Riga surprised me as European cities go, mainly because I had heard so many conflicting opinions on whether it was a good place to go or not. Despite the rain and the cold, on the whole, we enjoyed our time there, enough to consider hopping back over the Baltic Sea in the future just for a weekend. Plus we discovered an excellent underground pub that is worth a trip on its own.
Riga was the entry point to our week long Baltic adventure over the August bank holiday last year and it whetted our appetite for what was to come.
After arriving and eventually finding the entrance to our Airbnb we knew that food was in order to prevent an attack of the hangry, I’d read about an underground pub on TripAdvisor before so it seemed like as good a time as any to check it out.
You venture into this doorway, down the stairs and through a corridor before arriving at bar number one and then bar number two in these enormous rooms. A variety of tables and stools filled with people eating some proper pub food that smelt amazing! Known for its beer we were excited to sample some of the local brews. After finding a table and working our way around the extensive menu we ordered a couple of pints, a Latvian ‘nibbles’ board that consisted of Latvian garlic bread, carrots, gherkins and garlic cause, plus some deep fried potato slices. It was delicious!
Latvian garlic bread is a creature to behold – basically it is dark rye bread that is fried in garlic butter. It is crunchy, chewy, soft in the middle with the perfect amount of garlic.
This fuelled us up for our first walk around the city. We stopped at the Town Hall and The House of Blackheads which was originally built in the 14th century as a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners and foreigners. Both of the buildings had been recently restored but if I’m honest they looked better lit up at night.
Next up on our walking tour of Riga was two “must sees” whose stories are way more interesting than the sights themselves.
The Musicians of Bremen is a copper statue of four animals that is based on a Grimms fairytale where the four animals are so badly mistreated that they decided to run away to become musicians in Breman. The downside to the story is that they never actually made it. The statue itself has been worn away by people rubbing the noses for good luck and were queuing up to take a selfie.
The second site was the Cat House – a house with two black cats that are positioned on the turrets of the building. The story goes that the owner of the house was not allowed into the guild whose house was opposite his, so he positioned two cats with their rear ends facing the guild house. It caused outcry but eventually he was allowed into the guild…as long as the position of the cats were reversed.
Our last stop of the day was the Swedish Gate. The gate is the last remaining section of the old wall of Riga. It was erected in 1698 to provide access into the city. It isn’t much to look at, essentially it’s a gate in a wall but it was quite pretty. We also saw it lit up in the dark which added to its “prettiness”, although I’m not really sure why it’s a Swedish gate?
By this point, it was raining and we were tired. The only thing that is to be done in these circumstances is to head for the nearest Belgian beer and sausage restaurant, which is exactly what we did. A few too many beers later we stumbled back to our apartment for some well deserved rest and dreams of what the next day would bring.
The weather didn’t do much to redeem itself come morning, although there was slightly less rain. Luckily we are pretty adapt to wet weather trips! We opted to try and get a bird’s eye view of the city from St Peter’ spire – luckily a lift takes you most of the way up. We did get a view of the city but in all honesty, it wasn’t worth the 12 euro (each) entry fee.
After 10 minutes we were back on the ground wondering what all the fuss was about.
I love a good market, having been to a few around the world I find them an intriguing place to get an understanding of how other cultures shop, eat and ultimately live.
Riga market was no different. After a short walk, we found ourselves staring at these giant zeppelin hangers surrounded by stalls selling vegetables. The market was huge, inside and out with all manner of stalls. We weaved our way in and out looking at pickles, cured whole fish in buckets, salmon, pork and more vegetables then you could possibly want.
We opted for some pastries for breakfast and then found an Uzbek cafe selling our favourite Non. A small taste of Uzbekistan that we haven’t found since 2015. It proved a nice snack to have whilst watching the changing of the guard at the Freedom Monument.
The monument is considered one of the most important in Latvia, it honours those who died in the Latvian War of Independence in 1918-1920.
The changing of the guard didn’t take too long but we were distracted by a man who was wandering around kneeling down and then whipping his jacket off before leaving it on the floor and walking off. The armed guards didn’t seem too impressed!
10 minutes up the road from the monument is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and what a cathedral it was. I don’t think I’ve ever been in one before so I was excited to see the interior. If the exterior was anything to go by it would be stunning.
On the way in there are signs asking for women to cover their heads, which I did, only to find lots of tourists ignoring this. A bit disrespectful in my opinion. We couldn’t take pictures inside so in order to appreciate it in its full golden glory I suggest you go visit!
The weather had yet again turned for the worst, we walked to Alberta Iela which is famous for its art nouveau buildings – turns out not our cup of tea – and had some lunch before making our way to the Corner House.
Latvia has a mixed history, some sad, some happy.
The Corner House falls into the former. It houses the old KGB headquarters and is named as the entrance is on the corner of the house. It hasn’t quite got the Instagram fame that some similar places have, I’m thinking of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, which means it is being appreciated for what it is.
There is a free exhibition and tour of the cells, we missed the last English tour but spent an hour or so in the exhibition. It was a sombre experience, detailed and too detailed at the same time. The building has this horrible atmosphere if the walls could talk they probably wouldn’t.
To continue our historical tour we went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. In a similar way, there was so much information it became overwhelming and hard to make your way around. It is a good way to spend an hour or so but be prepared for a lot of reading.
After a pretty sobering afternoon, the evening was a little more lighthearted.
We had drinks at the Cuba Cafe and dinner at Folkklubs – it was so busy we had to perch at the bar for dinner and got chatting to the barman who gave us some free tasters. 4 drinks and 2 meals later we’d only spent 30 euros! Bargain!!
Riga is a compact and interesting city, known for it’s Christmas markets it is worth visiting during the rest of the year. I’d recommend a trip in old weather but rest assured there is plenty to do if it rains. You do have to dodge the cruise ship visitors a bit so as not to get swamped but you just have to go off the main streets to do this.
As the beginning of our trip, it really got us in the swing of the Baltic lifestyle.