Where you say? Yes, Riga. It’s a place and it does exist. We’ve been there. It’s in that little known place Latvia, a country you may hear about in Eurovision.
Well, how many people do you know have been to Riga? Apart from that guy who went for his stag-do, I doubt you’ll know many people. An ex-soviet country, Latvia intrigued us. We’ve been to Tallinn before and if that’s anything to go by, Riga would be great. It was also an affordable break for the Bank Holiday.
How to get there?
We flew from London Gatwick this time to Riga International Aiport, flying on a 4 month old plane with Air Baltic (a Bombardier CS300 if you particularly want to know), Latvia’s own airline. Flight times are odd, mainly from the demand being low but our flight out was 9:25am and our flight home at 3:40pm. Flight time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.
The new Air Baltic planes are really nice. Seats feel wider compared to other low cost airlines, especially with only 5 seats to a row, two on the left side and three on the right and your legroom is great. Hand baggage is limited to a 8kg small roll on bag (55x40x20) and a personal item, perfect for a backpack weekend.
After boarding our flight, we did sit at the stand for an hour mainly due to the British Airways computer failure. This did mean that we arrived an hour later than planned at 3:50pm with a 40 minte bus to catch from there, meaning we we’re in town ready for dinner time. Luckily for us, sunset wasn’t until 10pm in Riga during our stay, meaning we could easily get around town.
We stayed at the Ibis Riga Centre, perfectly located near transport connections, a few supermarkets and a 10 minute walk into town. The rooms and hotel are recently developed (on Google Maps, you’ll find it as a derelict building!) however you can tell it has been done to a budget. The rooms are basic but comfortable, shapes and sizes are mixed but we had a few little issues with our room. We had a light that wouldn’t switch off on the Saturday night on our stay, there was no hot water Riga wide, and being in a new building basically meant you could feel the floorboards move around when anyone walked past your room.
After dropping off bags, we decided to walk into town and have a browse around as well as grab some snacks to eat.
Being our first and only full day in Riga, we decided to make the most of it. After a breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to Riga’s central market which on comparison to other markets in Europe is incredibily organised but is also the largest in Europe after opening in 1930. Riga’s central market has quite a lot of history, previously located further up the river during Sweden’s reign over Latvia and it was moved to it’s current location after trade routes changed from ferries to rail from Russia. Latvia was part of the USSR until 1991. The Central Market is actually made up of numerous German Zeppelin hangars so it’s great to wander around.
From here, we walked to the Latvian Academy of Sciences where you can pay 5EUR to go to it’s panoramic view. Walking inside, it looks almost like an abandoned building but with a point to the lift from the security guard and a walk up a few flights of stairs, you’re treated to an amazing view of Riga.
Being hungry and after being in the sun for too long, we headed into town stopping at the Orion shopping centre and the Galerija Centrs for drinks and an opportunity to hide from the baking hot sunshine. The sun was shining all day even through we were expecting rain.
After cooling down, we headed out into the Old Town. Full of old churches, cathedrals and old fashioned stores, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can easily walk around the city in a day, just be aware of the cobbled streets and even though narrow, taxis still drive down them. We walked from the House of the Blackheads in a loop past St Peter’s Church (which also has a viewing platform apparently), making our way to the Laima Clock Tower and the Freedom Monument.
The Freedom monument comemorates those who lost their lives during the Latvian War between 1918 and 1920. It’s a very important landmark, to the point we saw people laying wreaths while we walked past.
Moving on, we walked past the Powder Tower, known locally at Pulvertornis. The Powder tower is part of the Latvian War Museum and was rebuilt in 1940. It was originally part of the defense of the old town, which is closely related to Jacob’s Barracks, the city wall and houses that can be found to the right of the tower.
In the city wall, you’ll find the Swedish Gate, an important part of the city wall since 1698 allowing access to the city for farmers and traders from the country side. From here, you can easily get to the more important buildings and squares in Riga. Honestly, you can wander around the old town streets for days. We stumbled upon Riga’s Cathedral, which you can pay to go inside. The surrounding area is full of resturants and cafes which is perfect for sitting outside, especially when there’s musicians playing outside of the Cathedral.
From here, you can see the Daugava River. During Sweden’s reign, the river was diverted into star shaped canals around the old town, partly as defense but also to get goods for trade into the city, such as furs and food. During the USSR’s reign, they reduced the use of the river and concentrated on rail networks, however there’s still evidence of the old canals throughout the city. You can even hire row boats or hop on a canal tour. We decided to sit here for a while and watch people mooch about on the river.
We then headed back to our hotel, which unfortunately we had some trouble with. We found some of our shopping bags missing from our room! Yes, however after a few calls and a chat with the manager, it was addressesd. Not ideal, but a solution was provided – yet it did put a downer on our weekend 😦
After packing and checking out of the hotel, we hit the shops. Luckily Riga has all my favourite stores too!! Cropp Towen, Reserved, New Yorker, NYX, House and many more! Yippee. Then it was off to the airport for flying home.
What an interesting weekend.
I enjoyed Riga. Its not the stag-do capital you expect it to be. It’s full of amazing people, architecture, history and greenery. Honestly, how many parks does a city need?! Buildings reminded me of Wes Anderson movies, just needed M.Gustave to run past with his L’Air de Panache odour following behind him.
I do feel that if the flight times were good, you could easily do Riga in a day as after our Sunday in the city, we felt we were repeating ourselves a little. If you’re planning a longer stay, you can get the train to the beach (yes there’s a beach and it’s awesome), or the bus to the zoo. Alternatively why not try another cities like Vilinus, Tallinn or even Helsinki (you’ll need a ferry for this one).
Riga was a really cool place to visit, with lots of nice people and nice architecture to match. It felt pretty relaxed walking around the city with lots of narrow roads to meander through while occasionally glancing up at the many ornate buildings and trying to spot cat statues hiding up on the roof. Riga was also pretty good for shopping, with lots of fashion shops enabling us both to stock up on some new clothes! I really enjoyed the panoramic views from the Latvian Academy of Sciences, we spent almost an hour slowly walking around and admiring the cityscape while also reading about Riga’s history on Wikipedia. It’s an interesting place and well worth a visit.