For most U.S. travelers, the Baltic states are low on the radar, and it's a shame. Many of the destinations in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania offer a relatively inexpensive vacation compared to many of its neighboring countries in Europe and plenty of beautiful things to see -- culturally, architecturally, and geographically speaking.
The Baltics, though, can't escape being compared to their European counterparts. Estonia is loaded with revered national parks and its capital, Tallinn, draws comparisons to Helsinki for its modern vibe, Riga, Latvia, is re-embracing its moniker as the Paris of the Baltics; and Vilnius is at times called "the New Prague" for its Baroque Old Town. In fact, the region is still so emerging that Frommer's is publishing its first guidebook for the Baltics next year. Most of these trips, if not all, are escorted, but there are a few surprises thrown in for your consideration.
Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) is offering a 10-day trip that hits the Baltics -- with two nights each in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw. The price, $2,049 for air and land, also includes all your transfers, fourteen meals, the services of an English-speaking tour guide throughout, local guides in all major cities, and the entrance fees per itinerary. You must book by December 14 for these special prices, valid for travel May 2008-October 2008. Destinations include Toompea Castle and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Lazienki Park in Warsaw and St. Peter and Paul Church in Vilnius. Departure dates include May 13, June 3 & 24, July 15, August 5 & 26, September 15 and October 7. Airport fees and charges are not included.
This year, Picasso Tours (tel. 800/995-7997; www.picassotours.com) ran a Baltic Capitals 8-day trip, priced from $1,115 for double occupancy -- airfare is not included in the advertised price. But next year there will be two options: an independent trip and an escorted trip. Picasso ran the trip this year as a six-night vacation that includes buffet breakfast daily, one welcome drink on your first night in Vilnius, transportation in an air-conditioned coach, guide services on days 2-6, sightseeing and entrance fees per itinerary, and all hotel taxes and service charges. Next year, the trip will start in Tallinn, then go to Riga and then Vilnius. At press time, Picasso did not have prices settled yet, but they will be posted soon.
SmarTours (tel. 800/337-7773; www.smartours.com) has a two-week, airfare inclusive trip to Baltic States and Berlin on sale. If you book by December 21, you can save up to $800 per couple for a trip that starts from $2,199 for departures from New York-JFK for the October 1, 2008 trip. The earliest 2008 departure is May 14 and is priced from $2,229 if you book by December 21. Destinations include Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Helsinki and Berlin. Departure and airport taxes and fees of $195 are not included, but the price does take care of accommodations at first-class hotels, sixteen meals, sightseeing tours and admission fees, an English-speaking tour guide in the Baltics and local guides in Berlin and Helsinki, roundtrip airfare from New York-JFK via Finnair, airline fuel surcharges and all intra-Europe travel. In addition to tours of the cities, the trip gives you free time and shows you some of the Baltic countryside, too.
Sophisticated Traveler (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.s-traveler.com) has an eight-day trip for the Baltic Capitals that departs December 20 and is available on a land-only basis, as the company's air space with Star Alliance, the carrier, is sold out. So if you can get yourself there, you're set. The land only price is $1,010. However, the same trip will also be available for 2008, with frequent departures March 20 through November 13. The land-only price, which does not include transfers, starts from $1,069; the tour starts on day two and ends on day eight in the morning. The air-inclusive pricing starts from $1,773 for the March 20 departure. The escorted tour's all-inclusive price covers double occupancy in four and five star hotels (along with hotel taxes); airport-hotel roundtrip transfers; roundtrip airfare from one of about a half dozen cities in the U.S. to Vilnius, with a return from Tallinn; buffet breakfasts daily; ground transportation by luxury motor coach, English-speaking tour guide; and sightseeing per itinerary.
For those who enjoy cycling, Sophisticated Traveler runs three different biking trips, such as the 11-day Cycling in the Baltics, which has three departures scheduled for summer 2008: June 6 from New York-JFK is priced at $2,717 and the July 5 and August 2 departures from New York-JFK are priced at $2,667 and August 2. Shorter trips are possible too, and the company also books car rentals in the Baltics.