Latvia (Latvian: Latvija) is one of the three Baltic states in Europe. The biggest travel destination in the country is the capital Riga, whose Old Town is a World Heritage Site. There are many other great places to see, both urban and rural. Latvia's unspoilt sea coast is a 500-km-long unique biome, mainly consisting of empty beaches, whitest soft sands, dunes covered with pine trees, sandy cliffs, and pine forests. Forests cover approximately half of Latvia's territory and are home to many nature trails, nature parks and wildlife preserves. The city of Liepāja with its magnificent beach and the unique formerly secret military neighbourhood of Karosta, Kuldīga with Europe's widest waterfall, and Cēsis with its medieval castle ruins are just some of the various sights.
|Population||1.9 million (2019)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Time zone||UTC+02:00 to UTC+03:00 and Europe/Riga, daylight saving time|
|Emergencies||112, 110 (police), 113 (emergency medical services)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Latvia has been a famous ancient trading point. The famous route from the Vikings to the Greeks mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory, along the river Daugava, to the Kievan Rus and Byzantine Empire. Across the European continent, Latvia’s coast was known as a place for obtaining amber which was more valuable than gold in many places during the Middle Ages. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 12th century, German traders arrived, bringing with them missionaries who attempted to convert the pagan Finno-Ugric and Baltic tribes to the Christian faith. The Germans founded Riga in 1201, making it the largest and most powerful city on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.
After gaining independence in 1918, Latvia achieved considerable results in social development, economy, industry and agriculture. On 16 June 1940, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow an ultimatum, accusing Latvia of violating a pact and conspiring against the Soviet Union. The Soviet forces invaded Latvia soon after and "People's Governments" were formed to provide a legal backing for a complete takeover, followed by Latvia being incorporated into the Soviet Union on 5 August 1940. Nazi Germany occupied the country the following year, ruling Latvia until the Soviet Red Army reoccupied the country in 1944. Both Nazi Germany and the USSR under Stalin were extremely brutal and murderous during their rule: the Nazis and their local collaborators murdered over 90,000 Latvians, including 75,000 Latvian Jews, while the Soviets, also having local collaborators, threw well over 90,000 Latvians into Siberian Gulags, from which many never returned, and had many thousands arrested locally, with many being shot or tortured.
During the time of the Iron Curtain, when Latvia was a province of the Soviet Union, the concentration of heavy industry was enormous. All contacts with the West were strongly regulated during that period and everyone who was found to possibly have any contact with anyone abroad could be subject to accusations of conspiracy against the state. The Baltic region had the reputation of having the highest literacy rate and being the most urbanized in the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, the Russian minority (less than 10% of the population before occupation) was supplemented by heavy immigration from other Soviet republics, especially Russia.
After 1990 there was a desire by Latvians to get rid of everything Russian: only Latvian is an official language, and 60% of school classes have to be held in Latvian even in Russian-medium schools. While many ethnic Russians have emigrated, many remain and they present a unique case of citizenship law only mirrored by the situation in the other Baltic states. People who are not descended from people who were citizens before the Soviet occupation and have not been nationalised are officially classed as "non-citizens". This is a category distinct from statelessness: they are given passports (with the "nationality" field filled with the letter x), and they have the unlimited right to reside in Latvia but can't vote in elections or hold certain civil service jobs. Besides the unwillingness to learn Latvian and be subjected to the nationalisation test (which requires knowledge of Latvian history and a certain acceptance of the Latvian take on things), non-citizens also tend to hold on to their weird limbo status as a Latvian non-citizen passport allows visa-free travel to Russia whereas a Latvian citizen passport does not. However, while a 90-day Schengen visa will be granted without issue on arrival to holders of non-citizen passports, they cannot make use of the EU's freedom of movement right. Especially the young generation (who tend to look westward much more than eastward) to are increasingly applying for nationalisation. Still, the Russian minority is a strong factor in the culture and politics of the country, and Daugavpils, the second biggest city, has an ethnic Russian majority.
Because of the tribal past and being divided between occupying nations throughout the years, there are regional differences between parts of Latvia which can be interesting to explore.
Latvia regained its independence on 21 August 1991. Between 1991 and 2007 the country enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. The global recession and the financial crisis hit Latvia hard in 2008, bringing severe economic contraction and high unemployment rates. It took until 2017 for the country's economy to recover fully.
Due to improving economy and growth, there has been a lot of turnover of shops. If you want to visit a shop, café or restaurant that you have visited perhaps many years ago, the possibility of the vendor being out of business or changed another line of business is very high, especially in Riga. Prices on locally produced products have increased greatly since the introduction of the euro in 2014.
The best time to travel to Latvia is during Summer, from June up to early-September, as it is warm during that period (around 15°C to 20°C) and various local foods are available. While the start of December is usually mild with temperatures staying above freezing, snowfall can be expected during the Winter season, January and February, and the temperatures can drop to around -30°C for short periods of time. Springs and autumns are fairly mild.
Half of Latvia is covered with forests that are rich in wildlife. There are also many small lakes scattered around the country, especially in the south-eastern Latgale region. Valleys carved by rivers can be seen with sections featuring sand cliffs on their banks. As heavy industry halted a while ago, most places are ecologically clean.
Latvia is generally flat and does not feature high mountains such as seen in the Alps. The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns, peaking at 312m (1,023 ft) above sea level, just west of the town of Madona in central Latvia.
There are various official and unofficial ways how the country's divided in regions. Most commonly, Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Zemgale and Latgale are separated as the major regions. Riga, which is otherwise considered part of Vidzeme, is often split off in a separate region either by city boundaries or by the boundaries of the Riga Planning Region, which includes a larger surrounding area.
Although the social and cultural differences between the regions of Latvia are not large, they still exist. An example of that is Latgale region, which was separated from the rest of Latvian regions for several centuries by border, culturally, religiously and language-wise.
Most locals will assume the city of Riga along with the suburbs is being talked about instead of the greater official planning region when the Riga Region is mentioned.
|Riga region (Riga, Jūrmala, Sigulda)|
The central region houses around half of the Latvian population. It boasts white-sand beaches grown with pine trees and foresty dunes.
|Vidzeme (Cēsis, Ligatne, Madona)|
The north-central Vidzeme region features the longest Latvian river - Gauja, the highest point in Latvia - Gaiziņkalns, the biggest cave in Latvia - Gūtmaņala, the Gauja National Park and other attractions.
|Kurzeme (Liepāja, Ventspils, Kuldīga)|
The western Kurzeme region has direct access to the Baltic sea. Kurzeme allows visitors to experience local heritage: old fishermen's villages and culture of the Livonian people, and a Viking settlement.
The south-central Zemgale region is the flattest region of Latvia, historically known for being a great region for all agricultural needs.
The eastern Latgale region is famed for its lakes and beautiful nature. Once lively and the most diverse part of Latvia, now it became quite a peripheral part of Latvia and few tourists. A mix of Latgalian, Russian and Jewish cultures is at the heart of this region.
- 1 Riga – The capital city of Latvia and the European Capital of Culture in 2014 with a long history.
- 2 Sigulda – A town in central Latvia with many interesting castles and historic points of interest. Probably, the most popular destination outside of Riga for foreign tourists, also due to its closeness.
- 3 Cēsis – One of the country's oldest towns. It has an impressive castle complex of Livonian Order origin, a charming city centre with some cobblestoned streets, and historic wooden buildings.
- 4 Jūrmala – A popular holiday and sea resort town with wooden houses just west of Riga, which claims to have the longest beach in Northern Europe. Very popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.
- 5 Daugavpils – The second largest city in Latvia, after Riga. It is a delightfully charming, spacious, green city with the biggest fortress in Europe, which has withstood many many wars and remains virtually unchanged since its construction in the 19th century.
- 6 Ventspils – A modern and artistic sea resort city in the north-west part of Latvia, has many things to see, and is one of the tidiest places in the region. A long-stretching beach and recreational park provide everything for a relaxing holiday week or weekend. It gets its prosperity from the huge ice-free port, which is the busiest port in the Baltic states, and the oil transit business.
- 7 Liepāja – Named "the city of wind", and the southwestern most city of Latvia. Famous for its sandy beach, numerous music events, and the largest organ in the world. It features modern architecture and a long history along with the formerly secret Soviet military neighbourhood of Karosta (literally: War Port).
- 8 Kuldīga – The capital of Duchy of Courland, Venice of Latvia, with unique and wooden architecture, red-tile roofs, bridges, cobbled streets, the widest widest waterfall ledge in Europe, and nearby the longest underground (sand) cave labyrinth in the Baltics.
- 9 Madona – A scenic town surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, and a winter sports centre.
Latvia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Riga International Airport (RIX IATA) is the only airport in Latvia that services regular international flights and is 10 km southwest of Riga. Bus 22 operates on a route from the airport to the centre of Riga (and vice versa), a ticket from the driver costs €2. Various other methods of transport are available on-site such as taxis. For more information on flying to and from the airport, see Riga#Get_in.
LDZ Cargo operates international trains to Riga from Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia with stops at Rezekne and Jekabpils, as well as trains to and from Minsk in Belarus. Domestic train company AS "Pasazieru vilciens" (English: "Passenger Trains" company) operates trains to and from Valga, Estonia, from where you can connect to Tallinn. Train service between Latvia and Lithuania is suspended for the foreseeable future due to RailBaltica track upgrades (as of August 2017).
If you travel by train via Daugavpils on your way to or from Riga, you might need to stay in Daugavpils overnight for the connection. For that reason, you may be better off taking a bus or a plane when travelling between Riga and Vilnius.
Notable bus route operators:
- Eurolines Lux Express offers free coffee and more legroom than Simple Express service
- Flybus connects Riga and Kaunas and Vilnius
- FlixBus has buses from Tallinn, Warsaw, Vilnius and Kaunas to Riga
- Tallink Silja operates ferries between Stockholm, Sweden and Riga. One-way travel time is 18 hours. Besides regular one-way and roundtrip tickets, with or without a car, Tallink Silja also offers a "Day in Riga Cruise" to pedestrians, with arrival 11:00 in and departure 16:30 from Riga on the same day. Tickets begin at €45 mid-weeks and €70 in weekends and include a bed in a cabin. The ferry terminal is within five minutes walking distance of the old town in Riga.
- Stena Line operates ferries between Nynäshamn, Sweden and Ventspils and between Travemünde, Germany and Liepāja. One-way travel time is 8½ hours from Sweden and 27 hours from Germany. Stena Line offers regular one-way and roundtrip tickets, with or without a car. A pedestrian roundtrip on the line from Sweden begin at €34, with bicycle at €40 for a roundtrip. A recliner in a silent room is €10 extra for both ways. Pets are welcome, but a pet cabin is required without extra charge to a regular cabin.
- DFDS - operates ferries between Karlshamn, Sweden and Klaipeda, Lithuania. An alternative route if you come from Denmark or the southernmost part of Sweden. Klaipėda is just 50 km away from the Latvian border when going north on the A13 national road. One-way travel time is 14 or 16 hours depending on departure. DFDS offers regular one-way and roundtrip tickets, with or without a car. A pedestrian roundtrip begin at €86; with bicycle at €106 for a roundtrip.
Tip! Even though all ferries have a shop on board, and they may label their offerings as "tax-free", you might want to hold your purchases for the return trip. Many of the offerings most likely have a lower price in Latvia, especially if they are locally produced. Memorise or write down the prices from the ferry shop and compare them to prices on the same products in Latvia.
For those travelling by private boat, regular marinas are very few and still in their infancy (2019).
- Kuiviži, small town in the Bay of Riga, at the mouth of the Krišupe; Kapteiņu osta
- Riga, the capital city of Latvia; the City Yacht Club is right across the old town on the Daugava river
- Jūrmala, Marina Jurmala is on the Lielupe river.
- Ventspils on the west coast, Ventspils Marina
- Pāvilosta, small town on the west coast, at the mouth of the Saka; Pāvilosta Marina
It might be possible to arrange something with the authorities of other ports.
If you have a driver's licence issued by another country in the European Union, you can use it continuously in Latvia just like in the issuing country. According to the law, residents of other countries have to obtain a Latvian driver's licence after having lived 6 months in Latvia, however, this only involves a theoretical exam, which can be taken in English, German, French or Russian.
In Latvian, the word for street (as in street names) is iela. An example is Brīvības iela which is translated as Freedom street.
National and regional roads in Latvia have been through a process of update since the accession to the European Union. All national roads are paved and are signposted in red with numbers from A1 to A15. Most of the national roads are also part of the European route grid of roads. 84% of the regional roads are paved and they are signposted in blue with numbers from P1 to P133. 78% of local roads are gravel roads and they are signposted in grey with numbers from V1 to V1489 — on maps, but not necessarily in real life. There are no motorways in Latvia.
All gas stations around the country are self-service and available 24/7. Cirkle K, Neste and Viada operate gas stations all over the country, and there are many local companies as well. Diesel fuel and gasoline with octane ratings of 95 and 98 are widespread. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, autogāze) is quite common as well. Electric cars are not widespread as the network of charging stations has not yet developed to be viable for casual, everyday usage.
International car rental companies are represented and there are cheaper rental companies as well. There are many offices around Riga, including some at Riga Airport. You can see the list at the website of Riga International Airport.
Standard speed limits for motorcycles, cars and vans without trailers with a total weight of less than 7.5 t are 50 km/h on urban roads, 90 km/h on non-urban roads and 80 km/h on non-urban gravel roads — unless otherwise stated by traffic signs. Traffic enforcement cameras (fotoradars) are signposted and placed all over the country. It is common practice that local (slower) speed limits are only signed where they begin and not where they end. Even though it is permitted to drive 80 km/h on gravel roads, it is very uncomfortable to do so. The gravel also varies and on some stretches it can be a very bumpy ride and very dusty too when the weather is dry. When planning for your trip ask someone who knows whether the shortest route is gravel or not. Sometimes it can be faster to drive a longer trip on asphalted road compared to a shorter route on gravel road.
In Latvia, a lit green arrow traffic light, no matter in what direction it shows, does not give right of way, which is different from other European countries. The green arrow signal allows passage only when the way is clear, without having to wait for a proper green signal. Trams (streetcars) have right of way and a fine may be given for obstruction of their passage. It is not allowed to pass a tram when it stands still at a route stop where people has to cross the street from the sidewalk.
Finding a parking place is quite easy around Latvia, except in the capital Riga, where fees apply in the city centre. There is disc parking in some towns around Latvia.
The driving culture in Latvia is quite aggressive and hazardous. Almost none of the national and regional roads outside metropolitan Riga have emergency stopping lanes (shoulders) along the road. You will quickly realise that you perhaps is the only one that adheres to the standard speed limits, many heavy trucks drive 90 km/h. Some drivers with potent cars insist on overtaking at the slightest chance of squeezing through, even though there is no clear view of incoming traffic. There is significantly less traffic during evenings and nights.
It is prohibited to use any motorized vehicle in the territory of dune zones (usually 200m-1 km from sea shore).
Headlights must be turned on during driving all year round. Tyres intended for use in winter are compulsory from December 1 to March 1. The use of studded tyres is prohibited from May 1 to October 1. The use of safety belts is compulsory for both drivers and passengers. Children not taller than 150 cm must be transported in an appropriate child seat or on an appropriate support. Drivers are not allowed to use a mobile phone while driving unless a hands-free system is used. The permissible alcohol level is up to 0.5 ‰, but up to 0,2‰ for novices having a driving license for less than 2 years. The car's registration papers (tehniskā pase) and driver's license must be always available when driving.
The train network is fairly solid in Latvia, connecting larger cities. The rolling stock is of Soviet origin, even though some of it was refurbished to be more comfortable and pleasing to the eye. There are three steps up when you board and the train shakes and rumbles quite a bit when moving. The passenger cars on domestic lines are of the open coach type, whereas on the international lines of the closed compartment type.
Domestic lines that run daily are the ones between Riga and Skulte, Sigulda, Krustpils, Jelgava and Tukums (via Jūrmala). Other destinations run less frequent. The west coast of Latvia is rather poorly serviced with only one departure a week between Riga and Liepāja. Domestic train service is provided by the company Pasažieru vilciens ("Passenger Train"). Timetables with pricing information are also available at 1188.lv.
Trains can be cheaper than other methods of transportation and you generally do not need to be worried about them being packed, except possibly some peak days during the summer season.
There are several stations in Riga on both sides of the Daugava river, the central station (Rīgas Centrālā stacija or Rīgas-Pasažieru) is the one next to the old town. Jūrmala has several stations as well. The station in Majori is the one you need when going to the beaches and the Jūrmala city centre. Ķemeri station in western Jūrmala is the closest to the national park. Jēkabpils is just across the Daugava river when you get off at the station in Krustpils.
You can buy a train ticket before boarding the train at the station or you can buy one on the train from the personnel. Some smaller stations' ticket offices may open late and close early or be closed for breaks during the day, generally due to the lack of passengers departing from said stations at those times. A timetable of trains will be available by the ticket office. Tickets can also be purchased online, but you are still required to pick up paper tickets at the station which may cause hassle if not planned for.
The three biggest cities (Riga, Daugavpils and Liepāja) each have their own tram systems. While they date to the turn of the century (Riga and Liepāja) or the immediate post-WW 2 era (Daugavpils) they have been modernized and well maintained since independence and there are even new low-floor trams on order to replace the old Tatra trams.
Bus routes are served by various private companies that differ between regions, unlike for trains. The bus connections stretch all around the country and getting around using buses is usually fairly simple. The best way to receive information about buses in Latvia is from the inquiries service 1188.lv, from the Autoosta Website, or at a local bus station. Express buses connect major cities and serve with a reduced count of stops along the way and can save time.
Tickets can be bought at ticket offices, on the buses when boarding, or online. If buying tickets in advance, that can usually be done up to 10 days prior to departure. Luggage can be placed in the trunk of the bus, which might even be required depending on the bus company and the size of the bag. You might be charged extra and receive an additional ticket or voucher for the luggage, depending on the policies of the company.
If you plan on leaving Riga during Friday or Saturday, you might find the buses to be crowded as travelling by bus is the most common method of travelling between cities in many regions and many head out of Riga for the weekend. If you buy a ticket from the ticket office at the bus station you are departing from beforehand during this period, you can board the bus before others.
Some bus operators provide WiFi access on board, which are usually free of charge and provide good coverage throughout the whole trip.
Ride-hailing is available in Latvia and the following are the most anticipated providers:
- Bolt. Includes many towns.
- Yandex.Taxi. A Russian company which offers cheap fares. Services available in Riga.
Yachting is for the very well off Latvians and regular marinas are very few and still in their infancy. The City Yacht Club in Riga is right across the old town on the Daugava river. Marina Jurmala in Jūrmala is on the Lielupe river. Pāvilosta Marina and Ventspils Marina are both on the Latvian west coast. It might also be possible to arrange something with the authorities of other ports. There is no public transport by boat between Latvian ports.
If you are going from Riga to Jūrmala during the summer, a very romantic way is to travel by river cruise boats: mainly two-deck motor boats with place for around 60 to 100 people. They usually depart from Riga centre in the morning and return in the afternoon. There are cruises in the Riga Canal, passing through the Daugava river. Ask in the tourism information centre for more details and pricing.
Cycling is generally not the safest method of getting around the country, especially at night.
Cycle in the early morning to avoid the majority of traffic. The main rush hour when heavier traffic can be expected is from 17:00-20:00.
There are not many cycling paths around the country so you may find yourself biking close to cars very often. When in cities, many locals cycle along pedestrian paths to avoid the traffic. Some sidewalks around Riga have markings splitting off one side for cyclists and the other for pedestrians, but this is often not the case in other cities around the country. You will probably encounter people who do not respect the markings.
Your bike should be equipped with reflective lighting, front and rear lights. Wear reflective clothing, especially if cycling after dark.
The international BaltiCCycle [dead link] project may provide you helpful information.
An interesting option may be to travel on a guided bike tour. Companies offering cycling tours in the region include UTracks.
Hitchhiking in Latvia is generally a good way to get around. You might encounter some difficulties if your destination is not on the way to a larger city. Your main difficulty may be getting around Riga as there is no clear by-pass road. The amount of local traffic can make hitching very difficult as locals will usually stop at Riga.
Drivers may be hesitant to pick up tourists that they expect to only speak English, which many Latvians do not understand. It is harder than other eastern European countries to hitch-hike in Latvia.
Hence, success is very volatile. You might be lucky within 10 min (along the larger roads), or you might just wait 1½ hr without anyone stopping, especially in remote areas with less traffic. Do not count on getting picked up eventually, but be sure to know when the last bus departs.
- See also: Hitchhiking
Air Baltic flies between Rīga and Liepāja three times a week.
Latvia has many picturesque 1-3 day hiking trails and is very popular with cyclists. For reliable (offline) maps of the region and comprehensive map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).
- See also: Latvian phrasebook
Latvian (latviešu valoda) is the only official language in Latvia. It belongs to the Baltic language group of Indo-European languages and is related to the Lithuanian language, but is different enough to be hard to grasp even for native Lithuanian speakers. Latgalian (latgalīšu volūda), spoken by roughly 10%, is closely related, officially regarded as a variant of Latvian, with equal legal standing but still marginalized and not used in state institutions. The third language recognised by law not to be foreign is Livonian (līvõ kēļ), which became extinct in 2013 with the death of the last native speaker. There are about 40 reported speakers and 210 having reported some knowledge of the language.
Latvian uses the Latin script, just like English does, with several Latin letters with diacritics. Some words are borrowed from other languages and are fairly easy to comprehend when spoken such as the word restorāns meaning a restaurant, but others have different roots. The language has complex grammar rules.
Pronunciation of the Latvian language is generally easy to learn. The stress is almost always placed at the start of the word – on the first syllable. However, there are various complicated rules for some letters such as e and o, and there may be different words that are spelled the same, with meaning changed with pronunciation.
Latvian is natively spoken by around 1.5 million people in the whole world, most of them living in Latvia, but also some living in Ireland, United Kingdom, Canada, USA, Russia, Brazil and Australia.
- See also: Russian phrasebook
Latvia is home to a large Slavic (Russian/Ukrainian/Belarusian) minority. These people typically have Russian as their native language and Latvian as their second language. In some pockets of Latvia, Russian is more commonly spoken than Latvian.
Russian is widely spoken as a second language, but its use is gradually declining as the younger generation generally prefers to study English. Generally speaking, the older generation of Latvians is more proficient in Russian, as Russian was compulsory during the days of the Soviet Union.
Language can be a highly sensitive issue in Latvia. The Russian-speaking minority is highly protective of their language, and they often complain that the Latvian government is intentionally imposing Latvian upon them. The Latvian government claims that these sentiments are baseless, stating that their support for minorities is strong and profound. Some Latvian politicians argue that Russia encourages such sentiments.
Given this difficult situation, you may face bad attitudes from some people for speaking in the wrong language. If this ever happens, mention that you're not from Latvia; Locals' attitudes will improve immediately.
English has been slowly replacing Russian as the main foreign language. It is safe to assume you will be able to get by with only speaking English, especially when talking to younger Latvians; the younger generation's English skills are much better than their Russian skills.
Just like in the rest of the Baltics, German is a popular foreign language. Although it's not as common as English, those working in tourism know enough of the language to get by.
Latvia's top tourist attractions
- Old City Riga and Riga Town Hall Square, Riga, Architecture and History
- Sigulda Castles, Sigulda, Architecture and Nature
- Cēsis Medieval Castle, Cēsis, Architecture and History
- Jūrmala Beach, Jūrmala, Recreational
- Basilica of the Assumption, Latgale, Architecture and Heritage
- Rundale Palace, Zemgale, Architecture and Museum
- Ventspils Beach, Ventspils, Recreational
- The Great Ķemeri Moorland, Riga region, Nature
- Cape Kolka, Kurzeme, Nature
- Narrow Gauge Railway, Alūksne, Recreational
When thinking of Europe, Latvia is usually not one of the first countries to come to people's mind. Being buried under the big iron no-go blanket of the Soviet Union until regaining its independence in 1991, Latvia is just now being discovered by larger tourist crowds to be 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 is the home to the beautiful Old Town, full of magnificent Jugendstil architecture, winding cobblestoned streets and many steeples, while yet staying a modern, metropolitan city with a vibrant nightlife and a strong economic impulse, to the extent that the rise of the modern buildings is threatening the Old Town's World Heritage listing. Riga's vibe moves many travellers, perhaps due to the strong contrasts between the old and the 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. You can get a sense of the city by wandering through the various large parks all around the city, strolling around the historic neighborhoods and kicking back in one of the cafés or outdoor terraces. Among Riga's notable sights are Riga Cathedral, St. Peter's Church and the lively Central Market. See Riga#See as well for some more ideas.
30 min from Riga is one of the best and multicultural sea resort towns of Latvia, Jūrmala. It can be found with beautiful beaches, houses, promenade and the nice Dzintari Forest Park.
Although Riga is by far the country's main tourist destination, there are a bunch of other places worth visiting. 40 km to the east from the capital lies Sigulda, with several castles such as the nicely reconstructed Turaida Castle, and the deep Gūtmanis Cave. The town is 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 provides a great chance to explore the fine nature around the town.
Further northeast towards the Estonian border, Cēsis, one of the country's oldest towns, can be found. It has a charming city centre with cobblestoned streets, historic wooden buildings and an impressive castle complex.
The coastal city of Liepāja is known to Latvians as "the city where the wind was born", due to the sea breeze it constantly gets. It has a nice beach and a charming town centre with a colourful mixture of architectural styles ranging from wooden houses and spacious parks to Art Nouveau and concrete Soviet-era apartment buildings. Liepāja's Karosta neighbourhood 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 are preserved now making it a popular tourist sight.
Besides Liepāja, Ventspils, further north, is a modern sea resort town with an arty touch and well worth a summer vacation. From here and around Cape Kolka, the Livonian Coast, a remote and isolated coast landscape with wild beaches, sand dunes and lighthouses can be found. There are also some nice lighthouses worth visiting between Ventspils and Liepāja.
Kuldīga, southeast of Ventspils, is the home of Europe's widest waterfall ledge as a part of Venta Rapid. Even though only two meters high, its size makes it a nice sight. Together with the historic town, it is worth exploring.
Jelgava, on the way from the Lithuanian border towards Riga, has two fine sights in baroque style, the Rundāle Palace less than 40 km southeast of the city and the Jelgava Palace in the city centre.
Around 40 km north-east of the second largest city in the country, Daugavpils, is the colossal white Basilica of the Assumption. It is the most important Catholic church in Latvia and is locally also known as Aglona Basilica, as Aglona is the name of the village it is located in.
There are many interesting old castles maintained around Latvia. The Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors (Latvian: Latvijas Piļu un muižu asociācija) has information along with photos on their website. Sometimes the castles may be reserved for private events.
Most event tickets and schedules are available here: http://www.bilesuparadize.lv
Latvian Song and Dance Festival
One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started in 1873 as a singing festival. Now the festival involves live performances of choirs, folk dance groups, brass bands etc. Competitions, exhibitions, concerts, parades and joint concerts are some of the cultural events. Riga is full of people wearing traditional costumes and cheerful people from all of Latvia. It is held every five years; so the next is due to be held in July 2023.
- New Year's Eve (Jaunā Gada svētki), Whole Latvia. 31 December–1 January. Most locals celebrate with their families, but you are likely to see events taking place on the streets as well.
- Easter (Lieldienas), Whole Latvia. Annually in April. You can usually find events in town centres, such as traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fights. Free.
- Summer solstice celebration (Vasaras saulgrieži), [turaida-muzejs.lv/home_en1/ Turaidas muzejrezervāts], Turaidas iela 10, Siguldas novads, Sigulda LV-2150. June 21. Traditional celebrations are held in many places throughout Latvia. The most popular one takes place in Turaida muzeum (video).
- Jāņi or Līgo, Whole Latvia. June 23-24. Latvians celebrate the summer solstice with Jāņi — the midsummer festival. Before the celebration, flea markets are held in many places.
- White Night (Baltā nakts), Rīga. Annually, in the beginning of September.
- Count of May (Maija Grāfs), Spīķeru laukums, Rīga. Annually, in the middle of May. Takes place in Rīga. Has medieval tournaments, witch trial, traditional dances. Free.
- Medieval Day at Cēsis Castle (Cēsu Pils Viduslaiku diena), Cēsis. Annually, on the first Saturday of August. Free.
- Semigallians Days in Tervete (Zemgaļu svētki Tērvetē), Tērvetes koka pils, Tērvete. Annually, on the second Saturday of August.
- Seeburg Viking Festival (Dzīvās Vēstures festivāls "Seeburg"), Skābaržkalns, Grobiņa, close to Liepāja. Annually, last Sunday of May. West coast of Latvia has Viking heritage dating to 9th century. Video Free.
- Latvian Song and Dance Festival (Latvian Vispārējie latviešu Dziesmu un Deju svētki), Mežaparka Lielā estrāde or Vērmanes garden, Riga. Takes place once every 5 years, at the beginning of July. One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started in 1873 as a singing festival. This festival has become an important facet of Latvian culture and has been held 25 times since then. Needs to mention that there are smaller Song and Dance Festivals between 5-year time spans. About 30,000 people from every corner of the country participate, with choirs and dance groups at the heart of the celebrations. Brass bands, folk ensembles, players of the zither-like kokle, amateur theatrical troupes, and foreign guests also perform at the festival. The traditional procession through the street of Riga is not to be missed., as the participants invoke plenty of enthusiastic audience participation.
- Festival of World Music (Ārpasaules mūzika Tiguļkalnā festivāls), Tiguļkalns, Talsi, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Annually, beginning of June. National and foreign folk music performed on the highest hill in Talsi. The composer and performer Raimonds Tigu is the artistic director and soul behind this happening in his hometown, Talsi. The place where music from different nations comes together in united sound and ambience. Free of charge.
- Riga Rhythms Festival (Rīgas Ritmi festivāls), Riga, ☏ . Takes place annually, at the end of June/start of July; 18:00–00:00. Some events cost €10-45, some are free.
- Positivus festival, Zvejnieku park, Sporta street 6, Salacgrīva, ✉ email@example.com. Takes place annually, mid-July. Latvia's largest music festival, featuring various international artists in a relaxed environment. €60 for a 3 day pass, €200 for a VIP pass.
- Saulkrasti Jazz Festival, Saulkrasti, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Annually, at the end of July. Latvian and foreign musicians perform by the sea. Gigs all week long, culminating in a final concert. Free of charge.
- Bauska Country Music Festival, Bauska. Annually, for 2 days, mid-July. European and US country musicians perform. On-site camping is possible.
- Laba Daba, Ratnieki, Līgatnes novads. Annually, beginning of August. €22/day, €37-42/all days.
- International Organ Music Festival, Liepāja/Kuldīga. Middle of September. Mostly happening in the Trinity Church. €7 (per concert, as of 2017).
- International Ice Sculpture Festival, Uzvaras park, Jelgava, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Annually, at the start of February. €4.50 (in 2014).
- International Baltic Ballet Festival, Riga, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. April.
- Latvia Beerfest, Vērmanes garden, Riga, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Annually, at the end of May. The largest international beer festival in the Baltic states. €2.
- Cēsis Art Festival (Mākslas festivāls Cēsis), Cēsis, ☏ . Annually, July-August.
Sports and outdoor activities
There are many different winter sports opportunities such as snowboarding, cross country skiing, downhill skiing etc. Major skiing facilities include Rāmkalni, Baiļi and Zviedru Cepure. Some of the slopes are open late at night, but accessing them by public transport can sometimes be a challenge or turn out to be flat out impossible.
After Easter, as it gets warmer and rivers start to get more water from melting snow, kayaking down the rivers is one of the favorite activities for younger people.
Also, marathons are quite popular in Latvia. More entertaining marathons like Jāņu naked marathon (Jāņu nakts pliko skrējiens) take place in Kuldīga on Jāņi day.
- Lattelecom Marathon (Lattelecom Rīgas maratons), 11. novembru krastmala, Riga, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Held in the middle of May. The biggest sport marathon held since 2007 in Latvia Video
- Playground, Ropaži, 40 min drive from Riga, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Mid-July. Youth sport festival that encourages and enables every visitor to try and explore inspiring sports and culture on water, land and air (e.g. longboarding, SUP, wakeboarding, hydro-cycles, mountain bikes, slack line and many other) Video €15/day, €35/3 days.
- Cycling Festival and Cycling Night (Kuldīgas Velofestivāls), Baznīcas iela 5, Kuldīga, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Held in the end of May. The largest non-commercial bicycle marathon in Latvia: Video; since 2010. Various routes at several distances are available. The traditional late-night ride will also be held.
Due to the low population density, large parts of Latvia are covered by forests and wetlands. There are four national parks and many nature preserves/parks in place around the country that can be explored, hiked, and camped in by nature-loving travellers. The largest national park, and major tourist attraction with its popular towns and cities, is the densely forested Gauja National Park in the Gauja river valley in the Vidzeme region. Remote, lonely and mysterious lies the Great Ķemeri Moorland inside the Ķemeri National Park of the Riga region, with a planked walkway and observation platform. Another, but less touristy national park is the Rāzna National Park in the Latgale region. Last but not least, the Slitere National Park protects the stunning Cape Kolka in the Kurzeme region, where the Gulf of Riga meets the Baltic Sea.
This allows for:
- Bird watching – Very popular, since Latvia is an important autumn stopping grounds for migratory birds in Europe.
- Trekking – Many opportunities at various difficulty levels exist, starting with short walks in old parks up to several day camping and boating trips. Due to the general openness of Latvians towards nature, camping is possible virtually anywhere (except for private ground), even inside of national parks.
- Mushroom hunting – This seems to be the secret national sport of Latvians. Taking the train through the countryside or just walking in the forests, you will notice bunches of people all over the place, especially in September, looking for mushrooms and blue berries. Even in the remotest region, when you thought, this would be a good place for a naked dip in the Baltic Sea, beware, there could always be people in the woods collected tons of what nature provides them with.
- Stroll around – This is popular near Sigulda and in the Vidzeme region in general, especially in the autumn when the leaves of the trees take on different shades of colour, turning red and yellow.
Latvia has one of the longest sand beaches in Europe. The sea generally has a very slow slope. In July and August the water is warm enough for swimming. One of the best beaches is the coast southwards from Liepāja because is by the open sea, not the gulf as by Riga, meaning it receives cleaner water, brighter sand and there are not as many people there due to it not being very close to massively populated areas. The salt level in the sea is fairly low and you may not even need to wash after swimming due to that. When the air temperature rises to 30°C, the water temperature still stays around 20°C, which makes it very refreshing after a long session of sunbathing.
Latvia has various spas that are an excellent way to relax. Although the popular holiday resort town of Jūrmala can sometimes be a bit crowded, it offers some of the best options as well as a fine beach.
Latvia is full of places where you can see and experience the cultural heritage by for example participating in traditional food making & tasting and listening to authentic folk songs. The Latvian rural tourism association Lauku ceļotājs published a Latvian and Estonian cultural heritage map with the English title of "Worth Seeing" in cooperation with the Estonian rural tourism association Eesti Maaturism. This map contains useful information about cultural heritage sites with practical information such as about accommodation sites, with preference for rural tourism. The map can be downloaded online or obtained from a Lauku ceļotājs office in Riga.
Exchange rates for euros
As of 04 January 2021:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Latvia uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on the reverse, expressing the value, and a national country-specific design on the obverse. The obverse is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design of the obverse does not affect the use of the coin.
Latvijas Banka (The Latvian National Bank) is the only place you can get commemorative two euro coins at nominal value and exchange euro banknotes to smaller or larger denomination euro banknotes without having to pay a fee. This can be done at the branches in Riga and Liepāja. Latvijas Banka's cashier's office in Riga [dead link] also exchanges Latvian lats issued 1993 to 2013 at a fixed rate against euro.
Tax free stores have their signs clearly displayed.
ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia, including in Riga International Airport and even in many small towns.
Banks will accept traveller's cheques with a fee, usually equal to or greater than 1% of the amount exchanged or a flat €10.
If you are an EU student, bring your ISIC. Many places (museums, bus, etc.) in Latvia have great discounts for EU students with an ISIC.
The tipping culture of Latvians is generally fairly reserved — usually rounding up the bill (around 5-10%) is enough, but it is not expected. Make sure to check your receipt, as some (but few) establishments may automatically include a tip in the bill as service charge. Tips is dzeramnauda (drink money) in Latvian and чаевые in Russian (money for tea).
- Amber. 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 can catch fire after drying out.
- Smoked (black) ceramics, Latgale region.
- Silver jewellery.
- Pirts (Latvian style sauna) items. Fragrant oils, honey and herb based massage creams, felt caps for sauna, intended to protect the proteins of hair in the extreme heat, and various other items.
- Mittens with ornaments. Hand-made, representing traditional culture.
- Wool products. Indoors slippers and shoes, vests, jackets, hats, etc.
- Dark (rye) bread (Rupjmaize). Gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. Best bought fresh and not stored for overly long periods of time.
- Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais balzams), ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. 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.
- Bee products. Honey of various kinds, such as with nuts, bee pollen, propolis and beeswax candles are just some of the various local products that can be purchased.
- Laima, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The leading sweets producer in Latvia. Products are available in almost all grocery and convenience stores all around the country, with specialized Laima stores in the larger cities.
Speciality shops are open mostly from 08:00 to 18:00 on weekdays, 08:00 to 16:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Grocery shops and supermarkets are open every day. Some close at 20:00 while others, especially larger supermarkets, close at later times such as 24:00. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen, are usually open 24/7.
Latvian cuisine is typical of the Baltic region and, in general, of northern countries, and especially similar to Finnish cuisine (see Nordic cuisine). It's high in butter and fat while staying low on spices except for black pepper, dill or grains/seeds, such as caraway seeds. If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find the food rather bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern U.S., you will probably not have any trouble getting used to most of the dishes.
Latvian cuisine originated from the peasant culture and is strongly based on crops that grow in Latvian maritime, temperate climate. Latvian cuisine offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are staples. Pork products, potatoes, rye or wheat, oats, peas, beets, cabbage are the staples. Meat, especially pork, features in most main meal dishes. Sometimes even some meatless dishes can be cooked using bacon fat. But fish also is commonly consumed due to Latvia's location on the east coast of the Baltic Sea and Livonian heritage: smoked and raw fish are quite common.
- For more information on cuisine of Kurzeme and Livonians, see the Kurzeme article.
Contemporary Latvians usually eat three meals a day. Breakfast is normally light and usually consists of sandwiches or an omelette, with a drink, often milk. Lunch is eaten from 11:00 to 15:00, and tends to be the main meal of the day; as such it can include a variety of foods, and sometimes also soup as an entrée and a dessert. Supper is the last meal of the day, with some choosing to eat another large meal. Consumption of ready-made or frozen meals is now common.
Type of places
It is important to keep in mind that in Latvia the whole concept and meaning of words cafeteria (kafejnīca), canteen (ēdnīca) and restaurant (restorāns) is different compared to that in other countries. A kafejnīca (cafeteria) is not just a coffee shop and usually serves all kinds of meals that would be expected from a restaurant with the difference being that in a kafejnīca is a lower class food place where you will usually have no table service and have less service in general. An ēdnīca (canteen) will refer to a canteen for schools, universities, factories and the likes. They are usually very cheap but can sometimes have limited access. A restorāns (restaurant) is generally considered a highbrow facility, while it is similar to a kafejnīca, the standards of service and culture for a restorāns are much higher. The line between being a kafejnīca and a restorāns can be very thin in some instances.
In the open air markets of Rīga and other cities and towns, local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms can be purchased. Examples are freshly picked wild strawberries and blueberries from local forests, big strawberries, apples and rhubarb pies. Keep in mind that, of course, these are mainly available during the summer and autumn seasons.
Karbonāde (pork schnitzel), karbonāde ar kaulu (grilled pork chops) and cūkas stilbs (pork knuckle) are all-time favourites.
Kartupeļi (potatoes) are served with everything and they're usually either boiled, fried, boiled and then fried or mashed. Sometimes griķi (boiled buckwheat) is eaten instead of potatoes - it's very tasty with skābais krējums (sour cream). Kāposti (cabbage) also plays a major role in most Latvian meals. Sometimes it's served cold as a salad or hot as a side dish like skābie kāposti (sour kraut). Pelēkie zirņi (grey peas) is another side dish worth trying: big, brownish-grey round peas are boiled and then fried with bacon and usually served with kefir or sour cream.
Latvia is much richer in milk products than other Western countries. Biezpiens (which is quark), skābais krējums (sour cream), kefīrs and a lot of varieties cheeses with different flavours. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but softer, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. There are various tastes available for purchase in most grocery stores. A Latvian specialty is the biezpiena sieriņš which is a quark with a sweet taste (the most popular manufacturers of the snack are Kārums and Baltais).
A traditional Latvian cheese that is in the picture to the right, is Jāņu siers (caraway cheese); this is traditionally served during the celebration of Jāņi or midsummer.
Soups are commonly made with vegetables and broth or milk. Frikadeļu zupa (meatball soup), noodle soup, zirņu zupa (pea soup), biešu zupa (beetroot soup), sorrel soup and nettle soup are usually consumed by Latvians. There is a special cold beetroot soup (aukstā biešu zupa) that can be prepared in various ways and is made to suit a warm summer day.
The most traditional and exotic Latvian dish is maizes zupa (literally "bread soup"), which is the sweet soup made from rye bread and fruits. Also, the already mentioned biezpiena sieriņš is quite sweet and tasty. Zefīrs is a soft marshmallow-ish type of sweet. Rabarberu pirāgs (rhubarb cake) is really worth trying.
Two main local sweets manufacturers Laima and Skrīveru Saldumi are well known and they offer a variety of sweets ranging from chocolate bars of various kinds, to candies, to marmalades, fruits in chocolate, biscuits and more. It comes with glazing and without, in various tastes. A caramel sweet named gotiņa (translated as little cow) is worth a try. These two companies sell some of their sweets in nice gift packages, which may be handy to bring souvenirs home. The Emihls Gustavs Chocolate [dead link] chocolate factory in Riga is more exclusive and pricy. They have shops in the larger malls of Riga and they make little sculptures of different shapes of chocolate.
Latvian dark (rye) bread is heavy and flavourful and goes well with hearty Latvian meals such as pea soup, potatoes and schnitzels. It is believed to be healthier than the white bread. Rupjmaize is a dark bread made from rye, and is considered a national staple and should be tried. Saldskābā maize is a bread made from a mixture of rye and wheat.
Pīrādziņi are buns filled with bacon and onion. A classical display of Latvian cuisine. Kliņģeris is a sweet pretzel-shaped bread that is usually served as a dessert on special occasions, such as name day.
If you want to try some really traditional dishes, then try these:
- boiled potatoes with quark
- oat and pea kissels
- Ķīselis. Thickened, stewed fruits (usually cherry or rhubarb). Served for dessert.
- grey peas with salted pork fat (fatback)
- Siļķe ar biezpienu. Herring with cottage cheese.
- siļķu pudiņš (casserole made from herring and boiled potatoes)
- sklandrausis (or sklandu rausis) is traditional dish in Latvian cuisine which has a Livonian origin; it's a sweet pie, made of rye dough and filled with potato and carrot paste and seasoned with a caraway
- asins pankūkas (pancakes made from blood)
- maizes zupa (sweet bread soup)
- cold soups (served when it's hot outside)
For vegetarians and vegans
Fruits and vegetable of this region are mostly organic, because they are often low efficiency home-grown produce.
Some other noteworthy foods:
- Buckwheat (Griķi). Eaten as the main course.
- Sauerkraut (Skābēti kāposti).
- Smoked cheese (Kūpināts siers). Goes very well with wine.
- Eel (Zutis).
- Cutlet (Kotlete).
- Chanterelle sauce (Gaileņu mērce). A sauce from the edible chanterelles in sour cream. Usually served with potatoes.
Beer (alus) is generally the alcoholic beverage of choice for most Latvians. Aldaris and Līvu are the main large breweries in Latvia, but local breweries such as Užavas, Bauskas and Piebalgas exist all around the country and should not be forgotten. You are also suggested to try the locally distilled Riga Black Balsam (Rīgas Melnais balzams). It's an infusion of various herbs, roots and spices, making it a good home remedy for the common cold. By itself it is fairly strong - 45% alcohol by volume - and can be taken by adding a touch of it to flavor your tea, as a few spoons to lace your coffee or mixed in various cocktails. Even though Latvia is fairly far out north, grapes can still be successfully grown for making wine, although wine production in Latvia generally happens in small quantities, there are some local wineries and vineyards.
Some possible places for winding down:
- [dead link] Rīvas krogs, Labrags, Jūrkalne (on the Liepāja-Ventspils highway), ☏ . A small pub with relaxing surroundings - a waterfall and a wooden bridge nearby.
- The Witch's Kitchen (Raganas Ķēķis), Ragana (on the junction with the Limbaži and Turaida roads on the Riga-Valmiera highway), ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com.
Although you might not find plenty of 5 star hotels all around Latvia, you will find comfortable places to stay for reasonable prices. There are many hotels to choose from and the prices generally start with €30 outside of Riga and €60 in Riga.
A small network of youth hostels also exists. Dormitory rooms are around €10-15 while single and double rooms are €30 and above.
So-called guest houses or country houses, some on farms, are a great place to stay at the countryside. They usually cost much less than hotels and are of much better quality than hostels due to the limited number of guests and the personalized service. Such houses are usually run by families and will come with full amenities with some even following the hotel star ratings. These usually provide many recreational activities such as the Latvian popular sauna (pirts) and horseback rides. You can ask your hosts regarding popular attractions available nearby, what sights are worth visiting and whether some events are taking place at that time that they would suggest visiting. Keep in mind, you will not be able to simply "drop in" usually and will be required to plan ahead, contacting the guest house in question a day or few before arrival. This can depend on the specific place. Guest houses can generally be found fairly frequently throughout the countryside and are often listed on tourist booklets.
Latvian rural tourism association, Lauku ceļotājs has published catalogs and maps that list various types of accommodation mixed with content such as cultural heritage sites and nature parks. The publications can be downloaded online or in an association office in Riga.
Often accommodations give a discount, if you book with them directly (e.g. phone) instead of using one of the monopolistic online middle men. This is due to the reason that most accommodations in Latvia can be booked without credit card anyhow. So, there is no real guarantee that someone does turn up. Just that via. phone owners are at least not stuck with an online fee without receiving the room rent.
Camping in natural parks and reserves, and on vegetated sand dunes (usually around 200m-1km from the seaside) is strictly prohibited unless posted signs say otherwise. Around half of Latvian forests are government-owned, and camping there is legal at all times throughout the year, but areas where campfires are permitted are limited. For a map of such public forests Latvian State Forest agency website or in the designated app.
Most rural land is private, but camping on it is usually acceptable, but it is always a good idea to ask for a permission from the land owner as you can be declined the right to stay on privately owned land even if for a single night; however, most people are understanding and will gladly let you camp. Keep in mind that staying very close to someone's home or staying at the same place for more than two days is generally considered bad manners. Follow your common sense in general. There can be free campsites that are indicated accordingly, especially in the national parks. Commercial campgrounds operated by small businesses are also becoming more popular around Latvia. Some even have wooden installations with roof, saving you the tent to carry. However, it is hard to make them out.
As of 2021, there is a law that allows passage and picking mushrooms, berries, nuts and weeds (but not camping) in any forested land, be it private or state-owned. Passage is allowed along any river or lake (4 meters wide strip) on private properties.
Finding work is not a complicated task, especially if you are a citizen of another EU country, however it is worth keeping in mind that salaries are much lower compared to those in most other EU countries. Job advertisements are often posted in Latvian newspapers such as Diena (on Tuesday and Saturday editions). Most listings are in Latvian, with some in English, Russian, German or French.
For information about obtaining a residence permit, please see The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde).
It is generally safe to travel around Latvia on your own, although some petty crime exists.
If travelling by bike, watch out for bicycle theft. Cyclists are a small minority in Latvian traffic, and dedicated bike lanes are rare. It is common practice that bikes drive on the side walk in larger cities.
If travelling by car, try not to leave valuable things in plain sight in your car. Stay alert when driving on smaller roads, especially through forests, as wild animals may wander around. It is particularly important to keep that in mind during the night. Many Latvian drivers enjoy speeding and the traffic can often flow much faster than the laws allow.
If travelling by foot, take care when crossing the roads as many Latvian drivers are fairly reckless.
It is considered bad mannered to consume alcoholic beverages in public, when not in bars, restaurants etc. Some places you might be fined when consuming alcoholic beverages out of a non-concealed bottle. Drunken behaviour like for example urinating in public will also get you a fine, or a night in jail.
Local informational web-sites for tourists claim that, in terms of safety, there is almost no difference between big cities and country areas . Although it is true that anywhere in Latvia one is never too far from a town or a city, seeking help in case of emergency may be somewhat more difficult in the countryside (for foreign tourists). This is because English is mainly spoken in cities, but outside them one may find almost no people who would understand you (young people are an exception, but they are also drawn from rural areas to bigger cities). This is somewhat balanced by the fact that even then locals are quite friendly and ready to help.
When visiting bars and restaurants, especially in Riga, check out the prices before ordering and follow your bill to ensure no extra fees are silently added to the final bill. Beware the common scams, use your common sense. There are reports of scammers striking up random conversations and inviting tourists to visit their "favorite club" or "favorite bar", often leading to the mafia robbing the tourists with the police reportedly be unhelpful to those scammed.
- 112 - the common emergency number, just like in other EU countries
- 110 - state police
- 113 - ambulance
You can turn to any doctor or hospital at any time during your stay. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to pay a fee for receiving urgent care.
Keep in mind that when in a sparsely-inhabited, remote area, it may be difficult to obtain medical care due to the low number of air ambulance helicopters in the country. Having a first aid kit around during those times is a good idea. The 112 (emergency service number) operators will be able to assist you in Latvian, English and Russian and will be able to either dispatch a team to you or connect you to the appropriate emergency services, if required.
Doctors usually are able to speak fluent Latvian and Russian. Some may not have good English skills. This mostly depends on the region and the age of the doctor.
You are suggested to bring your own medicine, if you require it, as there are few drugs that are available without a prescription.
Many doctors take undisclosed fees in the form of gifts from the patients ranging from a box of chocolates to raw cash. This is usually due to patients recognizing doctors receive low wages and feel the urge of expressing their gratitude. While this is made illegal by local law, it is estimated that 1 in 4 doctors has taken or is taking such donations when seeing patients.
You should seek immediate medical attention if bitten by a snake, a domestic or a wild animal. Snakes are not venomous in Latvia with the exception of the European adder. The common adder is not generally aggressive unless startled and feels like it must defend itself. The toxicity of the venom is relatively low, but you should seek professional medical care as soon as possible regardless of that. Bites by animals, such as dogs and cats, can carry the risk of rabies and you should seek medical care as soon as possible.
Mosquito bites do not carry any risk of disease, just causing irritation of the skin. Common sense is to resist scratching the itch. Mosquitoes are generally active during the Summer season and are not around during the colder Winter months at all.
Ticks exist in Latvia and are most active during the months from May to September. They are mostly located in brushwood areas and forests, but can sometimes even be found in town parks. Upon discovering that you have been bitten by a tick, medical attention should be sought. Ticks carry the risk of tick-borne encephalitis (can be quite common; vaccination is possible before the season) and Lyme disease (less common; must be treated in a timely and adequate manner to avoid disabling symptoms).
Tap water is generally safe to drink. However, many locals, especially in larger cities, prefer to either boil the water before drinking or simply buy bottled water from stores instead.
Latvians in general are fairly reserved and generally respect others' personal space, for example, Latvians do not usually greet strangers unless introduced by someone. You may offer someone to help with something, such as carrying something heavier, although the social ethics do not require doing so.
Latvians are neutral communicators; They try to avoid conflict and confrontation, but you can expect them to convey their thoughts clearly and freely, even if they disagree you. This said, Latvians prefer to get straight to the point about something.
As with many countries in Europe, Inquiring about someone's salary or talking about your own is uncommon and in conversation is a great way to make someone feel uncomfortable. Similarly, discussing personal, political, or religious convictions are no-go areas until you're better acquainted with someone.
There are many trash cans and waste containers by the sidewalks and near most stores. Littering is considered bad manners and the offenders may be fined in some instances.
It is considered polite in Latvian culture to hold a door open for someone, let others board a bus or a train first etc. This applies to men letting women go first in particular.
The swastika symbol (Latvian: ugunskrusts or pērkonkrusts) is a common ornament in embroideries in Latvian folk costumes and contemporary souvenirs, and was considered a pagan religious symbol for centuries. It is supposed to bring luck, energy and fire. There is no connection of this symbol to Nazi Germany, and any attempts to do so will be considered offensive.
You should be careful when talking to Latvians about politics and history, especially about the Soviet Union (USSR). As Latvia became a Soviet republic after World War II, many Latvians, especially of the older generations, have strong opinions about the topic. Praise of the Soviet and Russian regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated. Younger Latvians may be more open to the topic, but will usually hold the same opinion.
|5G||not yet||not yet||not yet||not yet|
|eSIM||only smart watches||only smart watches||no||no|
The country code for Latvia is +371. If you plan to stay in Latvia for more than a couple of days, it may be cheaper to buy a local SIM card including voice, text and data. Prepaid SIM cards and separate renewal vouchers can be bought in almost all gas stations, kiosks and supermarkets. All operators are generally similar in their pricing and offered services. eSIM is not widespread yet. As of January 2021, there is no 5G coverage at all. There are only 4 operators (listed alphabetically):
- Bite (no English)
- LMT (not fully in English)
- Tele2 (no English)
- Zelta Zivtiņa, ZZ (subbrand of Tele2; has English)
Tele2 and Bite have a network sharing agreement, gradually merging their networks in Latvia and Lithuania.
If you plan to stay in Latvia for several months, then it is definitely cheaper and more convenient to get a contract (post-paid service). You can get a contract with truly unlimited internet traffic for €22 – no speed curtail with heavy use – and unlimited domestic "normal" calls and SMS.
For an unknown reason, Latvian mobile operators are quite desperate for clients (maybe because of the small population), and they try to gain competitors' clients. If you have stayed for longer than a year and you have post-paid contract, you can often get discounts with your operator of up to 50% by "threatening" to change operator.
Free WiFi is often available in hotels, cafés, libraries, intercity buses and the Riga International Airport. Ask by the cash register or information desk if there does not seem to be an open network available.
File sharing, p2p or streaming of copyright-protected content is illegal in Latvia, but users that download torrents for personal use are never prosecuted or tracked. Shaping of p2p-traffic is very uncommon. There are 1 or 2 local torrent websites, but they are quite marginal, so Latvians mostly use international or Russian alternatives.
The postal service in Latvia is run by Latvijas Pasts. Post offices can be found all over the country. Post boxes are blue and yellow with the postal logo, and most of them are emptied once every workday, a few of them even on Sundays and holidays. The Latvian postal service is reliable, but sending anything but postcards and letters can feel quite bureaucratic to Westerners. Long queues are a common thing in post offices, so it might will save you up up 30 minutes if you use their mobile app to reserve a place in queue.
Examples of letter mail less than 20 grams:
- within Latvia an ordinary letter cost €1; €1.32 for trackable (izsekojams) letter.
- class A (priority or airmail) letter to most European destinations begin at €1.35 for ordinary mail, €2.43 for trackable (izsekojams) mail.
- class A (priority or airmail) letter to most overseas destinations begin at €1.42 for ordinary mail, €3.58 for registered (ierakstīts) mail.
It is advised to utilize the online rate calculator since rates might vary to countries in the same continent.
Ordering from countries outside of EEA and EU one additionally has to pay VAT to get the parcel through customs: it can be done on the Latvian Revenue Service website.