With the rise in the accessibility of air travel over the past few years, even the far-reaches of Europe are becoming easier to get to.
Latvia sits sandwiched between Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, whilst also sharing borders with both Russia and Belarus. It’s also a country worth visiting.
But although it may not seem like an orthodox destination for the vast majority of holidaymakers, its capital Riga is the jewel in the Latvia’s burgundy and white crown.
Riga is the epitome of a short weekend away and has appeal to all kinds of travellers. Whether you’re young or old, going on a stag do or are on a romantic break, or even if you take the kids, there’s something for everyone.
Here’s my guide to provide some inspiration for what you can get up to over the course of 48 hours in Riga.
Wizz Air and Ryanair both offer flights from multiple UK airports from as little as £22.99 each-way. British Airways and Air Baltic also offer the same, but they are significantly more expensive and are not budget-friendly.
As an alternative, you could also package Riga with a trip to either Vilnius, Lithuania or Tallinn, Estonia. LuxExpress have routes from both cities to the Latvian capital from as little as €3, and prices shouldn’t exceed €25. Coaches make a stop at Riga Coach Station, which is in the more modern part of the city centre.
Where to stay
There are plenty of cheap options in Riga. Viktorija Hotel offers twin and double rooms from £15 per night based on three nights (just £7.50 per person per night), while Rafael Hotel Riga has rooms starting at £13 per night. Try Booking.com for other alternative hotel options.
Arrival. Standard check-in times are usually 14:00 or 15:00, so dump the bags in the hotel’s luggage storage room early afternoon to help make the most of the day.
Check out the Freedom Monument (A), which was erected to honour the soldiers killed in the Latvian Battle of Independence against the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic between1918 and 1920. It is best seen in the day, plus there tend to be more people knocking around than in the evening making it bit more atmospheric.
From there, head towards St Peter’s Church (B). It is the joint-second tallest building in Latvia and inside you can see its high ceilings and minimalistic design. But its real selling point is the fantastic viewing platform, with 360-degree views of the city.
If you want to stop off for some lunch, Golden Coffee has reasonably priced dishes and drinks, while providing a refreshment barrier between and Town Hall Square (C).
Town Hall Square is where you’ll find the beautiful House of Blackheads (the Brootherhood of Blackheads was a guild for the unmarried merchants of Riga in the 14th century). There’s no reason to go inside (although you can if you want to) as its beauty is on the outside and will usually be complimented by either a street performer, or locals engaging in traditional Latvian dance.
For an evening meal try Sezona (D), slightly set back from the main trail of restaurants, bars and clubs. Seating is outdoors, but still under cover, and naked flame heaters keep you warm and add class to a smart-looking establishment. A chalice of Latvian beer Aldaris 1865 complements the steak well, or you can try some Latvian grub, such as cold beet soup, or some locally-caught fish.
No trip to Riga would be complete without a tipple at the Skyline Bar (E) – located on the 26th floor of the tall Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija behind the Freedom Monument. Don’t forget to savour the views going up and down the glass-fronted elevator, and try to get a window seat to get the chance to really appreciate Riga by night.
Make it an early start on an empty stomach and get yourself down to Riga Central Market (F), just across the canal from the main bus station. Make use of the abundance of cheap, fresh produce and fill yourself up for the rest of the day. You’ll need to make plenty of time for your visit, so that you can navigate Europe’s biggest market and bazaar properly. It is situated inside five old German Zeppelin hangars, so you can imagine the sprawl.
The market is just a short walk from Riga Ghetto and the Latvian Holocaust Museum (G). Here you’ll find a replica of one of the ghetto’s houses, a wall of names listing each of the 70,000 Latvian victims of the Holocaust, and the individual accounts and backgrounds of some of those who perished.
Then head back towards the city centre via the Latvian Academy of Sciences (H). The city’s first skyscraper is one of Riga’s most-distinguishable buildings, but its proximity to the centre means that most tourists will usually view it from a distance.
Another novelty find is the site of the world’s first decorated Christmas tree, also in Town Hall Square, which can be found on the way to EGLE (I) – an open-air leisure venue. Here you can fill up before going night kayaking on the River Daugava (J), then through the city’s canal system, giving you a unique view of Latvia’s capital.
If you don’t fancy a bit of paddling, put off the trip to EGLE until late evening, and huddle under a blanket to the sound of live music and fire-breathing barmen. And if you’re going in the winter, you’ll also find an ice rink there.
Get up early and grab a light breakfast, then get down to the Riga sign (K) on the other side of the Daugava and pose for a picture as the sun rises over the city.
Then it’s time to head for the airport. Whether you are getting a bus or taxi, make sure you leave plenty of time for any delays you may encounter.