To get the most out of a new destination it is always good to have inside knowledge from locals. So, if you are planning to travel to Latvia sometime soon and want to get the very best out of the destination, here is our Latvia travel tips and tricks guide
Getting the very best out of your Latvia Travel Itinerary.
It can be a bit overwhelming when you first step foot in a new country. You are here because you know there are a million things to do. But you just don’t know where to get started. Yes, there are the obvious things to tick off the list. In the case of Latvia that might be a visit to Riga’s world-famous UNESCO-listed Old Town and a half dozen photos near the Latvian Freedom Monument. But without knowing Latvia, what should you or shouldn’t you do? What are the locals like? Where are the cool places right now and therefore don’t feature in any guide books? What is the best time of year to visit?
Here at Experience Baltics, we pride ourselves in bringing our guests the real Latvia. We think this tiny Baltic nation is absolutely the best place on earth and there are a million reasons why we think so. So, here are lots of Latvia travel ideas, a handful of Latvia day trips suggestions, and lots more besides in our ‘Latvia Travel tips and tricks guide’.
Let’s start with the people. You might have never met a Latvian before in your entire life. After all, there are only 1.8 million of them in Latvia and another 400,000 or so in the Latvian diaspora living abroad in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Spain, and a handful of other countries. Some people describe Latvians as rather cold and quiet at first but if you can get a Latvian to open up they are quite the opposite. Our advice when it comes to Latvians is to be respectful to people and you will get respect back. The majority of Latvians speak fantastic English so engage with them and you will find that new friendships will quickly be made! The best place to do this? Yes, in a bar or on a summer terrace with an alcoholic drink in your hand. You will find that Latvians are friendly and open-minded.
Generally speaking, this is also a country where you treat men as men and women as women! Latvian men are usually physically fit and able to fix anything with their hands, especially if it has anything to do with cars! If you want a bottle of beer opening for you, ask a Latvian man and he will gladly open it for you even with a cigarette lighter! We have even seen men open beer bottles with their teeth! The Latvian women meanwhile love to be treated as ladies. The girls here love to dress femininely, have the door held open for them, and be treated to dinner. If you are meeting a local lady, treat her to some flowers. Latvians love flowers. Coming from some countries this might all seem a bit antiquated but remember you are a guest here and cultural traditions vary greatly around the world.
Nature is Latvia’s trump card
Nature is Latvia’s trump card! 55 per cent of Latvia is covered in forest, the fifth highest proportion in the European Union. The stats are amazing: Latvia has 530 kilometres of coastline, 12,500 rivers, and 2,500 lakes. Impressed? Well, there are also 706 state-level protected natural areas in Latvia. Not bad for a country of less than two million! Visitors can enjoy four national parks, one biosphere reserve, 42 nature parks, nine areas of protected landscapes, and a breathtaking 260 nature reserves!
As for animals, Latvia is home to wolves, brown bears, elk, lynx and wild cats! We think you get the idea! For Latvia travel, the best nature parks include the Gauja and Kemeri. As well as visiting Latvia’s national parks, consider staying out in the countryside for at least some of your stay here. You can choose from Latgale, Kurzeme, Zemgale, and Vidzeme, with overnight stays and tours in each of these, recommended.
Enjoying four seasons
Latvia also has four seasons. Yes, everywhere has four seasons, you are probably thinking! Well, Latvia has four absolutely distinct seasons: White night summers when the temperatures can get into the 30s. Deep winters when it can get so cold that you can walk on the frozen sea or cross country ski through waist-high snow. A springtime when an incredible array of birdlife stops off in Latvia during their migration and the winter ice melts to be replaced by a cacophony of blossoming flowers. And autumn when the leaves turn red, orange, golden and fifty colours in between that you never imagined existed.
You won’t be surprised to hear our big travel tip is to get out in nature! Explore Latvia! Don’t be afraid to travel far, be it on Latvia day trips, or overnight. Some of the most rewarding destinations are some way from Riga.
It is no exaggeration to say Latvia boasts world-class beaches. The west coast is particularly impressive from Liepaja to Ventspils. Also, consider visiting the Kolka Cape area. Closer to Riga, Jurmala is one of Europe’s hidden beach gems. Riga residents also flock to nearby Vecaki in summer months which even has a nudists beach! (ADD LINKS)
Venture beyond the obvious!
Latvia might be a small country but it has 76 towns and cities waiting to be visited. Most of these can be enjoyed on Latvia day trips or, if you have time, we recommend you overnight to get the most out of these places! Making the recommendations list is tough but we reckon the urban highlights include stunning Kuldiga, arguably the most attractive town in the Baltic states. Liepaja is a contender for the most unique city in the region. Quaint Ludza, the oldest town in Latvia, is worth a sneaky look! And the second city, Daugavpils, which is rarely visited by foreign tourists is well-deserving of a visit! Use the city as a base, enjoying Daugavpils’ unique delights – including an incredible military fortress – before exploring further in the Latgale region. For our tips on the ten most beautiful towns and cities in Latvia, you can read more here.
Unique places to stay and visit
There are countless unusual places to stay in Latvia. These unforgettable quirky destinations include cottages in the trees, barrel houses, glass igloos, and ball tents, hanging in trees above the forest floor!
Only in Latvia!
There are some completely unique places to visit in Latvia. Ligatne is a 1980s built nuclear bunker. Cinevilla is a 400 acre 1920s film set, open to the public. You can spend a night in prison (out of choice) at Karosta. Other unusual places to visit include the world’s eighth-largest radio telescope at Irbene.
Transport is cheap and frequent!
Public transport is very cheap. You can venture to the furthest reaches of Latvia’s cities for a set city fare. That means you can visit the forests and lake of Mezaparks or the fascinating Moscow District of Riga for just 1.15 euro. What’s more, nearby Jurmala is only 1.50euro on the train!
Eat, drink and be merry!
You are exploring a new country so explore its food and drink! There will definitely be a few new delights for you to partake of! Latvians dishes worth trying include grey peas and ham, stewed sauerkraut cabbage, and cold beetroot soup. Milk products are incredible here, especially anything with biezpiens (cottage cheese). Kefirs is another milk-based product popular in this part of the world that you might never have heard of before. For vegetarians, try the delicious Latvian cheese salad or, if travelling during the summer months, literally any of the countless fresh products from the countryside such as Latvian strawberries and tomatoes (try these and you will never want to eat the ones you are used to at home ever again), a million and one different preserves, and of course mushrooms of which there are 300 edible species in Latvia!
When it comes to drinks we suggest you try the best non-alcoholic beverage you have probably never heard of – Kvass – a Baltic beverage made from rye bread. And, of course, Latvian beer! With brewing traditions going back hundreds of years, Latvia has a surprising number of its own excellent beers. The best way to partake of the dizzying array of choices is probably on a Latvian craft beer-drinking tour.
The most famous ‘Latvian drink’ is undoubtedly Riga black balsams, a medicinal alcoholic drink made from 24 different natural ingredients. Delicious Latvian Desserts include the incredibly delicious maizes zupa and debessmanna.
Our big tips for trying Latvian food in the Latvian capital are the Latvian food chain Lido, the Kalnciema market and restaurants, and the Riga Central Market (restaurants and food pavilions). To experience the very best of Latvian food consider joining a Latgale Gastronomy Tour.
Watery new perspectives, viewpoints from above
It is always good to experience a new destination from different viewpoints and perspectives. In the case of Riga, if you want to do this we suggest you concentrate on vantage points from above and from the water, as well as the lovely city parks.
High rise delights
There are not many high rise buildings in Riga. That is one reason why the city has been untarnished by modern development. It also partly explains how Riga has maintained its original character. Seeing Riga up high from above is limited but those in the know will tell you that there are a handful of rooftop restaurants and quirky vantage points. Among these, there is the Riga TV tower, the Academy of Sciences Building, and the Skyline Bar. Join a Riga from above tour if you want to enjoy
There are also several unforgettable rooftop restaurants and bars. The best of these include Gutenbergs Rooftop Restaurant in Riga Old Town, Neo Bar inside Riga central station clock tower, and the AC Marriott hotel rooftop bar.
Summer by the water
From a watery perspective, the options are numerous. Riga is surrounded by water on all sides! There are lakes and canals in and around the city, the Daugava River flowing through the heart of the city, and the Baltic Sea is, of course, a stone’s throw away! Our watery suggestions include the bars and restaurants of Andrejosta. Fabrikas and Osta on Kipsala island offer amazing viewpoints of Riga Old Town and the port area. Cabo Cafe on the banks of Kisezers Lake in Mezaparks feels like the middle of the countryside but is a tram journey away from the city centre. While back in the city, Kasdarza is located next to the city canal in a delightful leafy park. And, if you are happy to travel a little further afield, then jump on a 30-minute train to the nearby holiday resort of Jurmala, then you can enjoy dozens of beachside bars and restaurants during the summer season, most serving a simple selection of beer, snacks, shashliks and coffee.
Life is a party
Latvia has lots of amazing festivals which are very specific to this country. The most important of all is the midsummer festival of Jani which sees the whole population down tools and head out into the countryside to dance around a bonfire and sing and make merry until sunrise. This you should not miss if you have the chance to experience it! Other notable festivals include Staro Riga when the centre of the Latvian capital is lit up in a kaleidoscope of colours and designs. Positivus is the number one music festival, set in a gorgeous forest next to the baltic sea, and headlined by the likes of Stereophonics, James, Manic Street Preachers, Fatboy Slim, the Happy Mondays, Imagine Dragons, and Muse!
Throw away your preconceptions
If you want to get the very best out of your Latvia travel, then we suggest you throw away your preconceptions and fully embrace this small Baltic country! From incredible nature to wonderful towns and cities, unique overnight stays, delicious organic food, and wonderful people, Latvia has so much to offer to overseas visitors!