Port of Riga
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The city of 800,000 on the Daugava River is the capital of Latvia, a country finding its place in a new world after being occupied for 50 years (1941 to 1991), first by the Nazis and then by the Soviet Union. Today, visitors will see a city in transition: women embracing fashion trends, men following the latest news on American sports teams, and a Caribbean-themed bar serving mean mojitos (while patrons stare at a portrait of Fidel Castro). School kids are learning English as a second language instead of Russian.
Today, Riga is a happening place boasting big-city attractions for visitors. Opera, music and ballet flourish (even during Soviet times, Riga was known for its arts offerings). The city has museums that house displays on everything from art and textiles to fire-fighting and the history of medicine. Old Riga, the historic center of the city, has been recognized by UNESCO, and the city's Art Nouveau architecture is among the finest in Europe.
Nightlife is active, with hopping bars and dance clubs open until 6 a.m. on weekends. A large number of restaurants serve up an impressive diversity of international options (Russian, Armenian, Tibetan, Tex-Mex). There are shopping malls and hotels springing up, and new cars clog the streets.
But perhaps most intriguing is how the city still feels like a bridge between the Old Soviet and modern Europe -- our advice is to get here now before things rapidly change.
Top Riga Itineraries
MSC Poesia11 Night Europe - Northern CruiseCopenhagen, Rostock , Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, CopenhagenNow
MSC Poesia11 Night Europe - Northern CruiseRostock , Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, RostockNow
Jewel of the Seas11 Night Scandinavia & Russia CruiseCopenhagen, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Klaipeda, Copenhagen, CopenhagenNow
Queen Victoria16 Night Europe - Northern CruiseSouthampton, Klaipeda, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Riga, Rostock , Copenhagen, Gothenburg, SouthamptonNow
Seven Seas Explorer12 Night Europe - Northern CruiseSouthampton, Brugge , Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Visby, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, StockholmNow
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships dock at the ferry terminal on the Daugava River, and it's about a half-mile (15-minute walk) to Old Riga. Other sights of interest, such as the Art Nouveau district, require a taxi or public transportation, unless you take a shore excursion.
The ferry terminal has a small cafe and a money exchange office, but nothing else of interest.
Good to Know
There are easily avoidable strip clubs that have gained fame, especially among partying young Brits (prostitution is "illegal" but "allowed").
By Taxi: Taxis are available at the pier. The city's transportation system includes trams, trolley cars and buses, and a ride anywhere is about 35 cents. You buy tickets from the conductor onboard. The Number 7, 5 and 9 trams go from the ferry terminal area (Ausekja), two stops to the center of the city.
By Car: Auto Europe is among car rental firms with downtown rental locations in Riga.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency is the euro. ATM's can be found at banks all around the city.
The official language is Latvian. Russian is widely spoken, as is English (particularly by younger people). School children are now learning English as a second language rather than Russian.
Food and Drink
Vecmeita Ar Kaki (Maza Pils 1, 750-85-64, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.) is the inexpensive place to try beef stroganoff and other local favorites. It's in Old Riga across from Riga Castle.
The Amber Way Tavern (Torna 4, Jacob's Barracks, 732-12-60, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.) is in a cozy cellar and offers a Latvian sample platter, accompanied by Latvian beer, served in a folksy atmosphere on long wooden tables.
The "in" crowd hangs at B-Bars (Doma Laukums 2, Old Riga, 722-88-42, 8 a.m. - midnight), where the interior is hip and the cocktails inviting, including various balzams concoctions -- the cuisine here is upscale, international.
Black Balzams is a potent alcohol that's the pride of Riga. Buy it in funky dark brown bottles. Considered medicinal, it's best enjoyed mixed with something -- ranging from berry juice, to champagne, to coffee. Other popular bring-home items include Soviet memorabilia, amber jewelry, Latvian national hockey team jerseys and colorful folk costumes.