Of the Baltic countries, I was surprised to find that Latvia had the most to do, especially in the way of nature and castles. Very beautiful countryside and interesting history. And of course, Latvia is right up there with Lithuania
for having the most beautiful women that I have come across in my travels. I would suggest spending at least some of your time outside Riga
by taking the bus, or even better renting a car. The country is small, so I just stayed in Riga
the entire time and did day trips which worked out perfectly. This is especially nice if you want to experience the nightlife.
Highlights: Churches, parks, beaches, history
Suggest Staying: 3 days
Stay Around: Old Town
The capital city certainly seems to have the most going on and is pretty diverse with things to see. There are some really interesting looking churches, beautiful parks, historical monuments, cultural diversity, and nightlife.
See & Do
- Old Town. Includes Town Square, Town Hall, Riga Castle, House of Blackheads, Cathedral Square, Swedish Gate.
- Jauniela Street. Various films shot here.
- Nativity of Christ Cathedral. Really beautiful.
- Bastejkalns. Park. Can take a boat ride. Bastion Hill nice views.
- Miera Iela. Peace Street. Hipster neighborhood.
- Ziedondarzs. Small, nice just outside the city center. Local, residential.
- Riga Card. Typical European city cards with free transportation and various discounts to use around the city.
- Rental Car. I used Car4Rent, a local, inexpensive company. Good customer service, good vehicles. The models are a bit older than some other rental car companies, but I got a nice VW Golf that was perfectly fine for the few days I had it. Can use your U.S. driver’s license.
- Tram. Can get tickets in some kiosks on the street or can pay driver. It’s a bit confusing. 1.15-2 Euro one trip or 5 Euro 24 hours.
- Bus Station. Although I arrived at the bus station coming in from Estonia, I had a bit of trouble getting back to it when departing for Lithuania. It’s near the central (train) station, but in a different building. Go to the far side and exit. It’s on the other side of Stockman Shopping Center. There is an outdoor market on the way if you have time to kill.
- Sex Tourism. I did not experience any of this, but I read that some strip clubs are in the same buildings as hostels, which indicate you’re a tourist and have money. Also be careful of pretty girls trying to scam drinks and get you to pay for sex. Unless of course that’s what you’re looking for.
2. Sliteres National Park
Highlights: Nature, cape, beach, forest
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Riga
or Cape Kolka
This beautiful national park is along the coast, so there is a nice mix of nature to include the beach and forest hiking. I just drove through the park and stopped for a bit at Cape Kolka which is gorgeous.
See & Do
- Cape Kolka. Highlight of the park. Along the coast. Walk around, lay on the beach, swim, camp.
- Hiking. Various trails through the forests.
- Camping. Cape Kolka has a campground if you’d like to stay overnight.
3. Guaja National Park
Highlights: Castle, nature, old town, history
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Riga
There is a lot to do in this park, especially in the warmer months. I unfortunately just spent the day and missed out on some of the boating I read about, but there are 3 castles within the park that are worth stopping by as well as hiking.
See & Do
- Sigulda. Castle ruins.
- Turaida. Castle ruins. Can also hike 4km through the forest.
- Cesis. Castle, pond, nice old town.
- Gutmanala Cave. It’s not really a cave you tour, just an inlet in a rock. There is an ice cream shop nearby though.
- Raganu Plava. Still not exactly sure what this was all about, but something to do with witches. There’s a trail where you will find a small swimming area, a suspension bridge, and another trail up to slightly higher ground. At the end you will come to an open area with tales of mysterious witchcraft…sort of. Looks like camp…but maybe for witches.
- Cesis. This is actually a town with a castle in it, so you can eat and sleep there too (not in the castle but the town). The castle is only open until 5 or 6pm and you can’t get in to see it otherwise. So plan your time accordingly.
4. Koknese Castle
Koknese Castle Ruins
Highlights: Castle, gardens, axe throwing
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
The main attraction is the castle ruins and gardens. While the ruins themselves are not super impressive, I had one of my favorite days in Latvia here. There is a guy dressed in medieval clothing who, for a very small fee, will teach you how to throw various medieval weapons. I watched as a father and son bonded over this experience.
See & Do
- Koknese Castle Ruins. Remains of the castle and lake overlook. This is where you will meet the burly fellow who will teach you the art of axe throwing (of various sizes), spear chucking, knife throwing, and archery. He didn’t speak English so we communicated entirely by hand signals. He cheered me on when I finally got my double axe to hit the target. I felt like a real man. You get 20 throws for only 2 Euro!
- Garden. Contains wooden sculptures. Nice walk around.
- Pit Stop. If you’re going to Daugavpils, this is on the way and nicely breaks up the trip.
Highlights: Waterfalls, sand caves
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Kuldiga is referred to as the Latvian Venice. While very nice and worth a stop, I’m not sure exactly where they make the connection.
See & Do
- Ventas Rumba. Waterfall. Can swim there. Walk around the wetlands.
- Reizupe Sand Caves. Super cool, unique experience. Take a candle lit tour of this maze of underground sand caves. Keep you eyes out for bats. Fun stories and legends are told during the tour. I had a blast
- Sand Caves. The Google map took me to some factory or car repair place or something out in the middle of nowhere. Wasn’t far from the caves, but definitely not the right place. It will be obvious with a sign when you are at the correct location. Bring a jacket, as with any cave it’s always cool inside. It’s open until 6pm and closed in winter because of the bats that inhabit the cave. Walk 10 minutes to the ticket booth from the parking lot. You will be inside the cave for 45 minutes. Costs 6 Euro. Not good if you’re claustrophobic, it’s pretty tight. Also, you will use candles, and if you’re not paying attention will likely drip wax on yourself. Consider wearing clothes/shoes you don’t care about, as the wax and sand will get on you. Not terribly though.
Originally created to be a hospital, Karosta Prison was actually used for military training. Essentially, as I remember it, any prisoners that misbehaved were sent to Karosta to be sorted out. The conditions sounded horrible. It changed a bit over the years throughout Soviet occupation and was eventually shut down. But of course it is open to tourists now and holds some really cool military artifacts. And, if you’re game, you can spend the night in the prison in actual prisoner quarters. Pretty creepy place, but definitely a good stop if you have time.
See & Do
- Karosta Prison. Take a tour and even spend the night.
- Leipaja. Nearby town with a beach.
- Logistics. A tour is required to go through the prison which leaves on the hour. They are given in different languages, I think Latvian, Russian, and English.
Located just outside Riga, this beach town is a very popular weekend getaway or even just a quick day trip. The beach is obviously very popular, and very large, but there is also a nice walking street (Jomas St), nature parks, and water slides.
Daugavpils is Europe’s largest fortress. What makes this place a little different than you’re typical European fortress is it’s sheer size. It’s basically a small community with a wall surrounding it. It’s located at the far southeast corner of Latvia, so if you’re coming from Riga it may not be the best use of time. Worth checking out only if it’s on your route, but I wouldn’t make a special trip. Unless of course you’re really into this sort of thing. It’s not medieval, it’s a bit more modern, and there isn’t much in the way of ancient artillery or stuff like that. Seems to be a popular tourist destination, perhaps if you’re coming from or going to Lithuania.
- Pit Stop. If you do come here from Riga, consider stopping at Koknese.
Not overly interesting or a place to go out of your way for, in my opinion, this town does have a Livonia castle and old town. Seems to be one of the more well known, popular places in Latvia.
- Lodging: $296 (AirBnB)
- Transportation: $294 (taxi, bus, rental car)
- Activities: $19 (castles)
- Food: $160 (estimated $20/day)
- Getting Around The Baltics. I used Luxe Express bus company which was amazing. Reasonably priced, super comfortable, and great amenities including charging outlets, toilets, WiFi and individual screens to watch movies.
- Rental Car. Can use U.S. driver's license to rent a car.
- Guides. InYourPocket offers great advice on the city in the way of sights, food, nightlife, etc.