Latvia – Nature and European Customs
Especially for lovers of nature, Latvia is a unique experience. Whether you walk along the long coast or explore one of the many natural reserves, the exceptional flora and fauna are full of surprises.
Geography - In the middle of the Baltic states
With an area of 64,589 km², Latvia is the second biggest Baltic country. It is characterised by long coastal regions at the Baltic Sea and borders on the states Estonia in the north, Russia in the east, Belarus in the south-east and Lithuania in the south. Latvia's climate is cool temperate. While the winters are very frosty, the summers can be hot and dry. The country can be divided into the four historical regions Courland, Livonia, Zemgale and Latgale.
Nature - Watching wild animals in thick forests
Latvia mainly consists of flat country. In the north-east, you find the Vidzeme Upland, which contains the Gaiziņkalns as the country's highest peak with 311 metres of height. The south-east is covered in moorland, which is crossed my rivers and lakes. Furthermore, half of the country is vegetated by pines and broadleaf forest. Exploring these forests, you can find a number of endangered plants as well as animals such as bears, lynxes, wolves, elks and wild horses, which you rarely encounter in other places on earth.
Natural sights - Ideal for varied walking tours
Latvia is a suitable travel destination for lovers of nature. You have free access to rivers and lakes and you can explore the country's flora and fauna in four national parks and over one hundred nature reserves. The Gauja National Park in the glacial valley is the greatest park and one of Latvia's most popular attractions. It contains over 500 historical and cultural monuments. Whether you are at the coast, in the forest or in the moorland, Latvia is perfectly suited for varied walking tours, during which you spot wild animals and rare plants with a bit of luck.
Culture - Folklore, folk music and pagan traditions
After Latvia first gained independence in the Latvian War of Independence in 1918, it was occupied by the Soviet Union and the German Empire. In 1990, the country regained independence through the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There is still a strong Russian minority of 26.9% in Latvia today but cultural influences mostly come from Northern Europe, i.e. Sweden, Finland and North Germany. The country is known for its folklore, folk music and pagan traditions.
Cultural sights - Culture in the capital Riga
The greatest festival is the Jāņi - also known as the Summer Solstice Festival - which is celebrated yearly in the night from the 23rd to the 24th of June. The Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the capital Riga, in which thousands of choirs take part every four years, is dedicated to the country's traditional music culture. In addition, there are many museums, art galleries and monuments. Not only in the capital but also in smaller places you can marvel at the Latvian architecture, which offers buildings from a number of eras. Latvia's landmark is the Freedom Monument in the centre of Riga.
Experience - Food, film festivals, bars and Christmas market
The Latvian cuisine is characterised by local specialities like pelmini (dumplings stuffed with pork), honey pie as well as influences from Russia, Poland and Germany. After a meal you can taste the local herb liqueur Balsam. Latvia is also a great destination for film fans because it has many modern cinemas, a film museum and two international film festivals, which take place every year. As popular tourist cities, Riga and Jūrmala offer the most shopping and nightlife facilities. Besides bars and clubs, there are many pubs, especially in Riga. At Christmas time, the capital allures visitors with its beautiful Christmas market, on which you can buy Christmas tea, gingerbread and handicraft as special souvenirs. The SkylineBar, which is located on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija, is particularly popular with tourists because it offers a spectacular view of the city.
Activities - Out and about in nature
Although Latvia is mostly flat, it offers great conditions for many kinds of sports. In summer, for example, you can go sailing, swimming, water skiing or ride along the coast. In winter, the pistes, which you find in almost every region, invite visitors to ski and snowboard. Moreover, you can marvel at Latvia from above on a balloon flight or fly through the air yourself in the Aerodium - a strong wind tunnel, which was once built for military purposes.
You can reach Riga by plane from many places (and with direct flights from many European cities). While there are no direct train connections for this distance, Europeans can also go by bus. If you are not in a hurry, you can also travel to Latvia by ship. Within the country it is best to take the bus. The prices for accommodation in the peak season are more expensive in Latvia than in Central Europe. The official language is Latvian and Russian is also spoken by many inhabitants.
Latvia is a suitable destination for people who are looking for unspoiled nature with an extraordinary flora and fauna, and for those interested in traditional customs and music.