What is Latvia Famous for? What is Riga?
Being an eternal expat, I realized there are lots of people not being aware of Latvia as a country, including the Chinese thinking it is “a very beautiful town in the United States” (7 years living in China, what can I say!).
But surprisingly, Riga attracts a huge number of tourists every year, more than 3.5 million last year. The best about it is that it is growing exponentially too. Not to mention that there are absolutely gorgeous cities to visit in Latvia. So, let’s reveal all the secrets!
Where is Latvia Located?
Latvia is located right between Lithuania and Estonia and forms a beautiful Baltic State. It is very flat as you might notice. The highest mountain called Gaiziņkalns is 312 m high, so probably it is not a very interesting place for skiing or snowboarding. But this is why there are all these beautiful places in Latvia that are famous for hiking and camping instead. Indeed, Latvian nature is one of the best reasons to visit this country in the first place.
It has 2,256 lakes with a collective area of 1000 sq.km. Eastern Latvia, where many of these lakes are found, is known as the Land of the Blue Lakes. Nearly all inland waters are pollution-free and ideally suited for swimming and fishing.
Riga is the capital of Latvia and is considered to be the main place for tourists. It is a cultural center and home to many museums and concert halls. There are hundreds of things to do in Riga for all ages and different leisure types.
Riga is also known for its wooden buildings, art nouveau architecture, and medieval Old Town. The pedestrian-only Old Town has many shops and restaurants and is home to busy Livu Square with bars and nightclubs.
As a family vacation, I definitely recommend considering a week to stay in Riga as there are plenty of activities to do with and for your kids. Moreover, geographically Latvia is located right in the middle of the whole Eastern European jam.
Apart from fun things to do in Latvia, you can also drive to Estonia and take a ferry to Sweden or Finland; you can drive to Lithuania which is another gorgeous country in the Baltic States, or you might consider driving six hours to visit Saint-Petersburg or nine hours to visit Moscow. Either or, everything is pretty near if you are in Latvia.
Important Fact: Latvia holidays are quite cheap too, so if you wish to make a road trip or a tour visiting some of the neighboring countries and include a cruise boat to Scandinavia, this destination is just perfect for you!
Cities To Visit In Latvia
So, what exactly Latvia is famous for?
One of the most famous and popular touristic places to visit in Latvia, of course, is the capital Riga. I won’t lie, it is an amazing city and is perfect to live in. Riga is very international, you will hardly be able to find a local not speaking English, Russian, or Latvian. Anything you need, just ask a random pedestrian, and I am sure you will get some help.
Riga’s Old Town
One of the best places to visit in Riga and the main attraction that comes into mind when thinking of Latvia is the Old Town. This indeed represents the culture of Riga and is worth paying a visit to. The Old Town is tiny. It is located right in the city center, and you will need 20 minutes to cross it from one end to another.
It is perfect to plan a day tour in the city center of Riga.
One of the top 10 things to do in Latvia and a symbol of Riga is Peter’s Church with an observation deck 72 meters tall. You also get a view of the Daugava River and the Old City from there. Each month, the church opens a new art exhibition and they do services and concerts as well on the weekends.
House of Blackheads
You will be able to visit the House of Blackheads. This is one of the most magnificent buildings in Riga, preserving both the unique historic heritage of the legendary Brotherhood of Black Heads and the history of Riga.
Other things and places to enjoy in the Old Town
Old Town is great not only for a walk but also it is a place to try out a variety of cuisines, enjoy the riverbank and the main panoramic views of Riga. You might consider buying some souvenirs there too. In case if you are planning a night out, Old Town is a perfect place for you as it offers numerous bars, pubs, and nightclubs.
Places to stay in Riga’s Old Town by budget
I absolutely love hotels in Latvia, and to be honest, compared to any other country in Europe, staying in a hotel in Riga is just so cheap. You will get professional service, breakfast is included, swimming pool and spa. Why not give it a go and feel luxurious for a couple of nights?!
Below I suggest the best picks in terms of the location and their absolutely amazing service:
All these three hotels are situated next to the Old Town, and all of them offer amazing SPA. Wellton Riverside SPA Hotel provides amazing views on to Latvian major sight, plus, its’ pool is mind-blowing!
Another good budget option is the Metropole Hotel by Semarah. No swimming pool but lavishly decorated rooms won’t leave you indifferent.
Riga’s City Center
Latvian Freedom Monument
If you visit the Old Town, walking around is highly recommended. On one side you will find Riga’s main attraction and central landmark for almost a century – the Freedom Monument. It is a woman standing with her hand lifted holding three stars. Those three stars represent Latvia’s historical regions: Vidzeme, Kurzeme, and Latgale that are extremely interesting places to visit in Latvia.
Bastion Hill Park
It is located inside the park called Bastion Hill, where you can enjoy the sun, occasionally watch some shows and lots of local weddings. One of the main traditions you will see is the groom carrying the bride over the bridge and hanging a specially customized wedding padlock to commence a strong and long-lasting life together.
Latvian National Opera
Also, it is quite interesting to visit Latvian another important attraction – the Latvian National Opera, which is located right in the park next to the main Latvian University and surrounded by a gorgeous fountain. You can view the concert schedule and pre-book tickets here.
Kronvalda Park and Latvian National Theatre
It is possible to take a paddleboat ride along the tiny river that leads you to Kronvalda Park, where is located the main Latvian National Theatre.
Walking further away from the Old Town, you will find another park – Esplanade. Esplanade is also considered to be one of the main bus stop areas with the church in the middle. You will find lots of trampolines there.
Across the street, there is the most gorgeous park in the whole city – Vermanes Park. When you think about what to do in Latvia, you may consider this park. Lots of events and fun things for kids happen here on occasion, including the main summer art and craft market where hundreds of locals from all over the country gather to show their culture and craft skills.
This market deserves a visit as this is a one-time opportunity to dive deep into the Latvian culture. Usually, the market is opened during the summer.
Besides this, Vermanes Park offer kids playground with different private activities and a summer stage. On the way out, there are two favorite restaurants of mine:
- Lido Vērmanītis – a Latvian local food restaurant, and
- Tokyo City – an absolutely amazing menu offering the most delicious sushi rolls in the world for a half-price, including happy hours for drinks. Best deal for budget travelers and family.
Best Recommended Place to Stay in Riga’s Centre
There is no better place to stay than in Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel. It is located right in the middle of all the attractions and sights described above. Any public transport is at your disposal within 50-100 meters, and, of course, SPA, fitness, and swimming pool centers are at your disposal. In this area, you can find a variety of restaurants, cafes, pubs, and nightclubs. You name it!
Lido Leisure Centre
There are honestly tons of things to do in Latvia. An absolute must-to-visit spot for anyone who visits Latvia is Lido Leisure Centre. It is one of the most authentic places that offer a variety of 100% local Latvian food. And lots of local delish beer too, as Latvians is all about bread, beer, and potatoes.
Lido restaurant is a chain. You will find over 10 locations around Riga, including the one near Vermanes Park. It is worth to pay a visit to one of them if you are nearby to enjoy local food. However, if you have got a bit of time, I highly recommend visiting the main Lido Leisure Centre on Krasta Road 76 (Krasta iela 76).
There is a tram that can take you there from Origo’s main station. But you can get there by car too, the center offers a huge parking lot for you. The main building is made out of wood in a very traditional Latvian style. You will hear Latvian music and will be able to enjoy the traditional Latvian atmosphere.
Try Latvian cuisine
On the ground floor, you will find an incredible variety of food and drinks.
Just one friendly tip: make sure you walk through all options before you even start grabbing Latvian morsels. There are some delicious pancakes in the end too. We have paid around 30 euros for three main courses (huge portions!), including salads, soups, pancakes, desserts, and drinks. Can it be this cheap?!
Don’t forget to check out downstairs. This area is purely dedicated to local draft beer, home-made beer snacks, and traditional Latvian food, such as grey peas. You don’t want to miss it!
Also, try black bread hard crackers with garlic that is the perfect addition to your beer.
But not only you will enjoy the local culture, but your kids will also love the place and stay there for the whole day guaranteed, as there are so many shows and entertainment going on for your little ones. In winter, this is the most popular place for ice skating too. Do you see my little sister? It was hard to get her out of there.
Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
One of the best places to visit in Latvia to learn Latvian culture is the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum. You will indeed have a full understanding of the history of all four Latvian regions: Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale, and Zemgale. Every region represents its own rural lifestyle, customs, culture, language, and communities.
Getting to Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
It is a spacious open area located right in the pine forest with a great Jugla lake, where you can also enjoy swimming, fishing, and doing BBQ. Camping is not forbidden there either. Although it is situated outside Riga, it is an easy and swift ride by bus Nr. 1. You can take it from the main Origo station on Merkela Street, and it will take you 35-45 minutes to get there.
Things to do in Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
The Ethnographic Open-Air Museum was built in 1924 and ever since it has collected 118 historical buildings that are real dismantled and reconstructed dwellings. The moment you are in, you will get a sense of Latvia’s rural landscape. You will find farmsteads of Latvian farmers, craftsmen, and fishermen. I really loved this museum especially when I was little because I got to touch all types of tools, households and even participate in some classes on how to weave the basket and forge iron. It is also perfect for your kids to run around, as it has so much space to offer.
Pro Tip: Aim for one full day spent there.
You are lucky if you are visiting Latvia in summer because starting from May until September you will get to meet numerous folk artisans, such as potters, weavers, blacksmiths, woodworkers, and more inside the museum. This is a great opportunity to learn lots of traditional crafts on-site for free.
Fun and Fairs in Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
On the first days of June, there is an annual crafts fair in the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum. It is the biggest event of its kind in Latvia. Hundreds of craftsmen from all over the country will sell their homemade wares. The event is usually attended by thousands of people who not only come for the shopping but also live folk music and dancing and plenty of Latvian food and drink.
Pro Tip: Do not forget to bring some cash!
Sigulda is the second-largest touristic sight and one of the most gorgeous cities in Latvia. This is exactly why it deserves special attention. If you wish to visit real Latvian castles or experience hiking in Latvia, Sigulda is the place to go.
We have prepared a detailed post with literally all information on things you can see and do in Sigulda: alone or with family, as a solo or couple traveler, backpacker, on a budget – this place will surprise you and make your vacation memorable! Even if you have got one extra day, it is worth a try.
Read everything about your vacation in Sigulda.
Activities in Sigulda for everyone
Here is something to stir up your interest even more!
In Sigulda, you will find activities that you won’t find anywhere else in the Baltic States:
- Aerodium free fall
- Bungee jump
- Bobsleigh track
- Cable car
Three parks equipped for adults and kids’ adventures, such as
- Walks in the trees and Go Ape experience
- Zip-lining and much more
Plus, enjoy Latvian nature
Accommodation in Sigulda
Sigulda is full of nice places. Apart from camping in Sigulda that you are free to do, there are numerous nice Airbnb places and hotels on offer.
We share some of our favorite places to stay while traveling to Sigulda. All these options contain Free breakfast, Wi-Fi, parking, and much more.
Villa Vanilla is our first and best pick. Perfect location, superb service, special space offered for your ski gear, and excellent staff. It is an area with stunning views that provides the entire house to yourself for a very affordable price. They have got special rooms for families and include all the “baby-friendly” gear too. We have enjoyed it a lot more than a flat on Airbnb.
Kaķītis is an extremely family-friendly guesthouse option. It is located near the center and yet it has this quiet, relaxing vibe surrounded by wild nature. What I love the most is that it offers a variety of saunas with jacuzzi and hot tubs, which is a great plus for first-time visitors. You have a chance to try the real Latvian sauna experience with a home-made birch bush. Another amazing feature is that they offer snowboard and ski rentals, and a special playroom for children.
Aparjods is another excellent option for sauna lovers. This place offers an Arctic-style spa bath a sauna. But the best thing about it is that the whole place is built with wooden furniture and has this authentic truly Latvian style that you will not see anywhere else in Sigulda.
For hotel-lovers, there are two absolutely stunning hotels in Sigulda.
Spa Hotel Ezeri has an amazing spa center with a sauna, aroma steam bath, swimming pools, and hot tub. The coolest thing about the hot tub and swimming pool is that the space has glass windows, so you can see everything that happens inside. How cool is that to swim while it is snowing outside?
Hotel Sigulda located in the heart of Sigulda, just 300 meters away from the train station. The name speaks for itself, and I must say, this hotel has all the right to represent Sigulda. It has the best rate and, of course, it offers a spa and sauna service too.
I discovered this place when my little sister told me her school organized a trip to a fairytale world full of dwarfs. Huh? That just sounded amazing for me.
Tervete is a small town in Latvia and is famous for its Tervete Nature Park – a park where you can find Fairytale Forest, Dwarf Forest, and kids playground. Also, Tervete has a lake where you can rent a boat and go on a relaxing boat ride or fishing.
Getting to Tervete
It is a two-hour bus ride from Riga’s center. You will need to take two buses: one straight to Dobele (1.5hs ride), one straight to Tervete (0.5h ride). Alternatively, rent a car and get there just in one hour.
Things to do in Tervete
Terevete Nature Park is made for families. You will be welcomed to the park by cute dressed-up dwarfs and entertained throughout the entire time. It has hundreds of wooden sculptures, houses, pathways, and bridges. Look up high and you will see giant wooden spiders on the trees. There is also a special dwarf area. You can ride a train inside the park and climb the trees or walk through them with the help of ropes, swings, logs, and bridges.
Traditional Latvian Festivals in Tervete
As we have discussed authentic traditional Latvian festivals in Riga and Sigulda, you can visit a very unique one in Tervete too. If you happen to travel to Latvia in August, then visit Tervete Nature Park on the second Saturday of August. You will attend the Festival of Semigallians along with the arts and crafts fair which is so unique in Latvia.
For this festival, locals dress up and create the whole of the experience that leads back to the 9th-13th centuries showing lifestyle, customs, and martial arts.
There are also other events and celebrations available throughout the year, such as Easter, Fairytale Forest’s Night Festival, Children’s Opera Festival, and season opening and closing events are quite fun too.
Your Itinerary to Tervete
The park is open every day from 9 am to 7 pm, which makes it very easy to plan for a day tour getting back to Riga in the evening, or the best place to go to would be Rundales Palace instead.
Best Recommended Places to Stay in Tervete
There are absolutely amazing two options at your choice.
Viesu māja Sprīdīši is highly recommended. It is only 10 minutes walk to Tervete Nature Park, and oh my! This guest house is all about nature itself. It has that gorgeous bridge, stunning views, a restaurant with local cuisine on-site. Peace and relaxation are the only two things you may get there. Being Latvian myself, I am dying to get back to this place again!
Another great option is Pālena Apartamenti. The entire apartment is yours. Again, it is located only 4 minutes drive to Tervete Nature Park, or alternatively, you can walk for 25 minutes. Plus, this apartment offers a park view with a children’s playground.
Rundales Palace in Pilsrundale (Rundales Pils)
One of the luxurious cities to visit in Latvia is Pilsrundale but mostly because of the incredible palace that is rightfully compared to Versailles.
Getting to Rundales Palace
This place is located 12 km to the west of Bauska. But the best way to plan your itinerary is through Tervete, especially if you are traveling with kids. Right after an adventure day spent with fairies and dwarves, hop on the bus Nr. 7488 that brings you straight to Rundales Palace. If you have a car, you will arrive at your destination just in half an hour.
Things to do in Rundales Palace
It is a huge palace with a garden where you can easily spend the entire day. There is a cafeteria offering mains and quite big portions. It is highly recommended to arrive early to avoid all the crowds. The place opens at 10 am. You can get prices online with a discount on their official website.
Lots of tourists compare this gorgeous massive palace with Versailles, Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, and other top French palaces. The name of “Rundāle” comes from the German place called Ruhenthal (Valley of Peace). The Rundāle Palace was built during the 16th century and located on the northern side of the pond.
This Palace is extraordinaire in its beauty. Each room is opulent profusely decorated with beautiful objects and furniture. Once you finish with the second floor, go to the basement and visit the special exhibition. It will be surrounded by an extraordinary exquisite collection of objects that go from the Gothic style to Art Nouveau.
Best Recommended Place to Stay in Rundales Palace
Baltā māja is your only option, and it is situated right on the premises of the palace. It is literally a one-minute walk. How cool is that?
Breakfast is served in the cafe. You can also order food on-site or do your own BBQ! There is plenty to do or children, such as wooden swings and a trampoline. Plus, after a long walking day at the palace, you will surely want to relax in a real Latvian sauna.
A bus stop is very close, just 50 yards away, and Baltā māja is 6.8 miles from Bauska.
Other Latvian major cities to explore
Getting to Liepaja
Liepaja is a port city and is famous for its seafood. Regardless of the fact that it is an almost three-hour drive to Riga, it is just one hour away from one of the main touristic places in Lithuania – Klaipeda. This is why if you happen to drive from Klaipeda to travel in Latvia, it makes a lot of sense to pass through Liepaja.
Apart from delicious seafood and fish morsels, Liepaja has amazing beaches. But be prepared, it is the windiest place in the entire country. Unless it is summer, don’t forget your jackets, and better they are windproof.
Music Festivals in Liepaja
In summer, you have a chance to visit one of the most famous music festivals, mostly in pop style. Summer Sound Festival attracts a lot of visitors from Lithuania and Latvia. You will get to hear artists coming from all over the world.
Things to do in Liepaja
As regards the city, it is a tranquil and relaxing town with lots of architecture, but one thing is a must to do is to take a tram ride Nr. 1. It is a single tram line that goes through the whole Liepaja, and fair to mention, it is the first electric tram built in the Baltic States.
At last, for risk-takers Liepaja offers an unforgettable experience of spending a night in a real prison called Karosta Prison, which was converted into a Latvian prison hotel. Tourists get a real experience to feel like a prisoner watching the guards in uniforms that may occasionally use typical “prison” vocabulary. Also, every prisoner gets to be trained and should follow a certain routine. I believe it is a purely individual choice.
Accommodation in Liepaja
The best pick to stay in Liepaja with kids is Promenade Hotel Liepaja. It has a very unique location on a canal, next to the yacht marina and the Liepaja’s Port. This was a former grain warehouse, and now its lobby is used as a popular art gallery. This hotel offers exceptional service and has my favorite wellness center with SPA, which is a very cultural aspect too.
Hotel Villa Roze is situated by the seaside park in a historic area of Liepaja, about 350 yards from the Baltic Sea. It offers amazing family rooms and serves a superb breakfast.
Last but absolutely stunning option is Boutique Apartments Roze, where you can have an entire apartment for yourself. It is located only 450 yards from Liepaja Beach and provides accommodation with a bar, garden, and 24-hour front desk.
Ventspils is another port city of Baltic States located 1.5hs up north from Liepaja and 2.5hs towards the east to Riga. Therefore it would be a good opportunity to stop at the city on your way to Riga from Liepaja.
Ventspils has stunning sandy beaches to offer and great leisure activities for your kids, such as Beach Water Park and Ventspils Adventure Park.
Needless to say, it has a very beautiful city with the 13th-century Castle of the Livonian Order.
Best Recommended Places to Stay in Ventspils
Being a very active family and camping lovers, this place just blew our minds. Piejūras Kempings is located just five minutes away from the beach and right by the Ventspils Seaside Park and Open-Air Museum. On top of the entire accommodation in a lovely camping house, you are free to enjoy a variety of sports on-site. You can rent a bike and play at the children’s playground too. Again, not to forget! Sauna is included!!!
Absolutely gorgeous Family Apartment that you simply cannot miss! It provides you with a garden, barbecue facilities, and a terrace. Just take a look at it!
For hotel lovers, Tower Hotel is highly recommended. It is located near to all the nice sightseeing, plus you get to enjoy a sun terrace, billiards, and darts.
As you can see, although Latvia is a small country, it is very generous in terms of offering a variety of things to make your holiday unforgettable. Latvia covers all sorts of activities for your kids, some of which are considered to be the largest in the Baltic State.
Enjoy the best holiday in Latvia exploring sandy beaches and “foresty” nature!
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