Riga is a lovely city, but it’s not the easiest place for visitors with a disability.
I recently wrote a blog about my trip to wonderful Riga and a few weeks after the holiday my friends and I are still recalling our very positive impressions of the city – the beauty of the Art Nouveau architecture, the cobbled streets and squares of the old town, the open-air cafés which were just opening up for the summer season and the beautiful parks right in the city centre.
I mentioned the cobbled streets of the old town and there lies one of the problems for the wheelchair user. One of the charms of the old town is certainly a challenge for anyone in a wheelchair – and anyone who has to push the wheelchair! I had every intention of visiting as many sites of interest in the old town as I could do, but just getting around the centre proved to be hard work. A lot of the time it was easier to pull rather than push me, so I saw some of the streets in reverse. One plus point is that there is very little traffic in the old town so it was possible to cross roads and even use the roads rather than the pavements on occasions, without worrying too much about traffic. In contrast, the pavements in the main Art Nouveau district where our hotel, the Monika Centrum was located, are pretty smooth.
I would recommend many of the places we visited, including the Central Market which is ideal for wheelchairs with its wide aisles between the market stalls. For many of our group the visit to the Central Market with its vast array of fresh meat, fish, vegetables, cheeses and all kinds of groceries was one of the highlights of the trip. The one thing that seemed to be missing from the market was an accessible toilet. Fortunately, there was a small modern shopping centre nearby which did have a disabled toilet so we were able to call in there en-route back to the old town.
On the subject of disabled toilets, we found a helpful website which listed a few in the city centre. The two best ones we found were in the basements of the Bourse Art Museum and of the Powder Tower. Both had been newly renovated and their facilities were excellent. The Powder Tower contains the Latvian War Museum and was quite a surprise because it also had a smart new lift up to the exhibitions on different floors. The First World War exhibition on the first floor was excellent, with displays in English as well as Latvian. The Second World War exhibition was also very interesting and gave a good insight into Latvia under occupation by the Nazis and the Russians.
Most churches proved to be difficult to access, as they involved climbing steps to gain entry. The cathedral did have a special disabled entrance through a door into the cloister, but on our first attempt to visit a car was blocking the entrance so we had to try again the following day! Once inside, it was easy to get about and I would certainly recommend a bit of perseverance if needed to gain entrance. I had hoped to be able to enjoy the view from St. Peter’s church tower as I had read that there is a lift to the viewing platform. Unfortunately the lift only starts at the 3rd floor so I had to stay and enjoy the art exhibition in the main church with some friends while others went up the tower.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning restaurants in this blog about accessibility in Riga. We did have to rule out a number of restaurants because they had steps either up or down to get in. (We can cope with one or two steps, but not a whole flight!) We did manage to find some nice cafés and restaurants which were accessible though – you just need to search a little harder if you’re disabled. One thing we didn’t come across all weekend though was a disabled toilet in a restaurant or bar. The closest we found to one was a large toilet on the ground floor of a bar/restaurant called Easy Wine, but it had no disabled aids.
I would certainly recommend Riga but it’s not yet very geared up for disabled travellers. I’ll excuse them their cobbles, but I think they do need to make a few improvements from an accessibility point of view before I would describe it as a truly accessible city.