Start your journey by absorbing 800 years of history as you wander through the narrow, cobbled streets of Vecrīga, Riga’s medieval Old Town, with churches, museums and galleries catering to all tastes secreted among its diverse facades. Count the warehouses to grasp Riga’s history as a great Hanseatic port.
By the canal, once part of Riga’s medieval fortifications, take a guided tour of the Latvian National Opera’s classic 19th century building. Imagine yourself singing an aria, discover back-stage secrets and be awed by the splendour of the restored auditorium and halls.
Stroll across green parkland to reach Riga’s ‘quiet centre’, home to magnificent Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gain an insight into their history and a feel for that era at the Riga Jugendstil Museum, admiring the correspondingly ornate interiors on display. Now you understand why this area has a UNESCO heritage listing.
Time to leave the city and head upstream along its once-great waterway, the river Daugava. Just beyond Salaspils, drive across the Riga hydro-station dam to reach Dole island and the Daugava museum to dip into the river’s many-faceted history as a trade route and place to live as far back as the 9th century. Contrast life in the museum’s 1898 mansion home with that of a 19th century fisherman in the open-air recreated historic settlement.
Take a break at Ogre for the Lazdukalns Dendrology Park and climb the 100 steps to its delightful hilltop pond of water lilies and viewing platform. The park has several walking trails, including the special Swamp trail.
Evocative Koknese Castle was built by Crusader Bishop Albert in 1209 and stood on the banks of the Daugava up to the 18th century Northern War. Once on high ground, construction of the Riga hydro-dam saw the castle’s foundations disappear under the Daugava and Pērse rivers.
Just past Sielpils, take to the Daugava with Mežmalas Viking to view Oliņkalns, the Sēlpils castle mound and the river’s many rocky coves from the Lāčplēsis (Bearslayer), a river boat awash with epic heroic legends like that of its namesake.
The 13th century Krustpils Castle was the only stone castle in what is now Latgale owned by the Archbishop of Riga. Rebuilt as an opulent palace in the 19th century, today it is home to the Jēkabpils History Museum which displays a timeline of and artefacts from the edifice’s history and restoration, as well as significant regional objects.
Riverside Līvāni features the Baltic’s only Glass Museum where, in one place, you can view the complete history of the Līvāni glass factory, first mentioned in parish records in 1887, and samples of its products. Despite its remote location, the factory operated for more than 100 years.
Leave the river and head east to Preiļi for its ornate miniature castle and surprisingly lively Dolls’ Museum.
You won’t miss the stunning Aglona Basilica, as its shining white spires stand out for miles, a great help to the many believers who make the annual pilgrimage to the centre of Latvia’s Catholicism. Wonder through the huge churchyard and step inside to view its subtle pastel colouring and lavish gilded altar.
For your less spiritual needs and everything you ever wanted to know about bread and bread-making, Aglona also has a Bread Museum- tasty and educational.
Still in Aglona, feel the suffering of more recent history at the World War II Museum, explaining some of the miseries that little Latvia and its people endured at the hands of warring super powers.
Near the Aglona Basilica, on the shores of Aglona lake, stand the sculpture garden and ornamental plantings of Karaļa kalns(The King’s Hill) with sacred wooden sculptures carved in gratitude to God and Jesus.
Head south back to the river and Latvia’s second largest city Daugavpils whose History and Art Museum is located in one of its most beautiful Art Nouveau buildings adjacent to pretty Dubrovina Park. A visit to its gallery named in honour of world-renowned artist and native of Daugavpils Mark Rothko is obligatory.
Daugavpils Fortress is an impressive fortified edifice covering a total area of more than 150 hectares and is the only untouched, early 19th century fortress remaining in east Europe. The fortress’s jagged contour consists of a bulwark with eight towers, ravelins and contrgardes with other defensive structures - lunettes, redoubts and a moat. A sconce on the left bank of the Daugava protects the bridge. Inside the walls, building facades are in Empire style, although the Nikolai Gate and Water Tower are Gothic.
Travel further upriver to Naujene parish where the unique settlement and museum complex, Slutišķi Old Believers’ Village, is well worth a visit to see how deeply this version of the Russian Orthodox religion has influenced the lives and work of local residents.
Our furthest point upriver, Krāslavais already close to the Belarusian border. The attractive buildings of Krāslava’s historical centre and St Ludwig’s Catholic Church date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and are enhanced by the town’s location, nestled among three lakes and three small rivers.
Leaving the river again, head north to the Andrupene Farm Ethnographic Museum, an authentic, early 20th century farm spread over six buildings: the home, barn, pig-sty, threshing barn, sauna and forge. Tools, household items and furniture of that era create a bygone rural atmosphere.
Further north is Rēzekne, Latgale’s cultural heart and home of the Latgale Cultural Museum. Extended and modernised in 2011, it features a rich collection of Latgale ceramics, paintings and ethnographic items.
This journey ends at the Ludza Craft Centre, at the foot of an ancient castle mound, welcoming anyone wishing to learn ancient crafts in pottery, weaving and other workshops. The centre also stocks works by local artisans: folk costumes, linen and wool garments. The Exhibition hall hosts displays by regional master artisans and monthly Latgalian Green markets.