Found in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, Latvia is a great vacation destination because it is filled with history, art, culture, and entertainment. The country didn’t gain independence until 1991 and has since then developed drastically in terms of the tourism industry. There are many sites and attractions that are fun and family-friendly, including the Arsenals – Fine Arts Museum, Cinevilla, the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum, the National Opera, and the Aviation Museum. Here are the best things to do in Latvia.
1.Araisi Lake Dwelling Site
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The Araiši lake dwelling site takes visitors back to 9th century Latvia. Originals and reconstructions of Latgalian dwellings from the Stone and Bronze Age can be seen. Visitors will also be able to see the Lake Castle and medieval castle ruins in the fortified settlement. Visitors can explore the prehistoric Latgalian wooden buildings that have been reconstructed according to the 151 building remains discovered during excavations. There are also nearly 4,000 artifacts, especially ancient tools and pottery, which were excavated and are now available to view in the museum park. The park is open every day of the week from April to October and then from Wednesday to Sunday the rest of the year.
Gauja National Park, Araišu ezerpils, Araiši, Drabeši parish, LV-4139, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-28-00-22-37
2.Arsenals - Fine Arts Museum
© Arsenals – Fine Arts Museum
Arsenals - Fine Arts Museum is a beautiful place for visitors to go and see a large collection of Latvian and Baltic art from the 18th century onwards. The museum focuses on collection, preservation, research, and exhibition so that locals and visitors can explore some of Latvia’s finest treasures. The building itself is an important architectural monument built in the Russian Classicism style. There are guided tours available throughout the day for visitors to learn the interesting stories behind the exhibits as well as gain a deeper understanding of the art techniques that were used.
Torna iela 1, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-35-75-27
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Cinevilla is an outdoor backlot that was converted to use in the feature film, Defenders of Riga. After the film wrapped, the large-scale open-air cinema was opened to the public and soon became a major tourist attraction. Visitors can see replicas of many of Latvia’s historical buildings and sites such as the Stone Bridge or the Pontoon bridges – there’s even a canal that resembles the Daugava river quays. There’s a special effects show that visitors can watch to learn about the many aspects of filming a movie as well as a Film Oscar Cinevilla for visitors to watch movies that have been filmed there.
Vidusvecvagari, Slampe parish, LV-3119, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-28-60-66-77
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Freedom Monument can be found in the heart of Latvia’s capital city, Riga. The memorial, which was unveiled in 1935, honors soldiers who were killed during the Latvian War of Independence. It is a much-respected symbol for Latvian citizens who look upon the monument as a sign of independence and freedom. The monument towers at 138 feet and is covered with sculptures that depict Latvia’s history and culture. Throughout the year there are many events and festivals, which are celebrated at the base of the monument because of its symbol of national independence; visitors are urged to join in on the fun during their vacation.
Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia
5.House of the Blackheads
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There were two sites for the House of the Blackheads in the old town of Riga; one was the original structure that was built for the Brotherhood of Blackheads in the 14th century. The Brotherhood of Blackheads was a guild for unmarried merchants, wealthy ship owners, and other figures, and the original structure was built as a place for them to meet – a place for the elite’s social events. The original building was ruined in 1941 by the Germans and then demolished in 1948 by the Soviets. Between 1995 and 1999, the House of the Blackheads was reconstructed, and it now looks similar to the original building.
Ratslaukums 7, Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-18-18-00
6.Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum
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Established on the shores of Juglas Lake in 1924, the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum has over 135,000 visitors annually. The idea of the museum came about in 1924 with the plan of relocating homesteads from Courland, Vidzeme, Latgale, and Zemgale – all four regions of Latvia. The first barn was brought in Vestiena parish in 1928, and the museum opened to the public in 1932 with six buildings. Today, visitors can see 118 buildings in the 87-hectare land, all of which house over 3,000 antiquities and artifacts. There are many cultural events held throughout the year, including craft festivals, folk concerts, and traditional fairs.
Brivibas gatve 440, Vidzemes priekšpilseta, Riga, LV-1024, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-99-41-06
7.Latvian Museum of Natural History
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Founded in 1845 by the Riga Naturalists Society, the Latvian Museum of Natural History is one of the oldest, biggest, and most multifaceted museums of its kind in the Baltic States. The museum researches, preserves, maintains, and exhibits some of the most fascinating items in their exhibitions dedicated to the forest, human evolution, Latvian ethnic origins, paleontology, geology, bodies of water, birds, and much more. Other than the detailed exhibitions and the interactive displays, visitors can also go on information-filled guided tours and excursions, and they can also participate in the museum’s many events. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open the rest of the week for visitors to enjoy.
K.Barona 4, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-35-60-23
8.Latvian National Museum of Art
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After an extensive reconstruction, the Latvian National Museum of Art and its many exhibitions and displays are open to the public every day of the week except Monday. The exterior of the museum is stunning – so much so that the museum received the Annual Latvian Architecture Award Grand Prix in 2016. Visitors can explore the permanent display that houses Latvian art such as those created while Latvia was under Soviet occupation as well as those created after the country gained independence. In addition to the paintings and sculptures, you will also find graphic art, photographs, and a video exhibition.
Jana Rozentala laukums 1, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1010, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-32-44-61
9.Latvian National Opera
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The stately Latvian National Opera (LNO) building can be found in the heart of the country’s capital, Riga. The LNO Orchestra, LNO Chorus, and the Latvian National Ballet also accompany the national opera of Latvia. The building itself is absolutely stunning and was constructed in 1863. Since then many renovations have taken place. There are many concerts and events held throughout the year with some of the most popular being the Riga Opera Festival, which is going on its twentieth year. The festival presents the perfect opportunity for visitors to get introduced to the season’s upcoming productions and performances.
Aspazijas bulvaris 3, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-07-37-15
10.Latvian Railway History Museum
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Railway tourism continues to be a popular way of exploring Latvia’s most scenic sites, from the summer countryside to the winter mountains. The Latvian Railway History Museum takes visitors on an insightful journey, navigating visitors through the country’s extensive history with the railway industry. Visitors young and old find themselves thrilled as they learn about how train traffic is controlled and how to use some of the real-life equipment the museum exhibits. The museum has much more than locomotives, rail cars, and carriages; there are over 20,000 documents, photographs, uniforms, and other artifacts from Latvia’s railway industry as well.
Uzvaras bulvaris 2/4, Zemgales priekšpilseta, Riga, LV-1048, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-23-28-49
11.Latvijas Universitates Botaniskais darzs
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The University Botanical Garden, or Latvijas Universitates Botaniskais darzs, is the place to go for visitors who want to get up close and personal with some of Latvia’s flora. There are many plants, trees, shrubs, and mosses, as well as the country’s protected plants and herbs in the garden. Visitors can participate in one of the Friday evening excursions or the numerous groups and classes the garden offers. Younger visitors usually head straight to the butterfly house, which is one of the only tropical butterfly houses with butterfly species from Asia, South America, and the African jungle.
Kandavas iela 2, Kurzemes rajons, Riga, LV-1083, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-45-08-52
12.Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation
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The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation is one of the oldest museums in Europe. It started with Dr. Nikolaus von Himsel’s private collection in 1773. Upon his death, his mother handed over his collection to the city of Riga, and the Town Council then formed the museum. Today, the museum houses over 500,000 objects and 80 collections, and it has three branches. Visitors will come across an extensive collection of paintings, furniture, medals, porcelain, and other objects. One of the most recent acquisitions is a collection of unique 13th century coins that were donated.
Palasta 4, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-21-13-58
13.Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
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The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia was established in 1993 and was soon recognized as a historic educational institution. The museum archives important documents, preserves and exhibits artifacts, and educates the public on the 51 years, from 1940 to 1991, in which Latvia was occupied by the USSR and Nazi Germany. The museum has become so significant that it is included in the agenda when representatives from other countries visit. Visitors can go on guided tours and see the permanent museum collection as well as exhibits such as the “History of KGB Operations in Latvia,” among others.
Raina bulvaris 7, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-21-27-15
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The Nativity of Christ Cathedral, or Nativity Cathedral for short, was designed during a time when Latvia was a part of the Russian Empire. It is actually the largest Orthodox cathedral built with the blessing of the Russian Tsar. Visitors can explore the cathedral, renowned for its religious icons painted by famous Russian war artist Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin. The cathedral has a rich history and at one point was turned into a Lutheran church. During the USSR occupation the cathedral building was converted to a planetarium and wasn’t restored as a cathedral until Latvia’s independence in 1991.
Brivibas bulvaris 23, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-21-29-01
15.Riga Aviation Museum
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Victor Talpa, a Latvian Civil Aviation Administration employee, established the Riga Aviation Museum in 1956. It is located on the grounds of the Riga International Airport and is still one of the largest museums of its kind in Europe. Outside of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the museum has the greatest collection of Soviet aircrafts. Visitors can see many aircrafts and helicopters at the museum including the Aero L-29 Delfin, the Mil Mi-24, the Yakovlev Yak-28R, and the Tupolev Tu-134, a twin-engine jet airliner that can operate from unpaved airfields.
1053, Ziemelu iela 12, Lidosta "Riga", Marupes novads, LV-1053, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-26-86-27-07
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The original Riga Castle came to be in 1330, but over the years it has been destroyed, rebuilt, and renovated many times. The castle, which can be found by the River Daugava, is now the official residence of the President of Latvia. The castle complex also houses many museums, and most of the decor visitors will see in the castle are artifacts donated by museums. Visitors can go on a guided tour and see some of the best parts of the castle such as the vestibule, the Green Salon, which is filled with paintings by Julijs Feders, the President’s Study, and the State Festival Hall.
Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-09-21-06
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17.Riga Film Museum
© Riga Film Museum
The only museum of its kind in all of Latvia, the Riga Film Museum was founded in 1988. The museum has exhibitions on various aspects of the film industry, including its history, actors, and cinema art. Visitors can explore the exhibitions, which are divided into six parts and also include the Riga School of Poetic Documentary Cinema, film production and censorship in Soviet time, a timeline of Latvian and world cinema, and animation productions. There are also many educational programs for visitors to partake in such as a lecture on what cinema is, which explores different genres and optical illusions, and the freedom of expression, which was limited during the Soviet censorship.
Peitavas 10-12, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-35-88-73
18.Riga Motor Museum
© Riga Motor Museum
The Riga Motor Museum was established in 1989 and is the biggest antique vehicle museum in all of the Baltic countries. The museum operates under the Republic of Latvia Ministry of Transport but is also a member of the Latvian Museum Association, the Latvian Transport Development and Education Association, and the International Association of Transport and Communication Museums. There are many great exhibits at the museum, but some that are most popular with visitors include the 1938 Auto union racing car Type D, the 1935 Horch 830BL, the 1914 Hansa G 12/36 Renntorpedo, and the 1961 ZIL-112 Sports vehicle.
Sergeja Eizenšteina iela 8, Vidzemes priekšpilseta, Riga, LV-1079, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-02-58-88
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19.Riga Porcelain Museum
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The Riga Porcelain Museum opened in 2001 and soon grew to be one of the most comprehensive ceramics museums in Latvia. It has a large collection that started with the porcelain factory’s varying porcelain and earthenware pieces – almost 8,000 of them created from the 19th century onward. The porcelain industry has played an important role in Latvia’s artistic history. Visitors can learn more about the past while trying their own luck at creating porcelain figurines and painting them in the many workshops and events held throughout the year. The museum shop allows visitors to take a bit of Latvia’s priceless porcelain pieces home with them.
Kaleju iela 9/11, Centra rajons, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-29-11-74-05
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A part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the Riga Zoo initially opened in 1912 with 267 animals from 88 different species. Today, zoo visitors will come across over 4,000 animals from 500 different species, including the European tree frog, the Eurasian eagle owl, and the red kangaroo. Other than getting up close and personal with the fun and friendly animals, visitors can also learn about the zoo’s many wildlife conservation projects such as vulture breeding and entomology research. There are many events hosted by the zoo throughout the year such as Bird Day and Reptile Zoo Day; there are also excursions and workshops that introduce visitors to historical sites in the zoo or fascinating facts about the different animals that live there.
Meža prospekts 1, Ziemelu rajons, Riga, LV-1014, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-51-79-75
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Schloss Ruhental, or Rundale Palace, was constructed from 1736 to 1768 for Ernst Johann von Biron, a Duke and regent of the Russian Empire. It is one of two major baroque palaces that were built for the Dukes of Courland, and it was designed by renowned architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Visitors can explore the many museum exhibitions and learn about the history of the palace and the Biron Dynasty. Some of the exhibitions include “Fashion in Latvia from the 17th to the 19th Century,” “Contemporaries of the Dukes of Courland,” and “Stone Carvings and Ironwork in Latvia.” The park on the palace grounds is just as stunning and is broken down into sections such as the French Garden and the Rose Garden.
Pilsrundale, Rundales pagasts, LV-3921, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-63-96-22-74
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The medieval Turaida Castle, which translates to “Thor’s garden,” can be found near the Gauja River. The Livonian Brothers of the Swords, a military order established by Bishop Albert of Riga, built the castle in 1214. Though the castle was abandoned in 1776, the Turaida Museum Reserve allows visitors to explore the artistic, architectural, and archaeological history of the land’s past. Other than the Turaida Stone Castle, visitors can also explore the Folk Song Garden, Folk Song Hill, Turaida Church, and the Rose of Turaida Memorial. There are many Latvian festivals held at the site annually, with one of the most popular being the summer solstice, which is held at the end of June.
Gauja National Park, Turaidas iela 10, Sigulda, Siguldas pilseta, LV-2150, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-67-97-14-02
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23.Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center
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The Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center, or VIRAC, is an ex-Soviet installation that wasn’t publicly known about until after Latvia gained independence. Founded by the Soviet military in 1974, the center includes a large 32-meter telescope, two smaller telescopes, and a communications center – all of which were possibly used during the Cold War by the KGB. It has since then been taken over by the Latvian Academy of Sciences. Visitors can go see the telescope, which is the 8th largest in the world and the largest in Northern Europe. The guided tours not only afford visitors an up close view of the telescope but also give them access to the facility’s laboratory and inspection areas.
Irbene, Ance parish, LV-3601, Latvia, Phone: +3-71-63-65-60-82
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Vermanes Garden is the second oldest public garden in Riga; it was originally called Wöhrmann Park and opened in 1814. Nowadays, locals and visitors flock to the gardens to spend a day relaxing and basking in its beauty. There are numerous sculptures and statues, including the four season fountain, a bronze dandy, and the majestic stone lions. During the winter months, visitors are taken to a winter wonderland filled with snowmen, glowing lights, and Christmas carols. There is a wooden open-air stage that is a popular place to be during the summer months when many concerts and performances are held.
Central District, Riga, LV-1050, Latvia
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25 Best Things to Do in Latvia
- Araisi Lake Dwelling Site, Photo: Courtesy of Imants Ozolins - Fotolia.com
- Arsenals - Fine Arts Museum, Photo: Arsenals – Fine Arts Museum
- Cinevilla, Photo: Courtesy of Dreef - Fotolia.com
- Freedom Monument, Photo: Courtesy of franzeldr - Fotolia.com
- House of the Blackheads, Photo: Courtesy of karnizz - Fotolia.com
- Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Ekaterina - Fotolia.com
- Latvian Museum of Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of inguunal - Fotolia.com
- Latvian National Museum of Art, Photo: Courtesy of Grigory Bruev - Fotolia.com
- Latvian National Opera, Photo: Courtesy of balakate - Fotolia.com
- Latvian Railway History Museum, Photo: Courtesy of rovada - Fotolia.com
- Latvijas Universitates Botaniskais darzs, Photo: Courtesy of chamillew - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, Photo: Courtesy of Igor Groshev - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Photo: Courtesy of eugenesergeev - Fotolia.com
- Nativity Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of elesi - Fotolia.com
- Riga Aviation Museum, Photo: Courtesy of gorelovs - Fotolia.com
- Riga Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Sergii Figurnyi - Fotolia.com
- Riga Film Museum, Photo: Riga Film Museum
- Riga Motor Museum, Photo: Riga Motor Museum
- Riga Porcelain Museum, Photo: Courtesy of mahony - Fotolia.com
- Riga Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of Vladimirs Koskins - Fotolia.com
- Rundale Palace, Photo: Courtesy of ronstik - Fotolia.com
- Turaida Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Fyle - Fotolia.com
- Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center, Photo: Courtesy of AndrisRS - Fotolia.com
- Vermanes Garden, Photo: Courtesy of gorelovs - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of rh2010 - Fotolia.com