Since becoming a member of the European Union in 2004, Latvia has enjoyed a bumpy ride of boom and slump, although the decision to adopt the Euro in January 2014 seems to point to a measure of stability in future. The Soviet occupation left the country with a large Russian minority population, and it remains a place divided by language and culture – Rīga in particular is a strikingly bilingual city, although all road signs and public notices are in Latvian. And although it’s the boisterous capital to which most visitors are attracted, to experience the true spirit of Latvia you’ll need to head into the spectacularly unspoiled countryside, with its lakes, forests and sandy beaches.
The most obvious destination is the capital, Rīga. Its architectural treasures, lively nightlife and countless eating options make it a prime destination for budget travellers, and it’s also popular with stag parties. Places within easy reach of the capital include the palace of Rundāle, while those wishing to hit the beach can head either to the nearby resort area of Jūrmala or to the port city of Ventspils. In the scenic Gauja Valley, the attractive small towns of Sigulda and Cēsis can both be used as bases for hiking, biking, canoeing and other outdoor pursuits.
Top image: © RossHelen/Shutterstock
Population 2.3 million
Area 64,589 sq km
Language Latvian; Russian also widely spoken
Currency Lats (Ls)
Capital Rīga (population: 706,413)
International phone code t371
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