With love to Latvia — our summer travel recommendations
Every year we receive the same question a few times: to give some tips what to do, where to eat, what not to miss in Latvia or more specifically in Riga. Though we are far from travel experts, we love to share our favourite places. Enjoy Latvia!
Riga, the beautiful capital of Latvia beholds many pretty places to visit. You’ll probably spend most of the time in the Old Time and the Art Nouveau District. Logically, that’s where the guide books will most likely take you. But Riga is much larger than that, with its 307 square kilometer, there’s a lot to discover.
Best restaurants and bars
- Fazenda Very cosy restaurant that opened in 2010. Now has three restaurants: 2 in Riga, one in Sigulda. Don’t miss the cakes from the bakery!
- Rivjera A classy restaurant serving the best of Mediterranean cuisine with local ingredients and touches. Nice terrace in the summertime.
- 3 Pavāri Totally recommended, one of the better restaurants. Dining here is both a flavor and visual experience.
- Neiburgs Exquisite cuisine in a historical interior. Fine cuisine that is not afraid to experiment with traditional Latvian ingredients and flavours.
- Rocket bean Roastery. One of our favourite places to eat for lower budget. We had a lunch menu for 2 persons here for only 12 euros (together!). And super tasty it was! They serve birch soup. And excellent coffee of course. Have a look in the roastery and signup for a coffee tasting workshop. Located in the quiet but alternatively hip Miera iela street.
- Pagalms is located in the park next to the opera. Small and cosy place with good and affordable food. Large terrace for warm summer evenings with a view on the canal that runs through the park. They regularly serve small menus for only €7. Would eat here every week if I could.
- Kolekcionars for tasty food and shop with Latvian design objects.
- Miit hip bicycle bar with a very good and cheap lunch menu.
- KKC Short for Kaņepes Kultūras centrs (Hemp Culture Center) is a great places to hang out. They organize concerts regularly, show alternative movies, nice bar and very often very easy-going atmosphere.
- Leningrad Old Soviet basement apartement feeling. Alternative, bit of underground place for getting real drunk.
- Omas Briljanti Party place in the Old Town
- Morning after brunch at Koya
- Find Skrīveru Saldējums. Their shop has moved recently, so you best ask around. Every Saturday there is a market on Kalnciema Iela, see below for more details. You can be sure to find them there. The flavors and the structure of the ice cream is very unique. Again, Latvian ingredients are used giving it a very special taste. Not to be missed!
- Nelleulla chocolates. A few years ago I did give business relations and friends a box of Nelleulla chocolates as New Years present. Instant success! Nelleulla chocolates are available in different colors and tastes. Some very surprising, all fantastic in taste. Find the small and beautiful shop in the Old Town or order it online. Chocolates from the forest.
- Biesu auksta Zupa, or the cold beetroot soup. You can’t visit Latvia without eating it at least once. Only when you like the soup, you will be accepted in the inner circle of Latvian friendship. Tastes best when it was made the day before and when it’s warm outside.
- Black Balsam in the Black Balsam Bar.
- Medus (honey) straight from the bee farmer. Ask around when driving through the country side or keep an eye on signs along the road.
- Rupjmaize (sour dark bread). You can find this in any supermarket (our favorite brand: Kelmeni). Put some fresh veggies on top of it and you have a healty and tasty pick-nick. Also used a lot as a side dish as garlic bread to go with a cold beer.
- Pīrādziņi, pastry filled with small pieces of bacon and oignon.
- Karums, sweet snack based on cottage cheese with chocolate layer. One of the most popular snacks in Latvia.
- Beers you have to try out: Valmiermuiža, Tervetes, Bauskas
Things to do
When it comes to entertainment, it feels like Russian influences are not so far in order to lure tourists into expensive waste of time: shooting an AK47, going to casino or one of those hukkah bars, drive over the cobbled stones with a completely pointless Segway. Here are a few things I enjoyed and I would recommend if it falls into your league.
- Join the night canoe tour to peddle over the river and the small canal that goes through the park. You might even see an otter if you are lucky.
- Go to a concert of the Latvian Radio Choir. They do perform a lot abroad and chances are good you will be able to also hear them in your home country. Keep an eye on their calendar for upcoming concerts.
- Stroll through the Art Nouveau quarter. Join a Art Nouveau tour if you want to know more about the history and background. Best buildings can be found on Alberta Iela.
- Centrāltirgus Market is the daily market behind the train station. The huge Zeppelin hangars are very easy to find. One of the largest markets of Europe. Best for food. Can get very crowded. Watch out for pick pocketer.
- Every Thursday there is a free concert on Kalnciema Iela. Each Saturday you can enjoy a local and bit bohemian market here. Taste the best of Latvian tastes here with many local and organic products. Even the best Latvian chefs come here for inspiration! Always nice atmosphere and mix of young and old people. Score extra points wearing your hipster clothes.
- Miera Iela is a bit of the alternative, bohemian style street. Miera means ‘peace’, so expect a peaceful few hours when you stroll around the street. The street was even voted as the most hipster neighbourhood in the world in a recent Skyscanner survey. (I must say: that is a bit exaggerated, come on a Sunday and this place is dead! I’m not the only person who thinks the same.) No shopping malls but cosy little shops and coffee shops to relax. There are a few small design boutiques and original gift stores. Taste the chocolates in the chocolate factory of Laima, enjoy a tea or coffee and meet local artist in Miera Café, enjoy the homemade apple wine of the indie style Taka bar, get Latvian design gifts and clothes in M50. Nice to spend an hour or two here.
- National Art Museum, finished renovations in 2016. The collection and exhibition change regularly. Must visit for art-lovers.
- Sint Peters church tower, take the old and rusty elevator and have a look to Riga from above. Visit on clear days to have the best view.
- Take the 115 year old Retro tram for a pick-nick and walk in Mezaparks (only on Saturday, Sundays and holidays). Check the schedule. For animal lovers: pay a visit to the zoo in Mezaparks. Cheap. Find the ice bear.
- Wonder around the green cemetery Brāļu kapi. Beautiful park, also interesting when you are not a necrophile.
- AB Dambis enjoy the view of the Old Town from the other side of the Daugava river when sun is setting. Take your own bottle but watch out for the cops as it is not allowed to drink alcohol in public.
- Breath the atmosphere in the Soviet suburbs : Purvciems, Plavnieki, imanta, ziepniekklans. Excellent photo opportunities for both buildings and people!
It’s a bit of search to find good places for shopping. Avoid the large shopping malls but do check out those designer shops for original and authentic gifts and Baltic designer clothes. A few of our favourite places we usually pay a visit when we’re in town:
This is absolutely no full A-Z guide where to go and what to do. I’d like to leave still enough space for you to explore the city and find out places I also don’t know yet. Have a glimpse of what’s more to see in this A-Z Riga Rap guide.
Outside of Riga
Below are a few of my favourite places I have visited the last couple of years. Unless you are spending a few weeks in Latvia, you will not be able to visit all during one trip. So choose wisely.
The best closest beach near Riga. Also fancy place for the rich and famous. Many Russians have a residency here, expect to see huge villas, fancy cars. There are some pretty old buildings to check out. Also fun to climb the watch tower. Can also easily be reached by bicycle by the bicycle road.
Kemeri national park
Kemeri national park is one of the many beautiful stretches of nature in Latvia. The park, mainly wetland consists of beautiful lakes you can walk around. There is a special path that takes you throug the swamp. Enjoy view from the wooden watch tower or take the Barefoot Path near Lake Valgums.
Gauja beach and river
It’s probably one of the most beautiful beaches so close to Riga. Every year we go and have a look where the river Gauja flows into the sea. Each year the geography changes, but the whole area, with forest until the edge of the beach and many pieces of wood and trees on the beach make it a very worth-while walk.
Sigulda, sometimes also called the Switzerland of the Baltics is a hilly area with many sports activities. In winter time you can even try out the bobsleigh track, one of the few in Europe also open for visitors. Other adventurous activities include bungee jump, obstacle route through tree tops, kanoe on the Gauja river or you can even go for hunting here. Rather keep it calm? Pay a visit to the castle.
If there is only time for one palace or castle to visit, it should be Rundale Pils is one of the most stunning castles in the Baltic area. History goes back to the 16th century when the original palace was built. Completely destroyed in 1919. Renovated and used for many purposes in the decades later. Full restoration was only finished in 2014. Around the palace you will definitely enjoy the beautiful garden with thousands of flowers and the pretty rose garden.
Cesis castle and art festival
Small city with a history of 800 years. Also hosts large ruins and a pretty park area where you can join in medieval activities and workshops. Learn to fight like a real knight and enjoy a Livonian feast with various medieval delicacies and beer from the Castle’s beer-cellar. Must visit is the annual international art festival that attracts many visitors, locals and tourists.
Ventas Rumba — widest waterfall of Europe
Definitely not the most spectacular waterfall of Europe, but Latvia does have the widest waterfall of Europe. Worth the visit to scratch it of your bucket list. Bring your swimming gear or be adventurous: it is possible to cross the river just by walking through the river. Situated next to the town of Kuldiga.
Pedvale open-air Art museum
A 200 hectare large park with many sculptures and environmental artworks. Absolutely beautiful to walk around and get lost between the different works. Recognised by UNESCO since 1999.
In the middle of the Daugava river, on a little island a new park and memorial site “Liktendarzs”. Very serene place to relax and enjoy the sunset. Also worth to visit is the remains of the Koknese castle on the shore of the river. Not much remains, but the rich history of the area reminds us of the difficult history of occupation Latvia did suffer from during many centuries.
Skrunda-1 is best known as a former Soviet and secret city, located near the town of Skrunda, approximately 100 kilometers West of Riga. Before it was illegal to entrance the area, but due to raising number of visitor, there is now an entrance fee for 4 euros. You still have to be extremely careful here. Entrance still at your own risk: glass everywhere, metal pieces, holes in the ground, rusty stair cases.
Liepaja is the windy city. Third largest Latvian city, near the sea in the South-East. Go and find precious on the 8 kilometer long beach after a stormy night, explore Karosta, where everyone can take a look at the Russian military architecture and spend a night in an authentic War Port prison.
What makes Jurkalne beach so different are the 20 meter high bluffs that watch over the beach. Take a little walk along the beach and you’ll be completely alone in no time. Excellent spot for para-gliding, or just enjoy watching the hundreds of para-gliders that come here when conditions are good.
- Mushroom picking
- Walking through forest
- Bicycling through Riga (at your own risk)
- Swimming in one of the many lakes
Music and events
- Go party at Latvia’s biggest summer festival: Positivus Festival from 15 till 17 July. This year is the 10th year, so expect it to become a very special edition!
- End the summer at Ezera Skanas, a musical and visual festival that starts before sunrise and is held on a distant lake. For early birds who like to enjoy silence, nature and are not afraid of the water. Check out the video of last year. BYOB (=Bring Your Own Boat)
Something you like to add? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
Stijn is a wedding and freelance photographer from Belgium. Living together in the beautiful city of Mechelen with the even more beautiful Elize, yoga instructor from Latvia. We live in Belgium and try to visit Latvia as much as possible. www.stijnswinnen.be and www.tikelize.com.
Check out our travel blog www.destinesia.eu with more stories and photos.