Capital | Riga
Population | 2,204,708 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 64,589 SQ KM
Official Language | Latvian
Holidays | Independence Day, 18 November (1918); note - 18 November 1918 was the date Latvia declared independence from Soviet Russia and established its statehood; 4 May 1990 was the date it declared its independence from the Soviet Union
Currency | Lats (LVL)
Time Zone | UTC +2
Best Time to Visit | April to September (spring to summer)
Connecting with the Culture | Visiting Rastrelli’s lavishly Baroque Rundale Palace outside Riga. Swinging across the Gauja River Valley in a cable car. Strolling in the land of the Livonian people at Cape Kolka. Beachcombing for washed-up amber along Latvia’s Baltic coast. Burrowing in the Riezupe sand caves near Kuldiga. Wandering through Riga’s massive Central Market.
Read | Latvia’s national epic, Lacplesis (The Bear Slayer), written by Andrejs Pumpurs in the mid-19th century and based on traditional Latvian folk stories.
Listen | to AutoBuss Debesis, art rock with a Latvian twist.
Watch | Homeland, a documentary by Juris Podnieks that captures the tumultuous events of the early 1990s.
Eat | piragi, meat pasties baked in the oven—Latvia’s answer to fast food.
Drink | the infamous Balzams, a thick, jet-black, 45% proof concoction—it’s best served with coffee or mixed with equal parts vodka.
In a Word | Sveiks (Hi, or even Goodbye)
Characteristics | Vibrant Riga; drinking sessions; scientists; sports-loving people; singing and dancing troupes.
Surprises | Pig’s snout is a traditional Christmas dish; Riga is over 800 years old; Latvia is a remnant of the Holy Roman Empire; Latvia became a member of the European Union in May 2004.