Day 1 - Oslo
Welcome to Norway, where you’ll discover the irresistible charm and eccentricity of Oslo. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. With so much to see and do in Oslo we recommend that you plan to arrive a few days before the trip begins, so you can see as much of the city as possible. Why not head to the National Gallery of Art to glimpse Edvard Munch's famous painting, The Scream. Tonight why not seek out some traditional Norwegian fare with the group.
Notes: If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend the welcome meeting. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Day 2 - Oslo
After breakfast, travel to the nearby area of Holmenkollen for an included visit to the Ski Museum, housed inside the famous monumental Holmenkollbakken (ski jump), which looks more like a work of art than a sports venue. Highlights in the museum include the history of skiing over the past 4,000 years, of Norwegian polar expeditions, and lesser known glimpses from the Winter Olympics at Oslo and Lillehammer. At the top of the jump tower there are 360 degree views of the city, its fjords and forests. Perhaps use your free time in the afternoon for island hopping on Oslofjord, putting the hammer down at the Viking Museum, browsing the harbour-front Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, tasting local flavours at the food hall Vulkan, exploring the immense Akershus Castle & Fortress, or checking out the cool shops in the Grunerløkka district. There's so much to get stuck into.
Day 3 - Bergen
Today you'll leave Oslo behind and take the train across the stunning countryside of the Fjell region to Bergen, which will take around seven hours. No other train ride between two cities in Europe is at a higher altitude than this one, and few can match the views passing by your window. Linking Norway's two main cities, this line takes in some spectacular scenery of lush valleys, idyllic villages, dramatic mountains and picturesque lakes as it crosses the Hardangervidda Plateau. As the trip is long and you'll arrive quite late into quirky city of Bergen, there won't be too much time to explore today, but you will have all day tomorrow. There are some great sea food restaurants in town, so possibly venture out with the group for a bite to eat.
Note: Although a global ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, approximately 1,000 whales are still being killed every year, as Iceland, Norway and Japan ignore the ban. We strive not to visit places that serve whale on any of our trips, however often this is unavoidable and there is a likelihood that you will come across whale meat on a menu or at a market stand.
Day 4 - Bergen
After breakfast this morning, head out for a guided walk around the Bryggen area of the city. This is a World Heritage listed area of one of the world’s greatest harbour cities, and is where the settlement of Bergen grew from. Wander through the reconstructed medieval homes and warehouses, visit the beautifully preserved wooden Hanseatic Museum (a former trade building), and explore the old Hanseatic port area – the Hanseatic merchant confederation dominated Baltic maritime trade for 400 years from the 15th century. Then you’ll have free time in the afternoon to do as you wish. Perhaps visit the 13th century Bergenhus Fortress, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Norway. Also, make sure you journey on the Floy Mountain Funicular, taking you 1,050 feet abve the city in just seven minutes, and offering amazing views of the deep blues of the sea and the pastel coloured houses from the top of Floyen mountain. It you’d like to get active while you’re up there, the summit has a multitude of hiking paths catering to all abilities.
Note: It might be a good idea to purchase a 24 hour Bergen Card. It gives you free and discounted access to a range of attractions and museums, as well as included travel on light rail and buses. You can book this online before you arrive.
Day 5 - Norwegian Fjords
Leave Bergen after breakfast and travel by bus to the fjord region, which should take around 3-4 hours. The journey will take you through epic landscapes and remote regions, so have your camera at the ready. The typical Norwegian huts that you’ll stay in tonight are located in a beautiful setting, surrounded by steep cliff walls with a perfect view of the spectacular crystal clear Kjelsfossen waterfall falling from the top of the fjords. It's humbling to look up and consider these giant and ancient geological formations. Your accommodation is located near the village of Gudvangen and has electricity, running water and a kitchen. Some rooms have private and some have shared (mixed) toilets/shower facilities. Please note, rooming may be mixed gender multishare here. Linen and towels are provided.
Day 6 - Norwegian Fjords
Today you'll take a boat trip and be captivated by the sight of crisp mountain peaks reflected in the glassy waters of Naeroyfjord, a World Heritage site. The name Naeroyfjord takes its origins from the Norse god of seafarers and the sea, Njord. The fjord itself, formed by glacial erosion of the surrounding bedrock, is 18 kilometres long, only 250 metres wide at its narrowest point, but its depth reaches up to 500 metres. Surrounding mountain peaks rise up to 1,400 metres and waterfalls crash down sheer cliff faces – awe-inspiring melancholic beauty and dramatic vistas. The afternoon is free for you to enjoy the scenery of the surrounding area. Perhaps hire bikes and cycle along the shore of the fjord, take to the waters in a kayak or take a bus to the nearby ittle fishing village of Flam in order to ride the famous railway up to Myrdal. This is one of the most picturesque (and steepest) railway journeys in the country. Alternatively explore on foot and discover nearby waterfalls and ancient moraines. Fishing enthusiasts will love the opportunity to throw a line in the crystal waters, sit back and soak up the serenity (a fishing licence is required and costs around NOK 150).
Day 7 - Lillehammer
There will be another long bus journey of around six hours after breakfast today, as you journey to the town Alpine playground of Lillehammer. Cross vast high plains, remote valleys, and drive through the Lærdal Tunnel, the world's longest road tunnel at 24.5 km. The tunnel is divided into four sections, broken up by ‘mountain caves’. These caves are 6 kilometres apart and equipped with special lighting to help drivers concentrate by giving off the illusion of driving into daylight. Lillehammer, which held the Winter Olympics in 1994, is picturesquely situated on Lake Mjøsa. Upon arrival perhaps head out for a brief walk to find your bearings in the laid-back 19th century town centre, along the main pedestrian street of storgata (Big Street), lined with wooden houses, boutiques and restaurants.
Day 8 - Lillehammer
Join an orientation walk this morning and get to know Lillehammer. Your leader will take you on an included visit to the Maihaugen Open Air Museum, home of the Garmo Stave Church, which tells the story of people in the Gudbrandsdalen Valley over the last 300 years. This brilliant museum includes timber-built farms, a town and a big residential area that gives you an insight into various eras of Norway's history. As a town famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehammer has a great Olympic Museum where you can hear tales of heroic feats, and is also an ideal spot for outdoor activities such as wheeled bobsleigh. Alternatively head to the Olympic Ski Jump Arena where in summer a special surface is laid out that allows professional ski jumpers to practice even though there is no snow. You can head to the top of the ski jump via chairlift (or tackle the 954 steps) and enjoy excellent views across Lillehammer and Lake Mjøsa. You could also decide to conquer misty mountains on a hike. You'll have a good amount of free time today, so keep your options open.
Day 9 - Swedish Lakes
Travel for around five hours by private bus today and cross the border into Sweden. Head to the lakeside village Mora, a laidback town that encapsulates the most Swedish of Swedish landscapes, and which sits right in the middle of the Swedish lakes. Settled between the northern shore of Lake Siljan and the southern shore of Lake Orsasjon, Mora is a location steeped in history and culture that's ready to be discovered. Dalarna county is in the heart of the Sweden and is famous for the national symbol of the wooden Dala horse and Mora knives. Check in to the hotel on arrival and relax for the evening, before your day of exploration tomorrow.
Day 10 - Swedish Lakes
Be charmed by tiny countryside villages with deep-red log cottages, towering pine forests and rolling meadows on an included bike ride this morning, a great way of getting to know the area and the beautiful Swedish country side. The rest of the day is free to explore the area of Mora and its lakes. Perhaps take a leisurely boat trip across the lake, sink a line to partake in a little fishing or hike around the gentle rolling surrounds. Admire the work of a meteorite that crashed into the Earth millions of years ago, forming what is today Lake Siljan. Mora is also the home of the world’s biggest cross-country ski race, the 90 kilometre Vasaloppet, and one of Sweden’s most famous artists, Anders Zorn. Here you can visit his former home and a museum gallery of his art.
Day 11 - Stockholm
Leaving the Swedish lakes behind, head to the country's cultural, political and economic capital of Stockholm by bus (approximately 4 hours). Often referred to as the 'Venice of the North' and arguably Scandinavia 's most beautiful city, Stockholm is packed full of amazing architecture, pristine parks and clear waters. Use the rest of your day to settle into your accommodation and explore the area around you. You can perhaps head underground for the world’s longest art exhibition. Connecting the fourteen islands of the city and blasted through hard rocky ground, the subway (Tunnelbana) system's 100 stations are like the longest modern art exhibition in the world, featuring artwork from over 140 different artists. The bedrock of the cavernous stations on the Blue Line for example has been left exposed and artists given free reign to express themselves on the walls. Enjoy the narrow cobble stone streets and the colourful merchant houses. Why not soak up the culture and try a cinnamon roll in Stockholm’s oldest café Sundbergs Konditori located on Järntorget square, and dating from 1785.
Day 12 - Stockholm
Today leave the city behind for a few hours and see the skerries of the Stockholm Archipelago on a cruise past tiny islets and along narrow waterways. Our destination is the small island of Vaxholm, with its impressive castle sitting just offshore. During your free time consider taking a self-guided Millennium Walking Tour of Stockholm or visit the Abba Museum. Alternatively you can take a trip to Drottningholm Palace, the residence of the Swedish royal family. There's plenty of sights and attractions to keep you busy here in this great Scandinavian city, so plan your activities wisely. Tonight perhaps head to Stockholm's Sodermalm district, the inner-city island with the best nightlife, full of hip shops, bars and cafes. Or maybe sit down at one of the city’s top-notch restaurants, such as the latest venues opened on the cobblestoned islet of Gamla Stan, or in the cool fusion restaurants of Kungsholmen.
Note: We recommend you book your tickets to the Abba Museum in advance at: http://www.abbathemuseum.com/en/
Day 13 - Stockholm / Overnight Ferry
After breakfast, go on an included visit to the Vasa Museum on the inner-city island of Djurgarden. The 17th-century warship, Vasa, sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage in the harbour of Stockholm and was salvaged only in 1961. As one of the most visited sights in Sweden, the Vasa Museum collection consists of the Vasa itself and all of the objects that were found within the ship. In the evening, you'll be boarding an overnight ferry for Helsinki, Finland. Your cabin for the night is quad-share, which are usually bunk beds, and each cabin has a private bathroom.
Note: Depending on the make-up of the group, quad-share on the ferry may be on a mixed gender basis.
Day 14 - Helsinki
After your morning arrival into Helsinki's port you will transfer to your hotel. Discover a wealth of historical sights and gastronomic wonders. Today is completely free and you'll be able to explore Helsinki in your own time. A few options to consider during your time here are a visit to the city's cathedral or the interesting Design Museum. Don't miss the harbour-side market and market hall from 1889 for local oddities, and make sure you take a short ferry ride to the magnificent Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, sometimes referred to as the Gibraltar of the North, a World Heritage-listed site that was once an important point of defence for the city. Surrounded by the sea, Helsinki is a modern European city that offers an endless array of options. Throughout its 450-year history, the city has often been the buffer between the east and west. This is shown in their cuisine, with a mix of root vegetables, berries and fresh fish. Perhaps head out in the evening to sample some traditional dishes with your group.
Note: Upon your morning arrival, check-in at our hotel in Helsinki may not yet be possible. In this case, you will store your luggage at the hotel and head out for an orientation walk.
Day 15 - Helsinki
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting at 6pm to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers. Use the rest of your free time getting under the skin of diverse Helsinki, which combines elements of Scandinavia, the Baltics and neighbouring Russia in its character. Make sure you spend some time on senate square to see the sights surrounding it. You may want to consider purchasing the Helsinki Card – an economical way to travel on Helsinki City Transport (HKL) services, as well as free admission to the main Helsinki sights and nearly 50 museums.
Day 16 - Tallinn
Leave Helsinki after breakfast and catch a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to the Estonian capital of Tallinn (approximately 3 hours). Arrive mid-afternoon, check into your hotel and start your time here with a short orientation walk through the city. The rest of your day is then free to enjoy this exceptionally preserved medieval city and all it has to offer. Perhaps head out and enjoy some of the region's culinary specialties, or stop for a drink on the main square for a spot of people watching. With its steep red roofs, spires, pastel-coloured buildings and new restaurants and bars, Estonia's capital is a real treat to explore. Seeing the vibrant streets of Tallinn now, it's difficult to fathom that Soviet occupation only ended in 1991.
Day 17 - Tallinn
Today is free to do as you wish and an exploration of the Old Town is a must. You'll see the last remaining gothic town hall in northern Europe, Old Thomas; the Raapteek, which has housed a pharmacy since the 15th century; and St Olaf Church, a major landmark of Tallinn. You can head towards Upper Tallinn, home to the noble families, to see amazing views of Lower Tallinn and the medieval spires of the town walls. The 13th-century Toompea Castle, where the Estonian Parliament sits, and the 19th-century orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are some of the main attractions of Upper Tallinn. Alternatively, you could head to Pirita to chill out at Tallinn's most popular beach or visit Kadriorg Palace, a palace built by czar Peter the Great for his second wife Catherine I. Make sure you spend some time in the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace.
Day 18 - Riga
Cross the border by local bus into Latvia today and travel to Riga (approximately 4 hours). On arrival, go on an orientation tour around Riga, renowned for its welcoming locals and a fascinating art nouveau heritage. Some of the sights we see include the Doma Cathedral, St Peter's Basilica, House of Blackheads, the Swedish Gate, Mentzendorff's House, Riga Castle, The Great Guild & Small Guild and the Cat House.
Day 19 - Riga
Today is a free day in Riga. Perhaps pay a visit to The Museum of Occupation of Latvia. This offers a fascinating insight into the hardships suffered by Latvians during its occupation by, first, the Germans and, later, the Soviets. The Central Market Halls are a must-see and a great place to haggle for supplies for a picnic lunch if it takes your fancy. It is housed in 4 disused German zeppelin hangars and is said to be Europe's largest market after Rungis in Paris, comprising over 3000 trade stalls.
Day 20 - Klaipeda
Set off by private bus after breakfast and cross the border into Lithuania. After a stop at the famous Hill of Crosses continue onto the former Prussian city of Klaipeda (approximately 6 hours in total). Klaipeda used to be a member of the Hanseatic League and is the gateway to the Curonian Spit - a long and narrow sand dune peninsula separating the Curonian lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Upon arrival head out to the waterfront with it's old brick buildings, and explore the old town centre. Perhaps head out for dinner with the group in the evening, at one of the many harbour-side cafes.
Day 21 - Curonian Spit National Park
Today, take an included bike ride to explore the unique World Heritage-listed Curonian Spit National Park - the second oldest national park of the former Soviet Union. This is a spectacular landscape full of beaches, sand dunes and forested areas. The peninsula is only 400 m wide in parts but 98 km long, 52 of which belong to Lithuania, while the rest is part of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. It formed only 5000 years ago by strong winds and currents which constantly change the shape of the landscape to this day. Only recently a whole village was swallowed by the inexorable sand. According to legend, the spit was formed by the girl giant Neringa, who poured sand into the Baltic Sea to protect the bay from storms and create an embankment for fishermen to live. On our day trip you will explore the tiny village of Nida and the surrounding beaches by bike. Look in the distance to see the Russian border. For lunch, perhaps try the smoked pike for which the spit is famous. Return to Klaipeda in the late afternoon.
Day 22 - Vilnius
You'll continue your journey today by bus or train to the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius (approximately 4 hours). Having once been occupied by Sweden, Poland, France and Russia, each occupier has left its mark in some way on this picturesque city. Vilnius offers a different picture of the Baltics than Riga and Tallinn, but it's every bit as interesting. On arrival, take an orientation walk with your leader that covers Cathedral Square and its free standing belfry, the famous chapel of Saint Kazimieras and Gediminas Tower. The 16th century Gate of Dawn houses an icon of the Virgin Mary which is said to have miraculous powers, and thus luckily escaped destruction by the Soviets. For a break from Vilnius' historic monuments, take a walk through some of the charming gardens and parks that are dotted around the city or visit the 'republic' of Uzupis, an inner-city quarter that has declared independence from Lithuania in 1997. The inhabitants have even adopted a tongue-in-cheek constitution, and have erected a statue of Frank Zappa, the only one on the world.
Day 23 - Vilnius
Today is a free day to explore Vilnius. Perhaps take the 40-minute bus trip to Trakai, which is situated on a lake and guarded by an impressive 14th century castle on an island. Rent paddle-boats, swim in the lake, or just wander around the old castle. This is a quaint town that's extremely popular due to its beauty and location. For those who want to uncover the hidden gems of Vilnius, why not go on an Urban Adventure. Explore both the old and new sides of this amazing city, while visiting cafes, bars and attractions that only the locals really know about. One museum that shouldn't be missed is the Museum of Genocide (also known as the KGB Museum). It is located in Vilnius' formed KGB headquarters and is dedicated to the 50-year history of Soviet occupation which has left a visible mark on the city and the country.
Note: For more information about the Urban Adventures available in Vilnius, visit http://www.urbanadventures.com/destination/Vilnius-tours
Day 24 - Aukstaitija National Park
After breakfast, travel by local train to the town of Ignalina (approximately 2 hours) and then on to Aukstaitija ('Owk-sty-chee-ah') National Park and the charming village of Ginuciai where our home stay is located. As one of the most delightful national parks in the Baltic states, Aukstaitija has 126 lakes, an abundance of waterways, hills and woods. This afternoon you will take a guided kayak ride through the lakes and rivers, past villages and through forests, to an ancient pagan site on top of a hill with a wishing tree. The top affords great views across the surrounding forests and lakes. Transfer back to your accommodation later in the afternoon and enjoy the hospitality and home-cooking of our hosts for the next two days.
Notes: The included kayaking activity is weather dependent and may be cancelled in adverse weather conditions.
Day 25 - Aukstaitija National Park
Today is free to visit some of the local attractions, such as the nearby villages that date from the 14th century and consist of traditional wooden houses and farmsteads. The 19th-century Ginuciai Watermill is another point of interest. You can hike to some glorious lookouts, do some fishing, take a swim in the lake or river rapids, or just relax. Perhaps ask our host family to fire up the sauna for the ultimate relaxation and cleansing experience.
Notes: There is a flat fee to start up the sauna, which can be divided by the number of guests who partake.
Day 26 - Warsaw
Exit Lithuania today and cross the border into Poland, making the epic journey to Warsaw (approximately 9 hours). Unfortunately, there's no faster way so get comfortable with a good book and take in the sights en route (make sure to bring snacks for the long journey). Warsaw is Poland's large, bustling capital, with a love of culture and art, as well as entertainment. There are numerous theatrical and musical venues, including the prestigious National Opera, the Chamber Opera and the National Theatre. As you won't have much time to explore when you arrive, perhaps head out for dinner with the group in the evening.
Day 27 - Warsaw
Not long after breakfast today, head out on a short Orientation Walk and an included visit to the evocative Warsaw Uprising Museum. Opened on the 60th anniversary of the Uprising, this museum recounts the events which saw the people of Warsaw fighting against the Nazi occupation. The museum is a moving tribute to those who fought and died for independence. The rest of your day is free to do as you wish. There are plenty of other museums to browse, including the Ethnographic Museum, Marie Curie Museum and Natural History Museum. The Palace of Science and Culture Observation Deck is a great way of seeing the city of Warsaw in all of its glory. Alternatively continue to explore Warsaw's old town, rebuilt true to the original after WWII had left 85% of Warsaw in rubble. The effort was recognized by UNESCO in 1980 when it was added to the world heritage list. Make sure you also head down the Royal Mile past the university, beautiful baroque buildings and the occasional royal park.
Day 28 - Berlin
Leave Poland behind and cross the border into Germany today, as you head to Berlin by train (approximately 6 hours). On arrival into Berlin there won't be too much daylight left, but the city has a unique nightlife that presents delicious food, bars, pubs and clubs (if that's your thing). The Brandenburg Gate, Germany's symbol which is minted on the Euro coins, is a great place to visit at night, as the whole area is completely lit up. Other areas great for night life are the inner-city neighbourhoods of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, perfect for all-nighters. 24-hour public transport makes venturing around the city a breeze.
Day 29 - Berlin
If you're a bit daunted by the size of the city, an ideal way to find your feet are bus lines 100 and 200 as they are perfect to reach many of the main tourist sites for just the regular bus fare. There are many unique memorials and sites holding significance in Berlin's more recent history, which are all designed to provoke thought as well as commemorate. These include the Jewish Memorial, the empty book shelves of Bebelplatz and the confronting Topography of Terror. The 19th century Reichstag, whose cupola was designed by British architect Norman Foster, holds a special and symbolic meaning outside of its role as the home of parliament. The great glass dome that crowns the building also offers sweeping views over Berlin. Make sure you book your visit early in the morning, as queues can snake around the building for hours on end. Find the crumbling remnants of the Berlin Wall that are scattered all over the city. Checkpoint Charlie is also a significant site in German history, as its museum overlooks the former border checkpoint dividing East and West.
Your 'Baltic Experience' adventure comes to an end after breakfast today. There are no more activities planned and you're able to depart the accommodation at any time. There are multiple sights and attractions to visit during your stay in Berlin, so it may be worth booking an extra couple of days accommodation so you can fit it all in. Our reservations team will be happy to help (subject to availability).
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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