Latvia is still very much one of the less explored areas of Eastern Europe although it is starting to get noticed as a tourist destination thanks to its wealth of attractions and activities. Traditionally Latvia was a pagan country that embraced Christendom later than many of its neighbors and there is still a strong folk tradition here that can be seen in the architecture, rituals, and celebrations of the locals.
If you want to know more about the history of this amazing culture then you can visit one of the many open-air museums dotted all over the region, or spend time communing with nature at the parks, reserves, and waterways for which Latvia is famous. As well as allowing you to get out and about in the lush landscapes that cover the region, Latvia also offers you the chance to embrace modernity in places such as Riga, its exciting capital city with an eye on the future and a foot still firmly in the past.
Here are the best things to do in Latvia:
1. Go for a walk at Town Hall Square
The Town Hall Square in Riga has always been the business center of the city and has been lovingly restored over the years.
Many of the most famous buildings here sit on the square such as the House of the Blackheads, the Latvian Occupation Museum, and the Baroque Clock Tower that is part of the actual Town Hall.
If you happen to be here in the winter make sure to check out the Christmas tree that is an annual feature of the square.
2. Explore the Seaside Open Air Museum in Ventspils
If you love all things nautical then make sure not to miss the Seaside Open Air Museum in Ventspils.
Dedicated to fishing and boating, the museum has an impressive 24,000 exhibits on display including both an indoor and outdoor area.
The outdoor section features 4 hectares that is dedicated to teaching people about ancient fishing techniques in the Kurzeme region from the 18th century onwards and you will also find replicas of traditional fishermen’s homes.
There are also farmhouses complete with barns, smokehouses, and windmills and you can also find local craftsmen including a weaver and a blacksmith giving showcases of these amazing ancient crafts.
3. Walk down Jauniela
Jauniela is said to be one of the most beautiful streets in all of Latvia.
As with many streets in the country this one is made of cobbled stones and you will find different hued buildings all the way down.
Many of the buildings are decorated in the Art Nouveau style and the street is also known for its abundance of colorful flowers that pour from window boxes.
As you walk along you will come across eateries, shops, and engaging museums.
4. Brave the Naval Port Prison
The Naval Port Prison in Karosta is the only former military prison that is open to the public in Europe and was built in 1900 to house military inmates.
The last prisoners left in 1997 and now you can visit the cells, the solitary confinement blocks, and the dedicated museum section that takes you through different periods of history such as World War Two and the Soviet Regime.
If you are feeling adventurous there are even events that you can join such as the ‘Extreme Night’ show where you can actually spend the night in a prison cell or eat in the prison canteen.
5. Discover Old Town Riga
The Old Town section of Riga sits on the beautiful Daugava River and you can wander the old cobblestoned streets here and imagine that you are back in medieval Latvia.
As you walk around the old part of the city you will find elegant churches and as well as cafes and museums aplenty.
Some spots to look out for in particular include the Riga Dome Cathedral that dates from the 13th century as well as Riga Castle and Saint Peter’s Church.
6. Go inside Ligatne Bunker
Located in the town of Ligatne is the Ligatne Bunker which was first built as a place for the Communist party of Latvia to use in the event of a nuclear attack.
Nowadays the bunker has been opened to the public and you can view the original exhibits that would have been kept in the bunker for emergencies such as rations and gas masks.
The bunker has also now become something of a star attraction in Latvia and you can now even dine here and eat a typical Latvian meal from the period including soup, stewed fruit, and rye bread.
7. Visit Old Sigulda Castle
Old Sigulda Castle was built in the 13th century by the famous Livonian Brothers of the Sword who were known for being a group of self styled ‘warrior monks’. It was also the first stone castle to be built anywhere other than the capital of Riga and was designed to guard against an enemy attack from the Gauja River.
The castle has been loving restored over the years and visitors can now climb up inside the North Tower as well as the Main Gate Tower where you will get excellent views over the surrounding area.
There are also showcases of traditional archery held here during the summer.
8. Stroll along the Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk
Situated inside the Kemeri National Park is the Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk which is the place to come if you want to get out and explore the marshes here.
The boardwalk is the best way to safely walk out across the Great Kemeri Bog and you can take in the beautiful mosses, pine trees, limpid pools, and bushes of wild herbs.
Keen bird watchers will also be in for a treat as you will find a plethora of species here including elegant cranes, tree pipits, white wagtails, and wood sandpipers.
If possible try to come here in the morning or evening as the sun rises and sunsets are the most picturesque times to photograph the bog.
9. Explore Bauska Castle
Delightful Bauska Castle sits on a parcel of land at the convergence of the Mus and Memele rivers as they feed into the Lielupe.
The castle is in two parts, one of which is the Livonian Order Castle that dates from the 15th century and now lies in crumbling ruins.
The second is the former home of the Dukes of Courland which was built in the 16th century.
Signature galleries inside the castle include clothing and jewelry from the royal family as well canons and ancient weaponry.
10. Watch a show at the Latvian National Opera
The powerhouse Latvian National Opera hosts both the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian National Ballet company.
As a result, you can take in a range of performances here that include opera and ballet showcases and there are traditional Latvian folk stories as well as dedicated children’s plays and shows.
Over the course of a season some 200 performances take place here so whenever you visit there is sure to be something that appeals.
The building is a work of art in itself having been built in 1863 in the neo-classical style although it has also been restored over the years and can accommodate over 1,200 spectators.
11. Fly through the air at the Aerodium
The Aerodium in Sigulda was the first vertical wind tunnel to be installed in a country in Eastern Europe and if you have ever dreamt of being able to fly then this is your big chance.
The wind tunnel blows air through its funnels that are so powerful that you will be lifted up and left to hover in the tunnel due to the force.
Once in the air you can perform flips and somersaults and the entire ride lasts from anything between 2 and 6 minutes depending on how adventurous you are feeling.
12. Go out on Razna Lake
Located in Razna National Park is Razna Lake which is the second largest lake in the country.
The lake is actually surrounded by sandy beaches and as a result it is often referred to as the Latgale Sea.
The waters here are a popular place to go fishing due to the abundance of local species and if you come here in the winter months then you can even try your hand at fishing under the ice
13. Learn some history at the Turaida Museum Reserve
Turaida Museum Reserve is known for its massive complex that is filled with archeological and historical relics, as well as some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Latvia.
The earliest buildings here date from the 11th century and include the Turaida Stone Castle, the Rose Turaida Memorial, and the charmingly named Folk Song Garden.
There are various spots of interest here including the buildings of Turaida Manor which have take you through the 300 year history of the building as well as the Rose of Turaida Memorial which is a memorial to a young women who sacrificed herself in ancient times and is now considered a symbol of love and loyalty.
14. Follow the Tirumnieku Marsh Trail
Almost 5% of Latvia is made up of bogs and marshes and these areas of the country house amazing eco systems that nature lovers are sure to enjoy.
The Tirumnieku Marsh Trail in Latgale is one such place, and you will find enchanting plants here such as sundews and wild cranberries.
The marsh also leads to the wider Tirumnieku Lake where you can swim in the summer months if you are so inclined.
15. Visit Cesis Castle
The town of Cesis started life 800 years ago with the castle being built during the 13th century.
Nowadays you can visit the castle to learn about its famous history and climb all the way to the top of its tower using only a lantern to guide the way.
There is also a fearsome castle dungeon as and depending on when you visit there are a range of theatrical performances held here featuring performers in period garb.
16. Educate yourself at the Sauna Museum
Latvia is known for its saunas and what better way to learn all about this traditional pampering activity then with a visit to the Sauna Museum.
The area is all open-air and you will find six traditional bathhouses that tell the story of the history of spa treatments over the years.
One of the signature pieces here is the Black Sauna where stones where used to create steam which led to the sauna filling with soot after the stones where heated by an underground fire.
The museum is around 40 kilometers from Riga and makes an excellent day trip if you are looking for a quirky museum experience.
17. Admire Saint Peter’s Church
You will find Saint Peter’s Church in Riga and this is a Lutheran building that was built in the 13th century.
It is also said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful showcases of medieval style in the Baltic region and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One reason to come here is to get a look at the clock tower which plays traditional Latvian music five times daily and there is also a large bell that chimes on the hour.
18. Explore Mezotne Palace
Mezotne Palace is famed as being one of the most beautiful of its kind in Latvia and the grounds are designed to mimic an English country garden.
The park around the palace features a parade pavilion as well as a summer and winter park area and you can even take in the majesty of the lawns from a hot air balloon.
Mezotne Palace was the former home of Duke Jacob in the 17th century and has been renovated several times, such as in 1802 when it was redesigned in the Italian style.
19. Marvel at Zvartes Rock
Zvartes Rock sits in the Gauja National Park and takes its name from a neighboring farm which was destroyed following the Second World War.
The rock is close to a range of outdoor attractions and trails such as The Witches Meadow and the Amata River where you can go for a walk or take to the waters by boat.
One of the nicest trails in this area is the trip from Zvartes Rock along the banks of the mighty Amata River to the point where it then becomes the Gauja River.
As you walk from the rock you will find a range of other picturesque sandstone outcrops.
20. Marvel at Saint Mary’s Dome Cathedral
Saint Mary’s Dome Cathedral is also called the Riga Cathedral and dominates the city skyline from a variety of angles.
Dating from 1211, the cathedral is close to the imposing Daugava River and is famous for being the largest medieval church in the Baltic region.
It is also the seat of the Archbishop of Riga and has a famous pipe organ that dates from 1the 19th century.
One quirk to look out for here is the rooster that adorns the tower of the cathedral in place of a traditional cross.
21. Have fun at Tarzans Adventure Park
Tarzans Adventure Park in Sigulda is famous for being the largest outdoor adventure park in the Baltic region and to that end you will find over 100 obstacles here.
The park offers fun for all the family and the obstacles vary from easy challenges to some that are located in trees over 20 meters in the air.
There are rope ways as well as climbing walls and catapults and children from as young as three years old can find something to enjoy here in the easier sections of the park.
22. Explore Old Believer’s Village
Slutiski Village, also known as Old Believer’s Village nestles in Daugava County and hugs the beautiful Daugava River.
Visitors flock here to check out the traditional peasant houses which are made of wooden rectangles which are slotted together.
The facades of the houses are ornately decorated and are a master class in traditional carpentry.
The actual Old Believer’s House is an open air part of the village which is also part of the wider Naujene Museum of Regional History and you can watch local craftsmen at work as well as buy traditional produce like jams and preserves.
23. Relax at Taka Spa
Like many Eastern European countries, Latvia is known for its spas and treatments and one of the most famous of these is located in Galerija Centrs in the old part of Riga.
The spa has thermal pools as well as baths and showers and you can also get a range of relaxing spa treatments that will leave you feeling refreshed and pampered.
Taka Spa is loved by locals and also has the claim to fame of being one of the largest spas in the Baltic region.
24. Get cultured at the Art Nouveau Museum
If you want to experience a different side of Latvia then look no further than the Art Nouveau Museum in Riga.
Here you will find a gorgeous building that dates from 1903 and is ornately decorated in the Art Nouveau style.
The museum has a variety of expiations that show off how a traditional Art Nouveau home in Riga would have looked in the 1900s and you can see restored rooms and supporting digital installations to fill you in on all the history.
25. Enjoy the sun, sea, and sand at Jurmala
If you want to experience the seaside in Latvia then consider a trip to Jurmala where you will find vast expanses of sandy beaches as well as enchanting pine forests and dainty traditional houses.
Jurmala used to be made up of a clutch of fishing villages and visitors in Latvia have been coming here for more than 200 years to take in the gorgeous views as well as the salty sea air and the relaxing atmosphere.