Latvia is the underexplored gem of Eastern Europe. Despite its small size, the country has more than enough pristine nature to go around. Unspoiled forests and lakes cover Latvia, making it the perfect place to explore on foot or bicycle. Apart from Latvia’s breathtaking natural beauty, the main cosmopolitan city of Riga is a lively capital full of art, history, and culture.
Start your Latvian adventure in the stunning capital city Riga. Begin your tour in Old Riga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can walk along cobblestone streets, climb to the top of St. Peter’s Church, stop in one of the many museums, and pick up some souvenirs from one of the local craft shops. Outside of Old Town, there’s the stunning Art Nouveau District, awesome traditional markets, and amazing restaurants serving up local cuisine. Don't forget to head into a bar while you’re sightseeing to sample the traditional- and very alcoholic - Riga Black Balsam.
After a few busy days in Riga, head to Gauja National Park for some relaxing quality time in nature. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from, and most of them lead to lookout points that offer some truly magnificent views. Gauja National Park is not only the oldest national park in Latvia, it's also the largest. A local guide can help you see all of the sights, including the sandstone outcrops, the natural springs, and the many castle ruins dotting the park.
The 19th-century Daugavpils Fortress is the only military fortress of its kind in Northern Europe, and it’s well worth a visit. Located in southeastern Latvia on the outskirts of Daugavpils, the fortress is an impressive structure set against the beautiful Daugava River. Take a tour of the fortress and spend a few nights in the city of Daugavpils. The city is surrounded by rolling hills and is full of German-style architecture and Russian cultural influences. As the second-largest city in Latvia, Daugavpils offers its visitors a completely different experience to that of Riga.
One hour outside of Riga is the charming town of Cesis and its impressive medieval castle. The town’s green surroundings, quaint cobbled streets, and lush gardens make it one of the most picturesque towns in Latvia. The main sight in Cesis is the castle, and it’s one of the most dramatic and beautiful in the country. Walk through the medieval fortress, learn about the town’s history, and spend some time in the castle museum. Once you’ve seen it all, take a stroll through the town center to see some more well-preserved examples of medieval architecture.
The sleepy town of Kuldiga is one of the best places to experience the traditional Latvian way of life. The town dates back to the 13th century, and walking through the quiet streets is likes stepping back in time. There’s not too much to see in the historic town of Kuldiga, but it's close to Kuldiga Waterfall, the widest in all of Europe and truly a sight to behold. In the morning, take a tour of the town's historic Baroque buildings, untouched by war or time. Afterward, rent a bike to visit the waterfall. Although it’s no Niagara Falls, the gentle Kuldiga Waterfall is utterly enchanting. Listen to the cascading water, go for a swim, and then visit the nearby sand caves.
The small town of Sabile to see a most unusual tourist attraction. Although the area is best known for its wine, it’s also home to the famous Doll Garden. Created by Daina Kučera, a local folk artist, the Doll Garden is full of hundreds of handmade straw dolls made to look like normal Latvian civilians. Check out the more than 200 dolls that represent everything from policemen to school children. The Doll Garden is the perfect pit stop on your way to a local vineyard, and it makes for a surreal, albeit very Instagrammable, experience.
One of Latvia’s top travel destinations, Sigulda is located just a short 30 miles outside of Riga. The town is the entry point to the stunning Gauja National Park, and it’s the perfect place to stay while you explore the area. Spend your days in Sigulda exploring Turaida Museum Reserve, where you’ll find 800-year-old castles and plenty of medieval ruins tucked away in the majestic forests.
Ligatne is one of the most unusual places you’ll visit in Latvia. Located deep in a national park, the small village is known for its natural surroundings and traditional way of life. Completely contrasting with those characteristics, Ligatne is also famous for its industrial Soviet relics. The two things to do in Ligatne perfectly highlight the town’s two contrasting identities. On one hand, you should walk the beautiful nature trails that surround Ligatne. On the other, the Ligatne Secret Soviet Bunker is a must-see while you’re there. The Ligatne Bunker is ugly and out of place, but that only makes the whole area more interesting.
The Rundale Palace is a Baroque dream, and it's the best example of the architecture in the country. Stay in the nearby village of Pilsrundale and plan on spending an entire day exploring the palace. The palace is a perfect example of the lavish lifestyle once enjoyed by the 18th-century Latvian aristocracy. Take a guided tour to see 40 of the palace’s 138 rooms. After your tour, head to the beautiful gardens, which were designed to resemble those at Versaille.
Spending a few days in the eastern region of Latgale is a must. Known locally as the Land of the Blue Lakes, the historic region is, quite unsurprisingly, covered with scenic lakes. Rent a car in Riga and explore Latgale on your own time, stopping in as many spots as possible. Go swimming in the lakes, hike through the natural parks, and visit the region's many cultural and historic sites like the Aglona Basilica and the Embassy of Latgale GORS in Rezekne.