Riga, Latvia came to be after finding roundtrip flights under £100 for a May bank holiday weekend; no easy feat. There are still so many destinations in Europe on my travel wish list I have a hard time narrowing it down when given a long weekend to plan. I took the cheap flights as a sign from the travel gods and convinced my friends Jessie and Beau to join me on our maiden voyage to the Baltic region.
Riga is Latvia’s capital and the largest city in the Baltic States. After years behind the Iron Curtain the country is rebuilding and has come a long way since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and its historical center is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I can’t do the history of this country justice in a few sentences. Let’s just agree that Latvians deserve a lot of peace and prosperity to compensate for centuries of foreign rule and oppression.
A few weeks before our trip I overhead a coworker mention she had just returned from visiting her family in Riga. The diversity of London never ceases to amaze me. She was gracious enough to provide an insider’s guide to Riga which I shall share with you now. Go forth and travel like a local, friends.
First tip, explore Old Town. In terms of sight seeing Old Riga is the heart of all tourist attractions with beautiful Medieval architecture. You can easily find your way around it as it’s relatively tiny (explore various small cobalt side streets). Couple of my favorite places would be St Peter’s Church (beautiful panoramic views from the top), Three Brothers (historic houses), Riga Cathedral, and House of the Blackheads.
She also provided some helpful food recommendations. Grab drinks at Radisson Blu’s Skyline Bar with great views of the city. Dine at Restaurant Vincents, and eat at least one meal at Lido (This is a chain of restaurants/diners. It’s very low key and casual but I love it as it offers lots of traditional Latvian foods).
We made it to two of the three but didn’t have a chance to dine at Restaurant Vincents. If you go, let me know how it is.
Two days was plenty in Riga so our third day was spent at the spa of the Baltic Beach Hotel in Jurmala, about 20 minutes by train from Riga. We got massages and walked along the sandy beach. Although it wasn’t warm it felt oddly comforting to me since I’m used to the cold Oregon coast. I’m sure it gets crowded during the hot summer months.
Jurmala was a good way to end our trip. We left Latvia relaxed and ready to return to London.
Know Before You Go:
- Check out the New York Times “36 Hours in Riga, Latvia” handy guide.
- This was a good walking tour to see a lot of Riga in a few hours with a local.
- Pack warm clothes. Latvia is along the Baltic Sea and our trip at the beginning of May still required winter clothing.
- Latvia’s currency is the Euro.
- Riga is a common destination for bachelor parties in Europe so be prepared for some rowdy parties if you’re staying near bars and clubs in Old Town.
- We took a taxi for a reasonable price (approx. € 15) from the airport to Old Town although you can also take bus 22 to save a few euros.
- Some TripAdvisor advice on taking the train from Riga to Jurmala.