Latvia is situated in North-Eastern Europe, between Lithuania and Estonia. With good (and reasonably cheap) flight connections to other European countries, visitor numbers to Latvia, and in particular its capital Riga, are on the rise.
If you are planning to visit this Baltic country you might wonder how affordable it is. Our daily expenses in Latvia added up to USD51.77 / EUR46.10 per person per day, which was a bit over our budget of USD50.00. We attribute this to slightly higher accommodation costs (than in Lithuania) and to us dining out a little more than we usually do. Read on to find out what we spent our money on.
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Is Latvia expensive to visit?
Compared to some other European countries we have visited, Latvia is a little cheaper, however, it is more expensive than Latin America. We keep tabs on our travel costs for different countries as we roam the world. Check our travel costs by country list and see how much your next trip may cost.
- The costs are based upon a couple travelling together.
- We did not travel as part of an organised tour group but as independent travellers.
- Not considered is the entry or exit transport into/out of the country.
- Our travel style wherever we go is reasonably consistent, which is great when you want to compare travel costs:
- Accommodation: We usually stay in self-catered accommodation, in our own room and with (preferably) our own bathroom. The kitchen may be shared.
- Dining and Groceries: We have at least two meals a day at home. We like to eat out at cafes or restaurants every few days.
- Transportation: Wherever possible, we travel by public transport.
- Experiences: We pay for some tourist attractions or activities, but are selective as our funds are limited (just like everyone else’s).
- Also included in the overall daily costs (for the period of time we are in the country) are:
How to save money on accommodation
For accommodation, as with any other travel expenses, it’s worth shopping around. When we book accommodation somewhere, we tend to look across a number of booking platforms to find the best value-for-money option. Wherever you book, make sure you read the fine print to make sure you compare apples with apples. For example, your stay may incur extra charges (like local tourist taxes or cleaning fees). Some booking platforms include them, while with others, you have to pay them to your host upon arrival.
Nightly rates are generally cheaper outside of peak season. If you can only travel in peak season, look for accommodation options that are a little further away from the main tourist attractions, yet have good connections by public transport. Always double-check the cancellation policy and payment terms before you book.
We use and recommend the following online travel agents and service providers for all our accommodation needs:
Like Lithuania‘s capital Vilnius, Riga’s public transport system consists of trams, trolleybuses and buses. Even though tickets can be purchased from the driver, it is significantly cheaper to purchase a yellow e-ticket/talon at street kiosks and select shops and load it with a number of rides. Note: Don’t buy too many rides upfront as you won’t be able to get your money back if you don’t use them all.
In the towns of Sigulda (Population 12,000) and Cēsis (Population 19,000), we didn’t use public transport as everything was within walking distance. We were contemplating hiring bicycles (which you can easily do in both towns), but the weather was just too cold so we decided not to.
After watching Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railways, which included an episode on train travel in the Baltics, we decided to take the train (rather than the bus) from Riga to Sigulda and then on to Cēsis a few days later. The carriages were spacious and offered free Wi-Fi. For schedules and ticket prices check out the Latvian Railways website.
How to save money on transportation
Being flexible is what really pays when it comes to transportation and air travel in particular. Travel outside of peak season if you can. If you can't, fares might still be cheaper during certain times of the week and even hours of the day, so check websites like Skyscanner, and Google Travel that allows you to see a whole month and all the options on any given date.
If you have several airports in the vicinity of your home (or in the vicinity of your destination) compare the prices between the different options. For example, flying to Mykonos and taking the ferry to Santorini might still end up being way cheaper than flying from your home airport straight to Santorini.
We use and recommend the following online travel agents and service providers for all our travel needs:
To find good flight deals, we use one-stop travel sites or travel aggregators. Each shows the cheapest airfares on any given day, so you can choose to fly a day/week/month earlier or later, pending your flexibility.
If you find a good deal, book it there and then as prices change constantly. Ideally do your research with your browser in incognito mode, as cookies will show booking sites how keen you are to do a certain trip, which may affect the price quoted – that goes for all online travel bookings.
We tend to not actually go through the flight aggregators, but then book with the airline/s directly. The price is the same (sometimes cheaper), and we have a direct contract with the airline (rather than with the middleman) in case something goes wrong.
The best fares generally go first, so planning is important when it comes to transport. The same is true if you want to use air points/ miles, as there is only a very limited number of seats available for any given flight.
When we started our journey in October 2016, Paul and I took advantage of a special Qantas offer, paying only 25,000 frequent flyer points each from Auckland to San Francisco (one way). All we had to pay was the (unavoidable) taxes.
If you plan to travel through multiple continents, you may want to compare passes that offer several destinations as a package (such as around-the-world fares offered by One World or Star Alliance members) vs booking each leg of your trip individually.
If you are travelling during peak season those multi-destination packages may be a better deal than booking each leg individually. You can do overland sections on around-the-world tickets too, which means you could supplement your around-the-world ticket with cheap flights, bus and train rides in between destinations.
Vehicle rental (including relocations)
Unless your trip takes you across oceans, another way to save on transport is to look for vehicle/motorhome relocations. There are websites in many countries offering massively discounted rates (often including fuel and/or insurance) to those driving a vehicle/motorhome from A to B within a certain period. These deals are fairly last minute, and A and B are usually bigger transport hubs, but if that’s an option just search for vehicle/motorhome relocation at your destination.
Speaking of vehicles: If you are planning to hire a vehicle at your destination, it also pays to shop around. We use and recommend Discover Cars, an aggregator website that allows you to search across major car rental companies at once. And you don’t have to pay for the hire until you pick up the car.
A final option to save on transport costs is… to hitch a ride. While Paul and I did it safely in Dominica on a public holiday (when there was no other option), and we have taken plenty of people along in our campervan in New Zealand, there are many countries we wouldn’t feel safe hitchhiking. Judge for yourself where and when you can and can’t do it.
Groceries and Dining
Those who read our posts regularly, know: we eat breakfast and one other meal at home, and have the third meal on the road. At least, in most cases. On average, we dined out for EUR5.95 per person per day.
However, on two occasions, we did splash out a bit more:
- After hearing about the views over Riga from the Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blu Riga Hotel, we had to check it out for ourselves. With a great-looking Korean tapas menu on offer, we decided to have dinner there too. Korean Fried Chicken, Crispy Fried Rice, Panko Pork Belly and three drinks set us back EUR43.19 in total. With the sun setting over Riga, we had a brilliant evening.
How to save money on dining and groceries
Dining out all the time can quickly get expensive. We always book accommodation where we have access to a kitchen - either our own little kitchenette or the kitchen of our host. That way, we can store food in the fridge and make our own meals. We usually have breakfast and one other meal at our accommodation, and one meal when we're out and about.
Restaurants (even in tourist hotspots) often have special lunch offers (for example, a three-course meal for EUR10). Portion sizes in many parts of the world are usually quite substantial, so we often share a three-course meal. The same applies if you go out for dinner: Order a starter or salad and a main, and that's usually enough for two people. An added benefit: there is less food waste.
As for groceries: every country has more expensive and cheaper supermarkets. Ask your host what the cheaper options are (for example, Aldi or Lidl in many European countries) and avoid 7/11-type convenience stores as much as possible.
When my mum turned 50, she didn’t want a huge party but instead asked to have a family holiday one last time. Both my brother and I had left home, and I was already engaged at the time. The five of us ended up booking a farmhouse overlooking Lake Garda in Northern Italy. When my parents arrived (they had driven from East Germany), their vehicle was full of groceries. To save money, my mum had decided that we would have every. meal at home. While she got her wish (mostly), my brother, partner and I snuck out one day to have a nice meal at a local trattoria.
Experiencing local cuisine is often one of the reasons why we travel… whether it be daring to taste grilled insects at a hawker stall in Asia, indulging in some funky vegan food truck dishes in Portland, or munching on a pizza in Italy. You don’t have to eat out three times a day though.
Paul and I tend to only eat out once a day (sometimes only once a week), usually at lunchtime. This allows us to experience local cuisine while taking advantage of awesome lunch deals. It also means we don’t have to roam around unknown parts of town every night in search of a restaurant.
Having never been to Riga before, we decided to get our bearings by joining the Old Town Free Walking Tour. Our guide Kaspars was brilliant, and the tour was packed with information on Riga’s and Latvia’s history, and culture. While these tours are labelled free, we always give a tip.
The walking tour took us past Riga’s medieval Cathedral. As chance would have it, an organ and violin concert was scheduled the following night. So, we took the opportunity to admire the interior of the Cathedral while listening to Johann Bach, Heinrich Biber and Arvo Pärt. For EUR10 per person, the concert was only EUR5 more (per person) than a normal visit to the Cathedral.
There are more than 30 museums in Riga alone, so if you have more time, there is plenty to keep you occupied. By chance, as we had a bit of time to spare between activities, we stumbled upon the Latvian National Museum of Art. We’d never come across a Latvian painter before, but we are familiar with the different styles that are associated with internationally renowned artists like Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Picasso, Kandinski, etc. It was interesting to see Latvian artists’ works from the same periods as their more well-known counterparts.
Recently renovated, the building itself is a beautiful work of art in its own right. There was also a temporary exhibition titled Chair as an Artwork, featuring 50 chairs using a variety of materials. Absolutely fascinating. The cost for both the permanent and temporary exhibitions was EUR6 per person.
Gauja National Park
Apart from a beautiful 9km hike in the Gauja National Park, Latvia’s first and largest National Park (which was free), we visited the ruins of the Castle of the Livonian Order in Sigulda (with an entry price of EUR8 per adult).
We also spent about 5 hours exploring the Cēsis Castle Complex: from the well-preserved ruins of the Livonian Castle (which you can explore with a lantern in hand) to the medieval workshops and market garden where enthusiastic Latvians showcase old crafts, to the extensive collections in the Manor House Museum. The entry price of EUR8 per adult is well worth it.
How to save money on experiences
Free activities or experiences
Many activities (and some of our most treasured experiences) are free or cost very little. On our journeys, we have
- Visited many museums free of charge (including the Colosseum and Forum in Rome, Italy which is free on the first Sunday of the month)
- Joined Al Green’s Baptist Church Service in Memphis to experience local community life (rather than pay the exorbitant entry fees at nearby Graceland)
- Attended free guided walking tours through Buenos Aires and Merida (you pay a tip at the end based on your budget and how much you liked the tour) and a free guided walking tour as part of Auckland Heritage Festival (which even included coffee and scones afterwards)
- Did countless self-guided walks and used public transport to get to know a city
- Hiked in the Andes in Ecuador and climbed volcanoes in the Caribbean
- Swam and snorkelled at countless beaches, using tree shade rather than paying for parasols; and
- Attended free performances and danced with locals in Cuba.
Just search for free activities for your destination and chances are someone has made a nice list for you already. Here are some examples
Paying for experiences or activities can add up quickly, especially if you're travelling as a family. Make use of family passes (if available). Look out for special deals and discount coupons. If you travel in a group, you may also pay to book a private tour and share the cost. Definitely shop around.
We use and recommend the following service providers for all our paid experiences and activity needs:
Make sure you check opening times to avoid disappointment
Many Museums in Latvia are closed on Mondays. And many don’t update their opening hours on Google for public holidays or during renovation works. So, if you are in Latvia only for a short period and come to see a specific museum, it pays to check directly with the Museum to ensure they are open before you book your trip.
We had earmarked to visit the History of the KGB Operations in Latvia as it was literally on the same street as our accommodation in Riga. According to Google, it should have been open, but when we got there, a small sign on the door informed us that it was temporarily closed.
I took advantage of getting a haircut in Cēsis, which (at EUR6) was decidedly cheaper than in other Baltic towns (a fancy barber in Kaunas for example, quoted EUR30).
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