26 interesting facts about Latvia

with No Comments

From the inventor of jeans to the world’s first decorated Christmas tree (maybe), these are the most interesting facts about Latvia.

Latvia old town from above
Interesting facts about Latvia include its UNESCO-listed capital (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Latvia
Population: 1.8 million
Area: 64,589 sq km
Capital city: Riga
Major languages: Latvian, Russian
Major religions: Christianity
Time zone: UTC+2 (Eastern European Time)
– Source: CIA World Factbook

Interesting facts about Latvia

1. Latvia is a small Baltic country in northeastern Europe bordering Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

2. The territory now known as Latvia has been inhabited since around 9000 BCE.
– Source: The Latvian Institute (PDF)

3. Over the centuries, Latvia has been occupied and invaded by various peoples including the Vikings, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians Swedes and Russians.
– Source: The Latvian Institute (PDF)Britannica

A map of Latvia
Latvia borders Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia (Shutterstock)

4. From 1940 to 1991, Latvia was part of the Soviet Union and known as the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, after the USSR had collapsed, Latvia gained independence again.
– Source: National History Museum of Latvia, New York Times

5. However, it was invaded by Germany in 1941 until 1944. During that time, around 70,000 Latvian Jews were killed by Nazi death squads and Latvian paramilitary units.
– Source: BBC News

6. Latvia’s flag is made up of a red background separated horizontally by a narrow white stripe. In use since 1279, it is the world’s second-oldest flag. Only Denmark’s has been around longer.
– Source: DK Publishing (2008) Complete Flags of the World. DK: London

Latvia's flag flying against a blue sky
Latvia’s flag is one of the world’s oldest (Shutterstock)

7. The inventor of jeans was born in Latvia. Jacob William Davis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1831; moved to the USA in 1854; and registered the first patent for riveted work pants – known today as blue jeans – in 1873.
– Source: Levi Strauss

8. Latvia is watery – there are around 12,500 rivers, streams and large ditches as well as 498km of coast.
– Source: Latvian Tourism Board, CIA World Factbook

9. Latvia’s UNESCO-listed capital city, Riga, is considered to have the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.
– Source: UNESCO

Art nouveau buildings in Riga
Art nouveau buildings in Riga (Shutterstock)

10. Over a third of Latvia’s 1.8 million population lives in Riga. The city’s 2015 estimate was 641,007 people.
– Source: Britannica

11. The name Latvia derives from the ancient Latgalians, one of four Baltic tribes that formed the core of the Latvian people from the 8th to 12th centuries AD.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

12. You can spend a night in a prison in Latvia. Karosta Prison Hotel claims to be the “only military prison in Europe open to tourists.” Prices start from €30 a night.
– Source: Karosta Prison Hotel

A guard patrols a corridor in the prison
Inside Karosta Prison Hotel (karosta.lv)

13. Latvia is one of Europe’s most forested countries with around 56% of the country’s total land area covered in forest.
– Source: Eurostat

14. The UNESCO-listed Struve Geodetic Arc passes through Latvia. The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching 2,820km (1,752 miles) across 10 countries from Norway in the north to the Black Sea in the south. The survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Struve, helped to establish the exact size and shape of the Earth.
– Source: UNESCO

15. Latvia’s only other UNESCO site is the Old Town of Kuldīga which is known for its traditional log architecture dating from between the 16th and 18th centuries.
– Source: UNESCO

An old street at sunset
Interesting facts about Latvia include the Old Town of Kuldīga (Shutterstock)

16. During the Second World War, Latvia suffered one of the highest casualty rates of any country. Estimates suggest up to 250,00 people died – around 12.5% of the country’s total population.
– Source: National WW2 Museum, Wikipedia (for comparison)

17. Around 24% of Latvia’s population is Russian-speaking. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Latvia has banned all Russian broadcast channels.
– Source: BBC News

18. Latvia is famous for its Latvian Song and Dance Festival. Now in its 150th, the festival attracts over 50,000 people and features over 21,000 performers including a 17,000-strong choir.
– Source: The Conversation

Traditionally dressed folk performers in Latvia
Performers at the Latvian Song and Dance Festival (Shutterstock)

19. Latvia once had a colony in the Caribbean. From 1654 to 1659 and intermittently from 1660 to 1689, the Duchy of Courland (now Latvia) established a colony on the island of Tobago after the Duchy’s ships began making trade voyages to the region.
– Source: Merritt. H (2010). The colony of the colonized: The Duchy of Courland’s Tobago colony and contemporary Latvian national identity.  Cambridge University Press

20. In 1989, approximately two million people joined hands to form a 600km long human chain through the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania known as The Baltic Way. It was part of a peaceful political demonstration against Soviet rule.
– Source: The Baltic Way

21. In 1946, Latvian Aleksandrs Laime became the first European to reach Angel Falls in Venezuela, the world’s tallest waterfall.
– Source: HD Branch (1996) Guide to Venezuela. Bradt: Chesham

22. In turn, Latvia has Europe’s widest waterfall. The Venta Waterfall can reach as wide as 110m (361ft).
– Source: Latvian Tourism Board

A drone shot of the Venta Waterfall
The Venta Waterfall (Shutterstock)

23. Latvia’s population is in decline. Since 1990, it has lost almost 30% of its population and is set to lose 23.5% more by 2050.
– Source: The Guardian

24. The most successful player in the history of female basketball was from Latvia. Uļjana Semjonova was a 213cm (6’11”)-tall former basketball player who led TTT Riga to 11 European titles between 1968 and 1982 and the USSR Women’s National Team to 10 consecutive European Championships and two Olympic gold medals.
– Source: FIBA

25. Riga in Latvia claims to be the site of the world’s first decorated Christmas tree in 1510. However, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, also claims to have done the same only earlier. The Christmas tree spat dates back to 2010 when a Latvian advertising campaign claimed that Riga was the first when a medieval brotherhood known as the House of the Black Heads paraded through Riga carrying a constructed replica of a tree in 1510. But Estonia responded making the same claim but earlier in 1441.
– Source: New York Times

A Christmas tree in Riga
Christmas in Riga (Shutterstock)

26. the real Crocodile Dundee was actually from Latvia. Crocodile Harry – or Arvids Blumentals – was the inspiration behind the Hollywood film. He was from the Latvian village of Dundaga and moved to Australia in 1951 and supposedly killed as many as 10,000 crocs.
– Source: The Baltic Times

Every effort has been made to verify these interesting facts about Latvia using primary sources. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.