Riga, the capital of Latvia, is well worth a visit. We went there over the Christmas period and left with many new and interesting impressions.
Where is Riga?
Riga is an old Hanseatic City. The city was founded by merchants in the medieval. It is south of the Gulf of Riga on the banks of the river Daugava. The hinterland is only sparsely inhabited due to the many bogs and swamps in the area.
We visited Riga in December and our biggest worry were the temperatures at that time. Days with – 20° Celsius are possible. Even in the summer months the temperature rarely ever rises above +20° Celsius.
The history of the city is diverse and characterised by periods of German and Soviet occupation. Today, Riga is the biggest urban centre in the Baltic Countries and the capital city of Latvia.
How to get there
We flew in from Berlin Tegel using airBaltic. This and many other smaller airlines travel to the international airport in Riga from many German airports. The airport is approximately 15km from the Old Town.
The cheapest way to get to town from the airport is by bus on public transport. Bus number 22 goes all the way to the city centre. Cost varies depending on where a ticket is bought. Buying a ticket from the driver costs 2€ (in 2016) and buying it at the kiosk costs 1.15€ (in 2016). The airport kiosk is in arrivals next to the tourist information. Reduced fares are charged here.
Those who want a little extra comfort and a drop off directly in front of their hotels have the option to book an airport shuttle for 14€ from airBaltic together with the flights.
There also is a train station in Riga. It is mainly used for public transport but also trains to Russia, Belarus and Lithuania call there. The bus station is right next to it. Coaches to different areas of Europe stop here. Those who want to travel by boat can do so from Lübeck or Travemünde with Stena Line or Finnlines.
Top 5 destinations in Riga
This is our selection of landmarks in the Latvian capital. Our top 5 destinations.
Stalin’s Birthday Cake
The building that is home to the Latvian Academy of Science is called Stalin’s Birthday Cake by the locals. The building is close to the Old Town and is easily accessible on foot. A really impressive building that, despite its size and potency, shows remarkable attention for details on its façade.
Weather permitting, visitors can access a viewing platform 65 meters above ground. Apparently, the view over Riga and the Daugava is wonderful from up there.
Our article “Stalin’s Birthday Cake – Academy of Science” talks about the history of the building, the address and info about the viewing platform (opening hours and admission fees).
In Riga’s centre, the Freedom Monument stands 42.7 meters tall. Originally, an equestrian statue of Peter the Great stood in this exact same spot. During the times of the first Latvian Independency, the Freedom Monument was placed there.
The monument survived both the German and the Soviet occupation despite its meaning for the Latvians. Especially the Soviet occupiers disliked the monument strongly and had plans to blow it up towards the end of WWII.
There are many stories and anecdotes surrounding this monument. They’re all in our article “History of the Freedom Monument”.
Town Musicians of Bremen
Behind St. Peter’s Church stands a sculpture that no one would expect in Latvia’s capital. There are the Town Musicians of Bremen, created by Bremen artist Christa Baumgärtel. We tell you why and how this artwork found its way to Riga in our blog post “The Town Musicians of Bremen in Riga?”.
Riga Cathedral is one of the most frequently visited churches in Riga. We particularly liked the wonderful windows. The glass artworks show pretty pictures and when the light hits them the nave lights up in many different colours.
A door in the nave leads through a cloister into the former monastery. Pieces of art as well as remains from Riga’s history can be found here.
Our article “The Cathedral of Riga – a landmark of the Latvian capital” provides more information on the history of the church, ticket prices and opening hours.
Riga Central Market
A visit to the Central Market in Riga is something you should absolutely include in your travel plans. This was one of the few spots for us that gets frequented by locals and tourists alike and that therefore provided a little insight into the lives of the Latvians.
The market is made up of four smaller halls that are 2.500 m² in size and measure 70 meters in lengths and one bigger hall that is 5.000 m² in size and measures 140 meters in length.
It is huge! The bigger hall is a little further to the side than the others and is the place where all the meat products get sold. The other four halls are all next to each other and provide space for dairy products, fruit and veg, gastronomy and fish.
Additionally, many stalls are dotted around the halls where farmers sell their local products.
Those, who would like to learn more about our time at the Central Market, its history and the opening hours should have a look at the blog post “A fascinating visit to Riga Central Market”.