Riga

Charming Riga, Latvia’s capital, is situated at the mouth of the River Daguava on the Baltic Sea. An important strategic position for years, the city is rich with history and culture, while the Art Nouveau flourishes in its architecture tell of the city’s prosperity.

The largest of the three Baltic capitals, Riga’s skyline is dominated by Gothic spires, while the Old Town is UNESCO-listed for the craftsmanship of the 19th century wooden architecture. Although the city was founded in 1201 CE, today it is very much a modern melting pot of Baltic sensibilities, holding significant cultural events throughout the year, such as Eurovision in 2003, or the European Capital of Culture in 2014.

Riga’s cobble stoned streets have seen much in their life, with an 800 year history of occupation, conquering and flourishing. It has remained an important trade port for everyone who has come across it, from the Norse kings to German Dukes to the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany Occupation and then back to the Soviet Union before Latvia became its own republic in 1991. All of these

Take a tour of the city’s UNESCO Old Town with a knowledgeable guide; explore and sample the delicious local goods such as black bread and cheese at the large central market; enjoy a stay at a spa hotel; or learn about Latvian history in an interactive way at the Open Air Ethnogrphic Museum. Sigulda, the fairytale land of castles, the 13th century Knights Stronghold of Turaida and many romantic vistas, is a short day trip away.

Although understated, the city is home to many hip bars, cafes, modern art centres and restaurants with interesting experimental menus.  Perched on the edge of the gulf that shares its name, Riga is well worth your time and is easily incorporated into a tour of the Baltic States, such as Leisurely Latvia, the Beautiful Baltics or Refined Baltics.

Tallinn

Tallinn is a mix of medieval charms and bustling modernity with ancient church spires and glass skyscrapers crowding the cityscape. The capital and largest city of Estonia, Tallinn is situated on the Gulf of Finland and, although officially founded in 1248, the earliest human settlement here was some 5,000 years ago.

Today, Tallinn boasts a UNESCO-listed Old Town along with all the trappings of a thriving modern metropolis – restaurants, bars, cafes and more. Although in contemporary history it has had some unsavoury characteristics, Tallinn has moved beyond the flashy to classy and modern tourism, with an emphasis on top dining and accommodation experiences.

The highlights of Tallinn include a guided tour of its beautiful walled old town with a look at a well-preserved 14th century merchant’s house and is the oldest Hanseatic town centre in the world; a casual stroll down the beautiful coastline dotted with promenades and beaches; and, a tour of the fascinating 18th century Kadriorg Palace and art museum, with Estonia’s largest collection of western European and Russian art. Visit the Song Festival Grounds, the first modern construction in Tallinn built in 1960, where every five years the Song Festival is held with over 25,000 singers and the Rocca Al Mare Open Air Museum. A snapshot in time of Estonia’s rural architecture and way of life.

Tallinn is an absolute must on any travel itinerary through the Baltic States and is encompassed on our Classical Baltics, Discover the Baltics and the Beautiful Baltics. Or take in a little of Wild Estonia with a short tour out of Tallinn to Matsalu National Park and Elistvere Animal Park, where you may see beavers, elk, bears, ringed seals, lynxes and an abundance of rare birdlife.

Vilnius

Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, has had a tumultuous history since its founding in the 14th century. Legend has it the Gediminas, a Lithuanian duke, dreamed of an iron wolf atop a hill and when he consulted a pagan priest, he was told that the iron wolf was the castle and the hill was the city that he was to establish as the capital of Lithuanian lands. And so, Vilnius was born.

Today it is a traveller’s paradise, combining old world charm with hundreds of interesting cultural attractions, artists workshops and stunning hilltop views – not to mention the cleanest and healthiest drinking water in Europe and exceptionally fast wifi!

The Old Town of Vilnius is one of the largest in Europe and is UNESCO heritage listed for its amalgamation of Gothic, Renaissance and most prominently, Baroque architecture. The cobbled streets of the Old Town hold in memoriam the rapid growth and development of Vilnius in the 1500s, with an influx of migrants of many different language groups.  Napoleon dubbed the town the ‘Jerusalem of the North’ for its large Jewish population in 1812 and pre WWII, it was commonly known throughout Europe as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

WWII and the subsequent annexation to the Soviet Union proved devastating for the city’s population and culture, with more than 95% of the Jewish population being killed by Nazi Germany and Lithuanian sympathisers, while the KGB had well established torture cells in the city. Since Lithuania declared its independence in the early 1990s, the city has attempted to move beyond its dark past and has invested in new restaurants and cultural sites, restoring the Old Town and establishing many museums.

Take a guided tour of the Royal Palace and Castle Complex , including the Gediminas Tower; the Cathedral Square; the Palace of Grand Dukes of Lithuania; the remains of several medieval castles; the National Museum of Lithuania; and the Lithuanian Art Museum. At the Museum of Genocide Victims, visitors can learn more about the city’s tragic contemporary history.

Next to the Old Town is the once poverty stricken suburb of Užupis. Today, Užupis is a bohemian artists colony with galleries, artists’ workshops and many design and craft markets to explore. During Soviet times, this suburb was unsafe and the ‘dumping ground’ for anyone who bucked the trend – now the main square has a statue of an angel blowing a trumpet to symbolise artistic freedom.

Vilnius is encompassed in our Refined Baltics, Classical Baltics and Beautiful Baltics tours, while Bentours also offers a number of day trips out of Vilnius. Explore the nearby Trakai, a 15th century Gothic castle built on an island in Lake Galv or Kaunas, the former capital of Lithuania that offers impressive monasteries, cathedrals, the Devil’s Museum, the Fort Museum and a city zoo.

Stockholm

Stockholm is a sleek and sophisticated city, full of fascinating museums, innovative restaurants and a perfectly preserved old town. Stockholm is spread across 14 islands where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea and is definitely one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, with a third of the city covered in parks and green spaces. Connected by 57 bridges, it is easily accessible on foot or by bicycle.

Settled since the Stone Age, Stockholm has a long history as an important trade hub. The city remains important today as the largest of the Nordic cities and has the fastest growing population in Europe. Untouched by any major disasters or wars, Stockholm provides a snapshot into life through the ages with the beautifully preserved Gamla Stan (old town) on one island, while the island next to it shows the city in all its progressive glory, with soaring skyscrapers and a bustling business district.

To make the most of your time in Stockholm, we highly recommend investing in a Stockholm City Pass which includes free entry to more than 75 attractions. In Gamla Stan, look out for the impressive German church, the Riddarhuset (house of nobility) and both the Bonde and Tessin Palace, decked out in colourful pastel tones and perched tightly on the narrow winding cobblestone streets. The Riddarholmen Church is the oldest building in Stockholm circa 1200s and is the resting place of the Swedish monarchs, nearby to the Royal Palace, an imposing baroque building.

With your Stockholm pass, you will have access to some of the best museums in the city – the city has over 100, so making your choice may be tricky! The Vasa Museum is the most visited non-art museum in Scandinavia and houses the almost fully intact 64 gun warship, the Vasa, that sunk on her maiden journey in 1628 as well as other maritime paraphernalia.  For the art lovers, the National Museum holds a huge collection of works including Rembrandt and Watteau and influential Swedish artists Alexander Roslin, Anders Zorn, Johan Tobias Sergel and more. For modern art, the Moderna Museet is not to be missed, with notable works by Picasso and Salvador Dali, or there is the wonderfully curated Fotografiska with the largest collection of contemporary photography.

A museum for the whole family is the fascinating Skansen open air museum and zoo, that was founded in 1891 to show the ways of life in Sweden pre-industrial revolution.  Located on Royal Djurgården island, it is a miniature Sweden, with 150 dwellings from around the country dismantled and reassembled here for visitors to explore. And for music enthusiasts, ABBA: The Museum is a definite must with fun interactive exhibits and non-stop music!

There are many other museums and world class galleries to explore in Stockholm, as well as a thriving nightlife scene. With eight Michelin starred restaurants and many fresh, chic bars, there is always somewhere for every kind of visitor to try as the evening begins. The Stockholm Dinner Cruise is a wonderful way to spend the evening, with the gorgeous city lights shimmering on the water, as you sail the night away in romance. Alternatively, we also offer an Under the Bridges of Stockholm cruise during the day.

Stockholm is also the perfect base to explore Sweden’s surrounding islands – Gotland Island and the Åland Islands. Gotland Island is 90km from the Swedish mainland and is the largest island in the Baltic Sea. With long beaches, pristine nature and the medieval town of Visby, this World Heritage Listed island really is the ‘pearl of the Baltic Sea’.

The Åland Archipelago comprises of over 6, 700 islands in the Baltic Sea located between Sweden and Finland. Although an autonomous Finnish province, the official language is Swedish and the people have strong cultural links to Sweden. Only 38km from the Swedish mainland, a short trip to Mariehamn will allow you to discover the beauty of the landscape by hiring a car, a bike, a kayak or even on a sailboat. For food lovers, a trip to Åland is a highlight with a heavy emphasis on locally produced food such as the award-winning air dried green pepper salami, handmade goats cheese or blueberry beer.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen melds stately Neoclassical architecture, exceptional gastronomic experiences, modernity and hundreds of cultural events to create a thriving metropolitan hub. The Royal Capital of Denmark for nine centuries, the years of prosperity Copenhagen has enjoyed are reflected in its architecture and cultural delights and it has many sights and experiences to offer every kind of visitor – from high-end to adventurous travel.

A Viking fishing village believed to have been founded about the 10th century, Copenhagen is dominated by Neoclassical buildings constructed following the Great Plague and two devastating fires in the 18th century. Known as the Danish Golden Age, the 19th and 20th centuries saw the creation of many cultural centres such as the Royal Theatre and Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and the appreciation for art, music, theatre and dance has only grown in Copenhagen as the centuries have passed.

Boasting 15 Michelin starred restaurants, Copenhagen is a foodie heaven and the gourmet capital of Europe. Bentours invite you to indulge your senses on our Copenhagen Food Tour centred around Torvehallerne, the new market halls, or take in the delights of Denmark as a whole on the Food, Fun and Fairy-tales self drive tour.

Copenhagen itself has too many tourist attractions to list, but many of the gardens and palaces such as the Rococo style Amalienborg and Christianborg Palace, the Rosenborg Castle Gardens and the Tivoli Gardens are not to be missed. We suggest investing in a Copenhagen City Card which provides unlimited public transport in central zones as well as free access to the above-mentioned attractions and many more. Copenhagen is extremely bicycle friendly, and most of the attractions can be reached by an easy bike ride. On a sunny day Amager Strandpark, an artificial island with 4.6km of beaches, is a 15 minute bike ride from the city centre and the perfect place for a picnic.

There are few traces of the medieval old town left due to fires in the 1700s, however there are many fascinating modern architectural marvels to see in Christianshavn. Originally built to be a fortified trading centre, Christianshavn is full of canals and ramparts and is now home to the new Opera House and the National Library’s Black Diamond building, both of which are perched on the waterfront.

Freetown Christiania is a fascinating self proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of Copenhagen, independent of the Danish government and living by their own set of rules. Since its foundation in the 1970s in the old naval barracks, this hippie community has courted controversy, beginning out as a squatters community until the residents began the legal purchase of the land in 2012. Visitors are welcomed and can see homemade houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries, and an abundance of beautiful nature.

In the land of the father of fairytales, Hans Christian Anderson, a visit to the Little Mermaid Statue is a must and to the 17th century candy-hued waterfront town houses in Nyhavn. Kronburg castle is only a day trip away or explore the coast on our Coastal Fairytale package.

Denmark is also famous for Legoland of course – and what better way to visit than by rail on our Legoland by Rail tour. For a short city break, visit Bornholm or the Faroe Islands on a tour out of Copenhagen. Alternatively, you can easily combine a tour of Denmark with Sweden – from Copenhagen, the Øresund Bridge connects to Malmö, Sweden.

Swedish Lapland

The Swedish Laplands are one of the only places in Europe where you can really feel like you are seeing nature at its unrefined best. Think tall forests, sweeping snowy plains, majestic craggy mountains and very little habitation, and you have the Laplands. Home to the indigenous Sami people (called Sápmi in their own language), Lapland has many interesting cultural and wildlife adventures in store for the eager traveller.

Findings suggest that Sami people have lived in the Arctic for over one thousand years, across modern day Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Sami people are all over Sweden but there is a concentration of the indigenous population in the Northern Laplands, where they traditionally lived and farmed reindeer. Today, only 10% of Swedish Sami earn a living from grazing reindeer, while many create family businesses that combine tourism, fishing and crafts. This is perhaps due to the difficult relationship the Sami have with the Swedes – although a UN recognised indigenous people now, Sami culture and people have been oppressed over the centuries.

Sami culture is spread all through Lapland, but Jokkmokk is its beating heart, just north of the Artic Circle. Here, visit the Ajtte Sami Museum and Mountain Garden as well as many local craft and food markets. Our Taste of Swedish Lapland by Rail package takes you to this fascinating meeting place as well as Gallivare and Kiruna, both iron-ore mining centres that are unrefined but charming.

Nearby Kiruna, visiting the world famous ICEHOTEL is an experience like no other, a hotel carved out of ice every year in the winter. Stay overnight as a part of our Absolutely Ice Deluxe package in a thermal sleeping bag on a bed built of snow and ice, covered with traditional reindeer hides and have a drink in the stunning IceBar. On the same tour, visit Harads, a quaint village where you can stay in a treehouse at the TreeHotel.

Lulea, on the coast, is the capital of Lapland and is the perfect base to try out some thrilling activities. With lakes, forests and mountains surrounding, in the summertime hike, kayak and fish, while in the winter, try your hand at dog-sledding, snow shoeing and snowmobiling. In Lulea itself, lose yourself in history in the World Heritage listed Gammelstad Church Town, which has a 13th century church and roots in the Middle Ages.

In the wintertime, the Laplands are the ideal place to watch the Northern Lights and there is no better place to be than in Abisko National Park. Adventure opportunities abound with back country skiing slopes and even the chance to climb a frozen waterfall in Abisko canyon on our Abisko Adventure package! Take a chairlift up Mount Nuolja to be in the ideal position to spot the green flames of Aurora Borealis from the Aurora Sky Station.

Aarhus

Where Aarhus may not have the sophisticated chic of Copenhagen, it is a vibrant city with an ancient history but a young and fun population. With bars, restaurants, museums and festivals aplenty, Aarhus is well worth a visit.

The second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus is situated in the geographical centre of Denmark on the Jutland Peninsula. Originating as a fortified Viking settlement in the 8th century, it is one of the oldest continuous cities in Denmark. The Moesgaard Museum delves into the city’s prehistory and sheds light on the life of the Vikings who lived here centuries ago. For a more recent look at olden day life, the open air museum of urban history and culture (Den Gamle By) takes visitors from 1500 to modern day, with houses, farmers, shops and even bakeries, following 1880s recipes.

Enjoy a tour of the Old Town and see the famous cathedral of Aarhus, the longest and tallest in the country at 93m in length and 96m in height. Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century, as with much of the Old Town. With many parks and narrow cobblestone streets, Aarhus Old Town is a charming spot to visit.

Aarhus has the largest university in Denmark and so a relatively young population. Perhaps this is part of the reason why it has such a strong music scene, with many small festivals going on throughout the year. Three of the biggest music festivals of Denmark occur here over the Summer – the 8 day International Jazz Festival; SPOT Festival, showcasing emerging Danish and Scandinavian talent; and the NorthSide Festival, a three day festival of international and Scandinavian acts. In 2017, Aarhus will be one of the European Capitals of Culture  and so the event calendar will be even more jam-packed, with many events happening in and around the impressive Musikhuset.

Other highlights of the city include the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, with the Rainbow Panorama Circular deck on top of the building, giving unparalleled 360 degree views of the city. The city also boasts three Michelin star restaurants and many renowned bars.

Explore Aarhus as a part of the Coastal Fairy-tale, Danish Delights or Denmark Castles and Jutland package. What’s more, Legoland in Billund is only a short trip away and an essential Danish experience!

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are 18 small islands halfway between Norway and Iceland and home to dramatic and breathtaking scenery. An autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands have a lot to share with the adventurous traveller, from ancient historical sites to beautiful nature.

For nature lovers, the Faroe Islands are ideal with many hikes and amazing sights to see. The landscape is rugged and treeless with Arctic alpine plants, wildflowers and heath dominating. Walking opportunities abound, such as at Gjogv with a gorgeous natural harbour and the island’s longest canal while at the Sørvágsvatn/Leitisvatn lake the Bøsdalafossur waterfall cascades 35m directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The small villages of Tjornuvikic and Saksun are charming, surrounded by high mountains and a natural fjord, with a large lagoon emerging as the tides change.

Toshavn is the capital, surrounded by mountains, with the world’s oldest court dating back to approximately 825, the times of the old Norse. The cultural centre of Kirkjubour is home to a Middle Ages church and ruins of the St Magnus cathedral, as well as a 900 year old wooden log-house, Roylestovan, considered to be the oldest of its kind in the world. A day trip out of Torshavn to the nearby island of Nolsoy is well worth your time, with the world’s largest colony of storm petrels and a small quaint town where no cars are allowed. Better yet, around midsummer when the days are long, Bentours can organise a night tour out to the island, where the noise of the birds is astounding.

For birdlovers, an excursion to the cliffs of Vestmanna is a must. With 700m cliffs and deep grottos that you can sail into, visitors can see puffins, guillemots and fulmars. Klaksvik is the second biggest town with an old Nordic style church that inspired many more across Scandinavia, while Leirvik is home to old Viking ruins.

Although geographically small and isolated, the people of Faroe speak their own unique language (Faroese) and have a proud gastronomy culture, serving up local delicacies such as fermented lamb, roast puffin and wind-dried fish. Although not immediately appealing in description, food has immense importance to the Faroese as they use traditional age-old methods of preparation, such as ræst – meaning fermentation. This is the process of drying fish and meat outdoors, with the climate and weather conditions effecting the final taste. Warmer temperatures spoil the taste while cool temperatures will prevent fermentation and too much wind will leave it tasteless.

But never fear, for the less adventurous amongst us, Torshavn has a large array of restaurants of various cuisines as well as a (surprisingly) active music scene. There is a jam packed calendar of music events throughout the year from opera to Viking Metal, but the most popular are in the Summer, Summartónar and G!, where thousands of people congregate to hear local and international artists.

For a true taste of all that the Faroe Islands have to offer, take our self drive Faroe Islands Explorer package on the islands’ exceptionally well maintained roads and tunnels. Alternatively, explore Torshavn on the short Taste of the Faroe Islands package, with day trips to your top points of interest.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg wears its European charm easily, weathering revolutions, name changes and sieges, to emerge as a cosmopolitan city with all the modern comforts of life couched in classical architecture. The best time to visit the city is during Midsummer, where the sun never quite sets during the White Nights of mid-June to mid-July. The city thrives day and night, with cafes and bars that feel distinctly European but with a Russian twist.

Dominating St Petersburg is the Hermitage Museum in Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace. Founded in 1764, this museum is one of the largest in the world with over 2.7 million items including notable works of Da Vinci, Raphael, Rodin, Rembrandt and Rubens. A tour of this monument is essential given it’s colossal collection of work!

Yusupov Palace is another beautiful palace, perched on the riverside and is where the ‘Mad Monk’ Grigori Rasputin was murdered in 1916. With a sweeping marble staircase, a Moorish-inspired billiard room, an art gallery and the White Columns room, this decadent palace offers a peek into Imperial Russia of the 19th century.

Catherine’s summer palace is a short daytrip away in Pushkin, nearby to the Lyceum where the poet Pushkin studied. Famous for its ballroom and amber room, the palace has now been completely restored to its former glory.

An older but perhaps more impressive palace is the Peterhof Palace and grounds, located in St Petersburg. Inspired by France’s Versailles, Peter the Great established this beautiful Palace and successive royalty improved and expanded it. Like much of St Petersburg post WWII, Peterhof suffered, however with the help of 1 000 volunteers and a team military engineers, the lower garden was reopened in 1945 and the Grand Palace was fully restored in 1952. Today, Peterhof draws crowds not only for the Grand Palace but for the amazing grounds, with the impressive system of fountains, in particular the spectacular Grand Cascade. Featuring 64 different fountains and over 200 bronze statues, this magnificent water feature  is especially magically on the long midsummer days.

Discover all St Petersburg has to offer on Bentours’ Russia’s Two Capital Tour, Classical Russia or, try something a little different on a Volga Dream river cruise, connecting Russia’s two most powerful cities. As a quick break, try our Visa-Free St Petersburg Tour, from Helsinki to St Petersburg with just enough time to see the highlights of this cosmopolitan city

Moscow

Moscow is the brash, fast-paced and glitzy capital of a nation that has gone through many upheavals in the past century.  Loud and chaotic with a polished European veneer, in this city you can’t help but be swept up in the heady rush of gastronomy, fashion, architecture and history on every street corner.

Russia’s heaving capital has so much to offer to every kind of tourist. Sometimes bewildering but always intriguing, modern day Moscow is a far cry from its provincial beginnings as a small wooden settlement in 1147. Geographically, the city’s general layout is in concentric circles, radiating from the Red Square and Kremlin – Moscow’s spiritual and historical heart. Each wider circle is like stepping into a different period in Moscow’s (and Russia as a whole) history. Beginning with the power seat and history of the Kremlin; to the retro Soveit-era bars, cafes and clubs, including Lenin’s Mausoleum; and then onto the upmarket hotels, gourmet restaurants and luxury department stores of the new Russia.

With so much to see in this truly thriving metropolis, it is well worth your time and money to join one of our city tours. See the ‘Palaces of the People’ on foot – the old underground metro stations that contain beautiful sculptures, bronze busts, mosaics and crystal chandeliers. By coach, see the Red Square and Kremlin, the Bolshoi Theatre, Victory Park, the White House, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, to name just a few. Locals recommend the Botanical Gardens for a change of pace, or admire the urban sprawl from Lenin Hills.

Perhaps the best time to see Moscow is at night – when it truly comes alive. Bentours can organise a night tour for you of its architectural marvels, a visit to the ballet at Bolshoi Theatre (which books out months in advance!) or better yet, see the twinkling city lights from a Volga River Cruise.

To see Russia beyond Moscow, consider a short tour to the beautiful, Golden Ring, a name given to the ring of wonderfully preserved medieval towns around Moscow. Sergiev Posad, the UNESCO World Heritage Listed monastery complex that is arguably the most beautiful in Russia. A combination of monastery and fortress, it is the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and a fascinating cultural icon, easily accessible on a guided tour.

Discover all Moscow has to offer on a Moscow Explorer Tour or go further afield on Russia’s Two Capital Tour and the Classical Russia Tour. Alternatively, try something a little different on a Volga Dream river cruise, connecting Russia’s two most powerful cities.