Little known Latvia, perched on the edge of the Baltic Sea, is a yet-undiscovered treasure of Eastern Europe. During a Latvia adventure tour you can witness its natural delights including the serene Gulf of Rīga as well as nature parks, fast rivers and lakes with beautiful forests on the shores, while cultural attractions include captivating medieval castles. With a quaintness and Art Nouveau architectural tradition to rival both Tallinn and Vilnius, Rīga is more than 800 years old and cunningly combines a charming medieval centre with modern city infrastructure and exciting nightlife. The World Heritage listed Old Town has a particularly timeless beauty, with steeples and turrets vying for attention on the spectacular skyline of this ‘Paris of the East’.
A must-do on a Latvia adventure tour is a visit to Rīga's most famous gothic church, St Peter's, to climb the spire for spectacular views over the most impressive collection of Jungendstil (Germanic Art Nouveau) buildings in Europe. The centrepiece of Rātslaukums Square is the reconstructed Blackheads' House, while St. John's Church, St. Jacob's Church, the ‘Three Brothers’ houses, and Rīga Castle, which also houses the Latvian History Museum and the Foreign Art Museum, are also worth a visit on one of our Latvia adventure tours.
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Latvia Travel Guide
Latvia Travel Guide
Latvia has long been an important trading centre and strategic territory in the Baltic region. The various Latvian tribes were self-governing, hailing back to around 2000 BC. By the end of the 13th century the territory was conquered by the German Teutonic Knights, who founded Riga in 1202 AD and went on to control the seaboard from Poland to Estonia and inland into Latvia. The territory was then controlled by Poland from 1561 (during the reign of Ivan the Terrible) followed by Sweden.
By 1795, the entire Latvian territory was under Russian control, ruled by Peter the Great. This continued until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 which resulted in the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk under which Russia was obliged to give up its Baltic territories.
The Treaty of Versailles then enabled the Latvians to assert their independence briefly for the first time in more than 600 years. Russian forces took over power once more just before World War II but were driven out by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Troops returned to Latvia three years later, to incorporate the country into the Soviet Union along with Estonia and Lithuania as one of the 15 Soviet republics.
Latvia's present independence began with the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in 1985. The country gained full independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The new state was quickly recognised internationally and re-admitted to the UN. A new currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 followed by the first post-independence elections
Latvia joined the EU in May 2004, along with its Baltic neighbours.
Geography and weather
Latvia is situated on the Baltic coast and borders Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, the Russian Federation to the east and Belarus to the southeast. The coastal plain is mostly flat but, towards the east, the land is hilly with forests and lakes. There are about 12,000 rivers in Latvia, the biggest being the River Daugava. The ports of Riga and Ventspils often freeze over during the winter.
Our tours mostly operate from late spring (April/May) to early Autumn (in Eastern Europe) when the weather is generally at its best. Temperatures will vary but will still be cool in April/May and again in October. The warmest months tend to be July/August. The further south you are the higher the average temperatures. You can expect snow from December to late March.
Visit www.worldclimate.com to get an idea of what the weather will be like on your tour.
Make sure your passport is valid for at least three months after your tour begins.
Visa regulations change frequently so it is important you consult with the embassy prior to travelling to ensure you have the correct visas. In some cases you will be crossing the borders on overnight trains. Visas are not required by British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and US citizens for a stay of up to 90 days within any six-month period. For stays over 90 days these nationals should apply for a residence permit from the Latvian offices of citizenship and migration affairs.
Visa services like www.travcour.com can be very helpful.
Bureaux de Change are found all over main towns, including inside shops, hotels, post offices and train stations. These tend to close at 7pm. The most convenient currencies to exchange are the euro and the US dollar.
American Express, Diners Club, JCB, MasterCard and Visa are accepted by most hotels, restaurants and shops. ATMs are available in towns and cities.
To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US dollars or pounds sterling.
In restaurants 15% is usually added to restaurant bills and you are obliged to pay this. It is also customary to give the waiter 5%-10% on top of this if you are happy with the service.
You do not need to tip taxi drivers, etc but you should tip people who assist you with your luggage at hotels (don’t over-tip; your tour leader will advise a suitable amount). Tipping guides at the end of excursions and treks etc is always appreciated and your tour leader will advise you on the amount for this.
Generally people find Eastern Europe to be safe and feel confident wandering alone during the day. However if you are unfamiliar with an area it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and taxi taxis rather than walk, especially if you are a lone female traveller. In some cities bag snatching can occur so always keep a firm hand/eye on your personal items.
Petty theft, especially in Riga, is becoming increasingly common. If there is a safe available in your hotel it is recommended you use it.
Local food and drink
Some breakfasts are included in your tour. Breakfasts can be basic so if you tend to get hungry it may be a good idea to buy some fruit or snacks to eat during the day. All other meals, extra snacks and drinks on the tour are at your own expense.
Ask your tour leader if they can recommend any restaurants in the area to suit your taste or budget or have fun exploring independently.
Hors d’oeuvres are considered very good and often the best part of the meal. Overall, cuisine can be heavy but almost always tasty and nourishing. Look out for the astounding variety of cakes, breads and pastries.
You may want to try national specialities such as, kotletes (meat patties), skabu kapostu zupa (cabbage soup), Alexander torte (raspberry- or cranberry-filled pastry stours), sweetbread soup with dried fruit, piragi (pastry filled with bacon and onions).
National drinks include, Riga’s Black Balsam, a thick, black alcoholic liquid which has been produced since 1700. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, but some of the ingredients include ginger, oak bark, bitter orange peel and cognac. It is drunk either with coffee or mixed with vodka. There are several good local beers, including the dark beer Bauskas Tumsais and the pale Gaisais. Kvass is a refreshing summer drink.
All drinks such as bottled water or soft drinks are at your own expense at all times and are fairly inexpensive. Alcoholic drinks vary in price, with wine and beer generally being the cheapest options. The legal drinking age is 18.
The time difference in Latvia is GMT/UTC + 2. For other time differences please visit www.timeanddate.com
220 volts / 50 Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are in use.