Best things to do in Latvia

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 27.04.2023

It's Latvia’s boisterous capital to which most visitors are attracted. However, to experience the true spirit of Latvia you’ll need to head into the spectacularly unspoiled countryside with its lakes, forests and sandy beaches. Here is our pick of the best things to do in Latvia.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, your essential guide for visiting Europe.

1. Jūrmala for a day at the beach

A 20km string of small seaside resorts lining the Baltic coast west of Rīga, Jūrmala was originally favoured by the tsarist nobility and later drew tens of thousands of holiday-makers from all over the USSR. It continues to be a popular beach resort today, with its wide, clean, sandy beach backed by dunes and pine woods, and dotted with beer tents and climbing frames.

It pulses with sun worshippers during the summer, especially during the week-long music festival in July. The central resort of the Jūrmala strip, Majori is the best place to get off the train if you’re just here for the day.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Jūrmala


Sand beach in Jurmala, Latvia © Pavels Dunaicevs/Shutterstock

2. Kemeri National Park for its sulfur springs

Without its grand 1930s Art Deco hotel to attract upmarket tourists, gamblers and spa-goers, the old resort of Ķemeri, just west of Jūrmala, has become something of a backwater. The town itself owes its existence to the park’s sulphur springs and the curative properties of the mud. These days Ķemeri attracts more nature lovers than spa-goers, as it is the perfect starting point for a hike through the Ķemeri National Park.

Founded in 1997, this 380 sq km (147 sq miles) Kemeri National Park is only a short distance from the sea. Made up of wetlands, swamps, raised bogs, forests and lakes, it is the perfect breeding ground for rare and not-so-rare species of flora and fauna.

Visiting the park is one of the best things to do in Latvia for nature lovers. It offers a variety of different nature trails with bird-watching platforms and several kilometres of wooden boardwalks over the swampy terrain.

3. Gauja National Park for cyclists

Exploring the castle ruins and hiking trails of the gorgeous Gauja Valley is one of the most exciting things to do in Latvia. Encompassing a diverse range of flora and fauna, Gauja National Park covers more than 920 square kilometres of near-pristine forested wilderness, bisected by the 425km Gauja River. The valley is ideal for exploring by bike, as most of the hiking trails are accessible to cyclists.

Numerous “wild” campsites are located along the river’s banks and major campsites in Sigulda, Cēsis and Valmiera, at the north end of the park, can arrange overnight canoeing and rafting trips.

4. Riga Old Town

Riga is the largest, liveliest and most cosmopolitan of the Baltic capitals, with a great selection of accommodation to suit any budget and a wide variety of world cuisine. A heady mixture of the medieval and the contemporary, the city has much to offer architecture and history enthusiasts in the narrow cobbled streets of Old Rīga and the wide boulevards of the New Town.

Old Rīga (Vecrīga), grouped loosely around Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums) and Cathedral Square (Doma laukums), forms the city’s nucleus and is home to most of its historic buildings. With its cobbled streets, narrow lanes and hidden courtyards, it gives the impression of stepping back in time. To the east, Old Rīga is bordered by Bastejkalns Park, beyond which lies the New Town.


Riga, Latvia © Shutterstock

5. Latvian National Opera

The Latvian National Opera is a historic opera house in Riga. Since its founding in 1912, it has become one of the main opera houses in the Baltic region. The building itself is an outstanding example of neo-classical architecture and one of Latvia's most important cultural landmarks.

A visit to the Latvian National Opera is one of the best things to do in Latvia if you're a fan of the arts. Latvian National Opera offers a wide range of operas, ballets and concerts all year round. In addition to the regular troupe of artists, the theatre also often hosts guest artists from all over the world. Among the most famous performances of the Latvian National Opera are those by Verdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Wagner.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Riga

Latvian National Opera © Pixabay

Latvian National Opera © Pixabay

6. The cobbled streets of Ventspils

An attractive seaside city, Ventspils, 200km northwest of Rīga, is Latvia’s biggest commercial port. The city’s Old Town, with its cobbled streets, its beach – the best in Latvia – and a handful of museums, make visiting Ventspils one of the best things to do in Latvia.

One of the city’s main draws is the long stretch of clean white-sand beach at the town’s western end – a worthy recipient of the Blue Flag and popular with sun worshippers, volleyball players and kitesurfers in summer. At the northern end of the beach, a long boardwalk, overlooked by a viewing tower, stretches towards the lighthouse. Here you can spot one of several specimens from Ventspils’ bizarre Cow Parade – the Sailor Cow.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Ventspils


Metal cow statue, Ventspils, Latvia © Alexander Tolstykh/Shutterstock

7. The village of Kolka

To get away from it all, take a trip to the village of Kolka at the northernmost tip of Cape Kolka, where the Gulf of Rīga meets the Baltic Sea, passing through pine forests and numerous coastal villages along the way.

Kolka is part of Slītere National Park, a former Soviet military base turned protected nature reserve. There are several nature trails to be hiked, not to mention the seemingly endless expanse of virtually deserted beaches - one of the best beaches in the Baltic region.


One of the best things to do in Latvia to get away from it all is hiking along the Kolka beach © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

8. Cēsis Castle

Surrounded by nature trails, Cēsis is a major centre of leisure activities in both summer and winter. A pleasant, wide-open town, it was a popular cultural centre during both the National Awakening and the first independence. Cēsis was a walled town, and its history is well documented in the Cēsis Museum of History and Art which occupies the Medieval Castle, Cēsis Manor, the New Castle and Coach House.

The Cēsis castle is a chalky-white fortified convent that served as a power base for the Livonian Order. In the castle, you can learn more about ancient Latvian jewellery at the smithy, and enjoy a special workshop on experimental archaeology run by the Master of Applied Arts. A beautiful castle park is a favourite place for a stroll. Look out for a couple of black swans who live at the pond.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Cēsis

Cēsis castle, Latvia © Pixabay

Cēsis castle, Latvia © Pixabay

9. Turaida Museum Reserve

Turaida Museum Reserve is a historical and cultural attraction located in Sigulda. The main components of the reserve museum are Turaida Castle and Turaida Church. Turaida Castle is a fort of red bricks and a single round tower, which breaks up through the forest heights. This is all that remained after lightning ignited the castle’s gunpowder store in the 17th century.

In the language of the ancient Livs who first settled this valley, Turaida means “the Garden of the Gods”. Inside the castle, there is a gallery and a small museum charting its history. On the path to the castle is a wooden Lutheran church, the oldest in Vidzeme, and a few yards away, beneath a large linden tree, a black marble slab marks the grave of Maija, the Turaida Rose (Turaidas Roze), a young woman murdered in 1620.


Turaida castle. Latvia © Shutterstock

10. Visiting Tarzan Adventure Park - one of the best things to do in Latvia for adventure fans

One of the best things to do in Latvia for people of all ages who enjoy outdoor activities and adrenaline-fueled experiences is a visit to Tarzan Adventure Park located in Sigulda. The park offers a variety of obstacle courses, zip lines and other activities that challenge visitors both physically and mentally.

The tracks in the park are accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels, as they are divided into different levels of difficulty. Other activities in the park include archery, paintball and mountain biking. You can also go hiking in the park with a guide and explore the stunningly beautiful forests and landscapes that the area is rich in.

11. Latvian cuisine

Latvian cuisine has been greatly influenced by the country's geography, history and climate. It is best known for its use of regional ingredients such as fish, potatoes, rye bread and dairy products. The most popular dishes of Latvian cuisine are:

  • Grey peas with bacon - a traditional Latvian dish of boiled grey peas and fried bacon, often served with chopped onions.
  • Potato fritters - fritters made of grated potatoes and onions, served with sour cream or lingonberry jam.
  • Jāņi cheese - a soft cheese made from cow's milk, usually served with bread and beer during the Jāņi Summer Solstice.
  • Cold beet soup - a refreshing summer soup made from boiled beets, kefir or buttermilk, sometimes served with boiled eggs or potatoes.
Potato fritters © Pixabay

Potato fritters © Pixabay

12. Rundale Palace and Museum

Rundāle Palace at Pilsrundāle is an imposing, well-restored palace of 138 rooms, approached through a grand drive flanked by twin semicircular stables. In the 19th century, it was used by the tsarist governors, and the new government took it over in 1920, restoring its war damage. Its stairways, galleries, landings, rooms and halls are gracious and well-decorated.

The wall paintings are by the Italians Francesco Martini and Carlo Zucchi and the exquisite decorative moulding is by Michael Graff from Berlin. On the ground floor, there is a collection of period furniture and ornaments. The finest rooms are upstairs, where some interesting Dutch, Flemish and Spanish paintings are hung. The gardens: Rose, French and Dutch Bosquet, still under reconstruction, are also impressive.

Rundale palace © Pixabay

Rundale Palace © Pixabay

13. Pedvale Art Park

A pleasant drive leads northeast of Kuldīga, to Sabile and Kandava, towards Tukums. These villages are known for their Roma population. Vīna kalns (Wine Hill), in Sabile, features in the Guinness Book of Records as the most northerly place in Europe where vines are grown. The town has one of the region’s few surviving synagogues, which is now an arts centre.

On the other side of the river is the Pedvāle Outdoor Art Museum, created in 1992 on a former baronial estate. Visitors can explore 150 hectares (370 acres) of rolling hills covered in sculptures and modern art on a grand scale and can even book a room at the museum’s guesthouse.

Barrels-Chair on hill in Latvia, Pedvale © Shutterstock

Barrels-Chair on a hill in Latvia, Pedvale © Shutterstock

14. Staying in Karosta Prison - one of the most unique things to do in Latvia

North of the canal separating the Old from the New City of Liepāja is the fascinating Karosta or military naval base built in 1893 by Tsar Alexander III. It was a city unto itself, with its housing, schools and churches, but now is a collection of empty administrative and apartment buildings and military barracks.

The Old Karosta Prison is now a museum, and the years of suffering have supposedly left their mark on the building as it is purported to be haunted. Daring visitors and sceptics of the supernatural can participate in “Behind Bars”, a theatrical performance where tourists are locked up in cells overnight. This can be arranged at the tourist information centre.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Liepāja

Karosta russian houses © Pixabay

Karosta Russian houses © Pixabay

Europe presents an irresistible challenge to the budget traveller. Explore our list of 20 best places to visit in Europe on a budget and start planning your trip.

Visiting Latvia is a truly unforgettable experience. For more inspirational travel tips check our Rough Guide books.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Latvia without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 27.04.2023

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