Riga's old town does have toilets, although most are of the 'temporary erection' variety.
You'll find a double row in the car park just off Ratslaukums, at the end of Jauniela, and similar types in Livu Laukums and 3 sets in Bastejkalns park. They're free to use, unisex and clean enough, with a washbasin, paper and paper towels within the cubicle.
But they do have a strange red light/green light system. The light is supposed to turn red to tell people the toilet is occupied and, I assume, the door should lock. Despite my very best efforts in three sets of these toilets I could see no way of locking the door or ensuring the light turned red. Perhaps it works on a sensor system? If that's so then the ones in the car park certainly weren't working properly. Whilst queuing up there I found myself leaping in front of impatient people who tried to enter even when the red light was showing, causing one poor woman huge embarrassment as the door was flung open, displaying her to the world with knickers down. :-( Not good. I did my best to hang onto the door when I used that type of toilet!
A much more relaxing set of toilets can be found in the Galerija Centrs shopping centre, on Audeju Iela which runs across the southern part of the old town. Although you'll need to go up to the third floor there are escalators and lifts, and the toilets are pleasant to use. Signs suggested that payment is required but no-one was bothering when I used them (twice, on two different days) and there was no attendant.
A third set of toilets is in Riga's railway station. the toilets themselves are fine but these do have a charge (not much), which you pay to the lady at the entrance. But none had any toilet paper...I wonder if you are supposed to buy it from the lady at the entrance?
Riga's old town is quite well-supplied with public toilets in comparison with several other European cities I've visited. But, as always, it pays to carry your own tissues...and it also pays to use a toilet whenever you come across one! :-)
I have HORSCHECK to thank for introducing me to the 'In Your Pocket' series of tour guides, which we first had the opportunity to 'road test' in Tallinn (when the hotel we stayed in provided a copy of Tallinn In Your Pocket in each room).
For my money, it's a much more useful travel guide than the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides that we tend to use when we travel. In many ways, it's an unfair comparison, as the 'In Your Pocket' series focus on a single city, and are updated every couple of months, so, as you would expect, it is more current - particularly on events - and can provide information on a wider range of attractions than a regional guide which is only updated every couple of years. Also, you do have to have identified the city (rather than just the country) that you want to visit before the In Your Pocket guides come into their own, so I would suggest using a conventional tour guide for your initial planning and then supplementing this with the more local insight these publications offer.
For me, the strength of this guide is that it is written by English-speaking writers who are resident in the city. This means that the descriptions are livelier than often awkwardly phrased tourist material which is clearly translated from another language. I also thought that the mix of attractions and events listed was varied and would appeal to a range of interests and ages.
At present, the In Your Pocket series tends to focus on cities in Central and Eastern Europe, although new titles are continually being added.
For the Riga guide follow this link: http://www.inyourpocket.com/latvia/riga
Favorite thing: It is not so hard to see where old town starts and where ends – the main borders are parks. Crossing parks from old town's side you see the centre and vice versa. Parks are full of flowers, statues, fountains, birds - Is that I liked very much in Riga. One of the nicest parks is Bastejkalns (Bastion hill).
Favorite thing: The specific thing mostly about all old towns is that they are cozy. Riga old town is not exception and I really felt great feeling walking old narrow streets. The old town is full of historical monuments: churches, defensive objects, houses where famous people lived.... Some small parks inside old town are just nice, surrounded by old buildings, people sale souvenirs on the cobbled streets, street musicians play national melodies.
Favorite thing: Riga mostly has German style of Gothic architecture and I found many churches, buildings that are made of gothic style. Influence of the occupation of Germans is very visible - some German writings that left on buildings, Protestantism religion form, Riga’s former Hansa city status and so on.
Favorite thing: Riga in my memory stays as a city near very wide big river Daugava. Actually, the river looks like a sea and you need few minutes to go from one bank of river to another. I really suggest going near the river, to see nice bridges, boats, people fishing and so on. It is just near the old town and such sight as Riga castle in best view you can see only going to another bank of Daugava.
The most common European emergency number 112 (following Directive 2002/22/EC: Universal Service Directive) and also standard on GSM mobile phones. 112 is used in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom in addition to their other emergency numbers.
Here are some useful phone numbers that you might need while in Latvia:
Gas leaks: 04
Fondest memory: Riga harbour is the 2nd largest Latvian seaport. It is located in the the River Daugava, and the terminals of the harbour are along the riverbanks and channels. It is said to be one of the last remaining dockland areas in Europe to be redeveloped, so the size will increase in the future. Passenger ferries are traveling to Riga from Lubeck in Germany and Stockholm in Sweden.
Fondest memory: Riga is a city with fancy and expensive cars. I noticed several Porche's, Ferrari and the most expensive Mercedes models driving around the city center. The expensive cars were also driving inside the road toll area in the Old town, where private cars are restriced to drive. Wonder why and wonder how they can afford the expensive cars. The level of wages are still one of the lowest in Europe.
Plenty of Art Nouveau building stand in the old town: more than one third of the buildings in the city centre are Art Nouveau style.
During the Art Nouveau period, Riga was a uncommon city: a wealthy port town, a centre for transit trade, an industrial city (airplanes, trains, cars, and bicycles factories were at work there): the richness of that time is reflected in the beauty of the buildings.
You can take a walk through the Old Town and enjoy all this Art Nouveau beauties. In another section of my page (Things to do), I'll list the most beautiful buildings I've seen.
Walking around in Riga, you will find beautiful old houses, offices, embassy building and small streets. Almost any corner you stop, you sigh and say "How beautiful Riga is".
Fondest memory: Nice and cozy small streets cafes and richly decorated buildings-be it be embassy building, private houses and offices.
The restaurant serve good food and visually artistic meals. People are working hard but they are not so much stressed.
The Latvian climate is humid, continental and temperate owing to the maritime influence of the Baltic Sea.
Summers are warm and the weather in spring and autumn fairly mild.
The winters can be extreme due to the northern location.
Rain is common throughout the year with the heaviest rainfall falling in August.
During severe spells of winter weather in Latvia is dominated by cold winds from the interior of Russia and severe snowfalls are common.
My trip was during April (end of) and the weather was just right, a coat needed for the afternoons and slight chill but sunny days and warm enough to sit outside for alfresco dinning.
This is a general tip to Riga. Find your own free copy of "Riga This Week magazine". It will give you plenty of information on restaurants, event, hotels, shops... and the information is up to date.
I found my copy from the lobby of our hotel.
The Daugava River is 1000 km long, but only the last 350 km pass through Latvia. Here in Riga the Daugava has been the main artery of transport and life for hundreds of years. For the tourist the river has quite some fascinating aspects as well:
- fascinating bridges
- lovely walks on both banks of the Daugava
- river cruises (see my transportation tip)
- exploring the harbor
Fondest memory: Spending the last money on a one hour river cruise on the Daugava!
The Historic Center of Riga was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Here is what the official website explains about this decision:
"Riga was a major centre of the Hanseatic League, deriving its prosperity in the 13th–15th centuries from the trade with central and eastern Europe. The urban fabric of its medieval centre reflects this prosperity, though most of the earliest buildings were destroyed by fire or war. Riga became an important economic centre in the 19th century, when the suburbs surrounding the medieval town were laid out, first with imposing wooden buildings in neoclassical style and then in Jugendstil. It is generally recognized that Riga has the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe."
quoted from UNESCO official website
Fondest memory: Exploring all these beautiful sites with our local tour guide on hubby's birthday!
see all Riga member meetings