Latvia is a country of low forested hills, lakes and streams. This country was once part of the Baltic Estates that break away from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Latvians (or Letts) had known centuries of rule by Germans, Poles, Swedes, and Russians. Latvia was independent from 1918 until 1940, when it became part of the Soviet Union. During the years of Communism, many Latvians (like other Baltic Estate nationals) were sent to labor camps in Siberia.
The Latvian people also have a distinct culture. Their language is one of the oldest in Europe, and singing in choirs is a highly popular tradition.
Here are the top ten not to be missed places in Latvia.
Old City Riga (Vecriga)
Old City Riga
is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for that alone it is definitely recommended. This Old Town offers glimpses and interesting facets of Latvia. It is dotted with beautiful structures where you can spend a couple of days wandering around. The historic city center with so much character is visibly inhabited and austere with its small paved roads, lots of small shops in order, and many chances for a good photograph. People wander here and there stopping occasionally to sip a hot drink or enjoy a soup in the food kiosks in the park. It has lots of interesting points like the internal streets, churches (both Catholic and other doctrines), museum of national history, old hangar (used as a store for airships), and lots of old but stylish homes.
At the promenade area called the
, you can admire a view of the great river that crosses the
before flowing into the Baltic Sea. Be impressed by the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians at the town hall square.
offers a multitude of stands allocated within the Zeppelin hangars of the ’30s (it used to be a store of airships). At the central point you can see the Three Brothers House (antithesis to the “Three Sisters” of Vilnius) a set of three buildings constructed according to different architectural styles dating from the 15th century onwards. Across this site stands the “
House of the Blackheads
”, a 14th century attraction that was rebuilt after the World War II bombings and whose name was derived from an association of local merchants and ship owners who are all bachelors. In Riga there is a wide choice of places to dine where the food is good and appropriate to the specific theme and the nature of the restaurant. In the city center there is a shop selling a huge selection of wines with free tasting. The Old Town is easy to navigate, clean, relaxed and with many interesting sights and
buildings to visit.
St. Peter’s Church
Rebuilt despite the destruction perpetrated by the Nazis and the Soviets during World War II, the
St. Peter’s Church
is every bit the symbol of the city. You must pay to enter (charge by local currency, Euro or credit card) and you can also take the elevator on the bell tower .The church is now used as a museum and place of exposure with a nice wing nut (maybe a lightning rod or old ornament of the tower itself), the ancient candlestick and the monumental tomb to the left of the entrance.
It is a Lutheran Church that is rather bare and basic on the interior but externally beautiful especially on its Gothic inspired façade symbolizing the rise of the prayers. The old church was built in 1200 with a very high steeple on which you can reach the almost 72 meter high bell tower via an elevator. The first two floors you climb on a stair. Then you take a ride on a lift that is 72 meters in height. Unfortunately, the capacity is limited here so visitors have a waiting gap in the access and exit time. Once at the top you can enjoy a panoramic view of Riga, the entire old town, the river, bridges and the nearby districts which are just adorable.
Jurmala is reached either by train, transport bus or by a minibus called marshutka from
(at the weekend in the summer there is also a service via the river that starts jetty which is located in front of the castle of Riga). The blue minibuses depart every fifteen minutes from
from wooden shelters that are on the other side of the train station. The cost is fair enough and takes half an hour to get to the beach. Jurmala is basically formed of three fractions; Dubulti to the west, Majori in the center where there is a Tourist Information Center (next to the minibus stop) and Dzintari to the east. If you want to go straight and visit the main buildings of the early twentieth century in Jurmala, you can get off at
Dubulti Lutheran Church
and walk along the beach from west to east (about 1 hour and a half walk.)
From the Summer House which is located on the
you can go back up to the height of the Dzintari Station and take the minibus to Riga on Lienes Jela. On the beach there are bathrooms, toilets and dressing rooms. From the beach every 100/150 meters there are exits to the coast. The
is made of fine sand and there are plenty of benches to rest. It is often windy and the water is warm enough to explore all the water adventures it offers during the peak season. Many Russians have bought homes here because of the tranquility of the place. The town is pretty small, with Latvian-style houses and a few bars of refuge when the cold becomes unbearable.
Dzintari Forest Park
Dzintari Forest Park
is an ideal example of a great futuristic park. Upon entrance to the park you might have an initial impression that is just a few challenging trails to walk in the woods. This opinion is refuted by a few more steps. It is located in a park with futuristic elements. The benches are reminiscent of small globes. A bridge with aluminum parts can be found in the middle of the forest, along with paved paths with traffic signs for cyclists and skaters. There is a gorgeous high tower that is estimated to be about 40 meters high, from which you can see over the treetops and the view of the city.
The Dzintari is like a huge mirror that is placed in the woods. There is a part for small children and a separate portion of the park for the 6 – 12 year olds with climbing frames, Carousel, Toboggan rides, small motor race tracks, etc. For teenagers there is a skating rink (skater slopes) and basketball playgrounds. And for the less adventurous ones there is a part of the park where they can simply pick blackberries, eat, and have coffee. It is a huge playground for all.
The Karosta Prison is located about 4 km from the city center of Liepaja and is easily reached by hiring a bike at the information desk of the city. The guided tour is interesting even if it takes place mainly in Latvian and Russian. Only two guides can speak good English but takes enough time to summarize the history of the place. The former war prison is part of a whole hamlet (Karosta) of
The almost exclusive tour of the prison does not necessarily offer spectacular things but with the factual explanation of the guide it gives a clear impression of what must have happened here in almost a hundred years. It is a frightening, oppressive and true experience and leaves a thoughtful reminder of the horrors of war during the Latvian, Russian, and German occupation. The tour is very comprehensive and usually lasts more or less 45 minutes where you can ask the guide questions or share anecdotes from their childhood and how they lived in the troubled communist era.
The prison is in very good condition and the guides are really good. While those dark corridors are crossed with the smell of damp and aura of the narrow punishment cells, one can slowly soak up the inhumane treatment of the Soviet Union with the photographs of Lenin getting hanged in one of the exhibit halls.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Holy Trinity Cathedral
is one of the beautiful landmarks of the city of
. While outside it looks dilapidated and needs total repair, once you get inside you will transported to a parallel world. The observation deck can be reached at Level 1 after passing through a seemingly unreliable wooden staircase and if you are a student or a retiree, you are entitled to a discount. To get to the top, refer to any of the employees who sell books and candles inside the cathedral. Log in for a nominal fee, about one lat. Climb the top together with a guide that can tell you about the history of the cathedral.
Don’t forget to take pictures beside the old clockwork that can be found inside the church. From the tower of the church of the Holy Trinity you can admire the bird’s eye view of the entire Liepaja and make beautiful pictures. The outdoor observation deck can be windy even in a good sunny weather because of the proximity to the nearby sea. In the evening there is a free concert and the huge mechanical organ music listening that is open to the public. Do not miss this memorable but simple church.
Turaida Medieval Castle (Sigulda)
Turaida Medieval Castle
is one of the most popular and visited castles in Latvia. The castle was built in 1214 at the behest of
Archbishop Albert of Riga
. The 13th century Turaida Castle and its surroundings use to be called by its German name Friedland, but the Livonian name Turaida somehow stuck and imperceptibly replaced its German counterpart. The word Turaida meant God’s Garden, from Tora – God and Ayda – garden. The castle has an important defensive value covering the area of Riga and into the territory of a hike from the sea at the
on which it is located.
In 1601, Turaida was taken by the Swedes and the castle became a garrison. In 1776, the castle was almost completely burnt out after a fire and then a few decades stood empty. On its territory the Latvians built houses, stables, barns and other outbuildings. Since 1924, the castle in Turaida, and what remained of it was included in the list of historical sites protected by the state. However, the restoration of the castle was started in 1953 only. Primarily, only the main tower was fully restored. Today, the main tower of the fortress, whose height is 26 meters serves as the lookout for tourists.
is an unusual attraction. On the one hand – it is a historical object, on the other hand – it is the usual residential area. Ramparts and old buildings coexist with residential floor buildings here. The castle is in full swing restoration, so something still in ruins and some parts are already renovated.
You can stroll along and take pictures beside the ramparts that are overgrown with weeds on the far side of the fortress. It was built in the early 19th century and the only such facility in Eastern Europe which survived generations and until the modern times.
Latgale Zoological Garden
is the only place in
where you can walk the whole family on a regular basis and do not get tired of it. This is not a zoo where you will see giraffes, wild boars, tigers and other large animals but mostly, it is a zoo that is designed for the small living creatures – monkeys, mice, rabbits, frogs, marmosets, small turtles, meerkats, snakes, fish, insects, etc. The entrance is cheap and everything can be explored within an hour. The small zoo is ideal for families with children.
tells about the colorful history of the
(Courland) complete with exhibit rooms, artifacts and reports so that every guest can get a good overview of its importance in the history of Latvia.
Especially recommended is the room where an outline of the development of Ventspils in pictures during the last 150 years is laid out according to their timeline and significance. From the tower you can look out over the city and the harbor. After the museum visit, it is highly recommended to check out the castle cellar for good food and beer.