Riga: The Pearl of the Baltic
The Latvian Capital, Riga, is the largest city in the Baltics. It is an amalgamation of the fascinating Latvian traditions and the historical stamps it got courtesy the numerous occupants over the centuries. In 1991, Riga’s Art Nouveau center was announced as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The nightlife, open atmosphere and warm locals make the city a traveler’s paradise.
1. History of Riga
The history of the city dates back to as early as the 2nd Century when the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe, settled in the area. It became a center for Viking trade during the Middle ages.
Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League and the Hansa was instrumental in giving Riga economic and political stability. As the influence of the Hanseatic League waned, Riga became the object of foreign military, and economic aspirations. Riga accepted the Reformation in 1522, ending the power of the archbishops. In 1621, during the Polish–Swedish War (1621–1625), Riga and the outlying fortress of Daugavgriva came under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who intervened in the Thirty Years’ War not only for political and economic gain but also in favour of German Lutheran Protestantism. During the Russo-Swedish War (1656–1658), Riga withstood a siege by Russian forces.
Riga remained the largest city in Sweden until 1710. Riga became an industrialized port city of the Russian empire, in which it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg in terms of the number of industrial workers and number of theatres.
2. Night Life in Riga
The Riga nightlife is amongst the best in Eastern Europe. Riga is the party child of the Baltics, offering everything from old world beer halls to slick style bars and hipster nightclubs. During the weekends, the Old Town becomes one huge buzzing nightclub in itself. Dozens of different nightclubs and pubs open their doors on Kalku Street. You can stroll from one place to another, enjoying great music, tasty Latvian beer and friendly atmosphere.
The huge number of pubs, bars and cafes in the Old Town area is certainly a major draw thus offering first timers with plenty of fun if getting the drinks in is the top priority. British style boozers and trendy cocktail lounges are a generic affair. The Orange Bar is worth a look in, while PuPu can be great fun on the right night and the popular Skyline Bar in the Central District is rarely less than mesmerizing.
Some of the other famous pubs are B Bars, Victory Pub, Pulkvedim Neviens Neraksta, DM Bars, Leningrad, Beer gardens, Kaļķu Vārti/Club KV and Riga Pub Crawl.
3. Safety in Riga
One needs to be smart while traveling in Riga. There have been numerous instances of pick-pocketing, drugging and scamming in and around Riga. Some of the most notorious locations are Vecriga (Riga’s Old Town), the Autoosta (central bus station) and Centraltirgus (central market).
Some scams in the recent past have included travelers being lured into a bar or pub by a pretty lady. Once inside, patrons are charged outrageous prices for drinks or taken advantage of in other ways. Although, not widely discussed as a major problem in Latvia for tourists, there have been reports of travelers getting drugged at bars and then robbed. Verbal harassment in Riga towards those of ethnic backgrounds has been reported. The same sort of abuse can be expected towards homosexual travelers.
4. Living Expenses in Riga
It is not a big player on the tourism map, hence the hotels might seem cheaper in comparison to other European cities. A 3-star hotel may average up to $40 and a 5-star hotel may average up to $130.
Riga, though, is expensive in terms of rent. A one bedroom apartment in the City Centre may cost a whopping USD 340 and the same apartment on the outskirts of the city may cost up to USD 230. This, by any standards, in the Baltic area is expensive. It is always advisable to make prior bookings as lot of discounts may be available which one would not be able to avail if directly lands up at the hotel.
Some hotels that you may want to check out are: Neiburgs Hotel, Old City Boutique Hotel, Wellton Centrum Hotel & SPA, Radisson Blu Elizabete Hotel and Rixwell Old Riga Palace Hotel.
5. Cuisines in Riga
Latvian food is often considered simple and heavy with Soviet traits but there is a wide range of diverse ingredients in the Latvian cuisine, which is moving into the 21st Century with some considerable influences from cultures around the region.
One of the pearls of Riga’s riverside restaurants, Fabrikas Restorans sits on the Daugava shore, right opposite the old town.
Dorian Gray is an eccentric, bohemian gem in the heart of Riga. It’s not easy to find your way in (tucked away in one of the labyrinthine streets of the old town) and it’s not easy to find your way out (there are doors hanging from its ceiling), but it’s certainly worth trying.
Fellini is a high-class Italian club and restaurant acts as an advocate for the ‘dolce vita’ lifestyle in the best traditions of Italian cinematography.
The average cost of a meal at an inexpensive restaurant is about USD 7 and a meal for two would cost about USD 45.
6. Statistics of Riga
It is well spread out over an area of 304 sq.km, resulting in a population density of 2,300/ sq km. It is culturally vibrant with about 45.9% Latvians, 38.1% Russians, 3.9% Belarusians and 3.5% Ukrainians. It boasts of about 46% of the total investments in Latvia.
7. Public Transport in Riga
Roads: There are several national roads that begin in Riga. The European route E-22 crosses Riga from the east and west and the Via Baltica crosses Riga from the south and north.
As a city situated by a river, it also has several bridges. The oldest standing bridge is the Railway Bridge, which is also the only railroad-carrying bridge in Riga.
Rails: There are multiple trains operated by the national carrier Passenger Train, whose headquarters is in Riga. There are also international rail services to Russia and Belarus, and plans to revive passenger rail traffic with Estonia.
Air: It has one active airport that serves commercial airlines—the Riga International Airport. Renovation and modernization of the airport was completed in 2001, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the city.
Local Transport: Rīgas Satiksme provides transportation in the city. It operates a large number of trams, buses and trolleybuses on an extensive network of routes. In addition, many private owners operate mini bus services.
Pollution in Riga – It is one of the cleanest cities in the world, which is largely attributed to the various government initiatives and not so high population density. The greenery in and around Riga also is a contributing factor. The pollution index is as low as 40.08 versus the likes of 85 for Delhi. The quality of water and air are particularly good with the air pollution index stated at a modest 30 and water pollution index at an even lower 26.
8. Weather of Riga
The climate of Riga is humid continental. Annual rainfall is 545.4 mm. The temperature goes as high as 39.8°C, and as low as -9.4°C. The coldest months are January and February, when the average temperature is −5°C. The average annual temperature is 5.6°C.
Summer: During summer, which stretches from June till early September, Riga becomes hot and humid with the average high temperature of 23°C.
Winter: Winter here brings chilly days for people. January and February are the coldest months of with the average low stays at -8°C. Moreover, sudden rainfall is an expected phenomenon.
Spring: Spring may begin at the end of February or may sometimes start as late as in late April, and lasts until the beginning of June. The average air temperature in spring is 0 to 15°C.
Autumn: Autumn in Latvia lasts from September to December. The average air temperature decreases from 10°C in September to 0°C in November. Sometime at the beginning of the autumn, there is an “Indian summer” when temperatures rise to up to 20°C, whereas the first snow may fall already in October or November.
9. Culture of Riga
Riga has people from across Europe, courtesy its history. Russians, Latvians and Ukrainians can be found across the city demographics.
Locals hold the opera and theatre in the highest esteem and make it a point to attend often.
Perhaps the best aspect of Riga’s cultural life is that world-class performances are very affordable. Arena Riga is a venue for both sporting events like the Hockey League and large concerts.
Black Friday is the only club in Riga dedicated to heavy metal music and is located within the brick walls of an old factory next to the VEF Bridge.
Putti is one of the most famous art and jewelry galleries in the area.
10. Places to Visit in Riga
Things to do in Riga: It can be best discovered on foot. You can take your own route, opt for a free daily tour, or hire a professional guide. Along the way you’ll notice the Art-Nouveau architecture, the urban parks like Kronvalda Park, along with the various cafés and bars. You can use the Town Hall Square and the Freedom Monument as two landmarks. Between these two, you’ll find the House of Blackheads, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, St. Peter’s Church and Riga Cathedral. Old City Riga (Vecriga), Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, Salaspils Memorial Ensemble, and Freedom Monument and the Central District are some of the famous places. The House of Blackheads in Riga Town Hall Square is an amazing piece of architecture that you will definitely want to see.
Museums and Galleries: At the Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre you will find the original works of the world-renowned painter Mark Rothko, the father of abstract expressionism. At the Riga Bourse art museum you can delight in the splendor of the building’s architecture and the exhibitions of outstanding artists.
If one is a fan of old tales and seeks for the remnants of history then the Corner House – the former headquarters of the Soviet KGB, is the place where you can take a guided tour through the prison cells, passageways, and the basement.
One of the famous attractions is the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum where you can explore the historical dwelling houses of farmers and craftsmen, and experience the celebrations of annual Latvian festivals.
Things to do for Kids in Riga: Riga National zoo is a big hit with the kids. The Latvian Puppet Theatre, and Līvu Akvaparks, which offers a wave pool, a children’s pool, six water slides and a tubing river are other famous attractions for kids. The giant LIDO Leisure Centre also has plenty to offer including a huge skating rink and lots of children’s attractions.
Places Nearby: Gutmanis Cave is covered in graffiti dating back to the 16th century. Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum is made up of dozens of farmhouses, churches and windmills that provide a record of a bygone country. Jurmala lays only half an hour drive from the city center and offer wide long sandy beaches, gourmet restaurants and lively atmosphere of a seaside resort. It is called Latvian Summer Capital and is known by its beautiful historic wooden architecture. Jurmala is very popular among locals and tourists.
Offbeat: The center of Riga is situated in the ring of city canals and the river Daugava. Enjoy a relaxing ride on the tourist boat that will take you around the Old Town or hire a little pedal boat to explore city canals by your own. Visit Riga’s Central Market where Latvian rye bread, birch tree juice, Latvian eel, sauerkraut made by local farmers, local dairy products can be bought, which are known for being the best in the whole region.
Author’s Conclusion: Riga may not have had the tourism scene for the longest time, but the vibrant night life, UNESCO world Heritage sites, clean city premises, ethnic diversity, good connectivity, brilliant food, affordable lodging, and a plethora of places to visit, makes Riga the perfect stop on your European trip. Do visit the historical city and experience the magnificence of this Baltic gem.
|Area||304 sq.km (117 sq mi)|
|Languages||English, Latvian, Russian, German|
|Currency||Euro (1 Euro = 1.12 USD as on 20th March 2016)|
|Time Zone||EET (UTC+2)
|Driving||Drives on the Right|
|Helpline||Police: 110 ; Medical: 112|
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