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The Republic of Latvia – one of the three Baltic states (the others being Lithuania and Estonia) – is one of the few remaining gems of northeastern Europe that is, as yet, generally undiscovered (as of May 2015). The neighbor of Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and Russia, Latvia is strategically located in the centre of the Baltic region, making it an important port of trade for ancient peoples like the Vikings and Greeks (who used the massive Daugava River that flows from Russia to Belarus and Latvia as a trade route). Its advantageous geographic position also resulted in the land being much fought-over in the past; the country has been colonized by a variety of peoples including the German, Swedish, Polish, and Russians in its few hundred years of history.

Despites its turbulent past, the resilient country has since prospered; today, Latvia has a population of more than 2 million, and its capital city Riga is renowned as one of the Baltic’s top destinations – it was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014, and its historic centre is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On top of its hip, happening capital city, the rest of Latvia is also smothered in natural beauty. Its area of 64,000 square kilometres is covered in lush forests bursting with flora and fauna, blue lakes, rivers, valleys, and 500 kilometres of white sand-covered coast.

Getting around

Getting around Latvia isn’t difficult thanks to the country’s extensive and comprehensive network of public transport. Travellers intending to cover long distances in the country are advised to take the bus - ironically, Latvian buses move quicker than their trains, though they are slightly more expensive. If you’re not in a hurry, though, getting around on the LDZ trains can be a pleasant experience as well.

Those only staying within Riga may want to consider getting around by cycling – bike rental facilities are plentiful, and cycling routes are increasingly being developed in the city.

What to see and do

If it wasn’t already clear in the earlier text, one of the must-sees in Latvia is Riga’s historic centre, also known as Vecriga. Considered the city with the finest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe, Riga’s Old Town simply bursts with color – cobbled medieval streets are framed by historic buildings (many of which are painted eye-popping shades of red, orange and yellow) along with ancient cathedrals and churches. Don’t miss a visit to the iconic St. Peter’s Church, the Riga Dome Cathedral (which was built in the 13th century), Riga Castle, the White Stone Palace, House of the Blackheads and many other notable structures.

After Riga, explore the rest of beautiful Latvia – must-sees include the ancient German-built Turaida Castle in the stunningly beautiful town of Sigulda, Gauja National Park (the largest in the country), the gorgeous beach town of Jūrmala, the Basilica of Aglona and more.

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