Riga is the capital of Latvia and is home to 632,614 inhabitants , which is a third of Latvia's population. Being significantly larger than other cities of Latvia, Riga is the country's primate city. It is also the largest city in the three Baltic states and is home to one tenth of the three Baltic states' combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava river where it meets the Baltic Sea. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 and lies 1–10 m above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.Riga was founded in 1201 and is a former Hanseatic League member. Riga was the European Capital of Culture in 2014, along with Umeå in Sweden. Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, the 2006 IIHF Men's World Ice Hockey Championships and the 2013 World Women's Curling Championship. It is home to the European Union's office of European Regulators for Electronic Communications . In 2017, it was named the European Region of Gastronomy. In 2016, Riga received over 1.4 million visitors. Riga is a member of Eurocities, the Union of the Baltic Cities and Union of Capitals of the European Union .
An ancient settlement of the Livs and Kurs, Riga emerged as a trading post in the late 12th century. Seagoing ships found a natural harbour where the small Ridzene River once flowed into the Daugava, a major trade route to points east and south from the Viking Age onward. Albert of Buxhoevden arrived in 1199 with 23 ships of Crusaders and established the military Order of the Brothers of the Sword . The city of Riga, founded in 1201, was the seat of Albert’s bishopric and a base for conquering the lands of Livonia to the northeast, Courland to the west, and Semigallia to the south. The city joined the Hanseatic League in 1282 and became the dominant centre of trade on the Baltic Sea’s eastern shore.
Data and Facts
- The total land area of Riga is 117 square miles (304 square kilometres)
- Riga’s population was 632,614 in 2019 and gives it a population density of around 6000 residents per square mile
- Riga is located 29 ft above sea level
- Riga enjoys a humid continental climate with warm and humid summers, cold and snowy winters and an average annual temperature of just 6.1°C
- Spy cameras were actually manufactured in Riga. German-based company Minox had their revolutionary subminiature cameras built in Riga before being used by real life spies and civilians alike
Gundars Bojārs was elected the Chairman of the City Council, and Sergejs Dolgopolovs and Aivars Guntis Kreituss were elected Deputy Chairmen. As compared to the previous Riga City Council, the number of standing committees increased to ten, by restoring the Security and Order Committee. The Board of the City Council was replaced by the Presidium of the Riga City Council.
After the municipal elections in 2005, Aivars Aksenoks became Chairman of the City council. Deputy chairmen were Andris Ārgalis, Jānis Birks and Almers Ludviks (the latter replaced Juris Lujāns in summer 2005). In 2007, Jānis Birks became chairmen with Jānis Dinevičs replacing him as deputy chairman.
Just underneath the Riga City Council building (destroyed during World War II, rebuilt in 2003) is a narrow cobble-stone street which is home to different souvenir and flower shops, a giant cascading waterfall three stories high and the remains of an ancient tree stub unearthed during the re-construction process. A small plaque states that when this oak was growing on the banks of the River Daugava.
The head of the city government in Riga is the mayor, or officially the Chairman of the Riga City Council. Since February 2020 the office is suspended and the Council has been dissolved and replaced by an interim administration of representatives from 3 governmental ministries until snap elections are held in June 2020. The last incumbent mayor since 2019 was Oļegs Burovs from the Honor to serve Riga party. The city council is a democratically elected institution and is the final decision-making authority in the city. The Council consists of 60 members who are elected every four years. The Presidium of the Riga City Council consists of the Chairman of the Riga City Council and the representatives delegated by the political parties or party blocks elected to the City Council.
In February 2020 the City Council headed by Oļegs Burovs was dissolved by the Saeima and the President of Latvia, following three successive council meetings at which a quorum was not obtained and due to the failure to provide autonomous functions of a municipality established in the Waste Management Law. Snap elections were announced to be held on 25 April 2020 and an interim administration of three members headed by Edvīns Balševics, State Secretary of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (lv), was appointed on February 25th. The election was later postponed to 6 June 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Latvia is a small, open economy. After experiencing a severe economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 when the GDP reduced by as much as 18%, Latvia chose austerity measures over devaluation of the currency and successfully implemented structural reforms. As a result, in the past years the country has had one of the fastest economic growth rates in the EU, and in January 2014 Latvia became a member of the Eurozone. Latvia is also a member of the World Trade Organization , and is currently in the process of joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development .
The majority of Latvian companies, banks, and real estate properties have been privatized. The state continues to hold stakes only in the largest enterprises, e.g., in the telecommunications, electricity, aviation, and forestry sectors. Exports annually contribute approximately one third of the GDP, the largest trade partners are Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, Poland, and Sweden. Latvia's unemployment rate in 2014 was 10% of the economically active population.
Riga is not only Latvia's capital but also its economic and financial center. The city is single-handedly responsible for half of Latvia's GDP, half of its exports, and half of its employment opportunities. Also the unemployment rate is lower in Riga than in Latvia is a whole, in 2013 it was 5.6 %. Due to its advantageous geographical position, Riga has historically been a hub of trade and finance. These two branches of economic activity continue to be the most important also today with trade accounting for 20% of all jobs and finance and commerce for 17% of jobs in 2013. The Riga International Airport is the largest airport in the Baltics and offers direct flights to over 80 destinations, operated by over 20 carriers. In 2014 the airport served just under 5 million passengers and delivered around 33 thousand tons of cargo. In turn, the Freeport of Riga has the status of free economic zone and it is the largest port in the Baltics by cargo turnover.
Riga is one of the key economic and financial centres of the Baltic States. Roughly half of all the jobs in Latvia are in Riga and the city generates more than 50% of Latvia's GDP as well as around half of Latvia's exports. The biggest exporters are in wood products, IT, food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transport and metallurgy. Riga Port is one of the largest in the Baltics.
Riga is a city of layers. It proudly plays the role of the capital of Latvia, offering diverse opportunities for those who are after history, education, culture and business. One can never know everything about this city, yet its focus is on success and growth, which makes Riga a preferred destination for a large portion of the country’s population. The city is challenging, and it fits perfectly with startups.
Riga is in the very heart of the Baltics with a population of over 640,000. Over the past 2 decades it has become one of the most vibrant cities in Northern Europe with close transport links to the rest of Europe, no matter if you like buses, trains or airplanes. The winters may be pretty cold and the summers may not be that hot, but the city is full of energy whenever you are ready to conquer it.
With the average speed of 13 Mbps, Latvia ranks #7 in the world in 2015, way ahead of the startup metropolis USA itself. Moreover, tons of WiFi points ensure that you can be connected to the web as often as possible . Latvia is small, just below 2 mil people. It can work as a good test market if you’re after one, but be warned that you need to think global since day one in terms of business. Riga will probably not be your sole pool of money.While you can found a company easily, be careful in managing it. Lots of papers are to be continuously issued to the State Financial Inspection and Enterprise Register so be prepared for a time-consuming communication whenever you are not on the same page. In addition, when you are doing business with larger corporations, the level of bureaucracy that both sides of the story have to go through is really high, and can take lots of time and energy just to do everything according to the system. Latvia is a Civil Law system country, meaning that everything that you are supposed or not supposed to be doing is written in law, and most of the times you have to consult a lawyer in order to be sure that what you want to do is legal. The corporate income tax rate in Latvia is 15%, ranking in the lowest bottom 25 percentile in EU, which is good news. State Revenue Service, the institution that monitors taxes being paid in the country, has gone from a penalty-minded organization in the 90s to a consultancy-minded one in the 2010s, and if they find that your company is doing something wrong, they won’t punish you at first, but consult you to find a way to make things right. A pro tip: when State Revenue Service agents report to you that you’ve been doing something wrong, listen to them peacefully and don’t argue. The situation is even worse when working with the public sector, because they are not working effectively most of the time. A pro tip: when arranging a meeting with someone that’s not a CEO, ask him if he is the one that makes a decision. If not, then you might lose your time talking to the wrong person.Riga has become a Westernized city with good infrastructure and world-known brands. Still, there is a mentality gap between the older generation that lived in the Soviet period and younger generation that is up for everything that demands the entrepreneurial spirit – you will meet diverse people! In addition, don’t be surprised if some Latvians don’t open up that fast or don’t talk to you at first, they are kind of an observing nation that becomes truly friendly when they see they can trust you.
In 2012 the startup community in Riga started to develop faster than ever before. TechHub Riga, the largest tech startup co-working space in Latvia, was founded, and that kickstarted the interest in startups in Riga. Many people eventually left their day jobs and started to work on their own projects. The great increase of interest in tech business and startups resulted in a dynamic environment of events. Among the most popular lists are Startup Digest Latvia edition, Meetup.com and Labs of Latvia events that also features news and great insights of Latvian startup and community profiles.
As the traditional business models are changing, the ways how people work are also stepping into new directions. Co-working style seems to be the fastest growing in Riga, and every potential startup and freelancer can find a space he or she feels the most comfortable with.
Riga, with its central geographic position and concentration of population, has always been the infrastructural hub of Latvia. Several national roads begin in Riga, and European route E22 crosses Riga from the east and west, while the Via Baltica crosses Riga from the south and north.
As a city situated by a river, Riga also has several bridges. The oldest standing bridge is the Railway Bridge, which is also the only railroad-carrying bridge in Riga. The Stone Bridge connects Old Riga and Pārdaugava; the Island Bridge connects Maskavas Forštate and Pārdaugava via Zaķusala; and the Shroud Bridge connects Old Riga and Pārdaugava via Ķīpsala. In 2008, the first stage of the new Southern Bridge route across the Daugava was completed, and was opened to traffic on 17 November.
Another major construction project is the planned Riga Northern Transport Corridor; its first segment detailed project was completed in 2015.The Freeport of Riga facilitates cargo and passenger traffic by sea. Sea ferries currently connect Riga Passenger Terminal to Stockholm operated by Tallink.Riga has one active airport that serves commercial airlines—the Riga International Airport , built in 1973. Renovation and modernization of the airport was completed in 2001, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the city. In 2006, a new terminal extension was opened. Extension of the runway was completed in October 2008, and the airport is now able to accommodate large aircraft such as the Airbus A340, Boeing 747, 757, 767 and 777. Another terminal extension is under construction as of 2014.
Riga was also home to a military air base during the Cold War — Rumbula Air Base. Public transportation in the city is provided by Rīgas Satiksme which operates a large number of trams, buses and trolleybuses on an extensive network of routes across the city. In addition, up until 2012 many private owners operated minibus services, after which the City Council established the unified transport company Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme, establishing a monopoly over the service.
Riga is connected to the rest of Latvia by trains operated by the national carrier Passenger Train, whose headquarters are in Riga. There are also international rail services to Russia and Belarus, and plans to revive passenger rail traffic with Estonia.
Latvian capital Riga is home to a nascent but growing startup scene, where local entrepreneurs have global ambitions. With a population of under two million, the Latvian market is small, so founders set their sights on the bigger picture. «They’re forced to think outside Latvia from day one,» says Egita Polanska, chairwoman of the board at startup association Startin.lv.
The country is turning its relatively small size to its advantage by positioning itself as the perfect sandbox for companies to test products before expanding internationally. In 2016, the Latvian government passed legislation that lays out a special tax regime for startups to save on social and income tax. It has also introduced a startup visa for visiting entrepreneurs, along with a €15 million accelerator fund for pre-seed and seed investments.
Though still playing catch-up to neighbouring Estonia, which benefited greatly from the early success story of Skype, Latvia is starting to build a reputation for itself in sectors including fintech, e-commerce and drones. One of the biggest names to come out of the country so far is data visualisation platform Infogram, which was acquired by software company Prezi in 2017.
Every February, Riga hosts the TechChill conference, which attracts startups from across the Baltic region. Marija Rucevska, co-founder and CEO of TechChill Foundation, says that she hopes to see Latvia’s ecosystem build stronger links with the Nordics and attract more foreign «smart money» over the next two or three years. For entrepreneurs looking for somewhere to base their company, she says, Riga has a lot of charms: «We have a lot of trees, really good air, and when it’s not freezing outside it’s actually nice.» Victoria Turk
Sonarworks makes audio software that brings studio quality to your existing headphones. «We do it by digitally correcting for what the problems are in your particular headphones,» explains co-founder and CEO Helmuts Bems. Download Sonarworks’ True-Fi app, select your make and model of headphones, and it will adjust the sound accordingly. Even studio setups aren’t perfect, so Sonarworks also makes software designed for use by professional engineers and producers to correct for imperfections in their headphones and speakers; Bems says the company counts 20,000 studios among its users.Founders: Helmuts Bems, Martins Popelis
Investment raised: €1.8 millionVividly is a web-based VR platform that helps architects and urban planners turn their designs into explorable 3D models. Founder and CEO Gunita Kulikovska trained as an architect, and wants to show the design and construction industries how VR tools could change the way they communicate. «We’re not just a company that develops one technology; at this point we serve as technological guidance that helps to show immersive tech in its full capacity and potential,» she says.
CEO Sandis Kondrats describes Anatomy Next as «Google Maps for the human body». Aimed at medical schools and hospitals, the company makes detailed simulations of the human body for desktop, mobile and Microsoft HoloLens. Kondrats’ appreciation for the human form was initially triggered by his training as a sculptor, but he soon realised that a 3D anatomical atlas could have even greater applications in the medical community.
In 2004, Lauris Liberts co-founded social network Draugiem.lv, Latvia’s answer to Facebook. He is now CEO of Printful, a print-on-demand startup that originated from the Draugiem Group incubator in the US. Printful offers a printing and fulfilment service for online businesses to customise products such as T-shirts, posters and hats. «In other words, we make it really easy for anyone to start an online e-commerce store for printed products,» says co-founder Davis Sisknans. The company launched in 2013 and now has 350 employees across Latvia and the US.
Atlas Dynamics builds commercial drone technologies intended for applications including infrastructure inspection, emergency first response, precision agriculture and perimeter surveillance. Its Atlas Pro drone can carry different sensors and payloads depending on the data it needs to collect and can autonomously dock in a charging station when its batteries are low. In July 2017, the company announced it had raised $8 million to build its presence internationally, with a particular focus on the US.
Anna Andersone is a recognised character in the Riga startup scene, having previously founded web design tool FROONT. Her latest venture is something completely different: Be-With makes clothing with pockets on the back that let you put your hands through to feel the wearer’s skin. «The reason for it is that physical contact releases the ‘love and trust’ hormone oxytocin,» says Andersone. She had the idea for Be-With following her own experiences of the founder lifestyle; she and her husband both worked at startups and had little time to connect. She hopes her tops and dresses will allow people to enjoy discreet physical contact more easily.DigiPulse is an «autonomous digital safe» that allows cryptocurrency owners to pass on their digital assets when they die. Users can choose to integrate their online accounts such as email and social media with their DigiPulse vault, so that it can track their activity.
Social Wellness and Human Resources
With 632,614 inhabitants in 2019 as according to the Central statistical administration of Latvia, Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States, though its population has decreased from just over 900,000 in 1991. Notable causes include emigration and low birth rates. According to the 2017 data, ethnic Latvians made up 44.03% of the population of Riga, while ethnic Russians formed 37.88%, Belarusians 3.72%, Ukrainians 3.66%, Poles 1.83% and other ethnicities 8.10%. By comparison, 60.1% of Latvia's total population was ethnically Latvian, 26.2% Russian, 3.3% Belarusian, 2.4% Ukrainian, 2.1% Polish, 1.2% are Lithuanian and the rest of other origins.Upon the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, Soviet era immigrants were not automatically granted Latvian citizenship because they had migrated to the territory of Latvia during the years when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. In 2013 citizens of Latvia made up 73.1%, non-citizens 21.9% and citizens of other countries 4.9% of the population of Riga.The proportion of ethnic Latvians in Riga increased from 36.5% in 1989 to 42.4% in 2010. Latvians overtook Russians as the largest ethnic group in 2006. Further projections show that the ethnic Russian population will continue a steady decline, despite higher birth rates, due to emigration.
The historic centre of Riga was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Many medieval buildings survive, among them the 13th-century Riga Dom , the 14th-century Riga Castle , and merchants’ homes and warehouses. The canal around the city’s Old Town was the fortress moat. Nearby, many elaborate facades in the Jugendstil artistic style testify to Riga’s wealth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 14th-century House of Blackheads, damaged during World War II and razed in 1954, was rebuilt in 2000. Early 21st-century construction included high-rise towers, a hockey stadium that hosted the 2006 Ice Hockey World Championship, and the National Library, completed 2013.
Among Riga’s best-known institutions of higher education are the Riga Stradiņš University, Riga Technical University, and the University of Latvia. Numerous world-class performers began their careers at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music. Tens of thousands of people converge on Riga’s Meaparks choral stage every five years for a celebration of Latvian heritage in song.