10 Things to See and Do in Latvia

Lonely Planet named Latvia as one of the best places to travel in 2016 and it’s easy to see why as this country bursts with sea, lakes, woods and endless opportunities for exploring medieval towns and castles. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this country offers unspoiled nature to explore, cobbled streets to walk and incredible cuisine to dine on. Discover something different here, whether you want to play in the sand dunes or jump from a cable car naked, it seems like anything is possible in Latvia. Here are 10 suggestions for your next visit to Latvia.

10. Stay at the Baltic Beach Hotel and Spa

The unique location in the dune area makes this hotel perfect for the ideal relaxation getaway. The hotel boasts 165 rooms that boast either a sea or garden view and houses the largest certified SPA center in the Baltic States. Guests won’t go hungry here with their choice of three different restaurants offering elegant cuisine, and a total of three bars.

There are over 400 treatments here to relax and rejuvenate guests and a variety of amenities including a Russian steam bath, old wood sauna, ice fountain, a shower of impressions and an amber bath. The grounds are delightful, the service is impeccable and it will a stay to remember in Latvia.

Via Booking.com’s

9. Visit the Castles

Latvia is absolutely loaded with castles, over thirty of them to be exact and exploring some of them should be high on the list for visitors to this country. One of the first stops should be to Turaida castle where this impressive building rises above the green landscape like a ship built of red brick. Visitors can walk along the castle ramparts and explore the miles of hiking trails on the grounds.

Bauska Castle consists of two parts, the Medieval Castle and Ducal Palace- a rare example of a Renaissance Palace in Latvia. The Medieval part boats a 22-meter-high tower that gives superior views from the top. Cesis Medieval Castle is one of the most significant castles in Latvia as the Livonian Order for several centuries has its center here and Krustpils Medieval Castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Latvia, and both deserve a visit.

8. Visit Slitere National Park

If you are an avid hiker, Latvia has no shortage of trails to choose from and the Gauja National Park is one of the best places to do so. The sandstone outcrops and the caves that are found here are simply incredible. Approximately one-third of all Latvian natural preserves and more than 500 cultural and historical monuments can be found here. The

Ligatne nature trails are the favorite of many as visitors will be privy to all sorts of wild animals including bear, lynx, elk, bison and red deer who have been rescued from all over Latvia. The best part of the time to visit is in the spring when the bird-cherries bloom and the ancient valley becomes almost entirely white.

7. Haggle at the Riga Central Market

When construction was completed in 1930, the Riga Central Market was one of the largest and most modern marketplaces on the European continent. During WWI the pavilions were actually used as zeppelin hangers and now serve as meat, produce, fish and dairy markets. These pavilions are not the only thing that makes this market unique, also present here are old warehouses that have been turned into a hip, arts and entertainment quarter.

Here visitors can buy Latvian-grown food and homemade products as well as exotic fruits and spices. It is all hustle and bustle here and although it isn’t as easy to haggle with stall owners as it once was, you are encouraged to try your luck. Make sure to check out the outdoor stalls and stands as well as the night market.

6. Dine at Kasha Gourmet

Not quite a restaurant, yet not quite a café, patrons who choose to dine here are the chef’s mercy. Tasty, gourmet and cozy are all words used to describe the atmosphere and experience one has here. Chef Dennis Ivankovs is the man in charge here and with over 20 years of international experience he creates the recipes to be simple and sincere. With a big emphasis on everything being made on site, you can expect the freshest and most local products.

The interior is a splash of light meets dark with metal, wood, and stucco all playing a part, as well as the black and white photos adorning the walls. This isn’t just a place for romance though, kids are welcomed with their own menu and special kids corner with a mini-kitchen. Coming here once is never enough and visitors to Latvia should not miss out on this awesome dining experience.

Via RestoRiga – Restaurants of Riga and Latvia.

5. Visit the Riga Art Nouveau Centre

This museum is one of a kind, in fact, it is the only museum in the Baltics that presents a complete picture of the historical heritage of Art Nouveau. Although it is one of the youngest museums in Riga it has done an absolutely fantastic job recreating the authentic interior of a 1903 home, right down to the door and window handles.

One of the best parts of this museum is where it is located, in the Art Nouveau District which features incredible houses and designs. There are a total of 40% of buildings in the center of Riga which belong to art nouveau, more than any other European city. This designated UNESCO World Heritage Site is under protection now and visitors will be able to enjoy these buildings for centuries to come.

4. Explore Kuldiga the “Latvian Venice”

This perfectly preserved medieval town in the western part of the country is well worth exploring even though the castle is long gone. The city is virtually unchanged, from its centuries-old wooden buildings complete with red clay roofs to its cobbled streets and river that flows through the town. Don’t miss the small waterfalls in the center of town, whether you catch the sunrise in the winter or take a dip with the locals in the summer.

The Kuldiga District Museum is also worth exploring, recently renovated the museum is housed in a gorgeous wooden building complete with views of the Ventas Rumba. The exhibits are spread over three floors and include a replica of a fully furnished home. Also worth checking out when you are here are the Riezupe Sand Caves, the longest underground cave labyrinth in Latvia and can be explored to a depth of two kilometers.

3. Spend a Night in Karosta Prison

It may be one of the world’s most unique hotels, a prison that has been converted into a hotel. According to history, many prisoners died in this hotel, most shot in the head and many consider it haunted. Not only do guests here get to spend the night in a prison cell but they will be treated as inmates.

After signing a lengthy agreement which allows staff to force you to do physical exercise and cleaning if you disobey their orders you are shown to your room, complete with iron bars and not much other than a bed and toilet. Don’t despair though, the service is world-class and if you can’t stomach the thought of eating prison food and sleeping in a cell, there is always the daytime tour you can take.

2. Wander through Slitere National Park

A great way to explore the beautiful landscape of Latvia is to head to Slitere National Park. Sea lovers will enjoy the coastline complete with sandy beaches and long chains of dunes. There are several trails throughout the park whether you are hiking, driving or cycling. Those looking for wildlife can come face to face with rare and protected reptiles such as swamp turtles and copperheads.

It is worth checking out the Slitere lighthouse that is located on the steep slope of the Blue Hills as it’s the second oldest Latvian lighthouse, the highest above sea level and the furthest inland. Visitors can take in the view from the top of the forests, seashore and ships and explore the different floors which feature information on the nature of the park.

1. Adventure Sport in Sigulda

There is no shortage of adventure sports to partake in when visiting Latvia. Head to Sigulda where the opportunities are endless. Visit the bobsled track that was built for the Soviet team and fly down the track whether you visit in the winter or summer.

 Tarzan Adventure Park is a great place to take the kids as there is a ropes course, tube sliding, climbing wall, archery and more; enough activities to burn all the energy out of them. If you are really feeling adventurous though try the Cable Car Bungee Jump where daredevils jump from the cable car that glides over the Gauja River, a jump of 43m that some choose to do without any clothes on.

5 Overlooked Eastern European Destinations Worth Exploring

Western Europe is more common with European tourists; the travel is easier, the landmarks more popular, the language barrier less frightening. But Eastern Europe is a multicultural haven for seasoned travelers and tourists alike. For years it was the undiscovered part of Europe; it is less traveled, and thus less crowded- but that is what makes it so exciting! And it is relatively easy to get around too, with people as friendly as the locals in Eastern Europe, getting lost should be no problem! So next time skip London, and head instead to one of these awesome destinations!

5. Tallin, Estonia

Tallin is a vibrant, cultural hub located on the Baltic Sea in Estonia. Tallin feels very much like a European capital city-; it is clean, historic and interesting- but there is something pulsating and unique about it too. It is frequently named one of the top 10 digital cities in the world, and as such is ultra-modern and brimming with all the new technology, yet it’s still rich in years of history and culture! The people in Tallin are very friendly and eager to show you around, and it is super easy to get around the capital city. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and best explored on foot. Tallin is a vibrant city with a unique and inviting culture.

Tallin, Estonia

4. Riga, Latvia

Riga, the capital of Latvia and the heart of the Baltics, is a cultural and historical blend of the old Europe and the modern, new Europe. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a long time location of international trade, Riga has developed into a multicultural mecca and a tourist destination for European travelers and tourists from abroad. This city has impressively managed to maintain its heritage and historical status- the colorful buildings and intricate architecture take you back in time- and yet, represent forward thinking at the same time managing to create a harmonious, cultural destination, inviting for all walks of tourists.

Riga, Latvia

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Not too long ago, Sarajevo was on the brink of near extinction; a war ravaged city with a dim looking future. Today, it is a bright, inviting city, brimming with history and an intoxicating atmosphere. Both Austro-Hungarian and Turkish influences are felt here, in the architecture, the people and the food, and that is what makes this place such a world class destination. The mix is almost eclectic; old bullet holes adorn the walls of many of the cafés and shops, yet those very same walls are covered with a variety of colorful and vibrant pictures, fabrics and all sorts of neat trinkets. There are many walking tours available, which are great for people looking for the story of each building and monument in town, but you would be perfectly content strolling along the cobblestone streets absorbing this friendly and cultural town ideal for an Eastern European visit.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

2. Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade isn’t traditionally beautiful; it isn’t colorful, or overly clean, but it is tough, gritty and a bit wild- which is what makes it one of the best places to explore in Europe. The people in Belgrade are loud and over-the-top; a personality trait that has seeped into every cultural aspect of the city. Belgrade is proud of its history and it’s residents are eager to move forward; while sometimes intimidating, the locals can’t wait to show off their beautiful city. The architecture is dark and astounding, and the streets are filled with large coffee shops and history and heritage loom at every corner. Belgrade is one of the most happening places in Europe, and the atmosphere is palpable from the minute you arrive.

Belgrade, Serbia

1. Minsk, Belarus

For many, the only reason Minsk is even on their radar is due to the frequent Friends references, and there it is referred to as a dark, drab, isolated place. And yet as hilarious as those references were, they carried little truth to the Minsk of today. Minsk will surprise you, that is for sure; at every corner a new layer is pulled away and something new, vibrant and wonderful is uncovered. There are many posh cafés and restaurants adorning the pedestrian filled streets, and the loud and rhythmic music from the various nightclubs can be heard into the early morning hours. Minsk is actually very modern and cosmopolitan; because most of the city was destroyed in WWII, very few traditional buildings are left, yet you can still catch some historical and cultural nods to the Soviet Era scattered around the city.

Minsk, Belarus

10 Great Budget Vacation Destinations

The dream of traveling the world is an image that most people have at some point in life, but one that is not recognized by many due to financial restrictions. With accommodations to arrange, travel to book and sights to see, the cost of a trip abroad can be intimidating to potential travelers. However, many wondrous locations are available to visit even for those on a tight budget. All it takes to plan an affordable vacation is some careful research, a bit of planning and a reasonable expectation of your trip. A little flexibility goes a long way in the world of travel so while expensive destinations may be out of reach there are still plenty of amazing places than can be seen on a budget. Read on to hear about these 10 great budget-friendly destinations:

10. South Africa

In the summer of 2010, the eyes of the world focused on South Africa, as Johannesburg prepared to host the World Cup final. Since then, South Africa has seen a decline in tourism, with rates down 8% from 2013. Now is a great time to take advantage of all there is to see and do. The region is home to a number of great beaches, as it intersects the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Kruger National Park, a popular destination for safari, costs only $20 to visit. Travelers can also visit the Nelson Mandela National Museum where Mandela lived from 1946 through 1962, where bullet holes and scorch marks remain showing the scars of the countries troubled political past.

Cape Town South Africa

9. Latvia

This small hockey-mad Baltic nation is a hidden gem in Europe that is renowned for its great culture. The capital city, Riga, is located right on the Baltic Sea, and in 2014 was named the official European Capital of Culture by the European Union. Not only has the city received that honor, but the city of Riga was also awarded the title of UNESCO World Heritage site. St. Peter’s Church and the famous Riga Cathedral are just two of the many medieval era buildings that can be found throughout the city. Visitors should also consider taking a trip to the Latvian National Opera building to take in an opera, ballet or choral performance.

Riga Latvia

8. Cambodia

A country that has long been preferred by backpackers, Cambodia can be a remarkably cheap destination for tourists. Though the flight to the country may cost a considerable amount, a visitor can find accommodations for as little as $4 a night at a hostel. Food in Cambodia is also relatively cheap, and there are plenty of free things to do for entertainment. The Chroy Changvar Bridge for example, is a suspension bridge built in 1966, and then rebuilt in 1995 after being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. The centuries-old hilltop temple of Wat Phnom is nearly free since it costs visitors only $1 for admission, however the elephant rides within will cost you, but a stroll through the site itself alone is worth the visit.

Siem Reap Cambodia

7. Spain

News about the current financial status of Spain has significantly lowered the cost for potential visitors. Hotels, attractions and shops are all cheaper than they once were so it’s a great time to visit this treasured European country. Spain boasts a number of world-class cities, such as the capital Madrid, Barcelona and of course, the party capital of the world, Ibiza. The country is home to a number of the finest futbol (soccer) clubs in the world, with a fan-base that is just as passionate as the players on the pitch.

Park Guell Barcelona Spain

6. Northern Ireland

A destination popular for its music, literature and dramatic arts, Northern Ireland is a region often overlooked when considering a location to visit. Budget Travel magazine reported that the country has invested $25-million in its tourism industry, and that since 2012 more flights than ever before have traveled between the capital, Belfast, and London which is good news for passengers as more flights means lower airfare rates.

Derry Ireland

5. Greece

Similar to Spain, Greece is another European destination that has seen financial troubles in recent times. With businesses dependent on tourism dollars fearing empty rooms and airline seats, the price of a trip to Greece has plummeted. For the price it once cost to simply fly to Greece, a pair of visitors could have a week long vacation. Greece is home to many great historic sites all across the country, and can provide sight-seers with a look at buildings and culture dating from the ancient Greek and Roman eras, through the Byzantine and medieval era, all the way up to modern society.

Island greece

4. Turkey

Bordering Greece is another destination for tourists on a budget. Just north of Greece is Turkey and the famous city of Istanbul, once the cultural capital of the world back when it was known as Constantinople, which is home to a number of great attractions such as the Haiga Sophia and Basillica Cistern. Across the Aegean Sea, Antalya has a plethora of beaches and 5-star resorts as well as a number of ancient ruins. Hotel rates have dropped 25% in Turkey, with some premium hotels costing only $100 per night, which makes it a great spot for those looking to save.

Amasra town Turkey

3. Nepal

According to Lonely Planet, a trip to Nepal could cost as little as $5 to $7 dollars a day. It should be noted, however, that this would not be for those with picky taste buds as that price is based on eating local cuisine. Visitors looking to spend in a mid-range would be looking at around $20 a day, and in the top-end around $50 a day. A current lull in tourism has created a situation where businesses are looking to attract visitors, and are forced to lower their prices to do so. This is a destination that at the current rate, is a definite steal.

Kathmandu, Nepal

2. Dominican Republic

Perhaps the most common image conjured up when picturing a vacation is a blue sky, a white sandy beach, and a warm ocean breeze rolling in. The Dominican Republic offers just that, and at a very reasonable $212 per night for a pair of travelers. Most resorts in the country offer packages of activities that include swimming with dolphins, driving dune buggies, snorkeling and much more. A visit to Los Haitises National Park provides a chance to get in touch with nature at a protected forest, and for an additional $3 (plus a licensed guide) guests can rent a kayak and traverse through lagoons and canals to get a glimpse of local wildlife.

Altos de Chavon Dominican Republic

1. Czech Republic

The capital, Prague, once the center of the former communist Czechoslovakia, is a lively city that is one of the top tourist destinations of Eastern Europe. For as much as $30 a day, visitors can sight-see, have three meals, sample Prague’s famous beer and even get accommodations, according to Triplogist. Prague is a city that managed to avoid the bland designs of Soviet era development, and has retained its fantastic culture for hundreds of years.

Charles bridge, Czech Republic