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Home to nearly 700,000 people, Riga is the capital and largest city of both Latvia and the Baltic States.
Its history stretches back to the time of Vikings, but its medieval and turbulent Twentieth Century history are blatently on show for all to see. Riga’s historical city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its impressive Art Nouveau architecture.
Today, Riga is a bustling city and an economic, artistic and tourist hub. In 2014 it was jointly Europe’s capital of culture with Umeå in Sweden. It has a small but welcoming gay scene.
As with a lot of the ex-communist states, things are a bit behind Western Europe when it comes to LGBT rights. Although same-sex activity is legal with an equal age of consent of 16, same-sex do not have the same protections as their straight counterparts.
A constitutional amendment in 2006 prevented same-sex couples from being married however there is a strong lobby for the introduction of another form of registered partnership. Anyone over 25 can adopt however each member of an unmarried couple can’t adopt the same child.
Religious influence prevails which results in low public opinions of the LGBT community. Far right organisations exist in Latvia known for homophobic violence. That being said, in 2014 the Latvian Foreign Minister came out via Twitter, making him the first gay Latvian lawmaker.
Riga has a small gay scene with only a handful of bars catering to the gay community. Although this may seem laughable in comparison to other European cities, this is a big deal for Riga as the rest of Latvia essentially has no scene whatsoever.
Like a lot of Eastern European cities it is advisable to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. Violence against gays is rare but it is not unheard of.
Riga is one of the rotating hosts of Baltic Pride, alongside Vilnius in Lithuania and Tallinn in Estonia. In 2015, EuroPride took place here which attracted over 5000 people to the city. Small counter-protests were known to take place but these were a minority.
Riga International Airport (RIX) is located about 10km from the city centre and is the largest airport in the Baltic States. It is well connected to Europe and destinations in the Middle East by flag carrier AirBaltic and other European airlines, with one transatlantic connection.
Bus no 22 leaves from the airport to the city centre with a frequency of 10-3o minutes. Journey times are about 30 minutes and cost €2 on the bus (€1.15 in the airport). Minibuses 222 and 245 offer a more comfortable journey at the same price and journey time as a bus.
Taxis can be taken from the airport and take around 15 minutes. The average price to the city centre is around €10-15 and a full list of tariffs can be found on the side of the taxicab.
Riga has rail connections to Minsk and Russia with talks of reviving rail traffic to Tallinn. There is also the suggestion of making a high-speed rail connection between Riga and Warsaw to be in operation by 2024.
A daily ferry service operates from the passenger terminal to and from Stockholm provided by Estonian ferry company Tallink.
The best way to take in Riga’s historic city centre is by foot. The city centre is compact although cobbles may provide a problem and some streets are unpaved. Flooding can also be a problem when the rain is heavy.
By public transport
Riga has an efficient integrated network of buses, minibuses, trolley buses and trams. Singles cost €2 when bought from the driver but are cheaper when you purchase an e-talon card before travel. Day tickets cost €5 and like all tickets must be validated on entry of the vehicle.
Frequent services operate from around 5am until 1 am depending on the route. There are night bus services which run less frequently numbered N1 through to N10. Trams are usually the fastest means of transport.
The best way to order a taxi is via the apps Taxify and Click Taxi as they allow you to see the rates being charged, estimated pick up time and allows payment by card. Hailing a taxi from the street may result in you taking a longer rate or an overpriced meter being used.
For our list of recommended hotels to stay in Riga, please check out our Gay Riga Hotels page.
Art Nouveau architecture – a third of all buildings in the city centre of Riga are built in the Art Nouveau style making Riga the city with the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. These can be admired throughout the whole city centre.
House of Blackheads – one of the most definitive examples of medieval architecture in Riga’s Old Town. Part of the building is a tourist office while the rest is a fascinating museum costing €3 entry.
Freedom Monument – built to commemorate freedom from the Russian empire, and was surprisingly not taken down by the Soviets.
Andrejsala – an island just located behind the passenger port and a short stroll from the Old Town. It has started to establish itself as an artists community.
Āgenskalns Market – beautiful Art Nouveau market building that still hosts a farmers market.
Museum of the Occupation – fascinating museum dedicated to Latvia’s history as part of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Riga Cathedral – impressive building and one of the many symbols of the city. Its interior, however, is uninteresting and not worth the entry fee.
The best time to visit Riga is late spring and summer where you may be lucky enough to experience a few sunny and dry days in a row. Showers and chilly nights are equally as likely in summer however.
Winter sets in from November and is a dark and cold affair. At times it can be beautiful however as the snow covered city is beautiful to behold. You may also be impressed by the sight of the frozen Baltic Sea.
Latvia is within the Schengen visa area. As it is part of the European Union, its visa requirements fall in line with what you would expect from most EU states.
Latvia became part of the Eurozone in 2014. There are many places to change money in town including banks and independent currency exchanges, although the rates can vary (even in banks) Debit cards are widely accepted in shops, restaurants and hotels.
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