This Underrated European Country Is A Great Destination For An Art Lover's Bucket List

Often overshadowed by its more famous European neighbors, Latvia remains one of the continent's best-kept secrets. Nestled in the Baltic region, Latvia is an underrated European country of old-world charm and contemporary flair. With its vibrant art scene, historic architecture, and unique cultural heritage, it deserves a spot on every art lover's bucket list. 

The capital city, Riga, is an open-air museum for Art Nouveau architecture. With over 800 buildings showcasing this style, Riga boasts one of the world's largest collections of Art Nouveau architecture. Walking through the city feels like stepping into a fairy tale, with intricately decorated facades featuring mythological creatures, floral motifs, and elegant figures. Alberta Street and Elizabeth Street are highlights, where the striking designs of architect Mikhail Eisenstein are on full display. For a deeper dive, visit the Riga Art Nouveau Museum located inside the home of the most prolific Latvian Art Nouveau architect, Konstantīns Pēkšēns, who designed nearly 250 buildings in Riga. 

A visit to Latvia is incomplete without spending a day in Vecrīga, the "Old Town" of Riga, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Cobblestone streets weave through various historic structures, including the Riga Dome Cathedral, House of the Blackheads, and St. Peter's Church, the tallest church in Riga (visit the top tower for breathtaking views). It's also the cultural and social hub of the city, brimming with cafés, shops, and galleries. Don't miss out on trying some traditional Latvian black balsam at the Black Magic café in Vecrīga.

Folk, classical, and contemporary arts in Riga

The Latvian National Museum of Art, housed in a majestic Neo-Baroque building, offers the largest and oldest collection of Latvian art, from classic works by Janis Rozentāls and Vilhelms Purvītis to pieces that reflect Latvia today. For modern art, The Kim? Contemporary Art Centre is a must-visit, known for its avant-garde exhibitions. Additionally, the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art has rapidly gained prominence, drawing artists and aficionados from around the world.

For those interested in folk art, the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum in Riga provides a fascinating glimpse into Latvia's rural heritage. It replicates a traditional Latvian village and hosts workshops where visitors can learn about and participate in ancient crafts like pottery, weaving, and woodcarving. Folk art festivals, particularly the Jāņi Midsummer festival celebrating the summer solstice, showcase vibrant costumes, dance, and music. And no matter where you are in Latvia, make sure to try some traditional Latvian food at the chain restaurant Lido.

Latvia's art scene is also alive in the performing arts. The Latvian National Opera and Ballet in Riga is a hub for classical music and dance. Latvia is also home to a thriving music scene, with the Riga Jurmala Music Festival and the Sigulda Opera Festival being highlights for classical music lovers. Moreover, the country's tradition of choral music comes alive during the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, a spectacular event that gathers thousands of singers and dancers from across the country.

Arts and culture in the Latvian countryside

Outside of Riga, the city of Cēsis, with its medieval castle and charming old town, is also a creative hub. It hosts the annual Cēsis Art Festival, which includes concerts, performances, and exhibitions. Further south is the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils, the birthplace of the famous abstract expressionist painter. The center is located inside the historic artillery arsenal building of the Daugavpils Fortress and showcases plenty of Rothko's works, as well as exhibitions of contemporary artists.

In rural areas of Latvia, traditional crafts continue to thrive. The Latgale region is famous for its pottery and ceramics, with the town of Rēzekne housing the Latgale Culture and History Museum, showcasing over 70,000 Latvian artifacts. As you venture into the countryside, you'll realize why Latvia's landscapes have long been a source of inspiration. The Baltic coastline, dense forests, and picturesque fields have been immortalized in countless artworks. Plein Air painting workshops offer a chance to reconnect and recreate Latvia's natural beauty.

From the historic streets of Riga to rural craftsmanship, from classical opera to folk art, Latvia offers a plethora of experiences for art enthusiasts. To get a taste of this country, spend a couple of days in Riga and a few more in its countryside. Visiting during the late spring or summer is ideal. Its status as a low-key destination means you can enjoy these treasures without overwhelming crowds. Say "sveiki" (or "hello") to the newest travel addition on your art-loving bucket list