Trip Report Series:
Review: Air France Lounge, New York JFK Terminal 1
Three Days in Vilnius, Lithuania
Review: IDW Esperanza Resort Lounge, Vilnius Airport
Three Days in Riga, Latvia
Review: Primeclass Business Lounge, Riga International Airport (RIX)
Review: Air Baltic Economy Class, Riga to Tallinn
Three Days in Tallinn, Estonia: A Foodie’s Paradise!
Review: Tallink Megastar, Tallinn to Helsinki
Review: Aspire Lounge, Helsinki Vantaa Airport
Review: KLM Business Class, Helsinki to London Heathrow (via Amsterdam)
Review: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London Heathrow
Review: Delta One Business Class, London Heathrow to Atlanta
After flying airBaltic from Vilnius to Riga, we arrived on a somewhat rainy day in Latvia. One of the first things that I noticed was that Riga is a much more commercially-developed city over Vilnius, which is more agrarian and a little less, “dense,” relatively speaking.
Riga is the most populous city in the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) and Latvia joined the European Union in 2014. I found that it was slightly more expensive than Vilnius, but overall, still very inexpensive for a European country.
Riga International airport (RIX) is the primary hub for airBaltic, and Uber is readily available for transport to and from the city. The fare should cost no more than 15 EUR for a one-way trip.
Where to Stay
I strongly suggest staying at the Hotel Pullman Riga Old Town. It has a prime location that is walking distance to the heart of old town, the Daugava river and all of the main sites, restaurants, and bars within the city. It is built into an 18th-century building but has a very modern interior with a nice, luxurious feel to it.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel is absolutely incredible, similar to the one we had in Vilnius, and the check-in desk doubles as a cocktail bar during the after hours. The exceptionally friendly hosts were always willing to make us specialty drinks at most hours of the day, and even at one point let down a projector and put out some furniture so that we could watch a soccer game and relax.
There are some other hidden features of this hotel, such as a cigar and scotch bar and a small spa on one of the upper floors.
Exploring Riga by Foot
Riga is a very walkable city, and the locals are very proud of the plethora of green spaces, parks, and streams that adorn each neighborhood. The town halls and churches are adjacent to numerous outdoor cafes, bars, and restaurants teeming with fauna and color, particularly in the warmer weather periods. Walking around old town can be accomplished in an hour, and you’ll hit most of the major sites, such as:
- St. Peter’s Church
- Dome Cathedral (and Dome square)
- The House of the Blackheads
- Jacob’s Barracks
- Riga’s old city wall
- Riga Castle
It is also an easy jaunt over to the Nativity Cathedral, which is a Russian Orthodox Church and perhaps one of the most beautiful church interiors I have ever seen in Europe!
The Skybar in Riga is definitely worth a visit – you’ll get an incredible view of the city and the river (they also say St. Peter’s has a great view, although I did not make it up in that tower).
Museums and Tours
A must-do in Riga is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. It contains artifacts, documents and exhibits on the 51-year period in which Latvia was occupied by the USSR in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and then again by the USSR in 1944 through the end of the Cold War.
Another museum tour which was recommended, although I did not get to do, is the KGB Building
On a slightly lighter note, we went to the Amber Beverage Group distillery where you can get a taste of Riga Black Balsam, an herbal Latvian liqueur. They also bottle Stolichnaya vodka and export their products to over 30 countries. There is a lot of fascinating information along with a great tasting.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
We had some fantastic meals in Latvia, and these were a few of my favorite restaurants and bars:
Egle Beer Garden
We actually came back here several times because it is a huge, open-air restaurant that offers live music at night. For supper, I enjoyed a really delicious scrambled quail egg dish and it paired beautifully with a Valmiermuza beer. Since this is a beer garden, after all, you are going to be spoiled for all of the different varieties of Latvian beer on tap. You can also order hookahs at this restaurant, particularly if you are here for a night cap. If you do choose to sit outside, bring some layers because it can get chilly.
3 Pavāru Restorāns “Tam labam būs augt“
This translates to, “The Three Chefs Restaurant: The Good Must Grow!” It is a bit more upscale, foodie-style dining in Riga right in the heart of old town. We had a delicious 3-course lunch here that features locally-sourced game and produce and innovative desserts.
High-end Latvian cuisine.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs
Another upscale restaurant in Riga, located in a cellar, that also offers a neat beer flight that infuses local balsams. Definitely worth a try.
A typical Eastern European club. Great music, fantastic service, and lively scene.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about Riga was crossing the Daugava river by foot. This would be a fantastic bridge for a run, and one could easily explore all the parks on either side of the bridge.
Verdict: Riga is Safe, Relaxing, Entertaining and Delicious
You’ll find that Riga is very accessible, friendly and laid-back. The city is clean and cheery (when the weather is nice) and like most cities with long-winters, people take to the outdoors when the sun is out and the number of hours in the day stretch until 11:00 PM or later. Riga is a quick connection from most European cities through airBaltic’s extensive codeshare agreements, and one can find plentiful accommodations, attractions, cuisines, sights and history to provide plenty of entertainment for several days.