“Batlas Majas. This isn’t the name of a dish, but of a restaurant in Jūrmala, which was our home in this country for one week. It’s a pretty good feeling to have a sandy beach just a minute’s walk from your front door, and a huge pine forest right behind it. Latvian cuisine is a mixed bag – some of the stuff we ordered was unfit for human consumption, but on the other hand, the 36.Line Restaurant would be a tempting proposition anywhere in the world. We already suspected as much when we saw the ‘line-up’ of cars in the parking lot: Bentley, Maserati, old-timer Mercedes, and Lamborghini – mostly with Moscow license plates. We ran into plenty of examples of ‘Moscow chic’ during our stay.
The Latvians are generally friendly and courteous, though of course, a smattering of the local language doesn’t hurt.
“The fact is, Riga is the only real marvel in the country, but there are a few scattered medieval ruins and plenty of Soviet ‘curiosities’ everywhere. The prices are a bit higher than in the former Eastern Bloc countries of Central Europe (is anyone still surprised by this?) but at least accommodation can be found very cheaply, and public transport is excellent everywhere.
Riga is an unbelievably beautiful city, but otherwise, the country as a whole didn’t particularly impress me.
There are some natural attractions. Two days is enough for Riga, plus another day for Sigulda, though if you want to go for a hike, you should probably add on an extra day. Everything can be reached easily, either on foot or by bus, and directions are clear, so you shouldn’t have any problems. The seaside is nothing special – there are a few interesting war relics, and some leftovers from the Soviet period, but it isn’t worth spending a lot of money to see these, and if you’ve only got, say, a week in the Baltic I’d recommend heading south to Vilnius instead.
As for the Latvians themselves, I can’t say I was particularly charmed by them. I could hardly communicate with anyone, and they weren’t especially friendly. I tried to talk to a lot of people, but it didn’t really lead to anything. Not many people speak English, and when they do, they have such a strange accent that a few times I wasn’t at all sure I understood what they were talking about.
As for the local cooking, I wouldn’t place Latvia in the top category of international cuisines. Potato is king here, but they do cook some good meat dishes. There are plenty of expensive (and bad) restaurants in the center of Riga, so it’s worth going a few streets out of the center, where the food is both cheaper and better. I saw a few very cheap dining establishments, but none of them looked altogether inviting, so I stuck to the slightly more expensive places.
Would I go back? Probably not. Riga is spectacular, and if it was closer to home I’m sure I’d go back more often, but I feel as though I saw everything I wanted to see, and beyond the sights of Riga, Latvia didn’t have much of interest for me.” (2016)
“The Latvians are very friendly, open, and hospitable. There’s no language barrier – everyone speaks English, even the conductors on the Riga trams. Likewise, anyone with some knowledge of Russian won’t find themselves tongue-tied in Latvia.
Latvia is an exquisite little jewelry box on the Baltic. The hotels are comfortable and reasonably priced, and the local gastronomy is worth exploring. It’s also a good spot for a company team-building getaway. Among the activities, I’d particularly recommend are, for the boys, the ever-popular military games, with bunkers and tank tours. There are also tasting sessions for Riga Black Balsam, pub crawls, baths, or even an Air Baltic flight simulator at the airport.
Those more interested in culture have plenty to choose from, depending on their particular interests. The National Museum is housed in a beautiful building, and those interested in art will find its exhibits extremely stimulating. If a traditional museum experience isn’t your thing, there’s also the Riga Motor Museum.
The most spectacular place in Latvia is probably the Rundale Palace, known as the Versailles of the Baltic. (About 1.5 hours from Riga by bus).
For summer travelers, it’s also possible to enjoy a beach holiday in Latvia. Bathing, however, is more fun for locals and Northern German tourists, as the water temperature rarely rises above 20°C (68F). The most upmarket town on the coast is Jūrmala. Apartments belonging to wealthy Latvian and Russian businessmen can be found here, as well as a wide range of wellness hotels and excellent seaside barbecue restaurants. (Anette, 2018)