**Riga was named the 2014 European culture capital. This city is my favorite place to visit in Eastern Europe. It may be a popular Stag/Hen party location but I’ve spent enough plenty of time out and about in this city and I can say that very rarely do these parties cross my path (and I think I’ve been to just about every bar in town).
Let me say another thing. It pays to be an American. This is not an ethnocentrist statement, just a statement of fact. What I mean here is that when the locals in Riga here you speaking English, they generally assume English or Scottish. I’ve found they dont hear the accents as well as native English speakers can. The problem with this is that there are a healthy amount of British Stag and Hen parties that travel to Riga. These Stag parties result in loud, drunk Brits who fight, pee in public and cause mayhem. This is the reason it pays to be an American. I can tell you with ample experience to back it up that as soon as local Latvians hear you’re not British they immediately are more friendly and open with you.
The name “Latvia” originates from the ancient Latgalians, one of four eastern Baltic tribes that formed the ethnic core of the Latvian people (ca. 8th-12th centuries A.D.). The region subsequently came under the control of Germans, Poles, Swedes, and finally, Russians. A Latvian republic emerged following World War I, but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 – an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 28% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004; it joined the eurozone in 2014.
Latvia is a small, open economy with exports contributing nearly a third of GDP. Due to its geographical location, transit services are highly-developed, along with timber and wood-processing, agriculture and food products, and manufacturing of machinery and electronics industries.
The country of Latvia has all the things a visitor wants. The people are friendly (especially if you’re not a British bachelor or bachelorette), the airport is user friendly, you can walk to just about everything in the capital, and it’s not expensive. I expected the cost of things to go up dramatically after the country adopted the Euro in January 2014 but that wasn’t the case.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the pearl both of Latvia and the whole of the Baltics. Riga is included in the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage list. It is located in the central part of the country, on the south coast of the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of our largest river, the Daugava. Riga is home for more than 700,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in the Baltic States.
5 Things to Do/See:
1. The Freedom Monument
2. The Latvian War Museum
3. Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
4. Take a walking tour of the city
5. Riga Castle
Places to Eat: I’ve broken these down into separate categories. One of the best restaurant experiences in Riga is LIDO (Pictured). There are smaller LIDO restaurants in the old town but the one linked below is a large, standalone place just outside the old town area, I recommend taking a cab. It is similar to a buffet style restaurant that Americans are used to but you get all the food you want first then pay based on what you put on your plate. Great atmosphere, great music and great staff.
3 Bars to go to: I’ve been to plenty of these in Riga, maybe even all of them. For this blog I will list my favorite 3 based on a variety of attributes but if you have questions about any certain place feel free to contact me.
Real quick, before looking at the bars to go to is a quick note about drinks. Riga is known for their Riga Balsams. This drink comes in a few varieties: Riga Black Currant, Riga Black Traditional and Riga Black Element. Black Currant is pretty tasty IMO, the Traditional is a bit stronger and not as delicious while Element is mixed with rum.
Another drink I love to have in Riga is Ugevis. This is a really sweet beer that comes in both light and dark versions. I’m not normally a dark beer drinker but with this beer it’s a must. It’s not heavy at all and has just the right amount of sweetness.
1. Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs: Far and away my favorite place to go out in Riga. Ala is cave in Latvian and it is in a below street level location. Wednesdays is Folk Dancing night where local folk bands will play and locals dance away. The food is also great.
2. Shot Café: This is a great little bar also in a sub-street level location. The drinks are reasonably priced and the staff is friendly. It is just outside the door to the Latvian War Museum which makes it a convenient spot to grab a bite to eat after a tour.
3. Pulkvedim Neviens Neraksta (No one writes the Colonel): With this bar you’re starting to get into a younger crowd and it is a bit more bar/club than the others.
Honorable Mention: Omas Briljants. Another decent place I like to go for drinks but a bit more of a #Hipster feel.
3 Places to Stay:
Raddison Blu Elizabete: I’ve stayed at 3 different places when traveling to Riga. First is the Raddison Blu Elizabete. There are at least 3 Raddison Blu hotels in the city so to clarify which one I was in, it was on Elizabete Iela (street) a couple blocks to the north of Freedom Monument. The rooms here are nice and the staff is friendly. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
Albert Hotel: Next, I’ve stayed at the Albert Hotel. This hotel is themed after the Scientist Albert Einstein, hence the name. It is located a bit further and on the cusp of walking distance into the Old Town. Personally, I’m not a fan. The staff is great but the rooms are a bit small and overall it strikes me as dated on the inside.
Franks Friendly Hostel: Finally, I once stayed at Franks Friendly Hostel which is located pretty much in the center of town. As one would imagine with a hostel, it caters to a younger crowd, a crowd of which I consider myself a member if not traveling with kids.
For a few more recommendations check out this article from The Guardian.
Riga is a great place to visit and I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. Feel free to contact me with any questions or for further recommendations.