Latvia is characterized by beautiful nature, but also cultural highlights and not least the capital Riga are special attractions. We have been touring Latvia for many years and have put together our TOP 10 for you here.
Ten places and attractions that we think should definitely be visited when traveling through Latvia. Ten places that present Latvia in a unique way. Ten places that are sometimes hidden and yet worth a look.
10TH PLACE: SMALL TOWN WITH CHARM: KULDIGA
The pretty little town of Kuldiga (German: Goldingen) is located in Kurzeme (Kurland). Kuldiga is a popular stopover, for example on a car tour through Latvia. However, this does not do justice to its effect and importance, because Kuldiga can certainly look back on an eventful history that is worth exploring.
The small river Aleksupite flows through the middle of the city and once operated the watermill of a paper mill. Also worth seeing is the old brick bridge (1874) over the Venta – the longest drivable brick bridge in Europe. The Venta is impressively large at Kuldiga: At 275 meters, it is – another superlative – the widest waterfall in Europe. According to COUNTRYAAH, Latvia is one of the smallest countries in Europe.
9TH PLACE: ROUGH LONELINESS: CAPE KOLKA
A magical, sometimes lonely place: Cape Kolka. At this northernmost point in Kurzeme (Kurland) the Baltic Sea and the Riga Bay meet, the sea is choppy and restless. Some shipwrecks are said to be aground here.
The region is ideal for hiking or cycling tours. The cape is located in the area of the Slitere National Park. Sandy beaches, dunes and pine forests define the region. In Soviet times, this was a restricted zone, so that nature could flourish here quite undisturbed.
The park has an important function for bird migration; countless migratory birds can be observed here, especially in spring and autumn. The National Park information center is located in the Slitere lighthouse (1850). There is also a visitor center at Cape Kolka.
8TH PLACE: MYSTICAL MOORS: KEMERI NATIONAL PARK
Not nearly as well known as the Gauja National Park, and yet no less attractive: the Kemeri National Park near Riga. The swamp and moor landscape is home to many different animal and plant species. The richly represented bird world is presented by eagle owls, sea eagles, black storks and cranes, among others. 202 moss, 119 lichen and more than 500 mushroom species are found here. A quarter of all red list species thriving in Latvia grow in Kemeri National Park. Marsh milkweed, lady’s slipper, wild garlic and various types of orchids can be discovered. Deer, roe deer, elk, wild boar and wolves also live in the moors and forests. Nature trails lead visitors through the ecosystem, observation towers allow a panoramic view.
A really interesting place for nature lovers. Everyone else will at least enjoy the unique atmosphere in the moorland.
Further information and brochures are available in the visitor center.
7TH PLACE: MOTOR MUSEUM IN RIGA
The Motor Museum has an interesting exhibition: cult cars, vehicles from the Soviet era, racing cars, agricultural vehicles, bicycles … Worth seeing and definitely worth a visit. There is a new audio guide in various languages, which visitors can borrow as an option.
Incidentally, there is a “branch” of the museum in Bauksa, which is also highly recommended.
6TH PLACE: NATURE AND HISTORY: GAUJA NATIONAL PARK
The Gauja National Park is the largest and most famous national park in Latvia. The reserve was established in 1973 and covers an area of approximately 90,000 hectares.
The Gauja, the glacial valley of a glacier, has eaten its way through the surrounding rock in the course of the earth’s history. This created sandstone cliffs, sandbanks, grottos and caves that are now a wonderful setting for a hike or canoe trip. The eagle rock (Erglu klintis) is particularly worth seeing, the sandstone formation reaches a height of 22 meters and extends over a length of 700 meters. The Ligatne nature trails lead visitors through the various landscapes of the Gauja Valley, and Gauja National Park can also be explored by bike. However, you need a bit of stamina for the partly sandy paths and inclines and ideally an all-terrain bike.
For vacationers who are not afraid of heights, the cable car ride from Sigulda to the other side of the Gauja is recommended. The view is great! Here the castles Turaida and Krimulda as well as the Gutmannshöhle with its partly ancient inscriptions can be visited.
5TH PLACE: BAROQUE RUNDALE PALACE
One of the most popular sights in Latvia: the baroque palace of Rundale. It is located near the city of Bauska and is also known as the “Versailles of the Baltic States”. The French Versailles served as a model. Rundale Palace is one of the most remarkable Rococo and Baroque architectural monuments in Latvia.
Rundale (German: Ruhenthal) was planned by the architect Rastrelli – also responsible for the Great Palace of Peterhof and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg – and served as the summer residence for Duke Ernst Johann von Biron from 1736 to 1740. In 1920 Rundale became state property, was used as a school and living space, and after the Second World War it was used as a granary. Unfortunately, a large part of the original interior was lost. The castle has housed a museum since 1972, and art treasures such as furniture, paintings, porcelain, etc. from four centuries are on display.
4TH PLACE: RIGA AND ART NOUVEAU
Of course, there were countless highlights for Riga. But the Art Nouveau quarter in the new town belongs to a very typical side of Riga and a walk through the streets presents a special piece of the past.
The building boom at the beginning of the 20th century gave Riga a unique quarter: Magnificent buildings with rich ornamentation, neat window elements, nicely decorated facades and bay windows characterize the picture. Around 800 Art Nouveau buildings can be admired in Riga. Many of them are in Alberta iela and Elizabetes iela.
The buildings are representative, some of them wonderfully restored. But some are still waiting to be refurbished. Still, you can’t deny your beauty. Ailing charm next to splendid facades.
Michail Eisenstein, Alexandrs Vanags, Konstantins Peksens and Eizens Laube are well-known names among Art Nouveau architects. Michail Eisenstein, for example, designed six houses on Alberta iela, plus three on Elizabetes iela. There has been an Art Nouveau museum in the district since 2009 – in the former apartment of the architect Konstantins Peksens in Alberta iela.
3RD PLACE: A PIECE OF OLD LATVIA: LIVONIA
The coast of Livonia is not part of our Top 10 because of its grandiose sights, but rather because you can find a piece of original Latvia here. The small towns with their pretty, albeit simple, wooden houses, the seclusion and the beautiful coast form a unique mixture. The contrast to the lively, modern cities is very appealing.
Kurzeme (Kurland) used to be the settlement area of the Livs. Today only a few members of the Finno-Urgian people live here. They speak their own, almost extinct language and maintain their own tradition. The live coast has been under protection since 1991 because of its cultural and historical importance. The small towns of Mazirbe, Kosrags and Kolka are old fishing villages of the Livs. In Mazirbe is the “House of the Livonian People”. An exhibition provides information about the old Liv culture.
2ND PLACE: NICE SEASIDE RESORT: JURMALA
Jurmala is Riga’s bathtub. The pretty seaside resort actually consists of several villages that have grown together, Majori is the main town. Even in the days of the tsars, the nobility enjoyed the beautiful beaches, the healing properties of the sulfur springs and the fresh air. Jurmala has developed into a representative seaside resort. Neat wooden villas line the quiet streets, with tall pine trees in between – a really pretty picture. There is a relaxed atmosphere in the seaside resort. However, it can be a bit lively on the beach in midsummer.
The spa architecture is interspersed in places with large hotel complexes, some of which were built during the Soviet era, but today enable comfortable spa and wellness holidays.
All in all, a trip to Jurmala is definitely worth it. The typical seaside atmosphere and the great resort architecture are an essential part of a Latvia vacation.
By the way, Jurmala can be easily reached from Riga by bus or train. The districts of Majori, Bulduri and Dubulti have their own train stations.
1ST PLACE: CREATIVE RIGA: KALNCIEMA
In the Kalnciema district in the Pārdaugav district, the restored wooden buildings present a typical Latvian architectural style. Creativity is at home here. Concerts, workshops, contemporary art exhibitions and events for families with children are held throughout the year. The market in the Kalnciema district is also very popular (always on Saturdays). Here farmers, craftsmen and artists offer Latvian products – from culinary to design. The whole thing is partly accompanied by workshops (e.g. for children).
We are clearly in the top 10, because the quarter presents an original and at the same time hip side of Riga. A wonderful mix.