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    The forrested country of Latvia is nestled between itsneighbours Estonia and Lithuania just off the Baltic Sea. The smallcountry's picturesque towns and ancient cities are set within alandscape of plains, lakes, forests and river valleys. Fishingvillages interrupt the dramatic coastline interspersed with whitesandy beaches. The country has many manor houses, medieval castles,palaces, and ruins. The capital city of Riga, the beautifulcapital, is rich in history and culture with the largestconcentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe resulting it beingdeclared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Latvian capital is anobvious tourist destination as the largest city in the BalticStates and a major port home to almost half the country'spopulation. Nearby, the Baltic health and recreation resort ofJurmala doubles its population during the summer months as apopular holiday destination, with its sandy beaches, healingwaters, mud baths, and quaint wooden houses.

    History lovers will enjoy the ancient cities of Valmiera, Cesis,and Limbaþi in the northern region, which were once members of theHanseatic League. The picturesque cultural towns of the Abava RiverValley and the villages of the ancient Liv people in the south arealso worth visiting. The Rundale Palace is a popular sight alongwith the spectacular Baroque palace at Jelgava in the centralregion of Zemgale. Lastly, the scenic Tervete forest, with theoldest and tallest pine trees in Latvia are not to be missed.

    Those keen on outdoor activities will enjoy the naturalsurroundings in the Latgale region otherwise known as the Land ofBlue Lakes; the coastal landscape of the Kurzeme region, wheredeserted beaches stretch for miles; and the coastline and hillyscenery of the northern Vidzeme region, which also is home toSigulda, the country's downhill skiing area.

    Dom Cathedral

    Dating back to 1211, the red brick Dom (or Dome) ProtestantCathedral is a highlight of the historic centre of Riga. Thecathedral is situated near the Western Daugava River and boasts anincredible organ with over 6,500 pipes built in 1844, stained-glasswindows, and a beautifully whitewashed interior. There are regularconcerts held on the organ, and the cathedral also has its ownboys' choir that gives regular performances. A great historicalsight in Latvia, that earns rave reviews from all who experienceit. The Dom Protestant Cathedral is a great historical sight inLatvia that earns rave reviews from all who experience it.

    Address: Herdera laukums 6, Centra rajon
    Opening time: Open daily: 10am to 5pm.
    Dom Cathedral Dom Cathedral anaru
    Riga Castle

    Riga Castle (or Riga Pils) was built in 1330 on the site of theoriginal settlement of the city as a residence for the master ofthe Livonian Order, and later it served as the base for the city'soccupiers throughout its history. The distinctive yellow castle wasdestroyed and rebuilt over time, and today it serves as the officesand home of the Latvian president, as well as the Latvian Museum ofForeign Art and the Rainis Museum of Literature and Art History.The castle is strategically placed on the banks of the Daugava,originally in order to oversee all ships entering the city's port,and has four towers and an inner courtyard.

    Address: Pils laukums 3
    Opening time: Foreign Art Museum: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11amto 5pm. The Castle is open daily, though some sections areoff-limits to tourists due to the Presidentialresidence
    Riga Castle Riga Castle
    Open Air Ethnographic Museum

    The Open Air Ethnographic Museum is a fascinating reflection ofthe traditional Latvian way of life. Set on 247 acres (100ha), themuseum consists of farmhouses, fishing villages, windmills, andother historic buildings relocated here to create an outdoorexhibit. Visitors to Riga can watch craftsmen at work, sampletraditional Latvian cooking and ales, and learn more about thehistory of this deeply interesting country.

    Address: Brivibas Gatve 440
    Opening time: Open daily from 10am to 5pm
    Ethnographic Museum Ethnographic Museum wikipedia.org
    Riga Central Market

    One of the oldest and biggest of its kind, Riga's Central Marketdates back to 1201 and is a riot of sounds, sights, and smells.Anything from fresh fruits, cheeses, and whole sheep carcasses, toappliances, clothing, and CDs are on offer, usually at veryreasonable prices. The market was moved from its original home andrelocated several times, but since the 1930s has occupied the samespace in several World War I hangars, close to the bus and trainstations. There is room for over 1,000 vendors, and no visit toRiga is complete without a stroll through its tantalisingstalls.

    Address: 7, Nēģu iela
    Opening time: Daily from 7am to 6pm.
    Website: www.rct.lv/lv/
    The Museum of the Occupation of Riga

    Latvia was occupied from 1949 to 1991 by two successive regimesin the forms of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. This well-curatedmuseum conveys what life was like during this time, and serves as amemorial to those who died or fled as a result of the occupation.Visitors can view film archives and see a reconstruction of life inthe infamous Siberian labour camps. A sobering and humanisingexperience, highly recommended for those who wish to connect toLatvian culture while on holiday in Riga.

    Address: Raiņa bulvāris 7, Centra rajons
    Opening time: Open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11am to 5pm (October toApril); and 11am to 6pm (May to September).
    Art Nouveau Architecture

    The city of Riga contains the highest concentration of ArtNouveau architecture in the world. Otherwise known as Jugendstil,some of the buildings in central and downtown Riga date as far asthe late 19th century. The style is characterised by unusualshapes, curved and organic arches, gargoyles, carved faces, andflamboyant cornices. Over 30 percent of central Riga's buildingswere created in this style, many supervised by famous Russianarchitect Mikhail Eisenstein. The best streets to view buildings onare Elisebetes, Strelnieku, and Albert. The Riga Art NouveauCentre, located in central downtown, has been furnished in the ArtNouveau style allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in theearly 20th century.

    Address: Albert St 13, Central District
    Opening time: Open 24 hours a day.
    Classic Jurgendstil architecture Classic Jurgendstil architecture David Fair
    Riga Motor Museum

    What is undoubtedly eastern Europe's finest motor museum istucked away on the outskirts of Riga, and makes for an essentialouting if you enjoy classic cars and Soviet history. The museumcontains Molotov's limousine, Stalin's bombproof sedan, and thewreck of Brezhnev's car in which he crashed. The model dummies inthe vehicles are a nice touch. There is a priceless collection ofclassic sports cars and motorcycles, irresistibly photogenic forpetrol heads.

    Address: Sergeja Eizenšteina iela 8, Vidzemespriekšpilsēta
    Opening time: Open daily from 10am to 6pm.
    Riga\'s Motor Museum Riga\'s Motor Museum David Fair
    Jurmala

    Jurmala is the main holiday resort town in Latvia, the placelocals go to when they want to relax, catch a tan, and enjoy a spatreatment. The beaches are very good and the seafood restaurantsare excellent too. Apart from sand and sea, the main attractions ofJurmala are its spas, which offer a range of therapies andtreatments at a fraction of what they'd cost in western Europe.Getting to Jurmala from Riga is easy: by train or bus, the journeytakes 30 minutes. Jurmala is fast becoming one of eastern Europe'sbest spa destinations, and tourists are urged to check it outbefore the secret gets out and prices begin to sky-rocket.

    Jurmala beach Jurmala beach
    Latvian National Opera

    The Latvian National Opera building is a magnificent19th-century structure, home to the National Opera, Ballet, andOrchestra companies. Built in 1863 by the St Petersburg architectLudwig Bohnstedt, the columned and colonnaded building is not onlyincredibly photogenic, but lays claim to an interesting history.Guided tours of the opera building take place at 5pm every Friday,and are a very popular tourist attraction in Riga. Culture-vulturesshould also check out the Latvian National Opera's website forprogramme information. The country has a proud classical musichistory, with Richard Wagner being Director of Music in Rigabetween 1837 and 1839, and recitals are often of rare quality.

    Address: Aspazijas bulvāris 3, Centra rajons
    Opening time: Tours on Friday at 5pm
    Website: www.opera.lv

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Riga has a moderate climate, influenced by its close proximityto the sea. Summers tend to be short and cool with cloud cover, andhigh temperatures average around 64°F (18°C). Winters are usuallylong, dark and cold, with temperatures averaging between 18°F(-8°C) and 28°F (-2°C) in January. Snowfall is heavy and snow coverusually lasts from mid-December to mid-March. The city is overcastfor roughly 40 percent of the year.

    Latvia has a temperate climate. May to September (spring andsummer) is the best time to visit Latvia, with daytime temperaturesaveraging 61°F (16°C), but July and August is the peak touristseason and accommodation can be fully booked during this time. Thecoldest months are January and February, and winter temperaturescan be extreme, averaging out at 21°F (-6°C) during the day.

    Riga International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) fromRiga.
    Time: GMT +2 (GMT +3 from the last Sunday in March tothe last Sunday in October).
    Transfer Between Terminals: The terminals are all accessible on foot.
    Getting to the city: Bus 22 has a direct service between the airport and the citycentre; the bus stop is located opposite the terminal behind thecar park. Minibus 222 is a faster service connecting the airport tothe city centre; minibuses operated by RÄ«gas MikroautobusuSatiksme are known to be the most comfortable and efficient. Somehotels provide their own shuttle services. Taxis are also availableoutside the terminal building, taking approximately 15 minutes tothe city centre.
    Car Rental: Car rental companies include well-known names like Avis, Budget,Sixt, and Europcar and can be found in the Arrivals sector E.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are also available outside the terminal building, takingapproximately 15 minutes to the city centre.
    Fascilities: Facilities include banks and currency exchange bureaux,duty-free shopping, restaurants and cafes, left luggage, apharmacy, a spa, barber, and a variety of shops. Facilities forthose with special needs are good and passengers should notifytheir airline about their requirements before travel.
    Parking Parking is available in the short-term car park (P1) or in oneof two long-term car parks (P2 and P3) situated within a fewminutes' walking distance from the airport terminal. Short-termparking is situated in front of the terminal building and costs€1.50 for the first 30 minutes. Long-term parking costs €4 perday.
    Money:

    The official currency is the Euro (EUR). Most hotels andrestaurants in Riga accept credit cards, but outside of the capitalcredit cards are not widely accepted and credit card fraud can be aproblem at smaller institutions. Foreign currency can be exchangedat any bank, at money change kiosks and at some hotels. Note thatan extra fee will be charged to exchange US dollars that are tornor marked in any way. Most banks are closed on Saturdays andSundays. ATMs are available in the larger cities.

    Language:

    Latvian is the official language, but English,Lithuanian, Russian and German are also spoken.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European styletwo-pin plugs are in use.

    Entry Requirements:

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. A visais not required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.

    Passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject'(containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abodeissued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas TerritoriesCitizen' issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. Britishpassports with other endorsements must be valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay in Latvia.

    A visa is not required for British passports endorsed 'BritishCitizen' or 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate ofEntitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom),nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar, and endorsed'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the UnitedKingdom'. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a180 day period for holders of British passports with otherendorsements.

    Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visa isrequired, for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

    Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visa isrequired for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

    South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months beyond the period of intended stay, and require avalid Schengen visa to enter Latvia.

    Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the periodof intended stay in Latvia. No visa is required.

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. A visais not required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.

    New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Latvia. No visais required, for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 dayperiod.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes thefollowing countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark,Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy,Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway,Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden andSwitzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visathat has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder totravel freely within the borders of all the aforementionedcountries. Additionally, foreign passengers to Latvia must holdvalid health insurance, that includes provision for repatriationcosts. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has atleast six months validity remaining after your intended date ofdeparture from your travel destination. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.

    Travel Health:

    No health certificates or vaccinations are required to enterLatvia, but visitors are advised to have an inoculation againsttick-borne encephalitis if planning to hike in the country andforests or stay in rural areas, especially during the summer monthsof March to October. There was a outbreak of Hepatitis A in arestaurant in Riga in May 2008 and travellers are recommended toget vaccinated before travelling to Latvia. Rabies is endemic, andoutbreaks of meningitis occur. Medicines are usually available, butit is best to bring a supply of personal medication. Healthinsurance is necessary. A reciprocal agreement with the UK entitlesUK citizens to emergency treatment on the same terms as Latviannationals on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card(EHIC).

    Tipping:

    Tipping is not obligatory in restaurants, but it is customary toround up the bill to no more than 10% if a service charge has notbeen included and the service was good. Carry small change fortipping taxi drivers. In hotels, tip according to the servicesprovided.

    Safety Information:

    Most visits to Latvia are trouble-free, but street crime can bea problem for tourists, and there are occasional muggings offoreigners, particularly if walking alone or at night. Car theft isrife. Reports indicate that foreigners are being chargedridiculously expensive prices for drinks in bars in Riga, andvisitors are cautioned against becoming victims by checking onprices before buying. Muggings are common of tourists out late atnight in the Old Town.

    Local Customs:

    Latvians are generally reserved, quiet and extremely courteous,and are not comfortable making small talk. Good manners dictatesthat people are not embarrassed or criticised in public.

    Business:

    Conducting business in Latvia can sometimes be a challenge dueto bureaucracy, as well as the lack of English spoken. Businesstends to be formal, with a clear-cut hierarchy, and titles areusually used. Punctuality, directness and organisation are allimportant. Suits and ties are the norm and when in doubt, dressconservatively. Women might encounter some sexism and roles shouldbe clarified to avoid confusion. Business hours are usually from9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Latvia is +371. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUK). City/area codes are in use; there are three for Riga.International Direct Dialling is available from all public andhotel phones. Public phones use phone cards, which can be boughtfrom numerous shops and kiosks. For local operator assistance dial116. The two local GSM mobile phone operators use GSM 900 and GSM1800 networks.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Latvia over 17 years and arriving with goodspurchased in the EU for personal use do not have to pay duty on 800cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 1kg smoking tobacco; 10litres of spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%, 20 litresof alcohol with alcohol content lower than 22%, 90 litres wine or60 litres of sparkling wine, 110 litres of beer, and 110 litres ofnon-alcoholic beverages. Travellers arriving from non-EU countriesdo not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50cigars, or 250g smoking tobacco; 1 litre of spirits with alcoholvolume higher than 22%, or 2 litres spirits, aperitifs, liqueur,sparkling or still wines with alcohol volume less than 22% and 2litres still wine; perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette;other goods for personal use to the value of €400. Prohibited itemsinclude narcotics, guns, and fresh food products.

    Useful Contacts:

    Latvia Tourist Board, Riga: +371 6703 7900 orwww.latviatourism.lv

    Latvia Embassies:

    Embassy of Latvia, Washington DC, United States: +1 (202) 3282840.

    Embassy of Latvia, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7312 0041.

    Embassy of Latvia, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 238 6014.

    Honorary Consulate of Latvia, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 11750 1600.

    Embassy of Latvia, Melbourne, Australia: +61 3 9499 6920.

    Embassy of Latvia, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 478 0161.

    Consulate of Latvia, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 21 190 2618.

    Foreign Embassies in Latvia :

    United States Embassy, Riga: +371 7036 200.

    British Embassy, Riga: +371 777 4700.

    Canadian Embassy, Riga: +371 781 3945.

    South African Embassy, Stockholm, Sweden (also responsible forLatvia): +46 866 076 93.

    Australian Embassy, Berlin (also responsible for Latvia): +49 3088 00 88 0

    Embassy of Ireland, Riga: +371 6703 9370.

    New Zealand Embassy, Warsaw, Poland (also responsible forLatvia): +48 22 521 0500.

    Latvia Emergency Numbers : 112 (General Emergency Number)
    Latvia

    Riga has a varied nightlife, mostly centred round the Old Town,where many clubs, bars, casinos, and live music venues can befound. Riga is also famous for its classical entertainment, withsymphonies and operas taking place throughout the year.

    A detailed and monthly updated guide to all Riga's nightlife canbe found in the Riga In Your Pocket booklet, available freethroughout the city. Close proximity makes walking betweennightlife venues a viable option.

    Visitors should be cautious late at night as muggings are oftenreported. The larger clubs attract stag groups from the UK andScandinavian duty-free tourists. Rather stick to the smaller barsif you want a less rowdy experience.

    Riga is a good place to buy local crafts, alcohol, andfoodstuffs, but imported goods are very expensive. The highestconcentration of shops is in the Old Town and the city centre. Oneof the best souvenirs to buy in Latvia is amber, for which thecountry is world-famous. Look out for amber set in silverjewellery. Other quality buys include woollen jerseys and hats withdistinctive Baltic patterns, the local liqueur Black Balsam, andWorld War Two memorabilia. Bargaining is not expected and unlikelyto be successful. A great shopping experience is a visit to thehuge Central Market, located in five cavernous pavilions.Everything can be bought here, including fresh fish, fruit, honey,and cheap clothes.

    Riga has a well-developed and relatively cheap public transportsystem that consists of buses, minibuses, trams, and trolley buses.Most services run from 5am to as late as 1am and some routes run aregular night service. Tickets can be bought on the bus, trolley,or tram. Final destinations are marked on the front of alltransport vehicles. Taxis are readily available, and it is worthnoting that licensed cabs will have a yellow number plate. One canrisk an unlicensed taxi, but drivers usually turn off the meter andthe price needs to be negotiated beforehand. Riga's ferry terminalis located less than half a mile (1km) north of Old Riga. Thecentral train station will take commuters to destinations inRussia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

    Sigulda

    Just 33 miles (56km) from the capital, Sigulda is a picturesquelittle town located in the primordial Gauja Valley. It's well worththe trip for tourists to Riga. Dubbed the 'Switzerland of Vidzeme'due to the steep cliffs and caves that line the sides of the rivergorge, Sigulda makes a wonderful base from which to exploreLatvia's considerable natural bounty. Notable tourist attractionsof the area include the Medieval and Turaida Castles, with theformer staging an annual open-air Opera Festival in the summer.Gauja National Park is within touching distance of Sigulda,offering great activities such as walking trails and bungee-jumpingin summer; and luge, bobsledding, and skiing in the winter. Thetown of Sigulda itself is particularly worth visiting in spring,when cherry blossoms bloom; and in autumn, where the town seems totake on the blood-orange hue of the leaves falling from its trees.Be sure to visit the Gutmanis Cave, the largest in the Balticregion, and the setting of the Latvian folktale of the Rose ofTuraida.