Latvia has a history of occupation, surviving two World Wars and 50 years behind the Iron Curtain, but the Latvia of today is rapidly pushing aside the years of decline, neglect and loss of identity suffered during the Russian occupation, and eagerly rebuilding a nation that is entering one of the most promising periods of its history.
A small, flat country nestled between its neighbours Estonia and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, Latvia is a country whose picturesque towns and ancient cities are set within a landscape of plains, lakes, forests and river valleys, and where fishing villages interrupt the dramatic coastline that is interspersed with white sandy beaches. The country has numerous manor houses, medieval castles, photogenic palaces and ruins; and Riga, the beautiful capital, is rich in history and culture, boasting the best concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. The city also contains a diversity of other architectural styles, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Latvian capital is an obvious tourist destination and is the largest city in the Baltic States, a major port that is 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.
Historical tourist attractions in Latvia include the ancient cities of Valmiera, Cçsis 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; the Rundale Palace, a popular sight along with the spectacular Baroque palace at Jelgava in the central region of Zemgale; and the scenic Tervete forest, boasting the oldest and tallest pine trees in Latvia.
Those keen on fun outdoor activities will enjoy the natural surroundings in the Latgale region (referred to 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.
The official currency is the Lat (LVL), which is divided into
100 santims. Most hotels and restaurants in Riga accept credit
cards, and most major banks cash travellers cheques, but outside of
the capital credit cards are not widely accepted and credit card
fraud can be a problem at smaller institutions. Foreign currency
can be exchanged at any bank, at money change kiosks and at some
hotels. Note that a 4% fee will be charged to exchange US dollars
that are torn or marked in any way. Most banks are closed on
Saturdays and Sundays. ATMs are available in the larger cities.
|LVL 1 =||US$ 1.80||Â£ 1.18||C$ 1.84||A$ 1.75||R 15.24||EUR 1.42||NZ$ 2.27|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
No health certificates or vaccinations are required to enter Latvia, but visitors are advised to have an inoculation against tick-borne encephalitis if planning to hike in the country and forests or stay in rural areas, especially during the summer months of March to October. There was a outbreak of Hepatitis A in a restaurant in Riga in May 2008 and travellers are recommended to get vaccinated before travelling to Latvia. Rabies is endemic, and outbreaks of meningitis occur. Medicines are usually available, but it is best to bring a supply of personal medication. Health insurance is necessary. A reciprocal agreement with the UK entitles UK citizens to emergency treatment on the same terms as Latvian nationals on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Additionally, foreign passengers to Latvia must hold valid health insurance, that includes provision for repatriation costs. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Latvia Tourist Board, Riga: +371 722 9945 or www.latviatourism.lv
Foreign Embassies in Latvia
The enchanting city of Riga, capital of Latvia and the biggest city in the Baltic States, has emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and is slowly coming into its own as a major European tourist destination. Situated on the south-western coast of the country, 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, and Latvia as a whole, was long caught in a tug of war between the Germans and the Russians, and suffered greatly in World War II when roughly a third of the country's population was exterminated, displaced or fled Nazi persecution. However, despite this lamentable past, there are still plenty of things for tourists to see and do in Latvia.
Riga boasts a collection of exquisite Art Nouveau buildings that rival those in Vienna, Barcelona and St Petersburg, and the fairytale-like historic city centre is a delight to explore. As the cultural and economic centre of the country, Riga is home to plenty of top-class museums, galleries and performing arts centres, as well as a range of sophisticated bars, clubs and restaurants. The city is fast gaining a reputation as a party capital, and its vibrant nightlife draws hundreds of weekenders from all over Europe.
For a more traditional Latvian experience, it is well worth braving the winter cold to enjoy a spot of ice fishing, ice-skating on the frozen Daugava River, or a pirt -a rigorous sauna that involves being beaten with dried birch branches. 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.
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