Armenia Belarus Czech Rep Estonia Georgia Iran Italy Jordan Kazakhstan Latvia Lebanon Lithuania Russia Syria Turkey Turkmenistan Ukraine UAE Uzbekistan

map map of latvia, thumbnail
flag flag of latvia, thumb
coat of arms latvian coat of arms

About Latvia

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Despite its newfound popularity, Latvia has the strange, undiscovered feel of a land on the brink of fame and fortune. It’s one of those places where you’ll still feel like you’re an explorer, especially off the beaten track on the western coastline and eastern reaches.

This tiny, vibrant nation grew out of the intense suffering of its people under the occupations of the Soviets and Nazis. You’ll never believe it shed its Russian stranglehold less than two decades ago as it has a serenity and charm rarely found elsewhere in Europe.



Latvia has land borders with her two fellow Baltic states — Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south — and Russia and Belarus to the east. In the west, Latvia shares a maritime border with Sweden.
Large parts of Latvia are covered by forests, and the country has over 12,000 small rivers and over 3,000 lakes. Most of the country consists of fertile, low-lying plains with some hills in the east, the highest point being the Gaizinkalns at 311 m.
An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country. The capital city Riga is located on the shores of this inlet, where the River Daugava flows into it. Other major cities include Daugavpils further upriver and Liepaja along the Baltic coast.


The Latvian climate is maritime and temperate in nature, with cool summers and wet, moderate winters.
It is known to rain frequently and heavily every day until May. The rain is a major factor for Riga as it supports much farm land and it helps with the crop.



The population is mostly Christian. The largest group being Lutheran (556,000, according to 2003 data), with smaller percentages Roman Catholic (430,405) and Eastern Orthodox (350,000). Another religion is Dievturi (The Godkeepers), which has historical roots based on pre-Christian era mythology. There are also Jews (9,883 in 2005) in Latvia who are now mainly a remainder from the Soviet Union, as during World War II the Jewish Community (according to the last official census in 1935 there were 93,479 Jews in the country, or approximately 5% of the total population) was annihilated.



The official language of the Republic of Latvia is Latvian. The Latvian language, like Lithuanian and the extinct Old Prussian language, belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Russian is by far the most widespread minority language, also spoken or at least understood by large sections of the non-Russian population. The Latgalian language is widespread in Latgale (most linguists consider Latgalian a dialect of the Latvian language). Kuronian/Couronian is another Latvian dialect and spoken in Kurzeme, though less popular than Latgalian.

Population and Ethnic Composition


Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the 20th century due to the world wars, the repatriation of the Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and the Soviet occupation.
Latvians and Livonians, the indigenous peoples of Latvia, now form c. 60% of the population; 28.5% of the inhabitants are Russian. Ca. 54% of the ethnic Russians are citizens of Latvia; most of the others are permanent residents with Latvian aliens' passports. Like others who arrived whilst Latvia was annexed by the USSR, and their descendants, they must be naturalized to receive Latvian citizenship. Over 100,000 persons have naturalized in recent years, but 418,440 persons (278,213 of them ethnic Russians) remain non-citizens. Children born to residents after the restoration of independence in 1991 do not require naturalization to obtain citizenship.
In some major cities (e.g. Daugavpils and Rēzekne), Russians outnumber Latvians. Minorities from other countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, etc., also live in Latvia. The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% in 1935 to 52%; in 1989. In 2005 there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger - 1,357,099.



The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima, is elected by direct, popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election also every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima.
On September 20, 2003, in a nationwide referendum 66.9% of the participants voted in favour of joining the European Union. Latvia became a full-fledged member of the European Union on May 1, 2004. Latvia has been a NATO member since March 29, 2004.

Administrative Division


Latvia is divided into 26 districts each called rajons. 7 cities (lielpilsētas) have a separate status.

Time Zone


Latvia is in the Eastern European Time Zone. Eastern European Standard Time (EET) is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2).
Like most states in Europe, Summer (Daylight-Saving) Time is observed in Latvia, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour; 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3).
After the Summer months the time in Latvia is shifted back by 1 hour to Eastern European Time (EET) or (GMT+2)

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The national currency is the Lat (Ls). 1Ls equals 100 santimi. Banks, ATms and exchange offices will convert currency. Riga has plenty of ATMs and most hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards.

Capital City


Riga, the capital of Latvia, is situated on the Baltic Sea coast on the mouth of the River Daugava.Riga (population 790,000) is the largest city in the Baltic states and serves as a major cultural, educational, political, financial, commercial and industrial center in the Baltics.
The Historic Centre of Riga has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city is particularly notable for its extensive Art Nouveau architecture, comparable in significance only with Vienna, Saint Petersburg and Barcelona.

Official Holidays


Airports and Public Transportation


Riga Airport is served by direct flights from many European capitals, while Riga’s Bus Station has the international bus companies, Eurolines and Ecolines.
While there are no internal flights in Latvia, it’s easy and inexpensive to get around the country by bus.
Trams, buses and trolleybuses provide public transport around towns and cities, from 5:30 am to midnight. Tickets cost a flat rate of 0.20Ls and must be punched in a machine on board the tram, bus or trolleybus.
Taxis officially cost 0.30Ls per kilometer in the daytime and 0.4Ls after 10pm.

Traditional Cuisine


Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, where meat is featuring in the most of dishes. Since Latvia is surrounded by the sea, fish dishes are also often severed.
The cuisine has been influenced by the surrounding countries like Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally - such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs, and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and with few spices. A typical example would be boiled black peas with pieces of bacon.
A traditional Latvian cheese is Ķimeņu siers; this is traditionally served during the celebration of Jāņi or midsummer. Other dishes are borshch (beet soup), rasols (potato salad), and sauerkraut. There is also a Latvian version of the smorgasbord, Aukstais galds. Like many East European countries Latvia has their own pīrāgi. Popular drinks are beer, vodka, and balzam.
Pickled mushrooms are also a Latvian specialty.

Brief History


The history of Latvia is best described as a trouble whirlwind of fierce trouble and dumb-right rebellion.
The Latvians descend from tribes that settled on the bolted coast in 2000 BC. They carried on their pagan shenanigans until 1190 when the first Christian missionaries tried to convert them- only for the Livs (inhabitants of Livonia, as Latvia was then known) to jump into the nearest river to wash off their baptism.
20 years later the German Nights of the Sword charged in and conquered Latvia; they dominated for another 700 years.
Latvia was conquered by Poland in 1561 and Catholicism was firmly rooted. Sweden colonized Latvia in 1629 and occupied the country until The Great Northern War (1700-21), after which it became part of Russia.
Soviet occupation began in 1939 with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, nationalization, mass killings and deportations. Latvia was then occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1945, when an estimated 175,000 Latvians were killed or deported before being reclaimed by the Soviets.
The first public protest was on 14th June 1987 when 5000 people rallied and Riga’s freed the Monument to commemorate the 1941 Siberia deportations. On 23 August 1982 two million Latvians, Lithanians and Estonians formed a 650km human chain from Vilnius, through Riga, to Tallinn, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
The Latvian Popular Front won a big majority in the March 1990 elections but Russia barged back in on 20 January 1991.
Soviet troops stormed the Interior Ministry building in Riga, killing four people.
Latvia declared full independence on 21 August 1991 and the first democratic elections were held in June 1993.
Riga celebrated its 800th birthday in 2001, the same year the Dalai Lama visited. The commercial development enveloping the historic centre prompted a warning from Unesco that the city would lose its World Heritage status- bestowed in 1997.
On 1 May 2004 the EU opened its doors to 10 new members, including Latvia, amid huge expectations of securing of its with Russia and better times to come.