See Soviet-Era Automobiles and Cult Classic Cars at the Riga Motor Museum, Latvia

What to do when in Riga?
Explore THE most extensive classic car collection in the Baltics

Winter is a wonderful time to visit the charming capital of Latvia. Even when the weather isn’t perfect there is plenty to do, explore and enjoy. If you’re looking for something to entertain your crew inside, steer yourselves to Riga’s Motor Museum for an interactive and interesting look at the evolution of automobiles in this former Soviet republic.

1956 Moskvitch 401/420

LATVIA’S INDUSTRIAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE

Latvia only recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence, in 2018. But even that fête was a bit complicated, especially for visitors who know that Latvia was part of the former Russian empire and then later, the USSR. But don’t call Latvians Russian. While truly autonomous from 1918, tumultuous times during World War II saw Latvia succumb to occupation and incorporation into the Soviet Union beginning June 1940. It was not until August 1991 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally recognized the country’s call for self-governance. From the minute you step into Riga you can see and feel the various influences.

Leonid Brezhnev’s 1966 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
SOVIET ERA AUTOMOBILES AND INFLUENCE ON DISPLAY AT RIGA’S MOTOR MUSEUM

Under Soviet rule, citizens were only permitted to purchase cars produced by domestic manufacturers. Even though difficult to afford and often with long waiting periods to procure, several Soviet auto brands had dedicated supporters. You can see several of the automaker’s designs on display here at the museum and get a feel for life during this period with an interactive exhibit sharing details from the communal housing developments of this time. Look out for the Volgas, Moskviches, Zaparozhets, Pobedas – names not as popular or well-known around the world as maybe BMW, Ford, Ferrari or Nissan, but were seriously coveted by citizens of the USSR and still are for current collectors.

And while the USSR may have required its citizens to live frugally, not all the top party brass played to the same tune. The Kremlin collection at the museum shows off some of those seriously expensive and exclusive rides. See the infamous Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow gifted to senior party minister Leonid Brezhnev which he eventually crashed (see image above). Here at the museum it is presented with a cool video display using the iconic kiss mural some of you may know from the Berlin Wall.


READ MORE: EXPLORE BERLIN DURING LIGHTFEST

Gaz 22 Volga | Soviet passenger car
1956 Moskvitch 401/420 | Soviet-era passenger car

Life in a Soviet-era housing block
LATVIAN AUTO MANUFACTURERS AND DESIGNERS

Before there was a Ford Motor Company, one of Latvia’s own – Augusts Krastiņš – started the Krastins Automobile Company in Cleveland, Ohio with some impressive starting capital for 1901. Maybe even more than Henry himself could cull. A true innovator, Krastins created twelve different patents for many automotive developments including self-cleaning spark plugs. Unfortunately, his Latvian industrial domination was doomed – in part to Krastins own perfectionism and a devastating facility fire in 1904. You can see one of the very few Latvian Krastin cars on display here in Riga.

1903 Latvian Krastin car

During the Soviet period, Latvian passenger van company RAF (not the Royal Air Force) but Rīgas Autobusu Fabrika was producing and building minibusses in Riga. You can see this pretty sweet olive green number here on site.

1963 RAF Latvian passenger van
CELEBRATING MOTOR SPORTS AND OTHER AUTO MAKERS

Beyond Latvian and Soviet car classics, you’ll find other automotive makers you might know here in Riga. From iconic VW Beetles to Fiats, Audis and even this charming cult classic – the East German Trabant. Familiarly known as a “Trabi” this little car has an impressive fan following far beyond the former iron curtain. You’ll see other vintage racing cars, motorcycles and rally cars in this section and have a chance to virtually try your skills at different race tracks around the world.

1960 Trabant P50

1935 Monte Carlo rally Amilcar CGS
1935 Swedish racing motorcycle Husqvarna 500
OPENING HOURS AND TICKET PRICES FOR RIGA MOTOR MUSEUM

Rīgas Motormuzejs | Riga Motor Museum
Sergeja Eizenšteina iela 8, Vidzemes priekšpilsēta
Rīga, LV-1079, Latvia
+ 371 67025888

OPEN: 10.00 – 18.00 daily
CLOSED: 23-24 June, 24-25 December, 31 December, 1 January
Check website for up to date closures

TICKET PRICES:
Adults | 10€
Children, students, seniors (60+) | 5€
Family ticket (2 adults + up to 4 children) | 20€
Family ticket (1 adult + up to 4 children) | 15€
Children under 6 | FREE

GOOD TO KNOW: We spent about 2 hours at the museum and felt we had enough time to experience everything. There is a café on site, but we did not eat there, so can’t offer any review.

Where to stay in Riga?

We have a family of five and picked an apartment on Airbnb in Riga’s old town and loved where we were, but wouldn’t recommend our specific rental. While there are worthy things to see on the other side of the river, for your first visit – seek out a spot near old town or in the center city. From here you’ll be walking distance to all the many sites you’ll want to see as well as have easy access to public transportation.

Note: These are affiliate links and if you click through and book your room at Booking.com, I receive a small kickback at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog.



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What else to do around Riga this winter?

Want to know what else there is to do for a long weekend away in the Latvian capital come colder weather? Besides wandering the windy little cobblestone lanes of Riga’s old town or finding new treats in the huge central market – we had a ball going bobsledding in nearby Sigulda on the Latvian Olympic training track. And how about dog sledding with rescued Husky dogs? Or strap on some bogshoes and slosh through an ancient peat bog. You can do it all here. Read more below:

RESPONSIBLE HUSKY DOG SLEDDING OUTSIDE RIGA
WILD WINTER FUN | SLIDE DOWN THE LATVIAN OLYMPIC BOBSLED TRACK
GO BOGSHOEING ON AN ANCIENT LATVIAN PEAT BOG

 

We loved Latvia. Affordable (compared to Scandinavia) for our family of five to explore, eat out and find fun activities. It was a happy discovery. I’ve been back in November and would love to see summer when canal boats and cafés invite people to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful Baltic beaches beckon. Have you been?

Pin for later or share this post now. Cheers from here. Come to Latvia, she said.

23 thoughts on “See Soviet-Era Automobiles and Cult Classic Cars at the Riga Motor Museum, Latvia

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Don’t know Arvo Part – I’ll look up the music today! Working on a What to do in Riga post – stay tuned!

    2. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Ok – I looked up Arvo Pärt and listened to some of his lovely music. But looks like he is Estonian, not Latvian – but definitely one of the former USSR Baltic states! Thanks for the new tunes to listen to. Very soothing.

  1. I don’t do museums very often, but something like this definitely peaks my interest! Especially since I just watched a History Channel doc on Henry Ford, Chrysler, GM. It’s a shame that the Latvian auto company started in Cleveland didn’t survive but interesting to know that many patents came from him! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      When you’re married to an ex-Ford guy and definite “gear head” you always go to the car museum! 😜

  2. I am somethng of a fan of the Trabant! And this looks like retro heaven. I like that you can tell a lot about the social history through the cars. #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Have you ever driven a Trabi? There is a tour you can do in Trani-Safari in Berlin! I would love to do that!

  3. The more I read about your trip to Latvia, the more I know my kids would love it. A car museum and a husky sledge ride in one trip would be heaven for my two! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      What time of year will you be visiting? It’s such a beautiful town – I loved all the Art Nouveau architecture!

  4. Bright Lights of America

    I had no idea about Latvia’s history and ties with Russia (call me ill-informed or just plain lazy). Had I not known the cars were in Latvia, I would have definitely thought they were in a Russian museum. Great post, and thanks for brushing me up on the history! I love history, so this will be my next research “project”. #FarawayFiles

  5. This museum looks fascinating, I love these old vintage cars and they look so stylish. It was an incredible era in history.

    Growing up attending classic car and bike motor-racing events and now living with a petrol-head, I’ve quite grown to enjoy visiting these museums. Great, thanks for sharing #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Haha – me too! He prefers the title “gear head” though as he is fine with electric performance vehicles too!

  6. It’s interesting to see that cars behind the Iron Curtain didn’t look too dissimilar to those in the West. And of course, the rulers always were able to get the most exclusive and best of the day. The question is who gifted the Silver Shadow to Brezhnev.

  7. This museum sounds so fascinating. I would love to visit Riga. I loved Tallinn, Estonian and was very intrigued by their independence fight and USSR connection. Many of the cars have the same look as in other part of world. Great post Erin loved reading it.

  8. Never heard of any of those cars – how interesting! It must be fascinating for those in the know to see some of these in the flesh. My husband’s grandfather gifted the first car to the Beauieu Motor museum – that’s about as much as I know about these vintage beauties, although I quite fancy a drive from London to Brighton (with hat on of course!) one day. #farawayfiles

  9. So much fascinating history in this post, and great pics too. Love the front of the museum built to look like the front of a vehicle. Latvia hasn’t especially been on my radar to date but it might be one for a long weekend sometime perhaps #CulturedKids

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