I traveled from Vilnius to Riga with a EuroLines bus for about 16 Euros. The bus was comfortable, but my journey overlapped with a snowfall which was a bit nerve-racking. Latvia does not use Uber yet, but they do have Panda Taxi and other related apps. There is wifi in the bus station if you need it. To no surprise, it was raining. My AirBNB was in the Art Nouveau district across town. It was supposed to be about a 30+ minute walk, but since it was late and wet, I took a taxi. I don’t think it cost more than 10 Euros. Worth it.
My morning started with a walk to the Index Cafe for breakfast. Coming from the Art Nouveau district, this walk cuts through two beautiful parks before entering Old Town.
Index Cafe was nothing extensive, but very satisfying. At noon I joined the Riga Free Tour. It meets in front at St. Peter’s Church and then takes you outside the city to the Central Market and the Russian District, including the Academy of Sciences (known locally as Stalin’s Birthday Cake), the old warehouses, down by the River Daugava, and finishing by the freedom monument.
It was nice to get out of the city center and learn about a different part of their history. For instance, the Baltics are known for their old wooden homes. This was a defence strategy. If enemies were approaching, Riga would burn down the suburbs to make it look like there was nothing left to conquer… Sadly, they did this prematurely once. That’s a costly mistake. Your guide will also tell you all about which beers, fish, and pickled goods to taste in the Central Market, pavilions leftover from when they were used as Zeppelin hangers.
This was my favorite of the three tours I took during my Baltics trip. I would highly recommend it.
I made my way up to Lido for lunch with a couple people from the tour. Lido is higher quality fast food, pick-your-dish-and-pay place with an almost Hofbrauhaus atmosphere. The food was cheap, great portions, and delicious. It can be quick or you can sit back and relax awhile. Again, free wifi if you need it. I went to Lido twice in Riga. There is one in the Old Town and one by Vermanes Garden, I believe on Elizabetes Iela. The one by the garden has a much bigger selection and is a little cheaper.
After the tour, I went to the Splendid Palace theatre to check show times. The young woman at the ticket booth told me that there was a movie showing at 6:50 that evening. To kill some time, I went to the Radisson Blu Sky Bar to enjoy the view with a nice hot chocolate.
Afterwards, I walked into Old Town to grab some dumplings at Pelmeni XL and then back to the theatre. Sure enough, 6:50 meant 6:15, so I had already missed a considerable portion of the movie. Make sure you check the printed schedule. At that point, I decided to turn in for the night and watch a documentary.
Day two was a longer day. I did the Old Town tour at 11:00, which also started at St. Peter’s. Our guide was a bit long winded and said “indeed” a lot, but we learned a lot about the architecture and socio-economic policies of medieval trade. One of my favorite buildings was the Cat House, built by a merchant who was supposedly refused membership to the Tradesmen’s Guild. He placed two cats on the roof with their tails facing the guild as his revenge until he was ordered to rotate them.
The tour walks you through where the river once ran, the remains of the medieval wall, the Dome Church, the Three Brothers, the Swedish Gate, and more. You see everything you need to see and learn a bit about each place. While you don’t need a lot of time in Old Town, be sure to give yourself some time to wander on your own.
After the tour, I went to Lido for lunch and then back to the Central Market. I only picked up a pastry, but I love walking through markets. If I could do it again, I’d probably go to the Central Market for lunch instead (foolish mistake), then across the River Daugava to explore.
Next, I walked back to the Art Nouveau district to check out the beauties on Alberta Iela. Despite being so close to my AirBNB, I hadn’t seen it yet. Riga has a lot of Art Nouveau because it was becoming a more wealthy city at the turn of the century and had also just lifted the ban against building masonry outside the medieval city walls.
Following a delightful stroll, I warmed up at “home” for a bit before heading back to Old Town to the Folkklubs Ala for an evening of traditional music and dance. This happens every Wednesday and it was PACKED. I asked a couple erasmus students if I could join them at their table. They were great company. When the music and dance started, run by what appeared to be a young adult dance club, the music teacher inside me was exploding with possibilities. I should have gotten up to dance with someone, but I just smiled and took video after video after video as a resource to potentially use with future classes.
Next, a one-way tour to Tallinn!