We’ve been lucky when it comes to unobvious places this year. No Crete (even though I love Greek food!), no Sicily, even though everybody loves it (although we are yet to go to Italy, but shhh…), no weekends in Paris, Prague or Barcelona. Well, we did spend our long May weekend on Malta (you need to go HERE), but we all know that this is one of the most popular summer destinations. After that, we’ve only been to unobvious, not that popular, sometimes undiscovered, surprising places. One of them was the magical, a little bit wild Öland, the other one is my beloved Basque Country. And then there’s LATVIA.
Now tell me – have you ever been to Latvia? Where exactly? Have any of you ever gone further than Riga? We spent a few days driving across the country and now we know why you should go there. It’s not just for a weekend in Riga, but for a longer stay, just to drive around Latvian villages and feel like the time has stopped, and then get to the sea, to trendy but climatic Jūrmala. So what do you say? Should I convince you that you should go there? 🙂
10 REASONS TO GO TO LATVIA!
Riga is just a pleasant city. This is where 1/3 of tiny Latvia’s population lives. The old town is full of brasseries and restaurants. There’s a lot of greenery, parks, places to walk or sit on a bench. It’s pretty peaceful, pretty relaxational. You can walk through the streets of the old town, you can go on a cruise on Daugava and see Riga from the river. I’m not gonna write more because you can check out our post on what to do in Riga right HERE.
2) CLIMATIC, LATVIAN VILLAGES
You’re going to need 1-2 days to explore Riga. Then, you should go further. We decided to drive around a charming land called Latgale. I didn’t know that name and this is one of four historical lands in Latvia. This is where you can feel like the time has stopped. You go to antique building museums, like the one in Andrupene, or to bread museum in tiny Anglona. Then you drive through kind of abandoned, sleeping villages where old ladies just walk around. Landscapes look pretty familiar to ours, especially if you like places nearby the east border. Food? Folksy, home-made, with a lot of potatoes, meat and various flat-cakes.
3) INCREDIBLE FORTRESS IN DAUGAVPILS
While on our way to Daugavpils, we felt like it wasn’t going to be a big deal, just an average fortress. I mean, you can see these buildings everywhere, on every single trip. This one turned out to be unique and is very impressive! Daugavpils Fortress is undoubtly one of the town’s symbols and its important element, not just a listed building that can be explored by tourists. It was built by the Russians in the 19th century – what’s interesting, Polish fortifications used to be there. The fortress’s fate has been changing a lot, and the owner would change a lot as well – its last residents were the Red Army’s soldiers. They were there since 1948 to 1994.
Nowadays the fortress amazes with its looks and size. It’s a huge area with a lot of buildings where people are still moving on with their lives. Somebody is walking with a trolley, somebody is resting on a bench, some kids are running around. It’s different than we’re used to, though. Although there still are people living in the fortress’s area, there are also a lot of destroyed, abandonded, ghost-buildings. It all makes you feel like you’ve reached some kind of strange, half abandoned, half sleeping town. We are always enchanted to see such places!
4) DAUGAVPILS MARK ROTHKO ART CENTER
Whenever we travel with Maks, we tend to skip all these typical museums – the ones with masterpieces, paintings, sculptures etc. Most of them can quickly bore a 5 year old that’s full of energy, even if we try to engage him in what’s going on in the paitings, ask what he sees in them, what he likes about them. The peacefulness and silence of the museum usually makes him want to go outside and run and get crazy, though 🙂
And still, our visit to the Mark Rothko Art Center was a success. You can find that museum in one of the buildings in the fortress’s area, but it’s so interesting, it deserves to be mentioned separately. Huge space, the story and fate of Mark Rothko told in a great way. He was an American painted born right here, in Daugavpils as Marcus Rothkowitz. And, of course, there are a lot of fascinating paintings by him and younger artists from Latgale that the museum supports.
What’s interesting, you don’t only get to see masterpieces in the Mark Rothko Art Center. You can also live there! There are a few hotel rooms made mainly for people who come here for painting classes, but everyone can pay and stay there. There’s a prize for every kid who decides to go the museum – a pretty big room for playing and paiting! 🙂
Before or after your visit to the museum, you can eat delicious, traditional lunch in the town, for example in the restaurant of Latgola Hotel.
5) FOLKSY CUISINE
Latvia’s cuisine is familiar both to ours and Lithuanian one. Potatoes rule – they are everywhere, in huge amounts. If you’re staying in a small farm tourism somewhere in Latgale, you can be sure that you will get a huge bowl of potatoes for dinner! What I liked the most were various potatoe cakes – made out of raw or cooked potatoes – and drop scones for breakfast.
During our trip to Latvia, we also came across pierogi (some of them were stuffed with potatoes!), meat patties and apple pie. To sum it up – there will be no shock when it comes to the cuisine. It will be traditional and similar to what it’s like here in Poland. In Riga you will find various restaurants, both traditional and the ones offering Latvian tastes in a new, modern form. We liked Niklavs restaurant where I ate some herrings with potatoes (oh yeah!) and cottage cheese even though I usually hate herrings.
In the country, cuisine is way more simple, sometimes better and sometimes worse, but you will always find something for yourself. Besides, the way that the dishes are served adds to its climate – potatoes, vegetables and sometimes meat usually arrive in small crocks. You need to try dark bread, typical for this place!
6) HORSES, NATURE AND GOING BACK TO THE ROOTS IN KLAJUMI
I think this is Łukasz’s favorite place of the whole trip! We drove through forests and fields, slowly losing hope to find anything, and then we arrived in Klajumi. Suddenly we saw a house, a huge stable and two guest houses. Ours is the wooden one – there was a fireplace and a simple sauna in the wood inside. Local housewife brings you lunch in a hamper, necessarily in crocks. Same goes for breakfast. And when you look outside your window, you can see her riding a horse, coming home from a riding trip with guests. Incredible place! Of course, it’s best if you come here to ride horses too – Łukasz and Maks went on one of those trips and came back very happy – especially Maks, who was enthusiastically telling me about how they got to ride horses through meadows and forests.
7) BAZAARS IN RIGA
I’ve already mentioned Riga, but this place is a separate reason to go to Riga! Centraltirgus are bazaars which have been functioning in Latvia’s capitol since 1930. Before that, they used to be hangars for German zeppelins brought to Riga from Lipawa. They are theme bazaars – you have meat here, fruits and vegetables over there, a lot of flat-cakes, breads and folksy (again!) looking buns with cheese and other additions.
The fish baazar is very impressive – I swear you will never see one like this in Poland – with many different fish – raw, smoked, dry. Everybody who loves fish will be enchanted by this place. It’s worth checking it out to feel this climate.
8) Jūrmala – BEACH, FISH AND OLD BUILDINGS
We weren’t planning on visiting Jūrmala, but after a few days of driving, we decided we needed a barefoot walk on the beach and some fish that we could eat while looking at the sea. Jūrmala is Latvian resort, two steps away from Riga (10 kilometers), so a lot of capitol’s residents come here, even for a little while. I was really curious whether Latvian resort at Baltic would be like Polish resorts at Baltic. Do people eat fried fish with french fries everywhere you look and get waffles for dessert? But no, they don’t eat waffles – they eat ice cream 🙂 I think it’s more difficult to get some fish here too – we managed to eat some in a restaurant at the beach. It was a pleasant place with a beautiful view, but the prices were inadequate to the food’s quality.
The prices are probably a result of Jūrmala’s special status. It used to be health resort in the 18th century and its popularity rose in the 19th century – in 1834 the first hotel was built here. When the USRR was still a thing, Jūrmala was a popular summer resort – Chruszczow and Brezniew were amongst those who would come here 🙂 They say that Russians still love to come here. We were most fascinated with the old buildings – wooden ones, in a characteristic style that the hotel appearing most often in pictures from Jūrmala was built in too. When we were there in May, though, it was closed – probably because of renovation.
9) EASY ACCESS!
You can go to Latvia both ways: by car or by plane. Both seem equally good, but we need to ask a question: how much time and what plan do you have? 🙂
It’s really not that far away if you go by car – it’s about 670 kilometers from Warsaw. You can plan interesting stops or a stay on your way – you can go to our beautiful Suwałki Region, spend a night by the lake or eat kartacze for lunch, you can go to Vilnius or Kaunas before you get to Riga. Your own car will come handy once you get there as well – you will be able to explore different towns and villages.
If you don’t have that much time to spend, your best solution will be a plane – direct flight takes 1,5 hour. Looking for a perfect option for you, check out Air Baltic – you may find some cool offers! 🙂
10) ATTRACTIONS FOR URBAN KIDS
During almost every one of our trips, Maks will always find something that will make him happy. Kind of like us 🙂 In Latvia, he was fascinated with going to places where everyday life revolves around feeding rabbits, with spending evenings in small houses by fireplaces or making crocks. These are some of the attractions that he doesn’t get to experience everyday. He found them here. He showed huge interest in exploring small antique building museum in Andrupene where he got to see how life in Latgale in the beginning of the 20th century looked like, and every household with cows and rabbits – he could feed them forever!
Another interesting place both for kids and adults is the tiny Preiļi Museum of Dolls. It’s a museum ran by one artists – a woman that created 150 dolls in a year! The dolls act as if they were in different situations. Sometimes it’s famous people, sometimes it’s movie frames, sometimes it’s politicians. The dolls are incredibly detailed and polished up and it’s hard to believe they were created by one person!
Go to Latvia and let us know what you find 🙂 Or maybe you’ve already been there? What did you enjoy? 🙂