Gauja National Park, Sigulda
About fifty kilometres east of the capital, Sigulda serves as the main gateway to this ninety thousand hectare conversation project. Created to protect the river valley of the Gauja, the park is home to numerous historic towns and buildings as well as a breathtaking landscape and the vast and varied flora and fauna of the area. An ideal location for walking, hiking, horse riding, canoeing, biking and boating, there is also cross-country skiing and bobsleighing during winter. Furthermore, if you do base yourself in Sigulda, only an hour by train from Riga, you can also avail of the ballooning and bungee jumping facilities in the town. As you can see the park has something to appeal to all its visitors and really should not be missed.
Rundale Palace, Bauska
South of Riga on the main route from the capital to Vilnius you will find the town of Bauska and about twelve kilometres outside the town is Rastrelli’s Rundale Palace. Built in the mid eighteenth century as a summer residence for the dukes of Courland, the palace contains some of the finest examples of Baroque and Rococo art in the country. Home to 138 rooms which store some 36,000 items, the palace is guaranteed to impress. From its crystal chandeliers to its frescoes by native Italian artists, and of course the fantastic gardens and fountains, this place will leave you spellbound. And, numerous buses serve the area leaving you with no excuses not to visit.
Now this is a surprise for any of you who thought you might miss out on a beach holiday by picking Latvia as a destination. Along the coast, west of Riga you will find thirty-kilometre stretch of unspoilt beaches and resorts where you can catch up on your tanning. As well as this Jurmala which translates as Seashore is unlike other European beach destinations as the region is never crowded and there’s not a skyscraper or high rise building in sight. And, if you tire of the beach (some do apparently), there is a host of forests, museums and galleries and pubs and restaurants to keep you occupied. With numerous trains per hour from Riga, getting there is no problem but dragging yourself away might be.
St. Peter’s Church, Riga
Mentioned for the first time way back in 1209, St. Peter’s Church is home to a 103-metre spire which offers unequalled views of the city itself and out over the Baltic. Despite the fact that it was mentioned almost eight hundred years ago it has undergone quite a few face lifts and renovations in the centuries which have elapsed since then. The tower in particular has been through a pretty rough time and collapsed for the first time in 1666, the last time was on St. Peter’s Day in 1941. Following the last collapse, however, the tower was left in disrepair for thirty years but thankfully it has been restored perfectly, complete with an observation platform for those visiting the city. Other churches in Riga which are also well worth checking out include the Dome Cathedral, St. Jon’s and St. Jacob’s.
Built on the banks of the Venta River in Kurzeme, Kuldiga is one of the oldest, best-preserved and picturesque towns in Latvia. Believed to stand on the site of an original Cour settlement dating from Viking times, it was first mentioned in historical documents in 1242. As well as playing host to a number of historical buildings including numerous churches and the remains of an ancient castle which was once the site of fierce Latvian tribal battles, the town is also home to one of Europe’s widest waterfalls with a span of about nine hundred feet. Lying 150 kilometres west of the capital, it is easily reached by bus.