Riga, the capital of Latvia, is an interesting and unique city with an incredibly complicated past. We were lucky enough to grab return flights to from Glasgow for just £20 each and were so glad we jumped at the opportunity to explore this city. Here are our reasons why you should visit Riga.
The Old Town in Riga is a beautiful array of medieval style buildings. Disappointingly, most are not original as they were destroyed during the Second World War, however this area is beautifully charming and we really enjoyed exploring the quaint cobbled stoned streets. The Art Nouveau district is another area not to be missed. Here you will find dozens of buildings designed in this style.. Be sure you stroll up Alberta Iela Street.
Riga has a wide variety of museums, you will find the Art Nouveau Museum located in the area we mentioned above. In other areas you will find the Museum of Medicine, the Sun Museum and even a Hat Museum! During our visit the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia was unfortunately closed so we were unable to visit, otherwise that would have been one of our top choices.
We recommend vising the Riga Ghetto and Jewish Holocaust Museum, it is an outdoor exhibition and gives insight into Jewish life during the Nazi occupation. Most museums are free to enter or less than 5 euros.
The former KGB Building or ‘Corner House’ located on Stabu Street is a terrifying insight into what life was like if you stepped out of line for Latvians during the Soviet Union. We took a tour of the building and the former cell blocks, which I highly recommend taking. It is only 5 euros and you get to see where former prisoner’s lives, slept and ate. Our guide was excellent at explaining any questions we had.
Žanis Lipke was a Latvian that saved around 60 Jews during the Holocaust by hiding them under a wood shed in his garden. The Žanis Lipke Memorial museum has now been built in the area where the woodshed was and offers a very interesting and detailed insight into this courageous act by Žanis Lipke and his family. We thought the museum was excellent and worth the walk over the bridge. While you are here you can also see the house where Žanis and his family lived. This museum is also free entry, and you can donate whatever you wish to.
Riga’s has a large Russian population and influence. It is worth visiting the Moscow Suburbs to get a feel for the culture and the locals, as it is out of the ‘touristy’ Old Town. Here you will also find the Riga Central Markets, offering an array of fresh meat, fish, and vegetables. The buildings in which the markets are located are former Nazi Zeppelin Hangers, transported to Riga after the war.
Food and Drink
The food in Latvia has influence from other Europeans countries such as Germany. We found the best way to try a little bit of everything was to visit a Lido. This is basically a buffet where you choose what food you want and then pay the appropriate price for each individual item. We decided to eat at Lido Alus Seta where we shared a platter for two for just 20 euros. It included chicken kebab, pork knuckle, sauerkraut, potatoes, salad, pickled cauliflower, fried rye bread and two beers. It was great value for money and let us try many different things.
The local drink of Riga is Riga Black Balsam which we never actually got round to trying, but that might be because it didn’t sound appealing to us. During a walking tour our guide explained that this liquor tasted of Jagermeister mixed with cough mixture and he even said it was disgusting. If you get past the taste it will probably get you drunk pretty fast as it is 45%.
There is also an abundance of cosy cafes to and pubs to visit. Make sure you check out Stargorod for a beer as they brew their own on the premises and also offer unlimited beers between 12.00 – 23.00 for just 7.99 euros.
There are various places to visit that are located close to Riga. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to visit them but they will be on the itinerary for our next visit.
Jermulia, a town around 30 minutes from the city. Here there is a stretch of sandy beach along the Baltic Sea and a charming array of wooden houses.
Sigulda is located an hour away from Riga, this town has many castles to explore, including medieval ruins dating back to the 13th century. It is also the gateway to Gauja National Park, with many lush walking routes. And Sigulda is even home to a bob sleighing track where you can have a go at this sport.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Riga and highly recommend a visit to this interesting Baltic city. There is plenty to do to keep you occupied for 3-4 days and many day trip options if you plan to stay for longer. We also found the the locals were very pleasant and made us feel welcome. It is the only place we’ve gone to and returned to Scotland for some warmth, so remember to pack some warm clothes when you go and you will love it!