2011 Top European Travel Destination: The Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
For those European travelers who have already "done" Prague and the other capitals of Western Europe the Baltic countries are the place to go in 2011.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are three separate and independent nations (also referred to as Baltic States) and are all part of the UN and NATO and since separating from the Soviet Union they have been liberal democracies.
Getting to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
One of the reasons why the Baltic countries are going to be a hot European travel destination in 2011 is because of the Latvian national airline – Baltic Air - which offers attractive prices and special low cost air ticket deals. Almost all of the Baltic Air flights stop in Riga on route to their final destinations so that travelers might choose to have a stopover and see the Latvian capital, Riga.
Once in one of the Baltic countries it is very easy and quick to get from one country to the next. The three Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are connected by efficient transport systems. It's possible to visit the three Baltic capitals, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius within a week's vacation.
Tourism in the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
Although all three of the Baltic countries have flourishing tourist industries they have not yet been overrun with tourists or lost their native charm. You will not yet find street venders who can say "welcome" in 6 languages; streets lined only with stores targeting tourists; inflated prices reserved exclusively for foreigners. The markets are manned by locals and not refuges or immigrants from the East (as in Prague, Sweden etc.) Although the changes have started and you already have to watch out for taxi drivers with special tourist rates!
One of the few remaining Soviet statues on the Green Bridge in Vilnius.
Although you can still find the native original character of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, for example in their open markets, the countries are already capable of servicing the tourist influx. In the Baltic countries you can find luxurious malls,gourmet restaurants and also remnants from their 50 year Soviet rule.
The Baltic Countries have plenty to offer
If you are used to London, Munich, Paris and Rome then the Baltic countries will be a refreshing change of historical stetting. Unlike Western Europe in the Baltic countries there is a history of Soviet rule, Nazi occupation and finally relatively recent independents, so there are plenty of monuments and historic buildings to discover.
The cost of travel in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The Baltic countries are not drastically cheaper than Western Europe but they certainly are cheaper. Hotels, transport,food, shopping and entrance to tourist attractions are all less expensive than Western Europe.
You can find plenty of great deals both in the malls and the open air markets. Vilnius has one of the biggest, if not the biggest markets in Europe. I happened across an authentic Jennifer Lopez store in one of the Vilnius malls which was having a sale. Jennifer Lopez jeans were going for $3.5!!! Most of the mall stores are Baltic brands but they also have the generic Western mall brand names. Overall a great place for shopping and bargain hunting.
Europa Mall, VIlnius
Estonia switched to the Euro in January 2011 and Latvia and Lithuania are hoping to change their currency in the next two years. Seeing a foreign currency in Europe has also become a novelty and is another reason to visit these countries before they too are swallowed up by the Euro. All three of the countries accept both Euro and their own currency in most establishments. You will also find many establishments willing to accept the currency of their neighboring Baltic states.
Visit Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn now!
Although the Baltic States didn't make it onto the Lonely Planets top travel destinations for 2011 I rate it one of the best for European travelers looking for something slightly different but still accessible and on the European continent. If you have seen Western Europe then start working your way East starting with the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They are easy to reach, have a unique charm, fascinating and complicated history and are still relatively reasonably priced.
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