The Baltic Sea conjures up images of snow-filled Eastern European and Scandinavian countries, but one rarely imagines the beauty that these countries exude during their short but exuberant summertime! We had the pleasure to visit Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and Sweden during a recent Baltic Cruise with Vegan Travel, which started from Kiel in Germany (see more about this operator in our list of cruise suggestions further below).
The Baltic countries do not easily come to mind when thinking of visiting Europe, but they are just as rewarding to visit with much less crowds of tourists and less stiff prices during the summer high season woes that befall Italy, France and co.
As is typical all over northern Europe in the summer, everybody wants to be outside and even the tiniest coffee shops have tables and chairs on the streets, often covered with blankets so patrons can still enjoy the outdoor seating when the evening chill sets in. It is not unusual to have temperatures ranging from hot mid days to cool nights, so if you travel here, bring layers of clothing and a light rain jacket to prepare for summer showers! That’s also a great opportunity to scurry into the closest cozy little place on your way and to discover the charm of the café, bar or restaurant culture that infuses Europe overall.
In my experience, countries that have longer winters and cold seasons have the most romantic and cozy indoor settings for their gastronomic outlets, so you can chase away your weather blues in the warmth and beauty of candle-lit, thoughtfully decorated places that you hardly want to leave – and in Europe you don’t have to leave until you are ready and ask the server for your check!
But what makes summer so magical in these places is to see the historic streets, markets, squares and canals come alive with people from all over the world, and music events, pop-up markets, festivals and outdoor food events are lining up almost every weekend! There is much greenery everywhere and since Baltic countries are lined by the sea, you will always hear the unique cry of seagulls and see them gently swooping through the air, along with many other bird species.
The countries I listed above are all ancient with a long history, and strolling through the old town streets of Gdansk in Poland, Riga in Latvia, Tallin in Estonia or Stockholm in Sweden transports you into another era!
A unique addition to this list is St Petersburg in Russia, which is only 300 years old but has many times the palaces, churches, gardens and opulence of any other fair city in the world, with 300 km of canals to boost, this lovingly designed city by Tsar Peter the Great if often called the Venice of the North and lays rightful claim to being one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
Vegan food options are plentiful everywhere, and a short look into the Happy Cow app or even checking Google for “vegan near me” brings up a plethora of options in every bigger city across Europe! If you can’t use your phone, simply take a minute to check the vegan options with a WIFI session in your hotel and take a quick photo with your phone. Then use your map and have your hotel staff point out where to go or give you their own recommendations!
Note that ice water is not commonly served in Europe, but if you politely ask for a glass of tap water, your waiter is usually happy to provide it! And yes, it’s usually possible to drink the tap water in northern European countries, which is fresh clean and very well filtered too!
For holistic-minded travelers who want a true vacation rather than a conquest of the most churches and museums, there is nothing better than allowing yourself to stroll leisurely through the inner hearts of these Eastern destinations by foot. You will discover beauty that is not listed in tour guides. Breathe deeply and catch hold of the European way of life, which is generally slower and more focused on enjoying the moment – so linger over your beverage or meal, and just let the world go by!
Of the Baltic Sea countries we visited, all of them warrant a longer stay and the best travel time is generally July to September, where they usually have milder summers and very long daylight hours. Prepare to sit in the garden or on the street patio of your favorite bar or restaurant for hours and just let your thoughts wander, while taking in the summer vibe that envelopes and lifts your spirit!
Ina Mohan, Founder of Health, Healing & Happiness LLC
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