The main language is Latvian, but you will find that most receptionists in hotels and hostels and other establishments will have a basic understanding of English. It is a fascinating city, which can be compared to other European places such as Prague. I found that the place was slightly more comprehensive compared to Sofia in Bulgaria, and on a par compared to other European destinations such as Cologne, Prague, Brno. I also find that the value of the restaurants in Riga is not as good value compared to Sofia which I have learned from my limited travel experience.
The currency is latvian lats, and when I visited I bought the currency from foreign exchange sites in London, and received a rate of 0.79 latvian lats for every £1 that I exchanged. The exchange rate was not good like it was around 2 years ago, where 1 latvian lat was equal to £1, then again life changes fast.
All of the hostels, restaurants were non smoking places and we had to smoke in designated areas, or in the streets far from buildings. Drinking alcohol is not allowed from what I saw, so this was restricted to drinking sociably in alcoholic premises and restaurants. The city in the centre has a fabulous old town area, which has lovely town houses, it has a really nice park especially where the National opera house and there is also a nice hotel there as well. There are a few suspension bridges that are interesting to look at which has a reasonably big river. The city centre also has fine looking churches, museums, town houses. The art nouveau area of Riga was very interesting to look at.
I was told by a regular visitor to Riga, that there are plenty of things to be aware of, including pickpockets which represent the slightly miserable picture of the city. I did not carry too much cash and also tended to travel light and nearly always was wary of people asking me things in Russian and also in English.
Hostels from experience are very cheap in terms of price, the facilities from what I saw are basic, which would be expected. If I return to Riga, I suppose the best option would be in selecting a good hotel, or a serviced apartment.
I was also informed not to accept invitations from strangers posing as introducers to pubs and nightclubs, as often they will try to entice you to a pub in central Riga, and will raise the price of the drink to extortionate levels. I also was told to go to good clubs including the Four White shirts Latvian club as they played good music and the prices of drinks were reasonable, and this was one of the places to go during the evenings. For drinking Paddy Whelans pub in the old town is interesting, but the type of crowds this place draws in, is somewhat off putting, as there are many loud people who sometimes act in a funny way. Paddy Whelans pub is worth visiting at least for one drink, but the price of Guinness here is 2.90 latvian lats, which is a premium compared to other pubs and restaurants.
For cigarettes people from the United Kingdom are allowed to bring just one carton of cigarettes, but the prices of these in Latvia are very cheap indeed.
Another aspect of my visit, was that I learned and saw programs broadcasting ice hockey, and the Latvian people in general tend to watch this sport regularly and with a lot of interest. This is perhaps their most popular sport.
Regarding the transport to the city centre from the airport, use the bus number 22 priced at 0.70 sentimes around £1, or use the faster and easier Airport express van which charges 3 latvian lats, but this will save you around 10 or 20 minutes as the number 22 bus uses a more scenic route and stops at a few bus stops on the way to Central Riga.