Official language: Latvian Population: 2 274 700 (as of 07.2007) Capital: Riga (population –723 931) Administrative division: 109 counties and 9 republican cities Cultural-historical division: 4 regions – Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme and Zemgale Largest cities: Riga, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rezekne, Ventspils Biggest port cities: Ventspils, Riga, Liepāja Ethnic groups: Latvians -–59.0 % (1 348 344), Russians – 28.3 % (646 567), Byelorussians – 3.7 % (85 434), Ukrainians – 2.5 % (57 794), Poles – 2.4 % (54 831), Lithuanians – 1.4 % (31 034), other – 2.1 % (as of 01.04.2007Getting to know Latvia and Latvians
Latvia, the pearl of the Baltic States, is one of the European Union member states and is situated in the North of Europe – on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Since ancient times Latvia has been at the cross-roads between East and West, North and South. Therefore, Latvia is a multi-cultured state, where the traditions of all these countries have merged, creating a unique environment, the like of which is not to be found anywhere in the world. Tourists coming both from Western Europe and the Eastern countries feel comfortable in Latvia and find things that are of interest to them. Latvia, like other European countries, can offer a vast culture historical heritage; however, it is unique – the one and only and inimitable. Careful observations and unhurried recreation will allow you to notice things that will make your heart beat faster in delight.
The people of Latvia are hospitable and cheerful; friendly and open towards visitors, and able to get on with anyone, as throughout the centuries they have gained a vast culture heritage. Latvian people treat the cultures of other people (Slavic, Western, and Scandinavian) with understanding. Latvia, being a European Union state, is a safe country.
At the same time Latvia is a contemporary European country, and its capital city Riga – a modern metropolis, in which historical architecture, unique in Europe, alternates with the modern; one can feel the breeze of a centuries-old history and relax in modern night clubs, restaurants and comfortable hotels.
It is also worth visiting Latvia because of its unspoilt nature (where else in Europe one can find 500 km long sandy beaches and 45% of the territory covered by natural forests, offering various recreational possibilities in nature; moreover, freely accessible to everybody!), and also because of the diversity of historical, culture and architectural sites.
Latvia is also notable for the possibility to relax undisturbed by anyone – Latvia is not known for overcrowded places of recreation. The reason behind this is that there are enough tourist sites, and plenty of space for everybody! For example, if you want to spend your time on an empty beach, you can go down to the Baltic Sea coast, but if you want to be among people, then you should go to one of the longest sandy beaches in Europe – Jūrmala.
Latvia is a very interesting place for lovers of military tourism. World War I and II, as well as the army of the Soviet Union, have left notable military monuments here. For example, the military port in Liepāja used to be one of the main naval bases on the Baltic Sea during both the period of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Likewise, one of the largest radio telescopes in Europe, once used for military intelligence purposes, as well as other impressive military sites are found in Latvia.
Latvia has a well-developed transport system, convenient communications (the Internet connection is one of the fastest in the world), ATMs are found in all large cities and credit cards are accepted. Latvia also stands out with its high quality, European level services for acceptable prices.
Latvia is made unique by its two different worlds – the European metropolis Riga and the rest of Latvia – a rural environment with unspoilt nature, tranquil towns and a green environment. Therefore, an observant traveller visiting Latvia will find excellent opportunities for recreation!
In order to get to know it all better and to spend unforgettable, excellent holiday, this portal offers in-depth information about Latvia. For example, on history, on the Latvian population, climate, sites to see and travel routes, useful and necessary travel information. Food & Drink
When visiting Latvia, travellers may be absolutely certain that they will be served tasty, healthy and varied meals. They just have to choose what best matches their eating habits and needs and open the doors of any city restaurant, cafe or roadside bar.
Latvian national cuisine has been formed under the influence of cuisines from the neighbouring countries and the meals served today are particularly rich in other nationality dishes.
Latvia also welcomes the most spoilt gourmands, both gastronomy tour lovers, Slow Food supporters and all others. Bon appetit! Ecotourism
Ecotourism traditions in Latvia are comparatively new and still in formation. Nevertheless, Latvia as an ecotourism destination is interesting and fascinating: Latvia has a comparatively untouched nature, a multicultural society and authentic cultural environment in the countryside. Latvia can be proud both of its comparatively untouched nature and authentic cultural environment. Latvia is sparsely populated and a half of its territory is covered with forests where all the natural processes and wild animals can be observed. To those who are truly interested in nature, a visit to a natural park in Latvia will offer a special adventure of viewing bird migration or exotic animals like auroch or wisent.
Latvia's countryside and small towns can boast their distinctive character. In the West of Latvia, Kurzeme, one is introduced to the unique culture of the Suiti and the heritage of a small Finno-Ugric people, the Livonians (Livs). In the East of Latvia, a visitor is overwhelmed by the hospitality of the locals, may learn the skill of pottery making and see the diverse Catholic, Orthodox and Old Believer churches. Besides, each small town of Latvia has its own unique story to tell about the people who once lived there.
Quite a few Latvians grow food in their own allotment gardens, especially in the countryside. Therefore, when touring Latvia, one should not miss an opportunity to buy locally grown vegetables and locally picked fruits of the forest – berries and mushrooms – at local markets. Home-made smoked meats and game are also for sale. A number of Riga's restaurants, too, offer local produce from the Latvian countryside. Travel ideas
If you have come to Latvia and enjoyed the wonderful capital of Latvia, Riga and its historically older part the Old Riga, visited museums, art galleries, opera and theatres, you can visit also other places in Latvia. Latvia offers green, wild nature, rich historical and culture heritage, exciting towns, military objects and much more. Latvia does not end with Riga. Latvia is divided into four cultural-historical regions, each differing with its own special aura. Zemgale, Vidzeme, Kurzeme and Latgale – during one-day excursions outside Riga, one can get acquainted with the variety and contrasts of Latvia.
For example, Latgale not only has marvellous nature with many lakes and hills and a specific cultural-historical atmosphere, but it also has many beautiful churches that will be of interest for sacral tourism lovers.
Latgale stands out both with its impressive Catholic churches (the Aglona Basilica, the centre of the Latvian Catholicism and a sacred site of world importance) and tiny wooden basilicas (Indrica Catholic church).
In Vidzeme, many tourists from all over the world highly esteem the marvellous, rich nature and cultural-historical objects of Gauja National Park and the Turaida Castle Museum Reserve. In Vidzeme it is definitely worth seeing the old cities of Cēsis and Valmiera, as well as the Teiči Reserve – a unique nature object and one of the largest marshes in the Baltics.
Kurzeme attracts tourists with untouched nature (Cape Kolka and Slītere National Park), mighty military heritage (Irbene locator, the biggest radio locator in northern Europe) and its coastal cities Liepāja and Ventspils – wide beaches, fresh fish, the sea and recreation for the whole family. A trip through the old town of Kuldīga will be an exciting adventure for everyone – the old brick bridge over the Venta River and the widest waterfall in Europe, the Venta Rapids, where one can see fish jumping over the rapids in spring time, and the city’s old buildings and narrow streets.
Zemgale is rich in luxurious castles and estates – it is the right place for the architecture and art lovers. Rundāle Castle is worth mentioning – it is a gem of the Baroque and Rococo styles in the Baltics, built by the famous architect Rastrelli.
A twenty minute drive from Riga will take you to the most famous resort city in the Baltics – Jūrmala. Wide, sandy beaches, great restaurants, hotels and SPA centres, a concert hall and active recreation centres – and that’s not all. Nature lovers will also find something to do in Jūrmala, like visit Ķemeri National Park and the Ķemeri Moorland. History and culture
Latvia’s history and culture is a rich cultural-historic heritage. Because of its multicultural mix, Latvia’s history and culture stands out because of its variety, but at the same time its singularity and uniqueness. Just imagine for a moment, where else in such a small territory can one find unusual churches and ancient pagan sacred objects, where else is it possible to try out and participate in ancient traditions and witness something completely modern, where else can one enjoy historic medieval buildings and the unique Art Nouveau architecture of the beginning of 20th century which is unique in the world because it can only be created in a progressive and multicultural environment.
Why is Latvia’s culture so unique? Because of its favourable geographical location, in the last millennium Latvia has absorbed the traditions and experience of, arguably, almost all European or even World nations, at the same time retaining characteristics which are special and unique only to Latvians. For example, the pagan traditions which are followed in almost every family or farmstead, such as Summer Solstice or Līgo when on many hills in Latvia bonfires are lit, around which people sing and party through the shortest night of the year until the dawn rises. Then there are Easter and Christmas – these festivities are celebrated twice, both as a Christian and as a pagan holiday. Latvia simultaneously honours Christian and Hebrew traditions, as well as elements of the German and the Slavic cultures.
The variety of cultures and their peaceful co-existence are exemplified by the fact that in Latvia one can see churches of different confessions – all of them ornate, for example, Catholic (Rīga St. Albert’s Roman Catholic Church, Aglona Basilica), Lutheran (St. Peter’s Church in Rīga), Orthodox (Rīga Christ’s Birth Orthodox Cathedral) churches, and the prayer houses of Old-Believers (Rīga Grebenščikova Old-Believer Church).
Yet this is only a small drop in the sea of Latvia’s history and cultural sites and events. The best way to learn about the rich historic and cultural heritage in depth is in this section. If you are interested in ancient folk traditions (that really can infatuate everyone, even the biggest sceptic), if you are a fan of old castles and historic estates, if you are interested in art and museums, and if you would like to be part of all that to be present at the Song and Dance Festival, then welcome – you are in the right place! Green tourism
To say that Latvia boasts pristine nature is no exaggeration, which means that many options are available for green tourism from simple walks in the woods to special offerings for bird-watchers, hunters and friends and connoisseurs of nature. The treasures of Latvian nature are accessible to everyone, as the main objects of value are the property of the state. In our country, one can freely access rivers and lakes, the sea and the forests – while, of course, respecting private property and protecting the environment. Therefore, you must definitely take advantage of the opportunities that Latvia offers to the friends of nature because, in our day, an escape into nature and unhurried green recreation is an invaluable experience and memory – and in fact, even a necessity of life.
Do you wish to go on a hike? Go right ahead! There is nothing better than going for a walk in the Gauja National Park, observing the sandstone outcrops and the caves they contain! You can also visit the banks of the rapid-filled River Amata, head to the Kurzeme coast or the land of the blue lakes, Latgale – you can find hiking routes everywhere that will leave an impression. Want to go mushroom or berry picking? All Latvian forests are full of nature’s bounty! Want to see wild animals? Then you should head for the Līgatne nature park or simply go out and see them in the wild! Or maybe you are tempted by bird-watching? You are welcome to that, too: in Pape, at Lake Engure and many other locations there are special towers for bird-watchers. Would you like to explore the unique ecosystem of marshlands? Be our guest: at the Ķemeri marsh within 50 km of Riga and elsewhere there are even special nature trails.
But even that is not all - this is merely a tiny fraction of the broad possibilities available to tourists who wish to go out into nature. Everything is possible in Latvia; all you need to do is enquire and search a little more carefully. It is not in vain that the recreational opportunities offered by the Latvian state forests have been dubbed "Mammadaba” – Momma Nature. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that recreation in nature can be enjoyed most fully by using the services of knowledgeable guides and taking care to have appropriate equipment and clothing. And services like that are also available, for example, at mammadaba.lv Your interests and life-style
Latvia can offer both an unforgettable holiday in nature and an abundance of cultural heritage – architecture, history, museums, nature objects… And that’s not all! The variety of the recreation choices on offer is truly striking. Everyone will find something to do in Latvia! The country caters to all interests and different kinds of life-style. Those who are drawn to modern cities – Riga is one of them! A contemporary EU metropolis with excellent restaurants, night-clubs and also unique architecture and sightseeing objects. At the same time, barely an hour’s-drive away from Riga you will discover a completely different world, which those who enjoy a leisured recreation in natural surroundings will surely appreciate. Unusual nature objects (the ancient valley of the Gauja River in Sigulda, the land of the blue lakes in Latgale and the steep seacoast in Jūrkalne, to name but a few), the diversity of unspoilt nature, bird- and animal watching, hiking, water tourism, cycling – all of it is available in Latvia.
Architecture and art lovers will be delighted too. They can visit Rundāle Palace – an outstanding gem of Baroque and Roccocco architecture in the Baltics – as well as other castles and manors to be found in virtually every rural district of Latvia.
Though you shouldn’t stop at that. Smaller Latvian towns can be equally attractive with their quiet, cobble-paved streets, centuries-old but restored buildings, an unhurried pace of life... That’s all in store for you should you dare escape the tourist crowds and go to Cēsis, Kuldīga, Sabile, Aizpute, Ape and other Latvian towns.
And let’s not forget about something yet more special, unavailable anywhere else in the world. Want to get high? Literally - as high as a bird? Then you simply have to stop by at the vertical wind tunnel "Aerodium” near Sigulda where you can enjoy the free flight of a bird. By the way, it was the "Aerodium” guys who amazed the whole world with their flying show at the Olympic closing ceremony in Turin and who did it again at the World Expo 2010.
So welcome to Latvia! Spa and Wellness
In Latvia, there is every opportunity to receive high-level medical services, yet Latvians know how to ensure everyday well-being and strengthen their health by using both methods tried and tested the world over, such as spas and similar treatments, and skills and knowledge that have their roots in traditional medicine. People in Latvia are closely connected with nature. That is why things that are elsewhere called landscape therapy, herbal medicine or aromatherapy and cost a lot of money are known here simply as long walks in the woods or by the sea, a thoroughly hot session in the sauna or a steaming mug of herbal tea – best for dealing with a physical and mental low. And the so-called work therapy, more commonly known in Latvia as "doing a few chores” around the country home, provides a city dweller with a great opportunity to take some exercise.
There are saunas in many houses and nearly every guesthouse or hotel, and they offer a wide range of treatments: from swatting yourself with besoms made out of plants, sweat-inducing teas, contrast showers, various massages and beauty treatments using natural preparations.
At a fair number of hotels and country "health farms”, guests are offered spa services which use both world renowned cosmetics brands and products made on site from ingredients that come from the untouched Latvian nature. (Among other things, the unspoiled nature has inspired several Latvian entrepreneurs to create lines of natural cosmetic products: for example, the nature-friendly Madara products have already conquered the European market.)
Everyone can find the most suitable way of restoring energy and good cheer – whether at the hotel spas of Riga, Jūrmala, Liepāja and other towns, or amidst rural tranquillity. Also, activities such as horse riding, Nordic walking, bicycling and cross-country or downhill skiing in winter enjoy popularity. But to keep the spirit and the flesh awake, far more extreme pursuits can be useful: for example, winter swimming in an ice hole (maybe you wish to join the Latvian "seals”?). Still, a healthy lifestyle can be led in more peaceful ways: with a juice treatment or rubbing yourself with a rough linen towel, or a morning crawl on all fours following a special methodology. For business travellers
Latvia has demonstrated its capacity to organise top-level meetings, proving to be most suitable for business conferences. In addition to seminars, business people can experience more of Latvia without much hurry. Close to the centre
The advantage of Latvia and Riga is the airport’s proximity to the centre of the capital – there aren’t many places in the world where a hotel in the very heart of the country can be reached in 10-15 minutes. In your free-time take a leisured stroll through the beautiful Old Town to look at the famous Art Nouveau architecture of Riga in the "quiet centre” of the city. Connecting West and East
As a regional hub connecting the West with the East, Latvia offers plentiful of opportunities for setting up business deals and carrying out negotiations. Hotels provide conference halls with all the necessary equipment, including synchronous interpreting. Stylish hotels
The Association of Hotels and Restaurants of Latvia recommends more than ten hotels as suitable for business travels - "Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija”, "Radisson Blu Ridzene”, "Radisson Blu Daugava”, "Radisson Blu Elizabete”, "Bergs”, "Hotel de Rome”, "Konventa Sēta”, "Islande Hotel”, "Avalon”, "Europe Royal Riga”, "Maritim Park Hotel”, "Europa City Riga”. It is also possible to find good conference premises outside Riga – surrounded by rural tranquility though still being close to the city. Many countryside guest houses provide conference facilities and active recreation as well — after the business meeting is over you can hang the suitcase in a wardrobe, put the document files in a safe and together with your colleagues, employees, supervisors and business partners race down the roller-sled track or go on a horse-ride. NATO summit too
Our country has successfully managed to host a NATO summit, a meeting of the European Reconstruction and Development Bank, has welcomed the US President, the British Queen, the King of Spain, the Japanese Emperor and other monarchs, the Pope of Rome and many other high guests. Medical tourism
Latvia is well-suited for both carrying out medical procedures and the post-operation period – wounds heal more steadily in a mild climate. Latvia’s diverse cultural life and interesting historical heritage provides great options for the rest and recuperation period. High quality medical service is ensured by our professional medical staff: our physicians have a received specialized higher education in medicine at Latvian institutions, as well as collecting additional knowledge and practice from studies and training in other countries, and taking part in international exchanges of experience. Latvia’s diagnostic and medical equipment is in compliance with all European Union standards – a lot of funds have been invested in up-to-date technology here. The high quality of service by medical staff in Latvia is defined by an involved, friendly, compassionate and individual approach to every patient. You will not have any problems communicating – our experts are fluent in foreign languages.
Quality healthcare services depend on several important factors. Professionalism of the medical staff – Latvian medical practitioners have acquired competitive medical education based on stable traditions. Knowledge and practice are perfected on regular basis by studies and internships abroad and by participating in international events for exchange of experience.
Latvia offers a range of high quality medical services for an opportune price, which regularly, comparing to the Western Europe countries, differs from 2 to even 10 times and more. The expedient geographical location ensures convenient arrival at Latvia, i.e., by plane, ferry, train or buss.
Wide range of hotels is offered to the guests, i.e., both cosy hotels in Vecrīga and recreation centres in the resort city Jūrmala. Additional opportunities of recreation and recovery period are provided by the diverse cultural life of Latvia and the interesting cultural heritage.
Professional agencies of medical services in Latvia offer travellers a range of medical services and manipulations, including diagnostics, dentistry, oculist services, narcology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, reproductive medicine and rehabilitation.
Medical services in a foreign country is a delicate issue, but if you are considering starting a treatment course in Latvia, you can be sure, that you will be served by an experienced and highly recommended medical tourism agency, which will arrange the most professional medical staff in Latvia, being internationally acclaimed specialists in their field. For youth and budget travelers
Despite being an EU country Latvia is far from expensive. Latvia is a suitable destination for those who are cautious about their expenses; it is also a convenient transit point when travelling to other countries. Latvia has no shortage of accommodation affordable also for young and budget travellers. Public transport is inexpensive too, and in the centre of Riga one can find cheap restaurants serving delicious food. Moreover, Latvia is a fairly safe country. Cheap accommodation
Even in the very heart of Riga – in the Old Town – there are hostels offering cheap accommodation. Pricing is attractive: for example, a room with four beds not far from the Old Town will not exceed the price of 15 EUR per person. A room for two people with shower and WC costs 50 EUR. Three travellers can share a room in an Old Town hotel for 30 LVL per night. A double suite with a shared WC costs 24 LVL. ISIC card entitles to a 10% discount.
Usually hostels have Wi-Fi and free internet access, which means that you can share your Latvia adventures via Facebook and other profiles. Moreover, Latvian hostels and the Latvian Youth Hostel Association "Hostelling Latvia” are members of the Hostelling International organisation. Our hostels are covered by the international booking system hihostels.com, and Latvian tourists can obtain the Hostelling International membership card which ensues discounts. More than ten Latvian hostels are represented in the Hostelling Latvia association although their actual number is much higher. Hospitality clubs
If hotels and even hostels turn out unaffordable or insufficiently exciting, you can opt for the worldwide hospitality community hospitalityclub.org or couchsurfing.org, whose members should be contacted beforehand. Is it safe? – In the guest books of your potential hosts read the references and comments left there by their previous guests. To avoid disappointment and to prepare for your first meeting it is also recommended to study the profile of your future hosts and compare your interests and foreign language proficiency. With your own tent
Another alternative is to travel with a tent and stay in one of the many Latvian camping sites on a beautiful seaside, which will cost you only a couple of lats. It is also possible to find a place at the seaside or by the lake for free, only remember to clean it afterwards. If a house is situated nearby, it means that this might be a private territory so it could be wise to make a deal with the owner for a symbolic pay. Don’t leave your things in a tent unattended, and by all means do not set up a tent in the city greenery as it is prohibited. Travel for European funds
Various programs financed by the European Commission provide not only for studying in an informal setting but also for travelling on a minimum budget. The most popular and youth-oriented program is Youth in Action. Mind you, however, that in order to benefit from it you cannot be older than 25. When participating in a thematic youth exchange program in another European country you pay for only 30% of your travel expenses while the other 70% of travel costs plus accommodation, food and various activities for 1-2 weeks are covered by the project funding. Thus you can learn in an informal atmosphere, meet your contemporaries from all over Europe and spend some time in another milieu.
You have to follow the project’s agenda though and learn by participating in the activities. However, if you wish to stay a bit longer for a day or two and see more of the country on your own, the organisers usually won’t mind if your return is scheduled a couple of days after the event – the days which you can devote exclusively to yourself! More information: www.jaunatne.gov.lv; www.redngo.lv. By bus, hitch-hiking or by bicycle
Latvian public transport holds a fairly decent level of standard and is affordable to young travellers too. A bus ride from Riga to Liepāja covering 225km will cost 5 LVL. The seaside resort city Jūrmala can be reached by train for less than 1 LVL. One ride on a tram, a trolleybus or a bus in the capital city costs 0,7 LVL although you can buy an e-ticket for several trips, which makes one ride slightly cheaper.
If you want to get farther away, try hitch-hiking. Of course, it is better to hitch-hike together – for girls in particular in any country it will always be safer to have some company when getting into a stranger’s car. Another word of advice is to prepare a visible poster with your destination place inscribed. If you are lucky, you can cover as much as 500 – 600 km in one day, passing through the entire country.
Alternatively, you can disregard all of it – buses, trains, unfamiliar car drivers – and rent a bicycle. For example, at the self-service rental point "BalticBike” located in the shopping mall "Origo” by the Central Railway Station. Inexpensive eating out
Budget travellers all over the world are good at finding cheap and good places for eating out. In the Old Town this category is represented by the so-called pelmeņi ("filled dumplings”) and pancake eateries. There are many places in Riga where you can order a full lunch consisting of soup, main course and a non-alcoholic beverage for 2 LVL. Chinese cuisine, although cheap and popular in many other countries, for the time belongs to the high-end restaurants in Latvia. An exotic alternative is to visit the Krishnait restaurant in Riga (56 Barona Str.) where all food is vegetarian and where your stomach can be filled for less than 1 LVL. Music festivals
During summers in particular, a variety of events take place in Latvia, many of which are for free. It is very likely that your stay will coincide with such events as the folklore festival, the nationwide Song and Dance Festival, the music festival "Positivus” in Salacgrīva or the country festival in Bauska. What to see
Latvia’s advantage is the relatively inexpensive pastime. Whether it includes captivating nature objects, a picturesque scenery, an interesting museum, magnificent castles and manors, or unspoilt environment – it won’t cost you much, so it is only a matter of getting there. We suggest you shouldn’t confine your sightseeing to Riga and its Old Town historical centre – expand it at least as far as Pārdaugava whose wooden architecture is worth a visit. Kuldīga, Sigulda, Cēsis and other small Latvian towns are also a must-see. Go to the seaside to enjoy the sun and the waves, or explore the power of nature in one of the national parks.
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