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 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.
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
Art Noveau architecture in Riga.|
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
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
BED & BOARD
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
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.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
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.