Day Trips from Riga: Three Reasons to Fall in Love with Latvia

By Abi King | East Europe

Oct 12

A handpicked selection of day trips from Riga that reveal sandy shores, gilded history, great gastronomy and the art of reinvention. They work perfectly as day trips or you can hire a car and create a fascinating weekend break.

Day Trips from Riga: Exploring Latvia

Close Your Eyes and Think of Latvia

If I asked you, without pause for a heartbeat, what first comes to mind when you think of travel to Latvia, I wonder what I’d hear.

Would you feel the salt lick of spray from the ocean, feet squeezing soft sand beneath them?

Would you see willows at sunset and aristocratic stone houses, rich plum satin curtains gathered up in gold threads?

Or would you be walking through vineyards, chatting with bright blue eyes and splashing liquid through glass to taste pumpkin, honey and lingonberry wine?

I’ll let you off the hook: that’s not what I had in mind before I travelled to Latvia. Yet that's exactly what these day trips from Riga reveal.

Day Trip from Riga 1: White sandy beaches at Jurmala

Travel to Latvia to the beach resort of Jurmala via @insidetravellab

Jurmala (pronounced yermala in case you read aloud in your own head) spreads its sandy beaches 32 km along the Baltic coast, flanked by deep, lush, rich green pine forests.

The first glimpse of this came as we soared over them, ready to land in Riga, all splatterings of sand crusted watering holes and impenetrable pine.

On the ground, it’s as little as a 30 minute train journey from the capital to where the Russian Tsars used to frolic in the sun.

With limited time, I checked out Dzintari: an area famed for its amber spas and healing waters, plus a viewing platform that guarantees a “kill or cure” approach for anyone suffering from a fear of heights.

Jurmala Viewing Platform via @insidetravellab

Day Trip from Riga 2: Kukšu Muiža, A Restored Manor House in Kurzeme

Manor house in Latvia via @insidetravellab

For a taste of the grandeur of the good old days, spend the night at the Kukšu Manor, restored to majesty from its original beginnings in the year 1530.

Of course, the good old days were only the good old days if you were the landed aristocracy rather than a mud-raking peasant, but for the sake of this dream, let’s just pretend we’re lords and ladies all the way.

Manor houses may be two a penny in England, Ireland, France and the like but here in Latvia such buildings are extraordinarily rare.

Not because the aristocracy didn’t used to build them: fiefdoms, feuds and funding fine projects were as popular here as they were in the rest of Europe during that time.

No, the main difference came, to simplify things somewhat, in the assassination of the Russian Tsar and widespread introduction of communism.

After the end of World War Two, for example, Kukšu became an outpost for the collective farm management system of the Soviets. After independence, it fell into disrepair.

At the time of its renovation, over 2000 vodka bottles were found inside.

Today, the Manor catches the warmth of autumn beautifully as the sun slides down from the sky. It over looks a lake and roses and willows frame the shoreline, whispering history into the breeze.

Although it’s a national cultural monument, its position today owes much to the passion of its owner, an enthusiast from Germany, Daniel Jahn.

Thus, while special care has been paid to restore the oven, parquets and staircases with great accuracy, other rooms take on wishful whimsy (such as the blue and white Delft collections from the Netherlands.)

To stay at Kukšu, it’s essential to book ahead.

Day Trip from Riga 3: Fine Wines and Dinner on the Terrace

Vineyards in Latvia via @insidetravellab

Inventive Latvian Cuisine

From the sun-soaked terrace of the aptly named Restorans Terase, the fields of Latvian countryside simply slip and slope away.

While the ground may be flat here, the food is not, rising (ahem) to the occasion in every kind of imaginative way.
Chef Nauris Hauka brings fish ‘n’ chips Latvian style, for example, perching perch* on string hung between two branches.

His philosophy sounds heartwarming for a seasoned traveller like me:

A person is his or her life experiences and choices. We rely on experience provided by other people and our land and combine it with our vision of future.

Fish and chips Latvian style via @insidetravellab

A Wine for All Seasons

Further along in the Abava countryside, green leaves wave sun-splashed shadows across the Drubazas farm.

Our intial welcome seems tentative. Girts stands five metres tall (possible exaggeration) and translates on behalf of his mother, Smaida.

Her name, apparently, means to smile, and by the time we’ve sipped our way through plum, raspberry and lingonberry wine that’s exactly what’s going on – everywhere.

“Raspberry wine is very popular with Latvians,” we’re told. “It’s sweet and can be drunk exactly as it is.

“Chinese and Japanese visitors prefer lingonberry: sweet but with an ever so slight tang.”

“Brits don’t talk too much – but Swedes are even quieter.”

It’s a joyous trip through autumnal fruit and flavour innovation, the final taste pouring from the pumpkin bottle.

“The pumpkin is the biggest grape in Europe,” Smaida says, and though I don’t know where to start with that, I do know how to raise my glass.

“Cheers!” we cry, before remembering our manners. “Priekā!”

Travel to Latvia (3 of 13)

Again, you need to book in advance to go wine tasting at the Drubazas Farm. 

So that’s it for today, I’ll be back with more about Riga later. And of course, there is plenty more to see in Latvia, these day trips from Riga just served as a taster for me – and hopefully for you!

See you later

Abi (2)

Disclosure

My travel to Latvia came about as part of a collaboration between iAmbassador and Latvian Tourism Development Agency with the support of the European Union Regional Development Fund. As ever, as always, I keep the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what’s the point?

*I’m not entirely sure what the fish was. But the word play here seemed too good to pass up!

Three great reasons to travel to Latvia via @insidetravellab
Unusual things to do in Latvia. Enjoy travel in Latvia through its beaches, gastronomy, wine and a luxury city break in Riga. Use this useful list of what to do in Latvia to help you plan your perfect trip to Latvia. Via @insidetravellab #Latvia #TravelLatvia #Riga
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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • To begin with I have heard of Latvia but had no idea where it was! Thanks for a great introduction. Looks like a delightful place to explore. Love the image of the viewing tower…

    • Abi says:

      Ah, one of these days I’m going to be able to get a beautiful map to appear with these articles as well. I LOVED my time there – and there’s a really strong, interesting Latvian culture that really stands out.

  • Gary Pearson says:

    You had me at white sandy beaches. I’ve always wanted to sojourn in Latvia. From what I understand, it’s still cheap as chips, too. I’ve heard Riga can be a hotspot for British bachelor parties but I am still intrigued by the landscape, history and unique cuisine. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Kurzeme and Vidzeme are spectacular quiet retreats off the beaten path. I’m keen to discover Latvia, a country still somewhat untouched by the masses. Great post!

    • Abi says:

      Oh…British stag dos (bachelor parties.) Yes, that’s all I’d heard about the country, too – and not in a good way! In fact, I’m due to write a piece about Riga on this very theme. I’d been – not quite dreading it – but certainly apprehensive about visiting Riga for this very reason but it turned out to be charming – even after dark.

      Hope you get there one day – and, yes, it is cheap! :-)

  • Olga says:

    I was in Latvia one month ago. There is one of the biggest open-market in Europe where you can buy whatever you want. There is also twenty-four-hour Bessarabian market where you can purchase the most delicious Ukrainian food – salo in my city Kyiv. Recommend you to come and try it

    • Abi King says:

      I’d love to travel into the Ukraine. I know the market you’re talking about it – when I visited it was plump with pumpkins! Ukrainian food on my list next!

  • Andy says:

    I had the unexpected pleasure of marrying into a Latvian family (from Seattle) 30 years ago. A few years after the wedding Latvia gained its independence and a few years later I had my first visit. They had me at hello. Black bread and farm cheese, served with black coffee for breakfast soon became my staple. Every time we go, we lug back 10 loaves (15 kilos) of black bread to get us through until next time. (My in-laws have since moved back there and they bring some when they visit also.) Our latest trip was this summer and we stayed, for the first time, in Riga overnight. (My wife’s father lives on a farm 120 km to the north of Riga.) We had tremendous meals that were hearty without being heavy or frumpy. Deer stew, pork shank on a spit, leg of lamb served with lively cabbages. Even in summer, it did not make us sluggish. The food on the farm is always better. Fresh game (deer, elk and moose), plump pork, chicken and duck, milk from the cow and all its by products. Plus the beer is fresh and sumptuous. My favorite comes from Valmiera Muiza on the outskirts of Valmiera. Latvia is a tremendous little secret with its outstanding natural beauty, close to the earth food and philosophy and a people welcoming, warm and modern. Please don’t tell anyone.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah – my mouth is watering just reading this. What a great way to discover a country – through love and family. Perfect!

      Yes, I agree it’s a lovely surprise destination. And yes, a little like you, I’m tempted to keep it to myself…

  • Kristine says:

    Thank you for taking the time to visit and write about my country. I’m glad you enjoyed the visit and hopefully the people who will read your articles, will have a little better idea how beautiful and soulful Latvia is.

  • Jesper, The Biveros Effect says:

    It seems like I have missed some parts during the my visits of Latvia, well, I have to start to consider a new trip across the Baltic sea. :)

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