Life in Riga

The most cosmopolitan of the Baltic capitals, Riga is a modern city that offers all the amenities and opportunities typical of a European metropolis, alongside a unique and enchanting taste of life you won’t find anywhere else.

Constantly abuzz, the city center’s always full of people as nearly everything within walking distance. For the things that aren’t, there’s a sprawling and punctual public transport system, as well as cycle paths throughout the city and beyond for those who prefer to pedal.

Latvians appreciate proximity to nature and you’ll feel that in Riga, too. Every few blocks you’ll come across a park, and there’s even a forest in the city – twice as big as New York’s Central Park. But there’s no need to limit yourself to Riga since unspoiled nature is right next door. It’s completely feasible to take a sunrise walk in a bog and manage to be at the office by 9 am or decide to have your lunch at the beach and get there in 20 min.

Unexpected ways Latvians pass their time

Latvians are just like anybody else, spending their time with friends, family, out of the home, and inside it. But there are a few activities that are particularly popular in Latvia, which you might want to become acquainted with.

  • 1 in every 20 Latvians sings in a choir, and it’s no surprise. One of the largest culture events is centered around a huge choir of 40,000+ singers.

  • There are over 750 folk dancing troupes in Latvia for all ages and skill levels. They usually meet weekly, have regular concerts, and perform in an impressively choreographed show at the Latvian Song and Dance Festival. It is a popular cardiovascular activity where the connecting factor is community and culture.

  • Latvians love going into the forest to see what they can collect. That can range from mushrooms to berries, while meadows provide herbs for teas. Every Latvian has their secret spot.

  • Like any country, Latvia offers a wide variety of sports teams that can be joined. But this small country seems to have an affinity for some sports in particular – beach volleyball lends itself well to the country of taller-than-average participants, despite the long winters. There are plenty of indoor courts to enjoy. And the Sigulda bobsleigh track has become a magnet for those interested in bobsleigh and skeleton.

  • Over the last decade, a growing community of Latvian foodies has created a demand for gourmand experiences – a demand met in the form of festivals by the country’s ever-evolving local restaurateurs and brewers. Riga Restaurant Week, Riga Street Food Festival, Riga Oyster Festival, Riga Wine & Champagne Festival, and Latvia Beer Fest, among others, have become highly-anticipated events, charming locals and visitors by serving up the best and latest Latvia has to offer.

Social customs & quirks

Every culture and people has its own little quirks that reflect a broader attitude toward life and Latvians are no exception. Let’s journey inside a Latvian’s mind, but, do take your shoes off before entering – we don’t wear those indoors.

  1. Latvians are generally averse to small talk and platitudes. Don’t expect wide smiles and chit-chat from cashiers, nor flattery from business partners. On the upside, you always know where you stand with Latvians – we’re refreshingly genuine.
  2. Handshakes are another integral piece of Latvian communication. Men shake hands and do so since early childhood. Whether you’re making an acquaintance, meeting a relative, reuniting with a long-lost friend, or going out with some colleagues – a handshake is in order, both when arriving and departing.
  3. When it comes to food, you’ll rarely see a Latvian eat while on the move or at their work desk. A meal mandates a dedicated space and table. But not necessarily company – it’s perfectly normal to eat alone, though we won’t say no if you want to join.
  4. You’ll also rarely see Latvians going out in sportswear or, god forbid, pyjamas. Even if it’s to pop downstairs to the shop or take out the trash, Latvians will make the effort to be presentable, in case they meet a neighbor or run into someone they know. We’re quite uptight about our appearance, favoring style over comfort, and Latvians can certainly give the French a run for their money as the most fashionable people in Europe.

Must-know phrases

Latvians not being keen on small talk is a blessing in disguise for visitors that want to blend in. Master the five phrases below and nobody will be able to tell you apart from a native.


Hey! The most common greeting. We pronounce it just like the Italians since we borrowed it from them. It's also used to say goodbye to a friend or acquaintance. In less casual settings, we use “Sveiki” (Hello) or “Labdien” (Good day).

Visu labu!

All the best! Latvians use “visu labu” to say goodbye to people they don't know. You'll hear it used commonly in the shop, in the restaurant, at the doctors, etc.


Thank you! Latvians are generous with their “Paldies”. Don't hesitate to give thanks every opportunity you get. It often goes hand-in-hand with “visu labu”.

Uz veselību!

Bless you! If someone sneezes, you have to say “uz veselību” which translates to “to your health”. While you wouldn't say it to a complete stranger on the street, you would to anyone you have even the slightest connection to, e.g. a colleague you've never met before, the person running next to you at the gym, or even your least favorite neighbor.

Labu apetīti!

Enjoy your meal! Every meal starts with everyone wishing each other “labu apetīti”. It's also perfectly normal to say it en passant to someone who's already eating, i.e. a colleague in the office kitchen.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and ready to take the plunge into Latvian small talk, then these two phrases are all you need:

Kā iet? – How’s it going?

Normāli – Fine

At all times, Latvians believe that life could be better or worse, so you’ll have to judge how we’re actually doing by how we say “normāli” – with a smile or a deep sigh.

Where to learn Latvian

It’s possible to live in Latvia without ever learning the language. Or become a fully integrated member of the community using the seven phrases above. But the truth is that Latvians LOVE it when people try to learn our small language and speaking broken Latvian with an accent is the easiest way to melt our hearts. There are various public and private options, alongside several online resources, for learning Latvian individually or in a group.

    • e-Laipa – developing vocabulary for A1, A2, and B1 levels
    • Loescen – learn basic phrases
    • Self-assessment – a tool to understand what your level of knowledge is
    • Latvian Language agency – a collection of resources for those who already have basic knowledge of the language
    • Events and courses in – the events section keeps an updated record of language-based activities for foreigners, like free classes and even improv events!

Additional resources