Latvia: Overview

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Updated: 2017-03-15.

Republic of Latvia | Latvijas Republika

The Republic of Latvia is one of the Baltic countries in northeastern Europe, as it has over 500 km of coastline along the Baltic Sea, to its west; it shares land borders with Estonia to its north, Russia to its east, and Lithuania to its south. The country is divided up into four historical and cultural regions: Courland, Latgale, Vidzeme, and Zemgale. However, administratively, the country is divided into five regions, with the “Riga” region taking up parts of Vidzeme, Courland, and Zemgale.

Latvia has so much more to offer than its size seems to imply. Though it is one of the smaller countries in the world, in terms of land area as well as population, it makes up for it with its rich, cultural heritage, beautiful countryside, and stunning architecture.

Riga, its capital and largest city, is home to some fabulous examples of art nouveau architecture. Since it was founded over eight centuries ago, in 1201, the buildings offer a good view of its evolution over time. The city’s historical center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its famous Dome Cathedral is a must-see site, and you should try to make it when there is a concert planned centered around its gigantic pipe organs. Riga will be the 2014 European Capital of Culture.

Outside of Riga, the countryside is sure to amaze. The coastlines along the Baltic are pristine, and there are rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The town of Jūrmala is home to some unique natural resources, including thermal waters, peat mud, and forests of pine.

Though it has included many bits and pieces of culture and tradition from all the other European states over time, there are some things that are uniquely Latvian. One of the great traditions is Līgo, a popular pagan tradition that takes place on the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year; hills all over Latvia become host to bonfires, and people sing, drink, dance, and party around them through the night.

flag of Latvia

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