Riga is Latvia’s capital and the geographical centre of the Baltic States. The city is located at the river Daugava not far from the Rigaian Bay. In the 14th and 15th century Riga was one of the most important trade centres of the Hanseatic League and was granted special rights to transport goods to the East. Still today Riga is very attractive when it comes to business opportunities and activities. Furthermore, it is an important transport junction with a harbour, the international airport and a developed road and railways network.
Especially the old seaport is famous for its art nouveau buildings, generous constructions and a well-preserved city centre. It is highly developed in its education system and has a great cultural value and therefore can be seen as the backbone of Latvia’s economy as well as the biggest centre for education and science. Every year numerous exhibitions, conferences and cultural events take place in Riga and contribute to the city’s international reputation.
Riga’s weather is harsh but not as much as you would expect. Winters can indeed be very long and dark but spring and summer can be very pleasant with mild temperatures during the day and long hours of daylight.
Latvian is an Indo-European language meaning it is in the same ballpark as German, English and most other European languages. Latvian is related to Lithuanian, and people from the two nations can roughly understand each other.
There are two religious beliefs in Latvia – the Protestants and the Catholics (lattest mainly in the East). As a lot of Russians live in Latvia the orthodox church plays an important role. In the last couple of years some sekts have started to act in the country.
The official currency of the Latvia is Latvian LAT. The Euro is used for hotel, apartment and real estate pricing and for most apartment rental transactions. Payment for goods and services in shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants is only in Latvian LATs and usually cash. You can withdraw money from cash machines which can be found all over the city, at the airport, at bus and train stations and in some hotels and restaurants. Credit cards are not widely accepted especially out of Riga. In small restaurants, cafes or shops you cannot pay with credit card, although some hotels introduced a portable credit card terminal that the waiter brings to the table. Taxis don’t accept credit cards unless arranged in advance.
Tipping in restaurants is not obligatory but it is common to leave a tip of 5 – 10 % for good service. Usually the tip is placed in a small plate on the counter and is not directly handed over to the cashier. . Taxi drivers and hotel staff also expect a small tipping.
Travellers to Latvia over 17 years and arriving with goods purchased in the EU for personal use do not have to pay duty on 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 1kg smoking tobacco; 10 litres of spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%, 20 litres of alcohol with alcohol content lower than 22%, 90 litres wine or 60 litres of sparkling wine, 110 litres of beer, and 110 litres of non-alcoholic beverages. Travellers arriving from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g smoking tobacco; 1 litre of spirits with alcohol volume higher than 22%, or 2 litres spirits, aperitifs, liqueur, sparkling or still wines with alcohol volume less than 22% and 2 litres still wine; perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette; other goods for personal use to the value of €175. Prohibited items include narcotics, guns, and fresh food products.
Telephone cards can be purchased at kiosks, post offices or some shops. They are available for an amount of 2, 5 or 10 LAT. The English speaking information can be reached by dialling 118. Paying with coins is uncommon. Public telephones can be called; the number is shown on the telephone itself. For more information check www.lattelekom.lv.
There are internet cafes all over the city. Some addresses are:
DELAT: Baznicas 4a , Tel. 722-0510. Open 24h.
DUALNET: Peldu 17, Tel. 781-4440; Open 24h.
ELIK INTERNET CAFE: Kalku 11. Open: 24h.
You may be able to log on at the University of Latvia, Raina 19, or at the Nordic Information Office, Basteja 14.
The main post offices (Boulevard 19) are open until 8 pm, some even until 10 pm. The post boxes are yellow. Letters to the West of Europe take 5 – 7 days. Opening times for the post offices are: mon-fri 9am – 6pm, sat 9am – 1pm. Stamps can be purchased in the offices and at kisosks.
1 Jan New Year''s Day
21 Mar Good Friday
24 Mar Easter Monday
1 May Labour Day
4 May Declaration of Independence Day
23 Jun Ligo (Midsummer''s Eve)
24 Jun Jani (Midsummer''s Day/St John''s Day)
18 Nov Latvian National Day
25 Dec Christmas Day
26 Dec Boxing Day
31 Dec New Year''s Eve
Like in other big cities, Riga has a certain percentage of minor crimes such as pick pocketing and muggers. Especially car theft is a very common crime. So make sure to park your car in a protected and well-lit area. Another issue to pay attention to is paying for drinks in bars and cafes as owners tend to charge tourists with ridiculously expensive prices. Therefore it is wise to check prices before ordering.
The main attractions are concentrated in the Old Town which is the historic and geographic centre of Riga lying on the right shore of the Daugava. It kept its character of a fortress although the fortifications had been grinded. After the demolition of the city walls between 1857 and 1863 a lot of free space arose and was transformed into a city park with a canal, which nowadays separates the Old Town from the New Town. The two voluminous twins of St. Peter’S Church and the Dome Cathedral are both worth a visit. But Riga also offers a lot of museums such as the Latvian War Museum, the Occupation Museum and the Mentzendorff House. In the middle of the Bastejkalns Park which separates the Old and the New Town you can find the Freedom Monument, a symbol of Latvia’s fight for nationhood and four decades of resistance to the Communist rule.
The German-style Art Nouveau architecture, Jugendstil, can be best discovered in Riga as it survived the WW II devastation unlike many German cities. Riga offers a wide and very fine range of examples of this architectural style; ornate stucco swirls adorning doorways, human faces embellishing façades and outlandish towers growing from the tops of buildings. In order to enjoy these fascinating treasures you should stroll through the New Town always keeping your head upwards.
The Riga Card gives visitors free use of buses, trolley buses and trams, free train trips to Vecaki and Jurmala, free or discounted museum admission and discounts in shops, cafés, restaurants and on car hire. The card can be purchased at the Tourist Information Centre, at the airport, at selected hotels and anywhere displaying the RC sign.
The voluminous Freedom Monument plays a very important role in Latvian life. This national symbol was paid for and erected by the citizens of Riga in 1935 and somehow survived four decades of Soviet rule. After a major restoration the monument, which is the tallest of its kind in Europe, has gained back its poignancy and is nowadays used as a favourable meeting place for the Latvian youth.
The cathedral is the most religious building you can find in Riga. It is a collage of Gothic and Romanesque forms. The foundations were laid in 1211 by Albert von Buxhoeveden, who later became the first bishop. The inside hosts a museum showing an exhibition of Riga during the World Wars. A major attraction of the cathedral is the famous organ which was crafted by the German company Walker & Co between 1883 and 1884. It is decorated by wooden carvings from the 17th and 18th century.
Tue - Fr 1 pm-6 pm, Sat 10 am-12 pm; Free admission
Doma laukums 1
Tel.: +371 7213498
St Peter’s Church
This church is another emblem of Riga that is worth a visit. It is dedicated to the patron saint of the city. It was built in 1408 replacing an old wooden church at the same spot. The whole building consists of red bricks apart from the wooden spire which is the highest in Europe.
Tue - Sun 10 am - 5.15 pm; Free admission to the church, admission charge for the tower.
Visiting Riga’s Central Market means leaving the 21th century behind. In comparison to the big shopping malls there are hangars in which you can get fruits and vegetables. It is also a place for Riga’s locals to shop their stuff. But please watch out for your belongings and valuable things!
Tue - Sat 8 am - 6 pm, Sun and Mon 8 am-4 pm.
Negu 7 (next to the central station)
Tel.: +371 7229981
This 17th century merchant house was restored but stills atomises the charms of the past as it is still decorated with the original period furniture and different historical artefacts.
Wed-Sun 10 am-17 pm; Admission charge.
Tel.: +371 7212951
House of the Blackheads
This stunningly renovated gothic building on the Ratslaukams originates in the 14th century and later became the headquarters of a group of local unmarried merchants: the Blackheads. In Soviet times it declined but was renewed. The Blackheads mighty gable rises dramatically 28m (92ft) above the square. The interior is suitably impressive with a rebuilt hall where the Blackheads would once have met.
The powder tower is the only remaining tower from the old city wall which has survived the war. It used to be the biggest tower in the city. The height is 25,5 m and the calibre 14,3 m. The walls are almost 3 m thick, space enough for a staircase. In 1621 the tower was destroyed but shortly afterwards rebuilt. You can still see the cannonballs in the walls which nearly brought the tower down. Today the Powder Tower hosts a part of the War Museum