The largest city of the Baltic states (and in its own country), Riga felt more of an international hub than Vilnius, or even Tallinn (when I visited in 2012). I made my way over to the Latvian capital following my three nights in Vilnius, and I spent two nights in town exploring and doing another brief, half-day tour into the country. Fun fact is that Latvia is the 50th country I’ve visited in the world, so it was something to celebrate!
I used Lux Express once more to Riga; it was a short, four-hour drive, and I soon reached the city by 16:00. My hostel was a mere 10-minute walk from the bus station, so I had no trouble heading over and checking in. The hostel I stayed at turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed at: friendly reception, clean and bright rooms, excellent included breakfast and kitchen space…the accommodation itself was actually the highlight of my time in Riga!
After dropping my belongings off in my room, I went out once more to meet up the Korean friend I’d made back in Vilnius, as we happen to be visiting Riga at the same time, too. We got coffee at a cafe near the Swedish gate– I actually ordered a hot chocolate with chili, which surprisingly had a decent kick to it! The apple-rhubarb tart that accompanied it was crusty and tasty, even if I’m not the hugest fan of apple or rhubarb sweets– perhaps pairing them together made them taste pretty good!
We parted ways afterwards, as I returned to my hostel to rest after traveling that afternoon. I did stop by the grocery store to buy some food to cook that night, and I did get to see a bit of the Old Town in the process. I stayed right in the heart of the Old Town, so it was really easy for me to get around to see the main sites of the city.
I spent the next morning on a half-day trip to the Rundāle Palace before I returned to Riga in the early afternoon. Feeling the afternoon slump, I headed to the Art Nouveau district for a cafe break, where I got a matcha latte (pretty standard) and a slice of carrot cake, with its frosting having a hint of lime zest for that extra bite– very much enjoyed it!
Rejuvenated, I strolled the Art Nouveau district for its eponymous architecture; it has made Riga a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I could see why, as each building was spectacular with their attention to detail. It was opportunity after opportunity for photos along Albert and Elizabeth streets, and a pleasant afternoon well-spent before I headed back to my hostel for the day.
The following day was my last in Riga. I had to check out of my hostel by 11:00, but the flight to my next destination wouldn’t be until 23:00, so I had a full day to see the city properly. I stored my belongings in the hostel’s office, and I set out to explore Riga. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, which wasn’t super ideal, but I put up with it since I wouldn’t have any other time than then to see the Latvian capital.
Umbrella in hand, I made my way to the first stop of the day: the House of the Blackheads. Not to be confused by the building of the same name in Tallinn, it was first-constructed in the 14th century for a guild consisting of merchants and shipowners in town. Sadly, it was bombed during WWII and subsequently destroyed by the Soviets under occupation– the building that stands today is a replica built in the 1990’s. All the same, it’s a colorful piece of work, as well as being well-adorned and distinctive of the city itself.
It was insanely windy as I crossed the bridge over the Daugava river– add rain to the mix, and it was a pretty-miserable walk! All the same, I got views of the harbor and Old Town from the other side, and I quickly crossed back after getting some photos in.
Returning to the Old Town, I stopped by St. Peter’s Church in hopes of entering and heading up its tower for views of the city, but it happened to be closed that day (Monday), so I couldn’t go in. Aside from regarding its towering exterior, I also stumbled across a strange statue of four animals: a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster. Known as the “Bremen Town Musicians,” I learned later that it’s a political satire on the Iron Curtain, as the animals are “peering through” the iron wall after Soviet rule (as the statue was made in 1990, right after Latvia’s independence). It was quite quirky and unexpected all the same!
I got a bit lost afterwards in the smaller streets of Old Town, but I soon reached the Three Brothers, a set of three buildings built between the 16th and 17th centuries. Supposedly built by three brothers, the buildings are interesting in themselves in which the length of each one getting narrower and narrower in succession– you could tell who was the oldest brother and who was the youngest, let alone having more money than the other!
Half-past noon, I was ready to eat. I settled on a restaurant in the Old Town’s main square– even if it had the potential of being a tourist trap, it actually wasn’t too bad. The interior was tavern-like and cozy, especially on a cold, rainy day. Food was pretty good, too: I ordered karbonade, which is essentially pork chops. It’s a Latvian dish and, while nothing so distinctive about it, I found mine to be tasty, not too dry. I also had a rye bread pudding for dessert (another Latvian/Baltic dish), which again, isn’t too far off from bread pudding made from “normal” stale bread, but it was pretty good. I had a hot Balsam drink (Latvian liquor) on the side, along with some complementary bread with an incredible olive oil-butter spread which, funny enough, was the star of the show.
Satisfied and full, I took a walk to the Riga Central Market, a large, covered market that sold fresh produce (meat, fruits, vegetables) along with homemade spirits, clothes, and other trinkets. It was a short visit just to get a feel for the atmosphere, which was still quite lively despite the rain, before I headed back to the Old Town.
I passed the Laima Clock and iconic Freedom Monument on the way to my third coffee stop since being in Riga. I enjoyed a warm latte and medovnik, a rich honey cake that’s popular in Central and Eastern Europe. I first had it in Prague last winter, and I’ve since looked forward to having it whenever I see it on my travels! By 15:00, I was ready to be out of the rain and back at the hostel. Since I’d already checked out, I hung around in the commons room until 19:00 to catch the bus to the airport, which effectively ended my two-night stay in town.
Personally, I didn’t find Riga as exciting as Vilnius, partly because the weather wasn’t very good when I visited and partly because I didn’t find as many things to see or do– if anything, one could see the main sites of the city within four hours! Regardless, I really enjoyed my stay at the hostel there, and the countless cafe breaks were a pleasure. Riga is worth a short time over, as it is the main stop in Latvia itself.
More of my time in Latvia to be recapped soon. Next stop: Rundāle Palace!