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Latvia is among Europe's fastest growing tourist destinations. It wows visitors with its mix of urban and rural offerings, including World Heritage cities such as the country's capital, Riga, and Liepaja, an ex-military town that plays host to a mesmerising beach. By car, visitors can enjoy these hot spots in addition to a series of un-spoilt coastal towns bordering the Baltic Sea, vast forests and nature parks where trails can be embarked on.
Driving Tips for Latvia
Road conditions are varied and signage can be scarce. Drivers are advised to plan trips before hitting the road. Drivers should ensure that they carry a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, headlamp converters and spare bulbs in case of an emergency.
Driving licences: UK drivers can drive here as long as they have a valid UK licence including both the photo and paper parts.
Which side does Latvia drive on: the right.
Motorways: 52-62mph (90-100kph)
Rural areas: 56mph (90kph)
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph)
Alcohol limits: 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood for those that have driven for over two years. Those that have been driving for under two years are allowed 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This is more stringent than Britain's limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
Driving age: 18 years.
Seatbelts: compulsory in both front and rear seats, if fitted. A child seat is required for those under 12 years of age or under 4.9 feet (1.5m) in height.
Mobile phones and GPS: talking on a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited unless a hands-free kit is used. GPS is allowed and can be useful given the lack of signage on some motorways.
Cost of fuel in Latvia: petrol is slightly cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: car hire suppliers require a swipe of your credit card before releasing the car. Credit cards are accepted at the majority of petrol stations, many of which are automated.
Insurance: third-party insurance is included with car hire but arranging excess insurance is recommended.
Traffic and parking: many areas of Latvian towns and cities have ‘Pay and Display’ parking areas where tickets must be displayed on the vehicle's dashboard after being purchased from a meter. Parking in a prohibited area, especially in Riga, could result in your vehicle getting clamped.
Overnight trains run internationally to and from Riga terminal from Moscow and Saint Petersburg (Russia). Latvian rail travel is more affordable than travelling by bus. For timetables and reservations, visit Latvijas Dzelzcels, Latvia's official rail provider.
Tourists are advised to make sure they only use major taxi companies such as Rigas Taksometru Parks or Baltic Taxi, which have officially registered vehicles that are easy to identify by their yellow number plates. Even in officially registered taxis, it is wise to determine a price beforehand to avoid being overcharged. For example, a journey from the airport into central Riga should cost around £7.00.
Latvia boasts a vast network of coach and bus connections, and tickets can be purchased either at bus stations or upon boarding. In Riga, combined tickets for the tram, trolley and bus network can be purchased for 80 pence, and three- or five-day passes are on offer for between £6.60 and £11.00. Express bus connections, usually provided by Autoosta and Nordeka, from one major town to another are considered by many to be the fastest way to travel and are affordable.
The port at Riga receives ferries and cruise ships, often provided by Tallink Silja Line, from European locations such as Stockholm (prices start at around £22.50). Ventpsil’s port receives Trans Russia Express services from Lubeck in Germany and St Petersburg in Russia. It is also possible to travel to Ventspils from Nynashamn in Sweden and Travemunde in Germany.
Latvia’s principal international airport is Riga International Airport, which lies about 10km from the capital city. It had a terminal upgrade in 2006 and receives services from a range of carriers from different UK cities.
Most visitors to Latvia start their travels in Riga, the nation's capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, many of the nation’s most famous architectural wonders, including the Freedom Monument, the House of Blackheads, St Peter’s Church and Triangular Bastion, can be found.
Liepaja is a Baltic Sea coastal town which is famous for its music while it also provides access to the unique town of Karosta – once a military settlement and the location of an unspoilt and soft white sand beach where famous summer parties are held and the largest pipe organ in the world can be found.
Less popular with tourists than Karosta but no less beautiful is Madona, eastern Vidzeme's most scenic town and a winter sports capital surrounded by a vast array of forests, lakes and hills.
If they haven't had their fill in Riga, history enthusiasts usually head to Sigulda to marvel at the numerous castles and historical points of interest that can be found in the town, which is just an hour’s drive from Riga.
Spring, which runs from April to May, is considered to be the best time to visit Latvia, with the summer months of July and August acting as the main tourist season. During these periods, temperatures can reach highs of 20°C. Heavy snowfall should be expected through the winter months of November to March.