Old Town is one of the major tourist destinations in Latvia | Image by 680451 from Pixabay

Discover the Baltics: One week in Latvia

Paul Ryken and Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2020 Latvia Leave a Comment

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Are you planning to visit Latvia and wonder what there is to see and do (in a week)? Whether you can only spare a week to visit Latvia, or you have three weeks to explore Lithuania and Estonia as well, we’ve got THE itinerary for you – showing you a bit of everything: historic cities, National Parks and the Baltic Sea.

Latvia is one of three small countries, sandwiched between the Baltic Sea and almighty Russia. It was the last of the Baltic states to regain its independence after Soviet occupation on 21 August 1991. Approximately 20% of Latvia are protected (and 56% of the country are forests) – hence our recommendation to experience Latvia’s great outdoors.

Baltic Tours

Our self-guided itineraries are for those of you who want to explore the Baltic countries independently. But you may want someone else to do the work for you. You may also want to consider taking a tour of the Baltics, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.

If you prefer a professional to do all the organisation for you and an English-speaking guide who makes your Baltic adventure even more memorable, check out Baltic Tours.

Baltic Tours offer comprehensive (small) group tours in Scandinavia and North-Eastern Europe (including Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) at surprisingly affordable prices. All of them can be booked online. But if you do need to call, their friendly staff are more than pleased to discuss the various options available. Don't take our word for it, though. Check out TrustPilot for reviews provided by other customers.

A true symbol of resilience: Unveiled in 1935 during Latvia's first stint of independence, the Freedom Monument survived 40+ years of Soviet occupation | Photo by Kate Sobol
A true symbol of resilience: Unveiled in 1935 during Latvia's first stint of independence, the Freedom Monument survived 40+ years of Soviet occupation | Photo by Kate Sobol

Three reasons why you should visit Latvia

  1. Not only is the historic centre of Latvia’s capital Riga a UNESCO world heritage site, but with more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings, Riga (not Barcelona) is also considered the Art Nouveau capital of Europe.
  2. Only a short trip outside of Riga, grand wooden seaside homes and ancient Teutonic castles are just waiting to be explored.
  3. Latvia has four outstanding National Parks (two of which feature in our itinerary). Sounds wonderful? Well, it is.
Dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, the Three Brothers are the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga
Dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, the Three Brothers are the oldest complex of dwelling houses in Riga

Suggested Route and Destinations

Ultimate one-week itinerary in Latvia for indepedent travelers
Ultimate one-week itinerary in Latvia for indepedent travelers
Suggested Stays (Night)Destination
3 nightsRiga
2 nightsSigulda
2 nightsCēsis

Our itinerary assumes that you travel to Riga overland from Lithuania (or arrive in Riga by plane). If you don’t have time to continue your travels to Estonia, your closest airport to return home is Riga (88 kilometres/~2.5 hours south-west from Cēsis).

To organise your mode of transport between the three stops (and for your day trip from Riga) check out the transport section in our Baltics post.

But first, let’s talk about what there is to see and do…

How much does it cost to explore the Baltics?

Visiting the Baltic countries in Spring 2019 cost us on average EUR45.17/USD50.54 per person per day. Check out our individual country costs here:

Highlights of Riga (and surrounds)

Day 1 – Riga

As with Lithuania‘s capital Vilnius and Estonia‘s capital Tallinn, we recommend starting your first day in Riga with a free walking tour around the Old Town. The tour starts at 1000h in front of St Peter’s Church and takes just under 2 hours.

For lunch, head to Salve in the Old Town, to one of the Lido Bistro outlets or Riga’s Central Market in the old Zeppelin hangars opposite the bus station where you arrived. That market alone would be a reason for us to move to Riga.

If we lived in Riga the Central Market would be our favourite hangout | Photo by Kate Sobol
If we lived in Riga the Central Market would be our favourite hangout | Photo by Kate Sobol

If you enjoyed the Old Town walking tour and have a soft spot for architecture, Riga Free Tours now also offer a walking tour that takes you around Riga’s Art Nouveau treasures.

If you’re more into art than architecture, you may want to check out the Latvian National Museum of Art.

With more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings, Riga is considered the Art Nouveau Capital of Europe | Photo by Kate Sobol
With more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings, Riga is considered the Art Nouveau Capital of Europe | Photo by Kate Sobol

And if you’re more into history (especially if you’ve missed the Museum in Vilnius), you may want to join the guided tours

  • at the Museum of Latvia’s Occupation (Raiņa Bulvāris 7) or
  • at The Corner House (Brīvības Iela 61) – the former KGB building, which houses an exhibition about the KGB operations in Latvia.

For more details, check out the museum’s website.

If you love art visiting the Latvian National Museum of Art is a MUST | Madonna with machine gun - Painting by Kārlis Padegs
If you love art visiting the Latvian National Museum of Art is a MUST | Madonna with machine gun - Painting by Kārlis Padegs

Finish off your first day with innovative cocktails, delicious modern Korean food and sunset views over Riga from the Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Or if you’re in town on a Friday, head to Riga’s Cathedral to join the weekly organ concert at 1900h.

Sunset views of Riga that don't cost you a cent (unless you complement them with a cocktail and a bite to eat) | Photo courtesy of Riga Radisson Blu

Day 2 – Jūrmala and Ķemeri National Park

On your second day in Riga, we suggest you head out of the city. All below destinations can be reached by public transport. Alternatively, you can hire a car for the day.

First up, head to the historic seaside resort of Jūrmala, 40 kilometres/~30 minutes west of Riga. The main sights are in the suburb of Majori, so if you take the minibus or train alight there.

Note, if you drive and visit between 1 April and 30 September, you need to buy an entry pass (EUR2 per vehicle). Ticket machines are at the town entrance and in Majori itself. In turn, all municipal parking lots are free of charge. The quaint seaside town is easy to explore on foot.

For a taste of the Baltic Sea near Riga, head to Jūrmala
For a taste of the Baltic Sea near Riga, head to Jūrmala

Your next stop is the Ķemeri National Park (11 kilometres/20 minutes by car or 30 minutes by bus/train). The National Park offers many flat trails and boardwalks. So before you go, check out the park map online or head into the Tourist Information Centre opposite the train station in Majori. Also make sure you bring insect repellent.

If you didn’t hire a car, take the minibus or train to the township of Kemeri. If the distances don’t bother you, you can, of course, walk all trails from the train station/bus stop. Alternatively, you can hire bicycles in Kemeri (right at the station – the shop is called Velo Noma) or in Majori – including electric bikes (for example, at ABC Grupa or ZLX). Be aware though: The ride from Majori to Kemeri, while flat, is just over 20 kilometres one-way (or 40 kilometres return).

Kemeri National Park is only an hour by car/bus/train outside of Riga | Photo by Artis Veigurs
Kemeri National Park is only an hour by car/bus/train outside of Riga | Photo by Artis Veigurs

As for trails, our recommendations are

  • Great Ķemeri Bog Boardwalk: The larger boardwalk loop is about 3.5 kilometres from the parking lot (or 11 kilometres return from Kemeri train station).
  • Lake Sloka Path: From the car park at Lake Sloka, the circular route is approximately three kilometres. If you are walking or cycling, it is approximately five kilometres from Kemeri train station to the parking lot at Lake Sloka (or ten kilometres return).

If you have time for a little detour after finishing the Lake Sloka Path you can add the Black Alder Swamp Boardwalk, which starts at Meža Māja, approximately three kilometres from Kemeri train station (or alight at the bus stop Meža Māja). If you walk the Lake Sloka Path, you pass Meža Māja anyway. The loop itself is less than one kilometre long.

The Great Ķemeri Bog Boardwalk was first recommend to us by a Riga barista | Photo by Antonija Rimac
The Great Ķemeri Bog Boardwalk was first recommend to us by a Riga barista | Photo by Antonija Rimac

Food and Drinks in Latvia

  • To try Latvian cuisine at reasonable prices, head to one of the Lido Bistros in Riga. For traditional dishes in a more refined environment, check out Salve in Riga’s Old Town.
  • For delicious modern Korean dishes and sunset views over Riga visit the Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blu Hotel.
  • While staying in the historic Hotel Sigulda might be a bit too expensive, the restaurant serves delicious food made from fresh local produce.
Crispy Fried Rice is one of the amazing dishes available at the Skyline Bar | Photo courtesy of Riga Radisson Blu
Crispy Fried Rice is one of the amazing dishes available at the Skyline Bar | Photo courtesy of Riga Radisson Blu

Highlights of Gauja National Park

The Gauja National Park is just over an hour by train or bus east of Riga. While you could visit Sigulda or Cēsis (the two main vantage points for the park) on a day trip from Riga, we recommend you stay in either or both to really experience the National Park and all it has to offer. You can hike, kayak or bike past colourful sandstone formations and enjoy beautiful vistas over the Gauja river valley.

In Gauja National Park, you can hike, mountainbike or kayak past beautiful sandstone formations | Photo courtesy of Pixabay
In Gauja National Park, you can hike, mountainbike or kayak past beautiful sandstone formations | Photo courtesy of Pixabay

You can hire bikes and boats in both Sigulda and Cēsis:

  • Sigulda: There is a bike rental shop opposite the train station and an e-bike rental shop by the cable car station. A number of companies offer boat rental in Sigulda. For details check out the Tourism Sigulda website.
  • Bike rental in Cēsis is available near the entrance to the Cēsis Castle and Museum. Boat rental in Cēsis is offered by Žagarkalns, approximately 6 kilometres west of the township.
A hike in Latvia's first and largest National Park doesn't cost you a cent
A hike in Latvia's first and largest National Park doesn't cost you a cent

The Gauja National Park not only offers a ton of options for nature lovers. You can also bungee jump from the cable car across the Gauja river in Sigulda or zip line on the cable car’s cableway.

In Sigulda, you can not only take the cable car across the Gauja river but also bungee jump off the cable car and zipline across on the cable way | Photo by Reinis Kaspars on Pixabay
In Sigulda, you can not only take the cable car across the Gauja river but also bungee jump off the cable car and zipline across on the cable way | Photo by Reinis Kaspars on Pixabay

You can also visit the old castles of the Livonian Order (Teutonic Knights who settled in the area at the beginning of the 13th century). Our favourite was the Cēsis Castle and Museum:

  • With the help of old-fashioned lanterns, you are free to explore the castle’s western tower by yourself.
  • From May to September, workshops and a kitchen garden are staffed by locals dressed in medieval clothing who explain medieval crafts (for example, woodblock printing by the very passionate Viesturs Aboltins or straw hat making), traditional games and armour.
  • Finally, a sizeable and super interesting museum awaits in the Manor House, explaining the history of the castle, of Cēsis and Latvia (make sure you use the leaflets provided in additional languages).

We spent several hours in the castle complex.

Cēsis Castle and Museum was our favourite historical site in the Gauja National Park
Cēsis Castle and Museum was our favourite historical site in the Gauja National Park
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Have you visited Latvia? What other things to see and do would you recommend? Please leave a comment below.

Feature photo courtesy of Pixabay

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Discover the Baltics One week in Latvia
Discover the Baltics One week in Latvia
Discover the Baltics One week in Latvia

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