Statue of Roland. Photo credit: www.flickriver.com

If you are into places that are emerging as tourist attractions in Europe, but with fewer tourist crowds than London, Paris, or Barcelona, Riga could be the place for you to visit.

Thanks to large-scale restoration projects, Riga has become one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Views of old towns, nightlife scenes, and a large concentration of German art nouveau architecture are among the highlights for visitors to expect.

Riga is the capital city of Latvia and the largest among the cities of the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Walking around Riga
Cars are not permitted around town, although enforcement is somewhat relaxed at night time, so taking a walk is suitable around cobblestoned streets. Talking about cobblestoned streets, it is recommended to wear comfortable shoes when walking around town.

The transportation system in Riga

Taxi: Drivers generally speak very few English words so learning a few local terms or showing them the local address of your destination should help ease the language barrier. Some drivers occasionally try to overcharge you by not necessarily taking the shortest route to your intended place. Therefore, it helps to watch the meter, as some drivers press the button on the taxi meter to inflate the fare price. However, most drivers are helpful and courteous.

Public transport: There are plenty of local transport options available to locals and visiting tourists. Among them are trams/street cars, buses, and trolley buses, all of which use the same e-ticket that charges the same price regardless of distance. Please note that labels of stops begin with “T” for trams and trolleybuses and “A” for buses.

Taxi-bus services operated by private companies accommodate up to 11 people each. Tickets are sold onboard (cash only). They typically serve areas overlapping other public transport lines; taxi buses can be hailed to get in and passengers can alight upon gesture to the driver. If the route covers the city from one end to another, you may be asked to buy two tickets upfront or when you reach a city center stop. The city government is currently reorganizing these taxi-bus services so they less overlap with other public transport links.

Tram line routes are marked 2 to 11, bus lines 1 to 55, trolleybuses 1 to 27, and taxi-bus lines have numbers 2XX, although some regions in Riga use other bus number formats. It should be noted that no information on timetables, routes, or transport connections is available onboard for older carriages, so it helps to be aware of when and where to alight. New models provide more information such as the announcement of the next stop for buses and the next four stops for trolleybuses.

riga_daugava_river
Riga’s Daugava River. Photo credit

Routes and timetables for public (as well as privately-operated) transport can be accessed through the Internet and at designated stops.

Fare systems called “e-talons” is used for trams, buses, and trolleybuses. Single tickets cost 0.7 LVL if bought from the driver and 0.50 LVL if purchased in advance. To save money and time, 24-hour tickets that cost 1.90 LVL, 3-day tickets worth 5.70 LVL and 5-day tickets that cost 9.5 LVL are also available. Tickets are sold at ticket offices, vending machines, and press kiosks. These tickets are valid starting from first use and all tickets other than single journey ones need to be validated upon use. Failure to do this could mean fines.

More information about this ticketing system can be found at Rigas satiksme.

Car: Several car rental companies operate in Riga airport and in other parts of town. Car models vary; it is even possible to rent a cheap Soviet-era types of cars. However, be aware that parking in some parts of town can only be made via SMS and can cost up to 10€/hour. Also, traffic conditions may be congested notably on places like bridges over Daugava. Therefore, it is advisable to allocate a sufficient amount of time when considering this option.

Also, maximum alcohol content should not exceed 0.5 levels. There are plenty of police patrols and it is not uncommon to be stopped for an alcohol check.

Boat: Boat transport is available during the summer season and can be found near the Stone Bridge (Akmens Tilts). There are available one-hour sightseeing roundtrips by wooden boat around the old town. These boats travel leave Riga at 11 am daily and head to the beach city of Jumala. Adult tickets cost 10 LVL one-way and 15 LVL return trips.

Attractions in Riga

Statue of Roland. Photo credit: www.flickriver.com
Statue of Roland. Photo credit: www.flickriver.com

1. Statue of Roland. Similar to statues found in northern Germany, it was erected in 1896 in honor of Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland.

2. House of Blackheads. Located in the old town of Riga, the House of Blackheads was erected during the first third of the 14th century for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried German merchants.

3. Riga Town Hall. It is a nice little town square with beautiful views of The House of Blackheads

4. Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.  Established in 1993 to exhibit artifacts, archive documents, and educate the public about the 51-year period in the 20th century when Latvia was successively occupied by Soviet and German forces in the 1940s.

5. St Peter’s Church. It is a Lutheran church in Riga,  dedicated to Saint Peter. It is a parish church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.

6. St. John’s Church. St John’s Church is dedicated to St John the Baptist and contains several artworks related to the saint, including a large painting on the north side of the crossing, and a stained glass window depicting the saint, to the right (south) of the high altar. The window, with others, was installed around 1900.

7. Porcelain Museum. It is a ceramics museum that has more than 6800 articles in its collection. The greatest part of this collection are articles that were manufactured at the Riga Porcelain Factory from the 1950s to 90s.

8. Sun Museum. This museum, the only one in the world that highlights the sun, a museum partly of astronomy and partly of “sun objects” and various sun symbols from around the world collected by an artist. Some of these are beautiful and others are interesting and tell us a lot about the view of the sun held by different peoples from sun-worshipping Egyptians to sun-fearing Indonesians.

9. The House of the Black Cat. This attraction is known for the two cat sculptures with arched backs and raised tails on its roof. It is said that the owner of the house wanted the cats to be placed with their tails turned towards the house of the Great Guild, which is nearby, as he held a grudge against its members.

10. Wagner Concert Hall. The German composer Richard Wagner directed the orchestra at this historical concert hall from 1837 to 1839. It was here that his “Flying Dutchman” was first performed. Since its renovation in 1988, the hall is once again regularly used to stage classical music concerts.

11. St Saviour’s Anglican Church. This red brick building is Anglican Church which is built at the end of the 19th century by the needs of English merchants. All details and materials were brought here from England and before the church was built the place where the church stands now was laid with soil that was also brought from England.

Photo credit
Riga Cathedral. Photo credit

12. St Jacob’s Catholic Church. St Jacob’s Church was constructed in 1225 – 1226, but it has burnt and been rebuilt many times. The tower is 73 meters high and has got a green copper roof. St Jacob’s Church belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, but has changed hands many times.

13. Riga Cathedral. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Latvia and is featured in or the subject of paintings, photographs, and television travelogues.

14. Freedom Monument. The Freedom Monument is one of the most outstanding monuments to Latvia’s history, architecture and art. It was built in Riga, using funds donated by the people, as a symbol of Latvia’s freedom in testimony to the love and respect of the entire nation for the country and freedom.

15. Laima Clock. The yellow-brown clock in front of the Freedom Monument has been a meeting place since it was erected by social democrats in 1924 so people wouldn’t be late for work.

16. Riga Central Market. Riga Central Market is one of the most notable structures from 20th century in Latvia and has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list together with Old Riga in 1998.

17. Riga Zoo. Riga Zoo is a perfect place, especially in the summer, for picnics and unhurried observation of animals. In the dark winter months, the zoo is open on certain days so visitors could acquaint themselves with animals and birds in wintertime – the magnificent snowy owls, the playful arctic foxes as well as other nocturnal animals.

Traveler Tips for Riga Visitors

  • It is cheaper to buy souvenir items such as amber mittens and socks at the central market or at Old Riga’s small shops than in places conspicuously selling souvenirs.
  • When visiting bars, be aware that Latvia has a number of fraud/extortion scams on bars run by local mobs. It usually starts with a girl striking up a conversation and asking you to buy her a drink which can cost several hundred Lats. To avoid this scam, it’s best not to enter a bar recommended by someone peddling it on the street. The U.S. Embassy explicitly mentions the following bars as places to avoid:
    • Foxy Lounge
    • Babylon
    • Livu Krodzins Bar/Pizzeria
    • Enigma
    • A13
    • DD Bars
    • Lion Pub
    • Doll House
    • Bar Fly

These bars periodically change their names so it’s best to review the list from the U.S. Embassy. Better yet, if you can suppress your urge to visit a bar during your brief stay or are unsure of bars to visit, consider skipping Riga’s bars altogether.

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