Riga, the capital of Latvia, is the most famous city in the Baltic region and is commonly known as the party capital with immense pub culture. It’s a city which packs UNESCO listed historical Old town center (just like Vilnius), the famous Black Balsam and which as per the legend, is a city that is not yet completely built (or probably will never to make sure that it don’t sink into the waters of the Daugava!).
Well, most of the things to see & do in the city are in the Old Town, which has river Daugava on one side and Green belt of Bastion Hill Park with a canal on other side.
Staying in the Old Town is not an easy choice one can make. Irrespective of which hotel/apartment one stays, the late night noise from the nearby pubs/bars would be there to haunt you – thanks to Riga’s night life! We knew the scene before booking the hotel, but still we went for the hotel Radi Und Dragui in the Old Town, but with a specific room request facing the backyard only to minimize the noise!
Arriving into the city centre (bus/train station), the first thing one would probably notice is the ‘Central Market‘ – giant shopping area which acts a lifeline of locals and sells everything from fresh food to electronics. There are separate sections for every things and a visit inside the Central Market is definitely recommended.
Back of Central Market, is the Oldest Wooden Russian Church and a few steps further is the building of Academy Sciences, popularly known as ‘Stalin’s Birthday Cake‘ because of the building structure which resembles like a cake. Getting to the top to capture Riga’s 360° is actually more advisable than the popular St Peter Church and it also costs much lesser.
Crossing train station and across the street, one would be in Bastion Hill Park. It’s actually a nice idea to take the stroll in the park along the canal or also to take a boat ride across canal. We only strolled in the park!
The strolling would take you to the National Opera and continuing further one would reach Laima Clock & eventually at Monument of Freedom, the symbol of Latvia.
From here, one can either continue the stroll through the park towards the Ferry terminal or turn left towards the core of Old Town. As we did, let’s turn left! And it’s the street Kaļķu iela, the main walking street of the city and possibly the home to most of the pub scams in the city (it’s expected in a city which is so much popular for it’s pub culture!).
The Old Town is filled with small alleys and narrow cobblestoned streets. And as a result moving along with one route plan in mind is fairly difficult. It’s a place to get lost and be an explorer of your own – we did the same and ended up in same street multiple times :). However the important sights are: Powder Tower, City Wall/Swedish Gate, Three Brothers House, Dome Cathedral, House of Blackheads, St Peter Church, monument of Bremen Musicians, Riga Castle/Castle Square, Cat Square.
Take an old Town tour to get familiarize and to know the insights. There are multiple options from fixed cost tours to hop on hop off to pay-as-much-you-want (or more commonly known as FREE or tip-based) tours. We, personally, a big fan of tip-based tours, solely based on the fact that the guide goes an extra mile further in explaining the things deeply in order to earn that additional tip as money.
Definitely recommended is the stroll along the river Daugava and the view of old town across the river. Take the bridge and get to the other side to catch some significant views of Riga! While strolling learn a bit more about Riga’s other legend – The Big Christopher!
To be frank before visiting Latvia we were not sure what to expect in Latvian Cuisine, apart from potatoes. So, tried few restaurants serving authentic Latvian cuisine and in that process came across below (all in & around the Old Town):
It happens very seldom that we end up at same place more than once during our travel. BUT, it happened right there in Riga with restaurant Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs. We have to thank mainly our tour guide for this one, otherwise we would not have known about the place (see, the tip-based tour are actually good!). The restaurant serves local cuisine at a very reasonable price with tons of beer selection and live music night almost daily. The restaurant is in Old Town and in the basement, so could be a bit tricky to find. But, if you are in Riga, definitely go there once.
Next is the famous Lido – they have three restaurants all over the city and we tried the one in Old Town (Alus Seta) – it’s a self service one with great interiors and good food.
Double Coffee – Chain of cafes which can be find in almost every street in Riga – serves great coffees with nice selection of eatable.
The only other cuisine we tried apart from Latvian during our trip was Indian (of course!) at Singh’s – was great to find some authentic North Indian taste with a slightly over priced menu (as per Riga’s food culture, where there are tons of options one can choose!).
Our breakfast was booked with the hotel, which we knew was going to be delicious as we checked before booking (it was also a factor to book this hotel). They serve breakfast buffet with a lot of options – local breads, cheese, bacons, beans, eggs, pancakes to fruits to sweet delicacies with tea, coffee & juices. And few people even enjoying beer in the morning. I am not sure how can one drink beer in the breakfast, but I have seen at times during travel to different countries people actually does that! Maybe, I have to sit with some locals next time and try it!!
Few of the Latvian dishes to try:
Warm Fried Beans
Latvian Garlic bread
Potato fries (it’s not typical French fries!)
Latvian Meat Balls
thick rye bread pudding
From party point of view, there are plenty of pubs & bars all around Old Town which are open late night and provide high quality service. BUT, be aware of pubs which are involved in the scams.
Alus is the local Latvian beer with good taste.
Our stay in Riga was of 4 nights/3 days with last day as a day trip to nearby town Sigulda and we travelled to Riga from Vilnius by bus. There are plenty of options to reach Riga and the connection between all Baltic states are really good. There are lot of budget airlines as well flying in & from Riga, which makes getting into Riga fairly cheap!
Overall, we completely enjoyed our time in Riga and it’s one of the places which is highly recommended as short getaways for someone living or visiting Europe.
At the end, a short video: