Don’t let its northern location fool you–the Baltic Sea has plenty of beaches on which locals and visitors alike can unwind on those summer scorchers.
When most people think of a summer beach getaway in Europe, sunbathing and eating ice cream in the Baltic countries probably don’t come to mind. They think of the Spanish and Greek islands, or perhaps the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Turkey.
So, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the wealth of gorgeous beaches along the coasts of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, not to mention the beautiful islands off the mainland. Though a popular destination for Scandinavian tourists seeking lower prices than in their homelands and beautiful nature, the Baltic beaches still have yet to gain popularity in other parts of Europe.
1. Jūrmala, Latvia
In summer, fir-lined stretches open out onto white sand and the Baltic Sea. In winter, areas such as Jūrmala, a former Soviet sanatorium, gain a melancholy atmosphere as brief shafts on sunlight dance on sheets of ice.
Jūrmala is just 30 minutes by train from Riga, the capital of Latvia, but is not actually named as one of the train stations, so get off at Dubulti. This station doubles as an art gallery and has a brutal exterior that regularly appears on Instagram accounts dedicated to socialist modernist architecture.
2. Saaremaa Island, Estonia
Our favorite island off the coast of the mainland is Saaremaa. From Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, there is a regular Lux Express bus that runs there directly. A highlight of the journey is boarding the boat over the water, during which all alight from the coach and eat Estonian delicacies in the ship’s cafeteria.
The main town on the island is Kuressaare, which has a stunning medieval castle that looks out onto empty beaches. There are a lot of organic farms on the island and all the shops sell locally made produce–the canned meat is a must-try treat.
The island’s other great swimming spots include the beach in front of the iconic Sõrve lighthouse, which has protected sailors since 1646, and the many lakes on the island. All of which feature little wooden sauna rooms that open out onto the lake so you can cool down after cleansing.
3. Russalka Memorial, Estonia
If you don’t manage to get out of Tallinn on your trip to Estonia though, not to worry, as the capital also has its fair share of gorgeous beaches. Head to the Russalka Memorial for shallow waters and clean white sand.
4. Liepāja, Latvia
Latvians would not forgive us if we omitted the three-kilometer long, blue flag beach at Liepāja. Unusually for European beaches, this Latvian seaside spot takes great care of its disabled and visually impaired visitors. Typically you would not find these sorts of facilities in Spain so Liepāja is great to keep in mind for those with access difficulties.
5. Nida, Lituania
Summer is a optimal time to visit Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania because no one is there. All of the locals have gone to Nida to escape the heat. One of the cleanest beaches we have ever visited, Nida is well-linked up to public transport.
6. Kaunas, Lithuania
Though not officially a Baltic Sea beach, the sands that edge of the river Neman in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, are stunning. From the center of Kaunas, it is possible to hike out through forests of fir trees to the river’s edge where you’ll see wild strawberries and blueberries ripe for the picking.
We recommend booking an Airbnb outside of the city center and making use of the river Neman and its surrounding forest, by going for a swim or renting a paddle boat at one of the many boating clubs.
Finally, for a slightly alternative experience, head for Narva and the beach at Joaorg. The Estonian town borders Russia and so from Narva Bay it is possible to look into Russia. If, like us, you find Russia fascinating then this is as close as you will get to ‘the bear’ sans visa.
Take your pick of the best Baltic beaches and book a trip to Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania. And remember, the capital cities are very well connected by decently priced public transport that runs regularly. So why not visit a few of these fir-flanked wonders.