The Republic of Latvia is the central of three Baltic states located in north-eastern Europe along the Baltic coastline. It shares borders with Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and Russia. Latvia’s location has resulted in the specific culture of the country, in which German, Slavic, Nordic and original Baltic elements have mixed. Despite its small size, it offers a number of attractions which attract tourists.
The coastal zones of Latvia were famous for excavating amber. Amber was more precious than gold in many places up until Medieval times. Latvian amber was famous in Ancient Rome and Greece, as well as in other very distant lands. Nowadays, amber is popular as a material used to make jewellery, which is sold in many shops and stalls in the coastal towns of Latvia, including Riga.
The seaside is a popular destination in Latvia ? especially the exciting sea resort of Jurmala which is besieged by tourists during the summer months. Liepaja and Ventspils are other popular Baltic resorts, both which boast nice historical centres and interesting sights. Kuldiga deserves attention for its impressive waterfall, which is regarded as the widest in Europe. Another remarkable place is Ligatne, a town where a nature reserve known as Ligatne Nature Trails is located.
Tourism is an important industry in Latvia. The city of Riga is notable for its Art Nouveau buildings, exceptional wooden architecture and cosmopolitan attitude. Its beauty and uniqueness was appreciated by UNESCO and was added to the list of World Heritage. Justifying this decision was the fact that it is one of the world’s largest and best preserved complexes of Art Nouveau architecture. While in Riga, don’t miss such famous landmarks as the Dome Cathedral, St Peter’s Church, Powder Tower, Three Brothers (the oldest houses in Riga), the castle and the Old Town (Vecriga).
Many towns and villages in Latvia feature picturesque Medieval centres. The most popular are Cesis (which harbours the ruins of a castle dating back to the Middle Ages), the historic town of Sigulda (known for its Teutonic Castle), Karosta (a military town which is a part of Liepaja) or Bauska (with ruins of a castle). Daugavpils, the second largest town in Latvia, has an intense cultural life and several historical sights, such as the Daugavpils Fortress, the Church Hill with the Shrine of Four Confessions and the pretty Old Town.
Latvian culture is fascinating and its most notable feature is Jani, the Midsummer Festival. Midsummer, or the Summer Solstice, is celebrated in all Scandinavian and Baltic countries, as well as in England and several other countries. On this holiday (June 23 and 24), the sun is at its highest point in the sky, which in turn results in the shortest night. Latvians celebrate it by wearing wreaths of flowers and leaves, lighting bonfires and eating traditional dishes like cheese with caraway. The country has also hosted a traditional Song and Dance Festival since 1873.
Although Russians make up a large part of Latvia’s population and Russian is widely spoken (due to being incorporated into the Soviet Union for about half a century), it is better to use English or German while visiting the country because many Latvians prefer not to use Russian. Latvia is a member of European Union and its society is very modern, therefore visitors from other parts of Europe will feel unconstrained. A trip to Latvia can be easily combined with visiting other Baltic countries, Russia or Scandinavia.