Latvia, one of the three Baltic states, is a country of 65 square kilometers. It is a member of the European Union and has adopted the euro as its currency. There are many curiosities to see in the country, including the capital, Riga, a former city of the Hanseatic League which has many Art Nouveau buildings. If you are going to visit Latvia soon, here are all our practical tips!
Why visit Latvia?
Why visit Latvia? Because it is dynamic and soothing, rich and natural, seaside and verdant, austere and bewitching… Yes, it is all of these at the same time! Latvia is a country of contrasts. She leaves no one indifferent. Young people come there for the lively evenings of its capital or Jurmale, the nearby seaside resort. Lovers of wide open spaces come to discover its fabulous natural parks, rich in abundant flora and fauna.
Athletes indulge in the joys of hiking, try their hand at canoeing or bobsleigh. The curious eager for discoveries let themselves be grabbed by themedieval ambience of historic Riga. Lonely people enjoy strolling along the long sandy beaches of the Baltic Sea. Fans of culinary discoveries linger in the taverns to taste smoked herring or sauerkraut soup (hapukapa). As you can see, Latvia is a surprising country that can satisfy all tastes!Jurmala
When is the best time to visit Latvia?
Unless you want to practice winter sports or enjoy the special atmosphere that reigns in the Baltic countries in the cold season, the best time to visit Latvia is summer. On the entire coastal part and in the capital, summer temperatures are largely bearable, as they are softened by the proximity of the Baltic Sea. In addition, the days are long to fully enjoy the country: at the end of June, the sun is present for 18 hours a day.
Winter is less favorable and should be avoided. On the one hand, many sites are closed… on the other hand, snow can arrive as early as November and persist until mid-March. Spring is not the best time either. March and April mark the snowmelt season which does not allow you to see the landscapes or the cities at their best. Short, the months of June to September remain the most pleasant to discover this Baltic land.
What budget to plan on site?
Traveling a few days in Latvia, you will quickly find that the cost of living is significantly lower than that of France : about 25% less. The Latvian country is therefore one of the interesting European destinations in financial terms. Along with transport, accommodation is the highest budget item. For example, it is quite possible to find double rooms in hotels, right in the center of Riga around 40/50 € per night. If you can put more, from 80 €, you claim higher class hotels. The Jurmale seaside resort, located not far from the capital, offers higher prices.
A cheaper accommodation option, but still very comfortable, is apartment rental. Thus, in Riga, entire accommodation can be rented from € 30 per night: a super economical solution that allows you to have fun with outings to restaurants for example. Nevertheless, in Latvia you can feast on a perfectly reasonable budget. A lunch formula costs around € 7/10 only, while it takes around € 18 for a three-course dinner. Entrance fees to museums or sites are very low or are generally in the form of donations. Therefore, to visit Latvia for a week, consider a budget of around 400/450 € per person with medium-level accommodation (*** hotel) and catering.
How to go to Latvia from France?
Even though it is a European country, Latvia is far from France. By road from Paris, it takes a 24-hour journey for nearly 2 km. The plane therefore remains the best way to visit Latvia.. In France, by direct flight, Riga is served from Nice or Paris. Brussels, Charleroi, Geneva or Zurich are also possible airports for cross-border commuters. Thus, in less than 3 hours, you arrive in the Latvian capital. In terms of budget, prices range from 120 to 200 € round trip.
However, a stay in Latvia is often part of a trip to the Baltic States. In this case, depending on the planned circuit, check flights to Tallinn in Estonia and Vilnius in Lithuania.
How to get around the country?
Here are all the possibilities for getting around Latvia easily!
Getting around by car is the ideal solution for an itinerant road trip across the country. It provides great flexibility and allows the more adventurous to easily improvise their circuit as they go. However, if you are planning a trip based in Riga and the surrounding areas, the car can be a burden. It is not necessary to visit the historic center of the capital where access to vehicles is expensive. As the sites around Riga are easily accessible by public transport, it is best to prefer scheduled buses or trains.
Major Latvian cities are usually served once a day by scheduled bus from Riga. The coaches are comfortable with all the modern comforts linked to new technologies (wifi, USB socket, etc.) and the network is very dense. If you prefer the train, it is better to take it only for destinations close to the capital. The Latvian train is uncomfortable and does not serve all destinations outside the great metropolitan area of Riga.
All cities in the country have an urban bus network very well stocked. Riga even has a tram with eleven lines.
What to eat and drink in Latvia?
Latvian cuisine is derived from Germanic gastronomy with influences from neighboring Russia and Poland. Small country with a large coastal area, fish, and mainly herring and salmon, are very present on the family tables. As in many central European countries, potatoes are the classic accompaniment to main dishes. But Latvians also eat a lot of peas, cabbage and beets. One of the hallmarks of Latvia is the use of dill in many dishes. The soups, such as mutton with vegetables, are often featured on restaurant menus. Meat stews are part of the great family of Baltic dishes that hold on to the body. And to accompany the meal, black rye bread is a must.
On the drink side, beer comes in all its forms and is very popular. For lovers of strong alcohol, visiting Latvia inevitably involves tasting black balsam, a savory sweet cocktail made from plants, spices, flowers and roots. This alcohol is drunk neat, or cut with fruit juice or a few teaspoons of coffee.
Where to sleep, in which region to stay?
Whether you are planning to visit Latvia on a short break or a longer trip, you necessarily go through Riga. To stay in the capital, several districts are available to you. The historic center is undoubtedly an ideal choice for exploring the city. You will thus permanently enjoy the historic charm of the city and its alleys classified as World Heritage by Unesco. If the goal of your stay in Riga is to enjoy its long, lively nights, the district of Miera Iela is to be preferred. By day, the calm of green spaces rub shoulders with the hipster atmosphere of trendy cafes and retro boutiques. At night, the local youth animate all the street corners.
If you are looking for a seaside holiday close to the capital, it is better to orient yourself towards the Gulf of Riga with in particular the Jurmala resort and its 40 km of white sand beach. To avoid missing out on the country's must-see sites, it is advisable to plan drop-off points in Gauja National Park, especially around the towns of Sigulda and Cesis. Further west, Ventspils is the largest Latvian port. It is a very welcoming city, with colorful and affluent neighborhoods. The region is an ideal starting point for traveling the west coast and admiring the typical Latvian landscapes of the Curonian area.Gauja natural park
What are the main monuments and museums to visit?
Riga, pearl of the Baltic, is of course a must-see in the country. Its medieval historic heart contrasts wonderfully with its Art Nouveau districts. All this gives a special atmosphere to this capital on a human scale. The tower of the Saint-Pierre church, the houses of the Three Brothers, the Dom cathedral, the Maison des Têtes Noires are all sites not to be missed in the middle of the pretty colored facades. The Freedom Monument and the Occupation Museum bear witness to the country's complex historical past.
The Gauja National Park includes more than 500 monuments scattered in the heart of an abundant nature. Among all the churches, castles and other archaeological sites, one should not miss the charming town of Sigulda which houses the castle of Turaida, or the locality of Cesis and its castle which can be visited in the light of the candle. Less than 100 km south of Riga is the glitzy Rundale Castle. Nicknamed the "Latvian Versailles", its sublime baroque architecture is worth a detour. Wherever you are in Latvia, religious heritage is very present. From small country chapels to large cathedrals, the Russian and Orthodox imprint brings a certain change of scenery.Rundale Castle
What are the most beautiful walks to do?
A big weekend is enough to get a glimpse of the capital, but with a few more days, it is possible to deepen the discovery of the country, and in particular to visit Bauska, 66 kilometers from the capital. This town still preserves the ruins of the medieval fortified castle of the Teutonic Knights and the palace built in the XNUMXth century for the Dukes of Courland.
If you want to experience Latvian nature and its beauties, you should definitely opt for a passage in Gauja National Park. It is the largest and oldest Latvian national park which is a real green lung where locals come to recharge their batteries. The thick pine forest is home to many possibilities for hiking, cycling, canoeing or even cross-country skiing.. The bravest can even try their hand at bobsleigh on the Sigulda side. There are many explorations along the Gauja River: rock formations, waterfalls, lakes, caves, etc.Bauska Castle
Here is some additional information to prepare your stay in Latvia.
- Formalities: French citizens do not need a visa, but only a valid passport or identity card. For a stay of more than three months, a residence permit must be requested on site.
- Health : no vaccination is compulsory, even if the usual vaccinations (diphtheria-tetanus) are recommended as a precaution.
- Change : a member of the European Union since 2004, Latvia has also adopted the euro as its currency
- Visitor Center : a lot of useful information is available on the official website of the Latvian tourist board (in English).
Young and old will be amazed in Latvia!
Have you planned a trip to this Baltic country? Tell us about your preparations and tips in the comments!