Riga was the final city in our itinerary which spanned four countries. We reached Riga at 5.30pm from Tallinn via the 1pm coach. Read about the overall trip itinerary here and the individual city guides here: Moscow, Golden Ring, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn.
How to reach
Lux Express is the preferred coach service between Tallinn and Riga and has 13 departures a day (this was true during the time of this blog, please check info at their website. These are comfortable buses with on-site toilet services and complimentary tea and coffee.
We boarded the 1pm bus from Tallinn Coach station and reached Riga after about 4 hrs 25 mins with a short stop at Parnu. Parnu is a resort city in Estonia and would be a good town to spend a few days in. If you have a chance do visit it, as for me, I have it noted down for the next time.
Where to stay
We had booked into Boutique Hotel Man Tess which I would say is an excellent budget stay. It was at walking distance from the coach station, even with all our luggage, a few steps from the Galleria mall and right in the confluence of old and new Riga. You can easily walk to all the places of attraction in Riga (both in the Old Town as well as the new town). Would highly recommend this hotel and the area near this hotel for your stay.
What to see
Riga’s Old Town is smaller than Tallinn’s and is more integrated with the modern part of the town. If you are staying near the Galleria Mall, then you can start your walk from St Peter’s church (you can climb the church tower via a lift and it will cost EUR 9 pp), and then onto the House of Blackheads which is also the Town Square. From there start north where you reach the Dome Cathedral which is one of the most important churches of the Old Town. Its a beautiful church inside out and it stands in the Dome square. This is where you will also find the UNESCO World Heritage marker about 50m from the church in the Dome Square. On the adjacent road running out of the Dome square you will find the iconic Three Brothers where, I am sure, you will spend considerable time trying to fit all ‘three brothers’ in the same frame, because it is practically impossible to do so. Then walk further north to reach St Jacob’s cathedral and finally go west where you will find yourself at Riga Castle and also the fringe of the Old Town.
From the Riga Castle, if you walk south east wards, you will reach the Jacob’s Barrack which is behind the Jacob’s Cathedral which is also the longest building in the Old Town. The Swedish gate is just opposite the barrack which was built in the late 17th century when the Swedes were still in power. The west side of the Swedish Gate is a criss cross of narrow cobbled streets which will transport you to medieval Europe in a flash. On the south side of Jacob’s Barrack is the Powder Tower, named due to the gunpowder stored here, which was part of the fortification provide by the barrack and the Swedish gate. The Powder Tower is now restructured to be included into the Latvian War Museum, which I would recommend as a must see. Even if you are short of time, just spend an hour to see the horrors of the World War unfold on not just Latvia but the entire world.
When you reach the fringes of the Old Town near the Riga Castle you will have reached the shores of the Daugava river and the statue of Big Christopher would greet you with the Shroud Bridge in the background. Its a lovely setting to watch the sun go down. There are regular cruises that leave from here with drinks and dinner on the deck if you would like one. But most of these looked a tad bit garrulous to me so I took to walking alongside the river instead.
The other side of the new town is when you walk north westwards from the Galleria mall (or my hotel) via the Valnu iela. You will, on your right, find the Monument of Freedom flanked on both sides by lush green gardens. Its a lovely park to spend time in, especially if you are there during summer. Also if you are interested in the history of Latvian Occupation you should visit the Museum of Occupation, which is originally near the House of the Blackheads, but it was closed when we visited in July’17 and a temporary exhibition was organised in a building near the park.
If you have an extra day to spend in Riga, I would highly recommend visiting the beach at Jurmala. You could take the train to this resort city and spend a sunny day by the beach. Riga was infact the only city in our entire tour covering Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki and Estonia where we found bright sunlight all through the day.
Where to eat
Old Town and the new part of town are dotted with restaurants and coffee shops. The first afternoon we had our meal at the Street Fries Kitchen which was just opposite our hotel. The food was quite good. We had coffee at a couple of other locations one of which was just round the corner from our hotel, on the R. Vagnera iela and the other one was in the square in front of St Peter’s Church. There was a chinese takeway adjacent to the Mac Donalds opposite the Monument of Freedom which was quite the economical option for a night meal. But the one restaurant that stands out in our short trip was the Province near St Peter’s church. I will highly recommend it if you are looking for a good atmosphere, moderate prices and authentic Latvian cuisine.
Before you leave
The Latvians love their Amber and why wouldn’t they, Amber “substance of the sun” as the Ancient Greeks had called it, has mesmerized people with its deep glow for thousands of years. Surprisingly it is not a gem, instead a resin of the pine tree fossilized through ages and found along the Latvian seaside. When in Latvia this is one of the most bought souvenirs. There is also an old saying that anyone returning from Latvia should bring a silver ring for good luck. So I decided to buy an Amber silver ring and gifted to my mother. What better way for good luck