Latvia is famous for its abundant nature, stunning beaches and far-reaching history. Latvia is known for having the world’s tallest women, one of the oldest flags and Daina folk music.
But that’s just scratching the surface. Latvia is a nation with plenty of quirks where adventure awaits around every corner. Let’s find out what they are!
1. One of the world’s oldest flags
Latvia is famous for its flag, which has a long and fascinating history. Although the flag was only officially adopted in 1923, the flag we know and recognize today as Latvia’s has been in use since the 13th century.
The red color supposedly symbolizes the readiness of Latvians to shed their blood in the name of freedom and independence. The white stripe symbolizes the freedom they gained after a whirlwind of occupations spanning hundreds of years.
2. World’s tallest women
Latvia is famous for having some of the world’s tallest women. In fact, Latvia has held the title for many years — although, they’ve actually been knocked off the perch of world’s tallest this year (2022).
According to the most recent statistics, the nations with the tallest women in descending order are the Netherlands (where women stand at an average of 170.36cm or 5ft 7), Montenegro (169.96cm or 5ft 7), Estonia (168.66cm or 5ft 6) and Bosnia And Herzegovina (167.47cm or 5ft 6).
The average Latvian woman stands at 168.81cm (5ft 6) and the average Latvian man is 181.17cm or 5ft 11).
Latvia is known for its capital and cultural center, Riga, a harbor city that homes a third of the Latvian population! There’s so much to see and do in Riga, so I recommend you spend at least a couple of days there to ensure you don’t miss anything!
Put the House of The Blackheads at the top of your list – it’s a reconstruction of a 14th-century building with an original cavern cellar. There are also quaint cafes, traditional restaurants, and fascinating museums to visit.
4. Beautiful beaches
When most people think of Europe and gorgeous beaches, they think of France, Spain and Greece. While the Mediterranean is a well-known vacation destination, people often don’t realize how much Baltic beaches have to offer.
Latvia is famous for having a rugged, barely touched coastline with sandy beaches. Jūrkalne beach is a gorgeous white sand beach carved out of a forest skyline. During the summer months, it becomes a haven for Baltic vacationers.
5. Fast internet
Sick of lag? Gamers, freelancers or anyone who lives with teenagers will know how frustrating slow internet can be. Not that Latvians know a lot about it, because Latvia has one of the fastest internet speeds in Europe.
Latvia is famous for being a nation of beer lovers, with lager being the beer of choice. Beer features as a staple during Latvian festivities, in particular, the Midsummer Solstice.
On average, Latvians consume more alcohol than many other nations – drinking an average of 12.9 liters of alcohol a year. And that’s including the 78 liters of beer drunk per person annually in Latvia!
Beer is also pretty cheap in Latvia, costing around €2 to €3. The Latvia Beerfest, held in May, claims to be the biggest festival of beer in Eastern Europe.
Fun fact: The beer pictured above is named after the Latvian goddess Saule, meaning “sun”.
Latvia is famous for having more than 12,000 rivers, with the caveat that only 17 of them stretch further than 100km. The five major rivers in Latvia are called the Daugava, Lielupe, Gauja, Venta and Salaca.
Water sports are popular tourist activities in Latvia, where many hotspots offer kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing and kitesurfing equipment for hire.
Due to the sheer amount of rivers and fresh water available in Latvia, you’re pretty much guaranteed some peace and tranquility if you’re an accomplished water sports enthusiast. If you’re a beginner, you can also grab some lessons at low prices.
8. Being ice hockey fans
Latvia is famous for being loyal fans of ice hockey, which is also the nation’s favorite sport, followed by bandy and basketball (more on that next). Although the Latvian national team has rarely made global headlines, 38 Latvian players have been inducted into the NHL since 1975.
The Latvian national team ranks 10th in the world, and children spend a good portion of winter practicing their shots on goal in ice rinks.
9. Being basketball lovers
Ice hockey isn’t the only beloved sport of Latvia, however. Latvia is famous for loving basketball, and has drafted a few players to the NBA (National Basketball Association).
Kristaps Porziņģis is the most famous current NBA player from Latvia, and is also one of the tallest. (He’s 7ft 3). Born in 1995, he plays for the Washington Wizards but began his career playing for the New York Knicks.
The most famous female Latvian basketball player, who led the TTT Riga to 12 consecutive European titles between 1964 and 1975, is Ujana Semjonova. She was the first woman from outside the U.S to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
10. Rye bread
Latvia is famous for its staple carb, rye bread. This symbolic food is popular throughout the Baltics, and the tradition of baking and eating rye bread in Latvia goes back a thousand years. Rye bread is also an almost “guilt-free” carb since it’s full of fiber and vitamins.
There are different varieties of rye bread available in Latvia, with the most popular being Rupjmaize. This bread type was considered to be holy, and in old times it was believed that as long as rye bread was available, nobody would go hungry.
There are also old Latvian superstitions relating to rye bread. For example, if you drop a loaf of rye bread, you have to pick it up immediately and kiss it. Also, breadcrumbs should be swept up into your hand and not the floor, as brushing them onto the floor will result in crop failure.
11. Christmas trees
Latvia is famous for being home to one of the world’s first Christmas trees – sort of. Exactly who had the “first” Christmas tree is a bit of a rivalry debate between neighboring countries Latvia and Estonia.
Tallinn, in Estonia, claims the first Christmas tree was displayed in 1441. Riga, in Latvia, disputes their claim and says it actually occurred in Latvia’s capital in 1510.
Who is right or wrong in this issue is still hotly debated – but either way, a visit to Latvia guarantees you close proximity to the origins of the festive tradition.
Latvia is famous for being home to Europe’s widest waterfall, called the Venta Rumba (which is exactly what a waterfall should be named, if you ask me). It measures up to 270 meters, depending on water volume, and is home to a population of flying fish!
But there are plenty of other picturesque waterfalls in and around Latvia to fill your Instagram feed with. Check out the Dauda Waterfall, Abavas Rumba, and the Seven Wells Waterfall.
13. Foraging for food
Latvia is famous for its culture of seasonal food foraging. As the weather changes around them, many Latvians take the opportunity to sample nature’s offerings in style. Each season brings new delicious delicacies – ranging from blueberries to herbs, mushrooms to cranberries.
Latvia is almost entirely open to tourists and citizens, meaning that you can forage for fruit or vegetation in pretty much any forest you like. Just be sure to be respectful – the forest is a sacred place for many Latvians.
Latvia is famous for having some interesting statues and monuments, many of them located in Riga. Quite a few of them have interesting stories attached to them, such as the Bremen Town Musicians which gives a nod to Riga’s ancient links to the city of Bremen in Germany.
But statues haven’t always been valued for their beauty or notoriety. A famous story from the 1500s saw a statue of the Virgin Mary from the Riga Cathedral put on trial and thrown into the river!
15. Famous Latvian chocolate bear
Latvia is famous for having some crazy statue stories, but one in particular made headlines fairly recently. In 2006, a brown bear was stranded on a block of ice in Latvia and floated 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the island of Ruhnu, in Estonia.
To commemorate the bear and the occasion, Latvia’s oldest chocolatier, Laima (named after the Latvian goddess of fate) gifted Estonia a 40-kilogram (88-pound) chocolate bear!
The real bear made its way back to Latvia unharmed, and the chocolate bear went on display before being eaten by Ruhnu’s 70 residents. All’s well that ends well!
16. Funny laws
Latvia is famous for having quite a serious population – people rarely make a spectacle of themselves or speak loudly in public. In fact, one might go as far as to say that Latvians are quite shy and reserved. But they do have a funny side, and it’s showcased in one of their laws.
In Latvia, if your parents gave you a name that causes you grief (particularly to foreign ears), you can apply to have it changed free of charge. Unsurprisingly, a common name that Latvian women are keen to get rid of is “Gonereja”. Yikes.
17. “Inventing” jeans
Next time you step into your favorite denim pants, shorts or skirt, spare a thought for the Latvian inventor, Jākobs Jufess.
He was a Latvian-Jewish tailor born in Riga who emigrated to the U.S when he was 23. He changed his name to Jacob Davies, moved from New York to Maine before eventually settling in the aptly-named Weaverville.
He invented jeans after being commissioned to make a pair of sturdy pants for a woodcutter. He made them out of duck cloth, attaching rivets to strengthen them. Soon enough, Davies couldn’t keep up with demand.
Levi Strauss financially backed Davies to be able to mass-produce jeans in San Francisco and the story is now legend.
But that’s not the only famous Latvian invention to go under the radar. Latvia is famous for being the home country of the inventor of the flavor of Pringles. The story of Pringles is genuinely fascinating. From the iconic can to the flavor, there’s just nothing that rivals them.
The name of the man who invented the flavor of Pringles chips was Aleksandrs Liepa. He also invented the machine that was able to mass-produce them. Next time you pick Pringles as your movie snack, spare a thought for him!
19. Currency changes
Latvia is famous for having used eleven different currencies under different occupations. Latvians have used Tsarist roubles, German ostmarks, German ostroubles, Latvian roubles, Libau roubles, Latvian lats, Soviet roubles, German Reichsmarks, another kind of Latvian roubles called repšes, new Latvian lats before eventually adopting euros.
As you may (or may not) know, euro banknotes are the same in all euro-using countries. The coins, however, differ (though you can use them in any country where Euros are in circulation).
The design of Latvian euro coins was chosen in 2004 during the “all-Latvian competition of ideas”. The Latvian folk maiden features prominently on Latvian €1 and €2 coins, a symbol of the “new” Latvian lats.
20. Daina folk music
Latvia is famous for its short, witty folk songs called Dainas. They consist of quatrains (four rhyming lines) and topics vary from conversations to humorous or tragic plays. They have been recognized by the UNESCO Memory of the World program and are usually passed down from generation to generation.
Dainas are a symbol of Latvian identity, which has survived numerous occupations and hardships the country has faced. It’s believed that this tradition first came about around 1000 years ago, although the oldest surviving written Dainas date back to the 1500s.
21. Art Nouveau architecture
If you’re a lover of architecture, you’ll love Latvia too. Especially if you’re a fan of Art Nouveau or Jugendstil buildings. Latvia is famous for one of the world’s greatest collections of Art Nouveau buildings – a whopping 40% of Riga’s buildings are built in the Jugendstil style.
Art Nouveau buildings originally came from Belgium and slowly spread throughout Europe in the early 20th century. Financial success after the industrial revolution encouraged wealthier Latvians to invest in their properties. For the first time, buildings were seen as works of art, leading to very ornate and detailed interiors and exteriors.
Fans of Jugendstil can visit the Riga Art Nouveau Center museum where visitors are invited to explore a preserved apartment from 1903. It’s a fantastic experience for history lovers who want to gain insight into life in the early 20th century, too!
22. Being record breakers
You may not have heard of many famous Latvians, but you’d better believe that they’re just as ambitious and world-record-holding as any other nation.
Did you know that in 2021, a Latvian woman broke the world record for the Antarctica Ice Marathon? Her name is Evija Reine, a medical student and she finished the race in 04:06:11.
But that’s just one example. The longest telephone conversation clocks in at 54 hours and 4 seconds – a world record held by Latvians, Kristaps Štāls, Patriks Zvaigzne and Leonīds Romanovs.
And lastly, to end on a wholesome note, the residents of Ventspils went for a world record to plant the most flower bulbs at the same time – they managed 1,293!
And there you have it! 22 things that Latvia is known and famous for. Did anything surprise you? What do you love about Latvia? Let us know in the comments below!