Rainy Days in Riga
Welcome to the first of the Baltic country adventures. If the Baltics aren’t on your radar yet, they should be. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are not to be missed next time you’re traveling in Europe, especially since they are very budget friendly! They are small but mighty countries and each one is unique and different than the other. Coming out of the wake of the occupation of the USSR, the Nazi’s and the USSR again, the Baltics are putting themselves on the world map in their own way. When we were planning for our time in the three countries, we found very little help in blogs and info, so we’re here to help you with all the stuff we couldn’t find.
We’ll start with the Southernmost Baltic country of Latvia, in the capital city of Riga – our second stop in our 2017 European adventures!
If you happen to have seen anything about Riga, you most likely have seen pictures of the Old Town, a World Unesco Heritage site. The Old Town is absolutely magical, but there is much more to see in the city that makes it worth visiting. It’s extremely easy to get around by foot and every corner of the city is different. You will surely find something to love for everyone.
Our favorite resource for all things Riga is In Your Pocket. They have an online site and also pocketbook guides you can pick up around the city. You can find In Your Pocket in just about every European city and it’s our favorite because they have spent a lot of time getting together an A-Z guide on each place.
We flew from Copenhagen to Riga, a quick hour and a half flight on AirBaltic which was a great airline. From the airport, you can take a taxi (but why?) or the public buses. There are two that depart from the airport, but we recommend taking the mini bus – number 222. It costs the same as the bigger bus – €1.15, doesn’t stop as frequently as the other, and takes you straight to the central station of Riga. It should take about 15 minutes from the airport. The central station is located right on the edge of the Old Town where you will find the bus terminals and the train station. From Riga, we used the Lux Express bus system to travel through the other two Baltic countries. These luxury buses come with wifi, television, and comfy seats – and you can reserve online ahead of time for crazy cheap.
when to visit
The best weather is from May to September, but due to it’s location near the Baltic Sea, Latvia is still a pretty rainy country. We were there at the tail end of April and first couple days into May and we unfortunately got very cold, wet weather the whole time.
where to stay
There are lots of great Airbnb’s and hostels for very cheap in Riga. We decided on The Naughty Squirrel in the Old Town because we wanted to meet people and maybe join in on some hostel events. Although this was a major party hostel which is generally not our style, we did enjoy its location and amenities.
where to eat & drink
The Latvian national drink is Black Balsam, an infused herbal liquor that is used in cocktails or drank by itself as a shot. You can’t go to Riga without trying Black Balsam in some sort!
♦ BakeBerry – A scrumptious bakery and breakfast restaurant located in the Old Town, try the yummy quiches and pastries – and maybe a dessert to go!
♦ Rocket Bean Roastery – This coffeehouse is located in the hipster district of Riga, the Miera Street area, which is a bit more “grungy” than the Old Town, but it’s the much more local feeling side of town. You will probably want to hop on the tram to get up to this area since it is a few miles outside of Old Town. But it is worth the trek for a great cup of coffee and maybe even a sandwich or a cookie!
♦ Labietis – Also located in the hipster district, this brewery is C O O L and is absolutely a must stop! They have 12-15 beers on tap at any given time and you can pick based off their color coded alcohol content. We tried the pēteris apinis (IPA) and the iezemiete (pale ale, I think?), both very good! Don’t give up if you can’t find this place at first try, we had to walk around the block a couple of times until we found the right entrance, but this hidden gem is worth the adventure it takes to find it.
♦ Alus Arsenals – This restaurant can be found in the Old Town tucked in a little downstairs cellar. Here you can drink some local Riga beer and have some authentic Latvian food. During the summer months there’s a nice outdoor terrace to sit on and enjoy the sun.
♦ Folkklubs ala Pagrabs – My favorite restaurant that we visited, this place is the most authentic Latvian place to eat. It is big, loud, dimly lit, and delish! We had a beer platter full of cheese, meats, and other goodies, along with a plate of meatballs to complement our beers, a honey ale and an IPA. They also play live music many nights out of the week so make sure to check the music schedule for a fun night out!
♦ Brevings – We found this craft beer restaurant/bar in Old Town when we were getting lost around it on our first day in Riga. We eventually found ourselves here grabbing some Belgian beer – our FAVORITE – to get out of the cold. Brevings actually specializes in whisky tastings and it feels a lot more like an Irish pub than a Latvian bar. Make sure to try the Kwak and drink it in the cool glasses you see below!
♦ Skyline Bar – One of our favorite things to do in a city is get up and see the city from above – and even better if you can have a drink while you enjoy it. Skyline Bar is free to hang in before 9 pm on Thursdays or before 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, then you will have to pay a little cover charge of $5. They have an extensive cocktail list and also the regular kind of bar options but I recommend going for something unique to the bar, especially something with Black Balsam!
things to see & do
We had planned on taking a walking tour in Riga, but we ended up getting rained out so we decided not to. Most of what we found was by happenstance just walking around town or getting recommendations from our hostel.
Art Nouveau District
The Art Nouveau district of Riga is actually the largest concentration of this architecture in the world, built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s kind of a hidden outdoor museum of treasures that a typical tourist might not find, however, for those with a keen eye it’s a bit of a gem that you can’t find any other places in the world! It’s worth the walk around the few blocks to see all the beautiful buildings around this district.
Museum of Occupation
This is such a great museum to learn the history of the different Soviet and Nazi occupations of not only Riga, but the Baltic region in general. Although it’s heavily reading based, there are many interesting facts to learn from this museum, especially if you are interested in learning the history of the area! The museum is donation based and you can reserve a guide for about $10 to tell you the most imperative info. It is located in the former US embassy building near the Esplanāde park, a short walk outside of the Old Town.
Vist the Art Galleries
Two of the art galleries that we visited were the Art Museum Riga Bourse located in Old Town and the Latvian National Museum of Art located just outside of the Old Town in Central Riga. In the Bourse Museum you will find mainly Western European and oriental paintings, while the Latvian National Museum houses exhibitions of Latvian art from the last two centuries. Both will cost you about $7 per adult and our recommendation is to go with the Latvian National Museum if you only have time for one.
Walking around Old Town
The Old Town of Riga is not only magical and enchanting, it is a pedestrian only zone – making it so easy to explore. There are many boutique stores, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars around every little alleyway and corner. It’s even fun to just get lost while you’re discovering all your own hidden gems around the streets.
The Freedom Monument is located right in the middle of Central Riga and you probably won’t miss seeing it since it is so central to the city. It is a symbol of unity for Latvians and was constructed in memory and honor of the soldiers who died during the Latvian War of Independence (1918-1920).
Walk through the Parks
Riga has many beautiful green areas to stroll through when exploring the city. The first one that you will find right outside of the Old Town is called Bastejkalns or Bastion Hill. In this peaceful park you will find lots of walking trails, benches to overlook the city canal, and also memorials to those who died there in Latvia’s struggle for freedom after the collapse of the USSR. Another green area in Riga is called the Esplanāde, where you will find the Latvian Museum of Art, the Art Academy and Orthodox Cathedral.
One of our favorite activities at home is playing pool, so we’re always on the hunt for a cool place to play wherever we are traveling. Since the rain never let up while we were in Riga, we walked through Old Town and found some good places to hang out and enjoy the nightlife. The Rock Cafe is most definitely a party bar but we found refuge in the downstairs of the bar, in a small, quiet room with two pool tables. The table is reserved per hour and the drinks are reasonably priced so it’s a perfect spot for playing billiards! Even better, we found a pool hall called NB Billiard Club, cheap pool by the hour and cheap drinks! Gotta try a shot or two of the Balsam!
♦ Tower/ Inside of St. Peter’s Church – St. Peter’s church is located in the center of the Old Town and this is where the free walking tours start daily at 11 am. You can take a tour of the church and ascend the tower to get a bird’s eye view of Old Town, but it’s been recommended to do it on a clear day so you can actually snap some nice pictures! Although we saw the outside of it many times, we never actually went inside of the church.
♦ KGB Museum – This is one attraction that I’m pretty bummed we missed, but we just ran out of time to visit. The KGB was the Soviet’s secret police, in charge of combatting counterrevolution and sabotage throughout the USSR regime. They used harsh measures of oppression and torture to do this, like building secret prisons in buildings around Riga. The KGB museum in Riga offers guided tours of basement prison cells and an exhibition about the history of KGB activities in Latvia during the Soviet occupation.
♦ Soviet/ Nazi Ghetto – This area is located East of the Old Town and is known as the more unsafe area of Riga. Our hostel recommended not to hang around this neighborhood after dark and not to really go out of our way to visit it. There is a museum in this area called the Riga Ghetto Museum, that shows the history of the Latvian Jewish community, Holocaust victims, Nazi propaganda, and the Riga Ghetto itself.
♦ Central Market – This iconic attraction in Riga was at one time the biggest and most modern markets in the world. Currently, it’s under construction but you can still go to find fresh food stalls and see the Zeppelin hangars that the Central Market is housed near.
These are some of our favorites in Riga, have you got any more places to add to our list? Make sure to tell us in the comments below!