Latvia


Overview

Latvia travel guide, including map of Latvia, travel tips, culture, attractions, health and safety and weather in Latvia

Most people come to Latvia to see Riga. With its picturesque Old Town, cobbled streets, historic churches and abundance of Art Nouveau buildings, who could blame them?

But there’s more to Latvia than its capital city. The real beauty of the country lies in its unspoilt landscapes. Half of Latvia is still covered in forest. The rest is meadows and marshland, interrupted only by the occasional castle ruin, historic town or farm and Latvia’s many waterways.

Thanks to its 5000 lakes and 1000 rivers following to its wild Baltic coast, Latvia is a canoeist’s paradise and a hotspot for birders too.

Cranes, oysters-catches and birds of prey, including buzzards, kestrels and rare sea eagles are all found in great numbers. But it is the stork that is king here – Latvia has six times many white storks than the whole of western Europe.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Treat your taste buds to Riga’s twice-monthly gourmet market in Bergs Bazaar – an upmarket shopping street in the beautifully-restored New Town.
  2. Understand the Latvian people’s long and often tragic history after visiting Riga’s Occupation Museum.  
  3. Buy the traditional amber jewellery which Latvia is famous for, or if you’re lucky find these gemstones washed up on beach.
  4. Pick up a canoe at Zagarkalns and paddle through Gauja National Park.
  5. Go cross-country skiing when the big freeze hits in winter.
  6. Head to Latvia’s rugged north-west coast in April to see thousands of migratory birds flying over Cape Kolka.

Wanderlust tips

Long gone are the days of Soviet restriction. In Riga you can buy anything you would expect to find in the shops of any major city.

Smaller towns, however, are often less well supplied. If you’re heading out into the countryside, consider stocking-up on such essential products as mosquito repellent before you go.

Further Reading

Travel in Latvia: vital statistics

 

  • Capital of Latvia: Riga
  • Population of Latvia: 2.2 million
  • Languages in Latvia: Latvian (official) and Russian
  • Time in Latvia: GMT+2 (GMT +3 Mar-Oct)
  • International dialling code in Latvia: +371
  • Voltage in Latvia: 220 AC 50 Hz
  • Visas for Latvia: Latvia visas
  • Money in Latvia: Latvian Lat. Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are generally accepted. Taxi fares and restaurant bills normally include a tip, but it is usual to give extra for good service.
  • Latvia travel advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Latvia tourist board: Latvia embassy

     

    When to go to Latvia

    Climate in Latvia: Spring (April-June) and autumn (September- October) are the best times to visit Latvia, when temperatures are mild.

    High summer can be as hot as 30°c and August sees the heaviest rainfall. Winter is Baltic, sometimes plunging to lows of -20°c. That said, Riga is rather pretty in the snow.

     

    Festivals in Latvia: As in much of Eastern Europe, Midsummer’s day sees Latvia’s biggest celebration when people head out into the countryside and party well into the night by the light of bonfires. Riga holds a ballet festival every spring and an opera festival in June.  

     

    International airports

     

    Riga (RIX) 8km from the city, Liepaja (LPX) 5km from the city.

    Getting around in Latvia

    There are reasonably-priced and regular train and bus services between Latvia’s major towns and cities.

    Riga and most of Latvia’s other big towns such as Daugavpils have a good system of public transport, comprising of buses, trams and trolleybuses.

    Taxis are generally reliable and cheap. Car hire is relatively expensive in Latvia and you should take care if driving on minor roads, which are often in poor condition.

    Local car hire companies tend to be cheaper than international ones.

    Latvia accommodation

    There are plenty of hotels and other accommodation in Riga. Many of the modern, relatively luxurious hotels offer lower rates at holiday times, when the business travellers they usually cater for are absent.

    A room in a guesthouse can cost as little as £6. Outside Riga the number of guesthouses is increasing but accommodation of all kinds remains scarce.

    Latvia food & drink

    Designed to keep hard-working farmers going in the harsh Latvian winter, Latvia’s cuisine consists mainly of hearty meat dishes accompanied by potatoes and rye bread.

    Dairy products and fish also play a large part in Latvian cooking. Specialities include pîragî (pastries filled with bacon and onions) and zivju-piena zupa (a milk-based fish soup).

     

    Wash it all down with kvass – a refreshing non-alcoholic drink concocted with fruit, honey and yeast, or one of Latvia’s many local beers.

    If you’re feeling brave try Balzam¬ – a thick, bitter black alcoholic liquid made from ginger, orange peel and cognac. Apparently it’s great for calming nerves and the stomach.

    Health & safety in Latvia

    No vaccinations are required for Latvia. However the usual hepatitis A, tetanus and diphtheria are advised. If you’re camping, there is a small risk of encephalitis from ticks.

     

    Though crime has increased since Latvia gained its independence from the USSR, it is generally a safe place for travellers.

    Avoid leaving money and valuables in your hotel room or flaunting them in public.