One of the three Baltic states – along with Lithuania and Estonia – Latvia is also bordered by Russia and Belarus. It’s one of the more recent EU members, joining in 2004, just 13 years after it declared independence from Russia. Since then more and more travellers have booked flights to Latvia, discovering an attraction-rich destination with a lively capital city, a long coastline and a cultured people.
Riga, the capital, is much like the Scandinavian cities – red-roofed, clean and well-ordered with sturdy, attractive public buildings and churches, and a great cafe culture. The Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site. It has extensive Art Nouveau architecture, which puts Riga up there with Barcelona, Vienna and St Petersburg in terms of significance.
Not far from Riga is Jurmala, the Baltic’s premier resort. In times past, Jurmala was a favourite with the Soviet high command as well as the party faithful. Along with its reddish sands and striking architecture, its mineral-rich mud and sulphur springs have been attracting visitors since the 18th century.
Away from the coast, the Gauja National Park is a popular winter sports destination, the place to find Europe’s longest bobsleigh track – a mighty 1420m long and 121m high.
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Winters (December to March) are very cold and the average temperature drops to -4 degrees. Spring and autumn average about 6 degrees. Summers average 16 degrees.
The summer months are the peak season. Some events occurring during peak season include 4 May, the anniversary of Latvia’s independence from the USSR and restoration of the Republic of Latvia. 23 June is Midsummer Eve. Book flights to Latvia in advance to secure the cheapest fares.
Spring and autumn are shoulder seasons.
The winter months – November to mid-March – can be very cold.
Latvian Railway offers a good service throughout Latvia and into Central Europe. Bus, trolley-bus and tram services operate in the cities and there are good bus services to major cities throughout Latvia. Ecolines, Eurolines and Nordeka offer bus services to international destinations.
Ferries: the three main ports are Ventspils, Riga and Liepaja. They are mainly for commercial traffic, but from Riga’s port – very close to the Old Town – there are passenger services to Germany and Sweden.
Major rental-car companies include Hertz and Europcar.
(prices quoted are from London)