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About Latvia » About Latvia

Latvia

Country name: Republic of Latvia.

Government type: Parliamentary democracy.
Location: the Republic of Latvia lies on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. In the north, the country borders on Estonia (339 km), in the east – on Russia (217 km) and Belarus (141 km), in the south – on Lithuania (453 km). Latvia holds a 531 km long area of the Baltic Sea coast.
History: The territory of present-day Latvia has been inhabited from 9,000 years BC. Latvians are descended from Baltic tribes which arrived in around 2,000 BC.Due its important geographical position, Latvia has always been desired, fought over and occupied by various larger powers including Russia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. German traders established their first camp on the banks of the river Daugava in 1054. German archbishop Albert of Livonia founded the city of Riga in 1201. Later, the city became a key member of the famous European trading alliance called the Hanseatic League. In the 13th century German crusaders gradually progressed further into Latvian territory converting the local peoples to Christianity - often by force. Russia came to occupy the whole of present-day Latvian territory during 18th century largely as a result of its success in the Northern War (1700-1721) against Sweden after which Vidzeme, the Northern region of Latvia, came under the Russian rule. As a result of WWI and the revolution, Russia's influenced was sufficiently weakened to give Latvia its chance to announce independence on 18th November 1918. The Soviet Union occupied Latvia on 17 June, 1940. The western coast and the whole city of Liepaja were isolated from the rest of the country and accessible only with special permits. The so-called 'Singing Revolution' of 1991 was followed by re-establishing Latvian independence on 21 August. Latvia became a full member of the European Union and NATO in 2004.
Population, religion, language: Total population is 2 300 000 inhabitants. Ethnic composition: 57,1% Latvians, 29,5% Russians, 4,1% Belorussians, 2,7% Ukrainians, 2,5% Polish, 2,3% Lithuanians and 1,8% others. Based on cultural and dialect differences Latvia traditionally divided into 4 regions: Vidzeme, Latgale, Kurzeme and Zemgale. Latvia is predominantly Protestant (Lutheran) with a Roman Catholic community in the eastern part of Latvia, and Russian Orthodox community. The state language is Latvian. Latvian belongs to the Baltic language group, part of the Indo-European language family.
Major cities, administrative division: The capital of Latvia is Riga (pop. 750 thousand). The city was officially established in 1201. The Old Town of Riga was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Other major cities are Daugavpils, Liepaja. Jelgava, Jurmala, Ventspils, Rezekne. Latvia is divided into 26 counties and 7 municipalities.
Climate: Transitional, between maritime and Continental average temperature in July is +17°C, in January – -4.9°C. However, temperatures can soar up to +30°C in summer, and drop down to -25°C in winter. Summers here are pleasantly mild, whereas not every winter offers abundance of snow.
Resorts, protected areas: The main resort of Latvia is Jurmala. There are 5 Strict Nature and Biosphere reserves, 3 National parks in Latvia.
National holidays:  Banks, offices and shops are closed on the national holidays.
They may also be closed or have earlier time on the eve of the holidays:
New Year - January 1;
Good Friday – March/April;
Easter (Catholic) – March/April;
The Convocation Day of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia - May 1;
Ligo Day – June 23;
"Jani" Midsummer solstice - June 24;
Independence Day – November 18;
Christmas (Ziemassvetki) – December 24/26;
New Year‘s Eve – December 31.
Time zone: Latvia lies in the Central European Time zone (GMT + 2 hours (GTM+3hrs, from April to November) or same as, for instance, Helsinki, Vilnius, and Tallinn).
Places of interest: Riga Old Town Riga, The Steep Coast at Jurkalne, Kolkas rags, Gauja National Park, Rundale Palace, Kemeri National Park, Jurmala,
Driving: There is right side traffic in Latvia, as in the rest of continental Europe. You should have valid driving license and insurance policy with you. As Latvia is considered to be a Northern country, you should drive with the lights switched on 24 hours a day. The vehicle must be equipped with winter tires in winter period (November - 31 March). Speed limit is 50 km per hour within city or town and 90 km per hour on the open road. Driving experience of 2 years and age limit of 21 year is required in some rent-a-car office.
Accommodation: There are 46 hotels, 6 spa-hotels and more than 30 guesthouses holding an official classification certificate and a license on the territory of Latvia. Besides, there are a lot of non-certified accommodations. Big choice of hotels in Riga and Jurmala is available. One can choose between 3-rooms apartment with Jacuzzi and mini-pool inside, and dormitory in a youth hostel. Please, check accommodation for details.
Currency: Latvian currency is the Lat (1Lat= 100 santims). There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 santims and 1, 2 Lats. The paper notes are 5,10,20, 50, 100 and 500 Lats. The current rate is € 1.00 = LVL 0.678. All convertible currencies can be exchanged at banks and currency exchange offices. The latter can be found in major hotels, airports, same supermarkets, and train and bus stations. Most transactions are made in cash. Most establishments accept major credit cards including Globus, Euro card, MasterCard, Visa and Visa Electron and (less widely) American Express. Travellers cheques are rarely accepted by retailers and can only be changed in banks and currency exchange offices.
Visas: Citizens of Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Vatican City do not require a visa to enter Latvia. Visas are issued for the period of 30 days, and the extensions could be granted up to 90 days in a year. Visas for the period of 10 days are available at the airport. Latvian visas are valid for Estonia and Lithuania as well (not for the citizens of former republics of the Soviet Union - Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, etc).