|Population||1,990,300 (November 2014)|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
Latvia (Latvija) is a European country with a coastline on the Baltic Sea. Being one of the three Baltic states, it shares its border with Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south. It is also bordered by Russia on the east, Belarus on the south east and the Baltic Sea on the west.
The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, whose Old Town is a World Heritage Site. There are many other great places to see, both urban and rural alike. Examples such as the city of Liepaja with its magnificent beach and the unique formerly secret military neighborhood of Karosta, Kuldiga with Europe's widest waterfall and Cēsis with its medieval castle ruins are just some of the various sights. Latvia's unspoilt sea coast is a 500 km long wild beauty, mainly consisting of white, soft sandy beaches. Forests cover approximately half of Latvia's territory and are home to many nature trails and nature parks.
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 200,000 Latvians, including 75,000 Latvian Jews, while the Soviets, also having local collaborators, threw well over 100,000 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.
Latvia restored its independence on 21 August 1991. Between 1991 and 2007 the country saw unprecedented economic growth. The global recession and the financial crisis hit Latvia hard at the end of 2010s, bringing severe economic contraction and high unemployment rates. The country's economy has been improving once again in more recent years.
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.
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.
Although the social and cultural differences between the regions of Latvia are not large, they still exist. An example of that is the traditional dress which is different from region to region.
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.
It is worth keeping in mind that 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)|
The central Riga Planning Region houses around half of the Latvian population, making it the largest official region in the Baltic states.
| Vidzeme (Cēsis, Sigulda)|
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)|
The western Kurzeme region provides direct access to the Baltic sea and shows preserved traditions and culture allowing visitors to visit various places such as old fishermen's villages of the Livonian time for example.
| Zemgale (Jelgava, Bauska)|
The south-central Zemgale region is the flattest region of Latvia, historically known for being a great region for all agricultural needs.
| Latgale (Daugavpils, Rēzekne)|
The eastern Latgale region is famed for its lakes. It has a large ethnic Russian part of the population, especially in the largest city of the region - Daugavpils.
- Riga – the capital city of Latvia and the European Capital of Culture in 2014 with a long history
- Cēsis – one of the oldest towns of Latvia, located in central Latvia with a Livonian Order Castle and attractions in the Old Town
- Daugavpils – the second biggest city of Latvia, located in the south-east featuring many factories and other industries
- Jūrmala – a popular holiday resort close to Riga and the waterside
- Kuldīga – an ancient town in the western part of the country, showing off unique architecture and housing the widest waterfall ledge in Europe
- Liepaja – named "the city of wind", it is located in the south-west of Latvia and features modern architecture and a long history along with the formerly secret Soviet military neighborhood of Karosta (literally: War Port)
- Madona – a small and scenic town in eastern Vidzeme, located in a hilly area
- Sigulda – a town in central Latvia with many interesting castles and historic points of interest; the most popular destination outside of Riga for foreign tourists
- Ventspils – a town in the north-west part of Latvia, housing an ice-free port which is the busiest port in the Baltic states
Latvia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty – the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Please see article Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works and what the requirements are for your nationality.
In autumn 2015 an exceptional number of refugees entering the European Union has prompted some countries to reinstitute border controls within the Schengen area and traffic by some border crossings is much less smooth than normally. Delays may occur in particular in the south-east of the European Union.
Riga International Airport (RIX) is the only airport in Latvia that services commercial flights and is located 10km southwest of Riga. Bus 22 operates on a route from the airport to the center of Riga (and vice versa) and 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.
Latvian Railways (Latvian: Latvijas Dzelzceļš) operates trains to Riga from Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia with stops at Rezekne and Jekabpils, as well as trains to and from Valga, Estonia, from where you can connect to Tallinn. In addition, trains to Daugavpils and Rezekne are available from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Service between Latvia and Lithuania is suspended due to track updates (February 2016).
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 Simple Express
- Eurolines Lux Express offers free coffee and more legroom than Simple Express service
- Flybus connects Riga and Kaunas and Vilnius
- Tallink Silja operates ferries between Stockholm, Sweden and Riga
- Stena Line operates ferries from Travemunde, Germany to Liepāja and Ventspils and from Nynäshamn, Sweden to Ventspils
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.
Local laws state that headlights must be turned on during driving all year round. Winter or all-season tyres are compulsory during the winter period from December 1 to March 1. Many gas stations around the country are self-service, being available 24/7. Diesel fuel and gasoline with octane ratings of 95 and 98 aŗe widespread. 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.
The train network is fairly solid in Latvia, connecting the larger cities. You are suggested to check out timetables prior to departing as trains for some destinations may be scarce. You can look at the sites of Passenger Train (Latvian: Pasažieru vilciens) or 1188 (a Latvian inquiries service) for timetables with pricing information.
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.
Keep in mind, sometimes the name of the station can differ from the name of the town/city. For example, when travelling to Jekabpils, you might need to go to Krustpils station and when going to Jurmala, you might go to Majori station (in Jūrmala city center) or Ķemeri station (in western Jūrmala, to reach the national park easier).
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 physical tickets at the station which may cause hassle if not planned for.
There are various bus route operators in Latvia as bus routes are serviced by private companies and the companies 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 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 either 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/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. It is suggested that you buy a ticket from the ticket office at the bus station you are departing from beforehand during this period allowing you to board the bus before others who either purchased their tickets later or have not pre-purchased at all.
Various bus operators have agreements to provide WiFi access to those travelling by bus. These networks are usually free of charge and provide good coverage throughout the whole trip.
Domestic trips between cities by boat are not very popular around the country in general. Most trips by boat are tourist-centered.
If you are going from Riga to Jurmala 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 center in the morning and return in the afternoon. There are still cruises taking place in the Riga Canal, passing through the Daugava river. Do not hesitate to ask in the tourism information center for more details and pricing.
Cycling is generally not the safest method of getting around the country, especially at night.
You are advised to cycle around in the early morning to avoid the majority of traffic. The main rush hour when heavier traffic can be expected is from 5pm to 8pm.
There are not many cycling paths around the country so you may find yourself biking close to cars very often so you should stay alert at all times. When in cities, many locals opt to cycle along pedestrians to avoid the traffic. Various sidewalks around Riga have markings splitting off one side for cyclers and the other for pedestrians, but this is often not the case in other cities around the country and even then you will probably encounter people who may not respect the markings.
Your bike should be equipped with reflective lighting, front and rear lights. You are suggested to wear reflective wear of some kind as well, especially if cycling around during the darker hours.
The international BaltiCCycle project may provide you helpful information.
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.
There are no commercial domestic flights in Latvia as of now.
- 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.
Latvian uses the Latin alphabet, just like English does, with a few variations. 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 making them much harder, if not impossible, to understand such as with the word veikals which means a shop. The language has complex grammar rules. Minor changes such as adding a prefix to a word can change the meaning of the sentence completely, for example, the word dzīvot means to live while the word izdzīvot means to survive.
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 on how they should be pronounced in various words. Words can even have multiple pronunciations depending on the context, such as with loks which can mean a leek or a bow and with zāle which can mean a hall, grass or (informally) weed.
Latvian is natively spoken by only 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.
Besides Latvian, Russian is spoken fluently by most since Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union. In some places in south-eastern Latvia, such as in Daugavpils, Russian may still be the majority language due to the stronger Russian influence.
English has been slowly replacing Russian since gaining independence. It is safe to assume you will be able to get by with only speaking English, especially when talking to younger Latvians in particular as the younger generation generally has better English skills than Russian skills due to globalization and the influence of Western media and society.
When thinking of Europe, the small nation of 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.
Although Riga is by far the country's main tourist destination, there are a bunch of other places worth visiting. Just 40 km to the east from the capital lies Sigulda, with multiple castles such as the nicely reconstructed Turaida Castle as well as the deep Gūtmanis Cave. The town is 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 provides a great chance to explore the fine nature around the town.
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.
Cēsis is one of the country's oldest towns. It has a charming city centre with some cobblestoned streets, historic wooden buildings and an impressive castle complex.
Kuldīga 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.
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.
Jelgava has two fine sights in baroque style - Rundāle and Jelgava palaces.
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. Please keep in mind that sometimes the castles may be reserved for private events.
Sports and outdoor activities
Due to the low population density, large parts of Latvia are covered by forests and wetlands. There are many national parks and nature preserves in place around the country as well that can be explored. The largest one is the densely forested Gauja National Park in the Gauja valley in Vidzeme Region. Slitere National Park protects the stunning Cape Kolka where the Gulf of Riga meets the Baltic Sea.
Latvia is popular for bird watching. There are many trekking opportunities as well at various difficulty levels, starting with short walks in old parks up to several day camping and boating trips. It is popular to stroll around Sigulda and the Vidzeme Region in general in the autumn to watch the leaves of the trees take on different shades of colour, turning red and yellow.
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 the rivers start to get more water from the melting snow, kayaking down the rivers is one of the favorite activities for younger people.
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 Liepaja 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.
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. The last event took place 30 June to 7 July 2013, so the next is due to be held in 2018.
- New Year's Eve, Whole Latvia. Most locals celebrate with their families, but you are likely to see events taking place on the streets as well.
- Jāņi, Whole Latvia. On June 24, Latvians celebrate the summer solstice with Jāņi - the midsummer festival. Before the celebration, flea markets are held in many places.
- Summer solstice celebration (Vasaras saulgrieži), Turaidas muzejrezervāts, Turaidas iela 10, Siguldas novads, Sigulda LV-2150. Traditional celebrations are held in many places throughout Latvia. The most popular one takes place in Turaida muzeum (video).
- Latvian Song and Dance Festival (Latvian Vispārējie latviešu Dziesmu un Deju svētki), Vērmanes garden, Riga, ☎ +371 28611731, e-mail: email@example.com. Takes place quinquennially, 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 griups 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.
- Easter (Lieldienas), Whole Latvia. You can usually find events in town centers, such as traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fights.
- International Baltic Ballet festival, Riga, ☎ +371 673 36 123, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cēsis art festival (Mākslas festivāls Cēsis), Cēsis, ☎ +371 29 334 417. Takes place annually, at the end of July and start of August.
- Count of May (Maija Grāfs), Spīķeru laukums, Rīga. Takes place annually, in the middle of May in Rīga. Has medieval tournaments, witch trial, traditional dances.
- White night (Baltā nakts), Rīga. Takes place annually, in the beginning of September in Rīga.
- Old traditions festival (Seno tradīciju festivāls), Tērvete. Takes place annually, on the second Saturday of August.
- Medieval Day at Cēsis Castle (Cēsu Pils Viduslaiku diena), Cēsis. Takes place annually, on the first Saturday of August.
- Latviabeerfest, Vērmanes garden, Riga, ☎ +371 27 726 200, e-mail: email@example.com. Takes place annually, at the end of May. The largest international beer festival in the Baltic states. €2.
- International Ice Sculpture Festival, Uzvaras park, Jelgava, ☎ +371 630 23 461, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Takes place annually, at the start of February. €4.50 (in 2014).
- Positivus Festival, Zvejnieku park, Sporta street 6, Salacgrīva, e-mail: 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.
- Riga Rhythms Festival (Rīgas Ritmi Festivāls), Riga, ☎ +371 67 105 216. Takes place annually, at the start of July.
- Saulkrasti Jazz Festival, Saulkrasti, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Takes place 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. Takes place annually, for 2 days, mid-July. European and US country musicians perform. On-site camping is possible.
- Laba Daba, Līgatnes novads. Takes place annually, for 2 days, end of July. €30-35.
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.
Latvia uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.
Countries that have the euro as their official currency:
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.
- Banknotes: Euro banknotes have the same design in all the countries.
- Normal coins: All eurozone countries have coins issued with a distinctive national design on one side, and a standard common design on the other side. Coins can be used in any eurozone country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
- Commemorative two euro coins: These differ from normal two euro coins only in their "national" side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country may produce a certain amount of them as part of their normal coin production and sometimes "Europe-wide" two euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. the anniversary of important treaties).
- Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins of other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, and have entirely special designs and often contain non-negligible amounts of gold, silver or platinum. While they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector value is usually much higher and, as such, you will most likely not find them in actual circulation.
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 Liepaja.
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.
- 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), ☎ +371 670 81 213, toll-free: +371 80 009 990, fax: +371 673 15 265, e-mail: 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, ☎ +371 670 80 301, fax: +371 670 80 332, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The leading sweets producer in Latvia. Production 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 8am to 6pm on weekdays, 8am to 4pm on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Grocery shops and supermarkets are open every day. Some close at 8pm while others, especially larger supermarkets, close at later times such as 11pm. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen, are usually open 24/7.
Latvian cuisine is typical of the Baltic region and, in general, of northern countries, being especially similar to Finnish (see Nordic cuisine). The food is high on 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, tasteless and lacking, 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.
The Latvian cuisine originated from the peasant culture and is strongly based on crops that grow in Latvian maritime, temperate climate. 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 consumed due to Latvia's location on the east coast of the Baltic Sea: smoked and raw fish are quite common. The Latvian cuisine offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the Latvian cuisine.
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 noon to 3 p.m. 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 (potatos) 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 ae 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 (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 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
- grey peas with salted pork fat (fatback)
- 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
Some other noteworthy foods:
- Kissel (Ķīselis). Thickened, stewed fruits (usually cherry or rhubarb). Served for dessert.
- 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.
- Herring with cottage cheese (Siļķe ar biezpienu). The cottage cheese is served on the side.
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:
- Rīvas krogs, Labrags, Jūrkalne (on the Liepāja-Ventspils highway), ☎ +371 26 140 577. 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), ☎ +371 679 72 266, +371 29 117 021, e-mail: email@example.com.
The tipping culture of Latvians is generally fairly reserved - an average tip can be considered 10%. Make sure to check your receipt as some establishments may automatically include a tip in the bill.
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 €15 while single and double rooms are €30 and above.
Camping in parks is usually not allowed. Most rural land is private, but camping on it is usually acceptable. It is 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.
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 numbers 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 on what popular attractions there are nearby, what sights are worth visiting and whether some events are taking place at that time that they would suggest visiting. Keep in mind however, you will usually not be able to simply "drop in" 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.
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-consealed 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 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 usually not very easy-going when it comes to relationships and friendships. You will not see as many heart emoji exchanged in chats as you would in other southern-European countries, for example.
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.
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.
Latvian Postal Service (Latvijas Pasts) is a reliable and generally safe way to send letters and parcels. They have various available services for various situations, including sending bagged goods that weight up 30 kg.
Telephone & Internet
Any GSM phone that works in Europe will work in Latvia as well. If planning to stay in Latvia for a longer period, 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 equal in their pricing and offered services. The most popular ones are LMT, Tele2 and Bite.
Free WiFi is often available in hotels, cafés, libraries, intercity buses and the Riga International Airport. You can feel free to ask by the cash register or information desk in most places if there does not seem to be an open network available.