Are you thinking about visiting Latvia?
While this small northern country isn’t on most people’s radar yet, it should be. This Baltic state offered lots of surprises when we visited, and we ended up loving our time here. Yes, the country might not be big in size, but we found so many things to do in Latvia that we had a hard time choosing.
Therefore, we highly recommend that you take enough time when you visit this beautiful country. And to make things easier, we have put together a list of what to do in Latvia. We hope you’ll find them useful for planning your trip.
Our favourite things to do in Latvia
#1 Stroll through the Old Town of Riga
Riga is a perfect starting point for a trip to Latvia. Not only will you find an international airport here, with Air Baltic offering many convenient connections, Riga is also a beautiful city that can easily keep you busy for a few days.
The best way to experience the Old Town is by going for a walk. Stroll through the cobblestone streets and admire the historic houses you can see along the way – which have been, by the way, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can come past lots of impressive buildings along your way. Make sure to see the Three Brothers, three houses built by men from the same family, but at very different timepoints. The oldest one dates back to 1490, which makes it one of the oldest houses in Riga. As the outer appearance has barely changed over the past centuries, you can get a good impression of what the city looked like back then.
Two more remarkable houses you should see are the Cat House, which features some Art Nouveau elements, and the Swedish Gate. On top of the Cat House, you can find cat statues that have become a symbol of Riga. The Swedish Gate, another famous landmark in Riga, once connected the town barracks with the inner city.
If you want to see the Old Town from above, we recommend that you go to St Peter’s Church. From the tower, which is 130m high, you have a fantastic view of Riga.
#2 Hike through the Gauja National Park
Latvia is known for its untouched nature. Here, you can find endless coastlines, lakes, bogs and forests, and a vast network of trails through all of them.
The best place to go hiking in the Latvian forest is inside the Gauja National Park. You can reach this national park by travelling either to Sigulda or to Cesis, though Sigulda is better known for its outdoor activities.
A great hike from Sigulda includes three castles, a cable car ride and a cave along the way. But you don’t need to follow this trail. You can also walk on one of the many other well-marked paths through the Gauja National Park. Some follow the Gauja River through its valley, which crosses the whole national park. Others start in Cesis, Valmiera or Ligatne. You can even go on multi-day hikes if you’re planning on staying for longer.
If you want to know more about your options, you can find many examples of well-maintained trail routes on the website of the Gauja National Park.
#3 Explore the medieval town of Cesis
About two hours away from Riga, you can find Cesis. This cute medieval town is close enough to the capital that you can easily visit it as a day trip. If you want to have more time and also explore the nearby Gauja National Park, we recommend that you stay overnight.
In Cesis, you can find two castles next to each other. Both are worth visiting, and you can buy a joint ticket to see them. The oldest one, the Cesis Medieval Castle, features one of the coolest castle tours we’ve done on our travels.
Even though parts of the building are in ruins, others have been well enough preserved and restored that you can go inside. Don’t expect any electric lightning in the narrow corridors, though. Instead, you’ll carry your own lantern. How cool is it to walk through a medieval castle with nothing but candlelight?
After having seen the old castle, you should head to the New Castle. Inside, you can find a museum that will give you lots of information about the history of Cesis. Plus, you can climb the castle tower and enjoy a fantastic view from its top.
Besides the castles, you can also find Northern Europe’s oldest brewery in Cesis. The owners of the Cesis Medieval Castle established it in the 16th century already.
#4 Explore the House of Blackheads in Riga
While in Riga, you should visit the House of the Blackheads. After all, its owners, the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, set up the first Christmas tree in the world – though we are not quite sure where. Both Riga and Tallinn claim that record and are convinced that the brotherhood set it up in their city first.
The Brotherhood of the Blackheads was an organisation of ship owners, craftsmen and unmarried merchants. They joined together to protect themselves from attackers on ships and caravans and to secure their trade routes. In Riga, these men met in the House of the Blackheads.
The building itself dates back to 1334. Even though large parts got destroyed during WW II, it got rebuilt in the 90s. Plus, the basement remained mostly intact, and you can walk through those original corridors during your visit. You can also find lots of exciting exhibitions during your stay as well as remains of the original hypocaust, a very early version of central heating.
#5 Visit Sigulda
We’ve already briefly mentioned Sigulda above when talking about the Gauja National Park. And while it’s true that this town is the perfect starting point for a hike through the national park, you can find many more things to do in the area.
First, you should visit the two castles of Sigulda. Pass through the grounds of the Sigulda New Castle and join a workshop with one of the many artisans there. This is your chance to craft your own walking stick! Then continue to the Medieval Castle.
The Castle of the Livonian Order dates back to 1207 and played a significant role for many centuries. Today, you can walk through its ruins and imagine how the complex must have looked before it eventually fell into disrepair. Make sure to climb up to the top of the tower, as you have a great view of the Gauja River Valley from there and can see as far as Turaida.
Besides visiting castles, you can also experience many adrenaline sports in Sigulda. The bobsleigh track offers the chance to race down the trail at speeds of up to 80km/h. Or you can go bungee jumping in the river valley.
If this sounds too extreme for you, take the cable car across the valley instead. That way, you can enjoy the views and see everything from above without having to jump.
While in Sigulda, also try to visit Gutmanis Cave. Here, you can see graffiti dating back to the 17th century! Even back then, people liked engraving their names into the soft walls of this cave.
Gutmanis Cave features in a local legend about the Rose of Turaida. If you want to know more about this tragic story of two lovers (including whether or not the story was true), check out our article about the
#6 Learn about Latvia’s past in the Museum of Occupation
Did you know that Latvia went through three periods of occupation during the last century? Germans occupied the country once and the Soviets twice.
In the Museum of Occupation in Riga, you can learn more about these time periods, with a focus on what they meant for the people living in Latvia.
You can also go to the Corner House, a former KGB building. It focuses on the terror that many Latvians had to live through during the first years of the Soviet occupation and is well worth a visit.
#7 Sample Latvian food
How much do you know about Latvian cuisine? Not much?
I have to admit, before travelling to Latvia, I didn’t know anything about the dishes traditionally eaten in this country. We quickly tried to fix this lack of knowledge by trying all Latvian food that we could find.
Latvians love eating dark rye bread, so much that they use it as an ingredient in many classical dishes. While in the country, you should try garlic bread – fried rye bread with garlic. Sometimes, you’ll get a cheese sauce on the side which makes this dish even more delicious.
We can also recommend the desserts made with rye bread. Yes, we know it sounds a bit strange at first, but trust me. Combining sweet cream and jam with rye bread crumbles works surprisingly well.
Besides rye bread, you will also come across potatoes in many dishes. Furthermore, try to get your hands on some smoked fish. Latvia has a long coastline, so it’s only natural that locals will eat fish. You can get some at the Riga Central Market, for example.
#8 Explore the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia
You can’t find a better place to learn about traditional life in the Latvian countryside than the Open Air Musem of Latvia. The museum has collected a total of 118 historic houses from all over the country and moved them to a location just north of Riga.
Here, you can walk between the houses and find out how villages in the countryside used to look like. While Latvia is not a large country, you will notice the differences between the regions. We especially loved the fishermen’s village down by the shore of a lake, so make sure to go there.
Another highlight is the giant windmill in the middle of the park. From its location on top of a hill, it looks down upon the rest of the buildings.
If you visit in summer, many houses will be open to visitors. You can also see staff performing crafts like weaving or metalworks.
Even though the open air museum is located in a forest, you can quickly get here from Riga. Take bus 1, 28 or 29 and get off at Brīvdabas muzejs. From here, it’s only a short walk to the museum.
#9 Visit the Turaida Museum Reserve
A few kilometres away from Sigulda, you can find the Turaida Museum Reserve. The highlight here is Turaida Castle, a massive red-brick structure that dates back to 1214. Inside the castle, you can find a museum. The exhibition deals with the history of Turaida as well as the Liv culture from this region.
If you climb to the top of the tower, you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Gauja River Valley and can see as far as Sigulda.
While the brick castle is more than 800 years old already, it is not the first fortification that stood in this place. Before, you could find the wooden castle of Liv here. The archbishop of Riga recognised the value of this strategic location and ordered the construction of the brick building you can see today.
Besides Turaida Castle, you can also find one of Latvia’s oldest wooden churches in the museum reserve. Take a look at the nearby grave of Maija, the “Rose of Turaida”. We already mentioned her legend above, but fully explain it in our post about the best things to do in Sigulda.
To get to the Turaida Museum Reserve, you can either hike from Sigulda or take bus number 12. The ride only takes a few minutes.
#10 Drink Riga Black Balsam
You will find Riga Black Balsam all over Riga. This famous drink is a herbal bitter with a secret recipe – only the master distiller and his apprentices know the exact preparation methods and ingredients.
While in Riga, you can easily order Riga Black Balsam at most restaurants. We even got a free drink with our order when we went out for dinner one evening. It was a bit too strong for me, but if you don’t like strong alcohol, you can also find cocktails made with the Black Balsam.
Best time to visit Latvia
You can visit Latvia at any time of the year. We went in February and loved it. In winter, you’ll only run into a handful of tourists, and you might even have places all to yourself. When we went to Cesis Castle, for example, only one other couple was visiting at the same time as us.
On the other hand, winter means that the weather will be cold. With a bit of luck, you’ll have snow, but that’s not a guarantee. Therefore, you should consider autumn or spring. You’ll still run into fewer tourists than in summer, but you will also have better wetter than in winter. Autumn is particularly great for visiting the Gauja National Park, as all of the trees turn red and orange.
If you visit in summer, you’ll have the warmest weather. That means you’ll be able to sit outside in cafes in Riga and you can even plan a trip to the beach in Jurmala. On the other hand, you will also encounter more tourists than during the other seasons.
How to get to Latvia
Unless you’re already in a neighbouring country, the easiest way to get to Latvia is by plane. Riga airport serves as a hub for Air Baltic, which offers flights to many destinations all over Europe and Central Asia.
If you’re coming from elsewhere, for example from North America, you will likely have a stopover in one of Europe’s big airport hubs.
If you’re already in Lithuania or Estonia, the easiest way to get to Latvia is by taking a bus to Riga. You’ll find regular bus connections from Klaipeda and Vilnius in Lithuania and Tartu and Tallinn in Estonia.
Are you thinking about visiting more than one Baltic country? We have lots of resources about the region that will help you plan your trip! Check out the
In theory, you can also get to Riga by train from either Lithuania or Estonia. As this involves changing trains at the border, we recommend taking the bus instead. You’ll have a much easier and more comfortable trip.
How to get around Latvia
You can quickly get around Latvia by taking buses. In Riga, these leave at the Central Bus Station. You can buy your ticket at the counter or, if you are travelling internationally, at one of the offices behind the counter.
If you are going to any of the destinations above, buses leave frequently. You can inquire about the schedule either here at the bus station or at the tourist information. Google Maps also often has information about bus routes and departure times in the route planner.
If you are going to the Gauja National Park, you also have the option of taking a train. It leaves from Riga, goes to Sigulda and then continues to Cesis. While trains cost about the same as buses and also take the same amount of time, they leave less frequently. Therefore, you might find them a bit less convenient.
If you’re travelling to Latvia, we have plenty of resources for you that will help you plan your trip. Check them out and make the most of your time in the Baltics!
- The best things to do in Riga
- Spend a fun day in Cesis
- Explore Sigulda and the Gauja National Park
- Cross the border into Lithuania
- Explore Tartu, an Estonian university town you can easily reach from Riga
We hope you now know what to do in Latvia. Please leave us a comment if you have any questions or suggestions. We’d love to hear from you!
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