Travel Diaries – Riga

Gap Year Days 339 – 342

We arrived in Riga on the bus from Tallinn. It had been a relatively pleasant roll through the snowy countryside. As soon as we got off the bus the cold hit us – again! We are heading south, and it’s closer to the end of March than the beginning, yet still, we have sub-zero temperatures that make me want to hibernate!

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We only had to walk a few hundred metres up the road to where we were staying. Even though it was past check-in time when we got there, our room wasn’t ready. The receptionist explained there had been a big basketball tournament in town, and the teams (or at least some of them) were staying in the hotel and not leaving until six.

So our room would be ready then. Or maybe at seven. Or definitely the next morning. Luckily he did offer us another room that we could relax in, but he warned us it was small – and yes, it was!

While not the end of the world, this upsets my little routine. Here’s where my control freak nature kicks in! Our usual routine is to unpack what we need to, check out or room/place for facilities, and then head out, usually to a grocery store to buy food/snacks as appropriate.

We couldn’t really do that, not knowing if our room had coffee/tea facilities, a fridge etc. In the end, we went out and grabbed a quick snack then waited until we moved rooms before thinking about dinner.

The following morning we had a free walking tour of Rīga Old Town planned. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get there and walked around looking at the frozen landscape and even more frozen people rushing around.

It was meant to be warmer today, but clearly, the weather gods hadn’t got that memo, and instead, there was another bitterly cold wind to cope with.

The lack of colour in winter was forever present

We were at the tour starting point early, and luckily there was a coffee shop conveniently nearby, so we ducked in to defrost, emerging again with only seconds to spare. Clearly, others had the same idea, because our group went from four to eleven in the space of about a minute, exactly at 11 am!

So many beautiful pastel buildings

While there are a few different free walking tours in Riga, we did an Old Riga Free Tour and I was very happy with it. Our guide, Toms, was interesting, knowledgeable and funny.

He gave everyone a chance to participate, kind of like a discussion, but without feeling like a school kid being picked to answer a question. We got lucky with a smaller group because there were 35 people the day before, and that personal touch would have been much harder.

Bremen Town Musicians
This staue is called the Bremen Town musician and it is inspired by the popular fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The wall they are breaking through here though is the Iron Curtain, and overall this is a symbol for independence.
A grand red brick cathedral taken from the side
Riga Cathedral
We were confused by this armadillo near the Riga Cathedral. When we asked why, our guide just shrugged and said for the children.

The tour visited most of the well-known landmarks in the Old Town, and a few lesser-known spots too. I love going on these tours to see the little quirky things that I’m not likely to find on Google as I look for things to see.

Like the paver in one of the old streets that shows where there was once a river, after which Riga was named! And the old wives tale that says if an unfaithful wife walks past the Catholic Church then the bells will ring.

Riga paver
The simple paver that is a reminder of a small river that has completely disappeared
Three historical tall buildings in different styles
These three buildings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries show the different building styles over time. The one on the right is the oldest, the left the youngest. They are called the Three Brothers.
A yellow building with a black roof and a small black cat perched on top of a pointed turret roof
An angry merchant placed this cat on his roof with its tail facing towards a guild as an insult in retribution for being denied membership.

Toms gave us a general history of Latvia, combined with some information on how things are today, like average wages, rent, etc. He spent a good portion of time afterwards giving recommendations and helping people with general queries, before joining a few of us for lunch to continue the discussion.

Riga Old Town
The lovely buildings surrounding one of the squares in Riga’s Old Town
A narrow cobbled street curves between colourful buildings in Riga
Cobbled laneways. Historically there was no stone in Riga to pave the streets, so the city imposed a tax of one stone on every merchant who visited from the countryside. They soon had enough for their streets.

After we finished lunch, Simon and I went off to look at a few of the things we had not seen on the walking tour. It wasn’t too much of a stretch to find the Freedom Monument, which is a memorial to all of the soldiers who died during the War of Independence from 1918 to 1920.

A tall concrete column
The Freedom Monument
Another statue in the park. This area must be beautiful in summer.

We walked towards the area of Elizabeth and Albert Streets. This little section of Riga is well known for its Art Nouveau buildings. If you are interested in architecture or have a little time to spare, a walk down these two streets will show you some of the best examples of these buildings in Europe. Most have now been renovated, some are still in the process or still to be started.

One of the many beautiful art nouveau buildings Riga is known for
A tall yellow art nouveau building with a red roof
More art nouveau

We saw quite a few nice-looking restaurants and bars in the area, but we didn’t test any of them out because we had another plan. We were heading to the Radisson Blu.

Riga is a very flat city, most buildings are only a few floors tall. The Radisson Blu (there are many, but you will easily find this one) is 26 floors, and on the top is the Skyline Bar, where you can visit for a cocktail in the evening, or a coffee during the day. The main reason you want to visit though is for the views over the city.

Unfortunately, It was not the best weather for us, but still it was worth a visit to get our bearings.

Riga Radisson Blu
The view over Riga Old Town from the Skyline Bar

TIP: If you don’t want to pay for a coffee or a cocktail, it is still possible to get a quick peek at the views. Take the lift up to the top floor then duck into the bathroom. Both have glass walls looking out over the city. I can attest to the ladies having a fantastic corner position with views in two directions. I believe the mens only looks in one direction, but the best one! I came across people taking photos of the view that weren’t in the bar, so you wouldn’t be the first person to do this.

The second day of our visit we had hoped for better weather, but we left our hotel and discovered a new layer of snow everywhere and heavy grey skies. I had a few things on the list for the day, but we would have to see how we went in the cold.

Our first stop was the Riga Central Markets. These markets are located in huge hangars right outside the city centre. The hangars were home to German zeppelins during World War I. Now they are filled with up to 3000 stalls selling all sorts of things.

The Riga Council is dedicated to keeping the cultural aspect since the markets are UNESCO listed, so the stalls contain traditional fresh food stalls or local handicrafts. There are a few small coffee or snack places too, where you can grab a drink and a snack. We tried some of the pastries and they were delicious.

Four large, low, connected buildings with curved rooves on the banks of a snow-covered river
The hangars of Riga Central Markets
Piles of lemons, zucchini, red and orange capsicums, eggplants and more
Fresh vegetables were everywhere.
Some of these spices I had never heard of
Pickled everything
Fish, fish and more fish.
A variety of pastries laid out for sale on a table at the Riga markets
We couldn’t go past the pastries

After our snack we walked towards the river to view the distinctive library building on the other side. We continued on over the bridge, making a quick stop into the library. This is another place where it’s possible to get some views over the city.

We asked if we could go up, but it is only possible on tours arranged in advance or to members of the library. We could have joined up but decided against it.

Looking across a frozen river to a steel bridge with five curved spans
One of the bridges over the frozen river, with ominous looking clouds in the background
A triangular shaped building
The National Library of Latvia

Now I was on a mission. One of our daughters was after a particular Pull & Bear t-shirt, and I had found a store in a shopping centre a bit further along the river. The weather wasn’t looking too bad, so we continued our walk.

We found the store, but no T-shirt. The style has been discontinued, and the only way to find it is to keep looking on the sale racks. This was not our first store, (and, as it worked out, was not our last) so we were not all that surprised not to find it.

The city’s third tall building, the Latvian Academy of Sciences, also has a viewing deck to see the panorama of the city

Rather than walk, we caught a bus back to the old town and again wandered the streets taking in some of the beautiful old buildings. I was particularly looking for the Brotherhood of the Blackheads buildings that we had been told about during our walking tour the previous day but hadn’t yet seen.

I wasn’t exactly sure where they were, just knew which direction, so we went back and forwards up and down a few different streets before we came to them – just as it started to snow again.

Riga Old Town
The lovely buildings surrounding one of the squares in Riga’s Old Town
The typical, cobbled, European Old Town streets.
The distinctive facade of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads guild house

It was getting towards late afternoon by the time we had finished looking around the old town, and we contemplated what to do next. Our walking tour guide Toms had suggested that a good way to see some of the suburbs of Riga was to catch the number 11 tram and do a loop out and back. This is also the tram to catch to the Riga Zoo, which is another option to visit in better weather.

We were cold and tired though, and the weather was still deteriorating, so we called it a day instead. The warmth and comfort of our hotel beckoned.

The Latvian National Opera House
Riga Latvia
Statues near the Latvian National Opera

We had plans to only warm up for an hour or two before going out again for dinner. We had heard the restaurant Folkklub was worth a visit, with good food and live music. It was in the old town though, about ten to fifteen minutes walk away. It was so cold as we went out, we ended up only going around the corner to a fast food place! Whoops.

As we left our hotel the following morning on the way to the bus station, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful blue skies. We were starting to think the weather gods really were against us because this was not the first time we had great weather on a travel day, but rubbish weather when we were exploring a city!

The Verdict

There was really nothing to dislike about Riga, but when I think back on the Baltic cities, it is not the first one to pop into my mind. We had such grey, wintery days while we were there, and since I just don’t cope with the cold so well, it really does affect my ability to enjoy a city.

I don’t think I would seek out Riga on its own to visit again, but if in the area during summer, a day or two having a look around when there is some colour in the city would be nice.

Like almost everywhere else in Europe, wifi was readily available almost everywhere. We still did not have a SIM card but were able to easily navigate and communicate just using wifi.

Riga was exceptionally cheap. I just looked up the price we paid for our accommodation and had to check it twice! The location was close to everything, the room was a decent size and comfortable and breakfast was included for an incredibly cheap price. Click here to check it out. For €10 it was possible to get a decent meal.

There were trams and buses going all over the city and they seemed well-organised. Tickets bought on board for a single trip were €2 each, although there are longer-term transport passes available if you are planning to use more public transport.


Ibis Riga Centre
Marijas Iela 5, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia
€32 ($50AUD/$37USD) per night including breakfast

Read more about the nearby countries here
Travel Diaries – Tallinn
Travel Diaries – Vilnius
Travel Diaries – Warsaw

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2 thoughts on “Travel Diaries – Riga”

  1. Great read, thanks for posting. I agree, I loved Riga – beautiful medieval city, friendly people, great vibes, exceptionally budget friendly. I went in April and it was still SNOWING!

    • Thanks Brianna. You would have experienced the cold we did then too! I want to go back sometime in summer to really enjoy the city

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