The Travellers and Food Lovers Guide to Rugby League – Riga

By Daniel Andruczyk

The last several years I have had the fortunate opportunity to live and work overseas, namely in Germany. My passion for Rugby League found me travelling all over Europe to watch the greatest game and in one case even managed to participate in a tournament. So I have decided to write blogs on my experiences, the travel, food and cities I experienced and share some photos. This month I look at another place on the rugby league frontiers, the regal Riga in Latvia.

The City

Riga is the Capital of Latvia, a country that has a very tumultuous history being invaded and occupied by many nations and people, from the Vikings, Teutonic Knights, Poland and Soviet Union. Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and is the largest city in the three Baltic states with a population over 700,000.

When the German Teutonic Knight arrived in the 13th century Riga became one of the important cities in the Hanseatic league, as many of the major cities in that regions did, including Tallinn and Gdansk in Poland. With this trade from Europe and Christianisation centuries earlier Riga grew to be one of the beautiful cities in Europe.

S5007429 Part of the old town in Riga. This is where the Hanseatic traders used to live.

Walking around Riga this become very plain to see with the smooth rounded cobble stones lining the older side streets. The major parts of he city centre near the park and where all the cafes and restaurants are, it has been renovated and so many of the older buildings have been given a modern facelift. But as with all the old European cities the old churches and sections of the old defensive walls still have their old beautiful charm. There are several nice free walking tours of the city you can do to get the full history and effect of the city. But a couple things that stand out to me were the women. Probably some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and they are everywhere. I had whiplash 2 minutes after getting off the plane just looking around at the amazing ladies around me. Latvians in general are very friendly. I had no issues with getting help from the locals and nearly everyone seemed to speak some level of English which was convenient.

S5007483 View of Riga from the towers of one of the many Cathedrals in the Old Town. Riga is a UNESCO world heritage listed city.

The other stand out for me was Riga Castle. This is a art gallery and museum these days but its what they have in there which is amazing. Some of the best collection of Soviet Era art work probably outside of Russia itself. Its is very Latvian artist orientated but seeing busts of Stalin and Lenin and also paintings of the revolution was quite amazing, being something you only read or hear about, this was a way of getting up close and personal with it. There is another museum as you enter Riga from the River side on the Occupation of Latvia in modern times. It basically looks at the Soviet Era and how Latvia “lived” in that time. Its free but a donation of sorts is encouraged.

There are many other great sites to see, like the cathedrals and churches that all have their own fascinating histories, the old town which is where the traders lived. You can actually buy there a 3 day Riga pass which gives you discounts to restaurants and other touristy things and is pretty good value. Riga is a hit and miss city in terms of monetary value. Some things like eating out can be very expensive but travel is dirt cheap as well as come of the souvenir stores. Having trekked through the city I decided to get a massage (a normal one) and for an hour of good deep massaging I only ended up paying about $20!

S5007494 The various many busts of Soviet leaders in the museum.

The only really bad thing I can say for Riga is that there are lots and lots and lots of Bucks night from the UK there. It seems like the place to go to, there and Prague actually, and they can be loud and obnoxious and for the really paranoid of you, will think that you are constantly being followed by these groups. not surprising a large and not shy sex trade has developed around this and is quite in your face around the city. When clubbing do make sure that you don’t wander mistakenly into a strip joint or worse… unless that’s what you want. But do remember that the Baltic States to have some of the highest STD rates in Europe.

Where to Stay

There are many decent hotels around Riga. I stayed just outside the main CBD area of Riga in the Hotel NB. It was a clean and comfortable place, each room has its own bathroom and TV with Latvian, Russian and Polish TV shows. There is also a complimentary breakfast and I paid about $60 Australian a night for it which I think is pretty good. One great thing with this was that there is a Tram stop right in front of the hotel and it takes about 10 minutes to get into town. Make sure you get the all day pass it only costs about $2 for unlimited travel on the trams all day.

S5007422 Though not the hotel, one of the parks based around the old moat in Riga.

The Travel

There are several airlines that fly to Riga. The national Carrier, Baltic Air is the one I flew and well they can be a bit dodgy at times as I have mentioned before. Easy Jet and Ryan air at the time did also fly there. This was in 2008 when I was there and am sure things probably haven’t changed. To look around for the deals and book ahead of time to get the discounts. I flew for about 50 Euros one way to Riga from Berlin, though am sure it wasn’t the cheapest p[rice it certainly wasn’t the most expensive I saw. It pays to shop around a bit.

The Food

There are heaps of good decent restaurants and bars in Riga. many Irish and British pubs have infiltrated into Riga and just of the main square there is a sports bar that does show SKY and you can watch ESL and NRL there. However my favourite place was a restaurant (damn I wish I remembered its name) just off the old town where the Occupation Museum is. You can’t miss it really as it goes underground and is decked out in full medieval style and you eat the food as they once did with your hands and just a knife! The staff also are dressed in traditional costumes and are more than happy to take photos with you.

S5007490 The underground restaurant that is done in a medieval style with the staff also kitted up.

But for a good beer really do find one of the British pubs. They have all the local and imported beers, Riga doesn’t really seem to have its own traditional Bars as such, just cafes and restaurants. One word of advice though, during the evening if having dinner or a drink in one of the cafes or restaurants and you are sitting outside don’t be sucked in by the roving groups of beautiful women. They are basically strippers trying to lure you in to their club. One friend told me of how he took the bait and ended up nearly paying for a $140, 10 min lap-dance.

The Game

So the game I saw was the second match of the 2008 European Bowl tournament. This was the return match against the Estonians. Ukraine had to pull out because their visa’s weren’t issued in time so Latvia and Estonia fought it out. The Rugby stadium in Riga is situated in a suburb/village on the outskirts of Riga and a local business man, legend has it, saw a game of league in the UK and loved it he decided to build the ground. It has a practice half field and all!

S5007526 The Latvian (red and white) and Estonian team (Blue and white) line up for the national anthems.

There was a pretty good crowd that turned up for the match and several journalists from the UK. The Match started off in the same fashion that the first match in Tallinn left of, that is the Latvians put many points on the board past the Estonians. The Latvians just seemed to have more speed in the backs and also were more adventurous in their play. The rugby union background was clear in the Estonians where they used just the forward to hit up and hit up and used the wingers very little.

LatEst01 The Estonians taking the ball up to the Latvian defence.

The Estonians tired out fairly quickly and the Latvians were able to exploit the gaps in defence. Despite this by the end of each half the Estonians did managed to score a couple of tries to have some respectability to the score. One of the stand out players for the Latvians was their speedy fullback Vigo Valdavs Jr. He’s the son of Vigo Valdavs Sr. who is the Latvian coach, and Jr. ran in 4 tries to seal a man of the match performance.

LatEst03 Latvian fullback Vigo Valdavs Jr. makes a bust through the Estonian defence to score one of his tries.

In the end, just like in the first match it was a convincing win to Latvia who literally ran out winners defeated the Estonians by 62 – 10.

S5007565 Picture of the two teams, referees and organisers after the match


Over all Riga is one of these gems in Europe that you don’t often hear about. It still has this stigma I think that being an ex Soviet and communist city that its grey and bleak, but nothing can be further from the truth. Its an exciting vibrant city with lots of youth and a few too many Brits trying to have their last hurrah. If you want to watch Rugby League in a truly different place then this it. Latvia plays in the European Shield this year which has 5 other teams, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Serbia and the Czech Republic. Do take the time to make the effort to get there it is a city that will take your breath away.

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