If you're yearning to hit Europe's untrodden jackpot, cash in your chips in Latvia (Latvija). Still undiscovered by the tourism masses, this sizzling Baltic sexpot is poised to become the continent's next A-list star. A country in transition, hellbent on shedding its stalwart old-Soviet image, the Latvia of today is vibrant, enigmatic and altogether mesmerising. Refreshingly unpretentious, Latvia manages to tantalise even the most jaded traveller. Many arrive expecting little and leave overwhelmed, certain they've uncovered long-buried treasure.
Bustling Rīga, with its pumping nightlife, cobbled streets and marvellous art-nouveau architecture is one of Eastern Europe's most fun cities. Away from the capital, the pace slows. Historic villages, miles from anywhere, sit frozen in time. Despite growing popularity, Latvia is still one of those places where you can embrace the unbeaten path and become an intrepid adventurer exploring virgin terrain. From crumbling castles in Sigulda, to Jūrmala and its alluring resorts on the edge of the ice-blue Baltic Sea, it's very easy to just get away. Summer is an especially magical time - twilight comes near midnight and by 4am it's light again. After long, dark winters, Latvians seem determined to soak up as much light as possible and the whole country exudes a frenetic, turbocharged energy. Beer gardens pop up in even the smallest villages and revellers slug pints well into the night. Its natural offerings are also a drawcard, like Gauja National Park in Eastern Latvia, a pine-scented paradise.
It's hard to believe this tiny, vivacious nation shed its Russian stranglehold less than two decades ago because, despite years of intense suffering under Soviet and Nazi occupations, Latvia has a serenity and charm rarely found elsewhere in Europe.
This is Latvia's moment. Visit before everyone else does.
Best places to stay in Latvia
Reinvented Riga: a traveller’s guide to Latvia’s capital city
With two decades of freedom (and a renewed status as Latvia’s capital) under its belt, Rīga is reclaiming its rightful title as the cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic.
Latvia destination guides
Rīga has always been the big boy of the Baltics - a metropolis with a big-city atmosphere hard to find elsewhere in the region.
Top 10 Eastern European getaways
For years Eastern Europe was the undiscovered half of the continent - but things have changed. The diverse highlights of Eastern Europe are now drawing travellers by the trainload. Here are our top 10 Eastern European getaways. 1. Julian Alps, Slovenia The Julian Alps form Slovenia's dramatic northwest frontier with Italy.
Baltics to St Petersburg
Decades after the fall of communism, the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain a mystery to most travellers. We’re not complaining, though; more mystery means fewer crowds and an easier time getting to know these fantastic countries.
The Baltic States: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania guide provides a selection of literature to get you in the mood for your trip. The following page-turners have a rich Baltic flavour that evokes the region’s people and places and its complex history.