The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are members of the European Union and Schengen Agreement. Taking a road trip in the Baltics is easy. There are no borders to cross and money to exchange. You can pick up your car in Lithuania and drop it off in Estonia and vice versa for a minimal fee. Or opt to pick up and drop off at the same location for cheaper rates.
Tucked in the northeastern corner of Europe, the Baltic states offer enchanting medieval old towns, laid-back beaches, magnificent castles, and many more hidden treasures. Many of these attractions are best discovered at your own pace. And a fall road trip will give you ample time to do so. Dwindling tourist crowds means better car and hotel rates too. So, here is our suggested itinerary for a road trip in the Baltics.
Fly into Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, pick up your vehicle at the airport, and you’re ready to start your road trip. When in Vilnius visit the following places:
- Cathedral Square and Palace of the Grand Dukes
- Gediminas Tower
- Ensemble of St. Anne and Bernardine Church
- Vilnius University
- The former Little Jewish Ghetto
- Ausros Vartu Street
- The Republic of Uzupis (Bohemian neighborhood)
While in Vilnius, take a drive to Trakai, the ancient capital of Vilnius. Visit Trakai Castle, learn the history of the castle and the Karaim community in Trakai. Trakai is only 20 miles from Vilnius.
We recommend a two day stay in Vilnius before heading to Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania. Voted the European Capital of Culture 2022, Kaunas boasts an old town, a 14th century stone castle, the town hall (known as the White Swan), and one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe. Kaunas is about 65 miles away and less than a two-hour drive from Vilnius.
Hill of Crosses is another place to explore when in Lithuania before your drive north to Latvia. It’s about 98 miles from Kaunas. You’ll find over 100,000 crosses in different sizes, styles, and materials at the Hill of Crosses, and the numbers are growing. Located on a hill fort, no one knows how it all got started. It’s a unique place to visit, and it doesn’t need a lot of your time.
After the Hill of Crosses, drive north to Rundale Palace, Latvia, the summer residence of the Duke of Courland, Ernst Johann Biron. Rundale Palace and Park, located near the border between Lithuania and Latvia, is a must-see when you’re on a road trip in the Baltics. This impressive Baroque palace created by architect Francesco Rastrelli, who was also the creator of Tsarskoe Selo (Catherine’s Palace) in St. Petersburg. The interior decorations (1765-1768) were created by German sculptor Johann Michael Graff and Italian painters Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi. The park features a Rose Garden, amphitheater, pergolas, ornamental parterre and more.
Your next destination after Rundale Palace is Jurmala, a seaside resort in Latvia. Take it easy and enjoy the white sandy beaches and enjoy sunsets by the sea. It may be too cold to swim but its never too cold to walk on the sandy beach.
Your next stop in the capital of Latvia, Riga, only 16 miles from Jurmala. Some of the outstanding architectural monuments to look out for when in Riga:
- St. Peter’s Church
- Three Brothers (medieval houses)
- Dome Square and Dome Cathedral
- Riga Castle
- St John’s Church
- St. George’s Church
- Art Nouveau style buildings
Before crossing the border to Estonia, drive north to Gauja National Park in northeast Latvia. Gauja National Park is the largest and oldest national park in Latvia. We suggest taking a hike on one of the trails to enjoy the fall colors in the park. Here’s a list recommended by Latvia tourism:
- Sietiniezis Nature Trail (1.5 km)
- Cirulisu Nature Trails (up to 6 km)
- Ierikupites Nature Trail
- Cecilu Nature Trail (1.3 km)
- Ligatne Nature Trail
- Kubesele Trail
The main attraction in the park is Turaida Museum Reserve. You can visit Turaida Castle, a recently reconstructed medieval castle. The exhibits inside the cylindrical tower and granary will give you insights into the lives of the people during the Livonian state in the region. You’ll also get a breathtaking view of Gauja Valley on the top of the tower.
Your final country is Estonia, the smallest of the three countries in the Baltics. Drive north to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The drive along the coast from Gauja National Park is under four hours. You may want to drop off your car when you arrive in Tallinn or drop it off at the airport when you depart for home.
When in Tallinn, visit the following places:
- Catherine’s Valley Park and Palace
- Song Festival Amphitheater, the venue of Tallinn’s song festival
- Toompea Hill and the Parliament building
- Dome Cathedral
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann tower)
- Kiek in de Kök and Bastion Passages Museum
- Town Hall Square
Tallinn’s old town presents medieval buildings, gabled houses, cobblestone streets, guard towers, and city walls and many more fascinating places to explore. If you have time, perhaps take a drive to Parnu, the seaside town, the summer capital of Estonia.
Car rental tips
According to Hertz:
1. A one-way rental is a rental which starts at one location and terminates at another. Availability is subject to location restrictions and vehicle type. A fee may apply for this service and will be advised at time of reservation.
2. It is mandatory for residents of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States to get an international driving permit. For Non-EU countries check with the rental company directly.