25+ Things To Know Before Traveling To Beautiful Latvia For The First Time

On the map of the world, you might not even notice Latvia – it’s a country with only 2 million residents, but in my humble opinion, Latvia has a lot to offer. Situated in northern Europe, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, this beautiful country can unexpectedly surprise you.

Here you can find Europe’s widest waterfall, Ventas rumba, beautiful golden sand beaches, a large population of white storks, amber jewellery, oversides churches, delectable pastries and astounding castles.

Latvia is part of the Baltic States, cosily sandwiched between the neighbouring countries of  Estonia and Lithuania, and just last year, on November 18th, celebrated 100 years of independence.

If on your travels around the world you had a chance to visit Europe’s top destinations such as Venice, Amsterdam or Paris during the peak season, you are aware of how crowded and challenging those places can get.

Latvia is mass-tourism free and still remains a semi-mistery to the rest of the World, and if you work up the courage to leave Riga behind, you might even be the only tourist in the area. For comparison, in 2017, 23 million people visited Paris while Latvia received 2.58 million visitors.

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Picture perfect views of Lake Alūksne.
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Different colours and styles of handmade artefacts represent various regions.

 

 

Things To Know Before Visiting Beautiful Latvia For The  First Time

Careful planning and hours spent researching about everything there is to know about the destination you are planning on visiting, including the main topics such as safety, climate, timezones and required vaccinations can go a long way when it’s time to make travel arrangments.

That’s why, in this article, well share some of the things you need to know before hopping on a plane to explore Latvia.

 

 Is Latvia safe for travellers? 

If you are planning to visit, the very first thing you should know about Latvia is that it’s a perfectly safe country to travel through, whether you like to visit its biggest cities or are planning to venture further inland.

Sure Latvia has its fair share of crimes, just like any other country, with crime rates higher in bigger cities than rural regions. And, there are some areas in Riga that are less safe for visitors.

Don’t forget; you can always talk to your accommodation host or hotel reception about where to go and what areas to skip. To avoid unwanted attention, don’t walk around with your camera and valet on display, don’t flash the cash, be aware of your surroundings and stay away from the city parks at night, this way you’ll avoid opportunistic criminals, like pickpocketers and bag snatchers.

In general, Latvia is safe for all types of travellers, be it single ones, families or large groups.  If you haven’t visited yet, this country should be on your radar.

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Fantastic city views from the St. Peters Church across River Daugava.

 

 

 Local lingo

Since gaining independence in 1991, the officially formalised language of Latvia is Latvian, which is part of Baltic Language. There are actually only two Baltic languages spoken to this day, the other being Lithuanian. If you look back on all the invasion, especially the Soviet one, it’s somewhat miraculous Latvian language has survived.

Note that Latvian isn’t the only language used in the country. Russian is also widely spoken as the around 28% of the population are Russians.

Getting by with English in the centre of Riga and everywhere else mostly will depend on who you talk to. The younger generation is well able to speak (or at least understand some English) and can help you with directions.

In public transport, announcements are only in Latvian, but fear not, Latvians are friendly people willing to assist when needed.

If you are passionate about visiting Latvia, then you should be excited about learning some basic Latvian. Greet your host and local people you meet along the way in their home language by learning a few necessary and useful phrases:

 •  Sveiki or Čau which is Hello,

 • Lūdzu (LOO-dzoo) for Please, 

 • Paldies (PUHL-dyehs)  for Thank you. 

Common Signs :

Atvērts – Open

Slēgts – Closed

Ieeja – Entrance

Izeja – Exit

Vilkt – Pull

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One of many pretty streets in Rigas Old Town.

 

 

 Arriving in Latvia and getting around

• Riga Airport / If you are travelling to Latvia by plane, you going to come to Riga International Airport, the biggest airport in the Baltic states where airBaltic is the largest national carrier. A taxi ride into the city will set you back at 10-15 euros and depending on the traffic – the journey shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes.

• Ferries / You can also arrive in Riga from Stockholm,  use Tallink to find out everything about connections and timetables.

• Bus 22 / Getting to and from the airport is very easy, simply use the number 22 public bus with direct services to and from the city centre, with multiple stops along the way. It takes around 30 minutes each way, depending on the traffic, and the bus fare is 2 EUR when purchased from a bus driver (cheaper from the vending machines).

• Getting around / Reliable network of trams, buses and trolly buses form public transport in Riga and can be used to travel to different places. Unless you want to be at the mercy of public transport schedules, my advice is to explore Riga on foot.

• Trains / Latvia has a well-developed and reasonably priced train and bus network which you can use to get to most places. The train system is straightforward, inexpensive and can be used to travel to the beautiful resort town Jurmala, to the second largest city Daugavpils and even to  Moscow, Russia. Timetables can be found at train stations or online at Pv.lv  

• Buses / The buses will take you pretty much to any other part of the country, and they provide excellent value for money. The central bus station in Riga is near The Central Market, and you can find loads of useful information on their leading site.

• Trams and trolleys / Yet another inexpensive way to get around Riga. Check Rīgas Satiksme webpage for more information about routes, schedules and tickets.

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The Freedom Monument, Riga, Latvia.

 

 

 Local currency

Since January 2014 the official currency in Latvia is euro, a somewhat recent development that makes visiting so much easier. Notes range from 5 euro to 500 euro. Cafes and retail outlets might not accept higher bills such as 100, 200 and 500.

Out of 56 European cities Price of Travel website listed Latvia as number 9 cheapest country to visit. Regarding expenses, the usual things like entrance fees, intercity transport and accommodation is very affordable.

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Typical winter scenery in rural Latvia.

 

 

 Latvian food and drink

When it comes to food in Latvia, from first glance, it seems pretty much straight forward-meat, homegrown veggies and heavy black bread. But on top of all the basic stuff – if you wish to heat things up – you’ll also find smoked herring, dumplings, loads of pickles, sklandrausis (sweet carrot pie), cold soups made with kefir; all sprinkled with a healthy dose of fresh dill.

Food is an integral part of Latvian culture and tradition; people still enjoy preparing meals from scratch using locally grown produce.

To sample Latvian cuisine, check out these places:

   •  Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs / If you are in Riga, for traditional and modern Latvian dishes as well as live music check out Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs where you can try beef shank meat, sauteed in Valmiermuižas dark beer and traditional grey peas.

   •   Lido / For typical Latvian cuisine, head to Lido.  It’s a buffet-style, self-service eatery and best thing about it; you can take a tray, walk along with the counters and mix and match anything you fancy trying. Expect potatoes, fish, meat, different salads and various desserts

  •   Kid-friendly / If you are travelling with youngsters, lots of restaurants have play areas, with toys and books,  designed primarily for kids. Andalūzijas Suns, located on Elizabetes Street 83 in Riga and Čarlstons situated on Blaumaņa Street are one of the best places to visit.

   •   Black Balsam / Sample local flavours with a shot of tar-black liquor, bottled in a clay bottle and containing 24 different herbs, roots and spices. While some people find it quite a mouthful – and damn strong – this drink can be found in every local’s cupboard and is often used as cold medicine. Instead of a shot, try it as a hot drink, mixed with schnapps or in a cocktail.

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Enjoying a tasty meal in one of LIDO eateries.

 

 There is more to Latvia than Riga

It’s fair to say that Latvia’s capital Riga, which dates back to 1201,  is the most prominent part of the country with meandering tourists.

And you can’t really blame them, as there is plenty of green spaces and incredible architecture masterpieces, but if you make a decision to leave the city behind and explore a little bit more of the countryside too, you’ll be in for a treat.

Almost half of the country that was once under the socialist rule is covered with a blanket of the untouched and easily accessible forests giving the home to an abundance of wild and beautiful creatures; such as lynxes, red fox, wild boar, wolves, and deer.

Jūrmala, Cēsis and Sigulda are perfect places to incorporate on first-timers itinerary as they are easy to get to and fun to explore.

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Due to a sheer volume of forests, Latvia is one of the greenest countries in the world.

 

 

 Ice Hockey is a holy sport

Ice Hockey is a sacred sport in Latvia, and Latvians pride themselves to be the best ice hockey fans in the world.

Latvians first began to play in 1930 and ever since then many of Latvian ice hockey players have attracted worldwide attention, and few of them have even made it to the NHL. Sandis Ozoliņš, Zemgus Girgensons and Kārlis Skrastiņš are names well known in the sport.

Arēna Rīga, located in central Rīga, is a very spacious arena offering a great place to watch an ice hockey game as well as eating and drinking facilities. There is plenty of parking, and the tickets are very cheap.

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Supporting Latvian Ice hockey team in Bratislava.

 

Latvians honour the rebirth of the sun 

While most of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas day, in Latvia families and friends, gather together on the eve of December 24th to celebrate Ziemassvētkus which literary translates to Winter Festival. This time of the year in Latvia is all about freshly baked gingerbread cookies, long nights, family and fortune-telling.

Just like our ancestors, we honour the rebirth of the sun, and when it comes to traditions, old pagan ones are still very much alive and widely used today.

Back in a day, birth feathers, dried fruits and coloured yarn were used to make traditional decorations. Most popular ones called ‘puzuri’ were made from straw or stem of grass. The process is time-consuming, and it required lots of patience, but the result is remarkably eccentric.

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And while a big family feast is at the centre of Winter Festival celebrations as well as loads of fun activities, the most crucial part is to be surrounded by people that you love.

 

Top places to see in Latvia

• Sigulda / While Riga, the capital,  is the very definition of the ideal weekend break, leave the city behind for a few hours and a visit Sigulda offering a perfect setting for an adventure and nature lovers. Situated only an hour away from Riga, Sigulda can easily be added to your itinerary. Here you’ll find Siguldas Medieval Castle, Gutmanis Cave, Tarzan’s Adventure Park and Sigulda Cable car.

• Jūrmala / One of the ways to escape the city for a few hours is to jump on the train and visit seaside resort Jurmala. You can relax by the sea, climb viewing tower at the beautiful Dzintari Forest Park, visit Jurmala open-air museum and have dinner by the sea.

• Ķemeri National Park / One of the most fascinating places, located close to the seaside resort Jūrmala, is Kemeri National Park – established in 1997 to preserve nature. The park offers biking and nature trails, viewing towers and the best part of it is the Great Kemerri Bog walk that takes you around the lakes, deep pools,  lets you observe heaps of migratory birds and brings you closer to sulphur water producing bog.

• Kuldīga / A place with beautifully preserved wooden houses that ooze with character, Kuldiga  – a town for those wanting to enjoy life’s simple pleasures – can easily be named Latvia’s prettiest town. Walk its cobbled streets, admire colourful houses and enjoy a lazy afternoon by Europe’s widest waterfall -Ventas Rumba.

• Rundāle Palace and Museum / The grounds of this beautiful palace, built in the 1730s for the Duke of Courland,   has undergone extensive restoration. Admire its magnificent baroque art collection, walk around the vast rooms and take in its diverse gardens with 2230 varieties of roses. Rundale Palace makes for a good day out if you are visiting Latvia and arent’ bound for time.

• Cēsis / Best known for its medieval castle – where you can climb the tower with a candlelit lantern –  Cēsis dates all the way back to 1206. If you love history and culture, you’ll be drawn to the historic Old Town where many examples of ancient wooden villas and beautiful masonry are on display.

• Gauja National Park / A home to a wide variety of animal and plant species as well as sandstone cliffs and outcrops, Gauja National Park  – founded in 1973 – was Latvia’s first national park. Nature lovers can enjoy one of many trails, active travellers can jump in a boat and paddle down the river and history buffs can explore Āraišu Lake Castle.

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Beautiful summer evening on Lake Alūksne.

 

 

The best time to visit Latvia

Latvia has four different weather seasons, and the best time to visit depends on what you are planning to do. Generally anywhere between late April and September is a great time to plan your journey.

Consider visiting Latvia in June, when Latvians celebrate the shortest night by staying up, singing, wearing oak-leaf wreaths and jumping over a bonfire. Midsummer Festival, known as Līgo and Jāņi,  takes place from 23-24 of June every year.

  • Spring / Latvia has defined four seasons, and the landscape in early spring is relatively barren with patches of snow, but as the days grow warmer and longer, nature wakes up the bees are buzzing and pollinating, and flowers are blooming. Weather in spring is relatively mild, and at this time of the year you can see bird migrations with flocks of geese, ducks and divers

  • Summer / Summer would be the best time to visit as the days are much, much longer,  can bring temperatures as high as 30’C

  • Autumn /  The weather in early autumn is very mild, and there’s an abundance of fresh produce, and plenty of festivals to choose from and autumn foliage in Gauja National Park is a sight to behold. 

  •  Winter / On one hand, during the wintertime weather, can be harsh and extremely cold. Winters, in fact,  can be so severe that rose plants in the gardens need to be carefully covered so they can survive the drop in temperatures and it often gets so cold that  Riga Bay becomes frozen solid. On the other hand, winter is such a beautiful and calm season, there is something spectacular to be found in cold climates if you are prepared for cold temperatures and snow.

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Riga Old Town, Latvia.

 

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Now, over to you!

Have you been to Latvia? Let us know in the comments below!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Latvia and have travel-related questions!

 

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Our Crossings follows the daily adventures of Latvian expats living in Sligo as they surf and explore the world

28 thoughts on “25+ Things To Know Before Traveling To Beautiful Latvia For The First Time

    1. Your comment made me laugh! But you are so right – everything I write about sounds amazing because for me personally every trip I have ever been – has been more than amazing. And I made it happen by adequately preparing, by not rushing trough trying to see everything and by managing my expectations. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, all Baltic States are well worth a visit as each of them offer fantastic tourist attractions and natural beauty! It’s actually been years since we visited Dublin or any other Irish city around Christmas time – it’s always crazy busy and a little bit stressful too, but thanks so much for a suggestion, I’ll write it down in my journal! Have a good day and thanks for stopping by. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know after I read your blog, there were two suggested reading on the Baltic States. One was an interview of the Tourism minister in a Singapore based media outlet, and she was saying how Latvia was looking for tourists from South Asia. I may never be able to visit all the beautiful countries and places in the world, but through blogs like these, through good writing, I visit them. So thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s so exciting to hear! Not many people know where Latvia is yet alone what it has to offer. Hope you had a great time exploring it and hope you are going to write about it too – would love to see my country trough visitors point of view. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day.

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  1. I visited Latvia in May, and I enjoyed my time. I was only in Riga and did a day trip to Rundale, but I found the places really pleasant. Ended up checking out coffee culture in Riga, and I was very impressed with the quality of the coffees and cakes! Also had the balsam, which was delicious served hot. Definitely a beautiful, small country worth visiting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you had a great time exploring Latvia, Rebecca, it’s definitely one of those off the beaten track destinations where you can freely roam around and explore its beautiful towns, woodlands and in your case – castles! Thanks for sharing your experience and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Latvia is such a lovely and budget-friendly place to explore and photograph and all you would need is a long weekend. A couple of days in the city and couple – for going on a day trip into the beautiful countryside. Have a good day and thanks for stopping by. Aiva

      Like

    1. Thank you! We don’t really have significant or Instagram worthy monuments or attractions in Latvia, but you’ll find plenty of nurturing experiences for years to remember. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! Latvia is filled to the brim with super cool things to do that would add more meaning to anyones travels, hope you get to visit one day. Summertime usually comes with plenty of sunshine and winter arrives with temperatures plummeting to -30’C.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I know, so little time and so many places to see and explore. The same can be applied to the books too! Hope you get to visit, even if just for the weekend! Have a good day and thanks for stopping by. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. While the Latvian capital is renowned for its art nouveau architecture and pretty cobbled streets, most of the magic can be founds outside the cities walls. You would love watching a sunset at Kemeri National Park as well as celebrating the Midsummer Festival by staying up and making the most of the beautiful white nights. Thanks for stopping by and safe travels. Aiva

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you had a great time in Riga. I always love returning home and taking advantage of all the free walking tours and museums! Often overlooked against your typical European travel destinations, Latvia is one of those hidden gem countries with fantastic food, culture and attractions – all for affordable prices.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Maria, I am glad you had a chance to visit Riga! I guess it was super cold in February, but Latvian capital is full of fun things to do at any time of the year! Have a good day and thanks for stopping by. Aiva

      Like

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