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Ventspils, Latvia

The town’s name is literal: Venta’s Castle, for the 13th-century castle built here by the Livonian Order where the Venta River enters the Baltic Sea. The castle and the town have had their ups and downs. Destroyed in a war with Sweden, the castle was rebuilt in 1650, and has undergone renovations since, retaining the same floorplan. Today it houses a museum tracing its history and that of the town, surrounded by gardens. Due to its ice-free harbor, the town is Latvia’s most prosperous city. Market Square preserves some 17th-century buildings, and the old schoolhouse is now a center for teaching and selling crafts. Nearby is a seaside outdoor museum, and in summer a narrow-gauge steam railway carries visitors through the dunes and forests and past summer cottages.