Latvia is neither very large nor very small. It’s a country cozily nestled between Estonia and Lithuania on the shore of the Baltic Sea, also known as the Amber Sea. The territory of Latvia (24,900 square miles) is inhabited by over 2.5 million people. Latvian language is one of the most ancient European Languages. Together with Lithuanian, Latvian forms the Baltic branch of the Indo-European group of languages. Although Latvia occupies only a small territory, the variety of its nature is large. This is determined by its geographical location, the history of its development and the local characteristics.
There are no smoking volcanoes or geysers, cloud-covered mountain tops or boundless plains in Latvia. However, Latvia will surprise the visitor with other generous gifts of Mother Nature. Tree-covered hills alternate with grain-fields and pastures of the flatlands and massive forests. Along picturesque riverbanks the uncovered basic strata form cliffs and crags in which the water has carved caves. Numerous lakes sparkle at the bottom of hills. The forests and waters are full of wildlife.
The capital of Latvia is the city of Riga. Riga announces itself with a unique and fantastically beautiful silhouette which is sometimes reflected in the Daugava, the largest river of Latvia, but sometimes secretively disappears in the fog. Old Riga will be celebrating its 800th birthday in 2001. It is the most ancient part of Riga and it is also the beginning of Riga with the first local inhabitant log building in the 11th century and the first German newcomer stone building in the 13th century. Over the time with much of the old disappearing and the new replacing it, the Old Town has become a part of the modern city where evidence of various centuries alternates in the streets. With 12,310 rivers and 3,000 lakes the country has many opportunities for boating and walking and just enjoying the outdoors. There are many small medieval towns, country castles, museums and folk parks to be visited.
Where to go:
1. Riga City
Riga is the capital of Latvia. The city is situated on the Baltic Sea coast on the mouth of the River Daugava. It is one of the biggest cities of the Baltic region with close to one million inhabitants and serves as a major cultural, educational, political, financial, commercial and industrial center in the Baltics. Before the war, Riga was known as the Paris of the Baltics. Just over a decade after Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union, and the country joining both NATO and the European Union in 2004, Riga is again a city on the rise. Riga is rapidly becoming the major Baltic business capital, before Estonia’s Tallinn and Lithuania’s Vilnius. On the tourist level, Riga is also booming with visitor attractions appearing everywhere and an ever-burgeoning proliferation of hotels at all levels.
The Latvian capital has often suffered, like so many other European cities. Throughout its turbulent history it has been routinely sacked, occupied, reoccupied and then sacked again, by everyone from the Teutonic Knights and the Swedes, through to the French and the Polish. In the 20th century came devastating invasions by the Nazis and Stalin. The Soviet Regime was responsible for the eyesore housing estates on the city’s periphery and some lingering Stalinist era architecture. But their traces gradually are being paved over.