Latvia is an old European country bordered by Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, and the Baltic Sea. There are many crumbling ruins of castles and forts that testify to centuries of onslaughts by conquering invaders from all over Europe, and the Nazi occupation during World War II left many scars. Visitors today can see some very good examples of historic architecture in many of the towns and cities, especially in the capital Riga, which has a marvellous Old Town and boasts more than 40 museums. Large tracts of pristine forests and river valleys beckon outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, and during the winter there are several areas where you can go skiing and snowboarding. The last two centuries have seen dramatic advances in the tourism sector, and the country is actively seeking visitors to come and sample some Latvian hospitality.
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The town and region of Aluksne is located in the north-eastern corner of Latvia close to the borders with Russia and Estonia. The region has a rich historical legacy for visitors to explore as well as a good variety of outdoor activities. History and architecture enthusiasts can visit the ancient (1342) stone castle on Castle Island, the Old Lakeshore Palace (1794) and the Aluksne New Palace, which dates back to 1864. In addition, there are several other beautifully preserved palaces and stately homes as well as museums to add to your itinerary. Hikers can choose from several beautiful lakeside trails, and the lake offers various types of boating in summer, while in winter the emphasis changes to cross-country skiing.
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The historic town of Bauska is located in southern Latvia in an attractive low-lying area known for its large stretches of pristine forests, abundant rivers, and several nature reserves. Besides the wealth of outdoor attractions, the town also has several historic buildings you can tour, including the Baroque and Rococo-style Rundale Palace, the 15th century Bauska Castle, and several other stately homes. At the Bauska Museum, you can learn about the early history of the city or take a guided tour around the historic Old Town. At the Motor Museum, you can see examples of vintage vehicles in a newly refurbished Soviet Era warehouse. After a busy day of exploring, you can sample local specialties on a Gourmet Food Tour.
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The town of Cesis dates back to 1206 and has always been known for the emphasis it has placed on arts, education, and culture. In addition to visiting a range of really good museums, art galleries, and historic buildings, you can also enjoy excellent outdoor recreation and a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere. Those who love history and culture will be drawn to the lovely old Cesis Medieval Castle and the historic Old Town where you can admire many examples of beautiful masonry and ancient wooden villas. The town is dotted with outdoor sculptures and artworks by local artists are on display at the Insignia Art Gallery. For a break from art and culture, you can go hiking or biking along several scenic trails or enjoy canoeing and paddling on one of the rivers.
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Courland (or Kurzeme in Latvian) is a region of Latvia located along the sparsely populated western coastline of the country – an undiscovered gem for all nature lovers. The impressive 20-mt sea-cliffs along the Jurkalne coastline are popular with camping enthusiasts and offer ideal conditions for para-gliding, windsurfing, and kite boarding. Inland, the 100-mt wide Venta Waterfalls is the place to head to in autumn and spring to see hundreds of salmon trying to leap up the falls. Bird watching is excellent all along the coastline, particularly during migration. Families will enjoy Ventspils Adventure Park, which offers various obstacle courses, a water park in summer, and opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in winter.
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Daugavpils is the second largest city in Latvia, located along the banks of the Daugava River in the southeast of the country. One of the city’s main tourist attractions is the famous Daugavpils Fortress, which remains one of Europe’s most complete defensive castles dating back to the early 19th century. You can spend several hours exploring this historical fort, which is built in the Empire style, with the exception of the Gothic Nikolas Gate and Water Tower. The Arsenal building of the fortress now houses the Mark Rothko Art Center, which showcases Latvian and international artists. History lovers should also visit Church Hill, which is unsurprisingly home to four interesting churches. The city offers several parks and gardens, museums and the Latgale Zoo.
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Dobele is a city (as well as a municipality) that lies along the banks of the Berze River about 50 miles from Riga. The quiet town of around 11,000 inhabitants is mainly famous for its quarterly festivals and for its very lovely gardens, especially the Peteris Upitis Garden and Museum that showcases over 200 hybrid species of fragrant lilacs. History lovers can visit the Semigallian Castle Mounds, which are over 1,000 years old – guided tours of the semi-renovated ruins are available, and you will get a wonderful view of the city from the tower. There are various interesting museums to visit, including the Piksas Farm and Lici Antiquities Collection where you can see many vintage farm implements.
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7.Gauja National Park
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Gauja National Park was Latvia’s first national park, located in the 60-mile long ancient Gauja River Valley, which was carved out of the earth by receding Ice-Age glaciers. The National Park is home to a wide diversity of animal and plant species, and people come from all over the country to enjoy getting back to nature. You can hike or mountain bike along several trails – maps and other info can be obtained at the Visitor’s Centers at Sigulda, along the Ligatne Nature Trails and at Zvarte Rock. You can also go kayaking or rafting along the river, and the park offers guided tours and nature walks.
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Nestled along the banks of the Daugava River, the city of Jekabpils was established in the 17th century and is therefore an interesting city for all history and architecture enthusiasts. One of the oldest buildings you can visit is the Krustpils Castle, which was first documented in 1217 and is Latvia’s oldest medieval castle. Today the castle is home to the Jekabpils History Museum – you can tour at your own pace using an English audio guide. After touring the castle you can visit the Seliite Garden, which is an open-air part of the history museum that showcases old farm buildings set in a pleasant garden. There are several old churches in various architectural styles and many historic buildings to be admired. Most of the attractions can easily be accessed on foot.
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The historic city of Jelgava is located just 25 miles from Riga in one of the most picturesque parts of the country. The city dates back to 1578, making it one of the oldest cities in Latvia, and there are plenty of historic and cultural attractions to be explored. The main historic highlights to add to your list of things to explore are the Jelgava Holy Trinity Church Tower (which includes a museum and observation deck), the Jelgava History and Art Museum, and the Jelgava Palace Museum. For a break from history and culture you can enjoy some outdoor pursuits –explore the city and its environs along a selection of cycling paths, go hiking in the Lielupe Flood meadows (which offer excellent bird watching and the chance to see real wild horses), or take to the air on a hot air balloon excursion.
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For over 200 years, the delightful beach resort of Jurmala has been attracting locals (and a growing number of international visitors) who come to relax and unwind along the long stretch of pine-fringed beach on the Bay of Riga. You can soak up the sun on the long beach, have the ride of your life at the Livu Aquapark, visit an open-air museum, or set off to explore the sulphur springs, wildlife, and hiking trails in the Kemeri National Park. Music lovers can enjoy a show at the Dzintari Concert Hall and everyone will enjoy strolling along the Jonas Street pedestrian boulevard where you can eat, drink, shop, and people-watch. After a busy day on the beach you can visit one of the many spas for a sublime pampering session.
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11.Kemeri National Park
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Located close to the seaside resort of Jurmala (near Riga), the Kemeri National Park is home to a variety of natural habitats including forests, meadows, waters, and inland sand dunes, which are home to many varieties of plants and animals. Make your way through the park along a network of hiking trails, which are also suitable for cycling and cross-country skiing. The natural thermal hot springs in the park are reputed to contain healing properties and you can try them for yourself at two “Sanatoriums” or rehabilitation centers in the park. You can visit the tourism information center at Kemeri Station to get maps and more information about park facilities.
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Best known for its ancient castle ruins, the small Latvian town of Koknese lies on the banks of the Daugava River, about 70 miles from the capital city of Riga. There has been a castle safeguarding the town for centuries, but the original wooden structure was replaced by an impressive stone castle in around 1209, which was abandoned in the 1700s after it was partially demolished by retreating Saxons. Today the ruins (which were once located on a hillside) appear to float on the surface of the enormous lake created by the Plavini Hydroelectric Power Station. While you are visiting the town you can explore several nature walks, visit various historic homes and even take a tour of the Koknese Museum of Bee-keeping.
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Visiting the little town of Kuldiga is a little like stepping back in time to a slower and more genteel age. The town is located in the Kurzeme (or Courland) region along the sparsely populated western coast of the country, rich in history and beautiful architecture and surrounded by natural beauty. You can start your tour of this lovely little town at the central Town Square to see a collection of well-preserved Baroque buildings, while close by you can stroll along cobbled lanes filled with beautifully restored timber houses, parks, and waterways. After exploring the town you can head to the impressive Ventas River Waterfall, the widest in Europe. There are pleasant nature trails to hike, rivers to discover by kayak, and biking, windsurfing, and paragliding are all popular activities.
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14.Lauma Nature Park
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Located in the Kurzeme (Courland) region of western Latvia, Lauma Nature Park is a wonderful place to take the family of an educational day of fun. There are several walks that can be explored, starting with the Bees Path, which will introduce visitors to the secret world of bees. From bees you can move on to tour the Bird Path, Plants Path, and the Forest Path. Guided walks are available and besides enjoying nature you will also learn a great deal about the plants and animals that reside in the park. Active visitors can tackle the Sports Path (obstacle course) or have some fun playing disc golf, which is suitable for all ages. It is a great place to have a picnic, and barbecues and fire-pits are available.
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Once an important seaport for Russian Czars and Commissars, the lively Latvian port city of Liepaja is full of history and surrounded by a beautiful coastline – a great combination for tourists. Liepaja Seaside Park and Blue Flag Beach boasts a five-mile stretch of powder-white beach where you can swim, sunbathe, attend an outdoor concert on the beach, play tennis or volleyball, and buy fresher-than-fresh fish from local vendors. In the city you can visit the fascinating Liepaja Naval Port (Karosta), which was once off-limits to all but the military; today you can explore a labyrinth of underground tunnels, check out the prison, or simply go for a walk or cycle along the breakwater track. There are many beautiful buildings to see so make sure you have enough time to make the most of your visit.
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The small town of Ligatne was established along the banks of the Gauja River (now part of the Gauja National Park) in the 19th century where it became an important paper milling town. The town’s legacy of being the only paper provider in Latvia is also responsible for its principle tourist attraction, the Historical Center of Ligatne Paper Mill Village. You can tour the working mill and see the historic cottages where the original mill workers used to reside before setting off to see the Secret Soviet Bunker, which was fully fitted to protect high-ranking Soviet official in case of a nuclear attack. For a break from history, you can try hiking along some of the trails in the Gauja National Park or take a relaxing boat trip on the river.
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The city of Rezekne lies in the Rezekne River Valley in eastern Latvia, at what has always been a strategically significant spot at the crossroads between Riga, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw. The city was established as early at the 9th century, and there are plenty of historic sites and building to see. Possibly the most interesting site is the Rezekne Castle Mound and Ruins (the castle was essentially destroyed by invading Swedes in the 1600s) from which you will have sweeping views over the city. There are also several historic churches to visit, including the Green Synagogue – a wooden building that has survived since 1845. The Art House and the Latgale Culture and History Museum are also worth a visit.
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Latvia’s capital city of Riga is a modern European city where old and new rub shoulders and happily co-exist. Regardless of your interests, you will find some aspect of Riga to enjoy – the history, architecture, art and culture, or the many green spaces where you can get back to nature. To absorb the atmosphere of Riga you can start your exploration in the Old Town, the historic center of the city where medieval and Art Nouveau architectural styles will delight architecture enthusiasts, while culture vultures can visit the opera, attend the Latvia Philharmonic Orchestra, or feast their eyes on the art collections of several galleries. Highlights of your visit to Riga will include Riga Castle, the Dome Cathedral, and St. Peter’s Church. In addition, there are 40 museums to please the most ardent museum fans.
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The town of Salaspils is located on the banks of the Daugava River about twelve miles from Riga and is notorious for the World War II Nazi Concentration Camp that was established there. Today you can visit the Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, which was built on the site of the concentration camp where many thousands were killed – it is a somber memorial and serves its purpose to remind us that we should never forget man’s inhumanity towards his fellow men. On a lighter note, you can spend some time enjoying the National Botanical Garden, which is the custodian of the greatest collection of plants from the Baltic regions. Cyclists can explore both the city and the surrounding area along several bike trails including the popular Dole Island Bike Route.
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The charming small town of Sigulda is located just an hour’s drive from Riga in an area of exceptional natural beauty. A quick scenic ride in the aerial cable car will whisk you out of the valley and across the Gauja River to see three historic castles, including Sigulda Castle, Turaida Castle, and the Krumulda Medieval Castle ruins. Historians are in for a treat, as the area around Sigulda has many historic manor houses, stately villas, churches, and other ancient buildings to admire. The beauty of the surrounding landscape beckons nature lovers to get out and be active – you can go hiking or hire a bicycle, scooter, or even a boat to explore the landscape, while daredevils can try Bungee Jumping, zip-lining, and obstacle courses at two adventure parks.
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21.Slitere National Park
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You will find Slitere National Park in the northern Kurzeme region of Latvia along the coastline of the Baltic Sea. The park protects several distinct habitats including forests, wetlands, bogs, and swamps, all of which attract a large number of birds and other wildlife. There are several ways of exploring the park – you can pull on your hiking boots and set off along several trails – some are gentle nature walks while other will require more effort but will reward you with wonderful views from the cliff tops. There are also good cycling paths that run through the park and along the coastline from one fishing village to the next. Offshore sailing is popular, and there are several heritage buildings to admire including the Slitere Lighthouse, the Boat Cemetery at Sturisi, and the Liv Peoples House
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22.Tervete Nature Park
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The Tervete Nature Park is an essential addition to your Latvian itinerary if you are traveling with children, and it is just as much fun for adults who enjoy getting outdoors and active. The park is located in a genuine mature forest where some of the trees are over 300 years old – you can climb up to the top of the observation tower to get fantastic views of the forest canopy. Children will love exploring the Fairytale Forest, the Playground, and the Gnome Forest, where all the little houses are gnome-sized – perfect for children – and there are several costumed fairytale characters and even a princess. There is a pretty lake where you can hire boats for rides or fishing and a Tree Top Walk for active adults. You can bring a picnic or have a snack at the cafeteria.
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The small town of Tukums is nestled between Riga and the Baltic Sea in the picturesque Kurzeme region of Latvia – an ideal destination for an interesting day-trip from Riga. Some of the rather special activities you can join in Tukums include visiting “Cinevilla,” an old film set-turned-tourist attraction where you can get dressed up in various costumes and learn about cinematography. A tour of Durbes Castle will educate you about Latvian history and culture and includes a visit to a ceramics workshop. At the Laci Bakery, you can see how Latvia’s favorite bread is made and try your hand and making a loaf yourself. For some outdoor fun, you can enjoy summer bobsleigh or a variety of winter sports at the Zviedru cepure Recreation center.
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Valmiera is the largest city of the historical Vidzeme region that lies just north of the Gauja National Park. The city has existed since around 1200, but a succession of wars and occupations have destroyed just about every historical building, and what you see today are just remnants of the city’s former glory. A stroll through the historic Old Town will reveal the ruins of a castle and medieval fortress along the banks of the river as well as the Old Pharmacy, the Little House of Valters and the Postal Service Horse Station, all three of which date from the 18th century. You can learn more about the local history and culture at the Valmiera Museum and outdoor activities include hiking, boating, fishing, cycling, and enjoying an adventure through the Park of the Senses.
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Ventspils is a lively port city located on the Baltic Sea, offering a good mix of old and new attractions for visitors to discover. History lovers can wander along the cobbled streets of the Old Town, where you can admire 17th century storehouses around Town Hall Square and Market Square. To learn about the city’s history and culture, you can visit the 13th Century Castle of the Livonian Order, which is now home to the Ventspils Museum. Ventspils boasts a great Blue Flag Beach where you can soak up the sun, and the adjoining Ventspils Water Park promises hours of water fun. You can also visit the Seaside Open-Air Museum to see all things nautical.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Latvia
- Aluksne, Photo: Courtesy of Janis Smits - Fotolia.com
- Bauska, Photo: Courtesy of gorelovs - Fotolia.com
- Cesis, Photo: Courtesy of ivetascerbaca - Fotolia.com
- Courland, Photo: Courtesy of Fyle - Fotolia.com
- Daugavpils, Photo: Courtesy of yegorov nick - Fotolia.com
- Dobele, Photo: Courtesy of PTK - Fotolia.com
- Gauja National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Novitsky97 - Fotolia.com
- Jekabpils, Photo: Courtesy of Juulijs - Fotolia.com
- Jelgava, Photo: Courtesy of anilah - Fotolia.com
- Jurmala, Photo: Courtesy of Andrey Shevchenko - Fotolia.com
- Kemeri National Park, Photo: Courtesy of ivetascerbaca - Fotolia.com
- Koknese, Photo: Courtesy of Juulijs - Fotolia.com
- Kuldiga, Photo: Courtesy of prescott09 - Fotolia.com
- Lauma Nature Park, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksey Stemmer - Fotolia.com
- Liepaja, Photo: Courtesy of dinozzaver - Fotolia.com
- Ligatne, Photo: Courtesy of martinsvanags - Fotolia.com
- Rezekne, Photo: Courtesy of lic0001 - Fotolia.com
- Riga, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Salaspils, Photo: Courtesy of phaser1984 - Fotolia.com
- Sigulda, Photo: Courtesy of Jean-Paul Bounine - Fotolia.com
- Slitere National Park, Photo: Courtesy of krosbona - Fotolia.com
- Tervete Nature Park, Photo: Courtesy of askolds - Fotolia.com
- Tukums, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksey Stemmer - Fotolia.com
- Valmiera, Photo: Courtesy of martinsvanags - Fotolia.com
- Ventspils, Photo: Courtesy of digitalstock - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of liramaigums - Fotolia.com