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Riga is the capital and the largest city of Latvia. With 641,007 inhabitants (2015), Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states and home to one third of Latvia's population.The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava.
Riga was founded in 1201 and is a former Hanseatic League member. Riga's historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture.
Riga was the European Capital of Culture during 2014, along with Umeå in Sweden. Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, and the 2006 IIHF Men's World Ice Hockey Championships.
|POPULATION :||641,007 / Metro: 1,018,295|
|FOUNDED :||EET (UTC+2) Summer: EEST (UTC+3)|
|TIME ZONE :|
|LANGUAGE :||Latvian (official) 58.2%, Russian 37.5%, Lithuanian and other 4.3%|
|RELIGION :||Lutheran 19.6%, Orthodox 15.3%, other Christian 1%, other 0.4%, unspecified 63.7%|
|AREA :||304 km2 (117 sq mi)|
|ELEVATION :||1 and 10 metres (3.3 and 32.8 ft) above sea level|
|COORDINATES :||56°56′56″N 24°6′23″E|
|SEX RATIO :||• Male: 45.70% |
• Female: 54.30%
|ETHNIC :||Latvians 45.9%, Russians 38.1% , Belarusians 3.9%, Ukrainians 3.5%, Others 2.8%|
|AREA CODE :|
|POSTAL CODE :|
|DIALING CODE :||66|
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.
Riga is also popular due to its nightlife and discount airlines that offer cheap flights to/from much of Europe.
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.
The climate of Riga is humid continental.
The coldest months are January and February, when the average temperature is −5 °C (23 °F) but temperatures as low as −20 to −25 °C (−4 to −13 °F) can be observed almost every year on the coldest days. The proximity of the sea causes frequent autumn rains and fogs. Continuous snow cover may last eighty days.
The summers in Riga are warm and humid with the average temperature of 18 °C (64 °F), while the temperature on the hottest days can exceed 30 °C (86 °F).
Climate data for Riga
|Record high °C (°F)||10.2|
|Average high °C (°F)||−2.3|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−5.1|
|Average low °C (°F)||−7.8|
|Record low °C (°F)||−33.7|
|Source #1: Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Agency|
|Source #2: NOAA|
The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi) and lies between 1 and 10 metres (3.3 and 32.8 ft) above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.
Riga is one of the key economic and financial centres of the Baltic States. Roughly half of all the jobs in Latvia are in Riga and the city generates more than 50% of Latvia's GDP as well as around half of Latvia's exports.
The biggest exporters are in wood products, IT, food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transport and metallurgy.
Riga Port is one of the largest in the Baltics. It handled a record 34 million tons of cargo in 2011 and has potential for future growth with new port developments on Krievu Sala. Tourism is also a large industry in Riga and after a slowdown during the recent global economic recessions, grew 22% in 2011 alone.
There are many administrative districts in Riga; however, almost all tourist attractions, historic buildings and hotels are contained within the borders ofCentra rajons (made up of the Old town and Centrs), 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.
The old town, entirely listed as a world heritage site, is the number one draw of Riga as many of the city's most prominent sights are located here. Popular with visitors, the pedestrianized streets and alleys are lined with restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.
Centrs, just northeast of the old town, is famous for its Art Noveau architecture, parks and boulevards. The commercial centre of Riga, it’s also a place to go to for nightlife and hotels; the high-rise Hotel Latvija (which doubles as a landmark) with its Skyline bar on the top floor is a combination of these two.
|Outer East Bank|
Further out on the eastern bank, you have an opportunity to see some more rural attractions including Mezaparks with the city’s zoo. However, it also includes the district of Maskavas forstate with Jewish heritage and the impressive central market just outside the old town.
At least briefly visited by everyone coming and going by plane, the West Bank of Daugava offers 18th and 19th century wooden architecture in Agenskalns as well as the tallest tower in the European Union.
Internet cafes are common in Riga.
Free Wi-Fi is available in hotels, hostels, bars, cafes, libraries.
Prices in Riga
MARKET / SUPERMARKET
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||€0.96|
|Bottle of Wine||1 bottle||€6.00|
|Dinner (Low-range)||for 2||€22.00|
|Dinner (Mid-range)||for 2||€33.00|
|Dinner (High-range)||for 2||€43.00|
|Mac Meal or similar||1 meal||€5.00|
|Beer (Imported)||0.33 l||€2.00|
|Beer (domestic)||0.5 l||€2.00|
|Coctail drink||1 drink||€5.60|
|Men’s Haircut||1 haircut||€11.00|
|Mobile (prepaid)||1 min.||€0.09|
|Pack of Marlboro||1 pack||€3.20|
|Toilet paper||4 rolls||€1.35|
CLOTHES / SHOES
|Jeans (Levis 501 or similar)||1||€64.00|
|Dress summer (Zara, H&M)||1||€40.00|
|Sport shoes (Nike, Adidas)||1||€72.00|
|Local Transport||1 ticket||€1.15|
40 € per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- meals in cheap restaurant
- public transport
- cheap hotel
130 € per day
Estimated cost per 1 day including:
- mid-range meals and drinks
Transportation - Get In
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.
There are designated areas in the airport where smoking is allowed.
To travel between the airport to the city:
- Bus 22 and Minibus #222 run between the airport and the old town, with a stop near the central bus and railway stations and Minibus #241 runs between the airport and Esplanāde, at the north end of the old town. These buses operate as any other public transport in Riga. The journey to the old town takes 30-40 minutes. The last buses leave the airport at 0:05, or 23:40 on Saturday, Sunday, and holiday. The bus stop is located opposite the entrance of the terminal. There is a ticket machine at the bus stop or tickets can be bought at the Narvessen shop near the TGI Friday's at the departure level in the airport. Note that day and multi-day passes are not valid on the minibuses.
- Airport Express operates minibuses to the city center costing €5 per person. These run every 30 minutes but only take 20 minutes to get to the old town. This bus makes fixed stops at several hotels near the airport and in the old town so it may be more convenient than Bus 22.
- Baltic Taxi runs taxi service from the airport to the centre for a fixed price of €15 if booked online or via metered rates if paid to the driver. Service to the old town takes 15 minutes.
- "Red Cab" Taxi offers metered taxi services from the airport. A journey to the city center costs approximately €12 and the ride takes 15 minutes, depending on the traffic. Wheelchair accessible mini vans are available but must be pre-ordered.
- Personal Minibus offers airport transfer for groups. The price of €8 per person (6 person minimum) also includes guide to meet group with a greeting sign.
- Regular Taxis can be expensive if a meter is used and a fixed price is not negotiated. Charges are as follows: €2.10 for embarkation plus €0.70/km; waiting costs €8.50/h. The ride to the centre takes 15 minutes.
There are international bus connections to anywhere in Europe, including frequent service to Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia, and Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania. Riga's main bus station is located just outside the old town.
- Ecolines - operates service between Riga and most major cities in Europe.
- Eurolines Simple Express - operates service between Riga and most major cities in the Baltics, as well as a few other European capitals. Buses to Tallinn cost €13 and buses to Vilnius cost €11.
- Eurolines Lux Express - More legroom than Simple Express service & free coffee. Buses to Tallinn or Vilnius cost €15-28.
- Flybus - Service between Riga and the airports of Kaunas and Vilnius. More expensive than Simple Express so only useful if you want a direct connection to the airport.
- PolskiBus - Operates daily buses to/from Warsaw, Tallinn, and Vilnius.
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.
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.
The main railway station, Rīga Pasažieru, is south of Centrs and east of the old town and with good public transport connections to all parts of Riga. 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.
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.
Transportation - Get Around
By Public Transport
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Don't go to the souvenir shops, instead buy items like amber and wool mittens and socks in the central market or throughout Vecrīga 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.
Like in other cities around the world, you can find shopping malls in the suburbs along most major thoroughfares. While not attractions in themselves, they may come in handy especially if you get around by car; you can buy things you need on your trip, some Latvian specialties to bring home or have a quick meal there.
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.
The most central districts Vecriga and Centrs are the places to go for the widest selection of restaurants, though there are certainly also places to eat elsewhere in the city.
Coffe & Drink
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.
Sights & Landmarks
The Riga Card, which costs €16-€26, has discounts for museums and some tourist attractions.
The areas usually most interesting to tourists are the Vecrīga 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.
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.
Things to do
If you're interested in classical culture, head to the National Opera in the Old town to enjoy opera or ballet or to the Koncertzāle Ave Sol a little further north. The city has several pleasant parks, notably around the city canal and further north into Centrs. Another interesting park is Mežaparks in the north of the city with beautiful old villas and Riga's Zoo.
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.
Festivals and events
- Easter (Lieldienas). Egg fights!
- Count of May (Maija Grāfs), Spīķeru laukums. Medieval festival. Takes place annually in mid-May.
- Latviabeerfest, Vērmanes garden, , e-mail:[email protected]. Takes place annually at the end of May. The largest international beer festival in the Baltics.
- Jāņi. On June 24, Latvians celebrate the summer solstice with the midsummer festival called Jāņi. Before the celebration, flea markets are held in many places.
- Latvian Song and Dance Festival (Latvian Vispārējie latviešu Dziesmu un Deju svētki), Vērmanes garden, , e-mail:[email protected]. An annual song and dance festival in July, with an even larger festival every 5 years. One of the key cultural events in Latvia, which started in 1873 as a singing festival.
- Rīga City Day (Rīgas svētki). Takes place on 14-16 Aug
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 Vecrīga will charge €2.00-3.00 per beer and bars outside of Vecrīga will charge €1.50-2.00 per beer. A specialty liquor is Riga Balsam, which is an acquired taste.
Riga is known for a sparkling nightlife. There is a difference in style between 'Russian' clubs and 'Latvian' clubs.
Things to know
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.
Safety in Riga
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.