07/03/2017

Short guide to Riga

View of Riga from the Skyline Bar
Photo by Riga In My Colours
To start off this new blog experience, I thought about writing a where-to-go, what-to-do kind of post about Riga, the city I currently live in. This especially because I found nothing similar (or exhaustive) when I had to come here, and it may be useful if you ever want to visit the city (do it! It’s small but beautiful). Enjoy!

General info

Where?

Latvia in Europe
Riga is the capital of Latvia, one of the three Baltic States (together with Estonia and Lithuania). It counts almost 700’000 inhabitants - 1/3 of the whole Latvian population! Just to give an idea, in the whole country there are less people than in Rome or Toronto alone. That said, Riga is anyway the largest city of the Baltic States.

The language spoken is, of course, Latvian; but if you know Russian you’ll also have an easy life here. English is spoken and understood mostly in the city centre (also known as Old Town), but trust me: unless you are planning to move in here, you won’t need any dictionary.

Since 2013 the currency is the Euro, and prices are definitely lower than most other European countries – for everything, from supermarkets to public transport to museum fees.

Touristic info

How to get here: 

Just 10 km outside the city there is Riga International Airport, which is served by a wide range of companies – including low cost Ryanair and WizzAir, both flying at very reasonable prices. You can get to the centre by bus (n°22), but if you have some luggage I would suggest to call a taxi. Panda Taxi is a personal favourite, and it’s one of the cheapest (call +371 67 600 006).

If you don’t mind long hours of travelling, another option is to take a coach to the city. Ecolines and LuxExpress go pretty much everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe (not in Italy, sadly) and offer a good service for relatively low prices. Trust me – I went around with them a lot by now. And I’m definitely not a bus fan.


When to come: 

Unless you’re some crazy fanatic of super cold weather, snow blowing in your face all the time and multiple layers of wool clothing, please come in summer. It can get really cold in Riga, and winter goes on for a while (it’s snowing in this exact moment, just to say). Best period goes from the end of May to the beginning of October; but if you have no other chance, then be sure to show up for Independence Day (18 November), one of the biggest national celebrations, or during Christmas time for the typical Christmas Market.
Bastejkalna Parks
Bastejkalna Parks in winter

Where to stay: 

Having my own flat here, I can’t give much advice on the topic. But many friends have told me that the amount of hostels and hotels is enormous, and you’ll be able to find a cheap-and-cosy accommodation in just few minutes of research on Booking.com, Hostelworld or Tripadvisor. If you are staying for a short time, look for a place near to the Old Town to fully enjoy your stay.


Transports: 

The city offers bus, trolleybus and tram service that covers the whole area. You can check routes and timetables at Rigassatiskme.lv In the most modern vehicles you are able to purchase your ticket on board, otherwise you can buy single/double/multiple tickets at Narvesen (newsagent’s, you find their orange shops everywhere) or at ticket vending machines (usually found next to bus stops or inside shopping centres). But in such a small city, the best way to go around remains… your own feet.


Where to eat: 

My favourite spots are Lido and Ezītis miglā. The first is a self-service catering chain, cheap and delicious; you can find their restaurants everywhere around the city, the food is typically Baltic style. The second is a small place I went to during my first guided tour of the city, situated in the Old Town; they serve mostly burgers, omelettes, tortillas and soup, in big portions and for low prices! I also recently discovered ALA Pagrabs, a cozy spot in the city centre famous for its delicious garlic bread - you'll never want to stop eating it, even if you're not a garlic lover at all! Plus, it has typical music and a fireplace. That's all I need to stay forever.

If you’re looking for tea or coffee (Latvians are literally obsessed with the latter) my suggestions are Double Coffee and Coffee Inn, both in Old Town; another nice place is Apsara Tea House, which is situated in a park with 360° view on the surroundings – and lots of pillows…
Apsara Tea House
Apsara Tea House 
Another option, if you have your own kitchen, is to head to Rimi or Maxima and cook your own food. I have friends who are literally obsessed with these supermarkets and go there every day to try all the products! I personally recommend a visit to the Central Market (Centrāltirgus), just behind the Central Station: it’s huge (its location used to be the hangar where the Zeppelin was built) and full of every possible product, from vegetables, to cheese, to fish, to clothing and shoes. The sellers are really kind and always insist for you to try strange products they have: it’s the perfect place to find new ingredients!


What to see: 

Just have a walk around the Old Town and you’ll never want to leave. 

If you’re into history, you can’t miss a visit to the Freedom Monument, built in remembrance of those who were killed during Latvia’s first war of independence (yes, there was a first independence! Head to the National History Museum or to the Occupation Museum if you want to know more. They are both well-made, English-friendly and wallet-friendly). 

If you prefer architecture, head to the Art Nouveau neighbourhood (just slightly outside the Old Town) or have a look at buildings such as the Three Brothers (oldest edifices in town), the National Opera House, the two Guilds and the House of the Blackheads – all of them perfectly kept, with no sign of ageing visible. 
House Of The Blackheads
House Of The Blackheads
If you’re in Riga for shopping, the Old Town is full of shopping centres (Domina, Alfa, Spice, Spice Home, Mols, Galerija Centrs, Galerija Riga… there is no big difference), but the city is mostly known for its large number of second-hand shops. The best ones? Humana and Otra Elpa are affordable chains, Mademoiselle and De Zavu Vintage are more specialised stores.



Especially recommended for: 

Young party-goers (nightlife I haven’t mentioned, but it’s varied and international), Soviet Union enthusiasts (Latvians don’t like much the topic, but Russian influence it’s been undeniably relevant), old style towns lovers and, in general, whoever is looking for a different destination but who doesn’t want a cultural shock.  

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