Our Guide To Latvia

Latvia’s pub scene is atomised and segregated along ethnic and class divides, partly as a consequence of a national people trying to carve out a fully expressed nationality after centuries of oppression. In certain cities with a higher population of Russians you may find the pub scene markedly different to those with a huge native population of Latvians, not only in terms of the culture (vodka versus beer) but the prices and the general attitude to life.

On the Latvian side, they have resurrected their brewing scene with a focus on national expression, many beers featuring plants, herbs and spices found native in Latvia. The craft beer scene seems intent on upholding selective elements of a folk tradition and in doing so differentiate themselves from the dirt-cheap hard drinking Russian bars. The quality is generally very good, though some of the fruity, stranger additions will have your mouth doing cartwheels trying to work out what’s going on. In terms of classic beers, you’ll find some terrific dunkelweizen style beers and dark ales, while their standard fare is strong Dortmunder style lager which doesn’t entirely stand up to session drinking. In general, the beer is on the up and up.

Further complicating matters is Riga’s position as stag-party central, leading to an economic basket-case situation in the city centre where a beer can be three times as expensive as bars you can walk to twenty minutes east in the ‘Moscow Quarter’ where tourists generally do not venture. There are some decent bars in the old town that remain worth a visit, but a trip to Riga is the starkest example I’ve experienced of ‘cheap holidays in other people’s misery’. The best bet is to visit the various alternative bars and venues in the Centrs district which is where the locals hang out, as most of these places seemed to get the balance right.

Outside of the cities the whole notion of a pub seems to dissolve, much like the notion of a post office in villages in the UK, you get multipurpose venues trying to make money doing whatever they can. If they aren’t open then you may find yourself in desperation visiting hotel bars until Latvia expands economically.

Have fun out there, but if anyone offers you some fermented cabbage juice as a tonic, in the words of Bernard Manning, chuck it back in their face and tell them to fuck off.

Ratings Key (0-10)

A: Choice and/or quality of drinks

B: Style and décor

C: Atmosphere and feel

D: Amenities, Events & Community

E: Value for money

F: The Pub Going Factor

Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!



K.K.C   * Riga 7 8 8 8 8 9
Runcis Riga 7 7 8 8 8 8
Banuzis Riga 6 7 8 8 10 8
Sigulda 7 7 8 9 8 8

pop. 641,423

…and falling. Brain drain is a big issue for the Baltic states, and more widely, population decline in Eastern Europe generally. Latvia has deployed the charming restored old town of Riga as its weapon to shore up these losses through the tourist dollar. Unfortunately, unlike some cities big enough to absorb all this, Riga is a pretty bad example of an over-saturated spot. In the old town itself you won’t find any locals milling about, save for one or two very well secluded bars, that normally try to keep their signage to a minimum. Instead, it is taken over with expensive lager lout pubs and dodgy strip-joints. There are whole websites devoted to guiding the lap dance connoisseur to the venues that will rip you off the least!

Instead, head out to Centrs or the Moscow Quarter to associate with locals at a range of down and dirty ice hockey pubs, theme bars, courtyard pubs and social clubs. There is still plenty of fun to be had, but more of a mentality shift between East and West than you will find in Prague, for example.

pop. 11,332

No more than a small town Latvia’s low population density is put into sharp perspective when this place features highly on its go-to destinations. However, while it may be small, one thing you can’t accuse it to be lacking of is amenities. With an Olympic standard bobsleigh track, 3 castles (in various states), an ethnographic museum, cable car and various nature trails and activities, you may fill your boots. By contrast, drinking here is restricted to the pleasant social club Kaku Maja, and whatever hotel bars or cafés you may find. Don’t count on a late night in Sigulda unless you are so desperate you fancy entering their casino.