In our #AtHomeEverywhere series, this time we’ll travel to the shores of the Baltic Sea, Latvia. In the most comprehensive episode so far, thanks to our colleague Late, you can learn a lot about the country’s capital, Riga, as she offers enough attractions for everyone for at least a full week’s holiday.
What should we know about the place where you live?
Riga is a city that encompasses architecture from the 15th century upwards. A generously sized old town. Soviet block of flats and infrastructure in several suburbs. Whole streets of ornate and perfectly restored and preserved Art Nouveau buildings. Neighborhoods of wooden houses in the center. Seaside reachable by cities public transportation. Lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes.
Why do you love to live there?
“It’s a relatively small city for a capital of a country. The cost of living is very decent. Crime rates are relatively low. It is possible to communicate in three languages- Latvian (mostly with everyone), Russian(Mostly with everyone, except the younger generation) and English (mostly with everyone of the younger generation) I love the climate here, we have warm summers, colorful autumns, and snowy winters. The public health system is very good.
Things to see – tourist attractions, hiking trails, etc.
If you want to test your strength, conquer your fear of heights go the Mežaparks. They have an obstacle course on top of the pines. And pines are pretty high trees. It’s located in a park, where you will find several other fun things to do, you can rent rollerblades, bicycles, tricycles, pedal cars and electric vehicles to explore the park.
Riga Zoo is one of the oldest working zoos in the world and it is located right at the entrance of Mežaparks. So you can easily spend the whole day in the park. Cafe’s, restaurants, and shops are nearby.
Renting a vehicle for the day is also a great idea. My best choice would be a motorcycle or a scooter, there are several rentals in the city offering everything, from Chinese no-name scooters to KTM dirt bikes, to Vespas and choppers. Parking is free for motorcycles, as long as you park it on the sidewalk. Car parking in the center is more expensive than in Paris, so you’ll want to avoid it at any cost.
You can travel to the nearby resort towns of Jurmala which is located to the west or to Saulrasti which is located to the NorthEast of Riga.
Places to visit – art:
Latvian National Museum of Art.
Renovated a few years ago, now hosting the biggest collection of art in Latvia. Alongside the usual exposition, there are ever-changing exhibitions of various artists. The roof terrace provides wonderful sights.
The occupation museum is a must for anyone who wants to understand more about the country. There were hundreds of thousands of people deported to Siberia during the Soviet times. You can go in for some history, or just visit to look at old stuff or look at the restored cabin interiors that show in what circumstances, the educated, previously wealthy, or just unneeded people by the USSR were sent to live in.
Latvia is a small country. And it doesn’t have pyramids. But it does have one Egyptian mummy. And as a small child, I had some unexplainable pull to see that mummy again and again. It’s a miracle I’m not working in a funeral home now. The mummy was moved from one museum to another, and now Riga Bourse is one of my favorite museums. They have loads of other cool stuff there besides the mummy. But if you go – tell the mummy I said „Hi!”
Places to visit – music:
Most of the music locales are located in and around the Old Town of Riga, but there are a few hidden gems. Latvians love to sing. And the more people are singing together, the better. In Mežaparks, which is easily accessible from the city center by a tram (there is an electrified, former horse pulled, retro tram carriage that operates in the summer on that line) It’s a big park, and in that park, you will find the Song Festival Bandstand. The stage can accommodate 11’000 singers and has an extra 3000 spots on the stage in case everyone doesn’t fit in the tribunes.
Once every four years, the festival of song and dance takes place there. Be sure to get your tickets online, the moment they go on sale, they tend to sell out very fast, and then you can only get them on the black market and that will be pricey. 30’000 spectator seats, and since most of the Latvians that are attending as spectators will sing alongside the singers, you will be engulfed in such a choir performance that you won’t be able to experience anywhere but here. It will also give you a good insight into Latvian folk songs.
Other events are also gelded there. A great place in a park, next to a lake. If you are looking for a more alternative way to spend your time, do visit Fukušima what is located on the semi-island of Ķīpsala, right across the river, from the Old Town. Alternative bands and DJs from different countries play concerts there. I love the place because they have taken a previously, industrial territory and have and still are trying to minimize the impact on the environment. A great bonus is its location and amenities. You can go swimming as it is right on the coast of the Zunda canal, you can rent a boat in the morning and be adventurous enough to go back to the old town in a boat and return in the evening and go to a sauna.
Sleeping arrangements are also available. Imagine sipping your morning coffee, listening to the birds sing, while sitting on the pier, in the center of the town. It’s like visiting the countryside.
For the Rock music fans, I suggest Riga Rock Cafe. Live events in the concert hall, karaoke in the basement, VIP section on the top floor. Bar with a great variety of drinks and cocktails. Hidden among Old Town’s tourist traps, you can be sure to enjoy the Rockabilly Terrace, on Livu square, while the majority of surrounding locales are overpriced and boring, this one brings a bang for your buck. In the evenings live music is played, and the food there is wonderful. Especially the Ribs. You can easily spot it on the Līvu square as it has some interesting vehicles surrounding it, as well as a stylish retro bus repurposed for your convenience. The bus is also the best place to view the performances. So if you want to dance to a jolly fun tune – this is your spot.
Bar/Bookstore Bolderaja – The rare locale without wifi, full of self-centered pseudo-intellectuals, as well as artists and musicians. Hosts a variety of concerts and performances in the evenings, and turns into a decent place to sit down and read a book or plan a trip, while drinking one of the strange herbal teas they have on the menu, in the daytime.
- Carry cash. While most places accept cards, the smaller shops, cafés and street vendors might not.
- Besides the Airbnb platforms you can use www.ss.lv and zip.lv to find rentals for your trip.
- If you are an EU national, don’t forget your EHIC card, in case of an emergency you will only have to pay the same amount as the residents.
- Dentistry is great, might as well plan to do some here. A root canal starting from 50EUR is a bargain.
- If you are visiting in summer get a bathing suit and a warm jacket, the weather is prone to sudden changes.
What country would you like to visit the most?
What is the first word that comes to your mind about Hungary?
More virtual journeys of discovery in earlier chapters of the series.