Riga Local Customs

  • Applied folk art and craft fair
    Applied folk art and craft fair
    by Inguuna
  • Setting out the beer
    Setting out the beer
    by toonsarah
  • This one's real!
    This one's real!
    by toonsarah

Most Recent Local Customs in Riga

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    Riga Black Balsam

    by johngayton Written Nov 10, 2014

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    Riga's Black Balsam is considered the Latvian National drink although I didn't notice any of the locals drinking it. I personally gave it a miss whilst I was there, having focused my altruistic support of the local economy by drinking their beers.

    We did all get a sample though from our wonderful hostesses, Rita and Inguna. This was the blackcurrant version which is sweeter, and less alcoholic, than the original concoction. It made for a pleasant nightcap one evening as I was writing up this page.

    PRIEKA!

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    Live Riga Tourist Offices

    by johngayton Updated Nov 5, 2014

    I found Riga a very welcoming city and one where I got the impression that cultural tourism is actively encouraged. To that end there are three "Live Riga" tourist information offices around the Old City, and a fourth "Welcome to Riga" office in the arrivals hall at the airport.

    The main office is on the ground floor of the House of Blackheads (in the Town Hall Square) with the other two being at Kalku 16 (in the Old City centre) and at Pragus 1 (at the bus station).

    We were fortunate in having our very own local guides but if you do need to use the Live Riga offices they offer a comprehensive range of tourist services including; hotel booking, public transport information and tickets, advice on things to do and see, local event tickets and much, much more.

    As well as the freebie maps and leaflets they also sell guidebooks, postcards (and stamps) and souvenirs. The main languages spoken are Latvian, Russian, English and German and the useful website below has options in all four of these.

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  • johngayton's Profile Photo

    A Very Useful Freebie Map

    by johngayton Written Nov 5, 2014

    The city map pictured is a freebie produced by an innovative company called "Like A Local". As well as the street maps, a large one on one side and an Old City one on the other, it also has loads of useful practical information covering transportation, local customs and a short language guide. There are sections on nightlife, restaurants, shopping, tours and museums, all of which have been written-up from a local point of view.

    The map is available from most hotels and from the Live Riga tourist offices.

    There's also a smartphone app and the website below is pretty comprehensive too.

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    Applied folk art and craft fair

    by Inguuna Updated Jun 13, 2014

    The Applied folk art and craft fair in the Ethnographic Open-Air museum of Latvia is held every year on the first weekend of June when here comes more than 500 craftsmen. You can see and buy here very different art objects and things which are made by locals, knitted gloves and mittens, clay dishes, pottery, wicker baskets, decorations from wood and more.
    If you decide to go there, bring with you cash, as many of local traders who're selling their stuff don't have post-terminals.

    Notice for those who coming there by car:
    if you're coming by car, leave it only at place where it's allowed. Usually when the fair is held everyone leave car on the road side and gets notice by police.

    Usually the entrance fee is applied.

    Read my tip about the museum and how to get there.
    I've made more photos from the fair.

    Applied folk art and craft fair Applied folk art and craft fair Applied folk art and craft fair Applied folk art and craft fair
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    Black Balsam

    by toonsarah Written Jun 11, 2014

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    One thing I like to do wherever I travel is to try the local spirit, however potent and unusual it may be, so when I read about Riga’s famous Black Balsam I was determined to sample it as soon as possible. I had my first on our very first evening in the city and also ended my time there with one in the pub where we had our farewell meal. I also had one at the Pharmacy Museum, where a shot was included in our tour price (see previous tip). And on all three occasions I liked it! So you can imagine that a small bottle also accompanied me home (it would have been larger had I not been travelling on to Tallinn first).

    Black Balsam is a herbal liqueur made with a number of natural ingredients that are combined with vodka. It is pretty strong stuff - 45% abv. To me the taste was something like Jaegermeister or the Austrian Rossbacher, but with a hint of chilli perhaps. Very warming on a cold evening, and apparently considered good for colds and for digestive problems. There is also a blackcurrant version. Rita, our VT host in Riga, gave us all a small bottle of that to bring home and I enjoyed it too, though maybe slightly less than the original as it is a little sweeter. And there is Black Balsam Element, based on rum, which I also brought home in a small sample but am yet to taste.

    Next tip: a good gift shop

    Black Balsam

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    So many snails!

    by toonsarah Written Jun 11, 2014

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    On my first afternoon in Riga, as I sat with a coffee in the Livu Laukums, my eye was naturally drawn to the large bright yellow snail in one corner. Later that day I spotted a green one in the Ratslaukums and I was to come across several more during the course of my stay (apparently there were 14 in total). What is more, these snails were on the move – slowly (as is normal for snails) they made their way around the city, each day a little further from their original starting place.

    These snails, I learned, were installed around Riga as a form of artists' protest, by an organisation known as “Art Needs Space”. Many of the city's artists feel that not enough attention is given to contemporary art and it has no place in the city's galleries. There has been talk of a dedicated contemporary art museum but little or no progress made on this – in fact, you could say that discussions have moved at snails’ pace! These colourful snails are the artists’ way of drawing attention to this fact. They certainly drew my attention, but it is a somewhat subtle form of protest and I wonder if it will have the desired effect? However, it was certainly true that the general public engaged with the project, posing for photos with the snails, stroking and hugging them, and even trying to speed up their progress with a shove.

    Next tip: the so-called Cat House

    Ratslaukums snail Ratslaukums snail Livu Laukums snail Kronvalda Park snail Doma Laukums snail
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  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    So many cats!

    by toonsarah Written Jun 11, 2014

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    With the Cat House such a prominent and popular landmark in the city, perhaps it is not surprising that cats have become something of an emblem for Riga. You see them everywhere, and especially on souvenirs! Tea towels with cats, fridge magnets, sweets – I even spotted a giant cat outside one souvenir shop (see photo two).

    We came across another “cat house” in the Art Nouveau district in Antonijas iela (see photo five). And of course, there are even some real cats! So if like me you are a cat lover, you will be happy in Riga.

    Next tip: the Powder Tower

    Craft market Souvenir shop Near the Swedish Gate This one's real! Antonijas iela 8

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  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    Barbeque Latvian-style

    by toonsarah Updated Jun 11, 2014

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    After visiting the castles of Sigulda and Turaida it was time for us to enjoy together what Rita described to us as a very typical Latvian form of entertainment – a barbeque and sauna (optional) near the coast.

    We drove to Lilaste, north of the city, where a local family rents out space for such an activity. There was a log cabin which held the sauna, space to change if needed and a sitting area which was later to become a cosy refuge from the cool night air and the rather pesky midges (tiny biting flies). There was a barbeque, of course, a table and benches, and even a grown-up sized swing. I thoroughly enjoyed my brief go on the latter – a recaptured joy from my childhood, swinging high and seemingly leaving the world below!

    The host family provide the meat (pork and chicken) which had been marinating for some time judging by the great flavours, but everything else must be brought by the visiting party. So an essential stop was made at the supermarket where we bought beer, wine, juice, water, more beer, salad vegetables, cheese, more beer, bread, tea and coffee – and more beer! On arrival some of us helped with washing and cutting the vegetables and a few others with table rearrangement and assisting at the barbeque, while others unpacked and set out the drinks. Most though helped simply by getting stuck into the beer – we had a lot to get through!

    After enjoying the food we relaxed in the summer evening light, while a few ventured into the sauna. The sun sets very late here in May (it was still light well after 10.00 PM) and although cool enough by now to need a thin jumper, it was very pleasant. But as dusk fell those biting insects arrived and as always seemed to target some individuals more than others, myself among them. So we beat a hasty retreat to the little cabin, and while some set off on a walk to the beach the rest of us settled in for a cosy chat by the stove and a few more beers.

    At midnight we set off back to the city after a very pleasant evening with friends, giving a big “thumbs up” to this traditional Latvian entertainment. But next time I will bring the insect repellent!

    Next tip: leaving Riga for Tallinn

    Setting out the beer First batch of meat Enjoying the feast The shopping trip The setting

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    Have purely farmers lunch - Rye Bread

    by ExVoto Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    If you are starving and can not wait anymore for diner, thats would be for you. Try Latvian rye bread with smoked gammon!!! Usualy when i leave Latvia for a longer time i take one with me. Once i didn't and that was too bad - i never thought that one can miss bread as I did and my friends. It can last fresh for a weeks, but that doesnt mean that there is some preservatives in it. Try "Laca" bakery's bread and you will understand what I mean. You will find it shops or in bazaars.

    The Bread of Latvia ;)
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    Some Soviet relicts left

    by Raimix Updated Feb 25, 2011

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    Not much soviet relicts left in Riga till this time. Even pavement from Soviet Union times is removed and new put in the central part of the city. But some things left and it is because (I guess) that Latvia was a part of Soviet Union and you can’t change it, it is a part of history. Near the Daugava river you can see old sculpture from Soviet Era.

    Photo of old Soviet Union sculpture

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    Thing about Orthodox churches

    by Raimix Updated Feb 25, 2011

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    It is as interesting to me as in other towns I see much different religion churches in old town. In Riga old town there are mostly Lutheran and some Catholic churches. The main Orthodox Russian Cathedral is in centre, Brivibas iela.

    Surely, in Riga much Russians by percents live (about 35%), but I haven’t had that feeling as I heard mostly Latvian language around, only in old town some English, German...

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    Dragging the Yule log

    by MalenaN Written Jan 30, 2009

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    I was at the Ethnographic Open Air Museum during the celebrations of the Winter Solstice. An old Latvian tradition on this day is to drag around the Yule log, which represents all problems and bad things of the previous year. I followed the crowd around for the two hours the celebrations took place. The Yule log was two small log of woods dragged around in a long rope. People were holding on to the rope as we moved on. At several occasions we stopped and there songs, dances and other rituals were taking place. In the end we stopped near the entrance to the museum and there the Yule log was burned. We all got a small stick (our bad things) to throw in the fire. It was very interesting to see this tradition, which I didn’t know anything before coming here.
    Coming back to Old Town in Riga I saw a procession dragging around the Yule log as well but it was a bit different.

    Dragging the Yule log
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    Christmas Market

    by MalenaN Written Jan 16, 2009

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    Every year, with start on the first advent, there is a Christmas market on Doma Square. Around a big Christmas tree are stalls selling Latvian craft, linen, amber, glassware, sheepskin, hand knitted gloves and caps, wood craft and more. There are also things to eat and drink, like roasted almonds, gingerbread, sausages, smoked fish and hot wine. It is a nice time to spend some time walking around in.
    There is also a small market in Livi Square.
    Already in 1510 there was a Christmas tree in a public square in Riga.

    Christmas Market at Doma Square Christmas Market at Doma Square
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    Love padlocks

    by MalenaN Written Jan 10, 2009

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    A tradition for newly married couples in Riga (I also saw it in Sigulda) is to put a padlock on a bridge railing and then throw the key in to the water below. Many of the padlocks are engraved with the names of the couple. It is a way of declaring the bond between them forever. The bridges are cleared now and then though to give space for new padlocks. Footbridges over the Pilsetas canal are popular places to put the padlocks.
    This custom is done in other cities as well, for example in Rome, Tokyo and Pécs. The custom is believed to have begun in Pécs in the 1980s.

    Padlocks on a bridge railing

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    Padlock bridge

    by gugi66 Written Sep 25, 2008

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    This place was the best thing with whole our trip, the park is so beautiful and peaceful. The Pilsetas kanal runns right through and there is a small bridge in the park (look at the pictures) on this bridge it´s tradition to hang a padlock there with the names of those in love. It means that the love of the people who hang their padlocks there will last for ever, and the couple throw the key in the kanal when they locked the padlock.

    This is one of the most beautiful parks I´v seen. It´s definatly worth a trip just to go to the park.

    This bridge is located in Bastejkalns park just besides Freedom Statue.

    Padlock bridge Padlock bridge Padlock bridge Padlock with names of the people in love Bastejkalns park
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Riga Local Customs

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