Would you believe me if I told you that you only need 24 hours to cross off the highlights of Riga? Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. This charming old city is actually Latvia’s capital so, as you can expect, there’s countless cobblestone streets to wander down, cafes to sit and people watch from, museums to explore and shops to peruse. You could easily spend a week or two there, soaking it all up at a leisurely pace, but if you're on a tight schedule (like I was), 24 hours is just enough time to hit the hot spots.
In February, a friend and I hopped on a plane on a Tuesday evening and landed in Riga a short while later. Knowing we only had a day to explore, we checked into our hotel, spent the evening chatting about our big plans for the following day and got a good night’s rest.
We woke early to make the most of our short time and hit the streets. It was immediately clear that Riga had a certain old-timey charm about it, however, with an effortlessly cool air I’ve come to recognise throughout the Baltics. The city is full of old churches and an intriguing mix of architecture that hints at the story of Latvia’s checkered past.
To learn more about the city and its history, we join a free walking tour which departs from St Peter’s Church around 10am to get our bearings. If possible, I always sign up for a free walking tour in the places I visit. It not only gives you an authentic, local’s perspective of the area, but you can get a great sense of direction which makes it a lot easier to navigate on your own. In most cases, your guide will be an excellent source of information on all things local, including things you might not read in a guide book, such as hidden rooftop bars, authentic local restaurants and lesser-known vantage spots for great views over the city.
In less than two hours, we’d already seen so much of the town and learnt a good chunk about Riga’s and Latvia’s history as a whole. We wandered through Old Riga and visited sights such as the Town Hall square, the House of Blackheads, and the Dome Square and Cathedral.
Head’s spinning with our newfound knowledge for Riga’s long history dating all the way back to 1201, we decide it’s not too early for some champagne – it is my birthday after all! – but it’s not long before our tummies start to rumble.
We soon discover that Riga has a rich food and drink scene – something that makes a short trip like ours very difficult. So much to try, so little time.
Our first foodie find is the Riga Central Market; a modern conversion of five old hangars from WW2 that once housed war planes. Today, it is brimming with fresh food, flowers and household goods. It’s a place where both locals and visitors come to do their shopping, sample the goods and, above all, socialise.
In one section, we discover rows upon rows of stalls plating up various types of cuisine. There’s also a well-stocked bar and an open seating area in the centre of the madness. We must have spent about an hour grazing on food from five or so different stands, which we then washed down with some prosecco. A perfect lunch stop (and ridiculously cheap!)
We spend the next hour or so wandering down winding streets and alleyways, admiring the architecture, ornately decorated and painted in pastel colours. We end up at the Wellton Spa Oasis and soak in the jacuzzis and relax in the steam room for around half an hour before treating ourselves to a massage. Feeling decadent, I opt for the chocolate massage – yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. I resist the temptation to lick myself!
Still floating on a cloud from that luxurious experience, we head back to the hotel to take advantage of our complimentary drink at the rooftop bar; a nice perk of staying at Hotel Gutenbergs. The view from the terrace is absolutely beautiful with the sun setting beyond the tiled roofs and church spires.
After a quick change of clothes (and a double check that I’m not still covered in chocolate), we head out for the night. A 15 minute stroll brings us to our first stop; Radisson Blu’s Skyline Bar where, up on the 26th floor, we sip cocktails and soak up the fabulous views over Riga.
With our 8:30 dinner booking looming, we make a move for Vincents, a stylish, modern European restaurant across from the expansive Kronvalda Park. We indulge in a fantastic, well conceptualised five course tasting menu – it was the perfect for a birthday treat.
We’d heard whispers about Riga’s nightlife but we had to see for ourselves. So we head to a local folk club, aptly named Folkklubs ALA pagrabas, and it was packed! Even on a Wednesday night, the live music, well-stocked bar and open dancefloor brought people in their droves – locals and tourists alike.
Just past midnight, we begin wandering home. And we would have made it if it weren’t for the Cuban bar close to the hotel. There is no way we could pass it and not have 'one for the road'… We finally call it a night a few hours later when we’re completely exhausted from non-stop salsa dancing!
A few less hours sleep than I normally have later, we grab a quick breakfast and set off to the airport, and we’re back in London for lunch.
Now, this may not be everyone's idea of a relaxing city break, but sure was fun and perfect for a quick trip. With Riga being a relatively small, condensed city, most of the interesting sights are within walking distance of each other. It’s extremely affordable and less than three hour’s flight from the UK, so if you only have a few days and you’re looking for a fun, cultural and food-filled escape, put Riga at the top of your list.
Need any more recommendations? Get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.