Brimming with traditions, mythology and plenty of enchanting forests and storybook landscapes, the Baltic region has long captivated travelers with its distinctive blend of bucolic beauty and cultural treasures.
Throughout the region, folklore often takes center stage in many of the countries’ cultures. With one of the most enduring traditions of folklore, the Baltics have given rise to a number of fanciful creatures, keepsakes and tales that have become embedded in contemporary culture over time. Below, discover the roots of some of the most popular relics of the Baltics’ folkloric culture.
Dala Horses: A centuries-old tradition in Sweden, the hand-carved and hand-painted Dala horse was first made in the province of Dalarna and sold at markets in the 17th century. The inspired image of the horse goes back even farther – thousands of years, compelling people to recreate the image in cave and rock paintings as a symbol of strength and courage. Today, several types of Dala horses are made, though the bright red version with the saddle in white, green, yellow and blue is the most iconic. Dala horses are cherished throughout the Baltic and around the world for their folk art charm and ties to tradition.
Elves: Popularized by J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, elves originated centuries ago in Norse mythology, and have been said to live deep in the forest in a region called Alfheim. Freyr, one of the central gods in Norse mythology and god of fertility, has been recorded as the ruler of the elves. Typically portrayed as youthful and peaceful creatures in most myths and legends, elves are considered to be magical beings capable of either helping or hindering humans. They are even referred to as pagan gods in some Norse mythological texts.
Trolls: Also tracing their roots to Norse mythology, trolls have appeared everywhere from medieval maps to contemporary children’s tales. They are usually depicted as having a human-like appearance, but are characteristically ugly and large – and are often portrayed as stupid. According to legends and myths, trolls are considered to be either relatively harmless, or mischievous and a bit chaotic. According to some myths, trolls live high in the mountains in stone castles, and deep in the forests. Another myth, commonly portrayed in film and stories, holds that if trolls are exposed to sunlight, they instantly turn to stone.
Fairy tales: Given the rich tradition of mythology and folklore, the Baltic region has also contributed a colorful legacy of fairy tales, with Danish author Hans Christian Andersen at the heart. Andersen penned a range of whimsical fairy tales which are now considered classics such as “The Princess & the Pea,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Thumbelina.” Other countries with a strong heritage of oral history have also been sources of fairy tales cherished for decades, such as Norway’s beloved “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
When considering its lasting legacy of folklore and fantasy, it’s no wonder the Baltics continue drawing travelers to its unique destinations – they enchant unlike anywhere else in the world.