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Latvia Travel Guide

Updated on February 4, 2013
Riga, Latvia
Riga, Latvia

Latvia is one of the most interesting places in the northern Europe, hidden away from the world for more than half a century, under the Soviet occupation. Everything that characterizes Latvia consists of contrasts – the buildings, landscape, people, customs and experiences. Surprises show up at every corner, from small coffee shops to ballet performances and opera.

The territory where Latvia is today was a circulation area for Vikings from Norway, to Russia and Central Europe, thousands years ago. History shows up at every step, from old churches in Riga, to the KrimuldaChurch, 800 years old, located east of Riga. Don’t forget to ask what events are going to take place during your visit in this country. You may have the occasion to assist in traditional festivities, diverse cultural events and entertainment shows, all over the year.

If you get away from Riga or any other big city, you’ll soon discover Latvia’s landscape and countryside. A large part of these territories are not inhabited, or maybe they were never explored. You have the opportunity to cross over forests, flowery fields, wide coastline, small hills and beautiful lakes. You can pick from a variety of tours and trips. You can spend even a few weeks near a lake or a river, far away from the city noises.

Latvia's Tourist Attractions

  • Look after the locks that were left behind by fresh married couples on the bridges in Riga. They symbolize eternal love.

  • Relax in the Sigulda resort, on river Gauja’s banks. In the national park located here you can see the TuraidaCastle from the 13th century and a park with sculptures, where the traditional tales were eternalized in stones.
  • Admire the flora and fauna from the regions of Kurzeme, Latgale and Vidzeme, also wonderful for hiking.
  • Slow down you life rhythm in enchanting villages life Bauska, Cesis, Kolka and Talsi.
  • Watch various species of birds in the marshes and agrarian fields in Latvia, which attract an unusual number of birds, some of them being very rare in other corners of Europe.
  • Visit the castles with big parks like Rundale and Jelgava, built in the 17th century by aristocrats from the region of Zemgale.
  • Taste the rural life in the open air EthnographyMuseum. Founded in 1924, it’s one of the oldest in Europe.
  • Explore the capital city of Riga and admire the cultural and historical wealth reflected in the remarkable diversity of architectural styles. The city center contains the most beautiful group of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.
  • Enjoy a picnic near the highest waterfall in Latvia, at Kuldiga, on the river Venta’s banks.
  • Go to Jurmala, the biggest Baltic resort, with a huge sandy beach.
  • In the national parks like Gauja and Kemeri you can go hiking and admire the rich flora and fauna.
  • Discover the pagan and Christian traditions in the Latgale region. Listen to the unusual dialect of the Lettigale language.

Traditional Latvian Food
Traditional Latvian Food

Latvian Cuisine

Latvia’s specialties are meat pates (kotletes), cabbage soup (skabu kapostu), pastry dough stuffed with strawberries (Alexander Torte) and pates with bacon and onion (piragi). The national beverages are the Black Balsam, a thick black liquid with alcohol, kvass, a refreshing drink, and the spritzer made out of wine and mineral water.

Latvia's History

The tribes on the Baltic Sea coast were conquered in the 13th century by the German knight order The Sword Brotherhood, who had the mission to conquer and convert to Christianity the Baltic region. The region was part of Livonia until 1561, and in 1562 it was conquered by Poland. From 1629 to 1721 the region was occupied by Swedish, and from 1721 from 1918 Latvia was ruled by Russia. The Russian Revolution in 1917 created the opportunity for freedom, and Latvia declared its independence on 18 November 1918. The Republic lasted a little over 20 years; it was occupied by Russian troops in 1939 and annexed to the Soviet Union. Of the 70.000 Jews that were living in Latvia, 95% were massacred in the Second World War.

When the political coup in 1991 against the president Mikhail Gorbachev failed, the Baltic nations found the opportunity to separate from the Soviets, in 1991 Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia declaring their independence. Because the Latvians identity had been oppressed by foreign rulers, the new republic created strict laws, limiting the citizenship to Latvian ethnics and the ones that inhabited the country before the Soviet rule. This way, approximately 452.000 of Russian ethnics didn’t receive citizenship. In 2004 Latvia became a member of NATO and the European Union.

What You Should Know

A hand shake is the most common form of saluting. The Latvians are a rather antisocial nation, but this doesn’t mean they are not hospitable. The best time to visit Latvia is from June to September, when it’s warm and the food can be found in a large diversity. January and February are the coldest months, and the autumn is rainy.

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