Questions you would probably like to ask about Latvia:

Where is it?

Latvia is the central country of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and is located in North-eastern Europe on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, Lithuania to the south and the Baltic Sea to the west.

The name "Latvija" comes from the ancient Latgallians, one of four Indo-European Baltic tribes, who along with Couronians, Selonians and Semigallians formed the ethnic core of today's Latvian people.

Since when is it an independent country?

Since 1991 when after the collapse of Soviet Union all three Baltic countries became independent.
In 1989, to demonstrate the Baltic States' wish for independence, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands forming a chain stretching from Tallinn to Riga and to Vilnius.

In 2004 Latvia became the member of European Union and NATO.

Since 2007 Latvia is a party to Schengen treaty

What language do people speak?

Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia, and the Finno-Ugric Livs (or Livonians) are the only indigenous minority. Latvia's present ethnic mix is largely a result of massive post-war immigration, which resulted in a decline in the share of ethnic Latvians from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989.

Latvian is a Baltic language that belongs to the Indo-European language family. Its only linguistic relative is Lithuanian, and is considered to be among the oldest and least changed of all living Indo-European languages in the world.

What religion do people have?

Christianity was brought to Latvia relatively late, in the 13th century. Official statistics indicate a fairly broad spectrum of religious traditions and relatively even spread of distribution: Evangelical Lutheranism about one third of the population, Roman Catholicism one third and Latvian orthodox church also one third of the population. The latter has its greatest concentration among Russians and other Slavs but with 33 percent of its support also coming from ethnic Latvians.

Historically, the west and central parts of the country have been predominantly Protestant, while the east – particularly the Latgale region – has been predominantly Catholic.

Is it safe?

Latvia is a safe country, although street crime in Riga is a serious problem. Travelers should exercise the same precautions with regard to their personal safety and belongings they would take in any major cities. In addition to pickpockets in public areas, there are also scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged exorbitant prices for drinks in bars. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources.

Is it expensive?

Latvia used to be a rather expensive country and the level of prices could be compared with Scandinavian countries. In 2008-2010 the prices fell a lot because of deteriorating economic situation.Today the transition to Euro since the beginning of 2014 has considerably infulenced the price level and hotel prices.

Daily necessities like food and some services are still relatively inexpensive by Western standards.

How long should I stay?

On their first visit people often want to see all the 3 Baltic countries, so they stay 2 nights in Riga and then travel on.For the first impression it is enough although you can only have an idea what the capital city is like. In order to explore the whole country one would need to stay for at least a week. Latvia's territory of 64,000 km2. is roughly the same size as Ireland and is home to 2.3 million people.

What is it like?

Latvia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe.
A total of 43%of the country is covered by forests, 10% consist of peat bogs, 2-3% of fresh water reservoirs, 40% are used for agriculture and 4% consist of towns, villages and roads. The country is divided into five broad regions: Riga in the north, Kurzeme and Zemgale in the west and Vidzeme and Latgale in the east.
Latvia's key tourist attractions are concentrated in Riga. It is therefore possible to visit them all in one day since they are mostly located in the Old Town or within the borders of the historical centre.

The country is reasonably flat. A long sandy coastline is backed in places by undulating sand dunes and low sea cliffs. In Latgale, in the east, the landscape is noticeably different with rolling hills and myriad lakes. Wherever you are in Latvia you don't have to travel far to find dense forest. In addition the country boasts about 12,000 rivers. Latvia's longest river, the Daugava runs through Riga. Meanwhile, the Gauja River is at the heart of the country's best-known nature reserve, the Gauja National Park and its capital Sigulda. Often referred to as 'Little Switzerland', it is less than 1 hour from Riga and is an ideal day trip. It enjoys a rare combination of a medieval castle, picturesque national park and eerie caves

Over 27 thousand species of flora and fauna thrive in natural settings that are still relatively undisturbed by man. Many rare species, such as the black stork and lesser spotted eagle, make their homes in Latvia's mixed forests, marshes and meadows. There is also an abundance of otters, beavers, lynx and wolves, as well as great concentrations of deer, elk, fox and wild boar. Bird-watching is particularly rewarding in Latvia, especially in the coastal areas and wetlands during annual migration periods.

For coastal holidays and spa holidays there's Jurmala, Latvia's premier spa resort town, situated on the Riga Gulf coast, just 15 miles from Riga. It's known both as a beach resort, with its 20 miles of fine white sand beaches edged by vast pine forests, and as a spa resort, offering a range of relaxation and health programmes. You can also find picturesque wooden summer cottages built over 100 years ago, which make an interesting contrast to the Soviet era compounds built for the enjoyment of Communist Party chiefs, in what was one of their favourite summer resorts.

Approximately 1 hour south of Riga lies the Bauska region near the Lithuanian border. The region is famed for its castles and palaces from medieval to classical. Not to be missed is the Rundale Palace, which is Latvia's answer to Versailles. Built in the 1730's as a summer home for the Duke of Courland, it was created by the same architect who designed the famed Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

Can I pay in Euros (dollars)?

Since January 1, 2014 the official currency of Latvia is Euro. Foreign currency can be easily exchanged at hotels, banks and exchange bureaux in the larger towns, at the airport and main railway station. Major credit cards are generally accepted in the larger hotels, main restaurants and shops.

Do the 3 Baltic countries have the same currency?

All 3 Baltic countries have different national currencies. The Estonian and Latvian currency is Euro and the Lithuanian currency is Lit (LIT)

What climate does Latvia have?

To the west the Latvian coast benefits from a maritime climate, while the hinterland in the east has a continental climate. Latvia has a temperate climate, with warm summers and severe winters. Being on the Baltic Sea, the air is often humid and weather can change several times every day. In summer days are long - the longest summer day stretches to 19 hours - and in winter short when daylight sometimes lasts only six hours. The cold winter does not necessarily mean constant snow; in fact snowfalls are few and far between. When it falls it stays though, and there tends to be a layer of snow constantly on the ground between December and March. Summertime brings unexpected rain showers, so an umbrella and light raincoat are recommended.

Are Baltic countries very similar?

The Republic of Latvia is one of three countries commonly known as the "Baltic States". The other Baltic State countries are Estonia and Lithuania. However the concept of Baltic States is misleading as it implies some sort of political unity between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which is not the case. 3 countries are very different from point of view of their history, religion and language. Historically Latvia and Estonia are very similar being very much influenced by the German culture. As to language on the other hand Latvian and Lithuanian are very similar both belonging to Baltic languages, Estonian belongs to Finno-Ugric languages. People in the Baltic countries do not share the same sources of information and they usually know very little what is going on in their two Baltic neighbors. But of course 50 years of Soviet occupation have created similar problems and people in Baltic countries find common language very easily. For communication older generation uses Russian and young people more often English.

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