Are you thinking about traveling to Latvia? Read on, because here I’m going to share with you what I think are the basic and at the same time most important things you need to know, when traveling to my homeland.
Located in the North of Europe, with Russia to the East, Lithuania, Belarus and Poland to the South, is Latvia, one of the world’s greenest countries. From Stockholm, Sweden, there are overnight ferries going to Riga, capital of Latvia. But from almost any point in Europe it is possible to get to Latvia by plane within few hours. There is only one international airport in Latvia. It’s Riga International Airport – RIX.
Latvia is Schengen country
Which means – if you aren’t resident of European union most probably you will need to apply for Schengen visa prior to your trip to Latvia. If you already have Schengen visa, because you were traveling to, for example, Germany, then, of course, you don’t need to obtain new visa for a trip to Latvia. As long as your visa is still valid.
At the same time, if you are resident of some another country of European union, traveling to Latvia for you will be as easy and seamless as going to any other EU country.
Many people in Latvia speak English
More than half of Latvians speak 3 languages – Latvian, English and Russian. English for most of us is the second language. We all are learning it at school and university. Since 1/4 of Latvia’s population are ethnic Russians Russian is widely spoken as well.
Even though so many people in Latvia, especially in Riga, can speak at least basic English, I can’t say, that it’s widely used in Latvia. For example, in public transport it’s highly possible that driver will not speak English, and there will not be announcements in English, only in Latvian. But again in Latvia you can be sure, that whenever there will be such a need, you will be able to find English speaking person, who can help you out.
Latvia is budget friendly country for traveling
Latvia isn’t expensive country to travel. Especially when we compare prices in Latvia to prices in Scandinavian countries, which are so close. But it is the same also when we look on all Europe. Food, traveling by train and buses, accommodation, … it all in Latvia costs similar like in the cheapest countries of Europe.
It is always possible to get some burger, shoarma (in Latvia we call it kebab), salad, slice of pizza, sandwich and soup for 1,5-3 euro. While full lunch or dinner in Latvia will set you back 4-6 euro only. Of course, there are also more expensive options, and that’s not hard to find them. But in any case, in Latvia it is possible to eat good food and in nice places for much smaller money than in many other European countries.
Traveling on very tight budget and cooking all the time on your own you may find, that shops like Lidl and Aldi, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany, have better prices for groceries that similar shops in Latvia. I can agree with you about it.
Traveling by bus or train for 100 kilometers in Latvia costs about 5 euro.
In Latvia you can pay for almost everything with bank card. I find it very convenient. When we lived in Latvia I almost never had in my wallet more than 5-10 euro in cash. I rarely used ATM’s. Because you don’t need it in Latvia. Everyone is paying for everything with bank card.
Do check out also Airbnb, if you want to stay in an apartment instead and live like a local in Latvia! Register using my Airbnb link and you will get a 18 euro discount for your first booking of 75 euro or more.
Mobile internet in Latvia is fast (4G) and cheap
Latvia has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. Having a broadband connection with download and upload speeds between 100 – 400 Mbps isn’t something extraordinary in Latvia. All mobile service providers in Latvia have 4G networks, which means that you can have super fast internet (20 Mbps and more) on your phone or tablet as well.
Speaking about prices of internet, they are similar for all mobile service providers in Latvia. For example, with Bite Latvija you can get 2 GB of mobile internet (you can use it in all Europe) + unlimited calls and SMS for 9,50 euro, while the same plan with 5 GB will cost you – 12,50 euro, and with 10 GB – 16,50 euro. You don’t need to pay extra for 4G in Latvia.
Bite Latvija, LMT and Tele2 are the biggest mobile service providers in Latvia. None of them have a website on English, but don’t worry, most of their staff in stores speak at least some English.
Finding free and stable WiFi connection isn’t a problem in Latvia either. When you are in Riga often you even have a choice of several networks.
Food in Latvia is rather heavy
Latvians like to eat a lot. And Latvians like to eat meat. Pork and chicken are the most popular choices. But boiled and mashed potatoes are often the side. Together with it we often eat also some vegetable salad, mostly prepared with sour cream or mayonnaise. Latvian food is not spicy at all.
Few Latvian dishes that I recommend you to try – mashed potatoes with cottage cheese and herring (kartupeļu biezenis ar biezpienu un siļķi), cold beet root soup (aukstā biešu zupa) or any other cold soup, if you are traveling to Latvia in summer, grey peas and speck (pelēkie zirņi ar speķi), stewed sauerkraut cabbage (štovēti kāposti) and pork in aspic (cūkgaļas galerts). From drinks try Latvian beer, Riga Black balsam and kvass! Valmiermuiža and Brenguļu are two of the best of Latvian beers.
If you will be traveling to Riga first, which most probably will be the case, check out our guide to Riga, where you will also find some restaurant recommendations! These are places, where you can try traditional Latvian cuisine.
Bus and rental car are two of the best choices for traveling around
Take a bus if you don’t have drivers licence or if you aren’t going to travel around Latvia too much.
Renting a car at the same time will give you much more flexibility and freedom. If you are traveling together with someone it will also cost you less than traveling by public transport. And you will be able to reach more distant parts of Latvia, where buses and trains aren’t going that frequent. There are places where public transport goes only few times a week. As everything in Latvia when compared to most of Europe renting a car in Latvia can be also very cheap.
There are also trains in Latvia, but there aren’t too many of them. You can check if there is a train going to the city where you want to get on the site of Latvian Railway company.
You can travel whole of Latvia in a couple of days
Take advantage of it and go on that trip across Latvia! Go and see more than just Riga and Sigulda.
From the far West to far East of Latvia it’s just about 400 kilometers. Rent a car in Riga and go on a road trip. Especially if it’s a snowy winter or sunny summer, when you are in Latvia. Traveling through countryside of Latvia you will see completely different country than the one in Riga.
If you are traveling to Latvia in summer, I urge you to go Latgale, region on the East of Latvia, known also as a land of blue lakes. That’s the real Latvia, what you will see while driving there. You will see with your own eyes, why Latvia is called one of the greenest countries in the world.
Where to go and what to see in Latvia
3 of the most popular tourist destinations in Latvia are – Riga, Sigulda and Cesis.
For culture, history, Art Nouveau architecture and nightlife head to Riga. If you want to have a piece of all of it, head to old town of Riga or wander through the streets near by. Cesis, average sized Latvian town about 100 kilometers away from Riga, is another popular destination for those who love culture, history and architecture. Sigulda, town 1 hour train/bus ride away from Riga, is the right place where to go for outdoor activities. Kayaking. Bungee jumping. Hiking. Mountain biking. Snowboarding and skiing during the winter. It’s all and much more possible in Sigulda.
If you are into nature, camping and hiking, I have good news for you – Latvia has hundreds of kilometers of undeveloped seashore. These are mostly nice and deserted beaches, being where you will feel like Robinson Kruzo.
Liepaja, Ventspils and Kuldiga are three of the most popular destinations on the West of Latvia. Liepaja and Ventspils are also among the largest cities of Latvia. Though, they aren’t really big, nor too populated. Liepaja is popular because of its cultural life. Kite-surfers love Liepaja as well. Ventspils like Liepaja is by the sea, and it’s rather beautiful port city, mostly used by cargo ships. Kuldiga between those three is the smallest one and, as many would say, the cutest one, too. It’s a charming town with quite a lot of well preserved old buildings. One of the Europe’s widest waterfalls is near Kuldiga.
Daugavpils and Rezekne are the most popular destinations on the East of Latvia. Daugavpils, with a population of a little bit under 100 000, is second largest city in Latvia. It’s an old city like the rest of cities I have mentioned. And it has the highest ratio of ethnic Russians in Latvia. Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre is the place where to go in Daugavpils, if you like art. Three places in Rezekne that are worth the visit are – The Embassy of Latgale, ‘GORS’, ‘ZEIMUĻS’ Centre of Creative Services of Eastern Latvia and Latgale Culture and History Musem.
If you still have some questions about traveling in Latvia, contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.