OutUK's Adrian Gillan greets those Baltic boys in raunchy Riga.

Torn between Germany and Russia for centuries, proud little Latvia - newly independent since 1991 - has only just started to rediscover itself after the latest decades of Soviet oppression.

Early morning on the River Daugava.
A tiny yet well-formed gay scene is slowly emerging in capital Riga - just beyond the Old Town boundary - which can surely only thrive now the nation has hosted Eurovision, joined the EU and starred in controversial bare-backing porn flick Postcards From Riga.

Homosexuality has been legal in Latvia since 1992, and the age of consent has been 16 for all persuasions since 1998; however, the nation will face pressure from the EU on other matters such as anti-discrimination laws and civil partnership rights. Bounded by Estonia, Russia, Lithuania and Belarus, local lads - who can boast defected ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov amongst their number - speak Latvian and Russian plus a smattering of German, and English is taking off amongst the young.

The Euro is the currency and generally things are cheap for foreigners. A slap up meal with wine will set you back no more than five to ten euros per head in many eateries; the same amount will hire you your own cab to take you around town for an hour. The temperature ranges from average summer highs of 18-20 deg C to average winter lows of minus 8-10 deg C - so wrap up warm, especially Jan-Feb. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver.
At Vincents in Riga. Photo:Andris Tone.
A short, and very cheap, ten minute cab ride from the modern international airport and you are in Riga's intimate, cobbled and spired Old Town, penned in against the Daugava River - completely frozen over when we were there - by the moat of the now-gone Old Town walls, presently a pleasant parkland strip.
The best and only way to see the old town - most notably the Dome Cathedral, St Peter's Church, the Castle and the harrowing Museum of (Nazi & Soviet) Occupation - is on foot. Further afield, cheap minibus tours depart regularly from central Rats Square taking in the impressive Art Nouveau architecture and sundry monuments to freedom and liberation; a few tours even go out to the splendid Rundale Palace, which shares the same designer as The Hermitage in St Petersburg. Of course, you can see the whole town instantly as you sip a coffee or beer up at the Sky Bar on the 26th Floor of the Hotel Latvja, ascended in its nerve-tingling external glass elevator! Art Noveau architecture in Riga.
Photo:Ainars Meiersier.
And don't forget to take a cab out to the suburbs, to Riga Motor Museum with its impressive array of stylish vintage cars including Stalin's 1949 ZIL 115 and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Nixon gave Brezhnev, only for him to crash! And browse one of Europe's largest indoor markets, housed in five colossal connected Zeppelin hangers just behind the main railway station. Then dig in for a bite to eat at the cosy restaurant next to the outdoor pond-cum-ice-rink The Lido which boasts its very own brewery.


The gay scene in Riga revolves around two bars. The stalwart is XXL on A. Kalnina Street with its giant porn screens and darkroom warren plus a busy disco 'til 7am out the back cum weekends. An adjoining gay sauna - Latvia's first - is due to open Spring 2005.
*3am Friday and Saturday nights is showtime at XXL.
Many of the younger crowd also frequent atmospheric Purvs, a few blocks further out, on Matisa Street, especially for its weekend parties. Look out for the rainbow flag above the door, follow the long passage and you'll enter an Aladdin's Cave of boy babes all bopping away, especially when heaving in the early hours.


Outdoor cruising hasn't really taken off in Riga - hardly surprising in the freezing winters - and all public loos are coin-entry, so pretty quiet. But, at summer, you might try your luck with a half hour bus drive west of town to the Baltic coast and the 25- mile golden sandy stretch that is Jurmala Beach where local lads love to play - although you'll probably spend far more time looking rather than touching.


Centrum - above XXL and opened just back in July 2004 - is Riga's first and only gay hotel, tho' slightly pricy for what you get. We could certainly recommend the Metropole: one of Riga's oldest hotels, though recently renovated, it was a renowned espionage hub in the 1930s, as you can easily imagine gazing out onto the icy streets as trams rattle by outside. It also has what is widely acknowledged as one of the finest restaurants in Riga, and is perfectly positioned - on the edge of the Old Town in the direction out towards the gay scene, opposite the famous Riga Opera House and near the train station, should you want to make a journey: 8 hours to St Petersburg, 13 hours to Moscow. You can also book a wide-range of hotels at special online prices through our hotel partners through our Bookings.


You can get direct flights from Heathrow to Riga on British Airways and SAS and on Air Baltic from Heathrow and Birmingham. Easyjet provide a service from Luton Airport although you have to change planes at Berlin so it's pretty time consuming.

Centrum Gay Hotel (A. Kalnina iela 4; T 00371 9826724; Website)
The Lido (Tirgonu iela; T: 00371 7222431; Website)
Metropole Hotel (Aspazijas Boulevard 36-38; T: 00371 722 5411; Website)
Purvs (Matisa Street 60; T: 00371 731 1717; Website)
XXL (A. Kalnina Street 4; T: 00371 728 2276; Website)

Photography courtesy Inspiration Riga except * Club XXL.

Revised January 2015.


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