Latvia

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Latvia is a European state with a coastline on the Baltic Sea. One of the three Baltic states, it is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west. The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, a World Heritage Site. There are many other great places to see, both urban and rural, such as Liepaja with its unique former secret military town of Karosta and a magnificent beach. Kuldiga, with Europe's widest waterfall, and Cēsis, with its medieval castle ruins, are interesting. Tourists can enjoy the wild beauty of Latvia's unspoilt sea coast, which is 500 km long and consists mainly of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests, which cover approximately half of Latvia's territory, offer many nature trails and nature parks. (less...) (more...)

Population: 2,178,443 people
Area: 64,589 km2
Highest point: 312 m
Coastline: 498 km
Life expectancy: 73.19 years
GDP per capita: $18,600
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  • Education Education
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  • Golf course Golf course
  • Green space Green space
  • Harbor Harbor
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  • Theater Theater
  • Winery Winery

About Latvia

Climate

The best time to travel to Latvia is from June to mid September, when it is warm and plenty of local food is available. January and February are the coldest months. October and November have autumn rains and daylight is short.

Geography

Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are rich with wildlife. There are many lakes, especially in the Latgale region. There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Heavy industry halted a long time ago, so most places are ecologically clean.

The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns at 312m (1,023 ft) above sea level, just west of the town of Madona.

Activities

Winter

There are a lot of possibilities to practice winter sports - snowboarding, cross country skiing, downhill skiing etc. Ramkalni [12], Baili [13], Zviedru Cepure [14]. Some of slopes are open till late night. Usually need car to access.

  • New Year eve: most locals celebrate with their family, but there's a chance to see something on streets as well. Traditional food includes stewed peas that symbolize tears: eating peas you leave all tears in a year behind.
  • International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, February
  • International Festival of Cartoons - Bimini in Riga, March

Spring

As rivers get more water from melting snow, kayaking down the river is one of the favorite past times for young people. It usually gets warmer after Easter.

  • Easter - usually something is going on in town centers. Experience traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fight. Perfect time of the year to "indulge" in traditional balzams - a high alcohol content liqueur, and for cultural pursuits such as seeing the amazing Riga Opera.
  • International Baltic Balet Festival. In April/May.
  • Days of Art in Cēsis, April
  • European Undertaking “Museum Night” all over Latvia, in May.

Summer

  • Jani - on June 24 Latvians celebrate the ancient midsummer festival called Jani. Before that Jani flea markets are held in major towns.
  • Country music festival. Held annually in Bauska, around mid-July for 2 days. European and US country musicians. Camping on the site possible.
  • Saulkrasti Jazz. Yearly jazz festival held at the end of July. Latvian and massive number of foreign musicians perform by the sea. Weekly gigs culminate in a final concert. Saulkrasti can be easily reached from the Riga main train terminal by train.
  • International Music Festival “Riga Rythms”. Usually held at the beginning of July in Riga.
  • Sigulda Opera Festival at the beginning of August, held in open air in Sigulda town.
  • Cēsis Music and Art Festival. Medieval Festivity at the beginning of August. All things Medieval there - food, costumes, customs, etc.

Latvia has one of the longest sand beaches in Europe. In July and August the water is warm enough to swim comfortably. The sea has a very slow slope. As a best natural beach is listed the coast southwards from Liepaja because it is a coast of open sea (not a gulf) with cleaner water, brighter sand, and not too many people, because it's not close to massive population. With stable air temperature 30°C, water temperature is about 20°C, which is very refreshing when you take an intensive sunbath. You practically don't need to wash after swimming, because the salt level is pleasantly low.

Autumn

There are many interesting and old castles around Latvia. Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors [17] has links and photos on their website. Note that sometimes castles are reserved for private occasions.

It is popular to go for a stroll in the autumn to watch the different shades of colour, when the trees turn red and yellow. Popular places for such activities are Sigulda and Vidzemes Augstiene.

Food

The country offers plenty of varieties of bread, milk products, ice cream, sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rhubarb pie and a crunch made of fresh stalks straight from the garden. This is, of course, available mainly in summer and autumn season.

Latvian cuisine comes from its peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia's maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favourites, smoked and raw fish is common. Many types of food are flavoured with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but softer, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavourful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels. Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots.

Latvian cuisine is typical of northern countries, especially close to Finland; it's high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper. If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern US, you're not likely to have trouble getting used to it.

A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa).

Some specific food in this area:

  • Biezpiena sierins. Curd actually, but with sweet taste
  • Kefirs - specific dairy product (vegetarian)
  • Kiselis - thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian)
  • Griki - buckwheat, eaten as main course
  • Skabeti kaposti - sauerkraut
  • Piragi - bacon and onion wrapped in a thin-ish yeast dough. A real classic of Latvian cuisine.

Other mentionable food and dishes:

  • Smoked cheese - goes very well with wine
  • Eclair - cake with sweet cream inside
  • Eel
  • Frikadelu zupa - meatball soup
  • Biesu zupa - red colored beetroot soup (vegetarian and non-vegetarian)
  • Rosols - salad with sour cream (Salad Olivier), usually non-vegetarian
  • Kotletes - meatballs served with potatoes
  • Gailenu merce - chanterelles sauce in sour cream, usually served with potatoes (vegetarian)
  • Siļķe ar biezpienu - herring served with cottage cheese
  • Commorgan-wieders(old name)- once braised chuck, ground with celery, onions and wrapped in a crepe and resauteed.

Drinks

Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. Beers, such as Aldaris, Līvu, and Senču can be bought almost anywhere but local people are very proud about local small breweries, try Bauskas, Tervetes, Piebalgas and some other beer. A special 'live beer' like Užavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants. Don't forget to try the locally distilled Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais Balzams). It's a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices. It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavor your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, or in various cocktails. By itself it can be a very strong beverage! Wine is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern places in the world where the wine can be successfully grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile [18] (in Latvian).

Some possible places to have a sip:

  • Krodzins "Riva" in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja - Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and a wooden bridge.
  • Raganas Kekis. The name means "witches kitchen". Located in Ragana village (which obviously means the "witch" in Latvian), in the Vidzeme region. You will see it if you travel to Valmiera or Limbazi by road.
  • Rossini. Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don't visit this establishment if you're on budget.

It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered. Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.

Shopping

Latvia uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

Latvian lats can be exchanged for free at any post office until 31 March 2014.

ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia (including Riga International Airport), even in many small towns. Tax free stores have their signs clearly displayed.

Banks will accept traveller's cheques with some fee as a percentage of the sum.

Shopping

  • Amber, which is sold in most souvenir shops. If you are lucky, some can sometimes be found on the Baltic Sea shore after a storm. Be careful looking for amber on beaches in western Latvia - the sea near Liepāja is polluted with phosphorus, which looks exactly the same, but catches on fire after drying out.
  • Smoked (black) ceramics from Latgale.
  • Silver jewellery
  • Pirts (Latvian style sauna/spa) items Fragrant oils, Honey/herb-based massage creams, felt caps for sauna, intended to protect proteins of hair in the extreme heat
  • Mittens with ornaments. Hand-made and representing traditional culture
  • Woolen products Room slippers/shoes, vest, jacket, hat
  • Black (rye) bread gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. If bought fresh and kept in a plastic bag, it might last well up to 10 days or more.
  • Riga Black Balsam (Rigas Melnais Balzams). A traditional Latvian herbal liqueur made using many natural ingredients. The original recipe of Abraham Kunze, a druggist, was said to have cured mysterious illness of visiting Catherine the Great in 1755.
  • Honey/Bee products Honey with nuts, Bee Pollen, Propolis, Bee-wax candles
  • Laima Chocolate. Various sweets, chocolates with all kinds of fillings

Speciality shops are open mostly 08:00-18:00 weekdays, 08:00-16:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Groceries are open every day until 20:00 or later. Most supermarkets are open util 23:00 every day. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen are mostly open 24/7.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Latvia on Wikivoyage.

Cities in Latvia

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Riga is the capital of Latvia, the largest city in the Baltic States, and the second-largest city of the Eastern Baltic. It holds about half of the country's population.

Interesting places:

  • Latvian National Opera
  • Riga Cathedral
  • Cathedral Square
  • Riga History and Navigation Museum
  • Parliament
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Jūrmala is a resort town in Latvia. It claims to have the longest beach on the northern side of Europe. Jurmala, the pearl of Latvia, is the largest resort town in the Baltic. No other place has beaches with tens of kilometres of such white, fine sand. Nowhere else do the pines on the dunes murmur so ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Jurmala City Museum
  • Dzintari Forest Park
  • Kemeri National Park
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Sigulda is in the Vidzeme Region of Latvia, some 50 kilometers to the east of Riga. It is at the south-western end of Gauja National Park. Located in the picturesque Gauja valley, with its steep banks and cliffs, Sigulda has become known as the 'Switzerland of Latvia'.

Interesting places:

  • Turaida Castle
  • Gauja National Park
  • Sigulda Castle
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Daugavpils is the second largest city in Latvia, after Riga. It is a delightfully charming, spacious, green city. Despite its quaint atmosphere and low prices, the city offers modern conveniences and services. Over the last decade an ice-hall, bowling center and modern hotels have been built and diverse ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Daugavpils University
  • St. Peter\'s Church
  • Daugavpils Central Park
  • St. Boris and Gleb Cathedral
  • Daugavpils TV Tower
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Interesting places:

  • Vik\'s Fairy Tale Park
  • Dikli Lutheran Church
  • Song Festival Museum
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Liepāja is a city on Latvia's Baltic coast. With 75,000 residents, it is Latvia's third largest city, and is arguably the most important city after the capital Riga. Liepaja was the capital during World War I.

Interesting places:

  • St. Anna Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • Liepaja Beach
  • St. Nicholas Orthodox Naval Cathedral
  • Monument to the Sailors and Fishermen Lost At Sea
  • Karosta Fort
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Tukums is a town in Latvia, some 100 kilometers to the west of Riga.

Interesting places:

  • Lutheran Church in Tukums
  • Tukums Museum
  • Pastarins Museum
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Interesting places:

  • Bauska Castle
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Interesting places:

  • Dobele Castle
  • Dobele Liberation Monument
  • Dobele Lutheran Church
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Cēsis is a town surrounded by Gauja National Park in the hilly Vidzeme Highlands region of Latvia. It contains two beautiful castles and parks, period houses and small cobbled streets in the Old Town. It has a population of 18,000.

Interesting places:

  • Cesis Castle
  • St. John\'s Church
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Ventspils is a city on the western coast of Latvia, on the Baltic Sea. Ventspils is one of Europe's busiest ports. It is a city that honours the past, thinks of the future, and never stops working! Ventspils is the Latvian flower capital and is adorned with flowers from spring till autumn. Even the City ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Livonian Order Castle
  • Ventspils Beach
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Interesting places:

  • Ludza Castle Ruins
  • Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary
  • Ludza Park
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Interesting places:

  • Pedvale Open-Air Art Museum
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Points of Interest in Latvia

When thinking of Europe, the small nation of Latvia is probably not one of the first countries to spring to your mind. Buried under the big no-go blanket of the Soviet Union until regaining indepedence in 1991, Latvia has yet to be properly discovered by the large tourist crowds. If you manage to make it there, however, you might just find yourself most positively surprised by the charms of this Baltic country.

Latvia's dynamic capital, the historic city of Riga, is a great place to spend some time. It boasts a truly lovely old quarter, full of magnificent Jugendstil architecture, winding cobblestoned lanes and many steeples. Yet it is a modern, metropolitan city with a vibrant nightlife and a strong economic impulse, to the extent that the rise of modernist buildings is threatening the old town's World Heritage listing. Riga's vibe gets under many travellers' skins, perhaps for the strong contrasts between old and new or maybe because of the seemingly painless blend of Latvian and Russian cultures, as almost half of the city's inhabitants are of Russian origin. To get a sense of the city, wander through its large, manicured parks, stroll through the historic quarter and then kick back in one of the many cafés or outdoor terraces. Among Riga's best sights are the impressive Riga Cathedral, St. Peter's Church and the bustling Central Market.

Although Riga is by far the country's main tourist destination, there are a bunch of other places well worth a visit. Just 40 km from the capital is Sigulda, with the nicely reconstructed Turaida Castle, an interesting castle museum as well as the deep Gutmanis Cave. The town is beautifully located in the Gauja valley and has been called the "Switzerland of Latvia" for its steep cliffs and banks. It's known for its winter sports opportunities and makes a great base for explorations of the fine nature around it. The coastal city of Liepāja is known to Latvians as "the city where the wind is born", for the sea breeze it constantly enjoys. It has a nice beach and a charming town centre with a colourful mixture of architectural styles, from wooden houses and spacious parks to Art Nouveau and concrete Soviet-era apartment buildings. Liepāja's neighbourhood of Karosta was built in the late 19th century as a naval base for Tsar Alexander III and was later used by the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Its splendid seaside panoramas, former military prison and fortress remains now make it a popular tourist sight.

Cēsis is one of the country's oldest towns and has a charming centre with cobblestoned lanes, historic wooden building and an impressive castle. Kuldīga boasts Europe's widest waterfall, though at two meters high it is unspectacular. It's part of the Venta Rapid, one of Latvia's natural monuments. Despite its limited height it's still a nice sight and the town itself is worth exploring too. The colossal white Cathedral of Agnola is a worthwhile day trip from Daugavpils, the second largest city in the country. Jelgava has two fine sights in its baroque style Rundāle and Jelgava palaces.

Hiking, cycling and boating

Latvia is a popular destination for nature lovers and is popular for bird watching and treks. There are many opportunities at all difficulty levels, from short walks in old parks up to several day camping and boating. Due to low population density large parts of Latvia are covered by forests and wetlands and there are many national parks and nature preserves. The largest one is the densely forested Gauja National Park in the River Gauja valley. The Slitere National Park has the stunning beach of Cape Kolka, where the Gulf of Riga meets the Baltic Sea.

If you've had enough of it all, Latvia's many spas are an excellent way to relax. Although widely available, the popular holiday resort town of Jūrmala has some of the best options, as well as a fine beach.

Latvian National Opera - Riga

Ventas Rumba - Kuldiga

Cesis Castle - Cesis

Rundale Palace - Rundale

Academica Petrina - Jelgava

Daugavpils University - Daugavpils

Turaida Castle - Sigulda

St. Anna Evangelical Lutheran Church - Liepaja

Ludza Castle Ruins - Ludza

Bauska Castle - Bauska

Jurmala City Museum - Jurmala

St. Simon\'s Lutheran Church - Valmiera

Livonian Order Castle - Ventspils

Pedvale Open-Air Art Museum - Sabile

Slitere National Park - Dundaga

Razna National Park - Rezekne

Riga Cathedral - Riga

Three Brothers - Riga

Riga Castle - Riga

Parliament - Riga

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