Latvia’s capital, Riga, is home to notable wooden and art nouveau architecture, a massive central market, and a medieval Old Town. With tons of history and lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures, it’s no surprise that Latvia is considered a hidden gem by everyone who visits. There’s something for everyone here!
This travel guide to Latvia can give you the tips and tricks you need to plan the ultimate Latvian adventure.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Latvia
1. Visit Riga
2. Explore Ventspils
3. Go hiking in Gauja National Park
4. See castles in Sigulda
5. Visit the Rundale Palace
Other Things to See and Do in Latvia
1. Visit Jurmala
Just a short 20-minute drive from Riga, the seaside town of Jurmala offers laid-back beaches and a vibrant nightlife. Be sure to visit Dzintari forest park (which is home to 200-year-old trees and has several walking paths) and Mr. Morberg’s house, a 19th-century neo-Gothic wooden house that looks and feels like a fairytale palace (the interior is both ornate and super colorful).
2. Go skiing
Cross-country skiing is one of the more popular winter pastimes in the country. For downhill skiing, there are slopes all across the country. Some suggested resorts and slopes to check out are Ozolkalns (Cesis), Victory Park (Riga), Vanagkalns (Cesis), and Milzkalns (Tukum). Expect to pay 15 EUR ($17 USD) for a half-day cross-country ski rental and 50-60 EUR ($59-71 USD) for a lift pass.
3. Relax in a traditional Latvian sauna
As in much of northern Europe, saunas in Latvia are an important part of the culture. Here you rotate between the heat of the sauna and a cold pool as well as getting swatted by switches of juniper or birch (to remove dead skin cells). Prices begin around 70 EUR ($82 USD) for a 3-5-hour session. Saunas can be found all over the country.
4. Visit Latgale
The region of Latgale sits in the eastern part of the country and is known as the Land of Blue Lakes thanks to its many lakes. The region has its own dialect and is perfect for camping, hiking, and enjoying the water. The area is also known for its delicious cheeses since there are tons of small farms here. You can base yourself in Daugavpils, the region’s largest city, or stay in some of the many cozy cottages and B&Bs around the countryside. Note: This region is best explored with a car since public transportation is limited.
6. Visit the Corner House
The Corner House is the former headquarters of the Latvian KGB (the secret police). Situated in an Art Nouveau building in the center of Riga, today it serves as a dark reminder of the brutal tactics they employed during the Russian occupation. It’s where political prisoners would be brought for torture and interrogation. Admission is by donation and guided tours are available for 10 EUR ($11.50 USD).
7. Visit the Seaside Open-Air Museum
Located in Ventspils, the Seaside Open-Air Museum is dedicated to Latvia’s history, with a special focus on fishing and boating. There is a whole section dedicated to teaching traditional Latvian fishing techniques practiced in the region from the 18th century onwards, complete with replica fisherman’s houses, farmhouses, smokehouses, and local craftsmen offering visitors a display of their traditional crafting skills in action. Admission is 4 EUR ($4.75 USD).
8. Spend a night in the 1920’s
Built in 2004 as the film set for the historical drama Defenders of Latvia, the complex is a complete replica of 1920’s Latvia. Set on 370 acres of land, it includes a small town, a ‘Riga-esque’ city, and traditional Latvian farmland. When it isn’t in use as a film set, it is possible to visit the set, watch movies that were filmed there, visit a replica pub, and see special effects demonstrations. Located one hour west of Riga by car, guided tours cost 4 EUR ($4.75 USD) and it’s 3 EUR ($3.55 USD) to watch scenes filmed in the complex (includes popcorn).
9. Sleep in a prison
Located on the west coast in Liepaja, Karosta Prison is no longer in use (it shut in 1997) but has since reopened to tourists. It’s the only military prison in Europe open to tourists. You can take a day tour or book the full overnight experience. Ghost Hunters International called Karosta Prison “the most haunted place in the world.” Tours are 5 EUR ($6 USD) while overnight stays cost is 15 EUR ($17 USD) per person.
10. See a ballet or opera
The Latvian National Opera is home to both the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian National Ballet company. There are a variety of different performances held here including classical and contemporary dance, opera, traditional Latvian folk stories, and children’s plays. With over 200 performances each season, there is plenty to choose from. Tickets for performances start at just 7 EUR ($8.25 USD).
11. Celebrate Midsummer
In Latvia, the most important holiday is midsummer (the summer solstice). In the Latvian pagan tradition, people stay awake for the whole night so they can greet the rising sun. There are public events across the country where they light bonfires, eat, drink, and dance all night. However, Midsummer in Latvia isn’t actually celebrated on the solstice day. It’s always celebrated on the same day each year (June 23rd).
12. Get lost in Europe’s biggest market
The central market in Riga is a UNESCO Heritage Site and is the largest market in Europe. Opened in 1930, between 80,000-100,000 people visit each day. In addition to the standard fresh produce, fish, and meat, there are food stalls, souvenir stands, bars, and everything in between. Come here with an appetite and spend some time wandering the stalls and sampling all the offerings.
13. Stroll along the Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk
Located in Kemeri National Park just outside of Jurmala, the Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk lets you explore the inaccessible landscape of the marshland park. Established in 1997, the park offers a 3.7km loop that takes about 90 minutes to walk. There are all kinds of bogs, marshes, and lakes dotting the landscape. You’ll also find geese and cranes here too. Admission is free and parking is 2 EUR ($2.35 USD).
Latvia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostel dorms start at 5 EUR ($6 USD) per night for a 10-20 bed dorm. For a smaller dorm with 6-8 beds, expect to pay around 9 EUR ($11 USD). Free Wi-Fi is standard, as are self-catering facilities. Private rooms in hostels aren’t that common so if you prefer your privacy then you will need to look at budget hotel options or use Airbnb.
Budget hotels and guesthouses start at 30 EUR ($35 USD) per night for a double or twin. Free Wi-Fi, coffee/tea maker, TV, A/C, and self-catering facilities are all common.
Airbnb is available around the country with private rooms starting at 13 EUR ($15 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 25 EUR ($29 USD) per night (though prices average double that).
For anyone traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country. Moreover, wild camping is legal as long as you are on government land. If you do want to stay in a campground, basic plots without electricity access start at 10 EUR ($12 USD).
Food – Much like their Baltic and Scandinavian neighbors, Latvian cuisine emphasizes meat, potatoes and seafood. Dishes like cabbage soup, mashed peas and pork, and pelmeni (Russian ravioli) are some common favorites found at most restaurants.
Cheap street food (like hot dogs and sausages) costs around 3 EUR ($3.55 USD) while a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs 8 EUR ($9 USD).
Many restaurants offer a “business lunch,” a fixed-price menu that consists of a starter, main course, and a drink. They vary from 5-8 EUR ($6-9 USD).
A meal at a restaurant serving local cuisine costs 20 EUR ($23 USD) including a drink.
Chinese, Indian, or Thai (which can only be found in the larger cities) offer another way to eat cheap. A meal here can cost between 10-20 EUR ($12-23 USD).
Fast food like McDonald’s or Burger Kind cost 6 EUR ($7 USD). A beer or lattee costs 2-3 EUR ($2.50-$3.50 USD). A bottle of water is .80 EUR ($1 USD).
If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 25-35 EUR ($30-$40 USD) for basic staples like vegetables, pasta, and some meat.
Activities – Latvia has a ton of green space so there are lots of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking. You will find a multitude of parks and forests full of wildlife to explore for free. There are also many interesting museums in the cities that generally charge between 1-4 EUR ($1.25-$4.50).
Expect to pay at least 20 EUR ($23 USD) for a bike tour or kayak rental, and 40 EUR ($49 USD) for a full-day guided hiking tour.
Backpacking Latvia Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 34-39 EUR ($40-45 USD) per day you’ll be able to stay in a hostel dorm, eat cheap and cook some of your meals, visit a few attractions, do some free hikes, and use local transportation.
On a mid-range budget of 65-75 EUR ($75-90 USD), you can stay in an Airbnb or budget hotel, eat out a lot more and budget-friendly restaurants, drink a lot more, take some guided tours, and visit more paid attractions (like museums).
On a luxurious budget 220 EUR ($255 USD) per day, you can rent a car, stay in a four-star hotel, take higher-end tours, eat at mid-range restaurants for every meal, drink as much as you want, and visit spas and saunas.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Prices are in USD.
Latvia Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Looking to save money while traveling in Latvia? Here are some of the best ways to save money during your visit:
- Take a free walking tour – Riga offers a handful of free walking tours. They’re a great way to get familiar with the city and the culture. Just be sure to tip your guide!
- Ride Flixbus – Flixbus is budget-friendly way to get around the country. They have (semi-reliable) Wi-Fi, electrical outlets, and decent enough sites for overnight and long-haul bus journeys.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels here don’t include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money make sure you book accommodation that does! Buying your own groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat, but it will definitely save you money!
- Wild camp – If you really want to save money, wild camp. It’s legal, safe and free!
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing is a great way to not only save money but you’ll meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people.
- Walk everywhere – All of the major cities in Latvia are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra euros.
- Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country. Save your budget and enjoy the outdoors!
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
Where to Stay in Latvia
Looking for budget-friendly accommodation for your trip to Latvia? Here are some of my favorite places to stay around the country:
How to Get Around Latvia
Public Transportation – Public transportation prices will vary by city, but expect to pay around 1.50 EUR ($1.80 USD) for a standard adult ticket. None of the Latvian cities have subways or elevated transport lines which means public transport can often be slow. Most cities offer a multi-day pass, such as Riga’s 24-hour pass for 5 EUR ($6 USD) or the 3-day pass for 10.00 EUR ($11.50 USD).
Taxi – Prices start around 2 EUR ($2.25 USD) and cost around 0.60 EUR ($0.70 USD) for every 1km.
Trains – Train travel is limited and mostly centers around places you can do as day trips from Riga. Some of the most popular places you can travel from Riga to by train are Jurmala, Gauja National Park, and Daugavpils. Anywhere further afield is better accessed by bus.
Bus – If you are traveling outside of Riga’s suburban railway lines then taking a bus will be the best option. Flixbus is one of the most popular and cheapest options. Expect to pay 10 EUR ($12 USD) or less for most trips. Riga to Ventspils, for example, takes 3 hours and costs just 7 EUR ($8.25 USD).
If you are continuing to neighboring countries, the bus is the most common mode of transport. On average, a bus from Latvia to Lithuania will cost around 15 EUR ($17). The four-hour ride from Riga to Tallinn, Estonia will cost about the same.
Budget Airlines – There are no budget airlines operating domestically around Latvia.
Car Rental – I would not advise inexperienced drivers to drive in Latvia. It’s known to be one of the most dangerous countries in Europe to drive in. However, if you are driving you’ll need an International Driving Permit (IDP). Car rentals can be as low as 30 EUR ($35 USD) per day.
Hitchhiking– In Latvia it is very common for young people to hitchhike around the country in the summer months. During the winter the roads can be dangerous and the weather unpredictable so it is not advised to hitchhike during this time. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Latvia
The best time to visit Latvia is from April through September. The summer months of July and August are the warmest (and make up the country’s busy season). Expect temperatures around 22°C (71°F).
During autumn the shoreline, wetlands, and forests come alive with bird migrations. The national parks are particularly beautiful at this time of year with the changing colors, and it is a lot cooler for hiking.
Be warned though, no matter what time of year you choose to visit, showers are common and unpredictable. Make sure you always have a raincoat handy.
How to Stay Safe in Latvia
Latvia is a safe country to travel to. They have a low crime rate and even pickpocketing in the cities isn’t that common. That said, it’s always a good idea to keep your wits about you, hide your valuables, and avoid flashing things like jewelry around in public.
One danger you do need to be aware of in Latvia is when traveling by road. Latvia is notorious for bad driving — even crossing the street can be dangerous. Take extra caution if you rent a car. Additionally, don’t leave any valuables in your car overnight or when out hiking. Theft is rare, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
You can read about 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Latvia!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Latvia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Latvia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Latvia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Latvia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Latvia: A Short History, by Mara Kalnins
Despite multiple invasions and centuries of domination, the Latvian people have preserved their powerful sense of culture and identity. To condense Latvia’s four and a half millennia history takes quite some doing, but this book manages it well. It provides an interesting and insightful chronological overview that will help you to understand the struggles faced by the Latvian people. It’s a great read if you are looking to improve your historical and cultural knowledge of Latvia in preparation for your trip.
Flight from Latvia: A Six-Year Chronicle, by Dagnija Neimane
1940 marked the first Soviet occupation of Latvia. What followed was months of suffering, mass arrests, executions, and the deportation of fifteen thousand Lativans to Serbia. Natzi Germany saw off the invaders during World War II only for the Soviets to gain the upper-hand once more in 1944. Flight from Latvia is a true narrative of one family’s exile from their home during World War II. Their journey through refugee camps, searching for a safe home, is told through the voice of the youngest member of the family who was just a child when they were forced to flee.
Out of Latvia: The Son of a Latvian Immigrant Searches for his Roots, by
This book tells the story of his upbringing under the shadow of his father, a Latvian immigrant who escaped his home country after World War II to then fight against prejudice to raise his family in Australia. He shares the stories told to him by his father of the hardship of living under Soviet rule, his escape from Europe, and finally his fight to make a new life in a foreign land. Arnold longs to return home but is unable to for fear of being drafted into the army.
The Hidden Letters, by Gina Ochsner
Set in a small town in Latvia during World War II, this novel tells the story of a young boy who inherits a family history full of holes and secrets. He takes it upon himself to fill in the missing pieces and learn about his family and its past. The book paints a beautiful picture of the Latvian countryside through the authors descriptions. It is easy to read, with a lot of humor and heart.
Latvia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Latvia and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 3 – Toms Baugis