Once part of the USSR the Baltic States of Estonia, Lativa and Lithuania remained mysterious - cut off from the Western world until the 1990's. Since then , slightly more daring travelers have started to go past the cruise ports and venture deeper into these magical and medieval countries. With their blend of centuries old Hanseatic architecture and former Communist Bloc memories this collection of places and people are safe and welcoming and unlike anywhere else!
The perfectly persevered Medieval town of Tallin sits just a short boat ride away from Finland, which is how it became a popular cruise port. While its intact walls are a must, and the narrow winding streets lined with gimmicky pubs and souvenirs are good for a day, go deeper and explore the Art Museum and the Museum of Occupations to understand the cultural impact that being part of the USSR had. Then get out of the city - visit the National Park on the Gulf of Finland, visit the Ancient Fortress at Narva which looks over a border checkpoint into Russia or spend a few nights on Estonia's secluded island chain in the Baltic Sea. If you're driving to Latvia (which you should do!) seaside towns and forest villages will offer plenty of side stops.
Riga is of course the gem here. With its magical old town filled with medieval buildings, an Art nouveau quarter and sprinkling of harsh statues reminiscent of Metropolis, it's a visual feast. But beyond the cruise hub, the countryside is filled with castles, nature parks and stately palaces & the Baltic coastline is still a favorite spa resort getaway for the sophisticated set.
Capital city Vilnius feels sophisticated and modern with hip art galleries, chef tasting menus and boutique shopping. But it also has a powerful collection of museums honoring the suffering that took place under Communist oppression. Further inland, its own trail of castles and villages are a great companion piece to their northern neighbors. Historically more closely related to Poland, the culture, language and food are worlds apart from its northern neighbors, and the deep Catholic traditions - like the Hill of Crosses add another layer to this experience.