6 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Latvia

Jul 22, 2021

Although Latvians were twice invaded by the Mongols in the 14th century, and the Russian tsars held sway for centuries, these days this Baltic nation is usually a peaceful and popular tourist destination for travelers from all over the world.

After World War II, at the height of the Cold War, the Latvians established their independence in 1991, and today the country is a liberal, democratic republic and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Baltic. As part of the old Commonwealth of the Soviet Union, Latvia was heavily influenced by its Cold War neighbors, so Latvian culture is often steeped in Russian influences.

Latvia is a short flight from most European capitals, with its capital, Riga, within two hours' drive of both Estonia and Lithuania. This provides easy access to Scandinavia and the Baltic nations.

Read on to discover the best things to see and do in Latvia, and find out more about its unique culture and natural landscapes.

Rundāle Palace

Photo of Rundāle Palace
Rundāle Palace: en.wikipedia.org

Built between 1723 and 1727 as a summer residence of the Russian tsars, Rundāle Palace was the last great Baroque structure in central Europe. Inaugurated by Catherine the Great, it was later purchased by Latvian Tsar Konstantin Pavlovich. His German-born wife, Marie Dorothee, turned the residence into a winter hunting lodge and appointed her sister, Marie, as the chatelaine. The spectacularly sumptuous interiors, hung with antiques, paintings and illuminated tapestries, reflect a court life in the finest style. The main building has a remarkably preserved collection of 18th-century artifacts, including porcelain, porcelain china, silver and even 17th-century firearms. Rundāle Palace is not only the seat of power in Latvia, but also a memorial to a significant period of Russian history. In the nearby museum you can see firsthand the fabled Petrine ivory storehouse, where Catherine the Great found out about the power of the interior in political opposition to Peter I. There are also displays of medals, portraits of great Russians and portraits of the composer Tchaikovsky. Many of the buildings on Rundāle Palace grounds were built for his army officers and other servants and retain their fine, unique architecture. The most notable are the charming park pavilions, where Maria Dorothea's beauty treatment of the magnificent gardens received a watercolor painting competition award.

Old Riga

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is an attractive and welcoming city. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited European cities, and a cultural, historical and architectural gem, which survived World War II. The great ducal palace of Rīga Castle, which has been restored, overlooks the city from the banks of the River Daugava. The area of Riga known as City of Freedom lies south of the castle. Here you'll find a pleasant mix of parks, green spaces and ornamental gardens such as the Latvian National Library's Ilgvārai, with its 150,000 antique books. Art lovers will want to see the Latvian Art Museum, which houses an enormous collection of the country's finest works from the 19th and 20th centuries. There are also two splendid examples of neoclassical architecture in Riga's Old Town: the Church of Our Lady, Holy Trinity and Rundāle Palace. Day trips are plentiful from Riga. Three of the main sights are Latvian National Park, one of the largest botanical gardens in Europe, Šķēdes Jūra Nature Reserve (Jūras Skaļkola), a nature reserve by the River Daugava, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ventspils, where you'll find the Cathedral of Holy Cross.

Rēzekne

Photo of Rēzekne
Rēzekne: en.wikipedia.org

Laid out around a huge green park, Rēzekne is an old Baltic trading town at the head of a branch of the Rēzekne River. The town has a busy harbour, a few museums, and several old churches, but this is largely a modern city, with most of the old buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. As Latvia's second biggest city after Riga, Rēzekne was the seat of medieval power and even briefly became the capital of the Polish and Russian empires. It's still one of the country's largest and busiest cities, but unlike its larger sibling, Riga, Rēzekne is a sleepy town with a pleasant seaside atmosphere. Among the sights worth a visit are the early 19th century Neoclassical buildings of Old Rēzekne and the former city wall, a sprawling park featuring the Jesuit monastery of Pekene, and the waterfront, where you'll find the Maritime Museum, an ice factory and numerous cafés, and where many residents enjoy having their tea.

Sigulda Castle

Photo of Sigulda
Sigulda: en.wikipedia.org

Built on the banks of the Sigulda Lake in 1779 by Peter von Biron, Sigulda Castle is one of the most romantic sites in Latvia. Remains of the ancient castle, parts of which were constructed as early as 1261, can be seen above the headlands of the city of Sigulda. A church from the period also remains. Be sure to visit the museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the famous writer Hermann Hesse, who lived in Sigulda for six years in his youth and is buried in the nearby Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Latgale

Photo of Latgale
Latgale: en.wikipedia.org

Latgale is one of the most traditional regions of the country. It contains the country's largest and the oldest cities, Riga and Jelgava, and is blessed with a particularly fertile land that has supported the development of numerous important towns like Liepaja, the home of Latvia's most important naval base, Riga, as well as Semigaļi, a city that lies by the coastline at the entrance of Lake Riga. Things to do in Latgale are visiting the Heritenie Silti headquarters, a Baroque building in the ancient city of Jelgava that is a tourist attraction; visiting the Gudrija Castle, a privately owned museum in Gudrija that features many medieval items; and getting a glimpse of life in the provinces by visiting some of the small, quiet towns and villages. Latgale is rich in traditional culture and folklore. There are some 50 different ethnic groups living in the region, and some of these can be found in the city's only ethnographic museum, which has a rich collection of folkloristic items from around the country. There are also an abundance of beautiful old churches, as well as traditional baroque and gothic houses that look like they are centuries old.

Jēkabpils

Photo of Jēkabpils
Jēkabpils: en.wikipedia.org

Jēkabpils is the largest town in the eastern Latvian countryside and its attractions include a fascinating fort and good walking on the surrounding marshlands. Built at the confluence of the Laba and the Rauna Rivers in the 16th century, Jēkabpils Fortress is an amazing collection of bastions, halls, towers, and bastion towers that now form an eclectic mix of ruined buildings. Although today the buildings are in disrepair, it's still possible to follow the layout of the 17th-century fortress. Many of Jēkabpils' old houses have been relocated and form the historic center of the town, which is centered around a picturesque church square. Like nearby Jēkabpils Manor (Jēkabpils Vārda), which dates back to 1438, there are a number of old manor houses in the town that were once the residences of aristocratic families. Of particular note is Kukaviņa Manor, the summer residence of Tēre Braudene, an early-20th-century parliamentarian who was a member of the Peasants' Party (LRSZ).