Coming from Australia, when us Aussies head to Europe we want to make the long journey worthwhile. I knew I wanted to visit Finland. Then I saw photos of Tallin and then I realised it’s only 4hrs bus ride to Riga (and another 4.5 hrs beyond that to Vilnius) so I figured I may as well do all 3 baltic states!
Guide to Latvia
- Currency: Euro
- Location: Eastern Europe (on the border of Russia)
- Cost to Visit: Cheap!
- How to get there: I took the Lux bus from Tallin in Estonia to Riga for only 9 euro. It took 4.5 hours. You can also get a bus from Vilnius in Lithuana which takes around 4 hours. You can also get a plane into Latvia airport
- Languages spoken: Latvian. If you only speak English (like I do), you don’t need to stress, Restaurants waiters understand English
- Main attractions: house of blackheads, viewpoint at the top of St Peter’s Church, Latvian Academy of Sciences Observatory, the bridge where you can get some good photos, old cobblestone streets
- Local foods: cottage cheese pancakes, rye bread, potato pancakes, lots of dill, fish
- Supermarkets: Maxim and Rimi
- Safety – It didn’t feel unsafe but there were areas of town (e.g. in the side alleys) that felt a little dodgy (and smelled like pee). It’s not a place I’d want to be wandering around the alleyways at night on my own
- Temperature: I visited in late September. It was already cold (needed long sleeve top puffer vest and thick jacket). Snows in winter.
The main photospots and viewpoints are all within walking distance & can be done in a day
Latvia hit and miss list
Riga Central Market
Not so much to buy but moreso just to have a look. Masses of cheese, sauerkraut etc. There were some pastries, cookies etc. but they’re a bit pricey compared to the supermarket
Pretty old buildings
I’ll be doing a separate post with my favorite photo spots in Riga but these were some of my favorite:
House of Blackheads
This cluster of cafes (search Colonel Brewpub & Kitchen in Google for the location)
I spent half a day wandering around the old town taking photos of all the pretty buildings and cobblestone alleyways.
The Freedom Monument
Cross this stone bridge for a view of the arched railway bridge and looking back at the old town
Three Brothers (the oldest medieval houses in Riga)
The Latvian Academy of Sciences (5 euro entry fee) and St Peter’s Church (9 euro).
Latvian Academy of Sciences (there are 360 degree views, this was my favorite angle)
St Peter’s Church view
The ghetto markets behind the airplane hanger market hall – junkyard of people selling clothes, shoes etc. lots of junk and dodgy looking people loitering around.
Soviet Ghosts Heritage Walking Tour
If there’s a ghost tour about a places’ creepy history, my sister will find it. This tour was $48 AUD for only 3 hours so I opted out and chilled in the hotel room instead. My sister said the tour was good and the guide was knowledgeable and she got to ride on the train, but at $48 pp thought it was overpriced.
There’s only 1 gelato place in town Gelato Italia Riga and when I walked in, I knew it was going to be bad. 9/10 I find that the serving size is going to be stingy when they have those round stainless steel containers. The grumpy looking owner who didn’t even say hello when we walked in. I was ready to walk out but Mum was really craving gelato. Well what she got was a kid sized container in line with the top of the cup. He literally smoothed it so there was no excess on top WTF. That certainly decided it for me. I took great delight in his filthy look when I saw her serving size and said never mind, I won’t order any after all. Mum said it wasn’t that great anyway. Definitely skip gelato if you visit Riga. It was cheaper to just buy ice creams (e.g. Magnums) individually from a convenience store.
Day Trip Options
We did a full day tour to 3 different palaces. I’ll be doing a separate post with the details. The main reason was wanting to see Rundale Palace. Me, just because I like palaces and my sister because she’s obsessed with the history of European and Russian royalty – it’s where they filmed the Catherine the Great miniseries.
I wanted to do a day trip to Sigulda (more castles and forests that I thought would have good autumn colors) but I didn’t have enough time. Since there’s not much tourism in the country, some day tours are only offered on certain days, not every day of the week.
If you like the beach, another option is Jurmala.
If you haven’t been to a bog in Estonia, there’s some in Latvia too at Kemeri National Park.
If you’re interested in Nazi history, Salaspils Concentration Camp.
Where to Eat
While I wasn’t that impressed with the attractions side of Riga, dam it had good food. And it was cheap!
My favorite restaurants
Folkklubs ALA pagrabs – This looks like a cute little cafe but it’s actually underground. You walk down the stairs, through some tunnels and then you pop out into a big cavern where the tables are. From the street, you wouldn’t even know all of this was underground! The food was good too.
Alaverdi Riga – for Georgian food, this place was good… but had small serving sizes and expensive for Riga’s standards. I ordered a chicken dish and made the mistake of not checking it was chicken breast. What came out was chicken thighs 🙁 It was definitely a place better for ordering plates to share and having a bit of everything, rather than just your own meal.
TGI Fridays – if you want a desert and don’t want gelato, this place has excessive American style Sundae’s and desserts 🙂
My favorite chocolate brands
- Nestle extrafin milk chocolate – really yummy, wish I’d bought more as I only found it at one supermarket
- Laima classic (plain dairy milk) – was ok – it had a strong taste too it and not as smooth and creamy as other brands. I wouldn’t buy again
- Fazer – this is actually Finnish but it was widely available in the supermarket. The cost increased the farther from Finland that I got. It was 1 euro more expensive for a block than Finland and Estonia
- Laima Rice Balls in Milk Chocolate (Mad Milk Chocolate) – These are similar to Maltesars but not as good
- Selga biscuits – I saw plenty of square biscuits but I thought they’d get crushed and they weren’t in a resealable packet so i didn’t get them. I did get the Selga CEPUMU BUMBAS biscuit balls in milk chocolate – they were so yum I bought 3 packets
I thought the 3 Baltic states would have the same chocolate brands but sadly the Kalev chocolate I found in Estonia were nowhere to be found in Latvia ☹
I don’t recommend the Mio Delizzi, Meltez Royalier, Pergale Mile or 3 Bit – all of these tasted like sickly sweet cheap chocolate (which makes sense as they were really cheap).
Don’t recommend these except the Selga biscuit balls
All of these were good!
Where to stay in Riga
We arrived via the Lux Bus from Tallin, Estonia. Having 2 suitcases each (our main suitcase plus a small wheel carry on) and Europe being known for lots of cobblestones, we picked a hotel close to the bus station – The Avalon Hotel. It was only a 10 minute walk from the bus station which was appreciated with the suitcases, but the hotel itself could’ve been better.
- The room was big enough to open both sides of out suitcases
- Close to the bus station – helpful for moving bags
- Breakfast included and not too bad – there were pancakes / crepes, some breads (but no toaster), crooisstants, nuttella, butter and margarine, fruit and some cheese and ham
- Reasonably priced
- Tram stop on your doorstep (not that I needed to use it, but convenient if you want to)
- Internet kept dropping out – there was no internet at all between 1pm and 4pm when I was resting in the hotel room
- There is no wifi password i.e. anyone can logon and see your stuff. I didn’t do anything requiring passwords the internet is not secure
- Bed super hard – like sleeping on a brick
- Toiletries not that great – just soap and shampoo I felt like I needed to use 2 bottles off it to feel like there was anything in my hair
- Kept getting kicked out of the internet – I couldn’t work with that internet
- Paper thin walls can hear the TV and people talking in the next room – kept me awake it was so loud
It was an ok hotel but I’d probably stay somewhere else if I return to Riga one day.
How long do you need?
I was in Riga for 2.5 days:
- Day 1: Arrival day from Tallin (took 4 hours on the bus), spent the afternoon wandering around the Riga Central Markets area of town and hitting up supermarkets for chocolate
- Day 2: Photo spots – spent the morning walking across the bridge taking photos, then walking back to the House of Blackheads, St Peter’s Church viewpoint and the old alleyways finished at the Academy of Latvian Academy of Sciences Viewpoint
- Day 3: Day trip to Rundale Palaces
I felt this was a sufficient amount of time.
Would I return to Latvia?
Latvia is one of the poorest European countries. At the time of my visit (2019) I got the impression that Riga is a city clearly still developing post Soviet-era. They’re not really ready for tourism. It’s a nice place to visit but if you want to do day tours there’s no public transport (you’d have to hire a car), and the few day tour options available are expensive and only offered on certain days.
I don’t feel the need to return to Latvia. It’s a small country and similar to the other Baltic countries that I went to on the same trip. There isn’t any big tourist attractions like the Eiffel tower etc that I’d want to see in different seasons. The river freezes over in winter and the leaves do change color in autumn (they hadn’t started turning by the end of September when I visited). It was good to visit and see it once, but there’s not enough there (yet) to entice me back for a second trip.
If you do end up going, I’d go in winter for the Christmas markets. There’s sure to be less crowds that the markets in Germany, Belgium etc. and it’ll be much cheaper. From the photo’s I’ve seen of seen of Riga covered with snow it looks a lot prettier!
Of the 3 baltic countries, my favorite was Estonia, followed by Lithuania and then Latvia.
More Baltic Countries:
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