Though not yet completely on the tourist map, Latvia is a small Baltic country that bursts with diverse and beautiful scenery and a bustling capital city with cobbled streets and a pulsating nightlife. A relatively flat country with sandy coastlines on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Riga, Latvia offers dramatic landscapes of forests, protected parks, lakes and rivers. Latvian culture is alive in both the cities and villages, with medieval castles, historic churches and architectural sculpture and monuments.
The capital city of Riga is the largest of the Baltic capitals and features an impressive collection of buildings from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Ancient cathedrals mingle alongside art and history museums, spirited nightclubs and trendy gastro pubs. Art Nouveau designs with chiseled faces adorn the facades of museums and city buildings, while attractions like the Riga Zoo, Esplanade Park and Freedom Monument all contribute to the growing intrigue of the city.
Outside of Riga, the Baltic resort of Jurmala consists of 12 villages and stretches out over 19 miles of coastline along the gulf. An attractive holiday destination not just for Latvians, but Europeans from all over, Jurmala brings together the fresh pine scent of nearby forests, with the sun and sand of the coast, making for a unique vacation experience. Sigulda is another picturesque resort located along the banks of the River Gauja, and is home to the country’s National Park, 13th century ruins, Turaida Castle and a sculpture park where Latvian folk poetry is captured in stone.
Latvian cuisine is heavily influenced by the weather and what is locally available in the region. Hearty meals, usually based around meat, are served with creamy sauces or thick stews. Fish and seafood become a larger part of the national diet when you get closer to the coast. Riga and other larger cities are embracing international cuisine with an influx of new and creative restaurants popping up all over. Beer is the most popular beverage in the country, and for good reason. Locally brewed beers, as well as strong spirits, typically Black Balsam, can be found in restaurants and pubs all over the country.
Latvia’s main international airport is Riga International (RIX) which has direct flights to and from several major European cities. There are major train stations in Riga, as well as in Daugavpils and Rezekne, which offer service to parts of Russia and Lithuania. Car rentals are available, as well as public buses within larger cities. Cities like Riga are very pedestrian-friendly, and bicycles are welcome there as well.
Latvia has a continental maritime climate that features warm summers and sometimes extremely cold winters. May through September is the best time to visit, with average daytime temperatures in the mid-60s. July and August tends to be peak tourist season due to the warm weather, and can get quite crowded during these months. The coldest months are January and February, when the winter temperatures can dip down into the low 20s.