Latvia is situated in Northern Europe, bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and the Baltic Sea. Latvia played a vital role in an ancient trading route used by Vikings to access Greece and other parts of Europe. Latvia also has a long stretch of coastline and a large mass of untouched forest that makes up 50% of its total space.
This Baltic state is celebrating its centenary this year! What better way to experience this fascinating country than by travelling the capital city of Riga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ve found a couple rather lovely things you can enjoy in this pretty city without paying an arm and a leg. Like any insatiable traveller, you can head to a new country and experience a new culture without completely tapping out the bank account. To get creative head over to the official tourism website of Latvia (or perhaps Latvia’s official travel profile on Instagram ). You can also read this handy guide of the Baltic states.
Go on a free walking tour (or find your own way!)
One of the first things you’ll notice about Riga is that it is absolutely beautiful. It’s all cobblestones and culture, with a flamboyant art nouveau vibe that underpins its cosmopolitan nature. Straddled between a gulf and some rather lovely forests, this city ticks a whole lot of scenic boxes. Plus there are loads of wonderful architectural gems all throughout the city. The best way to get an eyeful of all this loveliness is to take to the streets on a walking tour.
Plus, get this – there is a daily free tour of Riga that is hosted by passionate locals. They will show you to see their version of their beloved city. The guides change from one day to the next, as does the route, but you can be sure that it will always be very informative and entertaining. It starts at 12:00 in front of the entrance of St. Peter’s Church – just look out for the person carrying the bright-yellow suitcase! Alternatively, you always just set out by yourself to track down all the city’s must-see attractions. This includes Alberta Iela, the Riga Cathedral, Blackheads House, Art Museum Riga Bourse, as well as the Freedom Monument and City Canal.
Stroll the local parks and eat something local (like Speķa Pīrāgi)
Hit two birds with one stone – enjoy a quintessential Latvian street food and see the gorgeous Bastejkalns (Bastion Hill) park that was formed in the 1800s. It’s a lovely place to enjoy an al fresco meal and you’re likely to encounter many locals going on walks or hanging out with family and friends.
One of the local snacks to consider is Speķa Pīrāgi – small bacon and onion rolls that are prepared in cauldrons. They are available from most cafes, street food stalls and markets. Alternatively look for Latvian Rye toasties or some Baltic herring! If you’re visiting in winter and don’t feel like braving the elements, you could also head to LIDO for canteen-style Latvian food that doesn’t come with a crazy price tag.
Visit the Central Market to people-watch
Riga Central Market was established in the 1930s, and has since grown to become one of the most advanced destinations of its kind throughout Europe. Situated inside a series of disused military airship hangers on the bank of the river close to Old Town, this bustling market stocks all things Latvian and homemade. There’s also an outdoor portion that offers souvenirs and locally-produced clothing. It’s the ideal place to pick up a few well-priced keepsakes and watch the locals as they go about their day.
Try the Black Balsam
You cannot leave Latvia without sampling Black Balsam – an herbal elixir made from pure vodka that is used in traditional medicine and sold in every tavern in town. There are little cafes that sell in alongside some chocolate truffles if the thought of drinking it straight seems a bit daunting. Throw in a ‘Priekā!’ to wish them good health in Latvian before you throw back your balsam.
To find out which of our tours travel through Latvia, head here.