- Why traveling to Latvia?
- 7 Best Things To Do In Latvia
- Latvia – Points of Interest
Why traveling to Latvia?
Have you ever heard of or even considered traveling to Latvia? Do you know what and where Latvia is? Did you know that Latvia is a unique new escape travel eco-tourism destination? What if I told you that you can find new fun discoveries in nature right now?
Some Popular Facts
These days you might know about Latvia and other Baltic states much more than a decade ago. Almost everybody in New York knows who is Kristaps Porziņģis from New York Knicks. If you are from this cosmopolitan city you might not be able to pronounce his name correctly, but you know this tall Latvian anyway. Only in a couple of years, this young yet humble guy has become a great NBA star.
Maybe you are Canadian, and ice hockey is almost the God for you? Then you might have heard about Latvia too. It is the most popular winter team sports game in Latvia and we are pretty good at it. We are also good in bobsled and skeleton. You might be surprised but we are one of the best in the World in beach volleyball too! Later on in this post, you will understand why.
It might be that the only thing you know about Latvia is that it is the former part of Soviet Union. Well, in this case, it is a good idea, not to talk about it too much! This is especially true if you try to get acquainted with an “average Latvian”. Latvians are shy but very proud by default. We are a small nation. Hence we like to emphasize our national identity and our unique language. It has nothing to do with Russian by the way! Like everywhere, not everything is great. Yet it is always better than being part of and associated with a totalitarian regime. Thus, be careful with this topic while traveling to Latvia! It is a painful part of our history.
Today Latvia is a modern country in the European Union for already 13 years. Next year we are celebrating 100 years of our independence. Where are we now? Well, Latvia has one of the fastest Internet speeds in the World. We also have cheap and good mobile connections. Our beautiful capital city Riga attracts many visitors, and we have a distinct national identity.
Traveling to Latvia – One of the Greenest Countries In the World
But what if you just love nature and authentic travel? What if you don’t care about sports, politics, new technologies, and other mainstream staff? Maybe you just seek new escape travel destinations and pristine nature. Then the above mentioned glorifying facts alone might not inspire you for traveling to Latvia. Well, guess what, I am one of your kind.
By traveling to Latvia, you are not getting only to our great capital city Riga. You also travel to the land of amazing forests, natural bogs, vast sandy beaches and plenty of lakes and rivers. Thus you come to one of the best places for eco-tourism in the Nordic Europe!
Latvia is actually one of the greenest countries in the World. If you care about environmental issues you might have heard of that. Latvia topped the Environmental Performance Index in 2012. This is because Latvians are passionate about nature.
Ecotourism in Latvia
Are you tired of traditional mass tourism places and standard offers of the industry? If you read this article there is a high possibility that you are. These days venturing around the World on an individual basis is popular. An alternative is traveling with small like-minded groups. Thus seeking for new eco-tourism destinations also gets more and more popular. Thousands of nomadic travel bloggers on the web prove that this is so.
Yet, the eco-tourism alone has a controversial attitude as well. The hottest eco-tourism spots in the World get overcrowded despite eco-tourism is meant to be sustainable. This in its turn threatens the nature values that people are craving to see. Thus it is not that uncommon to hear the question like this. Is ecotourism a solution or a new problem?
Well, I have many years of experience as nature conservation expert. Thus I can say ecotourism is a solution if it is well planned and organized.
Latvia has many advantages as a new eco-tourism destination. EU regulations and directives do not allow harming the nature values in the protected areas of EU importance (Natura2000). There are 4 national parks, 42 nature parks, and 260 nature reserves in Latvia. We also have around 355 nature monuments, seven protected marine areas, and a biosphere reserve. There are lots of small protected areas called micro-reserves as well. All these areas are primarily set-up for protection of species and natural habitats. Yet they are great eco-tourism spots as well.
7 Best Things To Do In Latvia
Do you love hiking, kayaking/canoeing, birdwatching, cycling and/or authentic traditions? Then Latvia must be on your bucket list, and here’s why. Latvians love living in a tidy and green environment. This is rooted in our culture. Therefore, you will soak up this feeling when traveling to Latvia too. Try it!
So, what are the things to do in Latvia? Go places, meet new like-minded people and enjoy serenity at the same time! As simple as that.
Many people do not dare to go off-the-beaten-path during their first visit to any country. Yet, I’m convinced that this fear has no rational background today. Do you want to get the real taste of any travel destination? Then dare to go off-the-beaten-path! I am a passionate off-the-beaten-path traveler myself. Yet, I also know that each of us first has to go on-the-beaten path to discover the value of the off-the-beaten-path. The same applies to our lives.
#1: Traveling to Latvia for Nature & Culture
Latvian culture is very much related to nature. This might be the reason Latvians are proud to be called one of the greenest countries in the world.
While traveling to Latvia you can expect many nice surprises. You will discover secluded beaches, lush forests and pristine bogs. Water tourism lovers will find many lakes and rivers here. An impressive cultural heritage adds to this.
One thing that you cannot be 100% sure while traveling to Latvia is the weather. We have distinctive four seasons. So depending on the time you come it can be warm, hot (not that often), sunny or cold, windy, extremely cold (not that often too), rainy and snowy. Yet, I am sure that as an adventure traveler you will be anyway ready for this, right? As we say, there is no bad weather, there is only not suitable clothing.
Latvian traditions are related to living according to nature and natural cycles.
One of the greatest events is our unique celebration of the summer solstice. It is called “Līgo” (on 23rd June) and “Jāņi” (on 24th June). These are public holidays here. It is always an unforgettable experience you won’t find anywhere else in the World.
New Year’s celebration is nothing compared to the scale of this ancient pagan fest in Latvia. Latvians leave cities during these holidays. We go to the countryside – to our roots. We light up bonfires, follow ancient traditions and stay awake the shortest night of the year.
In summer solstice the Sun sets around 10:30 p.m. The sunrise is at 4:30 a.m. Mid-summer is the time of the peak fertility. Thus Latvians have a “weird” tradition to go looking for the “flower of fern” in the shortest night. Hence nine months after these dates we normally have a huge boost in births!
Good Latvian beer and special Jāņi cheese add to the already great experience. If you travel to Latvia in these dates participation in the celebration is the must. Don’t worry! You are not obliged to look for the “flower of fern”, of course. Yet it is possible that you will find one here if you are looking for.
Singing and Dancing Festival
Latvians are keen singers and dancers. If you are lucky you can also come to our unique UNESCO recognized Singing and Dancing Festival. It is held only once in every five years. The next one is in the first week of July 2018. Hurry up!
#2: Hiking trails
There are no mountains in Latvia. Thus you cannot expect many steep elevations and descents. Latvia offers you something quite different and amazing. It is hiking along the gorgeous coast of the Baltic sea and Riga Bay. You can also go hiking in pristine woodlands and natural bogs.
#3: Kayaking & Canoeing Trips
As said Latvia is watery. We have around 12,000 rivers and 3,000 lakes! Many of them are perfect for kayaking and canoeing. This activity is a must while traveling to Latvia. Especially if you come in the summer.
Latvians too love cruising the waters. Yet, you won’t feel in any way overwhelmed here. Latvian countryside, as well as rivers and lakes, are far from being crowded. In many secluded places, you and your travel mates will enjoy total serenity.
There are many great places for kayaking and canoeing in Latvia. Such rivers as Gauja, Irbe, Amata and Salaca are great for spending a couple of days on the water. And there are a lot more off-the-beaten-path destinations to choose from.
You can even get in a kayak in our capital Riga. Here you will explore the urban environment and industrial part of the harbor from a unique perspective. If you are brave enough, you can also try kayaking in the Baltic sea and Riga Bay. Yet better do it on a calm day. Baltic Sea is cunning and as we say here, it does not forgive mistakes.
#4: Cycling in Latvia
Latvia with its flat terrain and lots of dry pine forests is great for enjoying nature on a bike. There are also beautiful hills in some places. This makes cycling a bit more strenuous for those who seek more of physical activities.
#5: Birdwatching while traveling to Latvia
Latvia is a superb location for the birdwatching. It is not crowded because it is not yet discovered by masses. Many bird migration routes go across the country. In the autumn birds travel from Scandinavia and northern Russia across Latvia to South Europe and Africa. They come back vice versa in the spring. There are lots of shallow lagoon lakes along the Baltic Sea coast. We also have plenty of forests and flood-lands. This all makes Latvia a great dwelling place for many migratory bird species. Thus birdwatching is for sure one of the best things to do in Latvia.
Do you enjoy chasing new bird species for your checklist? Well, you can get ahead your “competitors” – other fellow bird watchers. Come to Latvia in April-May or September-October! We have 365 recorded bird species in total. One species for each day of a short year, if I may state it so! There are also lots of bird watching towers set up at the best bird watching places too.
#6: Nature photography
I am big nature photography fan. Hence I have to mention this as one of the things to do in Latvia. Latvia is the Nordic gem of nature values to be captured.
#7: Latvian Sauna Ritual
Finally, I want to mention a totally unique thing to do in Latvia that you will not find anywhere else in the World. It’s Latvian Sauna Ritual.
It is not just a simple sauna at all. Latvian Sauna Ritual takes around five hours. Yes, it is so long and at the same time, it feels so short for those involved. You’ll get cleaned both physically and mentally. This is our Latvian way on how we get deeply relaxed and fall into meditation and oneness with nature.
Everybody will get its own very special experience during this unique ancient ritual. I assure you! Yet, be sure you are heat tolerant and you do not have serious heart problems before trying this.
Otherwise, this is a great non-repeatable experience. Especially after some activities in nature during not that hot day.
Latvia – Points of Interest
#1: Is Riga The Whole Latvia?
As said above every off-the-beaten-path starts with a beaten path first. Travelling to Latvia Riga is usually the first point of interest that you get in. It is the biggest city in the Baltic States. Yet, in many aspects, it is still off-the-beaten-path.
I love Riga. It is beautiful and unique former Hansa city. Wherever I go I’m always glad to return.
Latvians use to joke that Riga is a country within a country. There’s a grain of truth in every joke. One-third of Latvian population lives and/or works in Riga. Riga is the Latvia’s heart. Riga is the World’s capital of Art Nouveau. It has cozy old town and new interesting hipster districts. Yet, it is not the whole Latvia. It is surely very nice to experience. But I encourage you to dare to go outside Riga too!
#2: Most beautiful Nordic Beach In The World
If I mention a “beautiful beach“, Nordic Europe or traveling to Latvia is probably not the first that comes to your mind, right? Yet, this perception is misleading. I have traveled all around the World. Latvia has by far the most beautiful and cleanest sandy beaches that I have ever seen. Like ever! Still not convinced?
The secluded beaches attract more and more travelers from the neighboring countries. Yet, there are still plenty off-the-beaten-path hiking trails along the Latvian Baltic Sea coast.
Besides you can hike along the sea coast all year round. It may be hot on sunny summer days and not that warm when it’s windy. Make sure you choose going windward to enjoy the experience in more harsh weather!
Many protected areas of EU importance (Natura2000) in Latvia are in the coastal area. The most prominent are:
- Pape Lake Nature Park,
- Slītere National Park,
- Engure Lake Nature Park,
- Ķemeri National Park,
- Nature Park “Piejūra“,
- Ziemeļvidzeme Biosphere Reserve.
Great Places For Leisure
Undeniably, the Baltic coast is a great location for hiking, cycling, kiting and other activities. Yet on a sunny and warm summer day, you may choose simply lay down in the soft silky sand and take a sunbath.
Jūrmala beach near Rīga is great for this purpose. Yet the most amazing leisure beach in Latvia is in Liepāja city and its surroundings. This is in the very western part of Latvia. It is truly amazing. We call Liepāja the city where the wind is born. It is not without a reason. Liepāja is windy indeed. However, it is also a cozy spot of Latvian culture. All the great Latvian musicians and, guess what, also Kristaps Porziņģis come from Liepāja.
I rarely travel outside Latvia in the summertime just because I want to enjoy sunny summer days at our secluded Baltic Sea coast to its fullest.
#3: Forests in Latvia
Latvia is one of the most forested lands in Europe. We are number 4 after Finland, Sweden, and Slovenia. More than 50% of Latvia are covered by forests. Hence lots of economic and recreation activities are in the woodlands.
Besides, it is not just hiking in many forest hiking and cycling trails. Latvians love picking wild berries and mushrooms in the forest. This is an important part of our culture. Berries and forest mushrooms are also great and delicious part of Latvian cuisine.
You can try to join us for a “mushroom quest” in the autumn! Yet be sure you pick up the ones that you really know or ask somebody that knows. Our forests keep both: delicious gems and poisonous “killer” mushrooms. The best time for “mushroom quest” is, of course, early autumn.
The most beautiful pine forests you will find along the Baltic Sea Coast in the western part of Latvia – Kurzeme. While in Gauja National Park you will find beautiful broad-leaved forests. They turn in breathtaking yellow and red colors in the autumn.
One of my favorite forest hikes is the most mysterious place in the Baltic States – Pokaiņi Forest. It is amazing and quite a different woodland.
This place has very diverse forest habitats in a relatively small area. There are also piles of stones overgrown with mosses in different places. The origin of these stone piles nobody can explain. Lonely Planet calls Pokaiņi Forest as “one of Latvia’s biggest unsolved mysteries”. Mystics say there is a special energy in this place. Historians consider it being an ancient sacred place. Whatever it is we always feel particularly charged when coming here.
#4: Traveling to Latvia – The Land of Bogs
More than 10% of Latvia are different types of bogs. The most impressive is the raised bog with Sphagnum mosses.
While traveling to Latvia, bogs are definitely one of the points of interest.
People love going to bogs here. There are many places with the boardwalk and watchtowers. The most popular ones are not far from Riga. These are Great Ķemeri Bog Boardwalk and Cena Mire Boardwalk. These places are nice and beautiful. Yet, if you want to get more off-the-beaten-path, go elsewhere or come in the very early morning. Latvia is not a big country and it is quite easy to get away from the tourist hot spots by going deeper in the bog or to more distant bog areas. Especially if you hire a car or ask someone to help.
The biggest Latvian bog is Teiči Bog. It takes almost 20 thousand hectares (50 thousand acres). Teiči Bog is strict nature reserve in the eastern part of the country – Latgale.
What Is A Typical Bog?
A real Latvian bog is a place, which is always wet. It is wet in the summer and much wetter in the spring and autumn. Thus, hiking shoes or boots are not an option for walking there. This is unless you chose walking on a boardwalk. Although it is not real hiking then. Hiking boots with Gore-tex membrane and other analogs won’t be of great help in the bog as well. You need a much cheaper version of footwear to get ahead. That said ordinary rubber boots will work great.
There are occasional drops in the bog pools. As a rule, you step on a thin soil at the moment you are about least to expect it. What you get is your rubber boot full of water and a wet leg or probably both. This depends on how successful was your “struggle” against the sucking effect of the bog. Yet, this experience will bless you with a lot of fun moments. If not you, then your travel mates for sure. Guaranteed!
Above all that a truly raised bog is a place to feel the presence of nature. It is a point of interest for every nature lover traveling to Latvia. Hiking trails in Latvian bogs give a deep sense of tranquility. You are truly off-the-beaten-path here. The landscape is so mesmerizing that nobody can resist its beauty.
#5: Birdwatching Places
When it comes to bird watching the most popular sites are, of course, on the bird migratory routes. The best birdwatching spots in Latvia are along the coast of the Baltic Sea, but some are deeper inland:
- Pape Lake Nature Park: shallow lagoon lake,
- Kolka Cape in Slītere National Park: an amazing place where the open Baltic Sea and Riga Bay meets,
- Engure Lake Nature Park: another great lagoon lake,
- Lake Kaņieris in Ķemeri National Park: shallow lagoon lake not far from Riga,
- Lake Lubāns in the Eastern part of Latvia (Latgale): the biggest lake, fish pond network and wetland area in Latvia.
These are some of the best bird watching sites in Latvia. There are plenty of other points of interest that any keen birdwatcher would be glad to visit.
In Latvia, you can combine outdoor off-the-beaten-path adventures with authentic cultural experiences. Besides, you will pay only a fraction of the price that you would pay in the neighboring Scandinavia, Finland or any other Western European country. Hence it is very affordable.
Latvians are friendly people that are proud of their land. Yet, they do not express this too loud. So you will still “hear” your own personal identity while traveling to Latvia.
Besides Latvia is not the same as Scandinavia, Finland or any Eastern European country. It is a totally different experience. It is comparable only to our Baltic neighbors Estonia and to a lesser extent also to Lithuania.
Yet, Latvia offers something that you will not find anywhere else. And this something is a lot:
- Beautiful, wild and at the same time also easily accessible sandy Nordic beaches,
- Latvian Sauna Ritual is unique. It is for those, who seek peace, meditation, relaxation or spirituality,
- The scale of summer solstice celebration is incredible. Latvians follow the ancient traditions that you won’t find anywhere else in the World.
- And, finally, it is truly an off-the-beaten-path experience of pristine nature and authentic culture.