Surrounded by Estonia, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea is the nation of Latvia. The country is a blend of urban sights, like the capital of Riga, and scenic landmarks. From waterfalls to national parks, Latvia offers great views and plenty of outdoor activities. Beaches, forests and medieval villages compete for your attention, and the only answer is to see all the best places to visit in Latvia.
On the eastern coast, on the Baltic Sea, is the city of Liepaja. Briefly the capital of Latvia during the First World War, Liepaja is really a city divided. One half of the city is the traditional center. The northern half is better known as Karosta, and it was once a secret Russian military town. As a result, the architecture of Liepaja changes depending on where you are in the city. Most visitors come to Liepaja for the spectacular white sand beaches. Vecliepaja and Dienvidrietumi are the two most popular beaches, but even they rarely get crowded. One of Karosta’s beaches is the site of a major annual beach music festival, usually held in July.
Much of Latvia is undeveloped, and Gauja National Park is one example of a pristine environment where you can get back to nature. Caves, cliffs and other rock formations are a big draw to the park. If you’re a spelunker at heart, you can tour enormous caverns like Gutmanala. This cavern’s walls are covered in inscriptions, and legend says that its waters have healing powers. The Gauja River runs through the park, and it is lined with breathtaking cliffs. Getting active in the park is recommended, with hiking, mountain biking and canoeing all being great options.
In the small town of Kuldiga, a river runs right between homes and along streets, giving the town the nickname of Latvian Venice. However, it is Europe’s widest waterfall that most people come to see. The waterfall, known as Venta, is a staggering 240 meters (785 feet) wide. During the spring, salmon jump over the waterfall, and locals catch the fish in midair in a spectacular fashion. You can also admire the brick bridge that spans the waterfall. Although it was damaged in the Second World War, much of it still remains intact.
At the northeastern tip of Latvia is Slitere National Park. The jewel in the park’s crown is Cape Kolka, which is surrounded by water and offers spectacular views. Cape Kolka feels remote and pristine because of its history as well as its location. When Latvia was under Soviet rule, the cape was zoned off and used for the military, and some villages were completely abandoned. Now, Cape Kolka is a beautiful way to step back in time and explore a part of Latvia that few people have ever had the chance to experience. Plus, the white sand dunes and views over the water are remarkable in their own right.
One of the oldest towns in the country is Cesis, located in the Central Vidzeme Upland. The Old Town is a main reason to visit, and the cobblestone streets set the tone for quaint, charming exploration. Cesis also boasts two castles, side by side, that are extraordinary. The first is the original Cesis Castle, founded in the 13th century and now mostly in ruin. Next door is the New Cesis Castle, constructed in the 18th century. The new castle is beautiful and surrounded by gorgeous grounds. The castle is also home to the Cēsis Museum of History and Art.
Latvia has its fair share of palaces, and Rundale Palace is certainly one of the most beautiful. The Baroque building was constructed during the 18th century for the Dukes of Courland. Sculptors and painters from Germany and Italy were brought in to work on the palace, and the upscale details are still a highlight. Most of the rooms are still furnished in a period-appropriate way, and they are open to tours. You can see a fully restored suite that once belonged to a duchess, admire Gilt Hall and stroll through the Great Gallery. On site is the Rundale Palace Museum, which is also definitely worth a visit.
Right on the coast of the Baltic Sea is Ventspils, one of the busiest ports in Europe. The port plays a big role in the city’s culture, and watching ships come in and out can be a fantastic activity. Tie it into a trip to the Seaside Open Air Museum, where you can see traditional fishing huts, curing cabins and hundreds of artefacts from the city’s past. One of the city’s main draws is the long stretch of clean white-sand beach at the town’s western, popular with sun worshippers, volleyball players and kitesurfers in summer.
For travelers spending time in the capital of Riga, Jurmala is the perfect day trip. Located right on the Gulf of Riga, Jurmala is a coastal resort destination. It is the largest resort on the Baltic, and the stretch of sandy coastline is one of the longest in Northern Europe. In addition to the beach, Jurmala is known for its charming wood architecture. Specifically, many of the older buildings look similar to gingerbread houses. The resort was once a place where Russians would recuperate, so there are still riding therapy centers and traditional Russian sanatoriums dotting the coast.
In the Gauja River Valley, and less than an hour’s drive from Riga, is the historic town of Sigulda. Sigulda is nicknamed the Switzerland of Latvia thanks to its beautiful scenery, but it also offers some amazing architecture worth exploring. Krimulda Manor, built in the 19th century, is surrounded by gorgeous grounds and gardens, and it is open to the public. Sigulda is also home to some ruined castles like Krimulda Castle and the Sigulda Medieval Castle Ruins. While the medieval Sigulda Castle dates back to the 12th century and is now in shambles, the Sigulda New Castle stands next door and is in beautiful condition.
As the capital, Riga is undoubtedly the most popular place to visit in Latvia. The Old Town, or Vecrīga, looks medieval, but much of the architecture was actually rebuilt in the 1990s. The part of the city known as Centrs, on the other hand, is home to more than 800 staggeringly intact Art Nouveau buildings. One of the best ways to explore Riga is on foot, stopping to snap pictures of incredible sites along the way. If you’re curious about Latvian history and culture, then the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum is an incredible choice. There is a collection of traditional homes, and people milling around in authentic dress only add to the scene.