Riga is the largest city within the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Riga has a much more busier feel to it than either its sister cities: Tallinn or Vilnius. Riga also has a very large ethnic Russian population, and the Russian language is spoken as commonly as Latvian.
The old town of Riga is well preserved and caters heavily to tourists. Second perhaps only to Prague, Riga has become the prime destination for German and English tourists looking for a cheap location for either their vacation or a bachelor party. Riga ranks high, along with Serbia and Ukraine, as having some of the most beautiful women in the world. On a warm summer day, the streets look like a fashion show.
Looking to capitalize primarily on unsuspecting drunk male tourists, the old town has its fair share of scam artists and scam bars. During the month that I spent in Riga, I saw men on multiple occasions tricked and led into scam bars by flirtatious women who approach them on the street. Only later, when the bill arrives listing 6 vodka shots as costing $600, do they realize that they have been duped. Some of the guys still remained oblivious that the girls who led them into the bar and were ordering drinks on their tabs were in cahoots with the bar owner.
There are burly security guards, and sometimes even crooked cops, which will enforce payment of these outrageous bills. So while in Riga, a good tip is to always check the price before you order. I personally was lucky to have escaped from a bar which had listed a normal glass of wine as costing $75. If I had not checked the price before placing an order there, my night likely would of been ruined. I discuss this scam in depth, along with other common scams that I have encountered during my travels in this post.
Overall I enjoyed my stay in Latvia, but you will likely need to get out of the city center to have a more authentic Latvian experience. I was fortunate to make local friends, who brought me to their small village where we celebrated the summer solstice. A celebration complete with a home made sauna, BBQ pit, and a bonfire which you must jump through. Be aware that the roads in Latvia are in terrible condition. While driving back from the village after a rain storm, I felt like like I was riding a jet ski.
A resort town exists here which spans the beach front, which is quite large. So if you walk down the beach far enough, you will likely be able to find a more private area. For less than $2, Jurmala can be reached in about 30 minutes by taking a train from Riga central station. If you are willing to spend a bit more, you can also go by minibus.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs (
An underground (literally underground) restaurant and bar where actual Latvians frequent. On weekend evenings, tables are cleared to the side in the back, and people dance to bands playing traditional music.
The bars and clubs in Riga seem to be opening/closing, changing their name or ownership on a yearly basis. Due to the hoards of stag parties, I think that a lot of the best places refrain from promoting themselves on Facebook, to avoid drawing in such crowds. I would recommend checking out the area outside of the city center towards Bastion Hill Park for venues which are less likely to be tourist traps.by