Riga's got a bit of a reputation for crime. It once had the highest murder rate in the EU, and at and at a rate of 18 in every 100,000 that was as high as many cities in the US. The recent economic downturn had the Finns running home and complaining about a crime wave in the city. I've read some real tales of actual crime, and most of the Embassy reports make out the Old Town and parks are no-go zones after sundown.
That said, I didn't feel threatened while I was there. The police presence was significant, the number of rowdy drunks (local and foreign) few and the worst I suffered was having my arm punched, and cursed in Russian, when I refused to give a young woman the money for a "bus fare". This was winter, though, and I think the number of bad elements probably increases as the weather gets warmer.
My girlfriend visited before, on a sunny October afternoon before the economic crash, and people were openly going through her friends' bags as they passed through the crowded underpass between the bus station and the Old Town.
The crime seems to be mostly opportunist and non-violent, rather than malicious. You've probably got more chance suffering violence from visiting British drunks than the locals. The best recommendation seems to be to reduce your vulnerability. The worst you can do is get hopelessly drunk and stagger around the Old Town and parks late at night: That seems to be the pattern of most victims.
Update: Came back in the summer of 2012, and there was no trouble at all. Less hassle than in the winter.
Mind your step.....
Riga's old town is lovely...but it *is* old. Consequently, its streets are cobbled (large, flat modern cobblestones or bumpier, older cobblestones or, in some places, flat-surfaced chunks of rock). When the sand which is brushed between the cobbles is washed away by heavy rains, it's very easy indeed to catch your foot in the gap.
Apart from that, I noticed many places where the cobbles had lifted (the rain again, I suspect, and maybe winter frosts too).
Potentially more dangerous are the kerbstones which are no longer there.
And worst of all, from a hazard point of view, are the many unrailed basement steps and the cellar-access doors in very poor condition, with lifted metal surfaces and/or large gaps.
None of these is actively 'dangerous'. But all are potentially dangerous....a broken heel, a nasty fall, a twisted ankle or worse. It's up to you to keep your eyes open and watch where you are putting your feet.
Just don't expect all surfaces to be smooth and risk-free. They aren't.
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If you are flying with Ryanair.....
.....read my tip about the 4.92 Lat (this will change in Jan 2013 when Latvia adopts the euro...maybe 7 or 8 euro?) security charge you will have to pay before you go through security.
Other airlines include the Riga security charge in their airfare. Ryanair does not. This means that you have to pay it separately...or you won't fly home.
Click here for more detailed information.
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Simple Express Bus
Simple Express gives very little notice when canceling a bus. I bought the ticket about a month ago (very cheap but if you loose your connecting flight you will have a lot of extra costs), 18 hours before the bus was supposed to leave no notice by e-mail or phone. I had then a night ferry to Tallin and turned the phone off, in the morning no notice by e-mail but on the phone " 1 call missed" (but no SMS on the phone), i was 1 hour later at the bus terminal, the lady told me "oh, we sent you a SMS", behaved like it is my fault the bus is canceled and by grace of her resheduled me to a bus serveral hours later, so i arrived in Riga at night having a seat well behind the rear axle...
After complaining to them, they write to me they sent a SMS 4 day´s earlier (did´t get any), which would be still a very late notice, their attemted phone call accoding to their e-mail was only 2-3 hours before departure!
I find the behavior of that bus company unacceptable.
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Babies in Riga
Pushing a pram around the city is no easy task. The old town has crumbling sidewalks and cobbled streets. Getting out of the old town you encounter busy roads with few safe crossings, and subways under the roads that have no lift and no easy way down for prams. Getting from the bus and train station is bad, but getting across the Stone Bridge was a nightmare.
Overkill on the warnings
We read so many negative things about Riga before we went, we almost did not go. We almost expected to be attacked as soon as we stepped off the bus. We saw no trouble at all during our visit and were not overcharged anywhere.
Of course, be careful as you would be anywhere and certainly keep away from the dodgy bars/sex clubs with blacked out windows, but Riga in my opinion gets a worse than merited press.
Guidance on photography in churches: Homer's Rules
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
Most people in Riga speak Russian. They slightly outnumber Latvians. I heard Russian spoken all over the city. Despite this I didn't see a single Russian language sign. This should probably tell you that language, and ethnicity, is a sensitive issue in this country.
Latvians have suffered greatly at the hands of Russians, especially under the Soviets. Many of the Russian speakers living in Latvia now were moved here, or came of their own choice, during Soviet times, without the Latvian people having any say.
On the other hand, when Latvia pushed for independence, this was supported by the majority of Russian speakers, and some of those who died to gain Latvia independence were Russian speakers, in fact people of many ethnic backgrounds.
But don't get paranoid. Be careful discussing the situation, but don't feel that you can't use a Russian word or phrase to a Latvian if you can't get yourself understood in English. Nobody is going to take offense if you are just trying your best to be understood.
Icicles in Winter
These are a real problem in Riga, which suffers from some of the most lethal looking ice daggers I have seen anywhere. Some are marked, most are not, and the danger of them was made apparent shortly after I left, when in neighbouring Tallinn a young girl was hospitalised when softening ice caused one to fall on her head from several stories up.
This year was particularly bad, and the Latvians were trying everything to get rid of the icicles, some of which were several meters in length. I saw men on cranes, guys with axes and shovels tied to a roof, and I even read stories of desperate Latvians taking to shooting the icicles down.
Just keep one eye in the sky to spot them, and one eye on the ground to watch out for patches of black ice...
Avoid the strip clubs in Riga. Mostly run by Russian mafia, which are people you generally wouldnt trust. You will be over charged on drinks, given the incorrect change and even in some cases forced to take money out on your bank card or be beaten up!!
I have been told about people losing anything from 20LVL up to 2000LVL in one night!!
Been very wary of any guy on the street offering flyers to a club with free drinks and entrance with ladies inside, this is how they suck you in. Once they have you inside they can pretty much do what they want... the police offer little help in most cases.
Riga is a great city to party and there is plenty of decent and safe venues and PLENTY of attractive girls around so you dont need to go into these seedy places.
ENJOY and dont let this put you off coming to Riga it is a great city!!
I want to spread the word because if people stop going to these places eventually they will have to close down giving Riga a better image again.
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Beware in the Old Town - keep your money very safe
Similarly it is your choice whether you get taxi back t Hotel late at night
I did not and on last night 2 local guys where in front of me looking very drunk on vodka and after i passed one he was hiding in an alley for some reason like waiting for some opportunity to mug someone or something
I had a friend many years ago that lived in Estonia and she was telling me about the very big problem with Aids there - and also that there wee a very high no. of people injecting with Heroin and using dirty needles.
It is a big problem
Latvia is not too far away and maybe there is also problem here too.
I am mentioning this because many Brits go there on Stag weekends and as part of teh Stag weekend i is neccessary that some of them have sex with a private dancer
It is important people take care.
Myself - although one day i was listening to Tina Turner and "Private Dancer" on the local radio there one day - that is the only time i thought about it.
But then to watch a Private Dancer and to have sex with a private dancer are too different things.
fake police officers
I have just returned from Riga, I stayed at Elizabeth's hostel in a street called Elzabetes Ieta.It is literally 5 minutes walk from the rail station. On my second night there I returned to the hostel about midnight on my own (big mistake).Almost at the entrance I was approached by two men posing as police. I refused to go with them when asked. Seconds later they attacked me and I was robbed of my mobile phone.Fortunately I left all my documents, camera, credit cards in the hotel.
If you must return late on your own, take a taxi to the door (The red Renault taxis are legitimate!!)
The Elizabeth hostel is in a very quiet street, so take care.
Drunk Englismen all over the place
Riga has gained a reputation In recent years as a place that is flooded by Englishmen on their 'Stag do'. Flooded is probably the wrong word, as there are not that many flights to Riga compared to say Prague of Budapest. The flight we were on did contain sixteen men dressed as giant chickens and anouther group of about twelve dressed as 'pimps'. We never saw them again that weekend.
If you a quite little soul, then the flight may not be to your taste but it's not going to affect your trip otherwise. If you are on a stag do then things are a different matter - have a look at some of the warnings above.
Some people may feel a little intimidated by large groups of beery men in this kind of situation. This recent tradition of dressing up in very silly outfits, getting blind drunk and vomitting over east european prostitutes is pretty harmless to the casual onlooker - mostly they are regular blokes in everyday life. I mean, just how seriously can you take a six-foot four bloke with a beard seriously when he is dressed as the sugar plum fairy ?
The real danger is for the host destination - they may well worry that places such as Riga
Bars to avoid
Organised crime is rife amongst a certain segment of Riga's nightlife industry. Some places are seen as fair, if expensive. Others are straigtforward gangster hell holes with payoffs to the local police. Paying 30-50 lats for one drink is the least of you worries. One recent account said a man was charged 8000 lats for four bottles of Champayne. Buying a drink for an 'entertainer' is the most likley way the price list can be inflated.
If you have to visit such a place then a) leave credit cards hidden at the hotel b) always ask the price of a drink before you buy c) never go into a 'private room'. The private room scam is the worst. It works like this - the private room will have a bottle of champayne opened before you enter - that way they can legitimaely say it is part of the deal for a private room and charge accordingly (perhaps up to 1000 or more lat).
This is current list of bars to be avoided that is given to American diplomats :
“Mademoiselle Cigar Club”
The problem is that new places open, names change or new owners move in !
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