- 2 million
Tired of city life? Then this Balkan beauty might offer a natural alternative to other Euro destinations. While the capital Riga is charm central – it’s hard to resist its medieval Old Town, the Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture, cultural buzz and hip bars and restaurants – you don’t need to venture far to get away from just about everyone. Just outside of town there are pristine, often deserted beaches overlooking the Baltic Sea, while the Gauja National Park has both scenery and adventure. There’s plenty of hiking and cycling throughout the park’s 90,000 hectares, as well as the chance to go bungee jumping above the Gauja River or hit snowy cross-country trails in the winter. Check out the Gutmanala Grotto or take in the some of the spectacular castles and historic monuments – there are more than 500 of them in the park.
Anyone who loves a party will find Latvians leading the charge, especially in this part of the world. There’s a long tradition of folk singing here, and many pagan rituals and festivals have also survived the changing times. The biggest is Jāņi, a celebration of the summer solstice. Worth keeping an eye open for is the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, normally held every five years. About 30,000 people participate, combining trad Latvian song and dance with more modern popular songs.