In recent years, Riga took the dubious honour of being one of the stag capitals of Europe. Lured by cheap drinks, an implausible amount of strip clubs and some distinctly seedy bars, the city was awash with fancy-dressed lads looking for one last weekend of drunken debauchery.
Some fairly severe price hikes have helped to combat this reputation, although they’ve also spoilt everyone else’s fun; expect your eyes to water at some of the bar bills. It’s not all bad news though. If you know where to go, Riga can show you a good time at a reasonable price. The city is packed with bars – everything from lounge-style hangouts with DJs, comfy couches and funky visuals, right through to spit and sawdust live music venues. One thing to note is that some bars are unofficially the sole preserve of Riga's large Russian community, and your presence will, at best, be tolerated.
Beware – some expats and even foreign embassies have reported an increase in foreigners being followed and robbed, or ripped off, particularly in central bars known to be popular with the expat community.
Despite years spent suppressed under Soviet rule, Latvian culture is alive and well. Since 1991, there has been a renaissance of interest in, and expression of, Latvian cultural identity. This has been mirrored with new developments, such as the reopening of Riga's Opera House.
For most of the 20th century, Latvia was renowned as a centre of ballet excellence and the 1970s saw Riga revered for its avant-garde experimentalist theatre and cinema. Dainas are traditional Latvian folk songs that will occasionally be performed in Riga. The mournful ballad-type melodies deal with universal themes of love, marriage and death.
You often have to buy tickets for nightlife events through the venues themselves, though the tourist information offices and better hotels are sometimes able to organise tickets. Most cultural events also have tickets available at the door.
Riga In Your Pocket and City Paper both have information in English. These are available from newsagents, tourist offices and many hotels.
Bars in Riga
With the moto ‘A good bar sells sensations not drinks’, the B-Bar is the place to go for an extensive range of spirits and the self-proclaimed ‘best cocktails is Riga’. The prices are a little on the high side, but it’s worth it to be surrounded by the early 20th century decor and live music. Food is also served up alongside drinks.Address: , Doma laukums 2, Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 6722 8842
Tasting like a cross between cough syrup and Jägermeister, black balsam is a cure-all elixir exclusive to Riga. Created to treat a poorly princess in the 18th century, it is still used to vanquish common ailments, and Black Magic is a bar dedicated to this wonder potion. Patrons can quaff balsam-inspired tipples and cakes in the dimly lit watering hole, which is decorated like an 18th-century pharmacy. Medieval music and waitresses in traditional garb add to the antiquated ambiance, but the prices don't.Address: , Kalku 10, Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 6722 2877
This kooky bar, located in the city centre, offers an authentic taste of Soviet living. Looking like a Riga apartment circa 1970, this museum of a bar has remained unchanged by progress. Everything from the retro furniture you sit on to the beer mugs you drink out of is a genuine product of communism. The prices have caved to capitalism, of course, although punters can still knock back cheap shots of vodka while perusing vintage magazines and listening to classic tunes.Address: , Stabu 32, Riga, 1001
Telephone: +371 6727 5662
A rock bar, restaurant and record shop rolled into one, this eccentric watering hole is run by a no-nonsense biker, who’s festooned the place with music posters, motorbikes and well-worn furniture. An eclectic clientele of students, travellers and rockers congregate here for the music, sensibly priced drinks and a selection of 30 hearty soups, which are filling and phenomenal value for money. It’s slightly out of town, but well worth the diversion.Address: , Stirnu 45A, Riga, 1084
Telephone: +371 2935 6770
Clubs in Riga
A crossroads for Riga’s alternative scene, this gregarious grunge haunt feels like a disused warehouse turned squat. Vinyl-spinning DJs, dirt cheap beers and a vivacious atmosphere lure in an eclectic clientele of metallers, techno aficionados and everyone in between. The party doesn’t get started until midnight, but once the shindig is in full swing it feels like it may never stop. Come back the following day for some reasonably priced hangover food.Address: , Centra rajons, Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 6722 0114
This banging nightclub claims to be the best in the Baltics. After an evening on La Rocca’s dance floor, punters might be tempted to reach the same conclusion. This sprawling, hedonistic club can cram in over 1,500 revellers, who flock to this Riga institution for raucous theme nights and some spectacular stage shows. Leave your inhibitions at the door and join the party.Address: , Brivibas 96, Riga,
Telephone: +371 6750 6030
Live music in Riga
Nobody Writes to the Colonel (Pūce)
We’re not sure who the colonel is or why nobody is writing to the poor chap, but we do know this industrial style bar is a great spot to catch some live music. Regarded as Riga’s original and best live music venue, Nobody Writes to the Colonel regularly hosts bands and club nights, attracting the trendy end of the alternative crowd.Address: Centra rajons, Peldu 26/28, Riga,
Telephone: +371 2571 4192
Riga Rock Cafe
There is nothing remotely café-like about this underground rock joint. However, its raw, industrial décor and dim lighting are all part of the charm. Local rock and metal bands ply their trade on the small stage, while a head-banging crowd consume irresistibly cheap drinks at heroic speed. A great spot to imbibe Riga’s alternative scene.Address: Centra rajons, Mārstalu 2/4, Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 2574 9433
Classical music in Riga
Great Guild Hall (Lielā Gilde)
This is the home of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, which shares the Guild Hall stage throughout the year with a broad range of national and international acts ranging from jazz bands to classical pianists.Address: , Amatu 6 , Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 6721 3643
Riga Cathedral (Rigas Doms)
The acoustics at Riga Cathedral, along with its famous organ, make this venue an obvious choice for big recitals. For centuries, it has been one of Latvia’s major live music venues, a tradition that continues to this day. All sorts of concerts are held here throughout the year.Address: Centra rajons, Doma laukums 1, Riga, 1050
Telephone: +371 6722 7573
Dance in Riga
The quality of the Riga Ballet is a legacy of the Soviet Union, when Riga's ballet school was third in importance, after the Kirov and Bolshoi. The company has produced many major stars, including Mihail Baryshnikov, now a famous modern ballet star living in the USA, as well as Maris Liepa, who went on to star for the Bolshoi Ballet, and his son, Andris Liepa, who found his own slice of fame with the American Ballet Theatre in 1989/90. The company performs at various venues around the city.Address: , Aspazijas bulv 3, Riga,
Telephone: +371 6707 3777.
Theatres in Riga
Theatre in Riga dates back as far as the 13th century. During the 1970s, Riga was regarded as a centre of avant-garde exploration and some of this spirit still remains today. The Dailes Theatre, constructed in the modernist style, is one of the main theatres. Others include the National Theatre (Nacionālais Teātris), New Riga Theatre (Jaunais Rigas Teātris) and the Russian Drama Theatre (Krievu Dramas Teātris).Address: , Brivibas 75 , Riga, 1001
Telephone: +371 6727 0463