Latvia Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Euro €
🕙Time Zone: +2 GMT
📞Phone Code: +371
🌐Language: Latvian (Russian is understood)
✈️Best time to visit: April-Sept
🍴Eat: Karbonāde (pork chops)
🗺️Don't miss: Canal or river boat ride!
🗺 Menu of Contents:
Latvia is located between its neighbours Estonia and Lithuania just off the Baltic Sea. The small country's picturesque towns and ancient cities are set within a landscape of plains, lakes, green forests and river valleys. Fishing villages interrupt the dramatic coastline interspersed with white sandy beaches. The country has many manor houses, medieval castles, palaces, and ruins. The capital city of Riga, the beautiful capital, is rich in history and culture with the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe resulting it being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Latvian capital is an obvious tourist destination as the largest city in the Baltic States and a major port home to almost half the country's population. Nearby, the Baltic health and recreation resort of Jurmala doubles its population during the summer months as a popular holiday destination, with its sandy beaches, healing waters, mud baths, and quaint wooden houses.
History lovers will enjoy the ancient cities of Valmiera, Cesis, and Limbaþi in the northern region, which were once members of the Hanseatic League. The picturesque cultural towns of the Abava River Valley and the villages of the ancient Liv people in the south are also worth visiting. The Rundale Palace is a popular sight along with the spectacular Baroque palace at Jelgava in the central region of Zemgale. Lastly, the scenic Tervete forest, with the oldest and tallest pine trees in Latvia are not to be missed.
Those keen on outdoor activities will enjoy the natural surroundings in the Latgale region otherwise known as the Land of Blue Lakes; the coastal landscape of the Kurzeme region, where deserted beaches stretch for miles; and the coastline and hilly scenery of the northern Vidzeme region, which also is home to Sigulda, the country's downhill skiing area.
Flying to Latvia is quick and affordable from most major European cities. There is only one airport connecting the country, Riga the capital, acts up like the hub. The host airline for the Baltic States is Air Baltic, basing it's aircraft here and flying to major European destinations across Europe. However with the evolution or low cost travel, other airlines offer competitive fares like Ryanair or Wizzair.
Arriving to the capital by international Train rail is possible from Russia mainly. However travelling from Europe, Eurolines, the international coach company offers many connections from Berlin, Hamburg, Warsaw, Prague, Kiev, Vilnius, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Moscow, Minsk, and many other international cities.
Lastly, there is the possibility to travel from Sweden to Riga by Ferry, Tallink offers daily connections from the Swedish capital.
As with other Baltic states Latvia enjoys sunny summer's but cold frozen winter's. Ideally would suggest to visit from May to September. July and August, being the warmest up to 30 °C. As well it's the high season and prices would always be more expensive for both flights and hotels. Spring and Autumn can be nice times of the year to visit Riga, but weather is very unpredictable, so expect either warm sun days or non stop rainy days.
During the Winter, temperatures can drop below 0 °C but snow now is not as often as it used to be. However, if you are lucky, it can be very beautiful to visit with a white coat of snow over the city. It gives it a magical feeling. At times temperatures can plummet below -15 °C. so have to dress up warmly and be prepared for cold winds and icy conditions.
Latvians diet is a very healthy one, and this reflects in it's traditional cuisine, dishes and local produce. Natural products including potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, wild berries and many vegetables from traditional dishes in Latvia. As well meats, pork mostly and fish is a big part of the diet. Smoked fish is a particular speciality.
Main dishes you can find when visiting Riga and within Latvia are : Soups with mushrooms, berries, nettles etc many of the ingredients are seasonal being picked at certain times of the year. Skābi kāposti, like a Sauerkraut, vegetable salad accompanied by meat and potatoes dishes. Karbonāde , grilled pork chops. Grey Peas, Latvian original product served with bacon, eaten especially at Christmas. Rupjmaize ,dark rye bread. Skābeņu zupa, Beetroot or sorrel soup. Pīrāgi pastry filled with bacon, onions, mushrooms or even cherries.
Desserts are popular such as Starchy Fruit pudding which can be served with milk, Rye Bread Pudding and Kartupeļu pankūkas (potato pancakes).
As for drinks, Beer is very popular as well as for spirits (Vodka or Whiskey). Also a fermented Rye Bread drink, Kvass is very tasty.
First visited in 2011, Latvia is the smallest country of the Baltic states. Riga it's capital is a great city for spending a nice weekend away from other busy European metropolis. Good restaurants, nice cafes, an easy to walk old city and friendly people make it a an ideal city for a short stopover whilst visiting other neighbouring countries.
Riga Tourism Information Guide
Despite its relatively small size, within Riga there is plenty to see and do. Walking around its streets and visiting the old city is good way to start your first day. Local markets, museums, authentic Latvian restaurants, and nice quaint cafes are all within walking distance and makes this city a very relaxing experience.
However, Riga has come along way from the soviet times, and started to prosper when Latvia joined the European Union in 2004. Situated at the mouth of the Daugava, the city of Riga has emerged into a major European tourist destination.
Riga is split in two by the River Daugava, and served as a major trading port and a crossroads between western Europe and the East. The modern founding of the city dates back to the 12th century with the arrival of German traders, mercenaries, and missionaries, while its older roots date back to a settlement of the ancient Finnic tribe, the Livs.
The city is fast gaining a reputation as a party capital, and its vibrant nightlife draws hundreds of weekenders from all over Europe. But it's history, is also another reason to come and visit, with over 800 years of history, a UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed historic city centre, and a modern buzz, Riga remains a largely undiscovered gem with plenty to delight and enchant the visitor!
Riga has a moderate climate, influenced by its close proximity to the sea. Summers tend to be short and cool with cloud cover, and high temperatures average around 22°C. But on occasions it can shoot up to well beyond 25°C. July and August are the highest season as well with more visitors, but the city never feels crowded.
Spring and Autumn, are also pleasant to visit, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 18°C.
Winters are usually long, dark and cold, with temperatures averaging between -8°C and 5°C in January. Snowfall can be heavy and snow cover usually lasts from mid-December to mid-March. However with the changing in global warming, snow is not as heavy as it used to be, and each year sees less of it sadly.
Take into consideration that the city is overcast for roughly 40% of the year. The best time to visit is from May to October.
Once arriving at the airport there are busses that take you into the city centre for a cost of €2. Bus 22 takes you directly into the city centre. If you buy the tickets from a Press Kiok they will cost you even cheaper than buying onboard the bus. For an unlimited travel there is also a €5 ticket valid for 24 hours. From the main bus station you can walk to the old town and surroundings where most hotels are located.
Within Riga the local transportation is cheap and convenient. There are plenty of Trams, Busses and Trolley-busses but for a tourist staying in the city centre there is not much need for their use.
Below you will find the maps for the transportation options in Riga:
Riga is considered a cultural centre and is home to many museums and concert halls. The city is also known for its wooden buildings, art galleries, architecture and a medieval Old Town. The pedestrian-only Old Town has many shops and restaurants and is home to busy nightlife. Culture highlights of the city worth visiting are:
- The House of the Blackhead, the centre of the city, it's a venue for exhibitions, concerts and other events. Is the Latvian president’s temporary residence.
- The Freedom Monument, is a memorial monument, honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence in 1991.
- St. Peter's Church, a Lutheran church.
- The Powder Tower, It's the only remains of Riga's original fortification system in which gun-powder would be stored.
- The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, showing the turbulent history the country from 1940-1991, important for its historic educational reference.
- The Nativity of Christ Cathedral, built in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876-1883, during the period when the country was part of the Russian Empire.
- The Latvian War Museum, a military museum dating back to 1916 when it was established.
✔️Tip: Whilst in Riga take a Canal boat or a Riverboat ride! Take a rest from walking and get into one of these scenic boat rides which take around the old city and the river Daugava. Start the journey at Bastion Hill and the trip takes an hour before it returns to your original embarkation point, but you can get off at any of the other stops along the way between. Price ranges from €7 to €18 depending on the type of ride you choose. For more information visit: Rigabycanal
Alternatively pedal boats and row boats on the Riga canal can also be rented by Bastion Hill for €3 - 5 for a 20 min ride.
Riga has a varied nightlife, mostly centred round the Old Town, where many clubs, bars, casinos, and live music venues can be found. Riga is also famous for its classical entertainment, with symphonies and operas taking place throughout the year.
The larger clubs attract stag groups from the UK and Scandinavian tourists. Rather stick to the smaller bars if you want a less over crowded experience.
Riga is a good place to buy local crafts, alcohol, and foodstuffs, but imported goods are very expensive. The highest concentration of shops is in the Old Town and the city centre. One of the best souvenirs to buy in Latvia is amber, for which the country is world-famous. Look out for amber set in silver jewellery. Other quality buys include woollen jerseys and hats with distinctive Baltic patterns, the local liqueur Black Balsam, and World War Two memorabilia.
A great shopping experience is a visit to the huge Central Market, located in five cavernous pavilions. Everything can be bought here, including fresh fish, fruit, honey, and cheap clothes.
Staying in Riga is cheap and affordable if you book in advance. Stay in independent Hotels rather than renowned chains. Prices are about €25 a night. Hostels are popular as well if you wish to share a dormitory.
Riga is a small city and the amount of time to discover it won't take long. Ideally to enjoy most of the city and explore it by foot, 3 night stay would be ideal.