An Overview – Latvia
Latvia is one of those countries to discover before they get discovered. After a tumultuous history and a fight for its independence, Latvia is now an up and coming country, led by the capital Riga that's attracting more and more tourists each year with its nightlife and fashionable youth. Still, Latvia is coming back from economical difficulties, and its previous identity crisis are easily felt when faced by the strong influence of Germanic Culture and the fact that 30% of the population is Russian.
Today, Latvia has a lot to offer, whether it's to stay in Riga and enjoy the nightlife or to venture into the beautiful Gauja Valley, every type of traveler will find an activity fitting his preferences. The most beautiful Baltic beaches, a lot of medieval historic sites, especially around Sigulda and one of the most famous palace in the world, should be enough to make a traveler give a chance to Latvia.
Called the “Switzerland of the Baltic States” despite the fact that most of the country is below sea level, Latvia is the next fashionable destination, for young backpackers as well as experienced travelers. It's also the perfect starting point to discover the culture of the Baltic countries.
When to Travel – Weather
Latvia is not a very warm country. The Baltic Sea gives the capital, Riga, a mild climate, between -4° in winter and 16° in summer, but inland the climate becomes more extreme, going from -20° to 30°. The weather is generally humid, with rains all year round, and the upside of snow from November until March.
The best moment to visit Latvia is in the summer months, in July and August, to enjoy a warmer weather, although Riga under the snow is also a beautiful sight.
Saint Jean-Baptiste Day is celebrated the 23rd of June with people gathering in the countryside, eating traditional food and hanging flowers everywhere.
Latvian Cuisine and Drinks
Latvian cuisine was influenced by Germany, Russia and Poland. In restaurants, dishes are often served in whatever order is best for the chef. Most dishes are made with meat, especially pork, or smoked fish served with vegetables like potatoes, peas and onions. It's not easy to find vegetarian options in Latvia. Soups and salads might often be seen on the menu, but they usually also contain meat.
A meal will always be concluded by dessert. In summer, berries are served with porridge or made into tarts. Crepes are also very popular, or biguzi, a cake made with berries and brown bread.
Latvians are good drinkers, and krogs (pubs) are open until late at night. Beers and ciders are the most popular drinks in Latvia. A traditional drink, but very strong, called the Black Balsam, is also sometimes served, poured into coffee or berry juice. Only for experienced stomach.
Popular Sights in Latvia
Riga – The capital of the country, Riga is growing to be more and more beloved by tourists recently. After a lot of recent changes, Riga is becoming a dynamic and young city with a very enjoyable nightlife. The main spots to visit in Riga are the Castle, the Liberty Monument surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens, and the Doma Cathedral. The district around the Doma Cathedral is also where the nightlife is the most dynamic and cheap. To the south of the city, the Market is at the heart of Riga, always animated and full of life.
Gauja National Park – This protected area surrounding the Gauja river is the most beautiful region in Latvia. A perfect spot for athletic travelers who want to enjoy hiking, biking, camping or canoeing in this wonderful environment, or who just want to enjoy a break and time to reconnect with nature.
Sigulda – Situated at the entrance of the Gauja National Park, Sigulda is a beautiful town of forests, hiking trails and a slew of old castles from medieval times to visit. Sigulda is the perfect starting point to enjoy this peaceful region.
Turaida Medieval Castle – This castle and museum near Sigulda, although recently constructed, is one of the most visited in Latvia. This impressive museum tells the story of everything that happened in the last 1000 years.
Cesis – Situated further along the Gauja River, Cesis is a town in the Vidzeme region. The main reason for a visit to Cesis are the two castles present in the city ; the Knight's Castle and the New Cesis Castle. The beautiful park and Saint John's Church are also worth a visit.
Rundale Palace – Rundale Palace is a baroque building built by the Dukes of Courland and one of the major tourist attraction in Latvia. The architecture alone is enough to visit this Palace, transporting the visitor, for an instant, to a land full of princes and princesses. It's not called Latvia's “Versailles” for nothing.
Jurmala – Accessible by train from Riga, Jurmala is an ensemble of small villages along the coast. There the traveler will find beaches, forests, peaceful trails, museums, bars and restaurants, everything needed to take a break from the city with a nice view on the sea. The beaches are said to be the most beautiful of the Baltic, and in season visitors from the surrounding countries will also come to enjoy them. Still, they are very rarely crowded.
Currency - Latvia uses the Euro since 2014. In Riga, credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops. In the rest of the country, it's still possible to find an ATM, but credit cards are not accepted in most establishments. In hotels, don't forget to check if the TVA is part of the announced price to prevent bad surprises at check out. In restaurants, tips are not mandatory, but still common place.
Health – It's recommended to visit the doctor one month before a trip to Latvia to check on your vaccinations. The main danger is tick bites from April till October, since they can carry diseases. Be cautious when in woodland. It's not recommended to drink tap water.