Relax. The Baltic states present no particular challenges for parents with kids in tow – whether they're beaming babies or tempestuous teens – and there's oodles of opportunity for family fun. Even when the weather puts a dampener on things, there's plenty to see and do.
Best Regions for Kids
Gauja National Park is an enchanted forest of towering pines, fairy-tale castles, hidden ogres, secreted Soviet bunkers and myriad adventure activities, such as ropes courses, Tarzan swings and canoeing. Latvia’s western coastline is a delightful jumble of water parks and sandy strips of beach.
Lithuania’s entire coastline is a veritable playground for kids, be it the funfair amusements and in-house restaurant entertainers in Palanga and Šventoji or the bikes and boats to rent on Curonian Spit. Further inland there are plenty of forested landscapes to be explored by foot or canoe. In Vilnius kids will enjoy a climb up the TV Tower, a ride on the funicular up Gediminas Hill and a dip at the local water park.
Estonia will delight splash-loving kids with its endless shallow, sandy, toddler-friendly beaches and excellent water parks. Other fun includes good child-focused museums, fairy-tale castles and medieval town centres.
The Baltic States for Kids
While it may have been a little daunting travelling with kids in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania back when they were Soviet Socialist Republics, nowadays it's a breeze. All three are part of the European Union, so you can expect the same high standards of regulation as you would in London or Vienna for everything from baby food to car seats.
The Baltic countries have a fascinating history; this might be of keen interest to most adult visitors, but a visit to a social-history museum can be lost on toddlers and teens alike. Fortunately, there are tons of opportunities for younger travellers to engage with their surroundings in a fun and meaningful manner at various castles, farm complexes, interactive museums and the like. Almost all attractions offer half-price tickets for school-age children and free entry for toddlers.
Throughout the region you’ll find tours – particularly day trips from the capital cities – that shuttle visitors to the various attractions of note around the region’s major centres. These trips are, in general, not well suited to youngsters. If you have little ones in tow, it’s best to tailor-make your own adventure.
Well-behaved children are welcome at almost all eateries throughout the region, although the more relaxed, family-style restaurants will probably be more enjoyable for parents and children alike. In Latvia, look out for the LIDO chain of self-service bistros: the massive Atpūtas Centrs branch on the outskirts of Rīga is particularly good, with a giant windmill and a fun park next door. In Estonia, anything labelled kõrts (tavern) is a good bet.
The stodgy, somewhat bland nature of traditional Baltic food will suit the palates of most children. While they might baulk at the pickled herrings and sauerkraut, the myriad local versions of pork, chicken and potatoes should pose no particular challenges.
Favourite standbys such pizza and pasta are ubiquitous, and usually of sufficient quality to please an adult palate as well. In any event, many places have children's menus serving smaller portions. For something a little different but equally as cheap, filling and crowd-pleasing, try a plate of Russian-style pelmeņi dumplings.
On the downside, you won’t find many high chairs in restaurants, and nappy-changing rooms are virtually unheard of.
Nappies (diapers) and known-brand baby foods, including some organic ones, are widely available in supermarkets in the main towns.
All of the big-name car rental brands should be able to supply appropriate car seats, but it's best to check what's available and to book in advance. If you've got a good-quality, comfortable, capsule-style baby seat of your own that you're familiar with, you might want to consider bringing it with you, as they can be very handy as portable cots.
History Comes Alive
- Tallinn's Old Town, Estonia Fairy-tale turrets, medieval streetscapes and waitstaff dressed as peasant wenches and farmboys.
- Turaida Museum Reserve, Latvia Explore the castle, watch blacksmiths at work and seek out the kooky sculptures in the song garden.
- Grūtas Park, Lithuania A step back into the Soviet era, with the added bonus of vintage play equipment and a mini zoo for the little ones.
- Rakvere Castle, Estonia Smaller kids can dress up as princesses and knights and pet farm animals; older kids can can scream their heads off in the torture chamber and watch alchemists blow things up.
- The Pension, Līgatne, Latvia A hidden bunker stocked with heaps of relics from the Soviet era – truly interesting for all ages.
- Narva Hermann Castle, Estonia In summer there's a mock-up of a 17th-century town in the castle yard.
- Ludza Craftsmen Centre, Latvia Put your kids to work spinning wool, making pottery and sewing.
- House of Crafts, Ventspils, Latvia An old-school classroom features craft demonstrations.
Fun Museums & Galleries
- Science Centre AHHAA, Tartu, Estonia Experiential, science-based displays designed to turn your progeny into mad scientists.
- Tartu Toy Museum, Estonia Toys to covet, toys to play with, toys to make grown-ups feel nostalgic.
- Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour, Tallinn, Estonia Loads of interactive displays, with a real submarine, ice-breaker and mine-hunter to explore.
- Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum, Anykščiai, Lithuania Take a ride on a manual rail car and a historic train.
- Tallinn Zoo, Estonia Lots of big beasts and cute critters to see and learn about.
- Horse Museum, Niūronys, Lithuania Check out the historic carts and carriages, take a ride and bake your own black bread.
- O. Luts Parish School Museum, Palamuse, Estonia Where else will adults encourage kids to grab a slingshot and shoot a stone through a real glass window?
- Nuku, Tallinn, Estonia The national puppet museum offers dress-ups, puppets to play with and look at, and regular shows.
- Ilon’s Wonderland, Haapsalu, Estonia Child-focused gallery showcasing the work of noted kids' book illustrator Ilon Wikland.
- Sigulda, Latvia Long established as the go-to spot for adrenalin lovers. Heart-pounding bungee jumps and bobsled tracks are the main attraction, but there are plenty of more subdued options for younger children.
- Curonian Spit, Lithuania Shifting sand dunes and miles of windswept beaches make it the the best place in the Baltic to build the ultimate sandcastle.
- Ventspils, Latvia A huge playground (Children’s Town), a narrow-gauge railway and loads of fun things to do on the beach.
- Palanga, Lithuania A seaside resort lined with kid-friendly amusements: inflatable slides, merry-go-rounds, electric cars etc.
- Pärnu, Estonia This historic town is a veritable magnet for families, with its leafy parks, large indoor water park and lovely shallow, sandy beach.
- Otepää, Estonia Estonia’s self-proclaimed ‘winter capital’ actually offers a bevy of nature-related activities throughout the year, including an excellent high-ropes course.
- Jūrmala, Latvia A particularly family-friendly beach resort.
- Aqua Park, Druskininkai, Lithuania There's a fabulous water park for the kids – and spa treatments for parents!
When to Go
The long days and mild weather make summer the perfect time to travel around the Baltic with children – although the virtual lack of darkness during midsummer can play havoc with children's sleeping schedules. In summertime, outdoor tourist amenities are in full swing: beach towns come alive and myriad rental cottages dot the interior. It is, however, very popular with all types of holidaymakers, so it's crucial that you book accommodation and car rental in advance (remembering to request cribs and car seats if you require them).
What to Pack
Don't stress too much about the packing, as whatever you forget should easily be found for purchase in any of the capital cities. Whatever the season, a bathing suit is a must, as there are many heated indoor pools to enjoy when it's too miserable to hit the beaches.
Make sure you've got insect repellent handy before you head onto the islands or into the national parks – the mosquitoes are enormous and voracious.
Most hotels will do their best to help make kids feel at home. Many have family rooms with a double bed for parents and a single or bunks for the kids. Cots are often available, especially in the larger establishments, although it's best to enquire and request one in advance. There might be a small charge for the cot, but in most instances infants can stay in a double room for free.