Riga is the party wild child of the Baltics, a no holds barred northern oasis that offers everything from old world beer halls to slick style bars and riotous nightclubs.
Underpinning the frenetic nightlife action is a UNESCO-listed old town awash with cobbles, dramatic churches and art nouveau flourishes. In short a striking backdrop for a big night out. Yes there are often one-too-many stag nights in town, but if it’s a party on the Baltic (or on a budget) you want, Riga is the place.
1. Skyline Bar
Does exactly what it says on the tin. This swish lounge on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija offers unbeatable views of Riga. There’s a €3 entry charge from Thursday to Saturday, but it’s well worth it. As well as expensive cocktails, they also serve the excellent Latvian lager Cesu, from nearby Cesis.
2. B Bars
Ok, so it might make you screw your face up in horror, but you certainly won’t forget your first taste of Riga Black Balsam. This most unlikely of traditional drinks is a 90% proof concoction of more than two dozen plants, herbs and goodness knows what else mixed with strong vodka. They say it works well with cola, but most locals avoid it altogether despite the supposed health benefits. If you want to brave it this is the place, the second Black Balsams bar and much more stylish than the original.
3. Victory Pub
Riga overflows with British-style theme pubs. We would advise you to dodge them and the rather-too-friendly local girls that hang out there. Many are dreary affairs anyway, but this is a proper party place with 20 beers behind the bar, live football on TV and karaoke. Check in on Foursquare and you get a free hour of pool.
A bit of a mouthful this one, the name of which translates as Nobody Writes to the Colonel, referring to the novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Back in the 1990s it was pretty much the only place in town for fans of alternative music and counter culture. It’s still got a leftfield vibe today and functions as both a bar and, later on, as a club.
5. DM Bars
Hands up all you Depeche Mode fans! What, no one coming clean? Well if you are a fan slip on your black leather trousers and pay tribute to Dave Gahan and Co at this unlikely Latvian homage to the British goth popsters. The cocktails dedicated to DM songs, like Strangelove, Black Celebration and the non-alcoholic Behind the Wheel (get it?) might be a bit much if you’re not a fan, but the staff are friendly, the atmosphere relaxed and the drinks inexpensive.
After a bit of Soviet retro chic? Well ditch Glasnost and Perestroika and immerse yourself in a red world of vintage paintings, books, old radio sets and busts of the man behind it all, Lenin. A recent move to the city centre means live gigs are now on the roster too. One new addition that would have Lenin turning in his mausoleum are the excellent guest ales from Scottish craft brewer Brew Dog.
7. Beer gardens
Riga’s nightlife spills over into its beer gardens during the long, light Baltic summer nights. Piebalga (Livu Laukums) is the place to see and be seen, while Doma Darzs (Doma Laukums) by the cathedral has cocktails rather than ales. Savvy locals escape the city centre bustle at Labais Krasts (Anglikanu 5) with its river views and reasonable prices.
Located in a cellar in the heart of Riga’s old town, this sundown institution is one of the most popular clubs in town. You can see why, with free entry, weekly specials on cocktails, DJs spinning a top mix of absolute tunes and a roof terrace – what more do you need?
If you find Riga’s nightlife bewildering, and you wouldn’t be the first. You can take the easy option and join a guided pub crawl. A gaggle of operators have started up in recent years to cater for demand, though some are just thinly-veiled attempts to get you to dodgy pubs and clubs. Riga Pub Crawl offer warts-and-all Riga tours. They can tailor your night to stick to atmospheric old pubs or cool bars or steer you towards the nefarious strip joints that pull in the stag night crowds.
Riga’s nightlife tired you out? Get cultural with Latvia’s neighbours: