Best Baltic Beach Guide
As all three Baltic nations border the Baltic Sea, choosing a beach can sometimes be a tricky task. At City Paper this season, we've done the legwork for you, so you have more time to enjoy an uncrowded, sandy beach.
In Estonia, Haapsalu is a great beach and has been for over a hundred years when the Russian royal family used to visit. A very Victorian-era vibe is present at this beach, which generally isn't too crowded, except when concerts are on at the nearby stadium.
Pirita beach, with an extensive yachting center, made for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is good for its long stretch of sand, though be aware that the tide comes in rather fast.
For history buffs, Pagila beach, on the island of Saaremaa is known for its battles between the Germans and Russians in World War II. The cozy is a good spot, near the village of Laatsa.
After a recent trip to Cyprus, I came back to Latvia and visited Jurmala, at Majori, one of the most popular beaches in Riga, and asked myself why I thought that flying south would lead to finding better beaches. The best beaches I have ever been to lie in my own backyard. The sand is the softest, the waves the mellowest and the weather for about two weeks a year, fantastic. Not that the beach isn't lovely in the winter, but it's quite a bit colder.
Latvia has over 490 kilometers of sandy beach, most of it secluded and perfect for a long contemplative walk, horseback riding or flying kites.
A must see for first time visitors is the beach at Jurmala, a bit crowded during the summer, but worth it for the activities. Not only is the little main street full of waffle stands and cute boutiques, it is also home to some of the most beautiful wood houses in Riga, many of which are inhabited by VIPs, celebrities and government officials.
Further north, Saulkrasti is a perfect beach in many ways: secluded, sandy, and usually warmer and less windy than Jurmala due to the sand dunes that shelter the area. About the same distance away from Riga, Saulkrasti looks completely different than Jurmala, with dunes and cliffs adding to the dramatic sea scene.
One of the most breathtaking beaches in Eastern Europe can be found in Lithuania, on the Curonian Spit. The beach at Neringa is so incredible, that it even inspired French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who called the beach "a gateway to paradise."
The beach differs from many others in the Baltics, as one doesn't have to go through a small forest to get to it. Instead, the beach is dotted with dunes and small shrubs nestled in the soft sands. Though the surrounding region does boast a large pine forest, it is easily navigatable. The 97 km long Spit is protected by UNESCO. Baltic folklore has it that Neringa was a girl who lived in the village and grew into a mighty goddess, who then built a sand spit to protect the area and the fishermen from the fierce winds.
To see the best sand dunes, head to Nida and keep going south. The village of Nida itself is worth a visit, but usually full of tourists, and best to avoid if you're seeking relaxation.
Palanga is another great Lithuanian beach and town, though only 18 km long. The town boasts the Baltic's only amber museum, aptly located, as the beach is a good stop to find the sappy gems. The long pier and summer carnival are some of the highlights.
In 1864, after Lithuanian press was banned, Palanga was also an important location for smuggling in Lithuanian press from Western Europe.
As with Neringa, Palanga also has its creation story, this time with involving the pagan priestess Birute. The local legend says that the beautiful Birute had her own shrine at the foot of a large hill in Palanga. Her beauty caught the eye of the Kestutis, the Lithuanian Grand Duke who wished to make her his bride. Birute did not go willingly and Kestutis was eventually murdered. The priestess then returned to Palanga where local legend says she is buried at the bottom of Birute's Hill.
Further down the Curonian Spit is Smiltene, a nice secluded area due to the complexity of getting there. Taking a ferry from Klaipeda is the usual way, though some private boats do offer rides. The town after all does feature the oldest yacht club in Lithuania.
The best part about all the beaches in the Baltics is that they aren't full of partiers, garbage or motorboats. Because much of the surrounding parts are protected wildlife areas, the beaches stay clean and relatively quiet, the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the shifting sand of time.
By Monika Hanley