The best (and worst) of Riga

As I’m going to start visiting the towns in Riga region soon, it was time for a retrospective of Riga’s districts. A list from best to worst. Nice scenery, things to do, local attractions, good bars or places to eat were the informal criteria for this. This is not a list of where is best to live in Riga, some of my favourite districts are too far out, but these are the ones I preferred visiting. As I’m one of the only people to have visited all 58 Riga districts, I think I’m qualified to comment. It wasn’t the easiest of lists to make. Picking a favourite 12 and a least favourite 12 was easy enough, but for the ones in the middle, some were a bit samey. I’m sure if I did the list in a week’s time, the order would be different.

1) VECPILSETA. (Blog.) A boring choice for top place, I know. But Riga’s Old Town is jam packed with history, museums, restaurants, bars and nice views along the river.

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Shame about the tourists, but you can’t have everything.

2) VECAKI. (Blog.) Riga’s “other beach.” Less popular than the main beaches at Jurmala, but still a pleasant place in summer and in winter, peaceful, great sunsets

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and in Waves, a decent bar to have one for the road.

3) SALAS. (Blog.) Islands of tranquility in the heart of Riga. In summer, Lucavsala and its park are great places to sunbathe and have a cooling dip.

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The rest of the year it’s a relaxing place for a walk or to cycle.

4) AGENSKALNS. (Blog 1 and blog 2.) Lively district just across the river from Riga’s Old Town with a decent selection of cafes, bars, restaurants and attractions like Kalnciema street market and the Botanic garden.

5) CENTRS. Like the Old Town, but with marginally less tourists. The Quiet centre, Bergas Bazars and the new town around Gertrudes Iela church have enough to keep anyone happy.

6) BUKULTI. (Blog.) A hidden gem on the edge of Riga, with nice walks beside the Kisezers and Baltezers local lakes, as well as the Jugla canal and to finish, beer and shashliks at PiePe.

7) VECMILGRAVIS (Blog 1 linked in Vecaki above and Blog 2 here.) I was surprised at how much I liked this one, but its riverside, local cafes and Ziemelblazma complex all make for a decent day outside Riga centre.

8) MEZAPARKS. (Blog.) Probably the most popular area outside Riga centre and rightly so.

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The zoo, old world architecture, relaxing forest walks and some of Riga’s best shashliks…. who could argue with that?

9) BULLI. (Blog.) One of Riga’s smallest and more out of the way districts felt like something out of Robinson Crusoe with its narrow beach

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and woodland, but a great place for a walk.

10) BRASA. (Blog.) Despite the fact that we nearly ended up as residents in its eponymous prison, this was an enjoyable day out. In International SV, they have what is justifiably Riga’s number one restaurant on trip advisor, as well as a number of hipper cafes around Miera Iela.

11) TEIKA. (Blog.) A combo of newer and older bits of Riga, with a forest and decent local cafes the main attractions.

12) BOLDERAJA. (Blog.) Unfairly criticised by locals, most of whom haven’t been there. Boldie is more like an independent town but has a surprisingly decent selection of local bars and bakeries.

13) JUGLA. (Blog.) Oddly likeable district on the edge of eastern Riga with good lakeviews.

14) PURVCIEMS. (Blog.) Almost an independent city, it may be a concrete jungle in places, but has a lot of local amenities and enough to keep anyone busy on a day out.

15) DAUGAVGRIVA. (Blog 1 and blog 2.) I surprised myself by putting this one so high, but it has a shore front, river views,

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history in the Daugavgriva barracks and fort and some of the weirdest, but most character filled local bars I’ve come across.

16) BIERINI. (Blog.) Bierinkrogs was one of the best bars I discovered on my travels. The district is quiet enough and has a sculpture park

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and some nice bits beside the local river, the Marupite.

17) MASKAVAS FORSTATE. (Blog.) Ask a group of locals where *not* to go in Riga and this will probably be mentioned. While some of the bits further in are a bit shady at night, it’s hard to think of any district that has more history. The central market, the riverside, the big Lido at Krasta and great local bars like Banuzis are all plus points.

18) AVOTU IELA. (Blog.) Another one you probably wouldn’t want to be walking round on a dark night with a lot of valuables. But in Chomsky and Tris Viri Laiva, it has a couple of great local bars.

19) KIPSALA. (Blog.) Its “beach” is not exactly Benidorm, but there are great views of the Old Town and if you win the lottery, you can always enjoy them from Fabrikas restaurant, where the excellent food will quickly solve the problem of your wallet being too heavy.

20) MEZCIEMS. Weirdly, the blog on Mezciems was one of the most popular. The district is average, but does have a decent shashlik place, cheap beer in the local market bar and, when they finally get around to reopening it, Riga’s motor museum. There’s also some grimmer history in the form of a holocaust memorial in Bikernieki forest, but the site itself is disrespectfully treated.

21) DARZINI. (Blog.) The furthest district from Riga centre was better than expected, with good views of the river at the top of a ditch/channel and a couple of good local bars.

22) MANGALSALA. (Blog.) The pier is worth a walk along for views of Riga Bay and local shipwrecks,

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but it lacks decent cafes.

23) KLEISTI. (Blog.) Doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. A large woodland bit, good for Sunday walks, but lacking in amenities.

24) PETERSALA-ANDREJSALA. (Blog.) This is definitely one district that has declined a bit in the last decade, with the former hipster district around Andrejosta being priced out of business. Still has some nice parks, but the cafes are average at best.

25) GRIZINKALNS. The eponymous hill is good, but the local bars are well dodgy.

26) DZIRCIEMS. (Blog.) Has Riga’s highest hill, some ex-military housing along Pulka Iela and good local kvass, but the latter is the only drink with having round here as the bars are dull.

27) CIEKURKALNS. The lakeside part pushed this higher than it otherwise would have been, though the streets around Ciekurkalns 1. Linija do have an olde worlde feel.

28) IMANTA. A weird mix of open fields and Soviet housing estates. A 50s themed rock n roll bar puts this in the middle.

29) JAUNCIEMS. (Blog.) I’d expected this one to be lower, but when revisiting in summer, I found the lake there to be a decent place to swim in. The lake is the saving grace, because this out of the way district is one to skip outside the summer months.

30) ILGUCIEMS. (Blog.) Nordeka park and a character filled local bar saved this dreary estate from a lower placing.

31) TRISCIEMS. (Blog.) One of Riga’s most obscure districts, private housing around an open field hidden in the middle of a forest. There are also lake views from the edge of the district, but the local bar looks like the type of place serial killers would drink in, before dumping bodies in the lake.

32) BERGI. I’d expected this one to be higher. Sure, it’s probably a decent place to live and has Riga’s Open Air museum, but it’s a hugely boring place with little other than the museum to catch people’s attention.

33) KENGARAGS. A concrete jungle on Riga’s south side, the Russian Lido is really the only thing to come here for.

34) DREILINI. I regretted putting this one so low, as its local bar is one of the best I visited, but the district, sitting on the edge of Riga is otherwise empty.

35) PLESKODALE. Has Sampeteris woods to walk around and Spice, one of Riga’s largest shopping centres. As shopping ain’t my thing, this is one I’m usually quite happy to pass on the way to the airport and not stop in.

36) BEBERBEKI. Strip of woodland on Riga’s western edge. Verdini, an alright roadside cafe rescues this one from the bottom 10.

37) SARKANDAUGAVA. (Blog.) After a long hunt we managed to find a couple of decent bars here, but the district has a shady, run down feel about it.

38) VECDAUGAVA. (Blog.) Fairly empty strip of woodland between the much better Vecaki and Vecmilgravis. Good for a quiet walk and little else.

39) ZASULAUKS. The Georgian restaurant/bar here is okay, but like the district itself, nothing more.

40) ZOLITUDE. (Blog.) Could definitely do with more bars, cafes and restaurants given that it’s one of the larger districts in Riga.

41) MILGRAVIS. (Blog.) In one way it’s unique: Ezera Iela is probably the shadiest street I’ve walked along in Riga. The Aplokciems part with its closeness to Mezaparks rescues it a little, but only a little.

42) TORNAKALNS. The local church and station are the main attractions. Enough said.

43) PLAVNIEKI. A real let down from one of Riga’s largest districts, which really needs to work on its customer service.

44) SPILVE. (Blog.) I’ve been twice to try and visit the museum in Riga’s former airport and both times it’s been closed. The empty airfields nearby really don’t compensate.

45) DARZCIEMS. (Blog.) Whoever named the “garden village” district was having a bad joke. People actually live here? God help them.

46) ZIEPNIEKKALNS. (Blog.) If paying more than you’d pay in the Old Town for iffy local beer is your thing, “Soap Maker’s Mountain” is just for you.

47) SAMPETERIS. Even Sampeteris wood manages not to be in Sampeteris district. That tells you all you need to know about the attractiveness of this for visitors.

48) BREKSI. We were happy to get out of this one alive. The former local cafe is now a Hell’s Angels bar and the locals look suicidal. I can’t say I blame them.

49) ATGAZENE. Iffy pizzas and empty cafes await anyone unfortunate enough to venture here.

50) RUMBULA. The holocaust memorial is a depressing legacy of Riga’s past. Once you’ve seen it, it’s time to move quickly on.

51) VOLERI. (Blog.) Has a song dedicated to its awfulness. The song got it right.

52) SKANSTE. (Blog.) Is forecast to be the next up and coming district in Riga. For the residents’ sake, let’s hope so, because for now, unless you’re visiting Arena Riga, it’s definitely one to skip.

53) SKIROTAVA. (Blog.) Factories and grubby woodland do not a nice place make.

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There’s the beginnings of a village ambience at one point here, though, which just saves it from the bottom 5.

54) KATLAKALNS. (Blog.) The district’s only landmark, the south bridge, was finished nearly a decade ago and it’s understandable. This is definitely an area you’d want to make a quick exit from.

55) BISUMUIZA. (Blog.) We tried to find something positive here and tried some more. But in the end, gave up.

56) SUZI. (Blog.) With its lakeside location, this one is a massive underachiever. But the local flats look like they should have been torn down in the 70s and its hick locals take unfriendliness to new levels. I’d thought for a long time that this had to be the worst district in Riga, but no….

57) KUNDZINSALA. (Blog.) The silver medal winner for the worst district. This one has to be Riga’s most pointless district. Its only positive is that it’s relatively clean, which means that bottom place goes to…

58) MUKUPURVS. (Blog.) A district which translates as “Monk’s Bog” is always going to have an image problem. It lives up to its name with all the excitement of a monastery and locals who clearly don’t know the concept of disposing of waste.

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The resultant rubbish tip is just awful.

Though, in a way, all that was really only the first municipality of the 29 I plan to visit in Riga planning region. Watch this space!

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7 thoughts on “The best (and worst) of Riga

    • I could comment on how I look at the upcoming Riga region challenge, but you know the answer to that. 😉 If you’re ever over here again, you can do one for an encore. I already have 2 beer challenge virgins lined up to be broken in. Let’s face it, it can’t be any worse than Kundzinsala!

  1. I am impressed. Not only did you visit all 58, but you somehow manage to rank every single one. A top 10 and bottom 10 would have been good enough, but – no – you took that extra step! 😉

  2. Hey John
    An interesting read! have you tried to twitter #tag or whatever it’s called those Mukupurvs trash pics to the mayor of Riga Nil Ushakov? He’s usually really good at responding. Otherwise not much sense to sensationalise it..

    • Thanks for commenting! My aim wasn’t really to sensationalise it, just to show the good and bad as I went around Riga. I’m a bit clueless with Twitter, have an account therealriga, which I don’t really use, but it’s not a bad idea.

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