- See the medieval buildings on walking tours of Riga's Old Town
- Visit a former Soviet nuclear bunker and have lunch in the canteen
- Travel to the Latvian countryside and visit ancient castles and palaces
- Day trip to coastal retreats like Kolka Cape and Jūrmala village
|Day 1||Arrival in Riga||Riga|
|Day 2||City Tour of Riga||Riga|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Soviet Bunker & Līgatne Nature Trails||Riga|
|Day 4||Castle & Palace Tour of Latvia||Riga|
|Day 5||Day Trip to Gauja National Park - Castle Tour||Riga|
|Day 6||Day Trip to Kolka Cape & Jūrmala||Riga|
|Day 7||Departure from Riga|
Day 1: Arrival in Riga
Welcome to Latvia and the Baltics!
You'll arrive in Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city of the three Baltic countries. It's situated right on the Baltic coast at the mouth of the River Daugava. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. After check-in, you can spend the remainder of the day relaxing after your long flight. Or, should you choose, you can head out and explore.
Like many European capitals, Riga is a thrilling metropolis that abounds with medieval history. The city was founded in 1201 by the German bishop Albert of Riga, who later went on to found the city's cathedral in 1221. These and other of the Riga's most historic buildings are concentrated in its Old Town neighborhood in the city center.
Riga was occupied by the Soviet Union for more than 50 years. The best way to understand this chapter of the city's history is to visit the Occupation Museum and the KGB Corner House, the former Latvian headquarters of Russia's KGB secret police.
If you're looking for a meal, the Old Town is the place to go. Within the last few years, the culinary scene in Riga has exploded, with cool new eateries, fine-dining restaurants, wine bars, and gastropubs popping up. Most have eschewed the standard meat and potatoes for more forward-thinking menus starring bolder flavors. Yet many have also stayed true to the Baltic ethos of focusing on fresh, sustainable, and seasonable ingredients.
Day 2: City Tour of Riga
After breakfast, you'll head straight to Old Town for a morning walking tour of Riga. Medieval landmarks you'll visit include the 14th century Riga Castle; the Lutheran Dome Cathedral, which was built in 1211; the 15th-century St. Peter’s Church; and the Swedish Gate, a fortification built in 1698 as part of defensive city walls.
Other historic buildings you'll see include Three Brothers, a trio of homes dating to the 15th/16th/17th centuries, and the Large and Small Guild House, a merchant organization built in the 14th century and later redone in the English Gothic style. You'll also visit the Freedom Monument, which is located on the waterfront and memorializes soldiers killed in the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920). There's also the Latvian National Opera, a unique architectural masterpiece that dates to 1863.
After the opera house, take a tram ride to the 1930s Central Market. This UNESCO World Heritage Site opened in 1930 and takes up 778,000 square feet (72,300 meters), which makes it the largest municipal market in Europe. Here you can wander through the former Zeppelin airship hangars and browse for smoked meats, pickled vegetables, sweets, and trinkets. End your tour at one of the market's many sit-down eateries for a relaxed lunch, then spend the afternoon exploring on your own.
Day 3: Day Trip to Soviet Bunker & Līgatne Nature Trails
In the morning you'll head about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Riga to the country town of Līgatne. Here you'll visit the Secret Soviet Time Bunker. Located 30 feet (9 meters) underground, this former fallout shelter takes up 21,500 square feet (2,000 square meters) and was built in 1982 as a refuge for Soviet political elite in the event of nuclear war.
The bunker was unknown to the outside world until 2003 when its secrecy classification was downgraded. Today it's open to visitors. Guided tours showcase all the bunker's original equipment and furnishings, which are still intact, seemingly untouched by time.
The '80s Cold War theme continues when, after touring the bunker, you'll visit the canteen and sit down to a meal. You'll feast on traditional Russian dishes served on a wax tablecloth and drink from vintage granyonka table glasses. It's the exact type of meal Soviet officers would have enjoyed 40 years ago if they found themselves stuck in the bunker.
After lunch, you'll leave the bunker and visit the Līgatne Nature Trails. This section of Gauaja National Park is a wildlife preserve that has been filled with a variety of animals that were injured, trapped, or otherwise damaged and taken here for rehabilitation. There are 3 miles (5 km) of nature trails here, and hiking them you'll likely witness a variety of animals, including deer, wild boars, bears, foxes, elks, lynxes, owls, and more.
Later in the afternoon you'll return to Riga.
Day 4: Castle & Palace Tour of Latvia
Today you'll leave Riga and travel around the countryside, visiting some of the nation's most historic buildings. During medieval times, many castles and palaces were built in Latvian territory, as it was then under the rule of German bishops and crusaders. Even today many remain intact and you'll get to tour a few of these incredible landmarks.
You'll start with the 15th-century Bauska Castle, which was primarily built for defensive purposes. Later, it became a royal house for the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. The castle sits in a scenic position on a small peninsula where two rivers converge.
Next up are two palaces: Rundāle Palace and Jelgava Palace. Rundāle is an expansive Baroque palace and gardens complex situated in the plains of southern Latvia, offering a little bit of Versailles in the Baltics. It was commissioned by the Duke of Courland in 1736 to be used as his summer residence (today it's a museum).
On the way back to Riga, you'll stop at the 18th-century Jelgava Palace, another manor built for the Duke of Courland. This 669-room estate is the largest Baroque palace in the Baltic states. It was nearly destroyed during WWI, but it survived and today hosts the Latvian Agriculture University.
After returning to Riga you can spend the remainder of the evening discovering the city. Maybe head out to the riverside park where you can see the tall Laima Clock, one of the most landmarks in the city. Before retiring for the evening, enjoy dinner in Old Town.
Day 5: Day Trip to Gauja National Park, Castle Tour
After breakfast, you'll journey about 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Riga to Sigulda. This small rural town is situated in Latvia's largest protected protected area of Gauja National Park, which takes up 354 square miles (917 square km), most of which is forest.
Upon arrival, you'll see the ruins of Sigulda Castle, which was built by crusaders in the year 1207 ACE, and Turaida Castle, which was commissioned by the Archbishop of Riga in 1214 ACE.
To cap the experience, you'll hop in a cable car for a fun and scenic ride 141 feet (43 meters) above the unspoiled Gauja Valley. This trip affords views of the woods, countryside castles, and even a bobsled track. Afterward you'll return to Riga, where you'll overnight.
Day 6: Day Trip to Kolka Cape & Jūrmala
In the morning you'll take a 2.5hr drive northwest from Riga along the Baltic coast to Cape Kolka, where the sea meets Riga Bay. Upon arrival, you'll head to a local fisherman's house to enjoy a freshly prepared lunch of smoked fish.
In the afternoon, you'll continue the road trip as you head back toward Riga, passing by various fishing villages. On your way back you'll stop in Jūrmala, the most famous resort town in Latvia. Located about 24 miles (40 km) west of the capital, this prime holiday destination is famous for its elegant wooden homes done in the Art Nouveau style as well as its long, white-sand beach.
Jūrmala also has an earned reputation as a spa destination, which began in the late-18th century. Nowadays some of the most expensive properties are located in Jurmala. After the leisure time in Jurmala, we drive back to Riga.
Day 7: Departure from Riga
Enjoy one more morning in Latvia. Perhaps pay a visit to one of Riga's premier shopping centers and/or browse the art galleries and fashion boutiques of Old Town. You could also enjoy one final Latvian meal at Lido Recreational Centre, a popular restaurant so big it takes up three floors and seats 1,000 people.
At the appropriate time, you'll transfer to the airport to catch your flight home. See you soon!