A Short And Sweet Stay In Riga
If a cancelled flight always resulted in spending a couple of days in a lovely city, then I’d wish my flights got cancelled more often. When I booked our trip to Northern Europe, the plan was to fly to Helsinki, with a 6 hour layover in Riga, enough to get out, wander a bit in the Old Town, buy a snowglobe and catch the next flight. It all changed when I received an email from Air Baltic, informing me that the flight was cancelled so we were faced with a choice: book another night in Helsinki or stay one night in Riga, either way we would fly at an ungodly hour (3:50 AM). Naturally, we decided to add another city to our itinerary and I don’t regret the choice for a second, since Riga is so charming that it’s impossible not to love. If you’ve never visited Riga but are curious about it, here’s how I spent two relaxing days in the capital of Latvia.
What to see in Riga
Since our hotel couldn’t check us in until 2 PM and we were there at 7 AM, we decided we couldn’t sleep in the lobby so we set out to explore the Old Town which was right at the hotel’s door step. A UNESCO World Heritage site, you’ll fall in love with it even on a gray Sunday morning when the only people on the streets other than your friends are drunk British tourists. Yes, I’m speaking from experience 😉 “A 2 GB card is enough for a couple of days in Riga, right?”, I thought to myself. WRONG, because each building is more beautiful than the other and I spent a lot of time capturing all the interesting details and managed to fill up that card by noon on the first day.
In Old Riga, you can see the stunning House of the Blackheads, built in the 14th century (and reconstructed in 1999) for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild of unmarried merchants. Basically a bachelor, club, right? There’s a funny story behind it, although there are two houses, only the one on the right was originally the guild, but since a merchant wasn’t allowed to be part of their club, he built an almost identical house right next to it, out of spite.
Right next to the House of the Blackheads, you can go up the tower of St Peter’s Church for a bird’s-eye view over Riga. On a day with clear blue sky the view is absolutely gorgeous, but sadly it was a little cloudy when we went and since it’s closed on Mondays, we couldn’t postpone it. You don’t have to worry about climbing a million stairs, since there is an elevator that will take you right at the top.
You can wander around the Old Town and admire the Art Nouveau buildings or you can go to the Albert Street (Alberta iela in Latvian) and see some gorgeous works of art and even a museum dedicated to this architectural style. You’ll run out of superlatives when you see the details on the buildings from this street. 😉
For a taste of the daily life in Riga, you can go to the Central Market where you will find everything from oven mitts, to amber jewelry or traditional food. You can buy all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables, I couldn’t resist those tasty summer berries! Yum!
Riga is a city that’s best explore on foot or taking a walking tour, but if you have limited time, your best bet is to wander around and see the symbols of the city (such as the Freedom Monument) or charming corners (such as the Esplanade Park or the City Hall).
Where to eat & drink in Riga
When you need to wander around for 6 hours after a sleepless night, coffee is the only solution. Luckily, I knew a great cafe, Rigensis, and we waited in front of it for 20 minutes until it opened, but once we were inside, we were in awe: they had so many different pastries and cakes, we couldn’t decide what to get. So we bought everything! 😀 I don’t want to spoil it, because a full review will be coming soon, but if you only have time for one place, this should be it.
I was buying amber jewelry when I heard a live band singing pop covers at the Egle restaurant and I went to check it out. With an imminent rain, I decided to find a table there, especially since their prices were quite good considering it was right in the heart of the Old Town. The food however surprised me. It was SO good! While my friends all ordered burgers, I decided to try the fish with mashed cauliflower and ratatouille, it was probably the best thing I ate the whole trip. We all liked it so much that we went back the second day as well. Seriously, do not skip the ratatouille, my mouth is watering just by thinking about it 😉
If you haven’t visited the St Peter’s Church Tower, then you should make time and go for a cocktail at the Skyline Bar at the top of the Radisson Hotel. If you go at noon when it opens, you have the whole place to yourself and you can choose whichever table you like best for a breathtaking view. I recommend the Clavis Riga cocktail, made with Black Balsam, a traditional Latvian strong black currants liqueur. A lot of people don’t like it, but we have some similar traditional drinks in Romania, so I quite loved it (even bought a couple of bottles as souvenirs! 😉 ).
Where to stay in Riga
Since it was for only one night, we figured we should stay right in the Old Town and that we can afford a nice place, so we booked a room at Wellton Old Riga Palace Hotel. With €60/night for a double room, it may not have been the cheapest option in Riga, but the room was nice, the location was excellent and the breakfast had everything you could have wanted and something extra, definitely better than the ones that followed. Besides, you can book a room with a massage, spa or sauna package. 😉
Although it’s a small city, I would happily return any time in Riga because I am sure I would discover charming new parts I didn’t see before. Is Riga worth visiting? Absolutely, 100% YES! I promise you will be convinced the minute you step on its cobblestone streets in the Old Town.