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Riga central market

Located in the heart of Riga, next to the main railway station, bus station and the old city is the Riga central market. One of the largest covered market halls in Europe and one of the most visited locations for tourists in the city.

Article written by Riga Free Tour

The Riga central market is home to a wide range of products including Smoked Meats and Fish, exotic fruits and vegetables, seasonal local produce, fresh garden herbs and greens, specialist milk products, hemp butter, caviar and a host of other products and delicacies from a wide range of locations both regional and from far and away. This is by far one of the most interesting locations for visitors to Riga and it holds quite a place in the hearts and minds of locals. 

Vegetables on sale at Riga central market
Plenty of fresh food at Riga central market

The History of the Riga central market

As it is seen today the markets history starts back when Latvia gained its independence after the 1st World War and a need for a new market area was required to reduce the sprawling commercial activity along the banks of the Daugava adjacent to Old Riga. During the 1920's development and construction began and it was opened in 1930.

Hailed as one of the largest covered markets in Europe at the time with its huge pavilions, with facades made in functionalism style and the framework actually made from recycled Zeppelin hangars! When they were opened they certainly caught the attention of the public from far and wide and were well visited prior to the second World war. 

What about those Zeppelin hangars?

The idea came from Riga's architect P. Dreijmanis and engineer S. Žitkovs, whose proposal was to reuse Zeppelin hangars that had been left by the German army after the 1st World War. These would not be used in their original form but just the top sections and the actual market halls would be made from brick and concrete using just the roofing beams. This allowed the designers to make a grandiose structure that would stand as an icon to the city of Riga until this day. 

Riga central market pavilions
Riga central market from above

Today some locals love the market but some hate it! Perhaps the central market reminds people too much of the hard times during the 90's, or that time when they had their wallet picked out of their pocket. Yes, this is still a real issue in Riga and the market area especially should be treated with caution.

For some its the overcrowded spaces, full of pushy pensioners and for others the smell of cheap cigarettes and the sight of men drinking aftershave that is just too much to bear. Even with the many negative aspects to this vast, sprawled space there is no denying that it is full of character. Not to mention, great food!

This is the reason that for many locals, it's the only place to buy your jellied Lamprey, drink good old Kvass, have a shot of mind blowing spirit or to butter up some black bread with hemp butter! 

Inside Riga central market
Inside the grand pavilions of Riga central market

What does the future hold  for Riga's 'Belly of the city'?

Well it is hard to really predict how things will go. There have been attempts to modernize, jazz up, introduce Gastronomic food halls etc. but essentially as things stand during the Covid pandemic we say the function of the market reduce quite extensively. With restrictions in place and less foot traffic from locals many stalls just have not been present.

We do hope that this fantastic location will serve as a place for locals to get the best of what Latvia has to offer. In the previous years the attempt to make a Gastronomic food hall basically was not well received. Touristic, non local produce at astronomic prices really did not reflect well and the attempt slowly turned into what some would say a failed experiment. It would appear that some things need to stay the way they were.

Nonetheless, this should be a top stop on the tourist trail but we would love to see that tourism does not destroy why so many locals still use the markets. Check it out for yourselves and take in the sites, tastes and smells on offer! 

Thank you for reading the article. For more travel tips from our local guides around the world check the blog section of our website! We release unique travel recommendations every week. If you like this article or have any question, feel free to leave us a comment below!

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