Kirsten is a Montreal-based traveler, travel blogger, and photographer with a serious case of wanderlust. She’s traveled to dozens of countries always in search of the best tips, activities, underrated cities, and experiences. Her aim? To showcase the beautiful world we live in. 

Here's what to experience in these vibrant hubs

As you might have guessed if you follow our socials, we’ve been up to something at VisitEurope! During the past months, we’ve been collaborating with travelers who set out to discover the undiscovered: the hidden gems of Eastern Europe, Central Europe and the Nordics. Each traveler had a focus—stunning nature, rich history, or creative cities. Today, we’re lucky to have Kirsten with us. Kirsten’s focus was the creative cities of the east, particularly those in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Hungary. What did she experience? We’ll tell you everything right away. But first, make sure to check out Lindsay and Eric’s expedition into nature and Ross’s historical tour. 

Helsinki, Finland 

Kirsten started off in the capital of the happiest country on earth. Though she arrived late at night, she had just enough time to squeeze in an authentic Finnish dinner: fried arctic char, smothered inb reamy morel sauce, brought together by stewed peas and Chioggia beets. The next morning (with the exquisite char still on her mind) she ventured out onto the streets of Helsinki. She kickstarted the day with a trip to the National Library, known for its gorgeous architecture and endless rows of books. The librarians were warm and hospitable. Then she passed through Helsinki’s Design District, where 160 members offer ceramics, jewelry, Finnish fashion, and international brands, local goods, and sustainable lifestyle products. 

Hakaniemi Market Hall & antiquingAfter her literary morning, she had worked up an appetite. Hakaniemi Market Hall is the perfect place to recharge. It’s filled with Finnish delicacies, most of which she couldn’t help but indulge in. She ate an array of fishes, including rich warm-smoked salmon covered in peppercorns, cured meats, local cheeses, and traditional karelian pastries. After a coffee (Finns are among the biggest coffee drinkers in the world) she wandered the streets of the city, popping into antique shops, showrooms, local galleries, and lovely museums. Her favorite museum among them was the Finnish Museum of Natural History, whose building has a stunningly beautiful stairway and galleries devoted to the natural world.  

Cathedral Spotting—The Helsinki Cathedral, an iconic neoclassical structure located in the heart of the city, is distinctive with its white facade and green domes. It stands as a symbol of Helsinki and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire country. As a lover of architecture, Kirsten spent a blissful afternoon exploring this cathedral, learning about its history, and wandering through its understated yet elegant interior. It was wonderful to compare it to another magnificent cathedral just fifteen minutes away on foot: the Uspenski Cathedral. Just as splendid, Uspenski is similar with its green rooftops yet different in its red brick façade and bejeweled interior. Both require a visit from anyone interested in architecture and design. 

Tallinn, Estonia 

Kirsten has always heard about Tallinn’s youthful and vibrant atmosphere with its thriving tech scene, creative arts, and trendy neighborhoods. Add to that the fact that it was Europe’s Green Capital in 2023 meant she was thrilled that it would be the second stop on her exploration. One of the first things she experienced was sunrise at the Patkuli viewing platform. The view was so gorgeous she hardly believed it was real. She really loves strolling through cities early in the morning before daily life gets into gear. Walking through these ancient Baltic streets before the crowds is an ideal approach

Museums, galleries, and moreBy the time the sun rose, Kirsten was in the Old Town and armed with a Tallinn card, which gave her access to over fifty museums and attractions around the city (plus access to a large part of the public transport network). Her recommendation to you is to make your way to the Telliskivi Creative City, a converted industrial complex that is now home to dozens of art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Kirsten loved walking around looking at the street art, browsing design shops, and interacting with Estonian creative culture. For something a little more historical, she decided to venture to the Kiek in de Kök Museum, an old artillery tower that gives you a fascinating look at Tallinn’s extensive medieval history. To keep up with the medieval theme, she dined at Olde Hansa, a renowned restaurant in the Old Town that offers you ambiance and cuisine that mimics medieval times. The food was delicious and the experience unforgettable.  

Tartu, Estonia 

Tartu, Kirsten came to learn, is often called the “City of Good Thoughts.” It will also be the 2024 European Capital of Culture. She loved this nickname and found it to be totally accurate. It’s so vibrant and youthful, especially because it’s anchored by the prestigious University of Tartu. Throughout the city there are young, dynamic people pushing the boundaries of culture, art, and philosophy.  

Walking to discoverTartu is a gorgeous city, and the best way to see it is on foot. Kirsten did a self-guided walking tour using a map. It was a super relaxing way to spend the morning, and she encountered many serene scenes, especially along the Emajõgi River. The city’s cathedral is truly worth your time. Dating back to the 13th century, this ruin is a unique museum that gives you insight into the city’s rich past. For her last stop in Tartu, she went to Supilinn, a bohemian haven known for its charming wooden houses, thriving artistic community, and village-like atmosphere of closeness and solidarity. It was truly a gem in the heart of the city.  

Riga, Latvia 

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a city vibrating with creative energy. It’s known as a center for contemporary Baltic art and as the place where countless musicians, painters, and designers have chosen to set up shop. Why? Kirsten can only speculate, but she’d venture a guess: epic views, lovely streets, good infrastructure, and affordable living. She started the day by exploring Riga’s Old Town on foot. Then she had the chance to fulfill her Harry Potter fantasy at the Riga Black Magic shop, a chocolate bar where she had Balsam liqueur in bubbles. Yum!

The Riga Central Market is the perfect place to savor local delicacies, especially the piscine sort. At the market you’ll taste the best smoked fish in your life, especially trout and salmon. There is also a wonderful selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, local honey, nuts, and other snacks that Kirsten can only describe as insanely delicious. After visiting the market, she strolled toward Livu Square where she had a Latvian dessert that was sublime. Latvian honey cake combines layers of honey-infused sponge cake with a rich creamy filling. It hit every note for her: creamy, sweet, and spiced plus an intricate layered look that’s truly magic. 

Budapest, Hungary 

The culmination of Kirsten’s travels was Budapest, where she had the great pleasure of meeting Lindsay and Eric as well as Ross who had been traveling the region in parallel to her. Budapest is one of Kirsten’s favorite places in Europe, it really has her heart! She got a Budapest Card, which gave her access to all public transport and more than thirty museums and attractions. Here are some of her favorites: St. Stephen’s Basilica (make sure to climb the tower for the views of the city), Mattias Church, Vajdahunyad Castle, and Heroes Square. The Hungarian capital also has excellent food. Kirsten had a spectacular dinner at a Jewish restaurant and tried local specialties like goulash, deep-fried flatbreads called lángos, and chicken paprikash, which is chicken cooked in creamy paprika sauce. The other great pleasure of the city is rooftop bars. End your evenings as she often did with a cold drink and a view of this incredible city.  

Kirsten’s tips for you: 

  • Be sure to try the local culinary specialties! Each city is so beautiful and unique, and so is its cuisine. One of the best ways to truly experience a country is through its food. In Helsinki, don’t miss out on creamy salmon soup, reindeer, Karelian pasties, or Finnish rye bread. In Tallinn, don’t miss out on an authentic medieval feast! In Riga, you must try the Riga black balsam liqueur as well as Latvian honey cake. Finally, in Budapest, it would be a sin if you missed out on langos, chicken paprikash, or chimney cake! 
  • Each of these cities is extremely walkable in the downtown core. They also have dense public transit networks. Don’t be afraid to hop on the trolley or streetcar to get to your destination. You can also simply get there on foot and enjoy the sights along the way. Not only is it more affordable, but it’s also better for the environment! 
  • If you’re looking to save some money and find some affordable activities, here are some options that are free! In Helsinki, you can visit the National Library of Finland and Oodi, which is Helsinki’s new central library. Each of these buildings is architecturally stunning but in incredibly different ways! In Tallinn both the Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms are free to visit and provide amazing views of Tallinn’s Old Town. In Tartu, there is a self-guided walking tour you can do using a map on the Visit Tartu website—this is completely free and a great way to see the city! Finally in Budapest, it’s free to visit both Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle’s grounds, and they are absolutely incredible spots to see in person. 

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