A weekend in Riga, Latvia

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Have you ever done that awkward thing, where you arrive at a destination to check in and somehow the days have gotten ahead of you and it turns out you have arrived a day early? Well that happened to us on our arrival in Riga. We'd booked Johnson's House which is a 20 minute walk from The Old Town of Riga. We arrived in Riga, Latvia by us and after taking a cab to the 'self service' style accommodation we realised we were just a little early for check in.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia at a glance

  Language: Latvian, Russian and English is widely spoken

✓ Currency: Euro

  Drinks: €3-€7 - Pricier in The Old Town

 Eating: Street Burger is a must visit

  Accommodation - Party Hostel: The Naughty Squirrel

 Accommodation - Chilled: Johnson's House, Agenskalns

✓ Must do: Riga's 'Alternative' Walking Tour

  Top Tip: Grab the free 'With Locals' map (available throughout the Baltics)

All prices in Euro

Arriving in Riga Latvia

Fortunately, our hosts were very accommodating and we were able to easily stay an extra night. Please always check your booking information to avoid looking like an idiot when you arrive in a new country/hostel.

   


When I arrived in Riga my immediate first impression was disappointment. Arriving in Vilnius, Lithuania a few days ago at night was more impressive than the lonely bus station we found ourselves at in Riga. We were on the edge of the river and there was nothing in our immediate surroundings that made me feel like I was in the centre of Latvia's capital.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
The city of Riga, Latvia
I read somewhere in my Europe Lonely Planet that this is how most people feel when they arrive in Riga by train or bus, as each of the stations are a 10-15 minute walk from the beautiful and much more desirable Old Town, or the actual city centre. A history rich suburban area of Riga. As mentioned we arrived a day earlier than expected but fortunately we were able to extend our stay to an extra night which gave us more time to explore Riga.

Getting to know Riga and the suburb of Agenskalns

Exploring The Old Town of Riga in the late afternoon sun became the perfect way to start our time in Latvia after leaving the bland bus station behind we were easily able to find The Old Town of Riga. We were joined in our afternoon activity of exploring by every other tourist in Riga all crammed into the busy tourist hot spots. We soon realised that Riga, like Vilnius was much more expensive than Poland and we began to notice a pattern of high priced dining among the many restaurants throughout The Old Town of Riga.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Arriving in Riga's Old Town
This wasn't actually a problem for us we were staying in the trendy suburb of Agenskalns where eating and drinking is much easier on your wallet, mainly due to the limited presence of tourists here. We'd booked to stay in a self service hostel named Johnson's House located over the river from The Old Town. Johnson's House is quiet and exceptionally clean, if you don't want to stay amongst the bustle of The Old Town then check it out.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Agenskalns, Riga
One of our favourite places to eat in Angensklansand a must try in Riga is Street Burger. With three veggie options (a rarity for a burger restaurant) and everything from Greek style lamb burgers, Venison burgers to the classic Cheeseburger there's something for everyone. Add a drink and fries to your burger to make a meal deal and still pay under €10.00 to eat. Along with the Agenskalns restaurant there is another Street Burger in Riga's City Centre. No, that isn't The Old Town.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Agenskalns again

The Old Town vs. Riga's City Centre

Let me clear this up. The Old Town of Riga is not Riga's actual city centre. Which may come as a surprise to you.
A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Source: Google Maps
Centrs is the actual city centre of Riga and cheaper bars and restaurants can be found here. Mostly filled with locals rather than the usual stag do you'll find occupying many of the best places to eat in The Old Town of Riga, Centrs is where you'll blend in with the locals on a Friday night. 
A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Riga's Old Town
Many tourists find this quite confusing and it's not uncommon for someone to end up at a hotel in the city centre rather than Riga's Old Town.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Riga Centrs 

Be sure to leave The Old City of Riga and explore the historic suburbs of Latvia's capital. For budget travellers Centrs is where you should be eating and drinking for cheap.

Exploring Riga, Latvia

Riga's Old Town is twice the size of Vilnius' Old Town with twice as many bars and restaurants serving up every type of cuisine imaginable. If you feel like some reggae try Coco Loco, Cuban try Cuba Cafe, Australian try the Aussie Pub. There is simply something to suit everyone in Riga's Old Town and the flocks of tourists are a constant reminder that Riga is the go-to destination of the Baltic Countries.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Old Riga
By nightfall in Riga The Old Town erupts with beer drinking Scandinavian tourists, Russians on holiday and the classic embarrassment of a British stag do in printed T shirts. Now, I try not to judge but it's easy to see why British lads on a stag do get a bad reputation for themselves in a small city like Riga.



We found ourselves in Peter's Brewhouse during the Champions League final and thanks to the football there wasn't an empty seat in the house. We had picked a less rowdy spot as we were still nursing a hangover from our pub crawl in Vilnius the night before.

At Peter's Brewhouse €7.50 will buy you a tasting platter of 3 Latvian beers and a small beer snack. Like Lithuania, Latvia is also home to deep fried, garlic covered cheese smothered, beer snacks. Something I can only hope catches on in the UK and the rest of the world. Beer snacks in the Baltics are truly a gift to the world.

Peter's Brewhouse, Riga, Latvia

A weekend in Riga, Latvia

Hacking Riga's expensive restaurants

For cheap eats look for diner-style restaurants in Riga. They have Cili like Lithuania and also something called Lido which is a similar concept. Another great way to eat for cheap in Riga is by checking out the handy Rimi hypermarkets that can be found throughout the Baltics. A great alternative for budget travellers is grabbing some picnic food or a cheap pastry for lunch or breakfast.  Fresh bread, pastries and pizza's are baked daily. Rimi also has a deli counter for travellers who fancy something less snacky. You can by roast chicken, Tortilla and more.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Street Burger - Veggie for me and Meaty for Jamie


Riga's 'alternative' free walking tour

After such an enjoyable free walking tour in Vilnius, Lithuania we decided we'd definitely be up for taking part in another walking tour in Riga. We arrived at St. Peter's Church in the Old Town of Riga around 15 minutes early for the walking tour to start at midday. We waited around 25 minutes for the tour to actually start but instantly realised we were in the correct location as small groups of other tourists started to accumulate outside of the church.


A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Riga's Alternative Free Walking Tour

Our host showed up a few minutes late but made up for this with a fun and sarcastic introduction. If you plan on taking this tour look out for the battered and beaten yellow suitcase the tour guide holds. Once you spot that then you'll know you have arrived at Riga's free 'alternative' walking tour.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia


Now, when I say 'alternative' I mean it. The tour boycotts Riga's Old Town that turns out to be much younger than you would expect. And you are taken straight to Riga Centrs - the actual city centre of Riga. I've read one or two reviews that weren't too keen on this approach but I found it to be really refreshing. We had already spent the majority of our time in Riga in The Old Town and had already learnt as much as possible about the renovated churches and buildings that all fill the cobbled streets of Riga's Old Town. 

Europe's largest market - Riga Central Market

The first stop outside the Old Town is Riga's esteemed Central Market and Bazaar. Riga's Central Market is the largest market and bazaar in not only Latvia, but Europe and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The market is unique due to the five large German Zeppelin hangars that house the actual market. The hangars contain thousands of various stalls from fruit and veg to fish and the rest. Its not just food you'll find at Riga Central Market, you can also by clothes and electronics.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Riga Central Market, Riga, Latvia
The tour takes you right through Riga Central Market and out at the other side where you have officially reached Riga Centrs and the tour truly begins. First stop and the top of my bucket list was the Latvian Academy of Science for no other reason than the building itself. The large towering Stalinist building this style of architecture was named after a range of Stalin-era skyscrapers that can be found all over the ex-Soviet Union. 

Pagan Pride

The one thing I will say I respected most about Latvian culture is their pride towards Latvian Pagan heritage. The Pagan culture once ruled the whole of the Baltic region. Long before Catholicism was brought to the Baltic states the three countries were proudly Pagan and that's actually something Riga is very keen to share with tourists. 


Many of the souvenir shops in Riga are filled with wooden crafts depicting Pagan styles. Check them out if you're planning on doing some shopping in The Old Town.



A weekend in Riga, Latvia


Day Trips from Riga

If you have some time to kill and the weather is as beautiful as it was for us take the train from Riga Central Station to Dubulti or Majori a return ticket will cost you €2.73. Jurmala is the main resort on the Gulf of Riga. A long clean stretch of sandy beach known for its soviet architecture, wooden buildings and affiliation with The Russian's.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
The train from Riga Central Train Station

A weekend in Riga, Latvia

We got off  the train at a stop called Majori and returned from Dubulti after walking up the beach for around 20 minutes. You can stop to have a drink or watch some sports - it was a volleyball tournament in our case. Majori is what I would describe as an extremely pleasant family friendly seaside town with restaurants and souvenir shops all lining the only street. If you had more time in Riga it may even be nice to spend a night or two here to enjoy the coastal forest backdrop of Jurmala.

A weekend in Riga, Latvia
Jurmala, Latvia

A weekend in Riga, Latvia

We ended up spending a lot more time in Riga than originally planned. Air travel from the Baltics to the UK is a little frustrating and after our time in Tallinn, Estonia we had to head back to Riga to catch our flight which meant our final night and day was spent in Riga. Which meant for us, another trip to Original Burger was an absolute must. Our walking tour guide told us that Riga has the reputation of being the 'Baltics bus stop' and although that may be true I rarely noticed anyone passing by. It seems to me that although Latvia and Riga are the transport capital of The Baltics people often find a reason to stay, whether they had intended to or not. 


A weekend in Riga, Latvia

Click here for more of my Baltics Road Trip


A weekend in Riga, Latvia - by travelsandmore

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4 comments

  1. This was great to read! I come from Vilnius, and visit Riga very often, so it's always useful to look at it with fresh eyes. And yes, garlic bread is the best! ;)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind comment. I also have a post on my time in Vilnius that you may like too! I really enjoyed the Baltic's and I'm sure I'll be back soon.

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  2. Beautiful photos! Seems like a great trip! My dream is to do a road trip along the Baltic countries, so pinning this for later, there are very useful informations!

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    Replies
    1. Glad you found this useful! I also have Lithuania and Estonia posts you may find useful for your trip. If you need any additional advice just drop me an email. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete

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travelsandmore was originally just an outlet to document my travels. It turned into something much more and now its more of an obsession for me than anything else. Thanks for stopping by. Don't forget to subscribe, I'll only ever send you my latest travel related blog posts right to your inbox.