Situated on the Baltic Sea and surrounded by Lithuania and Estonia, the Republic of Latvia is a country known for its rich traditions, beautiful beaches, national parks, lush greenery, and cultural heritage. The north-eastern European destination is known as the “Land of Blue Lakes” thanks to its 12,000 or so rivers and 3,000 small lakes! How much do you know about Latvia, the small country by the Baltic Sea? Learn about this fascinating little country through these 10 fun facts about Latvia!
1. Latvians are a people to look up to. Latvia has the world’s tallest women, with the average lady coming in at an impressive 170 cm. The men are no midgets either, holding fourth place.
2. Latvia is quite watery and a perfect destination for nature lovers! The country has 12,000 rivers and 3,000 small lakes. In addition to that, more than half of Latvia is covered by forests, while 10% of the county is bog. Latvians take their country’s natural beauty seriously, with 4 national parks, over 250 nature reserves, 7 protected marine areas, and a biosphere reserve.
3. In Latvia, there is a museum dedicated to the world’s greatest liar – Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen. Yes, you heard it right! At the time, he was known for telling many fake stories related to his moon travel and of his exemplary services during the Russo-Turkish War. Now, the country is generating handsome revenue from a museum dedicated to their hero. Latvia also issued a commemorative coin in 2005 to celebrate this legend’s 285th birthday.
4. The country is home to the first Christmas tree in the world! The first decorated Christmas tree on record was one in Riga back in 1510. People adorned it with straw ornaments, ribbons, dried flowers and weave, sang and danced, and burned the tree afterwards for good luck. Later this tradition spread to Germany from where it conquered the rest of the world.
5. While Christmas is mainly a quiet family celebration, the summer solstice is where the real fun happens because Latvians flock to the countryside to celebrate the shortest night of the year. They stay up until dawn and light bonfires, make wildflower wreaths, eat and drink, sing and dance. Celebrated on the night from the 23rd to the 24th June, this ancient festival is called “Jāņi” or “Līgo”, and involves a number of superstitions and rituals.
6. Latvians love their beer and rank among the highest per capita consumers. In Riga there is a Beer Spa, where you can immerse yourself in a warm beer bath while enjoying a cool glass of beer.
7. A Latvian-Jewish tailor named Jākobs Jufess invented the jeans we all know, wear and cannot live without now. Levi Strauss backed him financially.
8. Are you a waterfall enthusiast? Note that Latvia is home to the widest waterfall in Europe. Known as Venta Rapid, or Ventas Rumba in Latvian, this famous waterfall is situated in Kuldiga in the western part of this country. It is about 249 metres wide and can swell up even more to 270 metres wide when it is spring flood season.
9. In Latvia you can go to prison voluntarily. In Liepaja, Karosta you can find a former military prison which now serves as a sightseeing place and a hostel for those who are looking for a thrilling experience. Guests can have the full prisoner experience with all-time exclusive – uniformed officers, verbal abuse and organized physical exercises. For some reason, this is also a popular activity for bachelor parties.
10. Latvians love to sing. We have over 1 million folk songs and every 4 years, an impressive Song and Dance festival takes place in Riga where on a single stage you can see more than 15 000 people singing and 16 000 Latvians dancing traditional folk dances.
11. And they loooove talking over the phone! In 2012, 4 people in Latvia set up a new world record having the longest phone conversation – 54 hours and 4 minutes.
12. Latvians do not use gestures while communicating, or make minimal use of it. A lot of gesturing can be annoying or distracting for them. It can be considered rude to wave a pointed index finger or persistently point at someone.
How to reach?
Riga International Airport is the major airport in Latvia. It serves as the hub of the national airline, AirBaltic. Regular flights to Latvia are available from major cities around the globe.
Sigulda: Thanks to its beautiful scenery, Sigula is also known as the Switzerland of Latvia. Located on the edge of Gauja National Park, this place offers enchanting river panoramas, remote forest trails, mysterious caves and ancient castles. Sigulda is also home to some ruined castles like Krimulda Castle and the Sigulda Medieval Castle Ruins which dates back to the 12th century.
Jurmala: Just 20 minutes’ drive from Riga, Jurmala (Jūrmala) is a seaside resort like no other offering beautiful white sand beaches and the unique spas with a tempting menu of mud packs and massages. Nearby Ķemeri National Park is the home of ample wild animals with fantastic landscapes and is a must visit.
Kuldiga: In the western part of Latvia, you will find a city that is nicknamed “The Venice of the North.” It is Kuldiga, a city decorated with ancient buildings and a beautiful river. Situated in the Kurzeme region, Kuldiga is also home to the Venta Rapid, the widest waterfall in Europe as well as a historic red brick bridge, built in 1874.
Cesis: Cesis (Cēsis) is a town with an intriguing mixture of hipness and history. Cesis also boasts two castles, side by side, that are extraordinary. The first is the original Cesis Castle, founded in the 13th century and now mostly in ruin. Next door is the New Cesis Castle, constructed in the 18th century. The new castle is beautiful and surrounded by gorgeous grounds.
Gauja National Park: Another pride of Latvia tourism pride is Gauja National Park. Caves, cliffs and other rock formations are a big draw to the park. Numerous hiking treks offer you astonishing views. You can also go biking and canoeing in several spots in Gauja National Park. If you prefer something more extreme, bungee jumping and freefall are also available here.