The darker side of Riga

Did I enjoy my time in Riga? Yes. Did I adore its delightful medieval streets and historic buildings covering hundreds of years of artistic styles? Yup. Did I immerse myself as best I could in the occupation museum to get a better sense of what this nation has been through? Certainly. In fact, I’d recommend you visit. However…

Riga’s dark side

Riga isn’t all stylish and fancy. For all its exterior charm, Riga, and Latvia in general, have had some challenges managing the transition to independence. Seventy years of Soviet history was not kind to the economic integrity of this tiny nation, and its location at the edge of Europe certainly doesn’t put it on the map for most visitors who just want to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and go home. Budget airlines have long since opened up the region to tourism, but Western visitors with plenty of money have been a mixed blessing.

Eastern Europe features a sure-fire combination of attractions, specifically cheap beer and beautiful women, that make it stag party central for incoming Westerners who have far more money to spend on evening entertainment than many locals make in a week. And thus Riga has no shortage of sex tourism. In fact I’d have difficulty recalling an Eastern European city in which this particular aspect of the nightlife was more obvious:

Awkwardly-located hostel, Riga, Latvia
That’s right, they don’t even have to leave the building to find what they’re looking for.

The hostel is on the upper floor, and the strip club is just a flight of stairs away. If you’re in Riga with your 20 English-speaking bachelor party buddies, you could stay in the building the entire trip in a constantly fluctuating state between drunk and hungover, with all of your lady needs met with little to no logistical hassle.

Except, you know, diseases and stuff.

Here’s another:

Awkwardly positioned and shamelessly titled hostel, Riga, Latvia
“Just hand us your wallet. We’ll take care of it, we promise.”

So not only is the “nightclub” right there, but the hostel’s title gives away the intentions quite directly. “Hey, tourists. You’ve got money. Come stay with us!”


Stag partying Brits wander the old town, drunkenly stumbling and shouting loudly. Not all of them, of course, but enough to be rather annoying. The economic imbalances of East and West make this sort of unequal relationship inevitable, and sex tourism a mainstay of any heavily-touristed Eastern European capital, but, for whatever reason, Riga in particular.

Stories of certain bars denying entry altogether to any large group of drunken British visitors is, obviously, prejudiced and unfair. But on the other hand…eh. Hard to imagine a big group of a dozen drunken foreigners will be up to anything but trouble.

You’ll also find stories of tourist scams, where beautiful girls invite foreign men in for a drink and the bill ends up being $100 or whatever. It’s an unfortunate mess of mutual exploitation, with each side attempting to take advantage of the other, which doesn’t bode well for a sense of mutual respect, and thus the cycle continues.

I had a great time in Riga, and it was easy enough avoiding these sorts of hassles, but their presence was rather discomforting. Have fun in Riga, but remember a lot of people are having other kinds of “fun” there, too.

It’s not all bad, though. In fact, if you get out of Riga, you can have yourself a grand old time. Read up for some ideas.

Got any experiences like this? Let us know how you feel.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook or Twitter.

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10 Comments on “The darker side of Riga”

  1. I absolutely loved Riga! Didn’t see any of the “dark” stuff but I know it goes on there and elsewhere. I hear many stories about people being ripped off but you make a great point about mutual exploitation – I never thought of it that way but that’s it exactly- great post!

    1. Yeah, I think it’s actually hard to hate them. Rich tourists show up to shout loudly and sleep with hot girls who need money, and the girls just turn it around on them and use them for money. The guys use their money to get hot girls, and hot girls use their hot girliness to get money. Is it really any worse? Though I think they should just have SOMEWHAT expensive drinks, so when the guy goes to pick up the check, he just thinks…”ooooohh fine,” instead of realizing instantly it’s a scam. Just sayin’.

      1. I’d say it’s worse. the girls are often forced into this life, one way or another-by economic situation or criminal thugs. The wealthy tourists on the other hand, don’t have to come and exploit another nation’s youth.

      2. no it is quite normal . except that most of this scam and girls are organised by the russian mafia or other gangsters – nothing happens against them as the whole country are rotten and corrutp from bottom to top ! I was in Latvia after USSR broke down in 1990 . not much has changed – there is a big differences between latvians and russians — the latvians are more ” covilized” the other are like Putin – I understand why the baltic countries hate russians , after all they ddi and still today dont want to realize it..
        I dont come to the baltic countries anylonger- I dont feel safe there.
        I prefer Asia – and asian women — whom are sweet and lovely . usually

  2. “Stag partying Brits wander the old town, drunkenly stumbling and shouting loudly” – sounds like England itself (they might as well have stayed home).

    I’d like to visit Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania if I get time. Did you have time to get out into the suburbs?

    1. I tried to wander outside of the touristy center everywhere I’ve been, and it’s interesting to walk around some of the other neighborhoods too. Always worth doing, I think.

  3. I have been in latvia 2011 April.ok i can say i lived both flips of the depends on what you’re seeking on..if you’re cool and quiet nothing matters..if you’re looking for hot hard times you have to accept the price and to take up the “action”..besides that i found local restaurants wit excellent food(specially traditional restaurant in providence for locals and others),very good climate,excellent weather,endless day!!i went into local big club,i’ve been treated fine,nobody grabbed my wallet or teardown my pocket..but i also searched for suspicious places to try out the”domestic horny female” nature..and i had to pay and get involved to dark-dead ended paths..but i managed to remove my self on time..that’s all really worths to travel there!

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