Liepāja, Latvia

Photo: Promenade Hotel
Photo: Promenade Hotel

Tallinn—check. Riga—check. Vilnius—check. You, like so many other people, recently discovered the Baltic states. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania became hot destinations in the last few years. But most people, yourself included, have stuck to the capital cities. It’s time to see what else these Northern European countries have to offer. Let’s start in Latvia.

Liepāja is the country’s third-largest city. It’s located in southwestern Latvia, surrounded by water, in between the Baltic Sea and Lake Liepāja. The city was founded by fishermen in the 13th century. It later became part of the Russian Empire, was bombed and conquered by the Germans during World War I, captured by the Soviets during World War II, and finally regained its independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s now a peaceful seaside city.

It’s called “the city where the wind is born” due to the constant breeze off the Baltic Sea. The city is full of green parks and irregular streets. The architecture ranges from wooden houses to Art Nouveau buildings to Soviet-era apartment blocks. While long, white-sand beaches line the coastline.

Photo: Promenade Hotel
Photo: Promenade Hotel

Explore Vecliepāja (Old Town), the oldest part of the city. See the Peter the Great House, a wooden house where the Russian tsar stayed on his 1697 trip across Western Europe. Visit the churches. Holy Trinity Cathedral has a huge organ with 7,000 pipes. A model of a ship at St. Joseph’s Cathedral brings good luck to fishermen. While St. Anne’s Church is the oldest in the city. Stroll through Peter’s Market, an indoor-outdoor market where fish is sold in the basement. Visit the Libava Fortress. The Russian army built the concrete fort to protect the city from a German attack in the 20th century. Then walk along Seaside Park and Blue Flag Beach. The windswept beach is more than two miles long.

By late afternoon, you’re ready to find your room and warm up. You’re staying at the Promenade Hotel, which sits on the bank of the Trade Channel. A 19th-century grain warehouse has been turned into a design hotel. The interior is full of red brick and exposed wooden beams. Admire the sea view from the terrace of your junior suite. Loosen your muscles in the sauna. Check out the art gallery and the chapel downstairs. Eat a traditional Latvian meal—complete with homemade ice cream and cello music—at the Piano Restaurant. Then head out to listen to rock music. The city is known as the capital of Latvian rock music. The country has more to offer than you ever expected.

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