Latvia is one of the three Baltic States in northeast Europe. So far most travelers know it for its gorgeous capital city Riga. The charm of Riga has somehow left some other Latvian gems undiscovered.
Here come some big discoveries for many looking for new roads less travelled. What if I tell you that the forest covers more than half of Latvia? Do 12,000 rivers, 3,000 lakes, plenty of pristine boglands, and more than 500 kilometers of secluded sandy Baltic Sea beaches resonate with you?
Add some impressive unique Baltic cultural and historical heritage and you’ve probably just found a great new destination for your next trip. Moreover, Latvia is still very much an off-the-beaten-path place to go. I’m a local nature tour guide and here’s my top choice for the best and most beautiful places to visit in Latvia…
1. Riga – the gorgeous capital which is one of the best places to visit in Latvia
Riga has been so far the most popular destination in Latvia. It is not without a reason. Riga is a gorgeous city in the very center of the Baltic States. It has a rich history of more than 800 years and an amazing cultural legacy.
Riga’s cozy old town (UNESCO heritage site), well preserved and renown Art Nouveau architecture, new interesting hipster districts and pubs, as well as many green parks, are what pulls tourists here.
There is something special about Riga, says National Geographic. You will get a great mixture of good old Europe and modern Northern Europe here.
Once you visit Riga you will almost certainly want to come back again. One-third of the Latvian population lives and/or works in Riga. We, locals, like to joke that Riga is a country within a country.
The hustle about Riga is so big that not that many visitors know that the real Latvia actually starts outside Riga.
2. Sigulda – a tranquil town with beautiful views of Gauja National Park and great nature trips
Sigulda is a small town some 50 kilometers from Riga in the central region of Latvia called Vidzeme. It’s a popular tourist attraction not because of the town itself but because of the stunning views of Gauja National Park it offers.
Gauja National Park is the oldest national park in Latvia. It is also one of the most beautiful places to visit in Latvia and, therefore, attracts many local and foreign visitors. Sigulda is a popular destination for day trips from Riga.
It is a perfect place for hiking in any of the numerous hiking trails or taking a memorable kayaking or canoeing trip in the beautiful Gauja River.
You may also be lucky to enjoy stunning autumn colors in Sigulda should you decide to come here in mid-October. A must-visit is also Turaida Museum-Reserve in the nearby Turaida town.
Here you can have both breathtaking postcard views from the top of the tower and plenty of facts about Latvian history and traditions.
3. Cesis – a cosy Latvian cultural center with stunning natural surroundings waiting to be explored
Cesis is a small but charming town less than 100 kilometers from Riga. It is almost as old as Riga. Its medieval castle and rich history are what draw people here but not only that.
There are many exciting cultural events being held in Cesis during summertime. Besides guess what, this town is again in the stunning Gauja National Park. Just a short drive outside the town and you will see unique impressive sandstone cliffs at the banks of Gauja River.
4. Jurmala – a lovely resort city famous for its beach
Jurmala is the closest and most convenient place to go from Riga if you are looking to spend some time on a beach and enjoy all the benefits of civilization at the same time. Jurmala is just 25 kilometers from Riga but stretches along the Gulf of Riga for 32 kilometers.
The great part of spending time on a Latvian beach is that you can be technically in a city and in nature at the same time.
There is a stretch of coastal pine forest that separates the beach from housing and anything else in Jurmala. Isn’t this great? Jurmala is also one of the few places in Latvia where you can have both long walks on the beach and even take long bike rides. The sand is flat and hard enough for riding a bike here during the summer.
Jurmala is a resort. It shines with historical wooden summer houses combined with modern expensive private houses and lux apartment buildings.
You can also stop at any of the restaurants or cafes on the famous Jomas walking street or have a beer in any of the summer tents on the beach.
5. Kemeri National Park – a unique and beautiful place to explore in Latvia
Kemeri National Park is another national park that is close to Riga. Some 40 minutes of driving by car to the West (or an hour by train if you wish so) will bring you to a stunning bogland area. The famous Great Bog and its boardwalk attract many visitors.
You won’t see such well-preserved raised bog habitats anywhere else in Europe except for other places in Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.
There is more than that. You can also have a boat, Standup Paddle Board (SUP), or a fishing trip in Lake Kaieris.
Or you may end up walking in the wooded dunes, breathing the fresh air of the coastal pine forest, and soaking the sun on the beautiful uncrowded white sand beach of the Gulf of Riga.
Just don’t forget to buy a traditional Latvian smoked fish in any of the many fishing villages on your way. These are all nice places with strange names for foreigners like Bigauciems, Lapmežciems, Ragaciems, and Klapkalnciems.
These are places with difficult names but tasty fish snacks if you love them.
6. Liepaja – an upbeat resort city with a beautiful beach
Liepaja is the third biggest city in Latvia worth special attention. It is on the far south-west coast of Latvia, and it takes some three hours to get there from Riga by car (alternatively you can take an inland flight or train).
Liepaja is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Latvia if you have more time than just a couple of days in or near Riga. We call it the city, where “the wind is born” and not without a reason.
It is mostly windy but it has one of the widest and most beautiful beaches in Latvia with white sand that feels like silk on your skin. If the weather becomes too windy, you can hide in the dunes.
This is a luxury you will not find everywhere. Liepaja is a cosy city with predominantly wooden houses in its historical center. The city and the beach are almost never too crowded.
Just 10 – 20 minutes to the South of the city and you will find pure wilderness: Nature Reserve “Bernati”. It has a gorgeous beach and many cozy places to stay. Just be sure to book in advance.
Go more the South and it gets even wilder. There is an amazing nature park of Lake Pape – an excellent place for birdwatchers and all kinds of nature lovers.
7. Kolka Cape – a place where two seas meet and a stunning place to explore in Latvia
Kolka Cape is a peak attraction for visitors in the remote Slitere National Park – the wildest of all national parks in Latvia. Kolka Cape is where the Gulf of Riga (which we call the “Small Sea” here) meets the open Baltic Sea (the “Big Sea”). It’s in the north-west part of Latvia and it takes about two hours to get there from Riga.
The wind, water, and streams may play tricks here and the shape of the Kolka Cape is ever-changing. The waves coming from the Small Sea overlaps with the ones from the Big Sea.
It’s beautiful. Just don’t swim here! It’s dangerous because of the loose sand and underwater streams.
On a sunny and warm day, you can walk a couple of kilometers away from the cape either to the open Baltic Sea or to the Gulf of Riga. Here you can safely enjoy a refreshing dip into the water that is neither too salty nor very warm.
Yet it is ok for swimming on hot summer days (well, “ok” from a nordic person’s perspective). Did you know that the Baltic Sea is one of the less salty seas in the World? The Gulf of Riga is almost like a big lake.
While Kolka Cape is pretty popular in the summer all the other places in Slitere National Park are wild and most secluded. You will find ancient pristine forests, superb secluded beaches, and tranquillity here.
8. Jurkalne – the most beautiful coast of the Baltic Sea
Jurkalne’s Steep Coast is spectacular. Jurkalne is at least two and a half hours drive from Riga. Yet, it is definitely worth going there or stopping by if you are travelling along the western sea-coast of Latvia.
Jurkalne itself is a very small village. There are only some guesthouses to stay there. However, you can easily find accommodation and great places to eat in Ventspils port city to the North or in the amazing Pavilosta fishing village to the South from Jurkalne.
These both are just about half an hour’s drive from Jurkalne, very different and great places to stay with splendid sandy beaches at the Baltic Sea.
Like the whole Latvian coastline, Jurkalne is a part of the Baltic Coastal Hiking Route. There are at least five big reasons why hiking in Latvia is the ultimate experience for nature lovers.
9. Kuldiga, Kandava and Sabile – the most charming medieval towns to visit in Latvia
It is easy to fall in love with the charming and cozy Kuldīga town in the western part of Latvia – Kurzeme. It has a stunning well preserved medieval old town center, delicious places to eat, a historic stone bridge on Venta River, and above all the widest waterfall in Europe – Ventas Rumba (Venta Rapid).
While being the widest Ventas Rumba is by no means the highest waterfall. It is just about 2 meters high. There are also great swimming spots in the Venta River in case you happen to be here on a sunny and warm summer day.
Visit Kuldīga in spring and you may be lucky to witness local fish called vimba jumping in Venta rapid on its way to spawning places. Kuldīga is not the only beautiful medieval town to visit in Kurzeme.
Kandava and Sabile are two smaller but no less charming places in the beautiful Abava River Valley.
Kandava is a tranquil town with a history that dates back to 1230. It has a cozy old town center and great views from the castle hill. Kandava is also a great place to start a kayaking or canoeing trip on the beautiful Abava River.
Sabile is another small town mentioned in the Guinness Records Book as the northernmost vineyard in the World. While you can certainly get traditional wine from grapes in Sabile a local wine made of fruits or cider is probably a better choice.
Sabile Wine Hill ascents above the town with a gorgeous view of Abava River Valley.
10. Rudale Palace – a Baroque-style palace everyone wants to see
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Latvia is Rundale Palace. It is a Baroque-style palace that is some 80 kilometers south of Riga and is worth mentioning on its own.
The Italian architect Franchesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli designed this wonder and it was built at the beginning of the 18th century. He was also the author of the famous Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
The palace has a spectacular interior and a beautiful park. There are classic day tours organized to Rundale, but you can also go there on your own by car.
11. Aglona – a pretty pilgrimage and a lovely destination in Latvia
Let’s move to Eastern Latvia or Latgale now. Latgale is a region with a unique culture and even language. Aglona is a local and even regional place of pilgrimage.
Two visits of different popes alone say a lot about the importance of this place for Catholics. Basilica of the Assumption is the main highlight there.
Yet Aglona is not only about the church. Its natural surroundings are nothing less but spectacular. Eastern Latvia is rich with beautiful lakes, which is why we also call it the “land of blue lakes”. Therefore, Latgale is also a place for amazing kayaking and canoeing trips.
You may cruise several lakes in a row here, and each one is different. The open waters combined with the wild islands make the landscapes, boating trips, and also camping experiences unforgettable here.
Finally, the Museum of Bread in Aglona and Latgalian cuisine are worth some attention too. Your taste buds will thank you for that.
12. Daugava River – the Latvian River of Destiny
Daugava is the biggest river in Latvia. It starts its course in Russia, crosses Belarus and its last 365 kilometers are in Latvia. Latvians also call Daugava the river of destiny.
It is an important element in Latvian traditions, literature, culture, and also the economy. River’s beautiful meanders remind us about many changes in the history of Latvia and in our lives. Yet Daugava is also a beautiful travel destination.
The river looks very different in Riga city compared to its surroundings near the Latvian border with Belarus and the second biggest Latvian city Daugavpils.
Nature park “Daugavas loki” (Meanders of Daugava River) is a gorgeous place in the southeast region of Latvia. It attracts travelers looking for magnificent natural scenery.
Visiting the amazing viewpoints on the river banks is a perfect way to enjoy nature and the Latvian countryside. Also kayaking or canoeing here or just driving along the Daugava’s riverbank is a memorable experience.
By Rolands Ratfelders from ESCAPERIES. Rolands is an adventure and nature traveler, authentic escape travel blogger, conservationist, ecotourism consultant, and improvisation coach.
He also crafts travel plans and you can hire him as the local nature tour guide in Latvia at his own small ecotourism company “i-D?” Adventures.
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My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world and running Global Grasshopper, you’ll find me walking my rescued Greek street dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Lanes on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Laos, California and the surreally beautiful landscapes of a wintry Iceland.