In the heart of the Baltic region lies a city with a Western feel in Eastern Europe.
With a twist.
A couple years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to place Latvia on a map, yet here I find myself driving alongside the Baltic Sea.
As the beautiful endless yellow fields, my favourite part of this region thus far, are now replaced with highland forests I wonder what to expect in the Baltic’s largest city.
Nothing comes to mind. I’m not sure actually.
I had a (mostly) wonderful time in Russia and unexpectedly found myself heading West without much of a plan. Without much research.
72 hours later and I find myself on a bus, this time, heading south into Lithuania. The river joins our path and I reflect back on the last couple of days and my time in Riga Lativa.
As the 2014 European Capital of Culture, the year in which I visited, the city was alive with a number of cultural celebrations. I enjoyed getting lost in the historical cobblestone streets of the Old Town, discovering a mix of old and new, a burgeoning culinary scene and amazing nightlife.
Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Should you also find yourself in Riga, something I highly recommend, here are my recommendations on some of the…
Travel Riga – Top things to do:
1) Treat your taste buds to some local delicacies at the Centrāltirgus Market
Walking around the Central Market- a vibrant, Soviet-style market, one of the largest in Europe- I was certainly spoilt for choice. Everything from the freshest cherries to the strangest of fish. This colourful farmer’s market, divided into five sections, is housed in old Zeppelin hangars making it difficult to miss.
Bonus: It has Riga’s cheapest produce and is easily reachable from the old town by foot.
2) Enjoy the city’s green space with a stroll through Bastejkalns
In the heart of the city I stumbled upon the Freedom Monument. A female liberty stands at the top of the tall structure holding up three stars, representing three regions of Latvia. Bastion Hill, a beautiful park, lies adjacent to this monument. So grab a sandwich and a book and head to this beautiful park to discover why it’s a favourite spot among locals.
Bonus: The Latvian National Opera, a unique architectural piece of the 19th century is nearby. Check it out if you have time
3) Gain some historic knowledge at the Museum of Occupation
Rated as one of most important museums in the Baltics. Through a collection of pictures, articles, weapons and more, the museum aims to show the effects of the Nazi occupation and the Soviet Union during and after World War II. Perfect if you want to learn more about what took place in Latvia during the occupations.
Hat-tip: Free entry, open 11am weekdays
4) And then even more knowledge at the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
As the name suggests, a dozens of farmhouses, churches and windmills provide a record of a bygone country life. Representing all five regions in one place. Perfect if you would like to know how life once was in Latvia.
Extra tip: To get there take bus #1 near Circus on Merkela street
5) Discover the grandeur of the Orthodox Cathedral
The Cathedral, built in the middle of the 19th century, was converted from a church to a planetarium, cinema and cafeteria during Soviet times. It has since been renovated and is now one of the largest and grandest structures in Riga.
6) Explore the Moscow District
The whole district with its old wooden houses and variety of churches is worth discovering. There’s also a flea market in the Russian section across the railways tracks, which is interesting.
7) Get lost in Old Town charm
One of the nicest places to wander, with narrow streets that unexpectedly open into large squares or lead into wide boulevards.
Travel tip: Take the elevator to the top of Peter’s Church Tower for a great view of the city, the river Daugava and the Gulf of Riga
8) The House of Blackheads in Town Hall Square is an amazing piece of architecture that you certainly won’t want to miss.
9) Admire Gutmanis Cave
Covered in graffiti dating back to the 16th century, with water that is said to have healing powers.
10) Be amazed at the incredible view from the Skyline Bar on the 26th floor of the Radisson Hotel. I couldn’t get enough of the 360° all round view from here, revealing Riga in all its glory.
Travel tip: Go at sunset!
The Old Town centre is easily reachable from Riga airport (and reverse) by either taxi or bus.
Bus number 22 takes you to the Old Town or to Airport (Lidosta). There are 2 stops at the Old Town depending on which part you need to arrive in. Departure is every 15 minutes depending of time at day and normally takes around 30 minutes,
Remember to validate your ticket. I met a few travellers, not being aware of the validation system so common in Europe, being fined as a result, despite having bought a ticket.
Do you plan on visiting this part of the world at some point? Have you already been? I would love to hear your impressions and thoughts in the comments below.
Have fun and never stop exploring,
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