Already rather well-known as a budget party destination, Latvia is also filled with pristine forests, medieval castles, bucolic villages, sandy beaches, and plenty more to keep the backpackers stuck there. Its capital of Riga is a hot spot for weekend visitors, and it seems to become a bigger tourist draw every year. So let’s learn a thing or two with some fun facts about Latvia to get you excited about a visit:
- As with the other Baltic states, Latvia has been ruled by all sorts of foreign powers, from Sweden to Germany to Russia, declaring independence after World War I, but falling under Soviet, then Nazi, then Soviet rule until it once again declared independence in 1991.
- Latvia has experienced rapid growth since independence from the Soviet Union, and EU membership has seen its economy evolve rather quickly as well. Despite such growth, it still faces economic challenges, particularly as a result of the global economic crisis of 2008.
- The region was historically known as Lettland, and the people were called the Letts or Lettish people.
- Latvia’s capital of Riga dates back at least to the 12th century, when it was already a center of trade.
- Latvia is multicultural, with a large Russian population due to its Soviet history. This can be a somewhat touchy subject, as depopulation of ethnic Latvians and Russification were the policies of the time.
- Latvia has ethnic and linguistic ties to Lithuania, but not Estonia. Estonia is actually has more in common with Nordic countries than Baltic ones.
- Latvians are proud of their language, and hold contests to celebrate its proper use.
- Though mostly Christianized by German influence, Latvia still celebrates certain pagan traditions from its olden days.
- The Latvian flag is one of the oldest in the world, dating all the way back to the 13th century. It is said to have originated when a Latvian chief was wrapped in a white sheet after being wounded in battle, and the sides of the sheet became stained with blood, while the central stripe remained white, and the stained sheet was used as a battle flag.
- The capital city of Riga is well known for its Art Nouveau architecture. Its old town is filled with such buildings, and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture, much of which dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
- The most popular sport is ice hockey. Basketball is big, too.
- Latvia performed 2nd in Yale’s Environmental Performance Index in 2012.
- 44% of the territory is forested, perhaps partially due to its relatively low population density compared to other countries in Europe.
- Latvia is home to the widest waterfall in Europe: Ventas Rumba, at 110 m (360 ft) wide, though only 2 m high.
- The Baltic region is famous for its amber, and jewelry and other souvenirs are widely available.
- The tallest point in Latvia, Gaiziņkalns, rises to 312 m. To compete with Estonia’s 318 m Suur Munamägi, which is the highest point in the Baltics, Latvia attempted to build a tower to exceed the height of the neighbor’s mountain. Sadly, the tower was left unfinished, and Estonia wins for highest Baltic peak.
- Ever wonder who inspired Crocodile Dundee? Well, it’s been claimed that it was a Latvian, named Arvīds Blūmentāls, from Dundaga, Latvia, who allegedly killed 10,000 crocodiles. But this claim is rather disputed, with Rod Ansell generally recognized as the “real” one.
- You know those rivets on your jeans? You’ve got a Latvian to thank for it. Jacob Davis partnered with Levi Strauss to bring his invention to the denim-clad masses.
- Uljana Semjonova, the 7th tallest woman in the world at 2.1 m (6′ 11″), was a Lithuanian-born Latvia basketball star, who led the Soviet Olympic basketball team to a gold medal victory in 1976 and 1980, and never lost an official international competition.
Have fun in Latvia!
Latvia is quite an interesting place to visit, and particularly accessible, with budget airfares making it a cheap destination for a weekend or two, and the compact size making it quick and easy to travel from one side of the country to another. Check out places to go for some recommendations on where to go and what to see (there’s plenty), and hopefully these fun facts about Latvia will make you want to visit even more.