Recommended Stay: 2 days
Despite being the largest city in the Baltic States, Riga does somewhat pale in comparison with its gorgeous sister cities – Tallinn and Vilnius. Do not let that deter you from visiting though as Riga boasts a UNESCO-World Heritage Old Town filled with cobblestone streets and glorious churches that have spires that appear to reach out into the heavens. It also has the highest concentration of Art Noveau buildings in the world, about 700+ total, in the city’s core center, making this a solid destination in your journey through the Baltic States. I flew via Air Baltic from Vilnius to Riga for the 35-minute flight.
When visiting a European city with an ancient old town, I typically opt to stay in a hostel so I can be in the middle of the action. Reputable hostels are ordinarily strategically situated in the center of town. I used http://www.booking.com to reserve a room at the Tree Hostel, which is located within Riga’s Old Town.
I independently toured the Old Town using my Lonely Planet book and then joined a free walking tour that focused on Riga’s New Town. I did this because the Old Town is small and effortlessly navigable when a good map is on hand.
The highlights in the Old Town include the two imposing Gothic churches of St. Peter’s Church, which you can ascend to the top via an elevator for a fee, and Riga Cathedral, the largest medieval church in the Baltics.
Here are some pictures from the viewing platform atop St. Peters Church.
There are a few welcoming squares in the Old Town. The Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums) is flanked by the recently renovated Town Hall and the Blackheads House, purportedly the site of the oldest structure in town (1344), which has undergone several overhauls over the centuries.
Another inviting place to people-watch is Dome Square, which is surrounded by the massive Riga Cathedral and the Art Noveau building of the Art Museum Riga Bourse.
If San Francisco has the famed “6 Painted Ladies”, Riga has the “Three Brothers”. These three ancient dwellings date back to the 17th century. No. 17 is about 600+ years old, making it one of the oldest sanctuaries in Riga. Adjacent to it are two similar houses, which altogether create a spectacular row of houses that will be a delight to many a photographer.
The Walking Tour of the New Town focused on the Central Market, the Train Station, the Jewish Ghetto, and some Soviet-era structures.
Half a day was devoted to exploring the Art Noveau district which is a leisurely 15-minute walk from the Old Town. The standout facades are located along Alberta Iela (No. 2, 4, & 13).
Another recommended activity is strolling along the banks of the Daugava river, which slithers around the Old Town.
For Latvian food and the chance to see waiters dressed in traditional Latvian garb, I ate at a self-catering restaurant called Lido, which is quite popular with both locals and tourists alike.
Local Tip: Bus tickets are cheaper to purchase from their supermarkets called Narvesen (1.15 Euros) versus buying from the bus driver (2 Euros).
Have you ever been to Riga? What were your highlights?