Nestled on the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, Latvia is a country with a rich history and a unique position in Europe. One of only two surviving Baltic language countries and despite centuries of foreign influence, Latvia has held onto a culture and identity of its own.
Foreign influence began with the people of Latvia partaking in trade with the Roman and Byzantine Empires, in ancient times trading of amber was also done on the Baltic coasts by the Vikings. During the middle ages German crusaders began entering the territory and converting the pagan inhabitants. Following this, Latvia briefly came under Polish and Lithuanian rule and eventually became a staging ground at the forefront of a power struggle between the Swedish and Russian empires. Latvia eventually fell under the Soviet Empire, however started to emerge as independent in 1990. The influence of each of these cultures can still be discovered on Latvia tours.
In Riga, the capital city of Latvia which was founded in 1201 by the German bishop Albert and is the largest of the three Baltic capitals, one can find an impressive kaleidoscope of various architectural styles. Highlights include Riga Castle, founded in 1330 and was once much smaller but upon the castle's seizure by the Swedes, they constructed spacious annexes in 1641. Dome Cathedral is a German evangelical lutheran cathedral and perhaps one of the most recognizable landmarks in Latvia, and is featured in or the subject of paintings and photographs. St. Peter's Church, another Lutheran church, offers a breathtaking view of the city, while art and music can be enjoyed inside the church itself. Swedish Gates, erected 1698, are a part of the impressive Swedish fortifications of Riga Wall. Within the city are large and small guild houses, dating from 1384 which were the home of the merchants and eventually the city's artisans.
Outside of Riga, the country is heavily covered in forests, fertile lowland plains and moderate hills. Like a painting, Latvia tours show a landscape with a mosaic of vast forests broken up with fields, farmsteads, and pastures. Birch groves and wooded clusters are found inland while hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped seashore are lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beaches. Latvia is considered a very biodiverse country within Europe, as the majority of the country is still underdeveloped.
Culturally speaking, Latvia tours explain the rich folklore that has developed within the country. Traditional Latvian folklore date back well over a thousand years. A large emphasis is in the folk dance but there are more than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs have been identified in recent times. Every five years there is a festival of Latvian Song and Dance Festival which is an important event in Latvian culture and social life with approximately 30,000 performers participating.
Latvia is an intriguing look into a small Northern Europe country with a diverse history, one that has preserved through a long series of external influences to create a uniquely Latvian culture. Truly, this is a must see on any tour of the Baltics.