Latvian Tourist Board
4 Pils Square, Riga
Tel: 00 371 7 229945, Fax: 00 371 7 229945
WATA - S.I.B. TRAVEL, RIGA
Physical geographySituated on the shores of the Baltic Sea, Latvia shares borders with Estonia, Lithuania Russia and Belarus. The interior is hilly with dense forests, over 3,000 lakes and 12,000 rivers. It has an area of 64,589 sq km.
ClimateLatvia has a temperate climate, but with considerable temperature variations. Summer is warm and relatively mild bather patterns exist in spring and autumn. Winter, which lasts from November until mid-March, can be very cold. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year with the heaviest rain in August. Snow is common in winter months. However, the ports of Riga, Liepaja and Ventspils are ice-free during the winter.
DemographyThe country's population is 2.6 million.
A brief historyThe largest of the three Baltic republics, Latvia has been an important trading centre and strategic pawn in the Baltic region.
The various Latvian tribes functioned under local self-government until the end of the 13th century when the territory was conquered by the German Teutonic Knights. Latvia was subject to sporadic invasions by the Poles and Swedes until the 18th century when Russia, under Peter the Great, emerged as a major European power.
By 1795 the entire Latvian territory was under Russian control. The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 heralded the end of the Russian empire; this was decided at the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk under which Russia was obliged to cede its Baltic territories. The Bolsheviks invaded Latvia the following year, but were driven out. The Treaty of Versailles also forced the Germans to leave, which allowed the Latvians to assert their independence for the first time in over 600 years.
In 1940 the Russians again took over, after which Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The Russians were driven out by the Nazi invasion in 1941, but returned three years later.
Campaigning for democracy and independence did not begin in earnest until October 1988 with the formation of the popular Front of Latvia. At the elections to the Supreme Soviet in March 1990, the Popular Front won a convincing victory by taking 131 of 201 seats. Latvia's independence was finally secured in August 1991 after the attempted coup in Moscow failed. Latvia's independence was quickly recognised internationally and the country was readmitted into the United Nations.
ReligionsA predominant Protestant (Lutheran) country with Roman Catholics located in the east. There is also a Russian Orthodox minority. In May 1995 a total of 857 religious communities were registered.
Languages spoken by nationalsLatvian is the official language of the country. It is an Indo-European, non-Slavic and non-Germanic language and is similar only to Lithuanian. Russian, English and German are widely spoken.
CurrencyThe new Latvian currency is the lat introduced in 1993. One lat is made up of 100 santims. The rate as of October 1996 was 0.55 lat to US$1.
Official holidays1 January, New Year - 1 May, Labour Day, - 4 May, Independence Day - 9 May, Memorial to Second World War victims - 23 June, Ligo Day - 24 June, St John the Baptist's Day - 11 November, Lacplesa Day - 18 November, Proclamation of Republic of Latvia - 15 December, Christmas - 31 December, New Year's Eve.
What one should not fail to seeOld Riga with the brick Dome Cathedral (founded in 1211), St. Peter's, St. Jekab's, St. John's Churches, Powder Tower, Swedish Gates, Riga Castle. The Latvian Heritage Park. Situated in the pine forest on the banks of Jugla Lake, the museum consists of 90 traditional rural buildings: farmhouses, windmills, churches. On summer weekends folk dancing is usually performed. Freedom monument - the heart of the city. It is more than half the height of the famous Statue of Liberty in New York, but it is one of the most distinguished monuments in Europe. It is 42m high and has four architectonic levels with a 19m high obelisk. Warriors' Cemetery. Approximately 2,000 soldiers were buried there during the First World War. Riga Motor museum.
A day tour to the heart of Vidzeme - the beautiful Hanseatic town of Cesis. Stroll through narrow streets and feel the admirable small town atmosphere. Up to the end of the XV century only the town of Cesis, apart from Riga, had the right to coin its own money. Castle built by the German Order in the early Middle Ages was well-preserved.
Kuldiga happily escaped all destructive wars and fires so it represents a true image of a Latvian provincial town of the XVI-XVII centuries. Ancient bridge, rapids of the Venta River at the approaches to the town and the XIII century castle ruins.
What to eat and drinkLocal specialities include cabbage soup, grilled port ribs, grey peas with fried meat, Alexander Torte (raspberry or cranberry-filled pastry strips), smoked fish and Piragi (pastry filled with bacon and onions). There are also several local beers. Dark beer includes Bauskas Tumsais and Porteris, and pale includes Bauskas Gaisais, Aldara Zelta and Ladra Luksusa.
Main holiday sportsBirdwatching, horseback riding, skiing, boating, fishing, trekking.
What to buyAmber is a good buy and other purchases include folk art, wickerwork and earthenware.
Frontier formalitiesPassport and visa regulations and requirements may be subject to change at short notice. You are advised to contact the appropriate diplomatic or consular authority before planning your travel. A valid passport is required by all visitors. Visas are not required from citizens of Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Great Britain, the Vatican, USA, Ireland, Czech and Slovak Republic. A visa can be obtained at Riga airport for most European nationals. However, it is advisable to get them in advance from the Embassy. A Latvian visa issued to the majority of European countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Republic of Korea, South Africa and the USA is also valid for other Baltic states.
CustomsUpon entering Latvia one individual paying no customs duty or value added tax is allowed to bring in: goods and other articles for non-commercial purposes to the amount of 300 lats, alcoholic beverages either one litre or one unit in original packaging and not larger than three litres; 200 cigarettes or 20 cigars or 200g of tobacco (for individuals 18 years of age or over). Currency import is not restricted.
When leaving Latvia a licence is required that has been issued by the State Forestry Department (phone 7227057) for the export of furs and trophies of hunted animals. A licence is also required by the National Agency for the Protection of Cultural Monuments (phone 7221647) for the export of cultural objects and art items.
Main travel routesIt is possible to enter Latvia directly either by air, port, rail or by car. You can fly direct to Riga on some of the world's major airlines such as Lufthansa, SAS, Finnair, Lot, CSA, RiAir or Air Baltic. Riga International Airport is located seven miles from the city.
When travelling by sea you can choose from many different combinations, one being by car and ferry. In this case, the passenger ports in Estonia can be used. Eight daily ferry services run owned by four Estonian and two Finnish companies. Latvia has an extensive rail network, with Riga Central Railway Station being the largest in the Baltics. There are links with all neighbouring countries and the main route to Western Europe runs to Berlin via Warsaw and Vilnius.
The road network is relatively well developed and there are good routes through to Belarus and the two neighbouring Baltic republics. There are new coach links opening up via Lithuania and Poland and Tallinn in Estonia.
We have been able to publish the present tourist information on Latvia thanks to the co-operation and the participation of the Latvian Tourist Board in Riga