“Latvia?” said my friend in a dumbfounded tone. “I didn’t even know the country still existed – and I’m only half-joking,” he said.
Latvia wasn’t a country that had crossed the minds of Jo and I either. We knew it was there, and we’d heard of people travelling to the capital Riga, but we didn’t give it much thought.
But in the wake of a cancelled trip to Poland just 10 days before we were meant to travel (thanks Wizzair!) we were left with a weekend to fill with travel to another destination.
Riga was the only viable destination.
And, as chance would have it, Riga was a wonderful limited option to have.
Read on for more. And don’t forget to use the map below to see some of the places we recommend for a trip to Riga.
Where is Riga?
Riga is the capital city of Latvia, a small country in north-eastern Europe. Home to 640,000 people, it is Latvia’s biggest and most populous city.
To put this into context, Latvia only has a population of around 1.8 million yet is a similar size to England. You can spend days in the wild without meeting anyone.
Latvia shares its borders with Lithuania and Estonia. The three countries are commonly referred to as the Baltics, due to their coastlines on the Baltic Sea.
What is the climate of Riga?
Riga enjoys a climate similar to many cities in northern Europe. It is perhaps most similar to the climate of Sweden or Finland, so expect cold winters but colourful and fresh Springs and Summers.
What is there to see in Riga?
Plenty, as we discovered.
Latvia has a rather troubled yet interesting past, especially through the 20th century where Nazi rule and subsequent Soviet rule effectively kept the country under a dictatorship of some sort for five decades.
Because of this history, and the atrocities that came with them, there’s a mix of architecture from famed art nouveau style through to daunting Soviet blocks of apartments.
History is a large part of Riga’s attraction. In and around Riga’s majestic Old Town is an array of medieval architecture; not all of it is original due to World War Two, but it has a classical and grand feel nonetheless.
There are also plenty of bars and cafes to visit, as well as some really great restaurants.
And for a unique experience, try a Lido. Lido are a local chain of canteen style restaurants in Riga. You take a tray, choose what food you want from a kitchen which continually churns out dish after dish, and pay for what you grabbed.
Beer in the Lido is around €2 and dishes range from €1 – €3, depending on what you order. Certainly worth a pitstop.
Riga is certainly a city best enjoyed in two seasons: winter or summer.
We went in winter (obviously) and the snow was so thick that it was tough to walk at times. While -15 degrees celsius doesn’t sound enjoyable, we wrapped up warm and still walked everywhere.
Seeing the parks completely covered in snow, or lakes frozen with thick ice, was romantic and particularly Christmassy. (Many places in Riga don’t take their Christmas decorations down until early February, so January is great for a Christmassy trip!)
Because of the compact nature of the city, Riga is best enjoyed as a walking city, and for that we thoroughly recommend the Free Walking Tour. While the areas you visit aren’t necessarily alternative to those most tourists will visit, our tour guide was funny, informative and enthusiastic to show us his city.
The tour is free and begins at 12 noon, every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, from outside St. Peter’s Church in Riga Old Town. Small donations are asked for at the end of the tour but are not obligatory.
Is Riga enough?
Make no mistake, Riga is small.
It’s entirely possible that you may run out of touristy things to do after a three or four days in Riga. But that’s why it’s perfect for a weekend trip!
Riga is very well-connected by bus and train to other towns nearby including some summer getaways on the coast, a skiing town further south, and even nearby Lithuania and Estonia.
Yup, that’s right – from Riga you can reach two alternative countries. Both are a four to six-hour bus ride away, with fares costing as little as €5 per person each way.
How expensive is it to fly to Riga?
From Europe, flights are extremely reasonable. In February, which is low season, a return flight from Copenhagen costed €40.
Riga International Airport is small but well-connected to many major airports. Flights from hubs such as Copenhagen and London tend to not break the €100 mark.
How expensive is Riga?
It’s not pricey at all. Our accommodation – a self-catering apartment – was €100 for four nights. Meals rarely exceed €10 per person, unless you’re going for fancier dining.
Drinks are all around €3, whether alcoholic or not, and tourist attractions are in the typical €5-10 range.
While Riga is not as cheap as Poland (where else is?) it’s certainly tremendous value for money.
Top things to do in Riga
- Eat lunch in a Lido: There are a handful of these charming-yet-cheap canteens dotted throughout the city. The best one is here (INSERT LINK), just north of the Freedom Monument.
- Walk around the city centre: Start in the Old Town and head north to the park which lines the city centre. Take a moment to relax here, in sunshine or snow, but grabbing a tea, coffee or cake from Apsara’s Tea House. Then head further north still, past the Freedom Monument, and see what you can find. A walking tour is perfect here.
- Grab a coffee: Latvians have a healthy coffee culture (i.e. they love it). Try one of the many cafes in the Old Town.
- Go to the opera: Riga’s opera is one of Europe’s best. Famed for ballet too, the opera might be your perfect cultural stop.
- Head out of the city centre: Head towards the old ghetto areas in the east. Soak up the history learning about the mistreatment of Jews in World War Two. Take a look at Stalin’s Birthday Cake (it’s a big tower really). There’s plenty to do outside of the Old Town.