If you’re seeking the spirit of a new frontier, head for Latvia—it won’t be a secret for long.
Back on the European map and relatively undiscovered, the picturesque Latvian cities still retain the old-world feel of Prague without the hordes of tourists, while a youthful energy spices up the central squares – cafés, bars and clubs are springing up everywhere. You’ll also find a wealth of proud, beautiful architecture remarkably unscathed by war – Riga, Latvia still holds magnificent Art Nouveau apartment buildings from the golden age of the ‘30s. For a change of pace, the naturally flat, lush countryside makes the Baltic region a popular place for bike touring, and the tree-lined seaside, once the favored vacation spot of well-to-do Russians, offers miles of natural beauty. As the new gateway linking Scandinavia to the rest of Eastern Europe, the Baltic region holds many unique and unprecedented delights.
The lush, green medieval town of Kuldiga is located about 2 hours west of Riga by bus. It boasts a 13th century castle surrounded by a moat and the widest natural waterfall in Europe, beneath which people row boats and catch fish with their hands. Nightlife is focused around the canal streets and the many beer gardens set over the water. Head to the popular waterfall hostel, Ventas Rumba, where backpackers hang out.
At the edge of Latvia’s Gauja National Park lies Sigulda, famous for its Turaida Stone Castle, mysterious legends, and red sandstone Gûtmanala caves with graffiti dating back to the 1870s. Catch the cable car ride for a great view of the Gauja valley, then hike back through these sights into town. After sunset, backpackers gather at the pizzerias, cafés and bars in the town center.