Everything about Latvia is a contrast. The buildings, the scenery, the people, the customs and the experiences. It is just simply amazing to see and experience the surprises that crop up around every corner and in everyday life. From the experience at the small cafe to to the performances at the opera or ballet. What you expect may be not always what you encounter. The good and the bad; be better and the worse; the exciting and the dull experiences are what makes Latvia so exciting to just wonder; explore and be amused at what you find.
Rundāle Palace is great and beautiful palace of Baroque and Rococo architecture. It was designed by Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the Russian Imperial Court architect; and built between 1736 and 1740 as summer residence for Ernst Johann Biron, Duke of Courland. The palace is a two-storey building with 138 rooms. The main central part housed the duke’s personal living quarters and state-rooms. The eastern wing was for receptions and still hosts the magnificent Golden Hall, the White Hall and the Grand Gallery. Now the palace has been made into a museum and houses a large collection of paintings and various exhibitions of applied art, also a collection of Latvian church art. As the Baroque Era tradition goes, the palace has a French garden. It spreads out on the south side of the Palace as a part of the original architectural plan. This nice place can be worthwhile a whole day if you have time and love palaces, however a few hours in the palace and its nice surroundings might be enough for most people.
Old Riga (Vecrīga) is the historical and geographical center of the capital city Riga and it lies on the right bank of the River Daugava. Old Riga was once the inner territory of a fortification system, lasting from the 13th to the 18th century. It features a high concentration of unique medieval architectural monuments. These have lucky enough survived two world wars. A stroll down the narrow cobbled streets is both worthwhile and enjoyable. You will feel the ancient aura of the place and see unique complexes of private residences and religious buildings. Here are some highlights: the Dome Cathedral, dating back to the 13th century, St. Peter’s Church, St. Jacobs Cathedral, housing the seat of Roman Catholic Cardinal, St. George's Church, nicknamed the white stone castle, Old Riga Synagogue, the Holy Spirit Convent, the Dannenstern House, the Three Brothers private residence complex, and Riga Castle. Old Riga is a masterpiece of architecture and antiquity and is also well suited to the streams of tourists in the 21st century as it offers comfortable hotels and a wide range of restaurants, bars and places for relaxation and partying. In fact, Old Riga is just as lively at midnight as it is during daytime.
The first building on the site where Aglona Basilica now stands was a wooden church built by the Dominican Order at the end of the 17th century. Aglona Basilica was the most important Catholic church in the country. The church has a huge collection of paintings, sculptures and art objects, Miracle-Worker Virgin Mary of Aglona icon (17th century) among them, usually veiled and only uncovered during religious celebrations. It is widely believed that the icon possesses healing properties. Along with icons of saints the church is also decorated with portraits of its patrons and founders - Dadzibog and Eva Justīne Shostovicky who were local nobilities. The most magnificent event at Aglona Basilica is the 15th of August each year, when thousands of pilgrims gather here to celebrate Assumption of Mary.
Jūrmala is the largest seaside and therapy resort in Latvia and has a long history of being a spa, health and wellness resort area. It is located only 25 km from the capital Riga and 15 km from the Riga International Airport, and possesses unique natural resources, like curative mineral waters, medical healing mud, pine forests, a healthy seaside climate, sand dunes and 33 km of white sand beach. A Blue Flag, indicating a clean, safe beach with appropriate facilities, blows in the wind of the beaches of Majori and Jaunķemeri.
Medical facilities and SPA centres at Jūrmala offer a wide range of SPA and curative treatments. Līvu Akvaparks, one of the largest waterparks in Northern Europe, is situated in Jūrmala and has over 45 attractions for children and adults. It is opened to visitors seven days a week all year round. Once you have been to Jūrmala, you want to return again.
Gauja National Park
Established in 1973, the Gauja National Park was the first such initiative in the country. Covering almost 100.000 hectares of land, most of the park is thickly forested and interspersed with rivers of which the largest being the Gauja, Amata and Brasla and numerous lakes. Opportunities for tourism and recreation are almost limitless here - canoeing and rafting are very popular, as well as cycling, horse riding, bird watching and hiking. The park houses some of the most famous attractions in Latvia, such as the Sigulda and Turaida castles, museums in Āraiši and Turaida, the ferry across the River Gauja, Līgatne Nature trails, Straupe Castle, Ungurmuiža Manor and striking geological features - the Zvārta rock and Ērgļi cliffs.
Kuldiga's Old town and the waterfall "Ventas Rumba"
Kuldīga is a charming little town particularly beloved by painters and poets. The 17-18th century town centre is full of traditional wooden buildings and narrow winding streets with the Alekšupīte stream flowing through backyards and alleyways. Bright accents in the face of the town are traditional workshops weaving colourful blankets and scarves with folk patterns. Kuldīga is rich in events and one of the largest is the town festival ‘Kuldīga Feast‘. The Kuldīga old town and the 19th century red brick bridge across the River Venta are in the process of joining UNESCO World Heritage List. The town is also famous for the widest waterfall in Europe - Ventas Rumba, stretching for 249 m in width
Tallinn Turaida Museum Reserve
The Turaida Castle Museum Park encompasses items of natural, cultural and historical importance. The most prominent feature is the soaring red brick tower of the restored 13th century Turaida castle, providing a breath taking view across the Gauja river valley from its very top.
Another highlight of the park is a charmingly simple wooden church dating from 1750 and a memorial spot for Turaida Rose, a local beauty described in a legend surviving from the 17th century. This is a popular destination for newlyweds, a symbol of their everlasting love. The two caves mentioned in the Turaida Rose legend - Gūtmaņala and Viktora ala can be found nearby, in the ancient Gauja river valley.
Cesis Oldtown and Castle
Cēsis is located in the very center of the Vidzeme region and is an unrivalled gem of the province. Its romantic atmosphere owes much to the ruins of a medieval castle surrounded by a park. You can enjoy a medieval banquet and taste the local beer from the Cēsis Brewery, one of the oldest in the Baltics, or see a theatre in the castle ruins. Another must-see in Cēsis is St John’s church, first built at the end of the 13th century as the largest church in the region. Inside the church lie the gravestones of the masters of the Livonian Order, and the church organ fills the surrounding streets with its music. The cobbled streets and alleyways of Cēsis old town retain their original medieval plan and are lined by delightful old buildings with traditional red tiled roofs, hidden courtyards and restored facades
It has been over 750 years since Liepāja became an important settlement on the Eastern coast of the Baltic Sea on a strip of land between the sea and Lake Liepāja. It is traditionally regarded as a town of music and culture. International Piano Stars Festival, International Organ Music Festival are just some of the names, and then there are many local music clubs with their own events to enjoy.
On sunny days the Blue Flag beach, the Seaport promenade and Avenue of Fame of Latvian musicians are obvious attractions, while on cloudy days the best alternatives are bowling alleys or art galleries, as well as the Liepāja Symphonic Orchestra or the Liepāja Theatre. Liepāja is an inspiring place with high class service in cosy hotels, elegant cafes and cheerful pubs.
The town of Ventspils offers all kinds of family recreation. Everyone will love the well-equipped Blue Flag Beach and Waterpark Ventspils. Kids will be delighted with the playgrounds in two amusement parks. Those who prefer active recreation will always find something to do at the Olympic Centre Ventspils. The Ventspils Adventure Park has a skiing hill, a challenge trail, summer tubing, a BMX track, as well as trampolines, swings, slides and a whole lot of other attractions. Enjoy a leisurely walk on the cobbled lanes of Ventspils Old Town, the Livonian Order Castle and the port district Ostgals, and stop by the Anchor Trail to admire see a 6 m high 23-ton anchor. A ride on the narrow gauge railway Mazbānītis in the Seaside Open-air Museum is worthwhile as well, especially for young and older kids. So is a trip through Ventspils Harbour on the excursion boat ‘Hercogs Jekabs’. Thanks to the huge amount of flower sculptures Ventspils is also considered to be the floral capital of Latvia