Latvia: Baltic cozy romance

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Main facts:

  • Capital city: Riga

  • Language(s): Latvian

  • Currency: Euro, EUR

  • Population: 1,934,000

  • Timezone: UTC+2

  • Main religion: Lutheranism (40%)

  • Standard of living (subjectively): medium

Top 10 interesting places and activities:

Approximate costs (person/day):

~€ 15-50

~€ 1-3

~€ 5-10

~€ 3-7

Sights map of Latvia

Travel around Latvia

The Republic of Latvia, like other Baltic states, gained independence in 1918 - immediately after the end of the First World War. In 2018, the Baltic countries celebrate the 100th anniversary of their independence, and you can congratulate them with that! However, the history of the Latvian people goes back to the 3-1 millennium BC, when people from the north arrived on this territory. They founded several settlements in these remote lands and lived separately until the 12th century AD, when a bishop from Germany founded the city of Riga as a fortress, which was a stronghold for the knights of the Livonian Order in their further advance to the northeast and the spread of Catholicism in these lands. At the same time, the Riga Cathedral was laid, the first in these lands, now towering in the center of Riga. For several decades, almost all of the Baltic territories were captured by the Livonian Order, which from that time controlled local lands and people right up to the Livonian War between Russia, Sweden, Denmark and the Commonwealth. As a result of the war, the Livonian Order was defeated and was disbanded, most of its territories (including Latvian) came under the control of the Russian Empire. Only in the 20th century, after the collapse of the empire and the formation of the USSR, the Latvians did manage to gain independence based on the national self-consciousness of the people.

 

However, this independence did not last long, and by 1941 Latvia was cathed in the "sphere of interest" of the Soviet Union. Having entered troops on the territory of the country during the Second World War, the Soviet commanders staged mass repressions of the Latvian people, which had a strong effect on the population of Latvia. Throughout history, Latvians were an indigenous people in these lands, which did not exceed three million people. Even today, the population of Latvia is only about two million people, of whom a third live in the capital. The two world wars played a very important role in that, as well as the "occupation" activities of the Soviet Union, associated with the deportation of a large number of Latvians to Siberia after World War II. Today, Latvians make up half of all residents of Latvia, and another quarter - Russians, who were sent here during the Soviet Union and continue to live here until now. After the collapse of the USSR, in 1991, Latvia gained final independence, and considers the period of being under the authority of the Soviets as “Soviet occupation”. It is quite reasonable, especially given into account their long and difficult history under the control of other nation-states.

Until the end of the 20th century, Latvia was a large industrial center of the Baltic, with an excellent maritime infrastructure. Today, most of the country's income comes from banking, food processing and tourism. The latter is especially important for Latvia, as it helps the local people to earn enough to maintain a high standard of living. Due to the low population density, everyone here can afford to have a cottage or a small house, and the country's accession to the European Union opened the border to the flow of rich European tourists who want to learn the culture of the Baltic region. Latvia is gradually developing and thriving, and its ancient sights and beautiful nature are now available for everyone!

Imagine the Austrian capital Vienna, but much more soulful and cozy, and you get the city of Riga, the oldest and largest city in the country. Throughout history, the population of Latvia mainly lived in Riga, thanks to which the main wealth of this land was concentrated here. Riga is a great place for recreation and cultural enlightenment; it welcomes tourists with small streets, illuminated by the light of ancient lanterns, the magical atmosphere of cafes and high cathedrals, which to this day remain the largest buildings in the Old Town. The entire city center has been restored and is in excellent tidy condition, which creates an extremely pleasant and cozy atmosphere. Riga Old Town is so small that it can be bypassed in a run for twenty minutes. But if you do not hurry and enjoy every turn, the old city will give you a lot of surprises. Here, narrow alleys give way to wide squares with cathedrals, fabulous merchant buildings from the time of the Hanseatic League coexist with monumental buildings of the Soviet era, the sounds of accordions and brass sound along with noisy drums and loud music in bars. Crowds of people walk all day and night, and outside the old city everyday business life is in full swing.

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In the center there are two magnificent cathedrals - the old Riga Dome Cathedral and the country's highest St. Peter's Church, which offers stunning views of the capital. Go up there in the morning and enjoy the wonderful views of the old city and the river, or you can go there at sunset and see the scarlet disc of the sun setting over the sea horizon. Next to these temples are several cozy squares, as well as a large Riga Castle and the walls of the Riga Fortress, where the Latvian Military Museum is now located in the Powder Tower. Riga is a place where you can experience the romance of the Middle Ages, but at the same time find yourself in a modern thriving city. Moving in the direction of the center, you will inevitably find yourself on Freedom Square, where stands a grand monument in honor of the gained independence of the country. Next to it is the National History Museum of Latvia, where you can learn all about the peripeteias of the fate of the Latvian people. And if you suddenly want to get acquainted with folk traditions and life, then feel free to go to the Latvian Ethnographic Museum on the eastern outskirts of the city. As in most of Latvia, in Riga there are a lot of greenery and few cars, thanks to which it is easy to breathe and have a good time in shady alleys and well-kept parks. Be sure to visit the landscape park "Bastion Hill" in the city center and go to the other side of the Western Dvina, where you can observe the excellent panorama of the Riga's Old Town.

Latvia is a small country with a low population density, thanks to which there are many national parks and nature reserves here. The Kemeri National Park, nearest to Riga, is a dense forest with paved paths, where there is an incredibly fresh air, many lakes, wild animals and birds. At the far end of the Gulf of Riga is Slitere National Park, which preserves one of the most unspoilt corners of the Baltic nature. At the other end of the country, the winding bed of the Western Dvina River (Daugavas loki) is located, along which broad valleys and deciduous forests grow. Definitely, in Latvia you will easily fall in love with eco-tourism!

Most of the country is covered with grain fields and forests, which makes the ecology in the country one of the best in Europe. On the other hand, in Latvia there is the largest number of military fortresses and castles of the Livonian Order, which ruled these lands for many centuries. It is thanks to this order that Latvia eventually acquired a national identity and created a culture that can be justly proud of today. And the ancient castles still stand in dense forests, recalling the country's military past. The most interesting castles from a historical point of view, which you should definitely visit: Turaida Castle, Cesis Castle, Bauska Castle and Jaunpils Castle.

Although the official language of Latvia is Latvian, about half of the residents speak Russian well, which makes them very friendly to a large number of Russian tourists. The latter come here for the excellent sea resorts on the Baltic Sea beaches, which are located along the long coastline of the country. The best and most equipped of them are located in Jurmala and Liepaja: clean, shallow, with very warm water and excellent infrastructure. At the same time, along the entire Baltic Sea, you can easily find a place for a relaxing and secluded holiday.

When you are going to Latvia, be prepared to immerse yourself in the comfort and romance of one of the most beautiful cities in the Baltic States, Riga. But if you want a relaxing holiday in the nature or in search of historical sights, it is enough to go outside the capital. You can go hiking in one of the national parks, you can sunbathe on the sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea or you can explore the ancient Latvian culture in one of the picturesque small towns. Welcome to Latvia, peaceful and calm place with a light touch of romance!

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