Riga

Riga is the capital of Latvia. With its 700,000 inhabitants, it's the largest city in the Baltic States and home to one in three Latvians. Part of many empires throughout history, each of which has left its mark on the city, today Riga is a city with many faces.

Understand

Alberta street contains many examples of exquisite buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century

Riga is famous for its Old Town (Vecrīga) and city center (Centrs), in which over 800 buildings are of the Art Nouveau (aka Jugendstil) style of architecture. The old town of Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Art Nouveau style involves intricate building facades, with carvings of flowers and mythological creatures, and ornate doorways and windows. Much of the old town was either destroyed by fire or destroyed by the Germans in World War II and remained in ruins until it was rebuilt in the late 1990s, mainly to make Riga attractive as a tourist destination. Another thing that attracts visitors, especially young adults, is the lively nightlife and discount airlines that offer cheap flights to/from much of Europe.

Riga is bisected by the river Daugava. Old (medieval) town is in the center of the city on the east side of the river. It is surrounded by a ring of ~19th–early 20th century architecture, followed by a mix of private 2-floor house districts (many also pre-WW2) and Soviet-era 5-18 floor apartment districts, with an occasional factory (especially near railroad lines). The term "centre" loosely refers to quite a large area around Old town limited by the river to the west, the railroad lines to the east and south, and without a definite boundary to the north.

History

Riga was founded in 1201 by Albert of Bremen as a port city and a base to conquer and convert the native Livonians to Christianity, a goal that was achieved in 1206 after a battle in Turaida during the Northern Crusades. Riga developed as the major trade hub of the area during the peak of the Hanseatic League in the 13th to the 15th centuries and was ruled by the Archbishop of Riga. The Reformation reached Riga in 1522, which ended the Archbishops' power. In 1621, Riga became part of the Kingdom of Sweden, although it maintained a great deal of autonomy. In 1710, an invasion by Peter the Great of Russia ended Swedish rule and cemented Russian influence on the city.

Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918, although it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. Riga became the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic until Latvian independence in 1991.

Germans have inhabited the city since its establishment by Albert, and throughout most of its history Germans were the elite while Latvians remained a lower class. Their position as the elite continued through the Imperial period of Riga. As such, much of the architecture in Riga has been heavily influenced by Germany. The Germans were forcibly evicted after the Nazi occupation of 1941-44.

Talk

The official language of Latvia is Latvian; however, in Riga, the majority of the population speaks both Latvian and Russian and speaks predominantly Russian at home. English is widely spoken by younger people and by people in the tourism industry. German is also commonly spoken by tour guides.

Districts

There are many administrative districts in Riga; however, almost all tourist attractions, historic buildings and hotels are contained within the borders of Centra rajons, which is relatively small and walkable. The outer districts do have their own draws, but they may require significant travel time and would not be of interest to a sporadic visitor.

Get in

View from the waiting room at Riga International Airport

By plane

Riga International Airport is dominated by the national carrier, Air Baltic, who offers low-fare connections to major cities around the Baltic Sea region and throughout Europe

  Riga International Airport (Starptautiskā Lidosta Rīga in Latvian) (IATA: RIX) is located 10 km southwest of Riga. The airport serves approximately 5 million passengers per year.

Most flights to/from Riga are operated by the discount carriers Air Baltic, Ryan Air, and Wizz Air.

There are designated areas in the airport where smoking is allowed.

To travel between the airport to the city:

By bus

There are international bus connections to anywhere in Europe, including frequent service to Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia, and Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania.

By ferry

The port of Riga has regular ferry connections to Stockholm

Tallink Silja Line operates a ferry service every two days between Stockholm and Riga, with a landing at   Rīgas Pasažieru termināls‎ near the old town. The journey with M/S Isabelle takes 17 hours. Tickets for a day in Riga cruise for one person (6½ hours on shore in Riga) begin at €37. Regular round trips begin at €117.

By train

Latvian Railways operates service to many cities in Latvia, including the suburbs of Riga, as well as a few cities in Russia, Belarus, and Estonia. You can book tickets online via the Latvian Railways site up to 45 days in advance, but tickets must be collected from a station in Latvia, with the exception of tickets to Moscow and Saint Petersburg which can be issued as e-tickets in both directions.

Trains depart for the 16-hour overnight journey to Moscow daily (except New Year's Eve) at 16:45 with an additional train departing at 18:10 from May to September. The overnight trip costs €36-205 depending on service level.

Trains depart for the 15-hour overnight journey to St. Petersburg daily (except New Year's Eve) at 18:35. The overnight trip costs €30-175 depending on service level.

Limited trains operate between Riga and Valga, Estonia. From Valga, connections can be made to other cities in Estonia including Tallinn. However, it is much easier to travel to Estonia by bus.

By car

Riga has good road connections with Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and Belarus. Riga is on the Via Baltica and ~300km from both Tallinn and Vilnius. Note that in the city center, you have to pay a fee for public parking which varies depending from distance to center. Parking in the garage of the Olimpia shopping center (Āzenes iela 5, Kipsala) is free.

Get around

By foot

Old Town is comprised mainly of rounded cobblestone streets that may be hard to walk on if you are not wearing proper shoes. Outside of Old Town, most streets are paved with asphalt, although some smaller streets may be unpaved. Sidewalks are predominantly concrete everywhere. Old Town is best explored on foot. Due to the neglected drainage system, the streets may be flooded during heavy downpours.

By public transport

The "retro" tram in Riga
Schematic map of the tramway network in Riga
Modern low-floor Skoda trams are the mainstay of the Rigas Satiksme tram fleet

The city-owned Rigas Satiksme operates the trams (street-cars), buses, minibuses, and trolleybuses. They all use the same e-ticket system called e-talons. A single fare covers a ride on any one route independent of the distance - i.e. a transfer requires payment of 2 fares. However, if you enter a vehicle with the same route and in the same direction within one hour, your ticket is still valid and will not be charged again. The Rigas Satiksme website provides a great interface for planning a trip within Riga.

Single fares are €2.00 during at all times if paid onboard to the driver (cash only, exact change preferred) or €1.15 for bus/tram/trolleybus/minibus trips if a reloadable e-talon card is purchased in advance from a ticket office, vending machine, press kiosk, Narvesen shop, or other location listed on the Rigas Satiksme website. A 5 ride ticket costs €5.75, 10 rides are €10.90, and 20 rides are €20.70. Also available are tickets for 2 trips for 2 people costing €4.60 and 2 trips for 3 people costing €6.90. Unlimited ride 24-hour cards cost €5.00, 3-calendar-day cards cost €10, and 5-calendar-day cards cost €15. The cards all are activated by using the yellow device in the vehicles. Note that you must activate all cards every time that you enter a vehicle. The Riga Card allows the holder to travel free on public transportation.

Tram lines are numbered 1–11; bus lines are numbered 1-55; trolley bus lines are numbered 1–27. Minibus lines have numbers 200-280. Night buses are numbered N1-N10. While the numbers are similar, the routes are completely different - i.e. bus #2 is totally different than trolleybus #2. Tram numbers on stops are identified by "Tr", buses (not trolleybuses) by "A". Stops are marked by a blue rectangular sign with a stylized white image of the vehicle and lists the numbers that stop there. Timetables and stops of the route are also usually posted at stops and are fairly accurate. Note that bus routes are marked "A", but tram and trolley bus routes are both marked "T" on timetables, except tram timetables should have red background for the "T" letter and trolley bus—yellow. With the exception of minibuses, the vehicles include an LCD screen with next stop information.

Trams are generally the fastest public transportation apart from trains. Although they are on street level and the rails are not physically separated from the rest of the traffic, in all but the busiest rush hours they have the right of way. Minibuses are smaller and thus more maneuverable than buses and trolley buses, making them the second-fastest mode of transport.

By bicycle

SIXT Latvia operates self-service bicycle rentals at numerous bicycle stands across the city. The service is available to both residents and guests of Riga. You must have a mobile phone to register, but registration is free. The bikes have 3 speeds and lights, but no helmets. The cost is €0.90 per 30 minutes, with a maximum of €9 per day. Alternatively, ask your hotel if they provide bicycle rental.

By taxi

The best way to hire a taxi is to use the online phone app Taxify, which allows you to see the rates being charged, time to pickup, enter the destination, and pay with the credit card that is linked to your account.

If you hail a random taxi on the street, be aware that the taxi may not follow the most direct route and may use a meter rate that will significantly overcharge you.

By car

There are several car rental offices in Riga airport as well as in other parts of the town. You can even rent a cheap Soviet-style car. However, traffic can be extremely slow, especially on the bridges, and parking in old town can cost up to €10/hour.

Drunk driving

Driving drunk is considered a serious law violation. Besides high fines and a seized driving license one may easily end up serving 10-15 days in an administrative arrest. Maximum alcohol contents in the blood must not exceed 0.05 g/dL. There are plenty of police patrols and it is very common to be stopped for an alcohol test.

By boat

Boat service is available during the months of May to September from/to Jurmala. The boats stop in Riga stop near the Stone Bridge (Akmens Tilts), which is right next to the House of Blackheads/Riga Tourist Information Centre, in the old town. The trip costs €15-20 and takes 2.5 hours, which is obviously much slower and more expensive than train service.

See

The view northeast over the Old Town from St. Peter's Church

The Riga Card, which costs €16-€26, has discounts for museums and some tourist attractions.

The areas usually most interesting to tourists are the Old Town and the area around the nearby Freedom Monument. However, Old town is not the only place worth visiting. Very old and well preserved city districts unvisited by tourists are Agenskalns and Tornakalns, just over the Stone bridge. The residential areas outside Riga center are largely made up of gray apartment blocks built in the typically Soviet style. These areas are nearly identical to those all over Eastern Europe. However, they do give an idea of how the vast majority of the people in Riga live and of the history of the area.

Organized tours

The tourist office, located inside the House of Blackheads, offers both guided tours and free pamphlets, complete with detailed descriptions of many buildings, for independent walks. These walks cover the old town and the nearby city center sights as well as the Art Nouveau district. It's all pretty small scale so it's easy to do each of these in around an hour, or linger and read every detail in the booklet - in the absence of any signs or plaques around the city, the booklet gives you an insight to what you are seeing.

Many private companies offer organized tours of Riga. Options include bike tours, Segway tours, pub crawls, hop-on-hop-off bus tours, walking tours, and tours focused on a certain aspect of Riga - away from the touristy old town. Riga Free Tour operates a free city walking tour that departs everyday from St Peters Church at 12:00. Look for a yellow suitcase.

Old Town Square & surroundings

The Town Hall Square with St. Peter's (left) and the House of Blackheads

The Old Town (Vecrīga) is both a place of historical tourism sites, as well as the centre of night-life for locals. The area around Old Town was mostly built between 1860 and 1914 and has many buildings that resemble Berlin, Paris, or Rome.

Viewpoints near Old Town Square & surroundings

Monuments and historic buildings near Old Town Square & surroundings

The Town Hall of Riga
The Big and Little Guild buildings

Museums near Old Town Square & surroundings

The Museum of Occupation of Latvia
The Riga Castle seen from the waterfront side

Religious buildings near Old Town Square & surroundings

Cathedral (Doma) Square & surroundings

Monuments and historic buildings near Cathedral (Doma) Square & surroundings

The Swedish Gate

Museums near Cathedral (Doma) Square & surroundings

Religious buildings near Cathedral (Doma) Square & surroundings

The Doma Cathedral in central Riga.

Powder Tower & City Wall

Monuments and historic buildings near Powder Tower & City Wall

Museums near Powder Tower & City Wall

Near the Freedom Monument

Monuments and historic buildings near the Freedom Monument

The Freedom Monument at night
Daugava river and central Riga
Buildings around Alberta and Elizabetes iela have lush Art Nouveau detailing.

Museums near the Freedom Monument

Religious buildings near the Freedom Monument

Maskavas forštate (Moscow district)

Riga Central Market
Maskavas forštate

Maskavas is the area along the Daugava River east of the train station. While Maskavas has a bad reputation due to its high crime rate, buildings in disrepair, and homeless vagrants, it has some of the oldest buildings in Riga. The area closest to the city center is being gentrified, although it is not recommended to hang out in parks in Maskavas after dark.

Religious buildings in Maskavas forštate

Inside the Peitav Synagogue

Viewpoints in Maskavas forštate

The Latvian Academy of Sciences building

Museums in Maskavas forštate

Farther to the East

Museums farther to the East

Pārdaugava

The left Bank of Riga is less frequently visited by tourists. The following attractions are there:

The Riga TV Tower on the island Zaķusala in the middle of Daugava
Latvian National Opera
Sun reflecting from the roof of the National Library called Gaismas Pils, the "Castle of Light"

Do

Theatre

The Latvian National Theatre

Adrenaline Sports

Riga and its surroundings are popular destinations for adrenaline sports, which can be booked online, from most hostels and hotels, or from any local travel agent. The activities generally include transfers to/from your accommodation and all necessary supplies. Popular activities include bobsledding, AK-47 shooting (€40), bungee jumping from a cable car, scenic flights, canoeing, kayaking, go-karting, golfing, paintball, husky dog sledding (€40), indoor skydiving (€60), and driving a 4x4 off-road.

Kipsala Beach

There is a popular beach on Kipsala Island, just across the Shroud Bridge from the city centre.

Parks and gardens

A view towards the left bank of the Daugava, including the Saules Akmens office tower

Festivals and events

Buy

Russian Language School of Baltic International Academy Scam


Russian Language School scams are extremely common in Riga. One such school that has cheated foreigners is Russian Language School of Baltic International Academy Lomonosova Street 1/4 - 308. They take money for intensive classes and then when they are unable to offer them will not refund one's money. They have several classes for free for locals meeting only a few hours a week. The only good reviews are from the locals or people living in Riga who got free classes.

Don't go to the souvenir shops, instead buy items like amber and wool mittens and socks in the central market or throughout Old Riga in little stands. You might haggle and get good prices for souvenirs.

During the Christmas season there is a small Christmas market in the main square of old town which offers lots of festive fare and hot wine.

Inside the Central Market

Eat

Riga, as the most vibrant and cosmopolitan city of the Baltics, offers countless opportunities to sample both local cuisine and international favorites. Latvian food can be hearty, using a lot of potato, cabbage, beef, pork and fish. A diversity of foreign cuisines is also available -- sushi restaurants in particular are in vogue.

Budget

The Lido Restaurant complete with a windmill

Mid-range

You won't run out of options in Tirgonu street in the Old Town
Jacob's Barracks

Splurge

Drink

Bar scams in Latvia

Latvia is home to a number of fraud/extortion scams in bars, run by the local mobs. A common scam, which targets men, begins by having someone you meet randomly coax you into a bar. Upon buying a drink, you will be presented with a bill for as much as €100. If you can't pay with cash, the bar will take credit cards - or you might be forced to withdraw money from their handy ATM. If you ask, you will even be presented with a menu and the €100 price listed. If you refuse to pay, the exit door will most likely be blocked by a large bouncer. The trick to avoiding this scam is not to enter a bar recommended to you by someone on the street. Below is a list of bars/clubs in Riga known to conduct this scam. Many are strip bars or locations of prostitution rings. These shady establishments change their names often to escape lists like these and continue extorting unwitting travelers, so use your judgment when entering a bar, or check reviews of the establishment online before entering.

  • Foxy Lounge” - Terbatas 2; located below the “Fashion Café” in the basement of the “Vegas” casino at the corner of Terbatas and Merkela streets near the flower market.
  • "Burlesque Club" (formerly "Roxy Klub" and "Babylon") - Kalku 24; located near the entrance to Old Town on Kalku street.
  • "Livu Krodzins Bar/Pizzeria" (formerly “Lord’s Pub”/“Groks Pub”/"Royal Pub")—Kalku 22; located next door to Burlesque Club.
  • "Enigma" (formerly “Puzzle”/“Pink Panther”)—Kalku 22; also located next door to Livu Krodzins Bar/Pizzeria.
  • "A13" (formerly "Mary") - Audeju 13; located on the east side of Galleria “Centrs” Mall.
  • "Lion Pub" (Formerly “Saxon”) - Laipu 7; located near “Livu Square” in a small street to the right of restaurant “Steiku Haoss”.
  • Doll House” a.k.a “Zig Zag” – Marstalu 12; located to the right of Reformed Church.
  • Bar Fly” - Vagnera 8; located near “Livu Square” in a small street to the right of “Babylon”, “Livu Krodzins Bar/Pizzeria” and “Enigma”.
  • "Golden Dolls Night Club" (formerly “Zephry Bar” or "Kapsula Bar") - Aspazijas bulvāris 32
  • Mademoiselle Cigar Club” – Valnu street; located in Old Town across from “Lounge 8”.
  • Nobu Sushi” - Grecinieku 28; located in Old Town.
  • "Angels" - Elizabetes 22
  • "Blow Style" (formerly "Monroe's nightclub") - Skarnu Iela 7, behind Indian Raja.
  • "Hostel Pub" - Teatra street 12
  • "Sonali Pub" - Brivibas street 46

Cafes

Black coffee in Latvia is traditionally served unfiltered and quite strong in small cups. If you are used to filtered coffee, you may want to have a "white coffee" (with either milk, whipped milk or cream), or you want to have a glass of water on the side. Coffee "to go" has become increasingly popular, and many of the coffee chains offer coffee served in paper cups with lids.

In addition to the independent coffee shops listed below, several international coffee chains such as Double Coffee, Coffee Inn, and Costa Coffee, have locations in Riga.

Bars

Riga is a major nightlife destination for tourists and bars here are often open later than those in other European cities. On average, bars in Old Town will charge €2.00-3.00 per beer and bars outside of Old Town will charge €1.50-2.00 per beer. A specialty liquor is Riga Balsam, which is an acquired taste.

Clubs

Riga is known for a sparkling nightlife. There is a difference in style between 'Russian' clubs and 'Latvian' clubs.

Detail of one of the historic facades of Riga

Sleep

All hotels and hostels offer free WiFi and many have computer terminals. Almost all accept credit cards.

Budget

Camping

Hostels

Mid-range

Splurge

The historic building of Latvijas Banka, the national bank of Latvia, in Krišjāņa Valdemāra Street

Stay safe

Alcohol consumption in Riga is high and bar fights are relatively common. It is wise not to be level-headed and not escalate a situation.

See the info box in the Riga#Drink section regarding common bar scams in Riga.

The Russian Embassy in Riga at night

Cope

Embassies

Go next

The Baltic states are compact and virtually all of the region is within 300 km of Riga, at least as the crow flies. All of Latvia and a large part of what Estonia and Lithuania has to offer is doable as a daytrip if you have a car. However, larger cities listed below do have several days' worth of attractions.

Latvia

Estonia

Lithuania

Sweden

Routes through Riga

Ventspils  W  E  Rēzekne Moscow
Kaunas Bauska  S  N  Saulkrasti Tallinn
Kaliningrad Jelgava  SW  NE  Sigulda Pskov


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 25, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.