There are many how people make decisions about what country to visit. There you will find some facts that probably will be useful if you can’t decide if Latvia is worth to visit.
It’s Independence Day in Latvia! On November 18 1918 the country declared independence from Russia in the aftermath of the First World War (it would do so again, 72 years later). To mark the date, here are a few things you probably didn’t know about the Baltic nation.
1. Browsing is rapid
Latvia’s internet speeds are among the fastest in the world, averaging 13.8MB/s, compared to 11.6 in the UK, 11.9 in the US, 7.5 in France, 3.4 in Brazil and 1.7 in Egypt.
2. They love their capital
Nearly 1 in 3 of Latvia’s two million residents lives in the capital, Riga, sometimes described as the Paris of the North
3. It has a brutal modern history
An estimated 12.5 per cent of Latvia’s population were killed during the Second World War, the highest percentage of any European nation bar Poland and Lithuania. As many as 190,000 were subsequently imprisoned in Soviet gulags between 1945 and 1952.
4. It’s watery
Latvia has 12,000 rivers and 3,000 small lakes – perfect if you like messing about in boats.
5. And has sandy beaches
It’s a decent bet for an offbeat beach holiday, if you don’t mind the chilly water, with 330 miles of sandy beaches. Just west of Riga lies Jurmala, a summer holiday favourite of Brezhnev and Khrushchev. Temperatures can top 20C in high summer, so you might even need sun cream.
6. It’s wild
Around 54 per cent of Latvia is forest, making it one of Europe’s greenest countries, while 10 per cent is bog (so pack your wellies). Binoculars might be useful too – it’s home to black storks, lesser spotted eagles, otters, beaver, lynx, and wolves, and great concentrations of deer, wild boar, elk and red fox.
7. They enjoy a bit of friendly rivalry with Estonia
Latvia is anything but mountainous. Its highest point is Gaiziņkalns, at 312 metres about sea level. But in order to surpass Suur Munamagi, the highest point in Estonia at 318 metres, they built a tower on top. That, alas, was demolished in 2012, due to safety risks.
8. Its women have model looks
Latvia produces more female models per capita that almost any country in the world. Only Estonia, Iceland, Lithuania and Denmark rank higher.
9. And it has one of the world’s oldest flags
Latvia’s current flag design has been in use since 1280. Only Denmark’s has been around longer.
10. It once owned a bit of the Caribbean
Latvia, or the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, as it was in the 17th century, established two colonies – tiny St. Andrews Island (now Kunta Kinteh Island) in the estuary of the Gambia River, and Tobago, in the Caribbean.
11. They produced one of the world’s greatest (and tallest) female basketball players
Basketball is Latvia’s de facto national summer sport (it’s ice hockey in winter). Notable Latvians include Uļjana Semjonova, a 6 foot 11 inch former basketball player who led TTT Riga to 12 consecutive European titles between 1964 and 1975. She was the first non-American woman to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
12. And invented jeans
The tailor Jacob W. Davis was born Jākobs Jufess in Riga and emigrated to the US as a young man in 1854. In 1870, he was asked by a customer to make a strong pair of trousers for her woodcutter husband – his creation would become the template for modern denim jeans, and two years later, with help from Levi Strauss, he patented the product.
13. And discovered Angel Falls
Another Riga native, Aleksandrs Laime, was the first recorded human to reach Venezuela’s Angel Falls, in 1949.
14. It has its own waterfalls too
Venta Rapid in Kuldīga is the widest waterfall in Europe – stretching up to to 270 metres depending on the season. It’s not as spectacular as it sounds, however, as it is just a couple of metres high.
15. You might recognise bits of it
The BBC’s recent adaptation of War and Peace was largely shot in Latvia and neighbouring Lithuania. The Rundāle Palace was one of the most notable locations. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a startling structure: a vast, saffron-yellow Versailles,” wrote John Gimlette for Telegraph Travel. “Its construction, beginning in 1730, had involved 1,000 artisans, and – each day – 433 wagon-loads of materials (including three million bricks, 15,000 planks and 36,000 saplings). Eighty-two years later the real Napoleonic army appeared, and you can still find the names of the French soldiers gouged in the plaster of the Gold Hall.”
16. Its booze might cure your sniffles
Black Balsam is a traditional liquer made using 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries prepared in oak barrels. It is considered to be a good cold remedy and according to legend Catherine the Great became ill during a visit to Latvia – but was cured after drinking it.
17. It looks after its nature
Around 20 per cent of Latvia is protected. There are four national parks, 42 nature parks, 260 nature reserves, 355 nature monuments, seven protected marine areas, 24 micro reserves and a biosphere reserve. It topped the Environmental Performance Index in 2012.
18. Its biggest airline is an innovator
airBaltic, founded in 1995, has its headquarters in Riga and flies to 68 destinations. In 2013 it came up with a novel concept – letting passengers create their own in-flight meal when they book their ticket.
19. They love sorrel soup
Other popular dishes include rupjmaize, a type of rye bread, and pīrādziņi, a sort of bun filled with bacon and onion.
20. It’s national bird knows how to shake a tail feather
Latvia’s national bird is the white wagtail, so called because it almost constantly wriggles its backside.
21. You can go to prison voluntarily
This former military prison in the town of Karosta is now a hostel. Guests can opt for the “full prisoner experience”, which involves uniformed officers, less than luxurious digs, verbal abuse and organised physical exercise. See www.karosta.lv
22. It has a World Heritage site you’ve never heard of
There are two Unesco World Heritage sites – the historic centre of Riga, known for its Art Nouveau architecture, and the lesser-known Struve Geodetic Arc, which Estonia shares with Belarus, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. It is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, which yielded the first accurate measurement of a meridian (now you know).
23. Its capital is short but sweet
Riga is one of 14 capital cities that consists of only four letters. The others are Rome, Oslo, Lima, Baku, Bern, Kiev, Juba, Male, Doha, Lome, Suva, Dili and Apia.
24. Crocodile Dundee was actually Latvian
According to some sources, the inspiration for Crocodile Dundee may have been Arvīds Blūmentāls (or Crocodile Harry). Born in Dundaga in 1925, he moved to Australia in 1951 and spent years hunting crocs in Queensland.
25. They love beer
Riga even has a Beer Spa, where you can “immerse yourself in a warm beer bath… while simultaneously quenching thirst with a glass of cool beer… which will open not only pores, but also will give a totally new outlook on life.” Sign us up.