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A Guide to the biggest city in the Baltic states: Riga

Aktualisiert: 17. Okt. 2018

Riga is the biggest city in the three Baltic states and 10 per cent of the population of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania live here. If you go through the city by tram, you will soon hear, that a lot of Riga’s habitants also speak Russian so Riga is a city, where two ethnic groups come together. Moreover, the city has a long history, which you can explore during a walk through one of Riga’s neighbourhoods.

What to do

The touristic highlight in Riga is definitely the Old Town, where also nearly all the historical buildings are. You walk there through a lot of small alleys or look at some different churches. From the tower of Saint Peter, you can enjoy the view onto the centre and the Daugava. Near the church you find the house of Black Heads, which is the most famous attraction of the Latvian capital. At the place in front of the minster, there are a lot of bars, restaurants and live music in the summer, which made it a very charming spot, for hanging around or drinking something. When we visit Riga, an open-air art exhibition also took place there: The United Buddy Bears, which were founded in Berlin, were also shown in Pyongyang, Cairo and a bunch of other cities. This piece of art consists of 140 bears and each of them is painted differently and was painted in another country.

For exploring the real Riga, the central food market is a great recommendation. You can buy there typical, Latvian food, fruits and vegetables and it’s still a market, where the habitants go shopping. A part of the stalls is inside, but there are also a lot of them outside and around the market hall. The market is situated between the Old Town and the Maskavas Forstate. Just five minutes away from the market by feet, you have the Latvian Academy of Science. The Academy takes place in a huge tower, which was built after World War II. From the terrace in the 17th floor, you have a great view onto the whole city. The entire building is 108 meters tall and was the highest building in Riga till the Swedbank Headquarter was finished. Because of its architecture, which you might know from the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw and the seven sisters in Moscow, it was also called Stalin’s birthday cake and Kremlin. In 2014, when Riga was the European Capital of Culture the new National Library of Latvia opened in a new building next to the Daugava. The modern building, which costed by the way 193 million euros, was on the top of my bad weather program and lucky me, we lived near the Library. I admit, the building isn’t that cool from the outside, but a look at the inside is definitely worth it. You can enter the house without a ticket, but if you want to go upstairs and look at the covered yard from another level, you can ask the women at the reception for a card, which makes it possible to move around the whole building.

In the east of the city, behind the Oldtown, you have the biggest orthodox church in the Baltic states, the nativity cathedral. The building is surrounded by a park and you can have a look at the golden domes from a cool spot in the grass. If you have enough time, go inside, the interior is very beautiful and if you have never been to an orthodox church, this is a good start. Sadly, it’s not allowed to take photos inside.

Another architectural Highlight is the Albert iela. A street which is famous for its Art Nouveau houses. There is also a museumin this street, which is very interesting, because you can look at one of these houses from the inside, which is normally not possible. But if you are lucky, you might get a short view into one yard.

Another neighborhood which is offering something special in Riga is Agenskanls. A part of this district is famous for its wooden houses, which are something you do not see in a lot of cities anymore. We started our visit there at the bus station Kalnciema iela. We just crossed some streets and found the houses, we had read about. Some of them were in a very bad condition but other ones were renovated and looked cozy.

Where to eat

I honestly never had to search for good restaurants as long as in Riga. In my opinion, most of the restaurants in the Oldtown didn’t seem welcoming to me. We walked by a lot of restaurants, which seemed very touristic and finding Latvian cuisine is nearly not possible, but at the end, we found some places, where you get something to eat, that is worth a recommendation.

On our first day, we stopped at the Aussie (backpackers) Bar for a coffee break and the location is really cool. Inside the Café, they have an old car, which they use as their bar. You can take a seat outside, where they have some desks or inside, in a bright room, with a lot of natural light, because of some big windows.

My favorite Café in Riga is the Café Zvaigzne, which is near the Nativity Church. The modern, small coffeeshop with big windows makes really good coffee and my Cappuccino was one of the best I have ever drunk. To the ones, who just enjoy their coffee with a glass of water, like me, you can take here as much water as you want for free, which makes this place even better.

On our way through the streets of Agenskanls, we found a small hostel called Two Wheels, were we drank a coffee. If you plan to visit this area, take you time, to drink something there. You can decide, if you want to sit in front of the hostel or inside and calm down for some minutes, before you continue exploring Riga.

My top recommendation for dinner is Table 7. The modern restaurant, which is situated in The Old Town, right behind the House of Black Heads, is serving modern cuisine, but also a lot of typical Latvian products, like cabbage or caviar. I decided to take a trout tartare as my starter, which was really good and a piece of pork as my main dish. The pork was super soft, what I really liked and was served with a lot of different vegetables like cabbage, potatoes and two small apples. Sadly, the service didn’t work that good, when we were visiting the restaurant.

On our last day, we went to a small restaurant called Fläm. We didn’t recognize, that this place is mainly a wine bar but the food is also worth a visit. I ordered a vegetarian tarte flambee with beets and goat cheese. If you are into German wine, you will definitely love this place, because of their big offer of wines from all over Germany.

Where to go on an excursion

When we were in Riga, it became very hot so we rented a car and made our way to Jurmala, a small town near Riga, which is famous for its beach. When you go there by car, you will have to buy a ticket for entering the city, which costs 2 euros. If you forget to buy one or don’t see the ticket shop o the high way, like we did, you can pay the fee in the centre, which is much more comfortable and easier. You can also go to Jurmala by train for less than five euros. The beach is very clean and going swimming there is amazing on a hot summer day (We’ve forgotten our bathing clothes). There are also a lot of restaurants and bars at and around the beach, where you can eat a snack or grab a coffee.

Some (hopefully) helpful recommendations

The public transport is working properly and cheap. We bought our tickets at a small kiosk near the central market, where you can choose for how many days you want the ticket. There is also a bus, which brings you to the centre from the airport. You can go to Riga easily by Air Baltic, which is offering flights from all over Europe to Latvia. We rented an Airbnb Apartment near the National Library, which is not the most beautiful area to stay, but it was quite cheap and we had a good connection to the public transport.

Riga is the perfect destination for a weekend trip and also worth a visit during a road trip through the Baltic states. Moreover, it’s still an authentic city, which hasn’t changed as much as Tallinn, since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became independent.

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