33 Top Things to Do in Latvia – What to Do in Latvia
Just 20 years ago barely any foreigners were visiting Latvia. While now the situation has changed significantly, for many Latvia still stays as an unexplored and unknown corner of Europe, one of the 15 post-Soviet countries. What to do in Latvia you’ll ask? Well, there are a lot of things to do in Latvia. Just read this article, see this list of the best things to do in Latvia and you’ll have plenty of inspiration!
Latvia isn’t big and even in a week, you’ll see a lot. Though, it’s definitely not a problem to spend 2 weeks in Latvia. There is a lot of interesting, unique and fun things to do in Latvia. For many, who travel to Latvia, it’s often just one of the countries on the trip around the Baltics. And Riga, the capital of Latvia, often is their only stop. I urge you to go and explore Latvia!
Latvia`s Independence Day is around the corner. Latvia will celebrate 100 years of independence in the 18th of November, 2018. Want to know why Latvia is so cool and why you should visit this small country? Follow up and get to know 33 Top things to do in Latvia!
1. Celebrate Midsummer in Latvia
Latvia’s most important annual holiday isn’t Christmas or New Year. It’s the summer solstice, locally called as Līgo or Jāņi (both names are used equally often). Many will agree, that it’s among the top 3 best things to do in Latvia. Ligo celebration is a pagan tradition, which has been kept alive for more than a thousand years. Following traditions you should stay awake for the whole night – shortest night of the year – to greet the rising sun. Bonfires are being lit all around the country.
Public events often happen in parks. Though, many choose to celebrate in smaller groups, together with their families and friends. People are singing and dancing, jumping over the bonfires, eating a lot, drinking beer and overall having a good time.
Midsummer in Latvia is being celebrated on the same day (night) every year – the night from June 23 to June 24. So, in fact, 2 days after the actual date of the summer solstice.
If you have a chance to join some private party! Or go to some smaller town, for example to Jaunpiebalga.
2. Attend the Sea Festival
It’s an annual holiday, celebrated in coastal towns and cities. Date of the celebration varies, but usually, it’s on one of the first Saturdays of July. Locally called either Jūras svētki (sea festival) or Zvejnieksvētki (fishermen festival).
Where to go? Liepaja or Salacgriva. But these aren’t the only options.
3. Visit Ragaciems and Try Freshly Smoked Fish
Ragaciems is an ancient fishermen village, where you can try some freshly smoked fish. You can either buy it as a takeaway and go for example to the beach and have a picnic. Or you can go to a local cafe.
It’s not the only place. There are more small fishing villages on the coast. But it’s just not too far away from Riga, and so it’s easily reachable also by public bus.
4. Go on a Coastal Hike
Latvia has a coastline of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles). Enough for a couple of weeks of hiking, huh? I would say that going on a coastal hike is among the top 5 things to do in Latvia.
Few ideas for a beautiful coastal hike in Latvia:
- Kolka – Roja, about 30 kilometers. Or if you don’t feel like walking this much – finish at Purciems. Most beautiful part of this hike is the first leg. You can get a bus from Purciems back to Riga. Only note, that there only a few buses a day.
- Tuja – Vitrupe, about 20 kilometers. You’ll see the Rocky seashore of Vidzeme and Veczemju Rock.
- Liepaja – border of Latvia and Lithuania, about 50 kilometers.
- Area of Jurkalne Seashore Bluffs. Another picturesque part of Latvia’s coastline.
- Mersrags – Berzciems, about 10 kilometers.
- Area of Saulkrasti. One of its landmarks is The White Dune.
- Kaltene – Mersrags, about 20 kilometers.
- Uzava – Jurkalne, about 25 kilometers.
- Kolka – Mazirbe, about 20 kilometers.
Basically, you can walk everywhere, and you will find something interesting. But these are some of the best parts.
5. Go Canoeing or Rafting on River Gauja
Gauja is the longest river in Latvia. And it’s the most popular river for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting in Latvia.
There are many companies you can rent a boat or raft from, and most of them will also provide transportation. All of these companies will also be able to suggest you several possible routes, whether you have a few hours or a few days of time.
6. Visit Sigulda
Located just 50 kilometers away from Riga, Sigulda is among the most popular tourist destinations in Latvia. And not without a reason. Some go there because of Gauja National Park, others are interested in nearby castles. What else attracts a large number of locals and tourists – all the fun activities you can do there, like kayaking, bungee jumping, hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding and skiing (during the winter).
There are frequent buses and trains going between Riga and Sigulda. If you are taking a bus, note that not all of them enter the town. Some stop on the highway, roughly 1.5 kilometers from the town center.
Best time for a visit? Summer, autumn (end of September, October; to see autumn colors), winter (January, February; when there is a higher chance of snow).
7. Go for a Hike at Gauja National Park
You can just hike without following any particular route. Alternatively – you can follow one of the trails. There are at least several trails starting from Sigulda. All of these are half day/day hikes, not longer than 15 kilometers.
Read more about hiking in options here!
8. Visit Ligatne & Ligatne Nature Trails
Ligatne Nature Trails aren’t long, only about 5 kilometers in total. But apart from being a good exercise in a place surrounded by beautiful Latvia’s nature, it’s also your chance to see some of the wild mammals living in Latvia. All of the wild animals brought there are rescue animals, that can’t survive without being looked after by humans.
9. Go on a Unique Ziplide Ride – Z-Eagle
Watch the video and you will understand, what it is! Currently, it’s one of the few such attractions in the world.
A ride for single person costs 55 EUR, two person – 95 EUR.
For the latest offers check out their website!
10. Cycle from Sigulda to Ligatne
And another activity in the same area of Gauja National park.
There is a trail all the way from Sigulda to Ligatne following river Gauja. Rent a bicycle and go and explore! A return trip will be approximately 30 kilometers long and may take up to 8 – 10 hours if you aren’t used to this kind of terrain, which is mostly gravel.
11. Visit Jurmala
A short train ride away from Riga is Latvia’s most popular resort town. When Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union, Jurmala was one of the most popular tourist destinations for high-ranking Communist Party officials. It’s a beautiful coastal city. Speaking about the beach – if you want something more than just sunbathing it’s a much better choice than other beaches near Riga.
You can also cycle from Riga to Jurmala, as there is a bikeway. Total distance (round trip): about 60 kilometers. Or you can cycle there and take a train back.
A company called Sixt has self-service bike rental points both in Riga and Jurmala.
12. Visit Rundale Palace
Built in the 18th century and renovated in 2014 Rundale palace is the most impressive baroque palace in Latvia. The park that surrounds the palace is an impressive landmark itself. It’s one of only a few baroque parks in Europe, that has been preserved so well it looks almost like it looked centuries ago.
When to go? Any time is good. But summer is the best. Middle of May is interesting because of the blooming of the tulips and some other flowers. More than 90 sorts of tulips are planted by the castle.
More information: rundale.net.
13. Check Out Liepaja Fortress
Built from 1893 to 1906 Liepaja fortress was an impressive coastline fortification system, that was abandoned just a few years later. Now it’s more like an old forgotten reminder about these times.
Guided tours are being offered at Liepaja Fortress. And it gives you a chance to walk through subterranean pathways and bunkers.
Read more about tours here!
14. Become a Prisoner for a Day at Karosta Prison
And here’s another, a more unique experience you can have in Liepaja – an overnight stay at the Karosta Prison. It was an actual prison until 1997, but now it’s open to tourists. For some time already it has been the only military prison in Europe open to tourists.
If you don’t want to stay overnight, but would like to go on an excursion to the Karosta Prison, there is such a possibility as well.
For more information, opening hours and to book a tour or an overnight stay go to their website!
15. Go for a Walk in One of Latvia’s Many Swamps
Swamp walking nowadays is possible in many places in Latvia. Special routes have been developed and wooden paths have been built. In some places, there are also special bird watching towers and observation platforms. A visit to a swamp, in my opinion, is among the top 5 things to do in Latvia.
For a truly out-of-this-world experience go to the swamp for a sunrise. It may require you to set up your alarm for 2-3 AM, but it’s totally worth it. Unless it’s raining and the sky is cloudy.
Few places where to go: Cenas Tirelis, Kemeri National Park, Cuzas bog near Kandava, Ložmetējkalns hill and its observation platform.
Latvians like swamps, and so now there are more and more people cross-country skiing across the swamps in winter and paddleboarding through its waterways in summer. Google and you’ll probably find someone, who can help you to organize such an adventure as well! Guys over at purvabrideji.lv are organizing swamp walking tours if you want to get off the wooden paths and see something more than most see.
16. Experience Traditional Latvian Sauna
Sauna culture in Latvia dates back to the 19th century when every family had their own bathhouse. Nowadays for many, it’s not that much about washing the body as it is about relaxation. It’s common in Latvia to rent a house with sauna for different celebrations together with friends, family or colleagues.
Go for black sauna if you want to have a truly unique experience. One of the places, where you can experience it is Jaunzageri. They are located by the river Gauja in the Gauja National Park and offer boat trips as well. Note, that it’s just one of the many places.
In case you’re wondering if that’s an actual sauna in the photo above – yes, it is. And the place is called Pitagi. That’s in Kosrags, near Cape Kolka.
17. Picking Wild Berries and Mushrooms with a Local
What to do in Latvia? Well, we can go to the forest after some berries and mushrooms!
Isn’t it dangerous to pick mushrooms, you will ask. And – aren’t there poisonous mushrooms in Latvia? There are also poisonous mushrooms in Latvia, like everywhere in the world. And they are really dangerous! But there are also a lot of good ones. And most of Latvians can easily recognize the good ones, at least a few types.
Go with a local and have a great new experience!
How to find a local, who could help me? You can try online forums, Couchsurfing or Facebook groups. Many Latvians speak English.
18. Attend Latvian Song and Dance Festival
The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is among the most important cultural events in Latvia. It’s something that everyone knows about. Festival happens every five years. About 40 000 singers and dancers took part in the festival in 2013. Yes, 40 000. That’s about the size of the population of one average-sized Latvian city. Check out Youtube videos to see, what a spectacular event it is.
If you decide to attend it, be sure to follow the information about when the ticket sales start. Because these tickets sell out very fast.
19. Try Riga Black Balsam
Riga Black Balsam is a strong (45%) traditional Latvian herbal liqueur. You can drink it as it is or, for example, mixed with tea. It’s being made since the middle of 18th century.
You can also buy it at almost any supermarket in Latvia.
20. Hike All the Way Around Latvia
The trail all around Latvia is being prepared and marked for more than a year right already. And works are expected to be finished by the 18th of November, 2018, when Latvia will be celebrating its 100th anniversary of the country’s founding.
Currently and, as expected, also for some time afterward you’ll need to camp at nights for most of the time. As there are no that many guest houses along the trail. Let’s see how the situation changes after a few years!
Total distance – 1836 kilometers.
You can see the route on this site!
21. Visit Kuldiga
Kuldiga is a historical town in the Kurzeme region, dating back to 13th century. It’s a small and charming town, that I recommend you to simply wander around. Chances are you will feel like have traveled back in time.
Venta Rapid, Europe’s widest waterfall, is in Kuldiga.
You can visit Kuldiga on your way from Riga to Ventspils or Liepaja.
22. Visit Cesis
Cesis is another charming, historical town in Latvia, that you should try to visit. Being just a 40-minute train ride away from Sigulda makes it a perfect day trip destination both from Riga (total travel time less than 2 hours) and Sigulda.
If you have a chance, try to visit one of the theatrical programs at Cesis Castle. For example, Medieval feast.
23. Visit the Recreation Complex “Raksi”
Few kilometers away from Cesis is recreation complex “Raksi”. Apart from different sports and entertainment activities you can do here, it’s also a zoo. The only zoo in Latvia, where you can see South American llamas, alpacas, and guanaco. Could be one more reason to visit Cesis?
If you decide to stay at Raksi for more than a few hours, there are several hotels, holiday cottages, and camping sites not far away.
24. Walk the Amata Geology Trail
Hiking the Amata Geological trail is yet another chance for you to see more of Latvia’s wild nature. A trail can be walked and will be interesting both in summer and winter. If you’ll come in early spring you may see kayakers on the rapids of river Amata.
If you like to spend time outdoors – good for you – there are a lot of short, marked trails in Latvia. For some ideas check out the map on dodies.lv. Most of Latvia’s trails, camping sites, and observation towers are marked on this map.
25. Visit Park of Senses in Valmiera
One of the reasons why I personally would go to the Park of Senses is because of their Trail in the Trees. I just like these kind of attractions. Another reason would be to walk the Barefoot trail. But that’s not all they are offering.
For more information check out their website!
26. Visit Latgale
Latgale is a region of Latvia in the eastern part of the country. It’s one of the 4 historical regions of Latvia. And because of many small and few bigger lakes scattered all around the region, locally it’s known also as the Land of Blue Lakes. If you are traveling to Latvia in summer and you are interested in nature, just rent a car in Riga and go on a road trip to Latgale! If it’s winter and there is a lot of snow, do the same and you’ll not be disappointed.
I would say, that such a road trip is clearly one of the best things to do in Latvia. It shows you another face of Latvia, something completely different from what you can see in Riga, which is more like any other European capital.
Some places you might want to visit: Rezekne, Daugavpils, Aglona, Kraslava, Lake Lubans.
27. See the Stameriena Castle
Traveling to the eastern part of Latvia, take a small detour and visit this beautiful castle settled between two lakes. Not many people know about the place, because of its location – off the main roads – but that doesn’t make it less attractive for a short stop and walk around the area.
28. Pay a Visit to the Deer Park Mežsētas
Located even more to the east of Latvia, in a place that even locals struggle to find, is a large deer park. In an area of 200 hectares, more than 300 species of deer are living. There are 15 observation platforms in the area, making it more like sure, that you’ll see these beautiful animals.
Getting there: Take the road P36 from Gulbene to Rezekne and shortly before crossing river Pededze turn to the right at this exact point (Google Maps). From that moment on just follow the signs, you have almost arrived!
29. Visit Some of Latvia’s Museums
There are some interesting museums in Latvia, also outside of Riga.
Some of them: Limbazi Silver Museum, Preili Doll Kingdom, Aglona Bread Museum, Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre.
30. Visit Abandoned Soviet Objects in Latvia
For about 50 years Latvia was a part of the USSR. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and Latvia regained its independence. But many of the previously secret and also strategic objects became accessible to the public.
For example – former secret Soviet cities Skrunda and Irbene (and the Irbene radio telescope), and underground bunker near Ligatne.
31. Go Cross-Country Skiing
There are no high mountains in Latvia, but we do have beautiful nature. And what a better way to explore this beauty during the winter if not on skis?
Where to go? You can rent skis in Riga and go to one of the groomed cross-country tracks in the city. Two popular choices are Victory Park and Mezaparks. However, there are more interesting options as well. For example, skiing by the sea, across frozen lakes and swamps. The easiest way to get to the sea is by taking bus number 24, going to Mangalsala, and to get out at either at the last stop or Pagrieziens uz Mangaļiem. You will need to walk for some 15 minutes.
32. Kayaking Across the Gulf of Riga
Looking for some real adventure? What about kayaking across the Gulf of Riga?
It’s definitely isn’t something for beginners. Total distance you’ll need to cover is about 110 kilometers (68 miles). Good thing, though, is that you don’t need to do it all at once, as there is one place, where to stop on the way – Ruhnu, known as Ronu sala in Latvia. It’s an Estonian island 65 kilometers (40 miles) off Latvia’s coast if you are kayaking from East to West.
So your plan could be like this: Salacgriva – Ruhnu, Ruhnu – Roja/Melnsils.
Another, less ambitious sea kayaking trip idea: Kolka – Kolka Lighthouse, built on an artificial island 6 kilometers off the coast.
The latter you can also do on the organized trip with Seakayak LV.
33. Go on a 4X4 Offroad Adventure
A territory of Latvia is about 50% bigger than the territory of the Netherlands. At the same time, there are 10 times less people living in Latvia than there are in the Netherlands. Respectively – there is enough of wilderness in Latvia.
And one more option, how you can explore it is by 4×4 offroading vehicle.
How you can do it? Contact these guys and they will help you. They are organizing all kind of offroad trips, whether you want more like a sightseeing trip or just pure offroading.
Some More Cool Things to Do in Latvia and Places to See:
- Northern Wavebreaker of Ainazi. Historical wavebreaker.
- Ogres Zilie Kalni (Blue Hills) Nature Park in Ogre municipality. Beautiful place for walks in summer and for country skiing in winter.
- Pokaini Forest. Beautiful and mysterious place, an ancient holy site.
- Pape Nature Park.
- Skaiņais Hill Nature Park.
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long-term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia sharing his travel stories and photography at WeAreFromLatvia.com. Together with his girlfriend they have been traveling and living abroad since 2012.