Called the Pearl of the Baltic States, Latvia is the crossroads of Northeastern Europe located on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Since the 12th century, German knights, Swedish Kings, Soviet Commissars have desired Latvia, and today it’s a member of the European Union.
It’s capital city Riga is an exciting metropolis with a cool hipster vibe, as seen in the luxury boutique hotels, award-winning restaurants, art galleries, and fashion designers. In fact, this is the #1 wi-fi hotspot in Europe with over 1,000 places to get online for free.
We had a few days in Latvia, and our home base was Riga, where we explored its 800 year-old UNESCO Old Town, as well as ventured out to Jurmala, Rundale Palace, and Bauska Castle on day trips.
Sharing our favorites – where to go, stay, dine and spa while in Latvia.
HIGHLIGHTS - Riga, Jurmala, Rundale, Bauska
During our few days in Latvia, we spent most of our time in the medieval Old Town of Riga. It’s an easy town to walk and there is lots to see, so we recommend hiring a guide from E.A.T. Riga, a fantastic local company that offers unique tours in Riga and around Latvia.
Listed below are some of the highlights from Riga, and a day trip to Jurmala, as well as Rundale Palace and Bauska Castle.
Old Town: Meander the cobblestone streets, town squares, and take the elevator to the top of St. Peter’s cathedral for panoramic views of Riga. Old Town Highlights include – Dome Square, Dome Cathedral, Riga Town square, Blackheads House, St. Peter’s church, St. John’s church, Convent square, Latvian National Opera House, Freedom Monument, Small Guild, Big Guild, Swedish Gate, Three Brothers, Parliament and Riga Castle.
Take time to visit the shops and relax at a cafe in Old Town. If you’re looking for amber, you’ll find a variety of amber goods in Old Town shops and vendor stands.
Art Nouveau Tour: E.A.T. Riga stands for Experience Alternative Tours in Riga. They offer a range of personalized tours and events, from walking tours to bike tours, and customize unique tours and activities based on the needs of their guests. Our guide Arturs gave us a fantastic tour of the Art Nouveau District where there are 600 buildings that were built in the early 19th century and many are still standing.
Art Nouveau, also known as Jugendstil, heavily influenced Riga’s architecture in the early 1900’s. Riga has the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. Most of them are located on Alberta Street. Don’t Miss! The Art Nouveau Museum if you’re a fan of Art Nouveau.
National Museum of Art: One of the highlights during my stay was visiting this museum and seeing the incredible collection of paintings from Latvian artists.
World Hat Museum: An amazing collection of hats from all over the world!
Central Market: If you like to visit markets, be sure to visit the Riga Central Market where you’ll find enormous buildings filled with local vegetables, fruits, cheese, smoked fish, sausages, dark rye bread, and other goodies for a picnic in one of the town’s lovely parks.
Taka Spa: A visit to Riga wouldn’t be complete without a spa treatment at Taka Spa. Ilse was my therapist and she was incredible! From beginning to end, this spa experience raises the bar. An attendant brought me a bowl of lavendar infused salt to exfoliate while I was in the steam room. Following my treatment, my therapist wrapped me in a wool shawl and gave me a cup of herbal tea, nuts, berries and cookies and escorted me to the relaxation room. Take time to enjoy the sauna, steam room, and relaxing room before and after the treatment.
Panoramic Views: Visit the sky room on the top floor of the Radisson Blu for a drink and you’ll enjoy incredible views of the city. Good to Note: there are several Radisson Blu Hotels in Riga, so be sure to visit the right one for this view – link here.
Kalnciema District: Visit this district on the left bank of the Daugava River, where visitors find art exhibitions, concerts, weekly markets.
Art Galleries & Designer Shops: Our concierge recommended these art galleries and designer shops…
JURMALA - RUNDALE - BAUSKA
JURMALA – Called the Northern Riviera of Europe, this popular seaside town exudes beauty with its historic buildings of wooden architecture, pine forests, and a white sandy beach that stretches for 20 miles.
One morning in Riga, I met Aleksandra from the Jurmala Tourism Office, and she drove me to Jurmala, just about a 30 mins drive away. She took me to the open-air fishing museum that shows how fishermen and their families lived in the 18th-19th centuries. We walked through the pine forests that line the coast, and saw fishermen cutting holes in the frozen waterways of the Lielupe River to pull up their catch of the day.
We drove along the main street and saw the charming historic wooden homes and buildings, and then the central promenade of Jomas street.
We lunched at the Baltic Beach Hotel, and then I enjoyed a spa treatment at the Baltic Beach Spa where there are over 400 types of treatments to choose from! Locals and visitors flock to this largest resort city in the Baltic States famous for clean healthy air, mild climate, sea, curative mud and mineral water.
Aleksandra shared with me about the sauna ritual and how important it is to the Latvian culture and traditions. She said that the Latvian sauna ritual has symbolic meaning – it’s a cleansing and helps us to stay connected to our roots, stay real. After you come out of the sauna, she said you gasp for the fresh air, and you feel newly born, refreshed, and clear minded.
What she said stood out, “Latvian people are very connected with nature in their habits and relationships. We feel nature present in our daily thoughts, choices, and mannerisms.”
Beautiful day in Jurmala, and it was a pleasure to meet lovely Aleksandra. Thank you for sharing your town!
BAUSKA CASTLE – On the drive from Riga to Vilnius, we stopped at Bauska Castle built in the mid-15th century.
RUNDALE PALACE – Rundale Palace, one of the most outstanding monuments of Baroque and Rococo art in Latvia.
Located in the Southern part of Latvia, Zemgale, this palace was built in the 17th century, once famous for the Duchy of Courland and a summer residence of Duke Ernst Johann of Courland.
It was March, and we were the only ones there and had the entire palace to ourselves. The rich colorful interior – gold, porcelain, antiques, paintings, furniture filled several rooms throughout the palace.
Grand Palace Hotel Riga: Member of the Leading Hotels of the World, guests arrive to this luxury hotel that was built in the 18th century and converted into a 5-star superior hotel.
Service is superb, and the 56 rooms and suites are beautifully designed. My suite was spacious and had every modern comfort. The on-site restaurant presented a buffet breakfast with several breakfast options to choose from.
Located in the heart of the Old Town, it was easy to walk to the central sites, restaurants, and shopping.
Book a reservation and email, click here
The Dome Hotel & SPA is a beautiful luxury boutique hotel in Old Town of Riga. Member of Relais & Châteaux properties, this 400 year old architectural gem was lovingly restored in 2009 by Latvian designers, artists and craftsmen.
Located in the Old Town, next door to UNESCO World Heritage sites of Riga Cathedral and Castle, this 15-room boutique hotel offers all the modern comforts in a 400-year old charming town.
For reservations, email click here
Dome SPA: Book an appointment at the on-site spa that offers relaxing, toning and restoring treatments for face and body. And hotel guests can use the hammam and Finnish sauna too.
I highly recommend both of these restaurants when visiting Riga. They are memorable meals!
Vincents Restorans: Ranked as the #1 top restaurant in Riga, and a premier gourmet establishment in Eastern Europe is Vincents Restorans. Chef Martins Ritins “pulls rabbits out of hats” with his culinary surprises. He and his staff have been serving celebrities and royalty since 1994 including Prince Charles, Elton John, the Emperor of Japan among a long list of famous personalities.
He redefines “daring” and is courageous with his innovative menus. His award winning restaurant presents haute cuisine in an intimate restaurant not far from the Old City.
Martins seeks out the freshest products from Latvia’s small-scale organic farmers. Vincents’ menu changes seasonally, and guests savor local fruits and vegetables. He carefully selects the freshest of goods for each dish. In fact, there were live langoustines in a water tank that stood at the entrance of the restaurant. Chef Martins pointed out that they were not dredged up, but gathered from the Faroe Islands, and their bright red color is due to the fact that they come from these far north cold waters.
Chef Ritins then offered a basket of parmesan bread twists with junipers that he had picked, then presented a maple infused drink on the evening I visited, and told me he had drawn the sap from a birch tree that very day. “It’s a sign that Spring is arriving,” and happily I toasted to him and his team.
Fish Restaurant : Chef Sergej Siporov presents a range of local Latvian culinary delights, as well as a range of seafood from local fish ponds and the Baltic Sea. The dishes are healthy and delicious, and the fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits are found at local farms. Excellent service!
The Chef highlights, “ I always remain faithful to local seasonal products what I consider the best ones among all offered in the market. My favorite ingredients are Latvian eel, cat fish, perch, pike, rabbit, venison and wild boar found in local nature. In summer and autumn I love going to the forest gathering chanterelles, king boletus, wild strawberries, cranberries, cloudberries and juniper that are later used to cook the most exquisite meals. I think that cooking exquisite meals from simple local products is the best way to show the taste of Latvia.”
Other restaurants recommended by our concierge include:
HOW TO GET AROUND
For airport transfers and tours throughout the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we recommend contacting Baltic Transfers and Tours. They are English speaking and offer a range of vehicles to accommodate travelers – families, corporate, couples or solo travel.
Phone: +371 29722770
General Manager Karlis Blums shares:
“Here at Baltic Airport Transfers, we are devoted to providing satisfaction for the clients that use our transfer company. From our great knowledge of the Baltics region and our professional experience, we seek to give our clients efficiency, comfort and most of all… Safety!
Whether you are traveling alone, or as part of a group, Baltic Airport Transfers will assist your needs, allowing you to sit back, relax and enjoy your journey with us.”
Key facts of Latvia:
Area: 40,100 square miles
Border: 1,172 miles
Coastline: 311 miles) of sandy beaches
Time zone: GMT+2
Population: ~ 2,000,000 inhabitants
Languages: Latvian, Russian, English
Memberships: European Union, NATO, United Nations
Climate: 4 distinctive seasons
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Global Adventuress thanks the following for hosting and/or helping to plan this visit to Latvia:
- Dome Hotel & Spa
- Grand Palace Hotel
- Taka Spa
- Baltic Transfers & Tours
- E.A.T. Riga
- Jurmala Tourism Office
- Riga Tourism Office
- Latvia Tourism Office