CAPITAL CHRONICLE Pt. 5. Best waterbeyonds in Riga to run away from everybody.

When the weather seems great and physical distancing barely, yet still relevant, it is crucial to find some solace by the water. Except - without much of a crowd. For that we put some effort in documenting Riga's best "waterbeyonds". Want to find out what they are and why it's the best the city can offer for a discrete watergazer? Have a look!

15% of Riga is covered in water. It might no seem much, but the total length of waterfront in the city is more than 450 km - just 40 km shy of the whole maritime coastline of Latvia. It's easy to understand why each body of water in Riga is as important as every road. Well, at least to its residents.

Unfortunately, not all quays, promenades, jetties, dams, embankments, or whatnot in Riga are maintained and cherished by the popular politics equally. Many, especially along the city's most important vein, the Daugava river, have a huge potential to supplement the list of all the beautiful, scenic, refurbished, and visited waterfronts within the city's territory. Except, most of them don't even exist in the public conscience - some because of being unfit for swimming, some only because of located somewhere "unpopular".
For this reason, we present a term "ūdensgali" or "waterbeyonds". Places nearby any body of water worth every cent and minute to visit, if only not located too far from "landscapes of wealth and power" or too ignored and degraded to appeal to an eye from the first sight.
To illuminate a problem, you need to name it. "Waterbeyonds" are a pure alternative to all the popular city beaches, banks, and promenades that, most likely, attract already too many people (especially during the postpandemic era of liberating picnicking, suntanning, swimming, and watergazing). Sadly most of them are located within the central Riga, thus again unfairly marginalizing suburban potential.

For this chronicle, we have travelled several hundreds of kilometres and spent dozens of hours to collect the most peculiar waterbeyonds, and we hope to rise interest in them in order to improve our habits, choices, distribution, and the city itself. We believe that every new visitor to such places is a signal to the people in charge that the waterbeyonds matter - have and will.

So here is a photo story and map of some of the most surprising, yet unfairly forgotten publicly available waterfronts in Riga. A great, but also a brave choice for already intermediate and independent urban explorers to physically distance during the warm season. Should you have some extra suggestions, write them in comments! We will try to update the map if we may!

Buļļupe. West of the Lielā and Kleistu street crossroad, there are multiple havens with small coves, beaches, and scenic bushes to hide from the city life nearby the "Bull river". Although not always in perfect shape, most of the Buļļupe's waterbeyonds are worth a visit to decide for yourself.

CDE dambis. If AB dam is hell of a popular place and the newly renovated FG dam is still behind a locked fence, CDE dambis, piercing the Daugava river right from Ķīpsala beach, is a true waterbeyond for already 130+years. Located in the very heart of Riga, it has been a magnetic place to visit on low tide, but has also been slowly disappearing for decades. The city port promised to reconstruct this exclusive and daring location already 20 years ago, when the renovation plan was left available after its executor was literally murdered. We are still waiting.

Once a closed military zone, then part of a university faculty and unkempt industrial zone, the former Soviet Jēkabs Alksnis Aviation school complex is now available to anyone. Part of it being used for defense purposes, part for a placemaking community, the northern coast of this area offers a marvelous angle on Ķīšezers lake.

Grāpju pussala. Out of all waterbeyonds we know, the long "Cauldron peninsula" is one of the most exotic and most scenic to visit. For lovers of unmarked access, rocky banks, lush "jungle", sandy coasts, vast waters, and wild eglantines, this strip of land can make you stop at every eye blink. Once an island, it would be great if the city also looked at it the same way we do - as a treasure rather than burden.

Hapaka grāvis. Although this particular location is one of the most untamed, the reed-surrounded Hapaka ditch is probably the most unfairly forgotten water body in Riga. Theoretically, it could become a 25 km-long water bahn if it led to any place "important". Despite that, Hapaka grāvis is a fantastic distance to measure if you are a fan of kayaking, SUP boards, or skating, or if you simply want to be by the water some place totally away.

Kazas sēklis. The dusty and bumpy road to the upper Lucavsala is a lush journey surrounded by lilacs, bird-cherries, and water until it ends at the Goat ford, splitting the Daugava river in Mazā Daugava and Bieķengrāvis. As beautiful the road, as diverse the destination.

Lāčupīte. Once running for 10 km across the far-west city, the "Bear river" was degraded during the Soviet times by the growing heavy industry nearby and buried under the upcoming construction and infrastructure sites. Now the river has only about 1/10 of its natural length left, while most of its flow is regulated by an underground pipe. Supported by the Kleistu forest it runs through, Lāčupīte could have such a long-term potential if cleaned and maintained.

Lejasvoleri. Although more industrialized than most waterbeyonds in the city, the scenic, lush Krēmeru street is worth to be measured until the very end of this part of the Voleri suburb. Explorers will find themselves in the middle of water and container, peat, and fertilizer terminals, yet the sounds, although always present, are more ambient than expected. Besides, this embankment is perfect if one really wants to take a break from literally everybody; beyond this point there is just nothing else.

Mangaļsala by Vecdaugava. Multiple little coves are scattered along the west bank of Vecdaugava with this semi-private oasis waiting for a discrete visitor. This is the only waterbeyond in the area since most are privatized or turned into often visited locations.

Vecdaugavas dabas liegums. This nature reserve once was a cluster of islands with the very first castle of Riga located right where the only road to it meets water. Now this vast and only walkable flatland is seldom visited, yet offers a panoramic view on a pocket of water once being the actual mouth of Daugava 450 years ago.

Voleru iela. This street along the Daugava river is named after the suburb it belongs to and is an explorer's roulette. Full with unexpected scenic angles pointing toward Daugava along its whole length , it is also packed with possibly messy embankments and utterly unswimmable water right opposite the harbour. Not all pockets are worth it, but you can get very lucky.

Zaķusala. Not only this end is the original part of one of the most known islands in Riga; also the ride to the lower Zaķusala is full with beautiful stops and alternative angles to capture the panorama of the right bank of the city with Old Town and the market area. Should you be dreaming of a romantic getaway right in the heart of Riga, this waterbeyond is a perfect spot, yet only officially and honourably reachable by riding.

Zunds. The lower part of this canal being around for at least 400 years (and, at some point, serving as the central harbour during springtime floods) is one hell of a view. The ascending high-rise panorama to the right, the famous Ķīpsala and its greenery in front, the harbour out and open to the left. What's missing is a maintained embankment, proper road, and established grounds for leisure, grilling, and relaxing. In short, everything all of that is missing.

Zvirgzdu pussala. What was an island 50 years ago, is now a peninsula. Forbidden to be visited full length due to privatisation, this part of Zvirgzdu pussala is still another "tired" central location with a potential gated by a well preserved poplar alley. It's not for swimming, but many still visit this, looking for a peaceful, although slightly forgotten hideaway.

Honorable mentions

Some waterbeyonds are just lousy waterfronts. They are right before our eyes, closer than you think, available, ready to shine. Only one last word of mouth, one final touch, sometimes pricey, sometimes not, is needed. Here are few honourable mentions of waterbeyonds that only need a bit of a refurbishment to become great places to hang out.

Dārziņu atteka. This little pocket of water was still a part of Daugava until the 1970s when the Riga Hydroelectric Power Plant was constructed nearby. Now this is one of the lushest corners in Riga with this bridge being literally the edge of the city - once crossed you are officially out of Riga. Full with birds and kids diving of the bridge, the armlet and its creek in Daugava is one of the best kept secrets in town.

Katlakalna kāpa. Theoretically located already in Ķekava municipality, Katlakalna dunes are another place still right on the edge of the city map. Being an inhabited patrimonial district for the Riga for 400 years, Katlakalns still holds one of the most scenic dune parks next to Daugava. Despite maintained and visited often (by the local residents mostly), the park is way beyond the popular list.

Loču kanāls. Sometimes called the Bolderāja promenade, the Pilot canal is literally one of the waterbeyonds easily to be a famous place to hang out. If not the degraded surroundings, including urban environment, and the distance from "landscapes of of wealth and power". This coastline is worth it, sadly it's too far from where the money, politics, and tourists are.

Nameja/Ķīpsalas krastmala. Although not as degraded as the lower Zunds, both sides of the upper canal has a massive potential to become one of the most vibrant places in the city for the youth culture to flourish. Situated between two creative and large enough universities and still in memories for many as the area of the now-closed suburban cultural hub Zunda dārzs, this part of the canal only needs a gardener, bricklayer, and a bit of caring to thrive.

Vakarbuļļi. This waterbeyond is located at the Piejūra nature park and is sort of decently visited. What makes the place appealing is its vast territory and a unique view at the famous White Dune and the mouth of Lielupe river entering the Baltic Sea. Vakarbuļļi maritime park is fine and kept in satisfactory condition. What makes it "waterbeyond" is the space being almost literally located "on the edge of the world, and it takes some determination to reach it.

Zaļā sala. What was a separate "Green" island 100 years ago, has merged to become the upper Zaķusala. However this corner of the strip is equally scenic to the lower end we already mentioned, Zaļā sala is maybe even better - unofficially, yet often used for swimming, and visited more than other waterbeyonds in the city. We hope for the newly renovated TV tower to tidy the surrounding infrastructure as well and make this edge of the island "great again".

Here is a map with all the places mentioned in this CAPITAL CHRONICLE. We promise to update the list and locations with few other great waterbeyonds we have not had time to visit yet this summer.