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Forests, Festivals & Fairy Tales: Unveiling the Magic of Latvia


| 8 mins read

Beyond the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea lies Latvia, a country with a blend of history, nature, and culture. Home to ancient castles whispering tales of a bygone era, the serenity of untouched forests, lively festivals all year round, and delicious cuisine available at every corner, Latvia is an undiscovered gem that you can have all to yourself this vacation! Here are some of the major destinations and experiences that will ensure a Latvian vacation to be as fun and fulfilling as possible.

Riga: A City Steeped in History and Charm

Any Latvian adventure undoubtedly begins in Riga, the country's capital city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its stunning Old Town, a maze of cobblestone streets lined with pastel-coloured buildings, quaint cafes, and architectural marvels waiting to be discovered.

Start your journey at the iconic Riga Dome Cathedral, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with a panoramic view of the city from its tower. Looking at the cathedral through the eyes of a local guide who spent their lives in their city is sure to give you a depth of perspective the historical structure inspires. Wander through the lively Town Hall Square, where street performers and artisans showcase their talents. Don't miss the House of the Blackheads, a beautiful guildhall with a fascinating history. To immerse yourself in the local atmosphere, visit the Central Market, a bustling labyrinth of stalls selling everything from fresh produce to handcrafted souvenirs.

Venture Beyond the Old Town and take a stroll along the serene Daugava River, the lifeblood of Riga, or head to the trendy Spiķeri Quarter, a former warehouse district now brimming with art galleries, bars, and restaurants, and the excellent Riga Art Museum.

Local Tip: To truly experience the heart of the city, plan your visit for the weekends. During this time, Old Riga transforms into a lively hub bustling with street performers, open-air cafes, and a vibrant atmosphere.

Jūrmala: A Seaside Paradise

Just a short train ride from Riga lies Jūrmala, a resort town known for its pristine beaches, charming wooden architecture, and relaxing spa culture. Relax on the sandy shores, take a dip in the Baltic Sea, or indulge in a pampering spa treatment. Don't miss the Jūrmala Open Air Museum, a collection of wooden houses showcasing Latvian architectural styles.

Local Tip: Head to Jūrmala during the annual Jurmala Jazz Festival in July for a vibrant celebration of music and culture, where international and local jazz artists come together to create an unforgettable experience.

Gauja National Park: Nature's Playground

Escape the urban bustle and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Gauja National Park. Hike or bike along scenic trails with a local guide who will show the marvels of the region like the thundering cascades of the Gutmanis Cave or the ruins of ancient castles like Turaida Castle. During the winter, Gauja transforms into a winter wonderland, perfect for cross-country skiing or a peaceful (and absolutely fairy-tale-esque) horse-drawn sleigh ride. For a magical sunrise or sunset, though, you can embark on a breathtaking hot air balloon ride over the Gauja National Park, soaring above the treetops and witnessing the stunning beauty of the Latvian countryside from a unique perspective.

Local Tip: Book your hot air balloon ride in advance, especially during peak season (summer months), to secure a spot and avoid disappointment.

Nestled in the heart of Gauja National Park is another gem of Latvia—Sigulda, a charming town nicknamed the "Switzerland of Latvia." Take a cable car ride to the top of Gutmanis Cliff for breathtaking views of the Gauja Valley. History buffs can take a guided tour of the Sigulda Castle Ruins (remnants of a medieval fortress) and the enchanting Sigulda Medieval Castle, both of which are treasured cultural and historical masterpieces.

Rundāle Palace

Journey back in time and witness the grandeur of the 18th century at Rundāle Palace. Often referred to as the "Baltic Versailles," this baroque masterpiece boasts opulent interiors adorned with stunning artwork, breathtaking gardens meticulously designed for leisure, and a fascinating museum showcasing European art.

Local Tip:  If you're visiting during the summer months, consider attending a classical music concert held within the palace walls. Imagine yourself transported to another era as you listen to beautiful music in this magnificent setting.


Cēsis, a charming town known for its medieval castle ruins, is next on your visit list . Your local guide will take you to the remnants of the once mighty Livonian Order fortress, delving into the anecdotes and history of the monument. For a further trip down memory lane, visit the fascinating exhibits of the Cēsis History and Art Museum. The quaint town offers a sedate pace to life, and walking along the picturesque Old Town with its charming shops and cafes with a resident of the region gives you a chance to engage with the community and learn about the everyday culture of the townspeople instead of coasting along like a regular tourist.

Local Tip: Don't miss the annual Cēsis Beer Festival held in August. This lively celebration of Latvian culture features local breweries showcasing their finest craft beers, alongside traditional food and live music.

Unveiling Latvian Culture: Traditions and Tastes

  • Folklore and Festivals

Latvia celebrates several festivals throughout the year, like the Jāņi Festival in June, a midsummer celebration with bonfires, traditional food, and folk music. Immerse yourself in the heart of Latvian culture by attending the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, a UNESCO-recognized tradition held every four years. Witness thousands of singers and dancers come together in a vibrant display of national pride and cultural heritage.

  • A Culinary Adventure

Latvian cuisine is a delightful blend of local ingredients and international influences. Sample hearty dishes like pelmeni (dumplings), rupjmaize (dark rye bread), and sklandrauši (fried potatoes with bacon). Don't miss the chance to try sīpoli (cottage cheese with onions) and the traditional Latvian beer. For a fine dining experience, Latvia hosts a multitude of Michelin-starred restaurants, combining the traditionality of the dish with the modernity of today. Go a step beyond and take a cooking class in Riga and learn how to prepare delicious Latvian dishes!

Follow your local guide into a culinary adventure through Riga Central Market, hunting for your favourite street food while your guide tells you stories about theirs! After all, what better way to know a different culture than through delicious food? Sample local cheeses, smoked meats, and freshly baked goods alongside unique offerings like Latvian honey and rye bread. Discover the flavours that define Latvian cuisine and gain insights into local food traditions.

Some Unique Experiences for Those Willing to Go Beyond the Cities

Kemeri National Park: Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the vast marshlands and sulfur mud springs of Kemeri National Park. Hike along wooden boardwalk trails, spot diverse birdlife like black storks and woodpeckers, and experience the therapeutic benefits of the mud treatments offered at the historic resort town within the park.

Stargazing in the Dark Sky Preserve: Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the night sky at Ceļputē Dark Sky Preserve. Away from light pollution, witness a mesmerising display of stars, planets, and even the Milky Way with the naked eye. Join a guided stargazing tour offered by local astronomy enthusiasts to learn about not just astronomical facts, but the local folklore about different constellations and how they came to be!

The Livonian Open Air Museum: Step back in time and explore the traditional way of life in Latvia at the Livonian Open Air Museum. Wander through a village showcasing authentic 18th-19th century wooden houses, workshops where craftspeople demonstrate traditional skills like blacksmithing and weaving, and farmsteads with various farm animals. Witness the rich cultural heritage of the Livonian people, a Finnic ethnic group inhabiting parts of Latvia.

Local Tip: Plan your visit for a folklore festival held at the museum, where you can experience traditional music, dance performances, and storytelling, providing a glimpse into Latvian cultural traditions.

Trainspotting at Gulbene Narrow Gauge Railway: Embark on a nostalgic journey on the Gulbene Narrow Gauge Railway, one of the last remaining narrow gauge railways operating in the Baltics. Take a scenic ride through the Latvian countryside, spotting charming villages and picturesque landscapes along the way. Enjoy the slow pace and unique charm of this historic railway.

Latvia offers a captivating blend of history, nature, and cultural treasures waiting to be explored. From the grandeur of ancient castles to the serenity of untouched forests, this Baltic gem promises an unforgettable adventure. So, pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and embark on your own Latvian odyssey!