The Baltic countries belong to some of the most underestimated places in Europe. Maybe it’s due to Latvias rather small size but when we told friends, that we were planning to go to Riga, reactions were rather semi-optimistic.
With a size of 700.000 inhabitants, Riga may not be the biggest capital in Europe, but it is certainly, and I cannot stress that enough, one of the most beautiful you will find. Its neoclassical architecture, rich cultural atmosphere, delicious bars, cafés and restaurants combined with an unexpected openness, friendliness and proficiency in the English language made our stay there one of the most colorful city-trips I have ever made. The amount of galleries, art-exhibitions and cultural offers is absolutely incredible. Additionally, the prices for food and accommodation are relatively low, which makes Riga the perfect place for a spontaneous weekend-getaway.
When you’re a citizen of the European Union, you don‘t really have to prepare a lot. Simply book a flight (Ryanair offers very (!) cheap flights from Cologne-Bonn and Dusseldorf Weeze – we got there and back again for 40 € each). Since Latvia is part of the EU, the Euro is their currency. If you come from a non-EU state, you can simply withdraw cash at the airport without additional fees.
We decided to stay in Central Hostel Riga and booked a room for two. Prices for accommodation and food in Latvia are comparatively low, so we only had to pay 13€ per night/person in our hostel. Central hostel is, as the name already says, centrally located and right between the Old and New Riga. It was clean, had helpful, friendly staff, a small but nice breakfast included and a nice atmosphere. Additionally, if you’re craving a late night snack, you can find many options close by. I can definitely recommend this one. Other places I heard really good things about are Cinnamon Sally and The Naughty Squirrel.
I have seldom been to a city where I felt so secure. I‘m sure there are pickpockets in certain areas, but overall Riga is very safe.
Day 1: Arrival day
Our flight from Cologne-Bonn arrived in Riga around 9 PM. To get to the city center, simply take Bus 22 or 222, which arrives and leaves super regularly. A single ticket costs 2 EUR.
The ride to the city center takes approximately 20 minutes. After check-in at the hostel, we decided to take a walk through the Old Town to gain first insight into the city. And it was definitely worth it. The Old Town is big enough to actually feel like you‘re in a city, but small enough to walk everywhere and not get too lost. Our walk took about 1 1/2 hours (and the devouring of one kebab), after which we were happy to go to sleep.
Day 2: The Old Town & Central Riga
On our first proper day, we decided to take a guided walking tour with Yellow Tours. Yellow Tours are free of charge and are usually guided by locals, who show the hidden gems and well-known treasures of their hometown. The tours are held every day at 12 PM, starting point is in front of St. Peter‘s Church. We were very lucky with a charming young lady as our guide, who appeared to be a walking dictionary – her knowledge as well as her fun of sharing it seemed endless. Of course, your guide will be happy about tips, which we were more than happy to give.
- St. Peter‘s Church
- Central Market
- The Academy of Sciences
- Maskavas Forstate
- Freedom Monument
- The National Opera
After the tour, we had a decent understanding of the Old and New Riga. We decided to have a further look at the Art Nouveau District, where you will find some of Europe‘s most beautiful architecture. Especially the Alberta iela will leave you astonished. Check out Riga Orthodox Cathedral when you get there. It‘s neo-byzantine architecture from the outside and the inside will leave a lasting impression.
After a snack at Lidos in the Old Town, we went back to Central Riga and strolled through the different shops and galleries. Spontaneously, we decided to go the the Great Cemetery, a (very) old graveyard in the outskirts of Riga. If you decide to go there as well, and you‘ve followed our day so far, I‘d recommend you to visit the graveyard another day. It is a great place for b/w photography, but after our day being so filled with literally everything you can do in Riga, we were no longer really appreciative of its beauty.
Day 3: Central Riga, Old Town, Pardaugava & Andrejsala
On that day, we wanted to have a look at Maskavas Forstate, which translated means: Moscow‘s suburb. Check out Latgalite Flea Market when you get there to enjoy a mixture of everything to buy. Literally everything: old gas masks, remote controls and copper cables are lined up next to cameras, phones, bags and lots of stuff you cannot even name.
Close to the Latgalite is the famous Academy of Sciences (also called Stalin’s Birthday Cake) where you will enjoy a fabulous view over the city for 4 EUR. Afterwards, we decided to go the Central Market. Central Market offers you literally everything that is delicious: fresh meats and fish, dairy products, vegetables and fruit as well as clothes and bits and pieces of loads of other things. We had Pelmeni for brunch, which was the best we could have done for our stomachs (Black Balzam. All I‘m saying).
After that, we took Trolley 25 and went to the other side of the River, Pardaugava to check out the Kalnciema Quarter which is known for its beautiful, wooden architecture and open air markets. We decided to walk back through the Uzvaras Park and cross the Akemns Tilts Bridge to check out the National Library. Its postmodern architecture is even better from the inside, where glass-ceilings and floors give you the illusion of being in a fully transparent building.
Arriving on the other side of Riga agin, we strolled once more through the Old Town. There so just so much to see there! The rest of the evening, we went to Andrejsala, an industrial peninsular which will enable you to take the most amazing photo shots. We decided to go there during sunset, and it was definitely worth it!
Day 4: Jurmala and Central Riga
On our fourth day, we decided to take a trip to Jurmala. Jurmala used to be the spot for Russian nobility to spend their summer holidays. Today, it is a small and pretty town 20 mins from Riga by train, where you can enjoy fine sandy beaches, good food and fresh air. Unfortunately, the season for summer holidays was long gone when we came here, which is why the place was overall a bit deserted. However, if you fancy the ocean, enjoy a nice stroll and like the mixture of pompous villas and rotting, but charming little ghost-houses, you will definitely enjoy a day in Jurmala. The train ticket (return) costs 2.80 EUR (not kidding), tickets can easily be purchased at the Central Train Station.
After our return, we decided to go to the movies. Riga has one of the most beautiful cinemas in Europe, the Splendid Palace, which definitely deserves its name. A ticket costs 4 EUR for students, 5 EUR for regular adults and the cinema offers a broad range of Latvian, German and American films. After the film, we went to the Radisson Blu Hotel Skyline Bar, which is just around the corner from the Splendid Palace. The entrance fee was 3 EUR that night, but the view over the city from the 26th floor at night is amazing and the cocktails were decently priced and deliciously mixed.
When you go back home, simply take bus 22/222 getting you back to the airport. Traffic might delay the ride, so be sure to start your return journey early enough. The airport itself is rather small, so you won‘t have to wait very long before you‘re through with security checks.
More pictures? Here you go.