If you want to explore somewhere different in Europe, discovering the Baltics will change your life. I am so glad that I spontaneously changed my route. The Baltics were the highlight of my trip!
Latvia was a whole new experience and was full of wonder and excitement. In Riga, I checked into The Naughty Squirrel Hostel, which had very high ratings, and even though it’s a larger hostel – something I usually try to avoid – you can understand why so many people like it. The staff is great, facilities are clean and comfortable and who doesn’t love a free welcome shot? Two large common rooms and a fantastic kitchen which made it easy to meet fellow solo travellers over foosball. A night in The Naughty Squirrel Hostel will cost you $AUD20-$27 (€14-€19) for an eight to four bed dormitory during the peak seasons.
If you want to indulge in a true Latvian feast head over to Ala and order the huge ‘box’ platter. Seven of us struggled to finish it, but the food was incredible, the beer cheap and the waiters absolutely hilarious. You can also find traditional Latvian cuisine at Leido, an enormous Latvian buffet filled with delicious food, which is ridiculously affordable.
n Riga you will find an extremely large and well-stocked produce market: fresh fruit and vegetables galore, a whole section of meat and fish and another section for cheeses, nuts and dried fruits. If you’re like me you will run wild amongst the many stalls for hours, so I definitely suggest leaving a significant amount of time to explore.
If you walk just beyond this market, you will then find rows and rows of clothing and jewellery. You must invest in some adorable handmade socks or mittens by the gorgeous Latvian ladies. They’re super cozy and no one will own them back home!
The official ‘black market’ is a little further away, hidden in an old junk yard. Even if you don’t purchase anything have a poke around because you can find anything from phone chargers to old skates to war memorabilia to bike tires to even an axe.
Being in a small country enables you to base yourself in a main city and take day trips to nearby towns. From Riga, we made a day trip along the east coast to the beach town of Vecaki. Pack a picnic and spend the day by the water. Even if it’s no longer summer it’s still so beautiful in Vecaki and a wonderful afternoon by the beach. There is one small general store to purchase ice cream and beer from, but be careful because English is very limited in the small towns not usually visited by tourists.
A small group of us hired a car to make our way towards the west coast of Latvia. Leaving our bags at the hostel, we hired an extremely cheap car – the girls at the The Naughty Squirrel Hostel are happy to find you a great deal! – and headed on our journey. Hiring a car for the day should cost you no more than €20 and if you have enough people it’s worth hiring for a couple of days and split the cost between a few of you for petrol and insurance.
Our first stop was Cape Kolka, which is at the northern tip of Latvia and filled by abandoned ruins and old boats. It is so beautiful and untouched, and when you’re walking along the water you are taken in by the calming silence.
After spending a few hours at Cape Kolka, we headed inland to Dundaga, that, as Australians, we were told we had to visit if we were in the area. Apparently Dundaga is the home of the original Crocodile Dundee and there is a large crocodile monument in his memory in the centre of the town. If you’re passing though you should take a slight detour and check it out, even stop at the pub for a beer with the interesting locals.
When you’re on a road trip and finding somewhere to spend the night, you can’t afford to be too picky. You normally eat out and only use the accommodation to sleep and to freshen up. We drove through the town of Ventspils and chose a cheap hotel to dump our bags and rest for the night. There wasn’t much to do there but, like the children we are, we went on a wild ‘cow’ hunt!
My favourite spot on this road trip was Liepaja. It is simply beautiful and if you choose to stay a bit longer in Latvia, it would make a fantastic base in the summer. Think of Liepaja as a surf town rather than a busy city. Although it is better in the summer than September, when we were there, it was a calming change to walk along the deserted beach and avoid the large crowds.
Latvia is situated in-between Lithuania and Estonia so straight off those are the two main countries you would normally travel to and from when heading to Latvia. The buses are regular and they’re extremely cheap, as well as the coach stations being located in the city centre. Tallinn, Estonia to Riga: €16 bus with Simple Express. Tartu, Estonia to Riga: €11 bus with Simple Express. Vilnius, Lithuania to Riga: €13 bus with Simple Express. Minsk, Belarus to Riga: €23 bus with Lux Express.
If time were not a factor, I would have stayed in Latvia much longer than a week. Latvia has so much to offer to the tourist who ventures off the beaten track. I made some of the most incredible friends on this journey and being immersed in the Latvian culture made that possible.