Latvia is a small country located in the Baltics between Estonia and Lithuania, and just on the doorstep of the big bad Russian Bear to the east (from whose grasp it only recently broke free). In recent decades Latvia has gone from being one of the constituent Soviet Republics of the Soviet Union to being a modern European democracy and EU member, and Riga is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Baltics today. Although it can’t be visited on an Interrail pass, it still makes for a good stop on a European overland itinerary:
Travel to, from, and within Latvia overland
Latvia has a well-developed road network, and a domestic rail network that serves its major towns and cities.
In terms of international overlanding, Latvia’s railway was originally part of the Soviet Union’s rail network which connected the Baltic republics to Moscow at the centre of the web. Services still run to St Petersburg and Moscow, making Riga a possible starting point for a Trans-Siberian journey; but there are no international through services to Estonia and Lithuania, or between the Baltic States and the rest of the EU as Soviet railways were built with a wider gauge than those in most of Europe. The existing Baltic railways are incompatible with those in Poland, Germany, and beyond, though this will change in the not-too-distant future thanks to the Rail Baltica plan. Until then, Latvia to Estonia can be done by rail using local domestic services and changing trains at the border (as described on the excellent Seat61), but the bus is faster. There is also an international service from Latvia’s Daugavpils to Vilnius (Lithuania), but from Riga this requires a connection in Daugavpils and again the bus is faster. Furthermore, the Baltic states are not included in the Interrail system (likely due to the gauge difference), so unless you’re a train enthusiast the bus is the better option to / from Estonia and Lithuania.
As a member of the Schengen Area, border crossings aren’t something you have to think about much when overlanding between Latvia and Estonia or Lithuania, or going by sea to Sweden. Russia is another matter altogether, and if you want to take the train to St Petersburg or Moscow you need to have your Russian visa sorted before leaving your country of residence.
Things to do in Riga
Explore the old town and check out the amazing architecture.
Visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia (dealing with both Nazi and Soviet occupations)
Sample the nightlife (low prices and budget airlines see a lot of people heading to Riga to party (stag dos and so on); obviously this has pros and cons, but the nightlife is good!)
Resources and Useful Links for Visiting Latvia
Official website for the Interrail pass
Official website for the Eurail pass
Search Agoda for hotel deals in Latvia
World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance you can buy even if already overseas (most travel insurance companies won’t cover you if you’ve already left your country, and this can be a crucial point as I once found out the hard way in Thailand)
Seat 61 has the schedules & fares for London to Latvia by train & ferry
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