Riga Mini Guide
About the city
The capital of Latvia and also the biggest city in the Baltic states, Riga has a lot going for it. It is also a sea port and situated on the Daugava River. From the middle ages until the present, Riga is the largest trading centre in the Baltic. It is famous for its 19th century charm, historic merchant past and the Art Nouveau architecture that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is sometimes referred to as ‘the Paris of the north’.
How do you get there?
Most visitors to Riga, arrive at Riga International Airport, 10km from the city. From there it is easy to drive into the city via the E22 and P133 highway. Alternatively, you can take bus route 22 or the Airport Express shuttle service. International coach services connect Riga to Poland
, Estonia, Belarus
and Lithuania and the Ukraine. A train service is available to Russia and Estonia. To get around the city, you can use the tram, trolleybus or bus service.
What sort of things can I see?
You can go to the top of St Peter’s Church (there is an elevator!) and see the spectacular Riga skyline. To get a real feel of the city, take a walking tour around the cobblestone streets of the old city. Don’t forget to look out for the art nouveau buildings scattered around the city centre. Latvia is known as ‘the land that sings’ and the Opera House is a prime example of its cultural heritage. Also visit the 5 bridges that cross the River Daugava, they date from 1914 to the present. Each bridge has its own history and its own story.
Things to do and places to go
The city centre has so many green areas, you could forget you are in a city. You can go for a stroll in Esplanade Park or stop by Vermanes Park, it is the centre of daily life in the city. Just a tram or bus ride away, you can take a taste of the country at Lake Jugla or the seaside at Majori. Or take a step back in time at the Open Air Museum, where you can see how the Latvians used to live.
For shopping addicts?
Riga’s Central Market is one of the largest in Europe, but you can also shop in the new shopping malls, vintage stores or designer boutiques. Look for souvenirs made by local artists using local produce, such as amber and linen. Bergas Bazars, is a city within a city, with boutiques, art galleries, cafés and a farmers market. The Night Market is the best place to buy local products such as herbal teas, hemp butter, local cheese, smoked fish and honey.
Eating and drinking
There are plenty of cafés and teahouses where you can sample the local pastries, cakes and breads. Some of the local specialities you should try are the yellow onion and bacon stuffed pastries, fine rye bread and caraway seed cheese. The honey cake is also delicious and Riga black balsam with coffee or ice cream. Most of Riga’s traditional dishes are based on the four seasons, the most exciting being hunting season and mushroom and strawberry season.
There are an abundance of festivals and events held in Riga, there is always something going on! One of the most famous is in November, when Riga becomes the ‘City of Light’ with buildings and installations being illuminated by the latest in lighting and video techniques.
Riga is a beautiful old city of contrasts; from the 18th and 19th century buildings of the old town, reminiscent of old Western Europe, to the communist era blocks of flats on the outskirts. A tour of the old town is essential including a visit to the iconic House of Blackheads which today houses a museum, a spectacular ballroom and a wine cellar.
If you have a hire car and want to see what life was like under the Soviets, head for the outskirts of the city where you’ll see the dozens of grim grey concrete blocks of flats.