Hitchhiking in Latvia is common - but carries the usual risks
Riga is surrounded by beautiful forests
Gauja National Park is the country's biggest with an area of nearly 94 sq km
Rundale Palace has 138 rooms which store some 36,000 items
Latvia has several hundred kilometres of coastline and Riga is only 15km or so from the sea so it's a good way to combine a city break and beach holiday.
There is also plenty to enjoy inland with pine forests, beautiful countryside and historic sights.
For the energetic there is a national park packed with active things to do and for the more sedate there are plenty of castles and palaces to explore.
Jurmala is the Latvian name for seashore and here there are a string of small seaside resorts about 15km northwest of the city and 30mins away by train or bus. The train is marked to Dubulti. Get off at Majori station for the beach, which is a long stretch of fine white sand backed by pine trees and dunes.
There are brightly painted wooden houses and low rise holiday apartments, cafes and restaurants for lunch and gift shops that specialise in amber jewellery. There's a very good warm water aqua park here.
This remarkable open-air museum is 12km east of Riga on the Tallin Road and easily reached by bus #1. Hundreds of traditional Latvian dwellings, from sheds to farmsteads, have been reconstructed near woodland on the shores of Lake Jugla.
It captures 19th century Latvian life perfectly, though the oldest building actually dates from the 16th century. On summer weekends craftsmen show off traditional skills and there's a popular Christmas folk festival. Buy the English language guide or you could get lost.
The Guaja river is east of Riga and visitors usually head for the valley between Sigulda and Valimera which is a national reserve. The Guaja National Park has a well maintained network of nature trails and adventure sports.
Regular trains and buses leave from Riga for the woodland resort of Sigulda. There are two castle to visit, Sigulda Castle is in ruins but the reconstructed castles of Turaida and Krimulda are close by. Turaida stands in extensive and well planned gardens and houses a museum, an old wooden church and sculpture collection.
The nearby Gutmanis caves are a popular attraction with graffiti dating back to medieval times. The only cable car in Latvia goes up to the Krimulda Manor with great views of the valley.
Rundale Palace is two hours south of Riga on the way to Vilnius. It houses some of the most outstanding examples of Rococo and Baroque art in Latvia, a monument to aristocratic excess. It was built about 1740 as the summer residence of the Duke of Courland.
The palace has two floors and 138 rooms. The Golden Hall has a remarkable ceiling and chandeliers and the grand Gallery is noted for its intricate stucco. It also has permanent exhibitions of furniture, porcelain and paintings. Behind the palace are formal gardens.
This chilling reminder of atrocities carried out by German Nazis is not for those with a sensitive nature. Between 1941 and 1944 an estimated 100,000 people were murdered at Salaspils concentration camp, 14km southeast of Riga (see photo above).
There is a small museum here and some sobering illustrations of life in the former camp. The approach from the railway halt at Darzini is along a pine forest path that takes about 15min.
In 1941 a ghetto was set up in a quiet suburb of north Riga called the Moscow quarter. This camp was a brutal and oppressive place where thousands of Jewish men, women and children were forced to work in appalling conditions.
Many of those imprisoned were eventually murdered and buried in a mass grave at Rumbula Forest on the outskirts of the city. This beautiful and eerily calm stretch of woodland is a sobering reminder of the atrocities committed against Jews during the Second World War.
The area is maintained on a non-commercial basis, and in 2002 a memorial was opened. This is not an enjoyable place to visit, but for those interested in the history of the Second World War it is an poignant and moving experience.