Next stop on the Baltic tour – Riga, Latvia. About four hours from Tallinn, this city is brimming with art nouveau architecture, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. It’s situated on the Baltic Sea and is the largest city in all the Baltic States.
If you’re traveling between the Baltic States, I recommend taking Lux Express buses. They are clean, on time, comfortable, equipped with power sockets and wi-fi, and bathrooms that weren’t terrifying! They are also very reasonably priced – from Tallinn to Riga I paid €20 for the four-hour journey.
Best accommodation for solo travelers or partyers: Naughty Squirrel Backpackers
I will admit, as someone who isn’t into bar crawls and nights that end at 6 in the morning, I was a bit hesitant to book this hostel. I am so glad I did though, as the atmosphere perfect to keep my solo-traveler energy going. It is a super easy place to meet people, and the girls who run the hostel are a lot of fun. I normally shy away from hostel bar crawls, but I am so glad I went on the one put on by this hostel. It is very centrally located, with a bar that never closes and it has all the amenities you need. Kitchen, social area, big lockers to lock up all your stuff and plenty of showers and toilets on each floor. I was also pleasantly surprised at how respectful all the guests were – I had no problem sleeping through the drunks getting home late at night.
Things to See & Do in Riga
Historical City Center
The Old Town/Historical Center of Riga is perfect for walking around because most of the streets are 100% pedestrian. There are lots of little shops and restaurants, museums and other points of interest.
House of Black Heads
This is the most recognizable building in the historical center of Riga. It is a reconstruction of the original building, which was bombed and destroyed by the Germans during WWII. It was originally constructed in the 14th century as a guild for the unmarried merchants of Riga. The reconstruction was completed in 1999.
St. Peters Church
A beautiful Lutheran church in the city center. You can pay a small fee to go to the top of the tower for 360 views of Riga.
A massive market near the bus station in Riga, a good place to stop if you are traveling for awhile and need to pick up fruits and vegetables. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest market/bazaar in Europe.
Art Nouveau District
While there is a specific district of Art Nouveau buildings, it’s everywhere in Riga. The city has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world. Many apartments and office spaces are of this style, making the city an incredibly beautiful one to wander around.
Radisson Blue Skyline Bar Panoramic Views
Another spot to get a beautiful view of the city of Riga is the top of the Radisson Blue Hotel. Anyone can go to their skyline bar, not just guests, or you can ride the elevator to the 24th floor and get a nice view from the window. Then ride the glass elevator back down for an awesome moving view. You’ll see the golden domes of the Nativity Orthodox cathedral and the beautiful park that leads to the city center. You can also enter the Nativity Cathedral, it is free and nice for a quick look-around.
Tirgus Latgale Flea Market
If you’re into flea markets and weird 20th-century artifacts and antiques, make a point of stopping here. It was a super weird flea market, with lots of Soviet trinkets as well as stuff from WWII. Also a lot of junk. Definitely a strange vibe.
Eat & Drink
Even if you aren’t one for taking shots, this is a Latvian liquor that is worth trying for the cultural experience. Be warned, it’s strong, and doesn’t go down very easy.
More on the expensive side but a good stop if you’re looking for a nice dinner. I had the pumpkin soup and their homemade dumplings. The portion sizes are also generous and it’s located right next to the House of Blackheads.
This place is the perfect stop for a backpacker on a budget who wants to eat some regional food. It is cafeteria style, with different dumplings, beet soup, and other Latvian dishes. For soup and dumplings and a drink, I paid €4.50.
Rocket Bean Coffee
This place was the perfect dose of caffeine and hipster that I needed to start my day properly. It was definitely more expensive than most coffee I’ve bought in Europe, but it was of handcrafted quality. The barista was also really nice and gave me some ideas on unique points to visit in Riga.
While this place is very touristic, it was a cool bar that was one of the stops on the crawl. The beer was inexpensive and it had a great atmosphere. Located right off the main plaza.
Heavy rock music and Soviet-era decor are the first things you’ll notice when you enter this bar. It was an awesome place to stop for a beer, but I don’t think I would spend a whole night drinking here. It has old books, newspapers and other trinkets and antiques from when Latvia was part of the USSR.
Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs
This restaurant was fantastic, we went as a group from the hostel for drinks and dinner. It is huge, with live music in the basement. Even though it was full when we went, the waitress let us order at the bar and then moved us to a table once one opened up. The food was amazing and very reasonably priced. I had chicken wrapped in bacon, doused in a delicious, savory sauce.
I really loved the time I spent in Riga. Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, we had a few hours of rain & clouds each day, it was a really fun city to stay in and spend a few days. The architecture of the city is incredibly charming, and being able to walk everywhere is another attractive aspect of the city.