lakes, an abundance of waterways, hills and woods. Enjoy the hospitality and home-cooking of our host family for the next two days.
Day 30 - Aukstaitija National Park
This morning you will take a guided kayak ride through the lakes and rivers, past villages and through forests, to an ancient pagan site on top of a hill with a wishing tree. The top affords great views across the surrounding forests and lakes. The rest of the day is free to visit some of the local attractions, such as the nearby villages that date from the 14th century and consist of traditional wooden houses and farmsteads. The 19th-century Ginuciai Watermill is another point of interest. You can hike to some glorious lookouts, do some fishing, take a swim in the lake or river rapids, or just relax. Perhaps ask our host family to fire up the sauna for the ultimate relaxation and cleansing experience.
Day 31 - Vilnius
Continue your journey today by local train to the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius (approximately 4 hours). Having once been occupied by Sweden, Poland, France and Russia, each occupier has left its mark in some way on this picturesque city. Vilnius offers a different picture of the Baltics than Riga and Tallinn, but it’s every bit as interesting. On arrival, take an orientation walk with your leader that covers Cathedral Square and its free-standing belfry an the length of pedestrianised Pilies Gatve, lined by baroque churches. The rest of the day is free. A definite must is a visit to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, previously called the Museum of Genocide Victims and better known under the name KGB Museum, as it is located in the former KGB headquarters of Vilnius. If you’d like a break from Vilnius’ historic monuments, maybe take a walk through some of the charming gardens around the city. Perhaps visit the ‘republic’ of Uzupis. This inner-city quarter declared independence from Lithuania in 1997 and has statue of Frank Zappa.
Day 32 - Vilnius
Your Baltic Experience comes to an end today. Have the time to stay on and dive deeper in Vilnius? An Urban Adventure is the perfect way to see the city through local eyes. Check out urbanadventures.com/destination/Vilnius-tours for information.