Over the Easter break, I decided to spend time in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It was a great choice, albeit slightly too cold for me! These countries are known as the Baltic states as they all face the Baltic sea. I arrived into Tallinn, Estonia via Ferry from Helsinki. It is a very convenient 2-hour trip so people often do day trips between the two cities. Tourism in the Baltics is growing as it has some beautiful, historic buildings and in the summer, some great beach coastline.
Instead of doing a sustainable travel guide for each country, I have done the highlights of each. Vegetarian food was a bit of a stretch in some locations so I needed to do a bit of extra research. Also, poor old Vilnius didn’t really get a good run because I was there over Easter so most businesses were on holidays.
Best for vegetarian food: Vilnius
This one was tough. There wasn’t a stand-out location where vegetarian food was really accessible. I would say that Tallinn had the most meat on menus in regular restaurants so it is important to find proper vegan restaurants. Apparently, Vegan Restoran V is great but I didn’t get there.
As for Vilnius, I went to a few good vegetarian restaurants. They also have a Lithuanian dish called šaltibarščiai which is a cold creamy beetroot soup. It has egg and milk in it so is not suitable for vegans but did the trick for me as a vegetarian. They often serve roast potatoes as a side dish with the soup which I found quite confusing but they tasted good. One place I went to, which has good traditional Lithuanian food, to Etno Dvaras gave a side of bread and roast potatoes with the soup!! Carb overload!
There is also a really cool social enterprise called Mano Guru which helps people get into the workforce after drug addictions. They had a beautiful atmosphere and great food!
I had a delicious vegan cake in Vegafe which is a popular hot spot for vegan and vegetarian food. They had an extensive menu and had some nice dishes, although one had too much soy meat for my liking!
Best for op shops/thrift shops: Tallinn
I found the top shopping strip for op shops or thrift shops in Tallinn. There were 4 that were spaced in a nice loop and I even got some doughnuts at a local cafe called Sõõrikukohvik where you paid for their legendary Russian style doughnuts by weight. They were just what I needed to get cracking on my op shop adventure!
The first stop was Uuskasutuskesku which reminded me of the Salvo’s in Australia. They had a good range of quality items that were decently priced. It was quite busy with a good flow of people in and out. They are a charity that focuses on ‘rescuing’ good quality pieces from landfill but all profits go to those in need. They have supported some anti-bullying in schools campaigns and other youth-related initiatives.
The next stop was Humana Vintage. Humana is a big chain (like Savers in Australia) and has some great stuff. This one was all vintage clothes, which is not the case for all Humana stores. I really liked the colours and how the styles (lots of flowing skirts and dresses). Unfortunately, I was more focused on trying not to freeze to death, so dresses were out of the equation.
Next one was one I found on the street and stumbled in called Faktory Thrift Shop. It was nice but did not have a big selection of clothing. It was great for crockery and furniture but a couch and a set of mugs won’t really fit in the suitcase right now.
My last stop was called US 2 U which has a lot of American brand for cheap. It is almost like a seconds style shop. There were some really nice pieces and I picked up a cute peplum top.
Overall, my biggest reflection was that most of these shops were for profit. In Australia, I would say that the majority of op shops have their profits go to a charitable cause. However, it seems to be a profit-driven business model here. The prices were far more expensive than in Australia and you really had to dig around for bargains. It got me thinking about the role of op shops. Should they be profitable businesses so they divert more waste from landfill or should they be a bit cheaper so they are accessible for people who may not have a lot of money or should they be moderately priced with profits going to a charity?
Personally I think a mix is important, however, it would be good to have more transparency about the types of businesses they are as it would guide where I shop.
It was a fun afternoon exploring the ‘burbs of Tallinn for some bargains and eating some wicked delicious doughnuts!
Best for art: Vilnius
Vilnius has an awesome art scene, which you can feel on the streets. There is always an exhibition happening as well as some controversial street art to keep things interesting!
Užupis is a suburb in Vilnius that has been an art hub for a while. Some say it is the Montmartre of France. It has a really cool vibe as it is along the river that winds through Vilnius. There are heaps of cute shops selling local art. But the most interesting part of Užupis is that in 1997 the residents of the area declared it the Republic of Užupis, along with its own flag, unofficial currency, president, cabinet of ministers, a constitution written by Romas Lileikis and Thomas Chepaitis, an anthem, and an army of approximately 11 men. The constitution is up on the walls in a variety of languages and promotes freedom and good living. Apparently their ‘independence day’ falls on April 1 which is April Fools Day. It is a reminder to not take things too seriously and the often perilous bureaucracy of political decision makers.
Within Užupis, there is also an Art Incubator which has a collection of local art and tells stories of local heroes. They often have events, so would recommend you check them out and do a day trip to Užupis!
Best for startups: Tallinn and Riga
It was hard to choose between the two as they are great for different reasons. I would recommend checking them both out and trying to get to a few events. Lift99 and Magnetic Latvia both have regular events and is a good way to see what is happening.
Tallinn: Great co-working spaces and digital infrastructure
I spent a day working at Lift99 in the creative area of Tallinn. Its 19 euros for the day and you get set up in a co-working hub with access for coffee and networks. There was some cake left out for people and I got to chat with some locals and foreigners who have startups here. They often have events and have a great vibe. If you want somewhere to focus for a day and to meet some cool people, would recommend it. They also allow dogs inside so there were two hanging around all day. That was definitely a highlight!
Riga: Startup incubator program
Magnetic Latvia is the Latvian Government’s approach to stimulate the local economy. They are state run and co-funded by the EU’s Regional Development Fund, to promote Latvia as an attractive trade partner and destination for tourism. A key part of their work is having a pre-incubation and incubation program to help startups get established in Latvia. If you’re really serious about starting a business in Europe, many people go to Estonia as the launchpad. However, there are startup visas, strong tax incentives and awesome programs in Latvia.
Best for social enterprises: Tallinn
I met with the CEO of Social Enterprise Estonia, Marge Maidla and discussed the social enterprise landscape. There is momentum in Estonia to build businesses that create profit and purpose. They are currently building a robust ecosystem to help social enterprises increase their impact as well as inspire the next generation to set up business in Estonia. The article from the interview is here.
I really enjoyed my time in the Baltics. To cover the 3 countries, it can be done comfortably in 7-10 days. The warmer months would be absolutely lovely as the cities are close to local beaches and there are so many day trips available with local buses.
Sometimes sustainable eating and living were a bit difficult to come across, but it seems the Governments are really focusing on local economic development which includes social enterprises as well as startups. Vegetarian restaurants will continue to grow as more tourists come. At my hostel in Estonia, I met a guy from Pakistan who is starting a Turkish/Pakistani restaurant, because he thinks it is the next big tourist destination in Europe! Watch this space..!