At first impression, Riga felt like a small city. And it’s easy to think it is in the scheme of the world. But the fact is, it houses about a third of the Latvian population, and it’s the third largest Baltic city after St. Petersburg and Stockholm. And fun fact: Riga is older than both of those cities.
Late last night, Rosie and I flew into Riga from Stockholm. We hopped on the 22 bus just outside the airport, feeling smart for buying our tickets for 1.15 euros inside (it’s 2 euros if you wait and pay on the bus). It dropped us off just on the edge of the Old Town.
From there we dragged our suitcases across the cobblestone to the Tree House hostel. It wasn’t a pretty sound or sight, but we made it. The hostel is absolutely adorable. I’ve already taken a ton of photos of the little space so I will share that another day.
The very next morning we woke up, scarfed down the hostel breakfast and zipped on our jackets as fast as we could to make the 11am Old Town free walking tour.
Although I think it’s great to stray from the tourist crowds (which are very thin here in Riga anyways!), a walking tour is a great way to get out of the door and start exploring on the first morning. I like to take one to get my bearings and add a little context to the city.
Our guide, the sweetest old gentleman, was obviously a history buff and told us all about the countless times Riga was invaded and occupied by Sweden, Russia and even Germany once, I think.
Based on the experience, I think Riga has a little something to please everyone. History, pretty picture-perfect pastel old houses lining the streets, lots of gardens, old churches, cobblestone streets and ghost stories. Oh and you can get about a dozen different weather experiences in one day. It was sunny and warm at one point, then rainy and cold, windy, overcast, you name it.
Beyond Old Town, we walked to the Center District, which based on our map of recommendations houses all the good little cafes and boutiques. Much like the hipster island, Sodermalm, did in Stockholm.
We stopped first at an adorable vegetarian coffee shop Miit, only to realize too late is was cash only. The barista was kind enough to give us a pastry on the house (which we will have to return to repay and eat a real lunch).
From there we decided to eat at La Kanna instead, and it was amazing. Highly recommend.
We loved the laid back lunch atmosphere and the fresh flowers they put out on each table. And the overly exaggerated size of the bowls and utensils made us laugh. The food was so delicious that I forgot to take a picture before we dove in. That’s saying a lot!
Afterwards we explored more of the Central District. Some of our favorite spots from this area included… The ornate Russian Orthodox church. (But while the little bakery next door in the park smelled amazing the pastries were lack luster.)
The view from the Skyline bar at the Radisson Blu. (Although it’s through glass and I think the view from St. Peter’s Church is going to be better.)
And Robert’s Books because the staff were so inviting and friendly, and the fact that a coffee shop turned book shop turned afternoon wine sounds like such a happy place. We will be back to chat more with them tomorrow.
For dinner we returned to the Old Town to eat at Folkklubs Ala. The beer is inexplicably cheap – and good. The food is also cheap – and pretty decent. What surprised us was the atmosphere. We wandered down wooden steps into a dark hallway, and just when we thought we were going to enter some mellow, dimly lit beer establishment we were greeted with a full on Litvian party. Staff in cultural outfits, live music and a huge dining hall. We had to shimmy up to the last two seats at the bar to get served. It’s definitely a fun way to get a little taste of the traditional culture.
We have one more full day in Riga before we start heading north to Estonia. While this is definitely enough time to explore, we are already wishing we could stay and hang out longer.