Europe is stereotypically associated with being a closely connected continent where you can easily travel between countries, not only because of the geographic proximity but also because of the Schengen Zone concept and freedom of travel across borders. This is certainly true in the Baltic States area of Europe where you can easily explore countries like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in just a few days. During our fast and furious journey around the Baltics, we enjoyed an epic 48 hours traveling from Vilnius to Riga. We want to share how to best maximize your time in both cities and also connect easily between the two.
Whether you are an expert in European travel or perhaps a first-time visitor to this part of the world, the reality is the Baltics are not an area that usually hits most radars at first glance. We hope that our experiences around this part of Europe will inspire you to consider adding this to your next European adventure because we can well and truly attest that this is a beautiful region that is well worth discovering.
Explore Vilnius in 24 Hours
If you read our recent post on experiencing the best things to do in Vilnius, you will know that there is a rich history associated with the Lithuanian capital city. The Old Town is undoubtedly the best place to explore and you will quickly find that this is a city you want to walk around and experience on foot.
Take some time to just wander along the back streets and allow yourself to get lost among Vilnius’ spectacular architecture, ancient heritage and eclectic local culture that will immediately make you feel welcome. Countries in Eastern Europe tend to have a negative stereotype about being rather “harsh” in terms of their welcoming but we felt nothing but incredibly welcome in Vilnius.
The locals were friendly and always willing to share their expertise on the best places to try authentic Lithuanian cuisine. You cannot visit Vilnius without sampling Cepelinai, a potato-based dumpling that is found in most restaurants around Lithuania.
Of course, experiencing local cuisine is only part of the reason why you should be intrigued by Vilnius. Here are five landmarks and attractions you cannot afford to miss if you only have a short time there:
Church of St. Anne
When it comes to Gothic architecture in Vilnius, there is no finer example than the spectacular Church of St. Anne. The vibrant red brick design is stereotypical of a flamboyant Gothic style construction and this architectural masterpiece dates back to the year 1500.
Whether you are intrigued enough to head inside to explore the intricate details of the interior or simply prefer to marvel over the beauty on the exterior, this church is an iconic landmark in Vilnius that you won’t want to miss.
Church of St. Anne
Maironio g. 8,
Vilnius, 01124 Lithuania
Gates of Dawn
The Gates of Dawn is renowned as being one of the most frequently visited shrines throughout Vilnius. Also dubbed as the “entrance to the Old Town” it is at the Gates of Dawn that you immediately realize the beauty throughout this historic city. These gates date back to the early 16th century when they were first mentioned in 1514 and known as Medininkai Gate, as it is on the road to Medininkai.
Inside the Gates of Dawn is one of the most famous paintings around the world – the Lady of the Gate of Dawn. There are only a handful of paintings across the globe where the Blessed Virgin Mary is depicted alone, without a baby in her hands, hence the reason why Vilnius is such a popular spot now among Catholic worshippers.
Gates of Dawn
Aušros Vartų g. 14
Vilnius, 01303, Lithuania
The iconic monument of the Three Crosses overlooks the city of Vilnius and although this is a beautiful landmark in its own right, its the story behind this that makes this such a worthwhile spot to visit.
Rumors are that three monks placed these crosses on the hill in the 17th century to pay tribute to a group of fellow monks who were martyred in the 14th century. According to history books, seven monks were killed and seven were tied to wooden crosses and floated down the Neris River as they were ordered to return to the west where they came from.
Whether this is entirely true, well we don’t know but contemplating this history while admiring the Three Crosses is definitely an experience to enjoy while in Vilnius.
Vilnius, 01100, Lithuania
Vilnius Cathedral and Bell Tower
“The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Ladislaus of Vilnius” or more commonly known as just the “Vilnius Cathedral” is undoubtedly a focal point of the Old Town along with the Bell Tower that is associated with the cathedral.
When you see this spectacular construction, you will immediately realize why this is renowned as one of the world’s finest cathedrals in terms of aesthetic appeal. Both the interior and exterior are breathtaking and you cannot help but admire the design of this classical masterpiece.
There is a small surcharge to climb to the top of the Bell Tower but the views across the Square are well worth it and it also gives you a different perspective on the cathedral from an overhead viewpoint.
The nearby Cathedral Square is the historic city center so it’s definitely an area of Vilnius that you will likely want to spend some time enjoying the surroundings and perhaps hopping inside one of the many local cafes to sample that delicious Lithuanian cuisine that we referenced earlier.
Vilnius, 01143, Lithuania
Gediminas’ Tower is the remaining portion of the Upper Castle that once stood here overlooking the city of Vilnius. Unfortunately when we visited, this was temporarily closed due to renovations but when this reopens, you can enjoy a funicular railway that takes you from the bottom of the hill to the top.
Once you enter Gediminas’ Tower, you can walk to the summit where there is an observation deck to admire the magnificent panoramic views of Vilnius. For those of you that prefer to stay at the bottom of the Gediminas Hill (or if you visit Vilnius like we did when it was closed!), it’s still an amazing sight to see the Lithuanian flag flying proudly at the top of the tower.
Arsenalo g. 5,
Vilnius, 01143, Lithuania
How to Travel from Vilnius to Riga?
Europe is renowned for being a hub of low-cost airlines which makes traveling between nations relatively easy and cost-effective. However, we would argue that you should forget about airlines when you are in the Baltics and instead, consider other forms of public transportation such as the amazing Lux Express coach service.
Lux Express Option
Let’s take a quick look at Lux Express’ mission statement:
To provide better ways to travel.
Efficient, timely, luxurious, high-tech, comfortable and most importantly, DIRT CHEAP!! That’s pretty much how we would summarize our experience with Lux Express. I think it’s fair to say, they 100% hit their mission!
The core values of Lux Express are as follows:
- Customer-centric – “Our Customers are the reason we exist.”
- Reliability – We utilized Lux Express twice during our Baltic State adventure and on both occasions, they left on time and arrived early on both occasions!
- Innovation – If you think that airplanes have evolved with technology, Lux Express is really taking it to the next level with incredibly comfortable seating (even in their version of economy class) and touchscreen TV’s with built-in Wi-Fi on the coach!
- Learning – Always striving for improvement and being more professional every day!
How on earth can a company charge only 5 Euros to travel from Lithuania to Latvia and still be profitable? I will leave that for the folks at Lux Express to decide but for consumers, it’s a no-brainer that this should be the form of transportation you should opt for.
Let’s take a look at the journey between the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and Latvia’s counterpart, Riga!
If you opt to take the Lux Express option, the journey is projected to take around 4 hours 10 minutes but of course, travel time may vary due to traffic and weather conditions.
Vilnius Bus Station
Sodų g. 22,
Vilnius, Lithuania 03211
Riga Bus Station
Prāgas iela 1,
Lux Express Website: https://luxexpress.eu/
Fly From Vilnius to Riga
If you are in a real time crunch and want to travel between Vilnius and Riga in the shortest time, consider flying with Air Baltic which is another affordable option. For less than $50, you can fly between the two cities in only 50 minutes!
Enjoy the Best of Riga
After the short four hour journey from Vilnius (or even shorter if you opt to fly), you will be raring to get out and explore the Latvian capital. There is plenty to experience regardless of how much time you plan on spending in Riga.
Our recommendation, just like with any other city around Europe, is to just get out in the city and start walking. Riga is an incredibly “walkable” city and it’s really the only way to ensure you visit all of the top attractions.
We put together a post highlighting 10 of the best things to do in Riga and it’s certainly feasible to accomplish all of this in only 24 hours. Of course, if you have longer, you may want to spend time in some of Riga’s museums and the landmarks that we referenced but in terms of a self-guided walking tour, you can enjoy the best of the city in one day.
Here are three landmarks that we believe you won’t want to miss when you visit Riga:
House of Blackheads
The original building that is now the House of Blackheads dates back to the 14th century. Today, this incredible structure is a focal point in Riga and is such a sought after building that this has recently been the temporary residence for the Latvian president while the nearby Riga Castle was undergoing renovation.
Historically, the House of Blackheads primary function was to serve as a location to promote local business activities. It was inside this building where the city’s main economic functions took place and local traders, known as “Blackheads,” would gather here in the heart of Riga.
House of Blackheads
Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia
If you want to visit a spot in Riga that is popular among locals, head to the Freedom Monument which is a landmark honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.
This granite and copper monument symbolizes Latvian statehood, national unity, independence, and freedom.The symbol of freedom is a young woman holding three stars above her head, each representing the three historic provinces of Latvia, along with national unity.
When you visit this landmark, you will notice a two-man honor guard that is always present, representing Latvia’s sovereignty.
Riga, LV-1050, Latvia
The oldest medieval dwellings in Latvia are known as the Three Brothers and date back to the 15th century. These three homes were built by three different men but all from the same family. Each home has a distinctive appears but collectively they are certainly one of the most frequently visited landmarks throughout Latvia.
It’s interesting to note that when you are walking around the Old Town of Riga, you can easily just stumble across this spot as it’s located down a cobblestone street that was once a booming area for local craftsmen.
Mazā Pils iela 17,
Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
Are you ready to experience a whirlwind trip between the Baltic nations of Lithuania and Latvia? It may seem ambitious but the reality is this part of Europe is closely connected and you can easily experience the best of both Vilnius and Riga in 48-72 hours. Did I also mention that both nations are cheap? That’s right, not only can you travel between these two cities for only 5 Euros, you can easily book a luxury hotel in either spot for less than 60 Euros!
Both Vilnius and Riga have Old Towns that you will likely want to spend most of your time experiencing, simply because this is where all of the history and cool architecture is located. However, you will also notice that both cities have a modern area which offers a nice blend of “old vs new” proving that this part of Europe has continued to thrive.
We had an amazing experience traveling between Vilnius and Riga and look forward to returning to both countries in the near future. For those of you looking to experience a full Baltic States adventure, don’t forget to experience at least 24 hours in Tallinn, Estonia…you won’t regret it!