Latvia Travel Guide
The largest of the three Baltic republics, but by no means big, Latvia’s lively coastal capital is a gateway to a land of picturesque castles, scenic river valleys and music festivals. Championed as one of Europe’s hidden treasures, Latvia is known as ‘the land that sings’ and its little quirks, still ingrained in customs, crafts and culture, make for a unique and fascinating holiday destination.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Remarkable Riga, luxurious health resorts, booming birdlife, the Museum of Horns and Antlers, Black Balsam, teeming wildlife, white beaches and dunes, Latvian amber, medieval castles, legend-laden caves, interactive Bread Museum and Baroque dining.
What’s Not: Riga street crime, ethnic tensions, dishonest fortune tellers, no toilets in restaurants or pubs, dishonest currency exchangers, drinking in the street is illegal, “Dude, where are my wheels?”
When to Go
Latvia’s climate is generally temperate, but somewhat cool and damp.
Summer (June to August) is warm and the best time to visit.
Autumn (September to November) is rainy and days are short.
Winter (November to March) is very cold but good for winter sports in Sigulda.
Spring (March to May) sees little rain but lots of sun.
Getting There & Away
Riga Airport is where most travelers arrive, and from here there is a domestic service to Liepaja. Arriving by ferry from other European ports is also a popular option. The fairly well-developed rail network services all major towns in the country from Riga. Buses are a better choice than trains, but both are cheap and slow. Riga has a good network of trams, trolleys and buses.
Health & Safety
Traveling around on your own is generally safe, although petty crime does occur. Watch out for bicycle thieves and don’t leave things in your car. Make sure that water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice has first been boiled or otherwise sterilized.
Food & Hospitality
Latvians have a particularly healthy appetite for both life and food, which is usually substantial and tasty. Each region also boasts its own beer breweries and the Black Balsam, a strong infusion of various herbs, roots and spices that will cure your flu in no time. Accommodation capacity is low and early booking is essential. Many of the old state-run hotels have been turned into modern Western-standard enterprises.
One week is the minimum you can get away with to take in some of the highlights.
Two or three days to see the capital, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Two or three days at the health resort of Sigulda, with castle ruins and local caves.
One or two days in Turaida Museum Reserve, with its castle, museum, churches, statues and 19th century sauna.
Two or three days in Gauja National Park, featuring caves, rocks, dense woods and lots of wildlife.
Three or four days in the Jurmala region among its fresh pine forests and endless sandy beaches.
Two or three days in Kuldiga, with its medieval atmosphere and charm, and Europe’s widest waterfall.
Riga: with its rich history and culture and remarkable range of Gothic, Baroque, Classical and Art Nouveau buildings.
Sigulda: is a 13th century spa town and also offers boating in summer and skiing in winter.
Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme regions: have rich flora and fauna and are popular with hikers.
Kuldiga: is home to Europe’s widest waterfall, spanning 820ft, and the Riezupe labyrinth of manmade sandstone caves.
Jurmala: with its mild climate, sea, healthy air, curative mud, mineral waters and 20-mile long white sand beach.
Skiing and bobsleighing: in Sigulda down its Olympic bobsled run and white slopes.
Bird watching: among Latvia’s wetlands and cultivated farmlands, which attract large flocks of interesting and rare birds.
Cycling: on empty country lanes through forests, picturesque villages and towns.
Hunting and fishing: in the lakes and forests, home to many wild animals which have almost disappeared in other parts of Europe.
Spas and health treatments: among the healing properties of pine-scented air and underground mineral waters. Or go a step farther and have some facial correction!
Festivals & Events
If you can’t sing, then you can’t speak Latvian. Most festivals are heavy on singing and drinking so start practicing your warble.
June: Summer Solstice celebrates the longest day with bonfires, beer drinking and cheese eating.
July: Early Music Festival at Bauska Castle features music, song and dance performances from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
August: Liepajas Dzintars in Liepaja showcases native rock music as well as hits performed by a host of international stars.
September: Medieval Day at Bauska Castle is a cultural feast with crafts fairs, magic shows, theaters and concerts.