1 Sept 2017

Riga, Latvia (June 2017)

House of the Blackheads

I’ll be honest, when Ryan said he wanted to go to Riga, I wondered the heck why, after tentatively asking if Riga was, indeed, the capital of Latvia. Or was it Lithuania? Or the other one?*

It was Latvia.

I didn’t know anyone who had been to Latvia. What was in Latvia? Why did he want to go to LATVIA? I’ve said Latvia too much. L a t v i a. 

Turns out that, quite obviously, Latvia has its own significant history with World War II, so of course Ryan wanted to go to Latvia. 

And so began another fun-filled weekend of history and war and museums, with a big ol’ extra dollop of communism. But, spoiler: Latvia is great. Go to Latvia. I’ll tell you why.

The initial thing I realised about going to Riga was that it was going to be gloriously cheap. Ish. They use the Euro, so that’s just a great slap in the face, but it’s still cheaper compared to other European cities, and a lot of things to do in Riga are free.

We flew with Ryanair, which I was slightly irrationally annoyed about because I thought we could have a go with Air Baltic, but flying Ryanair from Stansted was cheaper. This time we drove to the airport and left the car, which was about £40 for four days, Friday to Monday. Trains wouldn't have been much cheaper (our flight was at silly o’clock in the morning anyway), it was nice not relying on a parent for a lift, and knowing we could just rely on ourselves and get home easily made the £40 worth it. 

Daugava River

Riga has a river *smiles to camera* so we looked for a hotel that was near that river - the Daugava. We opted for the SemaraH Metropole hotel (which just made me think of The Ring tbh) which looked slightly chain-y like our hotel in Salzburg but more… rustic? Less business-y. 

Riga Castle

The flight to Riga was two and a half hours, and Latvia is two hours ahead of BST… just for your general information. Write that down. I said that I didn’t know anyone who had been to Riga, but that was a slight lie. A friend had been for a work party (sidenote: a work party abroad? My charity-worker mind is blown), and I thought that was odd. Then we got on the plane with two stag do parties, so it became obvious quite quickly that Riga was a popular party spot.

Something else that became obvious was OH BOY IT’S COLD. We stepped off the plane in shorts and t-shirts because we’re knobs, because Latvia is QUITE NORTH. It is *gestures wildly upwards*. We hadn’t brought any jackets, jumpers, or even a cardigan. Thankfully there was a H&M near our hotel so we emergency-bought a jumper each, losing €40 in the process. 

Getting to the city from the airport is easy: the 22 bus. €2 if you buy a single ticket from the driver, and €1.15 if you buy a ticket from a kiosk in the terminal. It takes about half an hour to the city and has a bunch of stops, so have a Google of where it’s easiest for you to be dropped off.

Our hotel was lovely and the staff were even lovelier. That was the first thing we noticed about Latvia: the people are SO NICE?! Really nice. The nicest. We felt really welcomed. However, though the hotel was pretty lush, our room was less so. It wasn’t dirty, but it was very old and in need of some renovating. But it didn’t put us off - we only use the room as a base after all. 

Three Brothers

After acquiring a map, we went off exploring. Riga is small, but you can get lost very easily; there are so many little tiny roads that branch off into other tiny roads, but you always end up somewhere you recognise. 

We headed for the classic tourist spots of Riga: the Town Musicians of Bremen (based on the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm), the Freedom Monument (where the guards march incredibly slowly…), the House of the Blackheads, and the Three Brothers 

 Freedom Monument

Freedom Monument

The idea is to touch all of the animals on the Town Musicians of Bremen sculpture for luck, which only Ryan was tall enough to do, so… no luck for me. It was created the year before Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union, and represents just that… freedom, sticking together, and basically a big ‘fuck you’, just like the fairytale. Kind of?

Town Musicians of Bremen

The House of the Blackheads (featured photo) is probably the most famous tourist spot in Riga, and the most pretty building among many architectural beauties in the city. It's had many functions over the years, and has been rebuilt many times too. But mostly it’s just bloody pretty and great for a photo op. 

Our first night in Riga saw us at Egle, the big bar in the middle of one of the squares in Riga. You won’t miss it, especially in the evenings. They have a bunch of local bands playing throughout the afternoon into the night, and the stag dos are like flies to lights to the place. I had rabbit cacciatore with potatoes for dinner which I wasn't really a fan of - rabbit is way too sweet for me - but may I recommend the cocktails? Because boy, they are strong and cheap and beautiful. The Hemingway Daiquiri’s on me.

The next day was meant to be the sunniest, so we grabbed the opportunity for a canal tour in the morning. There are a couple to choose from and we went with ‘Riga by canal’. It was very cute on a tiny boat, but there’s no commentary. You’re left to work things out by yourself. It didn’t matter too much, it was the most chill hour or so, and chillY when you turn into the Daugava. Seriously, it’s windy.

There are no hills or mountains in Riga - the castle isn't quite the 'castle on the hill' akin to so many other European cities - so there are no natural high spots for amazing views of the city. Instead, we chose to get the lift to the top of the Radisson Blu on Elizabetes Street to their Skyline Bar. It’s free to get in, unlike St Peter’s Church which also offers great views, but you’ll want a cocktail. They’re expensive and called things like Cocaine, Get Naked, and Lady Killer. I went for the more tame Candy Crush myself. Oh, and have a shot of Latvian Balzam. It’s absolutely gross (apparently, according to Ryan) but it’s a rite of passage. And yes, yes the views are beautiful, you can see for miles, etc etc etc… 

By recommendation, we went to Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs for dinner that night. It’s a proper folk club underground, with amazing food, beer, and wine. I had Julienne chicken with Latvian rye bread, then classic Latvian meatballs. I really did go all out on the local food for this trip. I’m growing! We didn’t stay into the evening (they needed our table) but it’s meant to be a riot with live music, so we can assume it’s bangin’…

Instead, we went to a few bars and watched the Saturday night stag dos while drinking cocktails and beers with blankets. We were still in bed by 11pm, but were then wide awake again gone midnight. Turns out Riga goes WILD at night after being so tame during the day. People, families included, don’t go out for dinner until late and it feels like the population triples. On this particular Saturday night there were fireworks in the early hours, too. Like no big deal. Just a bunch of fireworks. Sure.

Sunday was Ryan’s birthday which meant museum day. I won’t go into them all because WE WENT TO FIVE MUSEUMS (three on this day and two the next - even Ryan struggled with five in one day). One day I will need my own museum: The Trials and Tribulations of Louise Emily Jones’ Forced Museum Experiences. Anyway, we went to the Riga  Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum (free), Jews in Latvia Museum (free), Latvian War Museum (free), History of Latvia and Navigation (like €4 each, I began to lose it at this point), and the Museum of Occupation (few €s donation, and I actually enjoyed this one!). Latvians are incredibly passionate about their history and heritage, and are quite bold, brave, and blunt with their exhibits to shout about how they were treated during the war. It's a side you never usually hear about in the standard popular narrative. It's fascinating, and hits you quite hard. AND THAT’S ALL ABOUT THE MUSEUMS. 

Ryan chose the less Latvian restaurant of Armenia for dinner. It was incredible. The waiter helped us choose our dishes and explained which order they’d come in and why. He seriously knew his stuff. The wine was also beautiful. It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Then , when we got back to the hotel, we found a complimentary bottle of prosecco! It didn't last long.

Our last day was cloudy but we didn’t mind. We finished the round of museums which were thankfully open, because it turns out that a lot of places are closed in Riga on Mondays. Take note. You’ll end up just spending the rest of your euros on drink instead… which was fine with us. A few last photos of Riga classics, then a pizza and a cocktail at Il Patio (which seemed to be their chain Italian) and we were back on the 22 bus to the airport.

Latvian National Opera

St Mary's Dome Cathedral

Riga is a beautiful little place with way more history than you might think. It's been through a lot, and the people are strong and kind because of it. It may not be for you if you’re not bothered by history and museums, but you can do a lot of walking and exploring of streets, canals, rivers, and restaurants and bars in abundance. There’s a reason it’s popular for stag dos. 

I only wish we’d travelled the three Baltics in one trip. It would have been pretty cool to do Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius one after the other. They’re a tight and gorgeous little trio, I’ve found.

*No offence to Estonia. I’ve heard great things.


  1. Oh my! Sounds lush. I've been dying to go to Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn for years and this might have just swung the decision to make it (one of) my big trip(s) next year.

    1. Amazing, do it! You'll have to let me know what it's like travelling the trio.