Riga in 3 words
Riga is: sophisticated, cultured, vibrant
My time in Riga
Riga, the capital of the Baltic country Latvia, was the 2014 European Capital of Culture and it shows. As I was coming from Vilnius, Riga immediately gave the appearance of being a comparatively wealthier city, and it had the feel of a dynamic Eastern European city as opposed to a former Soviet city. It was probably the most ‘touristy’ out of the Baltic cities, but that didn’t take away from the allure of the city.
Riga is a beguiling city that will seduce you with its refined and sophisticated exterior, and which will make you fall in love with its vibrant and complex interior once you get beyond the surface. Make sure to spend some time out of the Old Town to experience the real Riga.
Things to do in Riga
House of Blackheads Admire the House of Blackheads in Riga Town Hall Square, which once housed unmarried German merchants who were allegedly responsible for erecting the first Christmas Tree.
St Peter’s Church Tower
Freedom monument Between Old and Central Riga, the soaring Freedom Monument honours the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence from 1918 to 1920, and reminds locals of the importance of freedom and independence – amazingly, the monument was not torn down during the Soviet occupation.
Art Nouveau District Being one of the Art Nouveau centres of the world, architecture plays an important part in Riga, and stunning examples of buildings in the Art Nouveau style are abundant throughout the city. Have a wander through the Art Nouveau district around Elizabetes and Alberta streets where you’ll soon develop a sore neck from constantly looking up and admiring all of the intricate detailing and decorative features of the opulent pastel-coloured building facades.
Riga Art Nouveau Museum The museum is an early twentieth-century apartment furnished in the classic Art Nouveau style. I wouldn’t recommend it as the first thing to cross off your Riga to-do list unless you are an architecture aficionado – although the stairwell inside the building is absolutely stunning. Note that you will need to pay in order to take photos inside the museum.
Riga Central Market Check out one of Europe’s largest markets, the Riga Central Market, which is held in five sprawling hangars and sells unique Latvia products and produce. You’ll have the opportunity to mingle with the locals doing their daily bout of shopping, and it is also conveniently located next door to the Riga Coach Station.
Miera Street Head out of the Old Town and make a beeline to Miera iela (Peace Street), which I had read about beforehand as being a hipster-esque hub with plenty of trendy cafes and bars. I walked there during the day, and although it was a really cute street to wander down, I wouldn’t exactly say it was ‘buzzing’ by any means. It could have been the time of day or, more likely, I didn’t know where these ‘cool’ places were, but it was still nice to get away from the picture-perfect bubble of the Riga Old Town. Walk up the entire length of Miera iela until you reach the park and burial ground (Lielie kapi), where you can find decaying mausoleums and grave stones located in the park grounds.
Kalnciema Street Quarter Also out of the Old Town is the Kalnciema Street Quarter, which is an entertainment area in a complex of renovated wooden buildings and a popular venue with locals. Again, I went during the daytime, and I must have gone on the wrong day because there didn’t seem like there was much going on or anything to see. However, if you do happen to head there on the right day, you may come across farmer’s markets, open-air concerts and a bit more activity than what I witnessed.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
Go on a bike tour One thing I would recommend is going on a bike tour around Riga. I went on a bike tour through the company E.A.T. and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I happened to be the only person on the bike tour which ordinarily would have meant that the tour would have been cancelled (it was heading towards low season when I was travelling), but the guide was kind enough to take me so it ended up being a one-on-one tour. It meant that we were able to chat about his life in Riga and I felt that I was able to learn a lot more about what local life was like. It was a great way to explore other parts of Riga such as the Moscow District, which is more of a run-down working-class area with plenty of character. It is here that you’ll find the Old Jewish Cemetery, which was part of the Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation.
Eat: Head to the popular Latvian chain restaurant LIDO, which is set up as a Russian-style cafeteria, a remnant carried over from Soviet rule, where you pick the dishes you want to eat from the buffet – it’s a cheap option for eating out and a nice way to get a taste of local life.
Drink: For cocktails and a free view of the city, head to the Skyline Bar on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel.
During my time in Riga, I stayed at the fantastic Cinnamon Sally Backpackers Hostel as I was solo travelling, and it was one of my favourite hostels during my entire trip. The hostel workers are lovely and will while away the hours playing a game of ‘snap’ with you in the common area (what a job!), and it was a terrific place to meet fellow travellers. There are the usual pub crawls that I was somehow cajoled into one night, although, in all honesty, I probably didn’t need all that much convincing. If you’re backpacking, this is the place to stay. Oh, and there’s also free waffles. Yum.
Don’t want to stay in a hostel? The Konventa Seta Hotel is a budget hotel housed in a former convent in the heart of the Old Town. If you’re after swanky accommodation, try the art-nouveau style Neiburgs Hotel also located in Riga Old Town.
I arrived in Riga from Vilnius via bus, which took approximately 4.5 hours. I would recommend going with Lux Express as the coaches are extremely comfortable and clean, and also offer free wi-fi and a power supply by every seat, or pair of seats, to charge portable items. The Riga Coach Station (Prāgas iela 1, Rīga, LV- 1050) is located next to the Central Market and it is a 15–20 minute walk to the Old Town.
Once in Riga, the public transport system includes a trolleybus, tram and bus network, but I always recommend walking around in order to take in all the sights and to stumble upon hidden gems!
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