Basic Latvia FactsPopulation: 2,217,969
Location: Latvia faces Sweden from across the the Baltic Sea and has 309 miles of coast. On land, Latvia borders four countries: Estonia, Belarus, Russia, and Lithuania. View a map of Latvia.
Capital: Riga, population = 706,413
Currency: Lats (Ls) (LVL)
Time Zone: Eastern European Time (EET) and Eastern European Summer Time (EEST) in summer.
Calling Code: 371
Internet TLD: .lv
Language and Alphabet: Latvian, sometimes called Lettish, is one of the two surviving Baltic languages, the other being Lithuanian. Older generation Latvians will know Russian, while the younger ones will know a little English, German, or Russian. Latvians are proud purists of their language and hold contests for its correct use. Latvia uses the Latin alphabet with 11 modifications.
Religion: The Germans brought Lutheranism to Lativa, which dominated until the Soviet annexation. At present, a plurality of about 40% of Latvians claim to have no affiliation with any religion. The next two largest groups are both Christian with Lutheranism at 19.6%,and Orthodoxy at 15.3%. An obscure neopagan religious movement, Dievturība, claims to be a revival of the folk religion that existed before the Germans arrived with Christianity in the 13th century.
Travel FactsVisa Information: Citizens of the US, UK, Canada, EU and many other countries do not require a visa for visits less than 90 days.
Airport: Riga International Airport (RIX) is the largest airport in Latvia and has international bus connections to Estonia, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. Bus has become the preferred method of travel between countries in the region due to its low cost. Bus 22 takes travelers to the city center in 40 minutes. There is also a slightly more expensive, yet faster, minibus called Airbaltic Airport Express that also makes a few more stops at Old Town.
Train Station: Riga Central Station is in the city's center. Night trains are only available to Russia. Latvia is famous for having some of the best nightlife in Europe, so a relaxing train ride the next day may make a nice break if you're traveling from city to city.
Ports: A ferry connects Riga to Stockholm and makes a daily trip.
History and Culture FactsHistory:Before Latvians were forcibly Christianized by German crusaders, they followed a pagan faith. Though this created large tracts of lands with German influence, Latvia eventually came under the rule of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth. The years that followed saw Latvia come under other rule, such as that from Sweden, Germany, and Russia. Latvia declared its independence after WWI, but the Soviet Union gained control over it during the latter half of the 20th century. Latvia regained its independence in the early 1990s.
Culture: Those who travel to Latvia may consider visiting during a major holiday, as cultural displays will be particularly prevalent during special occasions. For example, the < ahref="http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/latviatravel/p/rigachristmasmarket.htm">Riga Christmas market will showcase Latvian Christmas traditions, and New Year's Eve in Riga recognizes the advent of the new year the Latvian way. View Latvian culture in photos.