Tucked away, but not forgotten, the Baltics stand at the edge of Europe - revived and reinvigorated after years of Nazi and Soviet occupation. Storybook capitals and stunning natural landscapes lie ahead, but first Poland's capital gets the nod as your launchpad to a region that has emerged vibrant despite its tragic history. Meet your Travel Director and fellow travellers, then enjoy dinner together.
A lesson in courage and perseverance awaits this morning as you join a Local Specialist to visit Warsaw's Old Town. Its façades are more modern than medieval and a testament to the resilience of the Poles who have lovingly restored their capital city after it was razed to the ground in retaliation for the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. See the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, immortalised in the poignant Roman Polanski film - The Pianist, then spend the rest of the day exploring the city your way. This afternoon, perhaps join an optional visit to the 17th-century Baroque Wilanów Palace, once the summer home of King Jan Sobieski III, followed by an optional evening of traditional music and dance.
The journey north begins today, through pastoral landscapes and rural villages to Vilnius, Lithuania's elegant capital. There isn't a city in Northern Europe with a medieval Old Town its size and you'll have an opportunity to explore every inch of its Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance splendour on your own and with a Local Specialist. Signs of the city's 50-years of Soviet occupation can still be seen, but it is the city's beautiful architectural heritage, gritty street art and youthful spirit which take centre stage on your visit. Launch into a love affair with Lithuanian food this evening by joining an optional dinner and folklore show. Skanaus!
All the iconic sights of Vilnius are revealed this morning as you join a Local Specialist to see the 16th-century Bishop's Palace and the University, the oldest in the Baltics. Explore the Baroque Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, built on the site of a temple to the pagan goddess of love. Then walk to the Gates of Dawn, the Carmelite Church of St. Theresa and former Jewish Ghetto, passing the Cathedral, new Royal Palace excavations and the former site of the synagogue, destroyed during World War II. This afternoon, head back to the former communist era on an Optional Experience to the KGB museum.
Switch the new capital for the old capital on an Optional Experience to Trakai with its enchanting lakeside castle. Later, don't leave Vilnius without fueling up on some of the city's famous kibinai pasties. Savoury or sweet, take your pick, before you leave the city bound for the Hill of Crosses at Šiauliai where millions of crosses jostle for their spot in a non-violent protest against decades of Russian and Soviet rule. Arrive in the ancient city of Riga later - its Gothic skyline has witnessed German, Scandinavian and Russian rule across eight centuries, and you'll get to hear all their tales of triumph and tragedy over the next day.
Riga's UNESCO-listed Old Town reveals one of the world's finest collections of Art Nouveau buildings and a rich Hanseatic trade heritage that comes to life in the colourful stories shared by your Local Specialist this morning. Stroll through the winding medieval streets keeping your camera at hand to capture St. Peter's Church, the Three Brothers and Riga Cathedral. The rest of the day is free to explore Riga on your terms. Admire the skyline from the comfort of a canal boat, indulge in the herbal flavours of the city's favourite Black Balsam at a traditional city tavern, or join an Optional Experience at the Bergi Open Air Museum, revealing Latvia's cultural heritage.
Follow the Gulf of Riga north into Estonia, travelling via Pärnu, a popular beach resort for Tallinn locals. Arriving in their fairy-tale hometown a little later, you'll encounter a lively blend of Scandinavian and Russian flavours. It is the enchanting and well-preserved Old Town that will capture your heart however, as you take a step back in time and wander through cobbled streets lined with red-roofed Hanseatic merchant houses and medieval churches. The city's strategic location has made it a gateway to the Baltics and Russia for centuries and it has lost none of this old-world ambience as you'll come to discover over the next day.
Behind the 13th-century Walls of Tallinn lies a UNESCO-listed treasure trove of beautifully preserved medieval façades. Admire the city's gabled houses and hidden courtyards that reveal the rich heritage of a city which once held pride of place in the Hanseatic League. Your Local Specialist will take you past the 15th-century Luhike Jalg Gate and you'll visit Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a symbol of Russian power with its magnificent gold-plated dome. Leave the city behind on an Optional Experience to Lahema National Park. You'll enjoy afternoon tea and pastries in one of the 18th-century manor houses before returning to Tallinn. A second Optional Experience could see you visit Tallinn's Kalamaja, a fishing harbour turned Bohemian Quarter with its colourful wooden buildings.
Head east to the town of Narva, dominated by the mighty Hermannsburg Fortress, where we cross the River Narva, which forms the Russian border. Then, it's on to St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great. This port city is Russia's cultural centre and with its world-famous opera, ballet and art museums, it offers a fascinating look into Russia's past.
The tales of Romanov royalty come to life as you join a Local Specialist for an exhilarating sightseeing tour of St. Petersburg's iconic sights. See the Tsar's Winter Palace, Nevsky Prospekt and St. Isaac's Cathedral. Learn how the enduring presence of The Bronze Horseman ensures the city will never yield to enemy forces, then explore the Peter and Paul Fortress, the final resting place of the tsars and tsarinas whose magic touch can still be seen in the pastel façades of this glorious city. This afternoon, you could choose to embark on an Optional Experience to the Hermitage to see one of the largest and most valuable collections of art in the world.
What could be better than a full day to marvel at the legacy left behind by a tsar who wanted to build a city to rival the great capitals of Europe? Spend your day exploring the rise and fall of the Romanovs as you wander past the elegant mansions, wide boulevards and leafy canals that are all that remains of an uninhabitable swamp.
Don't resist the urge to walk in the footsteps of the tsars today and consider an optional visit to the opulent summer residence of Peter the Great in Petrodvorets. Peter wasn't afraid to think big and you'll see how the lavish, lush gardens of this sun-kissed retreat were created to rival the opulence of Versailles. Today is your final day to explore this imperial city and surrounds on your terms.
Leave St. Petersburg behind, bound for the 'Birthplace of Russia', the ancient city of Novgorod. Here you'll delve into the legacy of the Rurik dynasty which ruled Russia for over seven centuries. You'll view the Millennium Monument, St. Sophia Cathedral and the Kremlin whose fortified red façades overlook the Volkhov River. Tonight, dinner is served at your hotel.
Big and bold, Moscow towers unashamedly above other cities, claiming its rightful spot as the deserving modern-day capital of Russia. But first, enjoy a brief lunch visit in the Tver region. Arriving in Moscow, spend some time delving into the victories and tragedies that have shaped this magnificent city. You'll have an opportunity later to embark on an Optional Experience to visit an illuminated Red Square and Moscow's grandiose Metro stations, themselves great works of art. Here style and substance coexist effortlessly making Moscow's Metro the most beautiful subway system in the world.
Moscow oozes grandeur around every turn, from the colourful domes of St. Basil's Cathedral to the imposing Red Square - the site of grand celebrations, fierce fighting and the seat of Russian power for centuries. A Local Specialist will reveal some of its iconic sights, past the spires of St. Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin Walls. An Optional Experience to the heart of Moscow will take you behind the scenes of its red walls to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and Ivan the Great's Bell Tower. Admire great imperial riches during an optional visit to the Treasure Chamber of the Russian tsars, including priceless Fabergé eggs, resplendent Imperial carriages and Catherine the Great's diamonds.
Rub shoulders with the locals this morning, immersing yourself in Moscow's vibrant kofe culture before a full day to explore the city your way. From catching a few rays in Gorky Park to shopping up a storm in GUM, one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, there's something to satisfy every interest in the Russian capital. You could choose instead to join an Optional Experience to the 14th-century Sergiyev Posad, a place of pilgrimage and the largest religious and cultural centre in Russia.
You've walked in the footsteps of Peter the Great and discovered the vibrant culture, haunting history and imposing monuments of the Baltics and Russia on this epic journey. All that's left is to say a fond do svidaniya to new friends and prepare to return home. Find out more about your free airport transfer at costsavertour.com/freetransfers.