Latvia is located in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Belarus. It is a member of the European Union, NATO, the Council of Europe, the United Nations, and WTO among other organizations. In 1918 it declared independence and announced the creation of the Republic of Latvia.
Latvia is becoming an increasingly popular stop for individuals on eastern Europe backpacking trips and travelers who want to get away from the standard tourist trail. As an up and coming destination, prices are still low but there are loads of options available for tourists by way of accommodation and activities. Combine the Old Town of Riga, with Latvia’s gorgeous countryside and you’ve got yourself a real gem of a destination.
This Latvia Travel Guide contains all the information you need to plan your own trip to this still a bit hidden destination. Check it out!
- Latvia Travel Guide: Quick facts
- Latvia’s Statistical Regions
- How to travel to Latvia
- How to travel around Latvia
- What to pack for Latvia
- The best time to visit Latvia
- What to eat in Latvia
- Famous events in Latvia
- Public holidays in Latvia
- Cultural customs to be aware of in Latvia
- Latvia accomodation
- Don’t forget travel insurance
- Basic phrases and their pronunciation
- Is Latvia safe for tourists?
- The use of cash and cards in Latvia
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Latvia
- Tipping in Latvia
- A brief history of Latvia
- Posts about Latvia
Latvia Travel Guide: Quick facts
Size: 24,938 sq mi or 64,589 km²
People living there: more than 1,953,200
Capital of Latvia: Riga
Governmental structure: unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
National day: November 18
Time zone: Eastern European Time / UTC+2 / GMT+2
Currency: euro (EUR)
Power voltage and socket type(s): 230V, plug type F. If these don’t match with your devices, make sure to bring a universal adapter.
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion. Christians are the biggest religious group in Latvia.
What language is spoken in Latvia? Latvian is the official language. Russian is spoken by many as well. In general, younger people will have an understanding of English, especially in the capital, but older people will probably not.
Drives on this side: right
International driver’s licence accepted? no
Phone code: +371
Vaccinations needed? none other than those required for daily life in your own country
Can you drink the tap water? yes
Latvia’s Statistical Regions
The westernmost region in Latvia, Kurzeme (“Courland” in English) has the envious privilege of enjoying the largest portion of Latvia’s coastline. The shore faces out towards the Baltic Sea and the beaches here are pristine. White sand dunes undulate before sloping down to flat ground and eventually reaching the water. When the sun is shining this place is perfect for sunbathing but the waters remain chilly all-year-round.
Kurzeme is also home to the Lake Engure Nature Park – one of Europe’s most important waterfowl habitats. The lake is technically a lagoon and you’ll find bird-watching opportunities galore across and around its shimmering surface.
Latgale is the easternmost region in Latvia and is probably the best place to visit for a truly authentic Latvian experience. The region is renowned for its numerous dazzlingly blue lakes. Drizdis and Ežezers are considered the most beautiful of the lakes, but feel free to make up your own mind on that.
Daugavpils, however, is the main attraction here. The town sits near the Lithuanian and Belarusian borders and boasts a number of stunning mansions dating back to the 18th century. The bright white Catholic Church of St. Peter’s is impressive to behold but is completely overshadowed by the ten onion domes of the Orthodox Saints Boris and Gleb Church and the Daugavpils Fortress.
Pieriga is in the North of Latvia and occupies the entirety of the rest of its coastline, bar a small section reserved for Riga. It looks out on the Gulf of Riga, which has much calmer water than the neighboring Baltic Sea.
Pieriga is the calm before the storm of energy in Riga. It is the kind of place you go when you want to admire beautiful scenery and take leisurely walks along the coastline.
Riga is the thriving capital city of Latvia and it occupies a very desirable place on the country’s northern coastline. Almost a third of the entire country lives in the capital and yet it takes up just 304 of Latvia’s total 65,500 square kilometers. Riga is peppered with beautiful historical monuments, including the Riga Castle, Monument of Freedom and St. Peter’s Church.
If you’re looking for authentic Latvian goodies, the Central Market is a must. All kinds of weird and wonderful foods are sold here as well as some cute knick-knacks. Be sure to leave enough time in your schedule to check out the Three Brothers as well. These are the oldest residences in the city and they are absolutely tiny and positively adorable!
The largest of Latvia’s regions, Vidzeme is known predominantly as the home of the fabulous Gauja National Park. This park is a hotspot for wildlife and nature, with the River Gauja carving its way through a dramatic gorge. The park also boasts some of the country’s most magnificent archaeological sites.
For even more nature, make your way over to Cesis, which buzzes with activity regardless of the season. You’ll find an abundance of hiking trails in this quaint town along with a healthy dose of historical sites – there’s something for everyone.
Zemgale runs along Latvia’s border with Lithuania in the South and is noticeably flatter than the rest of the country. In the northern part of this region, you will find a chunk of the Kemeri National Park, which has pools of healing mud and mineral waters.
In the Tervete Nature Park, you’ll find dozens of wooden sculptures of fairytale characters. This gives the park an unmistakably magical ambiance and makes it perfect for family trips. For a more urban landscape, head to Jelgava, a beautiful historical town with a decent vibe and an excellent history and art museum.
How to travel to Latvia
Latvia visa requirements
Most nationalities, including British, American, Australian, and Canadian can visit Latvia visa-free from up to 90 days. For a longer visit, you will need to apply for a Schengen visa.
Eurolines offers a number of buses services from various points in Poland to Riga. There are also frequent buses with Lux Express from Vilnius, Lithuania, and Tallinn, Estonia into Riga. Other direct lines into Riga start in Moscow and St Petersburg, Russia; Minsk, Belarus; Berlin, Germany; and Prague, Czech Republic.
Note that the buses from Berlin and Prague can take up to 24 hours and are not the most convenient way to travel.
You can take a train into Latvia from Valga, Estonia; Moscow and St Petersburg, Russia; and Minsk, Belarus. This is generally more comfortable than the bus though not necessarily more time efficient. These are currently the only countries that have trains in Latvia as the train tracks in Latvia are not compatible with much of the rest of Europe’s trains.
Riga is connected by ferry to Stockholm Sweden and ferries make this crossing on a daily basis. The other major ferry link is between the Liepaja Passenger Port in Latvia and the city of Travemünde in Germany.
Fly to Latvia
Riga International Airport is the main international airport in Latvia. However, the country does have two other, smaller, international airports: Liepaja and Ventspils.
If you’re looking for flights, I recommend using Skyscanner. This site gives a good overview of your flight options as well as the prices. You can even set price alerts and see which month flights are cheapest.
How to travel around Latvia
Independent travel around Latvia
If you’re not into organized travel, you will be pleased to know that independent travel around Latvia is relatively straightforward. Public transport is dirt cheap and a day ticket for the buses in Riga will set you back a mere 5 euros. The capital of Latvia is navigable by bus, tram, trolley, and mini-bus.
There is an extensive rail and bus network that connects Riga to the rest of the country. The other main towns and cities in Latvia have their own internal bus networks too.
If you want full flexibility on your trip, get a rental car. There’s not that much traffic in Latvia but you should be aware that many roads, especially in the countryside, aren’t in the best state and that speeding is an issue. While Latvia’s road circumstances have a bad reputation the country has been making progress over the last few years.
As for accommodation, there are plenty of hotels, hostels, and campsites scattered across the country. Naturally, the bulk of the accommodation is in the capital, but there are still options in the other regions. Latvia’s main tourist sites are also well serviced by public transport, making DIY day trips smooth and simple.
What to pack for Latvia
Latvia has what some people call “proper seasons”. This means that in the summer it can get pretty warm and in the winter it becomes seriously cold with a strong chance of heavy snow. Spring and fall tend to bring similar temperatures – mild during the day and chilly in the evening.
What to pack for Latvia in summer
- light clothing
- hiking trousers
- good walking sandals
- a reusable water bottle
What to pack for Latvia in winter
- merino woolen socks
- a merino woolen baselayer
- merino woolen leggings
- a warm scarf
- a warm, water and windproof coat
- comfortable waterproof shoes
- snow boots
- a hat
- a scarf
- a reusable water bottle
What to pack for Latvia in fall and spring
The beginning of fall can be very mild while the end can be pretty chilly already, while the same principle works the other way around for spring. The most important thing to bring for these seasons, are layers so that you can adapt to the weather of the day and easily put something extra on in the mornings and evenings when it tends to be noticeably colder. A good jacket is a must too.
The best time to visit Latvia
The best times to travel to Latvia are undoubtedly late spring and summer, which fall between May and September. There is no guarantee what the weather will be like, but this is when you will have your best chance of sunshine. Latvia has some stunning natural beauty so you need clear skies and warm days to best enjoy what it has to offer.
If you love snow, then winter is the time to go. Just be aware that the days are short and so you’ll have to plan accordingly.
What to eat in Latvia
- Rye bread – comes in all different shades and is a popular breakfast food
- Speck – fatty smoked bacon, traditionally served to field workers, eaten with fried onions
- Sauerkraut – chopped pickled cabbage served alongside pretty much everything
- Beetroot soup – bright purple soup made with beetroot, garlic, cream, and other ingredients
- Pelmeni – Latvia’s equivalent of the Polish Pierogi, dumplings filled with minced meat, potato, or cheese
- Sour cream – the Latvians smother everything with sour cream and it comes in all different consistencies
- Bread soup – this is as weird as it sounds: rye bread, fruits, and cream, blended up and served as a dessert
- Kvass – also made from rye bread, it is sweeter than beer and non-alcoholic
- Smoked fish – including salmon, cod, and herring
- Pickles – all different sizes and flavors and available by the kilo at the main market in Riga
Famous events in Latvia
- Opening of Cesis Castle – the castle opens up properly for the summer with a medieval-themed event (May)
- Riga City Festival – a festival of free events, including fireworks, craft markets, and pop up food stalls
- Positivus Festival – a popular commercial music festival in Salacgriva, North Latvia (July)
- Riga Christmas Markets – utterly magical cabins selling Christmassy trinkets and hot food and drinks (December – January)
- Riga Restaurant Week – Riga’s restaurants go all out to impress foodies and offer incredible three-course meals starting from 15 euros (May and October)
- Riga Marathon – one of the most scenic marathons in northern Europe (May)
- Riga Light Festival – light installations often accompanied by sounds and performances at various locations across the city (November)
- Song and Dance Celebration – a festival in honor of Latvian folk culture featuring dozens of ticketed events (July)
- Summer Sound – big music festival set up on the beach, previous headliners include Calvin Harris and Cheat Codes (August)
- Riga Opera Festival – a sophisticated event for lovers of the opera that brings in big crowds from abroad (June)
Public holidays in Latvia
- New Year’s Day
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- Labor Day – May 1
- Independence Day – May 6. If this is a weekend day, the next Monday is a holiday too.
- Midsummer Eve
- St John’s Day/Midsummer Day
- Latvian National Day – November 18
- Christmas Day
- Second Christmas Day
Cultural customs to be aware of in Latvia
Latvia is a modern, progressive country and there are few things that might offend its citizens – aside from to them as Russians. There is no culture of dressing modestly nor is there a notable division between the genders.
Latvians consider pointing with a single finger to be a rude gesture, so use your whole hand rather than just one finger.
I always use Booking.com to look for hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts. The site allows me to use a bunch of filters so I can easily find only those hotels that meet my criteria. If you’re looking for a hotel in Latvia, I highly recommend you check there.
Sometimes I prefer staying at an apartment and on those ocassions, I use airbnb. If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet, you can sign up using my link to get a discount on your first stay.
Don’t forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan and research a trip, there are always things that happen beyond your control. Something might get canceled, you can get ill or hurt while traveling or one of your electronics might break or get stolen. When misfortune strikes, travel insurance has got you covered. I’ve had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I’m covered for every trip I go on. Don’t have insurance yet? You can get a free quote here:
Basic phrases and their pronunciation
What’s your name?
I don’t understand
How do you say … in Latvian?
I don’t know
Kā Jūs sauc? (kah you sowk)
Es nesaprotu (ess ness-ah-prow-too)
Kā latviešu valodā būs…? (kah lat-viayshu va-lohda boors)
Es nezinu (ess neh-zhinoo
Uz redzēšanos (ooz red-zehh-shuh-nohs)
Is Latvia safe for tourists?
So, is it safe to travel to Latvia? Well, the only thing that can be a bit dangerous is the traffic. Road conditions away from the bigger cities aren’t great and Latvians are known to speed quite a lot.
In terms of safety in the city, Latvia is very safe and is not known for having a particularly high crime rate. Petty theft and pick-pocketing can occur in built-up areas but this is easy to avoid by keeping your valuables hidden. Just use your common sense and you’ll be fine.
The use of cash and cards in Latvia
Most establishments in Latvia will accept credit cards, but family-run businesses in rural areas might still require cash. You will also need cash to pay for goods in markets and to pay for public transport. It is recommended to carry a small amount of cash on you at all times, just in case. There are ATMs all over Latvia.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Latvia
Those with a SIM card from an EU country don’t have to pay roaming charges when calling, texting, or using data in Latvia. The same goes for some global phone plans.
If you don’t have a EU SIM but still want to have unlimited data, check out Skyroam.
Skyroam offers both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G data on your trips. I’ve been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (there are no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup in case I go over my phone’s data plan.
Tipping in Latvia
In Latvia, tipping is not obligatory but it is a common thing to do when you’ve received good service. You can find some guidelines on who to tip what here.
A brief history of Latvia
The first human settlements in Latvia date back to around 10,000 BC. There were four distinct tribal groups in the Latvian territory and the country’s river Daugava was a principal trading route into Russia and southern Europe.
In 1201, Riga was founded by Germans and by the end of the century, the city had become an important trading capital. Due to its enviable location, it was often at the center of conflict between the State of the Teutonic Order, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and the Russian Empire.
Under Russian rule, Latvia went through a period of industrialisation and became one of the most modern parts of the Russian empire. However, the Latvian people were determined to break free and become autonomous. The War of Independence came after the Latvians declared independence in 1918. After many gruelling battles, the Soviet Empire recognised Latvia’s independence in 1920 and the rest of the international community followed suit a year later.
Today, Latvia is a small but thriving country with membership to a number of prominent global organisations. This might surprise you but Latvia has some of the fastest internet speeds in the world!
And that’s it! I hope this guide is helpful in planning your own Latvia holidays. Feel free to let me know when you’ve been and how you liked it there.
Posts about Latvia
Click here for all the posts I’ve written about Latvia.
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