Latvia (Latvija) is a Baltic state in Northern Europe. Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus on the south east, and the Baltic Sea on the west.
The most famous travel spot is the capital Riga, a World Heritage Site. There are also many other great places to see, both urban and rural, such as Liepaja with its unique former secret military town of Karosta and a magnificent beach.
Kuldiga with Europe`s widest waterfall and Cesis with its medieval castle ruins are also interesting. Tourists can also enjoy the wild beauty of Latvia's unspoilt sea coast, which is 500 km long and consists mainly of white, soft sandy beaches.
Forests, which cover approximately a half of Latvia's territory, offer many nature trails and nature parks.
The best time to travel to Latvia is from June to mid September, when it is warm and plenty of local food is available. January and February are the coldest months. October and November have autumn rains and daylight is short.
Half of Latvia is covered with forests which are rich with wildlife. There are many lakes, especially if you go to Latgale region.
There are deep river valleys with some sections having sand cliffs on their banks. Heavy industry halted a long time ago, so most places are ecologically clean.
The highest point in Latvia is Gaizinkalns, at 312m (1,023ft) above sea level, just west of the town of Madona.
There are some cultural and social differences between regions, for example, traditional dress is different from region to region. The Latgale region has its own unique culture and language - Latgalian.
Regions of Latvia
- Riga region
Riga - the capital city with more than 800 years of history, with the popular holiday suburb of Jūrmala right by
Daugavpils - second biggest city in Latvia. Features many factories and other industries.
Kuldīga - Kuldīga is the pearl of Kurzeme, Latvia's western region.
Liepaja - city of music on the Baltic sea coast, which is always windy. Latvians believe that the wind starts in the city; and well-known Latvian musicians come from there.
There is a very interesting former secret military town called Karosta, between a lake and the sea. One of the world's largest pipe organs. Famous summer event Baltic Beach Party in July. Fantastic unspoilt, white, soft sandy beach.
Madona - a small scenic town in eastern Vidzeme, surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, capital of winter sports.
Sigulda - popular town with many interesting castles and historic places. Most popular attraction outside Riga for foreign tourists.
Ventspils - hosts one of busiest ports in Europe. It is possible to observe incoming ships.
Latvijas Etnografiskais Brivdabas Muzejs — open air museum of the traditional culture of Latvian tribes, near Riga
Livu Akvaparks — the biggest water attraction in Northern Europe
Karostas cietums — true Soviet prison experience with live prison show as well as night in prison. Based in the Karosta suburb of Liepaja
Open Air Art Museum — modern art and installations in nature park, near Sabile in Kurzeme region
Around Latvia tours (Local tour operator in Latvia. Tours all around Latvia from Riga), Terbatas 85, Riga, LV-1001,
Latvian Tour Guides (One day tours to Jurmala, Sigulda, Rundale palace, Ligatne, Valmiermuiza and Liepaja)
Latvia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
Take Careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union.
This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Riga International Airport is the only airport in Latvia that services commercial flights. For more information on flying to/from Riga.
Alternatively, you can fly to Kaunas in Lithuania and take the Flybus to Riga.
SJSC Latvian Railways operates trains to Riga from Moscow or Saint Petersburg, Russia with stops at Rezekne and Jekabpils, as well as trains to/from Tallinn, Estonia via change in Valga. In addition, trains to Daugavpils and Rezekne are available from Saint Petersburg, Russia and Vilnius, Lithuania.
If you travel by train via Daugavpils to connect to/from Riga you might need to stay in Daugavpils overnight for the connection. Therefore, for travel between Riga and Vilnius, it is better to take a bus or plane.
There are international bus connections to anywhere in Europe, including frequent service to Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia, and Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania.
Eurolines Simple Express
Eurolines Lux Express - More legroom than Simple Express service & free coffee.
Flybus - Service between Riga and Kaunas and Vilnius
Tallink operates ferries between Stockholm, Sweden and Riga.
The road known as Via Baltica links Warsaw, Poland to Tallinn, Estonia via Kaunas, Lithuania, and Riga.
Blablacar has become quite popular in Eastern Europe. There are several rides per day to neighbour countries, Russia, Germany, Poland and even as far away as Spain.
If you have a driver's licence issued by another country of the European Union, you can use it continuosly. Residents of other countries have to obtain a Latvian licence after 6 months; however, it involves only a theoretical exam, which can be taken in English, German, French, or Russian.
There are several small airports available across Latvia, two in Riga - Spilves airport and Rumbulas airport and in biggest cities of Latvia however there are no intercity flights in Latvia operating these days.
International car rentals are represented in Latvia. There are many offices in Riga, including some at Riga Airport. Cheaper car rental offices are also available.
Drive with the headlights on all year round. Winter or all-season tyres are required for the winter period (December 1 to March 1). Many gas stations are self-service and operate 24/7. Gasoline with octane ratings of 95 and 98 is available, as well as diesel fuel.
You can browse the car rental companies list at the Riga International Airport website.
It is advisable to go by train instead of bus from Riga to the following towns: Jurmala, Tukums, Jelgava, Salaspils, Jekabpils, Daugavpils, Rezekne, Sigulda, Cesis and Saulkrasti.
Check the official Latvian Railroad (Latvijas dzelzcels) at sirius.ldz.lv/sari/saraksts.asp or at the directory site www.1188.lv.
If you are going to other cities, there is most likely only a couple trains per day or there are no trains going at all.
Trains are usually cheaper and you don't need to worry about having no seat. Trains are usually crowded on peak days of summer.
Remember that sometimes the name of station differs from the name of town. For example, you might need to go to Krustpils station, if traveling to Jekabpils, and going to Majori (city center) or Ķemeri (going to the national park), if going to Jurmala.
Buying a train ticket before you board the train will avoid an extra fee and language hassles of buying a ticket on the train. Ticket offices at smaller stations can open late and close early, and also close for periods during the date.
The schedule is posted at the ticket office. Don't buy a return ticket unless you have confirmed there is a return train at the time you need. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or from any station. If you buy them online you still need to collect them from a station.
There is the Banitis narrow gauge railway Gulbene-Aluksne in the North-East of Latvia. There are several tourist-oriented places along the route.
There is a vast network of bus connections around Latvia. Buy a bus ticket at the bus station or on bus when boarding. If you have luggage, ask the bus driver to put it in the trunk. It depends on the bus company, if they will charge extra. There are express bus connections to major towns, which can save time considerably.
On Fridays and Saturdays buses could be crowded in the outbound direction from Riga. Bus time tables are available at the website of Rigas Autoosta, and at the directory site www.1188.lv. If going by bus on Friday from Riga or coming back to Riga on Sunday it is highly recommended to book ticket in advance (available only of booking for route from starting station of bus) at the cash desk of bus station or online at bezrindas.lv. You can buy ticket up to 10 days before departure.
If you are going from Riga to Jurmala during summer, a very romantic way is to travel by river cruise boats: dominantly two-deck motor boats with capacity for around 60-100 people. They usually depart from Riga center in the morning and go back in the afternoon. There probably still is also a river cruise service from Riga center to Riga Zoo. Ask in the tourism information center for more details and prices.
It is advised to cycle around Riga in the early morning when there is less traffic, although one should be careful when choosing this time due to reduced drivers attention. Expect heavy traffic from 5 PM to 8 PM. No left turn allowed from middle line. However, it is highly advised to choose by-ways and less densely populated roads due to hazardous traffic.
It is vitally important to wear reflectors; reflective belts, bands and bright coloured clothing are advised, as well as having the bike equipped with strong front and rear lights. Generally, cycling is still not very safe in the country, especially during the dark hours. The only "real" bicycle path is existing from the old town of Riga to the Sea resort of Jurmala.
But the country is fast developing local cycling routes. The international bicycle project BaltiCCycle may provide you with a lot of information and help.
Hitchhiking in Latvia is generally good. The roads around Riga present the largest obstacle, unless the city is your destination - there is no clean "by-pass" road, and a considerable amount of local traffic makes hitching very difficult. The easiest way to get around Riga is to find a "cross-country" lift at the border with Estonia or Lithuania. License plate numbers/countries of origin are your friends.
Carpooling in Latvia is done in Facebook groups so if you want to get a ride from Riga to other city, try searching Facebook for Riga - (name of the city) - Riga. A group might show up. Largest cities, for example Liepaja, have several thousand members and you might catch a great, cheap and fast ride with friendly locals.
Latvian' (Latviesu valoda) is the only official language and belongs to the Baltic language group of Indo-European languages and its closest relative is Lithuanian, but it is very different anyway, so most likely Latvian will sound completely foreign for you and it is hard to guess what written words mean, even if Latvian uses Latin alphabet, just like English.
However, some words are borrowed from other languages and it is not hard to understand that Restorans means Restaurant, but what about Veikals? It means Shop. The language has complicated grammar, the most complex being usage of verb prefixes and suffixes, which can change the meaning completely, as well as many kinds of participles majority of which do not have equivalent in English.
The pronunciation is more or less easy; however there are some complicated rules for some letters like e and o, and any foreigners trying to speak Latvian have an accent, because it is really hard to speak perfect Latvian. In Latvian, there are three pitch tones and sometimes the meaning of the word changes if you change the tone, e.g. loks can mean leek or bow, depending on the pronunciation tone.
Zale can mean a hall or grass, again depends on the tone you use. The easiest part is the stress, which is almost always on the first syllable. Latvian is spoken natively by only 1.5 million people in the whole world, most of them of course in Latvia, but also in Ireland, UK, USA, Russia, Brazil, and Australia.
Besides Latvian, Russian is spoken fluently by most people (67% of people are able to converse in Russian according to the Eurobarometer poll of 2012), since Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, and in fact some places like Daugavpils have Russian as the majority language.
It is also possible to get by with English, especially in Riga. According to the 2012 Eurobarometer poll, 46% of Latvians are able to have a conversation in English.
When thinking of Europe, the small nation of Latvia is probably not one of the first countries to spring to your mind. Buried under the big no-go blanket of the Soviet Union, it has yet to be properly discovered by the large tourist crowds. If you manage to make it there, however, you might just find yourself most positively surprised by the charms of this Baltic country.
Latvia's dynamic capital, the historic city of Riga, is a great place to spend some time. It boasts a truly lovely old quarter, full of magnificent Jugendstil architecture, winding cobblestoned lanes and many steeples. Yet, it is a modern, metropolitan city with a vibrant nightlife and a strong economic impulse, to the extent that the rise of modernist buildings is threatening the old town's World Heritage listing.
Riga's vibe gets under many travellers' skins, perhaps for the strong contrasts between old and new or maybe because of the seemingly painless blend of Latvian and Russian cultures, as almost half of the city's inhabitants are of Russian origin. To get a sense of the city, wander through its large, manicured parks, stroll through the historic quarter and then kick back in one of the many cafés or outdoor terraces.
Among Riga's best sights are the impressive Riga Cathedral, St. Peter's Church and the bustling Central Market.
Although Riga is by far the country's main tourist destination, there are a bunch of other places well worth a visit. At just 40 km from the capital is Sigulda, with the nicely reconstructed Turaida Castle, an interesting castle museum as well as the deep Gutmanis Cave. The town is beautifully located in the Gauja valley and has been called the "Switzerland of Latvia" for its steep cliffs and banks.
It's known for its winter sports opportunities and makes a great base for explorations of the fine nature around it. The coastal city of Liepāja is known to Latvians as "the city where the wind is born", for the sea breeze it constantly enjoys. It has a nice beach and a charming town centre with a colourful mixture or architectural styles, from wooden houses and spacious parks to Art Nouveau and concrete, Soviet-era apartment buildings.
Liepaja's neighbourhood of Karosta was built in the late 19th century as a naval base for Tsar Alexander III and was later used by the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Its splendid sea side panoramas, former military prison and fortress remains now make it a popular tourist sight.
Cesis is one of the country's oldest towns and has a charming centre with cobblestoned lanes, historic wooden building and a few impressive castles. Kuldīga boasts Europe's widest, though at two meters high unspectacular, water fall. It's part of the Venta Rapid, one of Latvia's natural monuments.
Despite its limited hight it's still a nice sight and the town itself is worth exploring too. The colossal white Cathedral of Aglona is a worthwhile day trip from Daugavpils, the second largest city in the country. Jelgava has two fine sight in its baroque style Rundāle and Jelgava palaces.
There are many interesting and old castles around Latvia. The Association of Latvian Castles, Palaces and Manors has links and photos on their website. Note that sometimes castles are reserved for private occasions.
Sports and outdoor activities
Due to low population density, large parts of Latvia are covered by forests and wetlands and there are many national parks and nature preserves. The largest one is the densely forested Gauja National Park in the River Gauja valley. Slitere National Park has the stunning beach of Cape Kolka, where the Gulf of Riga meets the Baltic Sea.
Latvia is popular for bird watching. There are also many trekking opportunities at all difficulty levels, from short walks in old parks up to several day camping and boating trips. It is popular to go for a stroll in the autumn to watch the different shades of colour, when the trees turn red and yellow. Popular places for such activities are Sigulda and Vidzemes Augstiene.
There are a lot of possibilities for winter sports - snowboarding, cross country skiing, downhill skiing etc. Major ski facilities include Ramkalni, Baili, and Zviedru Cepure. Some of the slopes are open late at night. They are not accessible via public transport.
As rivers get more water from melting snow, kayaking down rivers is among the favorite pastimes for young people. It usually gets warmer after Easter.
Latvia has one of the longest sand beaches in Europe. In July and August the water is warm enough to swim comfortably. The sea has a very slow slope. As a best natural beach is listed the coast southwards from Liepaja because it is a coast of open sea (not a gulf) with cleaner water, brighter sand, and not too many people, because it's not close to massive population.
With stable air temperature 30°C, water temperature is about 20°C, which is very refreshing when you take an intensive sunbath. You practically don't need to wash after swimming, because the salt level is pleasantly low.
Latvia's many spas are an excellent way to relax. Although widely available, the popular holiday resort town of Jurmala has some of the best options, as well as a fine beach.
Latvian Song and Dance Festival, is one of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started back in 1873 as a singing festival. Now the festival involves live performances of various choirs, folk dance groups, brass bands etc. Competitions, exibitions, concerts, parades and joint concerts are some of the cultural events. Riga is full with people wearing traditional costumes and cheerful people from all Latvia.
It is held once in five years. The last Latvian Song and Dance Festival took place from 6th to 12th July, 2008 in Riga.
New Year eve: most locals celebrate with their family, but there's a chance to see something on streets as well. Traditional food includes stewed peas that symbolize tears: eating peas you leave all tears in a year behind.
International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, February
International Festival of Cartoons - Bimini in Riga, March
Easter - usually something is going on in town centers. Experience traditional Easter celebrations with swings and egg fight. Perfect time of the year to "indulge" in traditional balzams - a high alcohol content liqueur, and for cultural pursuits such as seeing the amazing Riga Opera.
International Baltic Balet Festival in April/May.
Days of Art in Cesis, April
European Undertaking “Museum Night” all over Latvia, in May.
Jani - on the June 24th, Latvians celebrate the summer solstice with the midsummer festival called Jani. Before that Jani flea markets are held in major towns.
Country music festival - held annually in Bauska, around middle July for 2 days. European and US country musicans. Camping on the site possible.
Saulkrasti Jazz - yearly jazz festival, which is held at the end of July. Latvian and massive number of foreign musicians are performing live by the sea. Weekly gigs culminate in one final concert. Saulkrasti can be easily reached from the Riga main train terminal by train.
International Music Festival “Riga Rythms” usually held at the beginning of July in Riga.
Sigulda Opera Festival at the beginning of August, held in open air in Sigulda town.
Cesis Music and Art Festival. Medieval Festivity at the beginning of August. All things Medieval there - food, costumes, customs, etc.
Positivus Festival is Latvia's largest music festival and features many international acts in a fun environment. Mid July.
Liepajas Dzintars - the end of August is the time for famous Liepaja music festival.
Latvia has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone.
Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
ATMs are widely available throughout Latvia (including Riga International Airport), even in many small towns. Tax free stores have their signs clearly displayed.
Banks will accept traveller's cheques with a fee, usually equal to the greater of 1% of the amount exchanged or €10.
Amber, which is sold in most souvenir shops. If you are lucky, some can sometimes be found on the Baltic Sea shore after a storm. Be careful looking for amber on beaches in western Latvia - the sea near Liepāja is poluted with phosphorus, which looks exactly the same, but catches on fire after drying out.
Smoked (black) ceramics from Latgale.
Mittens with ornaments. Hand-made and representing traditional culture.
Black (rye) bread gives more energy than the common white (wheat) bread. If bought fresh and kept in a plastic bag, it might last well up to 10 days or more.
Riga Black Balsam (Melnais Balzams), a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur made using many natural ingredients.
Laima Chocolates: various sweets and chocolates with all kinds of fillings.
Speciality shops are open mostly 08:00-18:00 on weekdays, until 16:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Groceries are open every day until 20:00 or longer. Most supermarkets are open until 23:00 every day. Convenience stores, such as Narvesen are mostly open 24/7.
The country offers plenty of varieties of bread, milk products, ice cream, sweets (loose sweets, made by Laima) etc. In the open air markets of Riga, Liepaja and other cities and towns, the local fruits, vegetables and mushrooms are a great option, such as freshly picked wild strawberries or blueberries from the forests, or some big strawberries, apples, rhubarb pie and a crunch made of fresh stalks straight from the garden. This is, of course, available mainly in summer and autumn season.
Latvian cuisine comes from its peasant culture, and is based on crops that grow in Latvia's maritime, temperate climate. Rye, wheat, oat, peas, beets, and potatoes are the staples; smoked bacon, sausage, and other pork products are favourites, smoked and raw fish is common.
Many types of food are flavoured with caraway seeds, especially cheese and bread. A cheese similar to smoked gouda, but softer, is the cheapest and, arguably, tastiest variety. Latvian rye bread is heavy and flavourful, and goes well with hearty Latvian meals like pea soup, potatoes, and schnitzels. Restaurants in larger cities often offer stews in clay pots.
Latvian cuisine is typical of northern countries, especially close to Finland; it's high on butter, fat, and grains, low on spice except for caraway and black pepper. If you are from the Mediterranean, you might find it bland, but if you come from England or the Midwestern US, you're not likely to have trouble getting used to it.
A more exotic Latvian dish is a sweet soup made from rye bread (maizes zupa).
Black bread is extremely important part of Latvian food. There are many types of black breads and they are believed to be much healthier and better than white bread.
Latvia is much richer in milk products than an average Western country. Try Biezpiena sieriņs - a curd snack with sweet taste. Many types are available, the most popular being Karums and Baltais. Try the dessert Maizes zupa (bread soup, made of black bread and fruits). Taste the Biešu zupa (red beetroot soup).
Any Latvian would tell you that chocolate of Laima, the local sweets factory, is much better than Belgian chocolate. Laima offers not just chocolate, but also konfektes - candies of different types, sold by grams and kilos and the price is about €8 per kilo.
The best candies are Rudzupuķe, Lācītis Ķepainītis, Serenade, Vētras putns, Rīts, Soho, Sarkana magone, Vaverite etc. An assortment in a nice box can also be a nice gift to friends who stayed home. Try Zefirs - a soft marshmallow-type sweet. Gotiņa (cow in the diminutive ) is a famous milk candy. The Emihls Gustavs chocolate factory in Riga is more exclusive and they make little sculptures of different shapes of chocolate, but it is a bit pricy.
It is important to know that in Latvia the whole concept and meaning of words Cafeteria (Kafejnica), Canteen (Ednica) and Restaurant (Restorans) are different than in other countries. A Cafeteria or Kafejnica is not just a coffee shop. Usually you can have all meals that you would probably expect in a restaurant.
The difference is that in Kafejnica you sometimes bring your food to your table yourself. However, some Kafejnicas have waiters, but these are then something in between of Kafejnica and Restorans. Restorans is usually a more or less top class place. Ednica is a canteen of schools, universities, factories etc. They are very cheap, but sometimes have limited access.
Some specific food in this area:
Biezpiena sierins - curd actually, but with sweet taste
Kefirs - specific dairy product (vegetarian)
Kiselis - thickened stewed fruit (usually cherry or rhubarb) served for dessert (vegetarian)
Griki - buckwheat, eaten as main course
Skabeti kaposti - sauerkraut
Piragi - bacon and onion wrapped in a thin-ish yeast dough. A real classic of Latvian cuisine.
Other mentionable food and dishes:
Smoked cheese - goes very well with wine
Eclair - cake with sweet cream inside
Frikadelu zupa - meatball soup
Biesu zupa - red colored beetroot soup (vegetarian and non-vegetarian)
Rosols - salad with sour cream (Salad Olivier), usually non-vegetarian
Kotletes - meatballs served with potatoes
Gailenu merce - chanterelles sauce in sour cream, usually served with potatoes (vegetarian)
Siļķe ar biezpienu - herring served with cottage cheese
Commorgan-wieders(old name)- once braised chuck, ground with celery, onions and wrapped in a crepe and resauteed.
Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Latvia, is excellent. Beers, such as Aldaris, Livu, and Sencu can be bought almost anywhere but local people are very proud about local small breweries, try Bauskas, Tervetes, Piebalgas and some other beer. A special 'live beer' like Uzavas can be found in selected pubs and restaurants. Don't forget to try the locally distilled Black Balsam (Rigas Melnais Balzams).
It's a strong (45%) infusion of various herbs, roots, and spices. It will cure your flu in no time. Add a few drops to flavor your tea, or a few spoons to lace your coffee, or in various cocktails. By itself it can be a very strong beverage! Wine is also grown in Latvia in small quantities. It is one of the most Northern places in the world where the wine can be successfully grown. Vineyards can be seen in Sabile (in Latvian).
Good places to have a drink:
Krodzins "Riva" in Jurkalne, could be seen from Liepaja - Ventspils highway, a small pub near a waterfall and a wooden bridge.
Raganas Kekis. The name means "witches kitchen". Located in Ragana village (which obviously means the "witch" in Latvian), in the Vidzeme region. You will see it if you travel to Valmiera or Limbazi by road.
Rossini. Near castle ruins and museum in Valmiera. Nice surroundings, serves Italian food. Don't visit this establishment if you're on budget.
It is common to tip 10% of the bill depending on the service you encountered. Make sure you check the receipt, as some establishments automatically include a 10% tip in the bill.
Although you might not find plenty of 5 star hotels all around Latvia, you will find comfortable places to stay for a reasonable price. There are many hotels to choose from. Prices start from 20 LVL outside of Riga and from 40 LVL in Riga.
Network of youth hostels is also developing. Dormitory rooms come around 10 lats, single, double rooms start from 20 lats and above.
Camping in parks is usually not allowed. As regards the stealth camping- most of rural land is private, but camping there is always possible; common sense is to ask for a permission of the owner, which in most cases will be gladly granted. However, if there's no such chance, but you decide to camp there nevertheless and are later asked to move, you have to.
Paying a small amount of money (1-2 lats) helps in most such cases. Overall, camping outdoors on privately owned land is widely understood, common and accepted; however, staying in one place for more than two days, or really close to a home is not considered good manners. Follow the common sense of stealth camping.
Indicated free camp sites can be found in Latvia, especially in national parks, you can easily camp there. Commercial campgrounds as small businesses are becoming more and more widespread.
So called guest houses and country houses (some on farms) are arguably the best places to stay at in the countryside, and usually for much less money than hotels and better quality than hostels, due to very limited numbers of guests and more personal oriented and specialized service usually run by families.
These come with full amenities and some follow the hotel star ratings. These also provide many recreational activities- from the Latvian popular ancient "pirts" sauna to horse rides etc. This is not only a good way to spend the night, but also an option to spend your holiday.
However, usually, guest houses should be called up earlier than the day you plan to arrive, but this can vary depending on the place. Guest houses can be found fairly frequent throughout the country and are usually listed on tourist booklets.
Finding work is possible, especially if you are a citizen of an EU country; however, salaries are low. Job advertisements are posted in Latvian newspapers such as Diena in its Tuesday or Saturday edition. Some ads are in English, German, Russian, or French.
For information on obtaining a residence permit, see Office of Citizenship & Migration Affairs
It is generally safe to travel around on your own, although some petty crime exists. A thing to watch out for is bicycle theft, and it is advisable not to leave valuable things in your car. Mind the forest roads, collisions with wildlife animals can easily occur.
Much like Estonia and Lithuania, roads are congested with traffic and accident rates in Latvia are high. Take care while crossing the road as most drivers can be reckless.
When visiting bars and restaurants in Riga, make sure you know the price before you order and follow your spending, so no cheating is possible. Beware of scammers who strike up conversations out of the blue and invite you to visit their favorite club or bar; this is often a favorite way for the mafia to rob foreigners, and the police are unlikely to help if you get scammed.
The Police of Latvia has a website with advice for travelers.
Local informational web-sites for tourists claim that, in terms of safety, there is almost no difference between big cities and country areas. Although it is true that anywhere in Latvia one is never too far from a town or a city, seeking help in case of emergency may be somewhat more difficult in the countryside (for foreign tourists). This is because English is mainly spoken in cities, but outside them one may find almost no people who would understand you young people are an exception, but they are also drawn from rural areas to bigger cities. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that even then locals are quite friendly and ready to help.
Emergency phone number: Single European Emergency Phone Number 112.
If bitten by a dog, wild animal or a snake, seek medical attention immediately. Snakes are not venomous in Latvia, except for the European Adder which is a possible death threat if no treatment is received within the next few hours after the bite. A dog or cat bite can carry the risk of rabies. Mosquitoes carry no disease and are only an annoyance in the summer months.
Forest ticks can be abundant from May-September, depending on previous year's weather, especially in brushwood/scrub areas, but also occasionally in town parks. Their bite carries the risk of tick-born encephalitis, infected ticks can be quite common, vaccination possible before season and Lyme disease less common; delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to disabilities.
There is no problem turning to any doctor or hospital to seek medical help, just by paying an outside patient fee. However, it can prove difficult to obtain medical assistance in many rural areas, as the service can be slow and unresponsive; therefore, it may be a good idea to bring your own first aid kit. There are virtually no air ambulance helicopters in the country, except for the army, so when exploring sparsely-inhabited, remote areas on your own, it's important to be well-prepared for emergency situations. If you get to a doctor, he/she will probably only speak Latvian and Russian.
Few drugs are available without a prescription; bring your own medicine if you require it.
If you need to seek medical attention of a doctor, be prepared to pay a fee under the table; in Latvia, it is estimated that 1 in 4 doctors take "private donations" to see patients.
Tap water is safe to drink; however, most locals prefer to boil it before drinking. Purchasing bottled water is an alternative.
One should be cautious when mentioning Latvia in the context of the USSR to ethnic Latvians. Latvia became a USSR province after World War II, and praise of the Soviet (or Russian) regimes is unlikely to be understood or appreciated by Latvians, especially young ones.
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport in Latvia. It is also considered polite to let women board a train or bus first.
There are many bins and trash cans on the sidewalks and near most shops. Littering is considered a very bad manner and may be fined.
Also, you do not need to specially greet, smile, or offer help to people. Latvian citizens are not so easy-going in relationships. Friendship is seen as a very serious affair that develops in the long term.
The postal service, Latvijas Pasts is reliable and a fast way to send letters and parcels up to 10kg.
Any GSM phone that works in Europe will work in Latvia. For local communication, it is much cheaper to buy a local prepaid SIM card, which can include data as well as voice and text. These cards and separate renewal vouchers can be easily bought in gas stations, kiosks, or supermarkets. All brands are more or less equal in price and service. Popular brands include LMT, Tele2 , Bite. All prepaid SIM cards come with a manual in English, Russian, and Latvian.
Free wifi is available in many cafes, libraries, and the Riga Airport. Most hotels will provide free wireless access spots for laptops.
To call from a public phone, you need a phone card (telekarte) which cost as little as €2. International calls are possible from every public phone.