First time in Riga – Here are three practical things you need to know
Did you just arrive in Riga for the first time and are in desperate need of some tips on how to settle? Do not worry, we got you! Moving to a new country can be very stressful, especially when you are not entirely familiar with the local culture and day-to-day habits. If you are coming from the EU, especially the Eastern countries, you might not be as shocked as someone from the US, yet the following advice might be useful to you. To make your first days in Riga easier, we selected three areas, language, groceries, and transportation, to relieve you from hours of googling.
As you might already know, Riga is pretty much a bilingual city with a significant Russian minority. Therefore, you can hear both Russian and Latvian on the streets, making the city the perfect place to practice your Russian language. However, if you ever wonder whether you can approach someone in Russian worrying that they might not know the language or they do not prefer to use it, simply ask them. Usually, the rule of thumb is that the older the people are, the higher the chance they speak Russian. But more Russians have arrived in Riga due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and as such, the city is again buzzing in Russian. Russian translations can be then found, for instance, in stores, restaurants, or pubs. If you are not confident in your Russian skills, downloading a translator might be a good idea, as some places are simply not English-friendly. For instance, if you want to go for lunch to the famous Lido restaurant offering traditional Latvian cuisine, you will need some basic knowledge of Russian.
Speaking of food, you might be surprised how much local products differ from your home country. Regardless of whether you stay in a host family or shared student accommodation, you will most likely go to a store to get some groceries at one point. One of Riga’s most well-known grocery store chains is Rimi, which you find all around the city’s center. Rimi has bigger stores like the Rimi Centrs offering everything you could possibly need (including vegan and gluten-free options) or smaller stores like Rimi Express. However, if you are searching for cheap food and also an authentic experience, definitely visit the Central Market, where you can stock up on some delicious пельмени and вареники which you can quickly boil at home and enjoy with locally famous sour cream. As you may notice, there are plenty of options when it comes to sour cream (in Latvian: skābais krējums, in Russian: сметана), but be careful not to misunderstand it for sweet cream (in Latvian: saldais krējums). Similar confusion can come with milk, which is called piens or in Russian молоко, as Latvians also enjoy a similar dairy product called kefīrs or in Russian кефир, which, however, is way sourer. But do not worry, people in stores are very friendly and happy to help you despite the potential language barrier.
We recommend walking or renting a bike to truly explore the city center. There are several rentals in Riga, and if you are staying longer, a bike might be an exciting means of transportation. However, most students use public transport, which conveniently covers most of the city with buses, trams, and trolleybuses. The tickets can be purchased at designated ticket trade outlets, and it might be the cheapest way to get around. For some, the train will also come in handy, especially since Liden & Denz is located so close to Riga’s Central Station. If you prefer more comfort or coming home late at night, you can rely on the taxi service Bolt, which, of course, is on the pricier side.
Hopefully, these tips made your first days in Riga easier but if we did not cover something you specifically struggle with there is always someone happy to help you at the school!
This blog was brought to you by Anna, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz in Riga
The images were taken by Anna in Riga