Latvia, as a whole, surprised me. Part of the Baltic countries (made up of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), in Latvia I did something a bit different than I normally do. While oftentimes in my travels I find myself moving quickly only to see more countries, more tourist sites, more capital cities… in Latvia, I slowed down. I spent an entire week not only getting to know Riga but getting to know the countryside. And I spent even more time exploring the Baltics as a whole. I learned that Latvia has quite the budding wine scene. That there are four National Parks located in the country, and that the best way to spend time in Latvia is by doing so slowly. So while I highly encourage you to visit Riga, I also highly encourage you to get out and take day trips from Riga. Using Riga as an anchor city for day trips within Latvia and beyond!
Going beyond Riga – The best day trips from Riga, Latvia
Riga is the capital of Latvia, a port city that sits in Northern Latvia on the Baltic Sea. It’s the perfect city to anchor yourself while taking day trips within and outside of Latvia. Because Latvia is a small country – only 25,000 square miles – it takes approximately six hours to drive from east to west and four hours to drive north to south. With Riga being in the middle of it all its the ideal place to be located as you explore beyond. It’s also the perfect city to be in if you plan on traveling outside of Latvia to the neighboring Baltic States. Riga is located between both Estonia’s capital Tallinn and Lithuania’s capital Vilnius.
1. Kuldiga, Latvia
Kuldiga is a quaint and magical town located two hours west of Riga. You can travel from Riga to Kuldiga by renting a car (the fastest option), or by taking a bus. If you choose to take a bus it will take nearly 3.5 hours, while a car will take two hours. It is oftentimes referred to as “Venice of the north” for the river that cuts through towns and the bridges that form walkways getting you from cobblestone street to cobblestone street. Aside from being a picturesque European village, Kuldiga is also home to the widest waterfall in Europe and is known for having the most restaurants and cafes in a small place than anywhere else in Latvia. For these reasons alone I highly recommend a day trip to Kuldiga if you visit Riga.
Home to approximately 25,000 people, Kuldiga is small and walkable which makes it the perfect place for a day trip. You can see the old town, wander the streets, and experience the food scene all in a day! The highlights of Kuldiga include visiting the waterfall – Ventas Rumbas. And enjoying traditional Latvian food at the incredible restaurants that line the streets. Two of my favorite restaurants were Kursas Zeme and Bangert’s.
2. Tukums, Latvia
Tukums is located west of Riga, taking an hour to get there by car, bus, or train. Tukums isn’t as walkable as Kuldiga and one of the main draws to the town – a wine tasting room – is located off the main street. For that reason, I’d recommend renting a car so you can see Tukums beyond the main street.
Like Kuldiga, the food scene in Tukums is incredible. There’s one restaurant in particular where the chef prides himself on traditional Latvian dishes paired with traditional Latvian wine. The restaurant is called Restorāns Corner’s – and is located on the main street in town. No trip to Tukums is complete without finishing your day with a tasting from the largest wine producer in Latvia – ABAVAS vīna darītava. Please note that to wine taste at ABAVAS you must make reservations ahead of time. You can do so by calling +371 26630022 or +371 29125518 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Ķemeri National Park
Established in 1997, Ķemeri National Park is the third largest National Park in Latvia and is famously known for The Great Ķemeri Bog. It’s located 45-minutes west of Riga between Tukums and Jūrmala and is easily reachable by car. If you’re heading to the bog trail, there is free parking offered 24/7. If you don’t have a car you can get to the park by train.
Out of the five National Parks in Latvia, Ķemeri is the closest to Riga making it an ideal day trip. While there are many different options of paths to take, Ķemeri is unique for having the bog park, which is why I’d highly recommend the bog trail walk. The “Boardwalk in Ķemeri Raised Bog” is an easy, flat walk, winding through the bog. There are two different trails, one “the big circle” which takes you 2.2 miles, and the “small circle” taking 0.9 miles. The walk is free and open year-round. The highlight of this walk is the viewing platform you’ll come across allowing panoramic views of the bog. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and in the summer you are allowed to spend the night on the viewing platform.
For more information on the day trips in Latvia mentioned above (Kuldiga, Tukums, and Kemeri National Park), check out this Latvia Travel Itinerary.
4. Vilnius, Lithuania
South of Latvia lies in the neighboring country Lithuania. Lithuania is one of the three Baltic States, is similar in size to Latvia but has close to double the population of Latvia. The capital city is Vilnius, located 182 miles south of Riga. While you can reach Vilnius by car, it’s also easy (and cheap) to get between each city by bus! Plus Vilnius is a walkable city where you won’t need a car to get around. Whether you drive or take public transportation, you can reach Vilnius in about four hours.
The reason you should aim to visit Vilnius if you find yourself in Riga is that its cheap, has an incredible art scene, food scene, and it’s historically fascinating. Highlights include the Halle Market, visiting the art neighborhood Užupis, and watching the sunset from Gediminas Castle Tower. While you can easily visit in one day (buses leave as early as 2 am and get you into Vilnius at 6 am), you may also find that it’s worth it to spend a little bit more time in Vilnius and opt to spend the night.
For more information on how to spend a day in Vilnius, read this post.
5. Tallinn, Estonia
North of Latvia lies the neighboring country Estonia. Estonia is one of the three Baltic States, is the smallest of the Baltic States, and has the smallest population. The capital city is Tallinn, located 194 miles north of Riga. While you can reach Tallinn by car, it’s also easy (and cheap) to get between each city by bus. And just like Vilnius, Tallinn is an incredibly walkable city making it easy to explore without a car. You can go from Riga to Tallinn in nearly four hours.
One of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, Tallinn should be on your list if you’re visiting its neighboring capital of Riga. Its well preserved fortified walls, churches and winding cobblestone streets make it the ideal place to spend a day. Or more if you have the time! Highlights include Telliskivi, viewing the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and visiting Balti Jaama Turg.
If you’re planning on visiting Tallinn and want more information, you may find these posts helpful…
If you find yourself in Northern Europe, Riga is the perfect place to be anchored to explore the surrounding areas. So slow down, take your time, and see what Latvia and its neighboring countries have to offer with these day trips from Riga.