This time, the guide is about biggest city of Baltics and Latvia’s’ beautiful capital, Rīga!
Mixing medieval remains with Art-Nouveau makes it a unique destination for a city break, since there is not a similar city on earth. The city is indeed pretty big, with more than 1 million citizens but covering a wide extension, since is near the sea.
Although Riga was away from the mainstream tourism during great parts of XX century, due to Soviet occupation, now it is recovering its fame as the Baltic Pearl (or the Prague in the North as some travellers call it).
Obviously, the most touristic part is the Old Town, where the medieval setting of the city (ancient churches, castles, narrow streets) mixes with the Hansa League style (big waterfronts on the river) and the more modern Art-Nouveau.
About the Old Town there is little to say, since most tourist guides will cover it better than here, just make sure not to miss any specially beautiful narrow street or an interesting museum, the best guide for that is inyourpocket.
If you like modern history, Occupation museum and Barricades exposition are a must, if you want to learn about the Latvian struggle for independence. Also there are some weird museums like a Sun museum.
If you want the best picture of the Old Town you need to cross the main bridge and get down not in the very other side of the city but in the man-made concrete shore, since it is some kind of park with sculptures and the I<3Riga sign.
But this guide does not focus just on mainstream stuff that’s why now I will tell you about other gems of this city, while not really hidden or far, most tourist doesn't visit.
Although Art-Nouveau is present in most parts of the city centre (not just the Old Town) it reaches it maximum expression on Alberta Street (Alberta Iela) and its surroundings. It's just 10-15 minutes by walk from the Old Town and in the way you can check the beautiful Bastejkalna park (Bastion Hill), (where there are presents from several countries to Latvia as well as a real fragment of Berlin Wall) and the embassy street.
Once in Alberta Street you should definitely go to Art-Nouveau museum, where you will be teleported to a real home of those times and see one of the most beautiful staircases of Europe. In the way back, check some nearby streets since they follow same style.
But what if I tell you that Rīga host 2014's most hipsterish district? You read right, not far from centre there is Miera street, a non-touristic place where the average business is hairdresser shops where you can try different cupcakes and organic coffees.
To reach it, you will need to walk for 15 min from the Old Town, through Rīga centre where you can also see some beautiful buildings on the way. Miera street is unique due to several things, they say that it's the place where all Rīga citizens born and die (due to the fact that the main hospital is nearby as well as the city graveyard), also it is due to the very old architecture of its buildings, combining pre-WW2 red brick blocks and wooden houses, and finally, is where Latvia most famous chocolate maker has its main factory, which you can also visit as a museum or enjoy yourself in the cafe-shop.
In the end of the street there is a crossroads and not far from it there is a small shopping centre near an abandon factory, that’s where you should head because there is a nice surprise waiting for you there: You can find heaven for beer lovers... By double time! First you have Valmiermuiza shop and bar, one of Latvia's most famous beer brands, selling all their wide range of products for a great price and on the back side of the building, facing the abandoned factory there is Labietis, Latvia's most famous craft beer place with an amazing alternative vibe.
Do you need some time out of the city in contact with nature? Don't worry! Rīga has the PERFECT place for you! 30 minutes by bus (you can take it in front of the opera, in the border of the Old Town) there is the Open Air museum!
Which by that name doesn't sound very convincing, but let me explain, an Open Air Museum is a place where traditional national architecture, folklore, clothes and nature are kept intact and there is an extra fact: It's one of Europe oldest surviving open air museum, surviving both Nazi and Soviet bombings! Instead of explaining you why you should go, I will show some pictures.
Also entrance is really cheap and there is a restaurant inside, so you can spend long time there.
And finally there is a nice surprise for beach lovers: Rīga has northern Europe most famous beach!!! Jūrmala! Reachable in 30 minutes by train makes it a perfect plan for half a day.
Jūrmala itself is a rich town for rich Russian tourist, everything is very modern and well-kept as well as luxurious, but the main promenade is full of average tourist so it's great. The beach itself is amazing, of course featuring a Blue Flag. In a hot sunny day you can enjoy this wide white sand beauty not worrying too much about people (since it's huge doesn't get crowded) or the sea temperature (about 18 degree). Near Jūrmala there are similar towns which you can go walking with curious stuff like a tower in Dzintaru Mežaparks.
If you don't fancy mainstream beaches, there is another nice one in the other side of Rīga, Vecāķi beach.
I hope you liked the guide and got curious about Latvia! There are guides available for the rest of the country as well as Latvia's second biggest city, Daugavpils!
Most pictures from http://www.latvia.travel/en
This post will be about other amazing cities and towns in Latvia, excluding the two major cities, Riga and Daugavpils, each of these places has its unique charm and you should visit all of them!
Latvia is not so small country as it seems, it fact, it has a wide variety of areas, in this guide there are so different places, going from white sand beaches to breathtaking castles, read carefully to make the most of Latvia.
Most of these places are easily reachable by public transport, specially by bus, from Riga central bus station there are buses to every corner of the country.
Let’s begin with the third biggest city of Latvia, Liepaja. It is located very close to Lithuania, and short distance from Klaipeda, Lithuania’s most famous coastal city, and Palanga (a sea resort town). The city has the nickname of the city where the wind is born, but also known as the musical city, since a lot of Latvia’s singers and popular folk themes come from there (there are many musical instrument statues in the city as well as the touristic route, marked with musical notes).
But what makes this city special? Well, it has an awesome beach, with a special “Californian” touch thanks to Red Sun Buffet bar (click for video-promo). The city itself has some really old buildings (special mention to the market and wooden houses), which are easily seen by following the musical touristic route stated before. Also in another part of the city you can see Zarist architecture at its best.
But this city has a secret too, there is a district called Karosta, where one of the biggest Soviet Naval bases used to be, right now it looks a little bit abandoned and creepy, but it has very cool attractions, especially the Karosta Prison Museum (about which I wrote an article here).
Also pay attention to Spriditis, a Latvian folk hero who appears represented all over the city.
Hotels in the city have quite nice prices, I always go to Europa City Amrita hotel, a 4* hotel almost in the center for double rooms as cheap as 33€ per night.
Easily reachable from Riga, takes about one hour or less and can be a great day plan.
More than the town, what is worthy about this place is the Gauja National Park, which actually has one of the few hills (and elevation) in this flat country, but they are all covered by a thick forest, where you can easily walk thanks to a beautiful wooden path. In the park there are caves with old school grafittis, and a cozy telepheric (where you can bungee jump), a bobsleigh track and Turaida castle (the one in the picture), which magnificently stands among the forest with its stunning red brick walls and towers. Definitely worth a visit if you spend even a weekend in Riga.
You can find a lot of more information in this website
This peaceful small town is in the middle of Latvian western part, and is loved by all Latvians due to the traditions and calm of the place.
In fact, it can be a great place to spend the weekend due to the fact that even if a quiet place, has a lot of touristic sights and eco-tourism plans (bike trails, animal observation…). Maybe the most international sight is the… WIDEST WATERFALL IN EUROPE!! Which you can actually jump, but it is pretty wide after all. Among the town center, there are a lot of very cozy and old buildings, and especially beautiful wooden doors.
Close to the town and reachable after about one-hour walking (or 7 minutes by car) there is a pretty unique attraction, the sand caves, which are a very large man-made complex of underground galleries, but the visit itself is pretty cool since they give you candles and a guide for not getting lost (really, you don’t want to get lost there). And finally, speaking about some funny tradition, there is a day when the males of the town need to cross the red brick bridge completely naked.
Now, if you think that you saw differences between cities in Latvia, wait until you read about Ventspils, the crazy town of the country. Why so? Maybe because it’s oligarch, major, benefactor (however you want to describe him) decided to focus his efforts toward making Ventspils the most alternative town of Europe, btw, here you can see a video of the major doing “normal” things (min 1:00) so then you can understand what kind of person is behind all this :D
Ok, but why it is so different? Where to start… first thing you will see once you arrive to the city is a cow… (but what’s the fuss about a cow?) well, a sculpture of a cow with some weird costume or painting, but it won’t be alone, since there are tons of cow sculptures of all sizes and positions in the city (yes, it’s weird), but the fun doesn’t stop there… if you do special task like having a photo with all of them or other similar things you can earn a lot of money!! Well… Ventspils currency, the Venti, which you can physically withdraw in the tourism office (Vent Bank) and have great discounts in many museums and restaurants (yes, they worth it, it is not just propaganda stunt). The city has also a nice beach, with a very cool promenade to the lighthouse (where guess what, there is a huge sailor cow).
As extra tip I recommend to eat in Guesthouse Kupfermans, in the old town, amazing well cooked dishes affordable for everybody!!
I hope you liked this article and that now you are more eager to explore Latvia beyond its capital, Riga.
There are many more attractions in the country! Check the main website of Latvia tourism to know more information!
Most of the pictures have been taken from the previous website
Since Latvia is going to take a big place in the guide section, an individual guide for the second biggest city of this amazing country should be made!
With a population of 100.000, this is Latvia's second city, in the last century, it was one of the biggest jewish hubs in the north of Europe, and some synagogues still stand in the city centre, it used to be a rich cultural city and famous artist were born here like Mark Rothko (the one whose paintings sell for more than 45 million dollars). The city had also Polish and German influence as you can appreciate in it's old name, Dinaburg. But the WW2 hit this city very hard and almost 80% was destroyed, along with the Jewish population, today you can just see the remnants of old Daugavpils in the Old Town and more specially in Rigas Iela. After the WW2 Daugavpils became a very important Soviet industrial hub, and it experienced a reborn, along with a big russian migration and therefore russification (now 60% of Daugavpilites speak russian, but most of them are not ethnic russians). After the independence many of the industries lost the connections to Moscow and went bankrupt, and thats why there are some parts of the city with a lot of abandoned factories, but since Latvia joined European Union, the city is recovering, starting to renew it's old past, but adapting and not hiding it's Russian legacy.
So... why is this city interesting? It is incredibly interesting because is not the typical cozy turistical town but a huge historical and cultural place in the north of Europe, in fact you can visit different areas and places of the city where you can easily recreate how the life was in the Baltics since the 18th century until the recent years.
The city is located in the south of Latvia, it takes 3h from Riga by train (a little bit more by bus) and the same from Vilnius (making it a nice place to start visiting Latvia if you come from Lithuania). There are regular trains and buses from Riga and one bus per day at 17:00 from Vilnius of Ecolines company. In Daugavpils, both train and bus station are very close to the centre since the first is in Riga Street (the main street of the city) and the bus station is just 2 minutes from it. Very close to the bus station the is an original park which has a lot of diferent benches, made by a lot of alternative designers.
One of the places that first will get your attention is the huge fortress that is close to the centre of the city, in fact, is becoming the symbol of the city and there has been a lot of ongoing efforts to restore this magnificent complex to it's former glory, entrance to the fortress is free, but you may head to the information office inside (the red building) where very skillful guides will explain you all the history of the site (like how a fortress thought to stop Napoleon became the training place for future aviatiors and soviet cosmonauts).
Inside the fortress is also the city most famous museum, the Mark Rothko Art Centre, where you can find many paintings from this artist as long as other modern art exhibitions, all in an incredible building with very nice indoors, the restaurant of the museum, Arsenals, is a perfect place for lunch since even if it looks very fancy, the prices are quite cheap (Chef's pasta dish plus soup for 5 euro).
In the way to the Old Town, you should visit the Zoo (Latgale Zoo), which in the outside looks (let's be realistic) terrible, but inside is the coolest mini-zoo I ever was, with snakes, monkeys (even exotic smaller ones), kaimans and fishes... and the coolest ant colony ever and the best is that all this for 30 cents!
In the centre you should head to the information office in Vienibas Square (the one with Latgole hotel), there they will explain you where the oldest buildings are, the centre is a mix between 19th century buildings, the first independent latvia architecture and 90's architecture. The best street to walk by is Rigas Iela (Riga Street) which is the city main pedestrian way and is fully restored. The street finishes in the train Station but thats the opposite direction to centre, so after you explore it a bit, you should head back to check the rest of the old town. In the Saules Street is the Latvian house (Latviesu Maja), which opens on Wednesdays and Fridays, if you speak Latvian or Russian you can hear the explanation of the traditional Latvian everyday objects since the 19th century, but any foreigner can also check them for free. Around the University is the city most famous restaurant, Gubernators, and definitely my choice if I would be a tourist, they have awesome local beer as well as a wide selection of food, the interior is very original since it combines traditional Latvian and Russian tools with any other kind of things from all over the world (actually is the place which inspired me to start WTF Worldwide).
Also very close the university is Galerija Bunkurs (Bunker Gallery), which is in my opinion, the best collection of Soviet and WW2 (Allied and German included) things I have ever seen, from Air raid alarms, encrypter machines and horse gasmasks to secret KGB documents and the first Tvs which appeared in this part of the globe, to go there you need to go on Saturdays from 10-14 or make an appointment with the owner (Phone in this link, open comment) at the moment the visit is just avaliable in Russian, but maybe in the future there would be some English explanation to some of the huge amount of objects displayed.
Recently, a new exciting activity has opened in Daugavpils... the Escape room! As somebody with experience on them, I really recommend it due to its atmosphere and a different way to make the puzzles, involving a lot of out-of-the-box thinking! Check it out here
If you want to learn some history of the city, for very good price, you should go to Daugavpils Museum, with a big amount of objects from the last century (carts, pictures, ortodox icons, soviet propaganda, old clothes and furniture...). In the centre there are several places to eat such as Taller (which also works as disco) and Ukrainska Hatka (where you can try Ukranian food for around 3 euros). If you want to have a coffee or bakery in a fancy french-style place without emptying your pockets you should go to Shokoladna (in the centre and also in Riga street), but if what you are looking is for a cool place to have a beer, you are lucky, a pub with strong character is in the town: Artilerijas Pagrabi, located in the non-pedestrian part of Riga Street is a very Latvian place where live music, original decoration and regional beer makes an excellent combination.
So as you see, this city will be an unusual but interesting place to see if you are visiting Latvia, I hope you have a great time here!
In this section you will find all you need to become a little expert in the guide place, without expending a lot!