The currency used in Latvia from 1st January 2014 is the euro. Before this point Latvians used the lats, which had been in use for decades.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
Latvia now uses the same notes and coins used throughout the other countries in the European Union that use this currency. The coin values are mostly in cents, and these are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. You will very likely also see and use the one and two euro coins.
Of the banknotes that are legal tender, there are seven in all. However only four of these are in wide use at the moment. These are the €5, €10, €20 and €50 banknotes. The ones you may see but in all likelihood won’t see are the €100, €200 and €500 notes.
From past to present – the history of the euro
The euro first came into being in a virtual sense on 1st January 1999. It was then three years before people in the countries that had adopted it started using the coins and banknotes. As such Latvia has been a few years behind these other countries, although it has now said goodbye to the currency that Latvians used for decades before the euro came about.
How to get hold of Latvian euros
If you want to get hold of some euros prior to your trip to Latvia it is easy enough to do so from any bureau de change in your home country. You could also wait until you get to Latvia to get the cash you need.
When it comes to converting your home currency into euros in the country itself, watch out for the phrase ‘valutas maina’. This will reveal places where you can swap the currency you currently have into the euro. Another way to get cash when you arrive is to use a cash machine at the airport. In fact many people use the machines instead of going to the exchange places as they can give you a more preferable rate. If you want the best rate at all times check the exchange rate before you do anything else.
Credit cards can be used to pay for goods while in the country; they are generally quite widely accepted. Just put the usual rules into play and make sure you do not let your card out of your sight at any time.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Latvian euro
Since the euro is now the world’s second most prevalent currency, it is easy to find it on all kinds of currency converters. It may be at the top of the drop-down list; if not, just type in EUR for the currency and it should appear. Just make sure you select it as the currency to convert to and not from. Your own currency should be the one you start with. You can convert a single unit or a specific amount.
Of course when you withdraw euros from a local cash machine or you go to a bank or bureau de change, you will end up with a different exchange rate. It does however help to have a rough idea of what to expect and how far your money will go.
It can sometimes help to have further information about the country you want to visit prior to going there. You can visit the website of the Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in the UK by going to http://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/london/.
Travelling safely with Latvian euros
Nearly half a million people from Britain visit Latvia each year. Fortunately most of them don’t experience any problems while they are there, but it is always a good idea to know what to expect so you can stay safe.
The most common type of crime here – especially where tourists are concerned – is that of pickpocketing and other similar types of petty theft. It is wise to be particularly careful if you are on your own and try to avoid quieter areas at night, especially if they are not well lit. Keep all valuables out of sight of anyone else and don’t carry more than you really have to in terms of valuables and money.
You should also take good care of your bank cards, especially when using them for payment. Never let anyone take them out of your sight.
Where to spend your euros in Latvia – and what to spend them on
We already know Latvia is in Europe but could you point to it on a map without taking a closer look first? It is a Baltic country located in northern Europe and shares borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. It also has a considerable amount of coastline, some of which wraps around the Gulf of Riga.
So where can you go when you visit the country and what are the highlights you could expect to see there? Well, if you take a look at a map of the country and locate the Gulf of Riga, you will see a large city just in from the coastline called Riga. This isn’t just the biggest city the country has to offer, it is also the capital. As with many cities in Europe it has an Old Town as well as a more modern area, so it is well worth paying a visit here. As you might expect the Old Town has also been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Part of the reason for this is the rather unusual presence of wooden architecture in the city itself. The Daugava River runs right through the city and comes out into the Gulf of Riga.
The architecture alone makes Riga well worth a closer look. Art Nouveau is a central theme here, along with the medieval sights you can see around every corner in the Old Town. Look out in particular for Riga Castle, built in the 1500s and still looking quite amazing today, and the Swedish Gate, a huge chunky gate you can walk through.
There are many museums throughout the entire country and some provide a fascinating look back into the history of one or more parts or aspects of the country. Perhaps one of the most enthralling is the Latvian War Museum. This museum reveals much about the formation of the military in the country, as well as revealing the story of World War I as experienced by Latvia. The museum is in Riga and is currently free to enter.
If you would rather see some more natural sights in the country, Latvia has plenty of those to offer as well. Perhaps a visit to Gauja National Park would be appealing for you. It is the biggest one of its kind the country has to offer and there are all kinds of terrains here. The park also boasts assorted castles, windmills and other attractions you may come across as you explore its vast area.
One interesting and rather unusual attraction that draws in many people is called Cinevilla. You’ll find it in Kurzeme and it is essentially a movie set. It was created in 2004 to be used in a Latvian film and once filming was complete the set was transformed into Cinevilla as you see it today. You can rent a costume and perhaps even take part in a scene from a movie if you so desire. Either way it offers a fascinating insight into the movie business. There are shops, cobbled streets, accurate representations of Riga, the capital, and even a recreated dock, all created to look as Riga would have looked back in the past.
As you can see, there are all manner of unusual and fascinating places to go and things to do in Latvia. Another example is Turaida Castle, which can be found in Turaida in Vidzeme. This castle dates back to 1214 and while it is not in pristine condition it has stood the test of time remarkably well over the centuries. It has gone through a restoration process in recent years too, offering an even nicer experience for visitors. Make sure you head up the main tower to enjoy the startling views of the valley. No doubt this will provide some amazing photographs to keep for your collection.
It could be argued that some European countries get all the promotion and publicity while others shrink into the background a little. You could certainly say this of Latvia, which perhaps isn’t considered as a country you would go on holiday to. In fact you may never have thought of it at all prior to reading this article.
In truth there are lots of great destinations worth a visit if you go to this country. It doesn’t take that long to reach it from the UK and if you want a refreshing change from the countries you usually visit in Europe, Latvia could provide just what you need for something a little different – in a good way.