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Latvia – forests, beaches and medieval castles

The third of the Baltic countries described by us, after Lithuania and Estonia, is Latvia. It is no coincidence that we write about it last, because lying exactly between its neighbors, it combines their features in a unique way. The most convenient way to explore the country is by car, and we especially recommend modern and comfortable cars from PANEK Rent a Car. 

Road traffic regulations in Latvia do not differ from those in the other two Baltic countries. There is a speed limit of 50 km / h in built-up areas, 90 km / h outside built-up areas, and we will drive a maximum of 110 km / h on motorways. It is worth noting that motorways for passenger cars are free of charge, and the whole country is driving with dipped headlights 24 hours a day. The blood alcohol limit is one of the highest in Europe and amounts to as much as 0.5 per mille. The car should also be equipped with reflective vests for the driver and all passengers, and two warning triangles that should be positioned behind and in front of the vehicle in the event of a failure. 

The Latvian capital, Riga, located on the Baltic Sea, is located less than 700 kilometers from Warsaw, and the journey itself should not take more than 9 hours. The city is the largest in the country and is home to 1/3 of the Latvian population. The first mentions of Riga started to appear in the 10th century, but the city gained importance almost 300 years later, when it joined the union of Hanseatic cities, becoming the seat of powerful merchants, mainly from Germany. Initially, the city was also the seat of the Order of the Knights of the Sword, who, however, were ousted by the Teutonic Knights, who built a fortified castle in this place, which was the residence of the Grand Master. For this reason, it was often compared with the castle in Malbork. Today the castle is the seat of the President of Latvia

Today, Riga attracts tourists with its seaside location, and a great way to visit it is a boat trip on the Daugava River. It is also good to go for a walk through the old town full of colorful and richly decorated tenement houses. This is where most of the monuments and places important to the city’s history are located. It is worth starting the tour from the 42-meter high Freedom Monument, which was erected in 1935 in honor of those who died in the struggles for Latvia’s independence in 1918-1920. The monument appeared in the place where the statue of Tsar Peter the Great had previously stood. Initially, the Russians wanted to raze it to the ground, but the resistance of the inhabitants of Riga made it one of the most important buildings in the city to this day. Particularly worth visiting is the Cathedral of the Nativity, which is the largest Orthodox religious building in the Baltic States. The Market Halls are a must-see during your visit to the Latvian capital. Due to the assortment sold here, the buildings are probably the most visited place in Riga. There is a fruit and vegetable market as well as a cheese and meat market here, but the biggest impression is made by a huge hall where you can buy fish and seafood from all over the world! The complex of five halls, 240 meters each, was moved to Riga in 1930 from Liepaja, where they were originally built as hangars for German airships, which during World War I were to be used for air raids on St. Petersburg.

However, Latvia is not only Riga. It is worth going to the nearby Jurmala (approx. 10 km to the south), which is the Latvian equivalent of Polish Sopot. The Baltic resort attracts tourists with its wonderful wide beaches and shallow and warm water, and the streets with wooden, Art Nouveau houses create an idyllic, sanatorium atmosphere. On the way back to Poland, it is worth making a bit of a detour and visiting Daugavpils, located in the south-east of the country, whose biggest attraction is a huge fortress, covering an area of ​​150 hectares, built in 1810 by the Russians to defend the country against the Napoleonic army. The fortress was built on the site of earlier Polish fortifications and was an important defensive facility of the Russian Empire, and until 1994 troops of the Soviet Army were stationed there.

Latvia is also worth visiting for its breathtaking views, sandy beaches and endless forests. Within the borders there are about 3,000 lakes, which together cover 17% of the country’s area. For nature lovers, we recommend a visit to the Gauja National Park, where you can admire the fascinating rock formations, high cliffs in the vicinity of Cesis, as well as visit the castle in Turajda, from which the tower offers a beautiful view of the wild surroundings.