Just back from Latvia, I could not help it but start sharing with you all why this country is awesome and how to have a blast there no matter the season. Are you ready? Then keep reading to uncover how to have fun in Latvia.
1. Nature is the answer
For most of the things in this life, nature is the answer. I am neither a philosopher nor a thought leader but I know that much.
Forests cover around 44% of Latvia’s territory and a fifth of the country is preserved. No wonder why timber is one of its main industries and, if you look at a Latvian map, you can see large regions of it in green. They point to its many nature parks (42), reserves (260), and national parks (4). I was lucky to experience one of the latter.
Gauja National Park
Hiking, boating (and even rafting when the Amata River carries a lot of water!), cross-country skiing, cycling, and other sports can be enjoyed in the picturesque surroundings of the Gauja National Park.
One of its biggest attractions is its unique structures and caves, and the best way to approach them is through a hiking trail.
Cecīļi Nature Trail
The Cecīļi nature trail begins in Ieriķi, in Amata County, one kilometer from the trail’s tourist information point.
It has several alternative paths and four rivers, its total length is 12 km and five hours are recommended to walk it fully.
Amata Hiking Trail
For geology enthusiasts. On this iconic path, you can see outcrops of sandstone and dolomite from about 350-400 million years ago.
The trail consists of three stages of diverse difficulty. The easiest stage goes from the Veclauči bridge to the mighty Zvārtes rock. It is 3 km long and ends in an impressive meadow with a well-maintained leisure area, perfect to enjoy an outdoor picnic.
It was raining when we visited both trails with Cesis Inside, so we opted for having lunch indoors in the nearby Zvārte info point wooden hut.
2. For everything else, there’s pirts (Latvian sauna)
If you can’t find what you are looking for in nature, or if you want something else, you can’t go wrong with a proper Latvian sauna.
Known for cleansing body and spirit, enjoying this experience with the help of those who know is key. A great choice for doing so is the Spa Hotel Ezeri.
There, the traditional sauna ritual is guided by two masters, who will go through the whole process with you on arrival. Which is great and needed, because many people – me included! – may not be used to spending hours in their birthday suit, wearing only an organic fabric cap on their heads, with strangers.
Here’s what happens during Latvian sauna: Basically, three or more heating rounds – gradually supplemented with various exfoliations – take place. In between, some herbal tea and snacks – such as a cheese platter – are usually offered. The final heating tour ends with a natural leaf brush whipping, a swim in the cold waters of a nearby pond, and finally some resting time on a straw mattress – while covered with several blankets – outdoors. By then, after the many exfoliations and heat-cold processes, lying in the dark in the middle of the forest will make you feel like a newborn.
If after the experience you get hungry (mine was voracious after three and a half hours of sauna), the Gadalaiki restaurant – on the same premises – offers a variety of healthy and delicious dishes.
3. Exploring a Latvian town is a one-day stand kind of affair
Head outside Riga for a day trip to one of the nearby picturesque Latvian villages. While Jūrmala and Liepāja are great for the beach and seaside lovers and an overall great choice in Summer, if you are visiting Latvia in Autumn, you can’t go wrong with Sigulda either. Here are a few ideas to spend a full day in Sigulda:
- Rent an electric bike to explore it in a comfy way
- Hop on the yellow cable car and go over the Gauja river
- Visit the Livonian order Sigulda Castle and its Castle Quarter
- Make a walking stick at the craft shop located right at the entrance of the castle
- Go all crazy – and experience high speed – at Sigulda’s bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track. The same one where Latvian Olympic team athletes train!
- Have lunch at one of Jāņa market’s restaurants
- Walk around Sigulda’s city center
- Visit Gutman’s cave
- Book a guided tour of the Turaida Museum reserve
- Visit Krimulda manor and enjoy a Cremon wine tasting session
Read more: 5 Unusual Cycling Routes in Europe
4. Channeling your inner child is not only fun but rejuvenating
Kemeri National Park, an hour away from Riga, is a perfect spot to try something radically new: bog walking.
The wild Latvian boglands are a perfect example of how watery the country is – with over 3000 small lakes and 12000 rivers. Now, if you truly want to experience its wetlands or bogs, remember to bring your wellies or waterproof shoes AND get in touch with someone that truly and throughout knows what they are doing. Because they are as pretty as they are dangerous, and a poorly executed move can make you disappear forever. Nonetheless, let’s remove drama and get back to the point here: having fun in Latvia!
If you base your explorations in Riga, the capital of Latvia, there’s a great restaurant on your way back after Kemeri that you should check out: Hercogs.
5. Feeding your soul with art – and music! – is everything
If you are wondering what to do in Riga when it rains, or simply are as mad for art like me, you should book a Riga art tour with a fellow art aficionado. Here’re some of the Riga art venues we explored on ours:
Latvian National Museum of Art
It houses the richest collection of Latvian art in the country, with over 52000 artworks from mid 18th century until today.
Latvian National Opera
It is clear that the best way to enjoy this one is to attend one of its plays. In any case, not only could we appreciate the beauty of the building during one of the breaks, but we also wandered around its entrails – backstage included – on a fantastic tour of the entire building.
Careva Art Gallery
After its reopening in March 2019, this centrally located Riga art gallery is perfect to get to know the work of some of Latvia’s young artists. Especially if you have the chance that its owner, an architect by profession, gives you a guided tour.
Latvian Railway History Museum
Where the opening party of WITS Europe – the conference I traveled to Latvia for in the first place – happened. Uber cool!
6. Getting lost in Latvia’s capital city never gets old
The capital of Latvia, Riga, is sometimes described as the Paris of the North for a good reason. Its streets and avenues are a great portrait of the modern history of Latvia while showcasing a great collection of Art Nouveau buildings among other styles.
On the other hand, its old town was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture, most of it dating back to the late 19th century and early 20th century. Around one every 3 residents in Latvia (a country with a total of two million people) live there today.
Here’re three things to do in Riga I heavily recommend to all the curious souls out there:
Have a stroll around Riga’s lively market
Riga Central Market’s imposing pavilions, built in the 20s, offer all types of food you can imagine. One of them has many restaurants whose opening hours exceed those of the market, usually open daily from 7 am to 6 pm (or 5 pm on Sunday).
Explore Riga’s old town at night
Its cobbled streets are delightful, especially after it rains, as the pavement mirrors its wonderful buildings.
Visit some of the best viewpoints of Riga
Head to Skyline bar on the 26th floor of the Radisson Radisson Blu Latvija Conference & Spa Hotel, climb to St. Peter’s Church tower for breathtaking views of the Old Town for €9 or check the whole city from the Latvian Academy of Sciences Observation deck for €5.
After admiring how extensive and beautiful this city is from above, I guarantee you will want to extend your stay and continue exploring its various neighborhoods.
7. Beer tours will take you places
Mind you I managed to avoid alcohol until now. Given that getting loaded is one of the most straight forward choices for adults in search of fun, recommending Riga nightlife as a whole would be a very easy one. However, this one has little to do with getting drunk and more with immersing yourself into one of the world’s beer capitals with the invaluable company of a local beer enthusiast.
In fact, if you take the tour I did, you will not only taste some great malts but will also be taken to a few cool places in the Riga Beer District.
Lāčplēša iela 12, Centra rajons.
Ziemeļu Enkurs – Northern Anchor Brewing Co.
Matīsa iela 8, Centra rajons.
Aristida Briāna iela 9a, Centra rajons.
Valmiermuiža Beer Kitchen
Aristida Briāna iela 9a, Centra rajons.
What did I miss? Let me know how else to have fun in Latvia in the comments below.