The capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic territory, Riga has escaped the clutches of an Iron Curtain past and has slowly immersed itself in the international scene as a bona fide tourist destination. Divided down the middle by the Daugava River, Riga serves as a major crossroads between the more popular Western Europe and the Eastern European countries. The city’s roots are tumultuous, with close to a third of its population being victimized by the Holocaust movement. Today, Riga is bursting with life as the cultural and economic capital of the country. There are plenty of museums and a bustling nightlife with all the bars and restaurants you can imagine. Little by little, it is becoming a preferred partying destination to backpackers everywhere as well.
Sights You Can’t Miss:
- The Central Market: This bustling, active cacophony of music and smells belong to one of the oldest markets in European history. Going back to 1201, this market sells fresh cheeses, fruits, clothing, electronics – pretty much anything and everything at cheaper prices. With more than 1000 vendors on any given day, the market is lined with stall after stall of impressive products any tourist could sink their teeth into.
- Riga Castle: Built in 1330, the Riga Castle was the site of the original settlement of the city, a home belonging to the old Livonian Order masters. Later on, it was the central base for the many occupiers that dominated the city throughout the last couple hundred years. This formidable, stylish yellow castle sitting on the banks of the Daugava River is used today as a “White House” where the president lives. In addition, it houses the Latvian Museum of Foreign Art along with the Rainis Museum of Art History and Literature.
- Dom Cathedral: Going back to 1211, the Dom Cathedral sits on the banks of the Western Daugava River. It comes equipped with marvelous stained glass windows and a white interior. Concerts are held year-round, and the cathedral has its own boys choir that sing regularly. Admission is free.
- Open Air Ethnographic Museum: This breathy museum is actually an outdoor exhibit that displays miniature fishing villages and other important buildings throughout history that have been moved here to sit in one place. Visitors to this impressive place can watch craftsmen practice their craft, chefs spicing up some traditional Latvian dishes, and learn more about Latvia’s tumultuous and divided history.
Where to Stay in Riga:
- The Hotel Garden Palace – This 4 star hotel is brand new and has excellent views of the town square and the Daugava River. There are 60 rooms in all. Expect to pay around 120 euro for a single and 150 for a double, depending on the season.
- Avalon Hotel – This hotel blends Middle Age flavor and comes with 111 rooms, including a full line of business suits and full internet connections. Expect to pay top dollar for the Avalon no matter the season.
Suggested Riga Weekend Itinerary:
- Day 1: Hit the Central Market and the Dom Cathedral
- Day 2: Take a break with the nightlife! Of all of the Baltic cities, Riga is the least Westernized – providing for some interesting experiences in the bar and restaurant scene. Head off to the Martini Bar on Kalku iele avenue which starts as a cocktail bar and converts into a nightclub. The Skyline Bar in the Reval Hotel is also a cocktail bar that provides panoramic views of the city atop its terrace. The Bites Bliza Club, on Dzirnavu St., is also “chill” and laid back with funky blues music. If you want nightclubs, head on over to the Old Town section where conservative, gentlemen’s clubs like the Casablanca share guests alongside the Big Point Club strip club on Brivibas street.
Getting There / Reaching the City:
Riga International Airport is approximately 13km to the southwest of Riga, and offers arrivals and departures to most of the major European destinations. 2 of the major operators at the airport are European budget carriers Ryanair and airBaltic. Typical flight times are 2hrs 15mins from London, and around 3hrs from Paris. Ferries from Stockholm, Sweden, and Germany also hit the city, and there is an extensive network of local and cross regional buses along with trains that take you everywhere in Eastern Europe.