Latvia

Situated in north-eastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea, Latvia has borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. It has linguistic links with Lithuania to the south and historical and religious ties with Estonia to the north. Not much more than a decade after it declared independence following the collapse of the USSR, Latvia was welcomed as an EU member in May 2004. The move came just weeks after it joined NATO. For centuries Latvia was primarily an agricultural country, with seafaring, fishing and forestry as other important factors in its economy. Like its Baltic neighbours, in the decade after independence, Latvia made a rapid transformation to embrace the free market.

Population: 2.2 million

Area: 64,589 sq km

Languages: Latvian, Russian

Religion: Christianity

Currency: Euro

With Latvia being located at the crossroads between Western and Eastern cultures, and having a history of tumultuous developments, it is clear that foreign nations have left significant footprints in Latvia. The country, with its small population and well-developed infrastructure, has flown under the radar since its behind-the-Iron-Curtain days, despite having more than enough diversity to satisfy any type of tourist.

Latvia was, in essence, forced to start again; to re-attract travellers, and to re-gain that notoriety for being a largely under-discovered land where “nature and tradition have coexisted in harmony from time immemorial”. There are some pretty impressive tourism opportunities hidden in this Baltic nation, which certainly deserve some attention for a change. Tourism in Latvia is exciting, diverse, and culturally rich, and it appears as though the country and its people are welcoming responsible travellers with open arms.

Not only does Latvia boast a wonderfully diverse natural landscape, largely untouched by the urbanisation characteristic of most of modern Europe, but its cultural traditions are rich and inviting, something the country and its tour operators are anxious to share. The country’s government and some of its tour operators are steadfastly dedicated to the sustainable development and promotion of ecotourism in Latvia. Just don’t forget to enjoy Latvia slowly as they promote themselves.

In recent years, rural country homes, farms, and lodges have become the standard for ecotourism in Latvia. Many of these organic farms and eco-lodges have gained eco-certification, and offer rural experiences characteristic of Latvian charm, culture, and tradition.

Latvia’s tourism portal provides support to the many accommodations that have gained some kind of green or eco-friendly acknowledgements, so if you’re looking for a variety of green accommodation options in Latvia, best start there.

The capital city, Riga is known for its beautiful historical town centre with art nouveau houses, narrow alleyways and the famous House of the Blackheads. Those who enjoy music and performing arts will enjoy major opera festivals in Riga and Sigulda, and a large number of various concerts and festivals across the country. But the capital has so much more to offer and in the surrounding neighbourhoods, away from the historical centre, you find the real Riga: quaint eateries with the unusual yet very affordable cuisine, nice shops with Latvian design and hidden markets with concerts.

One of the great things about Riga is that visitors go everywhere on foot.

The cuisine is typical of the Baltic region and, in general, of northern countries. The food is high in butter and fat while staying low in spices except for black pepper, dill or grains/seeds, such as caraway seeds. Latvian cuisine originated from the peasant culture and is strongly based on crops that grow in Latvia’s maritime, temperate climate. Rye or wheat, oats, peas, beets, cabbage, pork products and potatoes are the staples. Meat features in most main meal dishes. But fish also is commonly consumed due to Latvia’s location on the east coast of the Baltic Sea: smoked and raw fish are quite common. Latvian cuisine offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the cuisine. The most popular alcoholic beverage is beer and the national liquor is Riga Black Balsam.

Latvians are rather reserved and tend to greet each other with solemn handshakes rather than effusive hugs. The distinctive Russian and Latvian communities do not mix much and some resent being mistaken for the other. In the workplace women still tend to fill more traditional roles, and the general attitude to women travelling alone tends to be mildly sexist, although there is little risk of harassment.