Visit two of Latvia’s cultural centers, Riga and Liepaja, to explore art, history and music.

The city of Riga sits at the mouth of the Daugava River. Its Dome Square, in the heart of the old town, is a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site. The Ethnographic Open Air Museum includes Latvian houses, farmsteads, windmills and churches representing Latvia’s different regions and time periods.

Also in the old town is the Dome Cathedral, which houses a collection of artwork and an impressive organ. The cathedral often serves as a concert hall and is also home to the Riga History and Navigation Museum.

Head to Riga Castle, residence of Latvia’s president, and visit the National History Museum inside. Also in the old town is St. Peter’s Cathedral, where visitors can take the elevator to the viewing platform around the spire for a 360-degree view of the city.

Venture into modern Riga and stop at the Riga Motor Museum, a paradise for auto enthusiasts. The museum displays Western as well as Soviet-era cars and motorcycles, including the cars of former Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Josef Stalin.

According to, other museums worth visiting include the Museum of Pharmacy, Latvian History Museum and the Latvian Foreign Art Museum.

In the city’s center is the Freedom Monument, a statue almost 140 feet tall inscribed with "For the Fatherland and Freedom." An honor guard in front of it changes every hour on the hour, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The city of Liepaja boasts the Cathedral of Holy Trinity. Its mechanical organ, with 131 stops, four manuals and more than 7,000 pipes, is the largest mechanical organ in the world. The city’s tourism Web site suggests attending a concert there to see how the massive organ is played. For picturesque views of the city, climb to the top of the cathedral’s tower.

The city’s ties to music can be explored at Latvia’s 1st Rock Cafe, now a museum. Outside the museum is Latvia’s "Musicians Alley of Fame," with bronze plaques celebrating music groups of today and commemorating deceased Latvian greats.

Take a stroll on Blue Flag Beach. While pieces of amber occasionally wash ashore, be careful trying to collect them: The Liepaja tourist information office warns that, at times, "false amber" — pieces of phosphorus that look like amber — wash up on the beach and can cause burns.

For interesting souvenirs, visit the House of Craftsmen to watch items being made before buying them. The House of Craftsmen has on display what it claims is the longest amber necklace in the world.

Visit the Karosta, or naval port, neighborhood. Visitors can enjoy guided torchlight tours of the Northern Fortress’ underground labyrinths or visit Karosta prison. Once a prison for enlisted sailors, it is now a museum. Tours are available and visitors can even spend the night in a cell.

— Heather Klinglesmith, compiled from travel Web sites

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