Latvia travel guide
Officially known as the Republic of Latvia, this small nation was tucked behind the Iron Curtain until the early nineties. Today it is one of the most visited countries in the Baltics and lures visitors with its dramatic landscapes, rich heritage and vibrant capital, Riga.
Declared European Capital of Culture in 2014, the city has one of the most impressive collections of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, not to mention a stunning UNESCO World Heritage old town. The latter is home to medieval churches, grand Renaissance properties and a spectacular market, which is held inside defunct zeppelin hangers from WWII. The old town is dominated by Riga Cathedral, the largest medieval church in the Baltics and one of many attractions in Riga vying for visitors' attention.
The path beyond Riga is, for now, not quite so well-trodden. However, riches await those pressing further into the country; there's the rural paradise that is Rundāle Palace, the dramatic fort of Turaida Castle and the charming Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum. The beautifully preserved historic towns of Kuldīga and Cēsis also warrant excursions.
Latvia is rich in natural attractions, too, like the Gulf of Riga and the windswept coastline along the Baltic Sea, which is home to seemingly infinite, sandy shores. Jūrmala, just 40 minutes from Riga, could be in the Mediterranean with its 30km (18 miles) golden beach, which is lined with spas, thermal mud pools and seafood restaurants.
Inland, national parks and nature reserves abound, but Gauja National Park is the most famous. This picturesque river valley is a place of unremitting beauty; of rushing rivers, ancient sandstone cliffs and, in spring, a mass of white cherry blossom. Gauja National Park is not only great for hiking, cycling and watersports, but also one of the best birdwatching sites in Latvia, after Pape and Cape Kolka.
While low cost air travel has opened Latvia up to the masses, most visitors are still struggling to stray far beyond the capital. However, those who do find treasure in this country, which, as the tourist board likes to tell you, is "best enjoyed slowly."
64,589 sq km (24,938 sq miles).
1,955,742 (UN estimate 2016).
29.2 per sq km.
President Raimonds Vējonis since 2011.
Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis since 2015.
Last updated: 14 December 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK, nor UK nationals living in the EU, while the UK remains in the EU.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Latvia, attacks can’t be ruled out.
Around 65,000 British nationals visit Latvia each year. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
There have been reports of petty theft and robbery. Beware of pickpockets, avoid unlit streets and parks at night, and be extra vigilant if walking alone. Most thefts have been reported in Riga Old town, Central Market, central train and bus stations. You should remain particularly vigilant in these areas.
Reports of foreign tourists being charged extortionate prices for drinks or having fraudulent transactions debited against credit/debit cards have fallen considerably. You should, however, remain vigilant. Seek recommendations for bars and clubs from trustworthy sources like your hotel or other holidaymakers. When paying by credit or debit card make sure the transaction is completed in your presence and be wary of attempts to make you re-enter your pin number. Don’t leave drinks unattended.
If you feel that you have been a victim call the Riga tourism police on +371 67181818 or the national police on 110.
Be prepared for extremely cold and possibly hazardous weather if you travel to Latvia in the winter (October to March). There is likely to be snow on the ground and temperatures may drop to -25 degrees Celsius or below.
Drivers should carry original vehicle registration documents when crossing the border into Latvia (including motorcycles). If you do not have these documents, you will not be allowed to take your vehicle back out of Latvia.
Take care when driving. In 2016 there were 158 road deaths in Latvia (source: Department for Transport), equating to 8 road deaths per 100,000 of population. This compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2016.
There is a system called a Co-ordinated Accident Statement for use in case of road accidents when only two vehicles are involved in the accident, both vehicles are fit to continue the journey, there are no injuries and no other property has been damaged. Details of this are available from insurance companies. If you are not familiar with this protocol, or if the situation does not conform to the rules, then you should not attempt to move a vehicle that has been involved in an accident, even if it is blocking the road, until the police give permission.
Don’t drink and drive. The legal limit is 0.05% (0.02% for drivers with less than two years of experience). Those found over the limit face a large fine, licence endorsement and probable imprisonment.
Using a mobile phone whilst driving is prohibited unless using a hands-free device.
Winter tyres are required between 1 December and 1 March.
Local law states that drivers must use their headlights at all times, including during daylight hours.
Car theft occurs. Wherever possible use guarded car parks and keep valuables out of sight.
You should use a major taxi company such as Baltic Taxi (+371 2000 8500) or Red Cab (+371 661 83 83). They are generally able to tell you the type, colour and number of the car in advance. If you do pick up a taxi on the street or at the airport make sure you only use official registered vehicles. These display yellow license plates. Even when using official taxis agree the approximate price of the journey before setting off as reports have been received of some taxis using meters which have been adapted to clock up higher rates. Some taxis operating from Riga airport can charge highly inflated prices.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in Latvia, attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
There is a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Don’t become involved with drugs. Possession of even very small quantities can lead to lengthy pre-trial detention and possible custodial sentences.
Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited and may lead to detention and a financial penalty.
For identification purposes, you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times. If possible, leave your passport and other important documents in hotel safes.
There are on the spot fines for those found travelling on public transport without a ticket or with a ticket which has not been validated. Tickets can be bought from the driver or from shops/kiosks but must be validated by using machines sited within the bus/tram. Additional tickets should be purchased from drivers for large pieces of luggage and/or pets.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay; you don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.
British Citizen passport holders don’t need a visa for stays of up to 3 months. If you have a different type of British nationality, contact the Latvian Embassy to check whether you need a visa.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Latvia.
You are required to have health insurance when you enter Latvia. This must include repatriation costs. Those who require visas for Latvia (other than EU family members) will need to show their policies upon arrival in Latvia.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you’re visiting Latvia you should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC isn’t a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but it entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Latvian nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate. The EHIC won’t cover medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment or non-urgent treatment, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 113. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Since 1 January 2014 the currency in Latvia is the Euro.
All major credit cards are accepted and there are plenty of ATM machines for withdrawing local currency using Cirrus and credit cards.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.