Riga - A Baltic City Worth Visiting

Latvia’s capital, Riga, is well worth visiting! It is the biggest city in the Baltic Countries by its population (almost 700 000) and its long and varied history has left its mark on the city. Latvia has belonged under Polish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule and even these days about 39% of the population is Russian. Riga’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its Art Nouveau architecture is world-renowned.

Unlike most people destined for Riga, we traveled there on a bus, not on a budget airline. The bus from Tallinn took four hours but it was quite all right when the travel company was as great as mine was. It was surprisingly noticeable when we had wandered over the border from Estonia to Latvia; the houses on the way became derelict and not well looked after, the roads were partly in horrendous condition and when we got into Riga the slum-like areas with most terrible blocks of flats were a truly depressing sight. For some reason I hadn’t expected such. The bus left us next to the old Zeppelin Halls, which these days host a variety of market stalls. One hall is dedicated for vegetables, one for meat, etc.

Bastejkalna Park

From the go the overall atmosphere in Riga was warmer than in Tallinn, more Slavic, which is a good thing. The city had a Central European vibe, just like Bratislava or Vienna, which Tallinn lacks completely. We started off from the bus station towards the Freedom Monument and to the Bastejkalna Park next to it. Such a lovely park! Very small but so cozy with a bridge about to collapse from the amount of Love Locks attached to it and the cutest Tea House I have ever laid eyes on. Overall I noticed that there were more parks in Riga than in Tallinn and they were much nicer. The parks and many other places in Riga reminded me a lot of Budapest.

Art Academy

We walked into the Old Town for a quick lunch (chicken soup and waffles) and then headed for the National Museum of Arts. We came across a gorgeous Gothic building, like a proper ghost castle, and obviously took it for the Museum. After all there was a gleaming silver statue of a fat lady in front of it. But it turned out to be an Art Academy. Now, if I could have studied in a building like that instead of the horrid metal box in Lemminkäisenkatu in Turku I would have been so much more motivated and inspired with my University studies than I was!

So, the Museum building turned out to be the more classic building behind the Gothic castle. We opted for the permanent collection (Adults 2€, Students 0,50€) but what we were most interested in was the main staircase in the hall. Oh my lord if one day I could have a house where I could fit such a beauty! There was a rooftop platform on the 5th floor but we were denied entry… Because obviously cloudy equals “Bad weather”. The exhibition was quick to go through, the building is not quite the same size as Louvre or Tate in London, so it was a perfect stop for a day-trip. Most of the time we spent ogling the staircase from the top, below and in the middle. It felt so wrong to walk down the steps without a shiny, flowing dress!

Next stop was the Radisson Hotel and their Sky Bar on the 27th floor. They have one in Tallinn as well but this is two stories higher and Tallinn doesn’t have a panoramic elevator. So cool! We got there just when the Sunday brunch was finishing but we had a quick look at what they had on offer. And if you are ever in Riga book a table from that brunch! It’s quite expensive but by the looks of it, it’s worth every cent. We had a glass of bubbly and enjoyed the view until it was time to go and familiarize ourselves with the Old Town.

There is sooo much to see in the Old Town of Riga! So many interesting, quirky buildings and little alleys. The only minus side was that even churches had an entrance fee. Somehow it felt very wrong. So no visits to the churches, but if you don’t mind paying then you should go to the top of the tower of St. Peter’s Church. Riga Cathedral was also an impressive building and more so when I learned that it had been built already in 1211. It’s the biggest church in the Baltic Countries. Probably the most interesting building architecture-wise was the House of Blackheads. It was built in the 1300s and belonged to the Great Guild in Riga until foreign merchants, the Blackheads Guild, took over it. The Riga Castle is on the bank of the Daugava River, but we didn’t venture there because there is a very limited area inside that you can see and it’s not one of the most interesting ones in the building. Getting lost in the Old Town is not a serious thing; it is so small and you can always find your way according to the many church towers. There are not too many steps required to find yourself wherever you need to be.

House of the Blackheads

Riga Cathedral
We had booked a table in a restaurant called Dominicanes before the return journey. It was situated right at the foot of the St. Peter’s church and the interior was absolutely lovely as was the staff. I went for a summery goat cheese salad with beetroot for a starter and a beef steak with vegetables for main. Ever since Bratislava I have been a bit anxious to order a steak  because if it’s not perfectly done it’s such a disappointment. But this steak was cooked to perfection and the roasted vegetables were wonderfully seasoned. I got a starter, main course, a glass of wine and a bottle of water for a price of cheap steak in Finland. I left the restaurant a happy girl.

There was a rumour that Fazer Blue chocolate was cheaper in Latvia than in Estonia so before returning to the bus we went to a local Rimi to see if they had Fazer in their selection. And we left the store with no Fazer. Not because they didn’t have it but because it cost half more than in Estonia or in Finland. Overall I was very surprised at the prices in the store: vegetables, bread and candy was a lot more expensive than in Tallinn. Presumably Latvians still don’t earn as much as Estonians do so either these were only center area prices or the people of Latvia must be starving.

Despite the high prices the trip was absolutely brilliant! One day was quite enough to see all the main attractions in the city but if you are staying for several days I would recommend a trip out of the center as well, for example to Jurmala by the Baltic Sea. Apparently they have some great beaches to offer! I am just so happy I finally got to visit Riga, after one and a half years of living in Tallinn. It was about time!  


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