I’ve been saying for quite some time that the Baltics would be Europe’s next big travel thing. And what’s not to love? You get the climate, cuisine and culture of Scandinavia at a fraction of the price.
The cityscapes, too, in some cases. I’m talking in particular about Riga and Tallinn, the capital of Latvia and Estonia (respectively), which feel in many ways like alternate universe versions of Stockholm and Helsinki. (I mean this in the best possible way, of course!)
Today, I thought we’d take a closer look at comparing Riga vs Tallinn. While most travelers to this region end up visiting both, there’s a chance you might not have time to do so. Even if you do, of course, it’s a good idea to set realistic expectations for what to expect in each place.
Why Travelers Love Riga and Tallinn
I’ll keep coming back to a key point throughout this trip: That both Tallinn and Riga are awesome, and that you can’t go wrong with either. Part of this is quite superficial, given that each city is situated on the water (Tallinn on the sea, Riga on a river just inland from it) and features a picturesque old town that could just as easily be over the Baltic in Finland or Sweden.
Then, there’s the cost. As I’ll explain in greater detail later in this post, all the Baltic capitals are extremely affordable by European standards. Students, for example, will still have money leftover to seek assignment help online even after spending a few days in Riga or Tallinn. From hotels, to food, to tourist attractions, your euros simply go farther in the Baltic States.
Ways to Compare Tallinn with Riga
Things to do
Most of the activities in Tallinn centered around its walled Old Town, with the possible exception of Kadriorg Palace just outside the town center. Riga has an old town, too, but it also has an expansive Art Nouveau district, as well as a “Soviet skyscraper” in the form of the Academy of Sciences.
I’ll be frank: Neither Riga nor Tallinn are culinary beacons, unless you’re a big fan of northern European cuisine. I’d say that Tallinn probably offers a greater variety of international cuisine, however, if only because it caters to a much larger base of tourists.
Compared to capitals throughout the rest of Europe, but Riga and Tallinn are extremely cheap; you can stay in a nice place and eat three meals a day for under €100 per person per day, in most cases. On the other hand, I do find Riga to be a bit cheaper, given that it’s not quite as popular as Tallinn.
Actually, “popular” is not strong enough a word to describe Tallinn—it’s inundated with tourists, especially during the summer when cruise ships dock there. Choosing between Tallinn or Riga, you’ll definitely want to pick the latter is having quiet or alone time is important for you.
Day trips and excursions
Virtually all of Latvia—and there’s a lot to see there, including Rundale Palace, the country’s answer to Versailles—is accessible on a day trip from Riga. There’s less to see in Estonia, however, which is why for most travelers the only follow up to Tallinn is a ferry across the water to Helsinki.
How Many Days Do You Need in Riga? What About Tallinn?
Riga makes a fantastic base for exploring Latvia more broadly, as I explained earlier, whether you visit the country’s answer to Versailles, or go farther off the beaten path. As a result, I recommend spending about a week in Riga. This does mean you should spend a week in the city center (although you certainly could), but rather that basing yourself for a week there will allow you to see all of Latvia during that time.
The calculus in Tallinn is a bit different, given how much less there is to do in Estonia (sorry, Estonia!) compared to Latvia. With the exception of a few nearby swamps, in fact, the only other thing to do here besides explore Tallin itself is to take a ferry over to Helsinki. This is yet another reason why my Tallin vs Riga verdict skews so heavily toward the latter!
Other FAQ About Visiting Tallinn and Riga
What is the best Baltic city to visit?
In my opinion, Riga is the best of the three Baltic capitals. It feels a bit like Stockholm to me, albeit at a much cheaper price point. The cityscape is more diverse and interesting than Tallinn’s; the waterfront setting makes it more enjoyable to be in than Vilnius (which is lovely, but landlocked and therefore a bit suffocating).
Is Riga worth going to?
Riga is absolutely worth going to! Some travelers will explore the ornate old town, which almost feels like it could be in Sweden. Others will dig deeper into the cityscape, including the famous Art Nouveau district, as well as the Soviet-era Academy of Sciences. Still others will use Riga as a base for exploring other destinations in Latvia, such as Rundale Palace, the country’s answer to Versailles.
Which Baltic capital is most beautiful?
While I find Riga to be the most interesting and fulfilling of the Baltic capitals, there’s an argument to be made that Tallinn is the most beautiful. This is certainly true if you stay within the walled old city, which is arguably the most attractive jurisdiction in the entire Baltic region.
The Bottom Line
For me, the contest of Riga vs Tallinn isn’t especially close. While I find Tallinn charming enough, the reality is that Riga is more my speed. Part of this is because of intrinsic qualities of each city; part of it is because, quite frankly, Tallinn is so incredibly overhyped that it’s difficult for it to live up the expectations people set of it. With this being said, I do recommend spending at least a few days in both cities if you can, and also in Vilnius, the charming capital of underrated Lithuania. Want personalized assistant putting your Baltic itinerary together? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!