What are you grateful for about living in Riga? While trying to stay positive in a pandemic, I addressed this question to followers and the Expats in Latvia group on Facebook. As the answers poured in, I got both the blog material I’d hoped for and the reassurance that beauty lies in simplicity. No one turned the conversation sour. There were bits of humour and sarcasm but most people just used the space to share the simple things they love about life in Riga. So, here they are in no particular order. Twenty real reasons people love to live in Riga. May they help you understand if the city is right for you!
Nature Is Never Far
Locals head to the woods to recharge. Even those of us who don’t have a car find a way to be alone among the trees. Šmerlis, Mežaparks and the shores of the river Mārupīte are but a bike, tram or scooter ride away.
As US-born Joe Horgan puts it: “When I lived in Riga, I loved how even the city centre feels like a place where real people actually live, not just a playground for the 1 % like a lot of other cities. At the same time, it’s a place with plenty of natural beauty in some of the more far-flung regions such as the meadows of Kleisti, the beaches of Buļļi, the riverwalk of Ķengarags, the forests of Mežciems, the lakes in the northeast and too many parks famous and obscure to name. It’s the true galvaspilsēta (capital city) when it comes to the country’s geography, politics and economy, while at the same time feeling like a completely separate universe from the rest of Latvia.”
Riga Has Its Own Beaches!
The beaches at Daugavgrīva, Mangaļsala and Vecāķi welcome swimmers throughout the year. Winter swimming is a big deal. So are Nordic walking, fishing and excessive sunbathing among the dunes.
In the words of Lydia from Germany: “Riga just feels like home to me. Every time I come back I stay longer and discover more. I love the access to the sea.”
No Chance Of Getting Bored With Such Affordable Arts And Entertainment
Four independent cinemas for 630,000 inhabitants. Countless museums, at least eight theatres and an opera house, not to mention all the event venues, bars and clubs. The city barely sleeps. Liberal opening hours encourage us to socialise well into the following morning.
In the words of follower Jeff Grinvalds: “I love the idea of living in a European capital that’s accessible and cultural. As a person born in the States, I like to think of Riga as New York City, Los Angeles (Hollywood) and Washington D. C. rolled into one. But smaller and more affordable than all!”
Sporta 2. One of Riga’s budding creative quarters.
Produce And Food That Tastes And Actually Is Natural
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good falafel and fries. Most days though, I and most respondents revel in how easy it is to buy pure, unprocessed foods in Riga. Even processed foods seem less processed than elsewhere if that’s possible? From the primitive bread to calorific cakes and smelly sprats, people really love the quality of produce in Riga.
Brunch came up as a popular pastime. And the vegan food scene got glowing reviews. We always embrace the latest trends at some point. Tastefully.
Traffic Jams? We Don’t Know The True Meaning Of The Word
That’s not to say we never complain about the traffic. But everything’s relative. Here, even a ten minute delay seems like a big deal. Public transport may not always be punctual but it’s efficient. Besides, the city’s compact size means many distances are easily covered on foot or by bike.
Physical Distancing Is The Norm
The crowd is an elusive species. Most likely encountered at the theatre cloakroom, in the queue for sauerkraut at Riga Central Market or during the Stockmann Crazy Days sale.
This lack of crowds comes hand in hand with a lack of anonymity. A quick trip to the supermarket may take longer than expected as you run into your boss, neighbour and ex on the way and in the aisles.
Street Cleaners And Caretakers Are Unsung Heroes. Riga Is So Clean
It’s rare to see rubbish in the streets. Riga’s army of caretakers rises early to ensure the rest of us get to enjoy clean surroundings. That’s not to say locals don’t litter. Unfortunately, Latvia’s forests prove otherwise.
A Pleasant Sense Of Calm And Safety
A number of people who’ve moved here from more densely populated countries remarked on the sense of safety Riga provides. Crime happens, of course, but news feeds aren’t inundated with stories of stabbing, shooting and gang violence.
An unusually striking Soviet “specprojekts” or residential block for the elites of the regime. Located at Sporta iela 1.
Architecture That Makes You Stop And Stare
One from the guide books. So true though. We’re surrounded by some of the most striking examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. They’re just there and people live in them. Not to mention the quaint wooden homes of Āgenskalns, contested Soviet-time masterpieces and unexpected treasures like the neighbourhood of Grīziņkalns.
No Beating Around The Bush, Locals Get Straight To The Point
Politicians and public figures aside, Latvians are really good at getting straight to the point. Being direct simplifies things and saves time. Bluntness doesn’t equal rudeness. However hard that is to accept. Especially if you like small talk like I do.
We should strive to keep suburban markets alive and well. It’s a shame to see Vidzeme Market suffer.
Markets That Aren’t Just For Rich People And Hipsters
Some shop at markets out of necessity to find the lowest price. Others seek quality of produce and like to support independent producers, retailers and the zero waste movement. Riga has the best of both worlds from your everyday Centrāltirgus and Lubānas Tirgus to the more high end weekend farmers’ markets at Kalnciems Quarter. Bring your bag and take your pick!
A Well-Connected Airport
We’re less than three hours away from Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the canals of Amsterdam. Even the Abu Dhabi Louvre is just six and a half hours plus taxi time from the airport. We’re not an abstract “somewhere in Eastern Europe”.
Quality Caffeine Joints Everywhere
You don’t have to travel far for a quality caffeine hit. Local roasters and coffee enthusiasts have raised the bar. Just know where to go.
Good School Coverage
Catchment areas are compact if you’re happy with the local school. Otherwise public transport makes it easy to reach most of the chart-topping or special focus schools. Some private schools offer a pick up and drop off service.
Internet Speeds That Have Spoiled Us For Life
Hands up if you’re guilty of complaining about the internet on your last business trip abroad! I am. In Riga, even free coffee shop internet is fast and stable enough to transfer large files. That’s actually a luxury.
Riga’s public parks soothe those of us without access to a garden.
Immaculate Parks Give Solace To Apartment Dwellers
Living in an apartment is the norm. Parks are our gardens where we learn to cycle, throw picnics and mingle on the benches. We’re lucky to have so many and such well-maintained parks with elaborate flower displays and fountains.
It’s a shame that the site of an old cycle track in Teika is destined to be built over. Even after much public protest. The so-called “Marsa parks” could have been an oasis for residents in an area with too few pockets of green.
A Sports Scene To Encourage Future Olympians
Sports facilities may not be the best-equipped and well-funded but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of clubs to join. If you want to go fully native, start with ice hockey, beach volleyball or basketball.
Fun fact! Latvia won bronze at beach volleyball at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It’s now a popular sport across generations.
It’s Lovely To Live In Riga
Schez Khan from India sums it up nicely: “The vibrant nature of Riga, the friendly overtures of Latvian, the beautiful structures all around, the breathtaking views and the mesmerising beauty of Latvian people. It’s intoxicating.”
While I won’t claim to be intoxicated by Riga, I have grown to be a fan of my own city. It’s far from perfect. The quality of roads leaves a lot to be desired, expenses add up increasingly quickly and the public sector seems rife with corruption. But I’m confident I’d find less than twenty reasons to dislike Riga.
If you like to live in Riga too, spread the love by sharing this post! We could all do with a bit of cheering up after being limited by the virus.