Riga, Latvia. The biggest city in the Baltic countries.
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For those of you that don’t know yet, Riga is the capital of Latvia. And Latvia is one of the Baltic countries in the North-East of Europe (see map below).
With 639,630 inhabitants in 2016 Riga is not the just the largest city of Latvia (home to almost 1/3 of the country’s population) but also the largest city in the Baltic region.
But, you can find all of that on wikipedia so let me just give you my impression of the city.
Riga is a vibrant town that is coming into it’s own again in this century. The city’s main attractions for tourist are the old town and the center. They’re both gorgeous and well preserved.
Cobble stone street, old churches, beautiful squares and, important to today’s visitor, lots of Wi-Fi spots. After all, how are you going to upload all your selfies while you’re on the go if not for Wi-Fi, right ? (hint: if you don’t have a phone with a dual sim card, get a mobile hotspot. Either way, get a local (data only) prepaid sim card wherever you go. It’ll often save you a lot of money, even if you already have Europe wide coverage.)
Wooden buildings, Gothic buildings, art-nouveau and shiny skyscrapers, you’ll find it all in Riga. But unlike some other places I’ve visited, they’ve made this combination of styles work in Riga.
There really is something for everybody without detracting from the overall image and feel of the city.
But obviously that’s not all that Riga has to offer.
From riverside bars to museums, from clubs and bars to concert halls and the opera. You’ll find it all in Riga. Riga definitely offers something for everybody, no matter what your preferences.
Aside from the “everyday venues”Riga is home to many different events as well. During my last visit to the city Riga hosted a Salsa festival, a Kizomba festival, a West Coast Swing festival and a photo camp. All during the same weekend.
And Riga also offers a hosts of other activities including, but not limited to, outdoor sports and shooting. I don’t know a single person that didn’t find anything to do in Riga.
One of the things I really like about Riga is that the old town is pedestrian only. No cars allowed. This makes that area a great place for a stroll.
You can wander around and take in the sights without constantly having to look over your shoulder for oncoming traffic. No need to worry about being hit by a taxi, a bus or a tram. And if you have kids you don’t have to worry about them running into traffic there either. Something that will give a lot of parent the chance to relax a bit.
When you get tired of walking around the old town, just have a seat at one of the many restaurants and bars for some food or a drink. And again, there’s something from everybody. No matter if you like local food, french cuisine or sushi. You’ll find it all and much more.
If you like your beers then definitely stop to sample some of the local beers. You’ll find the bigger national brands in most bars and restaurants.
However, for something more special go to the Miera iela. This hipster strip features some some specialized brew pubs that make their own beers. Well worth the trip for the beer lovers among you.
There is one thing to keep in mind if you travel to Latvia. The majority of the population speaks both Latvian and Russian but not everybody speaks English.
I don’t think it’s something you really have to worry about though. I didn’t encounter any problems as English is widely spoken among the younger population and in the tourism industry.
But, it could mean mean that you end up somewhere (supermarket or some of the super cheap hostels) where English is not as common. At that point you may have to make a bit of an effort to communicate. But like I said, in general you’ll be fine just speaking English.
Surprisingly enough, Riga isn’t as cheap as one might expect.
With the average wage in Latvia being €675 you might expect the prices to reflect that.
However, if you’re in the old town or the city center don’t be surprised to pay prices similar to those in other (non capital) European cities for food and drinks. The more touristy the place, the higher the price often is.
That said, just do a bit of scouting and you’ll still be able to find affordable places as well. We found €2 pints on Meistaru iela and I’m sure you’ll be able to find them elsewhere as well.
In general though, better prices can be found outside of the old town and city center. So if you walk a bit further you’ll see prices drop substantially.
What to do in Riga as a tourist?
Definitely make it a point to explore the old town.
You can either go on an organized walking or biking tour or explore the city by yourself. If you want to find out more about the city without reverting to the internet all the time the definitely, go on one of the organized tour. They start around €15 euro so that won’t be an obstacle to most tourists.
If you’re more into walking and googling that can be done easily as well as plenty of information on Riga is available online.
Aside from that you can go to the parks, have a look at the monuments and statues, stroll along the river or visit one of the churches and cathedrals.
And like I already mentioned, outdoor sports, shooting and lots more is available in Riga. So you won’t have to be bored unless you choose to.
Riga is also a good base for some day-trips. You can go to Sigulda with its romantic vistas and fairy-tale castles, Or you can take a trip to Jurmala and stroll along miles of beaches and explore the Rundale Palace.
Finding hotels to stay is easy. Riga has an abundance of hotels for every budget. Whether you’re looking for a hostel or a 5* hotel, Riga offers them all. Just click here to see what’s available on Booking.com.
Just like with food and drink prices, the further out of the city center you go, the cheaper it’ll be.
There is something for everybody in Riga. I didn’t mention it all but whether you like outdoor sports or you’re more into nightlife, Riga can accommodate you.
Aside from that the quaint old town is an attraction of it’s own.
If you go to the Baltic, don’t skip Riga. Even if you go to the Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) it’s worth freeing up some time to visit Riga.