You Should Visit Riga, Latvia…It’s Quite Pleasant

You Should Visit Riga, Latvia…It’s Quite Pleasant

By |2016-07-21T23:47:12-04:00September 6th, 2012|Latvia|31 Comments

View of Riga, Latvia

Only one word enters my head when I think of the time I just spent in Riga, Latvia. And that word is ‘pleasant’. I’ve tried, but that’s the only word I can use to describe it, so much so that originally, this post was just going to say “Riga is pleasant” and nothing more.

Of course, my inability to describe this Baltic city more thoroughly might have something to do with the fact that I only spent an embarrassingly short two nights and two and a half days in Riga. More time is obviously needed in order to get a proper feel for a particular destination.

But alas, I shall write about the experiences I did have in those short 60 hours, simple experiences that once again, led me to reach the profound conclusion that Riga, Latvia is….pleasant.

To The Old Town We Go…

During my first full day in the city, I walked out of my hotel (Hanza Hotel – highly recommended 3-star hotel that can be as little as $20 per person!) and headed west along Pragas Iela, which led me straight into the medium-sized Central Tirgus (Central Market). As one would expect from pretty much any market on the planet, the stalls were full of fruits, vegetables, clothing, meat, fish and baked goods. I bought two peaches, enjoyed the pleasant aroma of freshly baked pastries and then moved on, pushing my way through a crowd gathered around two medics trying to lift up what appeared to be a very inebriated homeless man lying in the middle of the road.

After crossing over the Daugava River and passing the International Bus Terminal, I popped down into an underground passageway and then, after choosing the wrong exit the first time around, finally popped back up on the other side of the intersection, right on the edge of the Old Town.

Old Town, Riga, Latvia

A few steps later and I was standing among the colorful collection of restored historical buildings, which happens to contain the largest collection of German Art Nouveau architecture on the planet, a fact that, when read carefully, is quite a pleasant fact indeed. (Riga had a large German population until the Nazis arrived and sent them back to Germany.)

So the first thing I did once in the Old Town was to trip on the rough cobblestone street, not once and not twice, but three times in a span of about thirty seconds, simply because I was looking up at the buildings and not watching where I put my feet.

Once that bout of clumsiness was over and I figured out how to walk again, I proceeded to spend several hours in this part of the city, just walking, turning left and turning right, choosing random streets and lanes and just seeing where it would all lead me.

I came upon the St. Peter’s Cathedral, where I took the elevator up to the observation deck for some mighty pleasant views of the city, and I found Town Square, Cathedral Square and the Riga Castle. I went into the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia and the House of Blackheads and I visited the Swedish Gate and The Three Brothers, the oldest homes in Riga. For three and a half hours I roamed.

Town Square, Riga, Latvia

Square in Riga, Latvia

Not having a map was a great idea as getting lost in the Old Town is probably the best thing a traveler can do. It’s probably the only way to find such places as the Ligitas Gardumi cafe, located down a tiny lane (as wide as my wingspan) that appeared to be completely empty and uninteresting. But when I entered the door of the cafe, I was greeted by a cozy place in a most pleasant setting, where I ate the most pleasant mushroom quiche I have ever eaten.

After this midday quiche break, I continued my wandering, walking along the northern edge of the Old Town, eventually coming across the Freedom Monument and its surrounding parks, right near the Powder Tower and the intersection where I sat down on a stoop without looking down first and ended up sitting in some fresh bird poop.

And that’s the moment when I decided to return to my hotel room for a rest.

Old Town, Riga

Beyond the Old Town

In the evening, I ventured back outside again, fully intent on walking the 1.5 kilometers to the Lido Recreation Center, a complex in the opposite direction of the Old Town that houses one of Riga’s most popular restaurants, a restaurant that everyone I know who has any connection at all with Riga had recommended I visit. And since the restaurant is located on somewhat of a highway/major road, I figured that I would take the back streets to get there.

As you might imagine, taking the back streets is often a great option, however, I soon discovered that it is sometimes not such a great option if you don’t know the area and have never been on those back streets before. After walking for twenty minutes, I found myself in an unpleasant neighborhood, one with plenty of broken windows in the dilapidated Communist-era buildings, plenty of homeless men following me around and more than enough groups of rough-looking teenage boys drinking beer and staring at me.

Eventually, after trying to find a way out of this area, I ended up cornered by some tram tracks, a dark tunnel, a graffiti-filled wall and another suspicious group of teenagers, and I had no choice but to give up the idea of eating at the Lido Restaurant.

Oh well, so it goes.

St. Peter's Cathedral, Riga, Latvia

Turning around, I looked for the massive spire of St. Peter’s Cathedral far off in the distance and started walking towards it, never before so happy to be going to church. I didn’t actually make it to the Cathedral though as I decided to turn onto Krisjana Barona Street and visit the neighborhoods to the north of the Old Town instead.

And this proved to be a solid decision as I met two nice university students in one of the parks who offered to quickly show me around the Art Nouveau Quarter, a neighborhood along Elizabetes and Alberta Streets that is home to several interesting buildings created by an architect named Mikhail Eisenstein. The two students showed me the pleasant area, we chatted for a while and then they recommended a local restaurant where I could get a nice, sorry, pleasant, dinner.

That was it. After saying goodbye to my ‘tour guides’, I went to the restaurant they recommended and I sat down for a simple local meal. And as I sipped my beer, okay, my pleasant beer, waiting for my food to arrive, one thing was certain…

The city of Riga was pleasant once again.

Does Riga sound like the kind of place you’d like to visit?

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  1. Steve February 17, 2016 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Riga’s a great city, excellent architecture and green spaces. A nice combination of historical and hip. We also wanted to go to the big Lido but didn’t have time and opted to go to the one near Kronvalda park which was still excellent

  2. Nomadic Boys February 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Lovely post about Riga. We are going there in June to kick off our trans siberian (via a stop over to St Petersburg) adventure into Asia and then aim to do what you did back in 1999 🙂

    If you did have more time in Riga, what else would you have done?

  3. […] other than that it is widely seen as an extremely underrated European city. And blog posts like this and this make it all the more […]

  4. shekhar October 3, 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Earl i’m going to attend conference in Riga for two days , can you tell me which are the places i must see ,

  5. Arty November 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    The area you got stuck in on your way to Lido is very ill advised to be in. There is also a Lido in Old Town if you ever go back. It isn’t quite the same experience as the Lido Recreation Center, but the food is still outstanding and the environment is very genuine. But yeah, two days isn’t enough time to get the feel for Riga. You really need a trusted local to show you around to the stuff that is really interesting. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Wandering Earl November 22, 2012 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      Thanks Arty…and I did know about the Lido in the Old Town but I wanted to try the other one. Oh well, I ended up missing out on both. So it goes sometimes!

  6. Hannah October 24, 2012 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Lovely photos and agreed, it is a very nice place to visit. I lived in Latvia a few years ago and had many lovely weekends in Rīga. That said, I think Latvia itself is generally just a really nice place 🙂

  7. Neasa September 25, 2012 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Hey Earl,

    I’m Irish but I actually lived in Riga for a couple of months in 2008. Made the same mistake as you regards to Lido (we did get there in the end actually and went ice-skating). The market is one of the most amazing things about the city. There’s also a flea market in the Russian section across the railways tracks which is fascinating. I mean really amazing. I lived in Old Town so know all about its hidden treats! I would say its a little more than pleasant though!

  8. Gunta September 14, 2012 at 3:17 am - Reply

    Hey Earl!
    I’ve been reading Your blog from time to time and unfortunately missed that you were coming to Riga. Well, I am a Latvian and live in Riga. And I think Riga is one of the places that seems a bit cold at first, but you just need to give it a little time. I’m involved in international student exchange program and the when we ask students what they think of Latvians, very often they say that Latvians at first appear not very friendly and open, even cold and distant sometimes (we blame northern influence for this), but once you have a Latvian friendship, it’s a real friendship and forever. So maybe it’s the same with Riga – it might not greet you with open arms at first, but once one have been patient enough it can be a real adventure 🙂
    But it was very interesting to read this post, to see my home town from a different perspective. Thank you for that.
    If you’re ever coming again, I would be more than happy to show you around.
    Good luck,

    • Earl September 15, 2012 at 4:51 pm - Reply

      Hey Gunta – It would have been great to meet up with you in Riga. And I fully recognize the fact that I only stayed for two nights and so it is completely impossible for me to get a good impression about Riga at all. I can only make VERY general observations of course. But I would really like to spend more time there and meet some more people, so if I do head back there, I will certainly be in touch!

  9. […] on September 13, 2012 by Earl While Riga, Latvia, as you might have read last week, was a most pleasant city to visit, it would seem only natural that my stay in Tallinn, Estonia would be described similarly. After […]

  10. Sabina September 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Riga certainly does appear to be a pleasant place, Earl. Perhaps if I go there one day, I shall be pleasantly surprised? 😉

  11. Chris September 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Sweet dude! I like pleasant. I know all too well the “embarrassingly too short 2 days” routine.

  12. Erica September 10, 2012 at 6:45 am - Reply

    Earl, loved the photos. I agree with many of your commenters that you have now inspired me to visit. It looks pleasant…you must admit it’s always a pleasant surprise to stumble on a few locals willing to show you around as well.

  13. Tom @ Waegook Tom September 9, 2012 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Your time in Riga sounds exactly like my time in the neighbouring capital, Vilnius. Although maybe your pleasant time is a step above my, “eh, it’s OK” time there. Although no groups of beer-swilling teenage boys, fortunately. I only had two nights in Vilnius (like you in Riga) and wish I could have seen more but hey…it wasn’t a place I fell in love with instantly (unlike other cities on my trip like Prague, Gdansk, Poznan) or one that evoked any kind of strong emotion in me.

    • Earl September 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      Hey Tom – That happens sometimes and I wish I made it to Vilnius on this trip as well. Oh well, I guess we’ll both have to go back to the region at some point and hopefully see a little more than we did.

  14. Sally Stretton September 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm - Reply


    Riga looks like a quaint little town! The buildings look like doll houses or something from a miniture model town. Your pictures of this pleasant little town are beautiful! Sorry you sat in bird poop…that’s never nice! Hope you didn’t have to walk around with bird doodie on yourself for too long! 🙂


  15. kami September 8, 2012 at 11:02 am - Reply

    pleasant is a perfect word to describe Riga. It’s pretty but it lacks something for me, I never knew what but each time I was there (and I’ve been there 3 times) I had a feeling there must be something more in the city, I just can’t find or feel it. Even if I like it it’s my last favourite from Baltic capitals. Have you been to Tallinn or Vilnius?
    First time I was in Riga I stayed there 3 days and that was too long, one day of intensive exploring is pretty much enough there

    • Earl September 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Hey Kami – I was just in Tallinn as well and I loved that city 🙂

  16. Mark Wiens September 8, 2012 at 6:59 am - Reply

    It was also pleasant to read about your pleasant vist to Riga. Looks like it’s a great mixture of historical buildings, lakes and trees, and good food – I’d love to spend some time in Latvia in the future. That same story you shared about venturing out to find a restaurant and finding yourself in a questionable area of town has happened to me on more than a few occasions as well.. it’s always a little disappointing, but there always seems to be another good place to eat too!

    • Earl September 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm - Reply

      Hey Mark – Agreed…there are always great places to eat in every town and city and sometimes it’s better to eat at the places that are not recommended by everyone!

  17. Bama September 8, 2012 at 6:43 am - Reply

    Riga does sound pleasant, indeed. And who would have guessed that you found the best mushroom quiche there? I like that restored part of the old town in particular.

  18. IggyPop September 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    Sure it does. Except for the rough neighborhood. Would love to go there one time. The quiche story was great. Lots of cities have a St. Peter Church jajaja.

  19. James Clark September 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    I need to go there. I was in Estonia in 2000 and I was refused entry to Latvia for not having a visa (I’ve done that twice!) Back then Australians needed a visa from one of the three Baltic countries to enter Latvia.

    • Earl September 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      Hey James – Twice? Well done my friend! Now that the rules have changed, you’re free to just walk across the border, so get on over here!

  20. Wends of Journeys and Travels September 6, 2012 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Earl, this is great. The photos of the houses is inspiring and I loved the way you write this one. I am fascinated by Latvia. 🙂

    • Earl September 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Hey Wends – The houses are quite nice to look at it and I can see how a few photos would inspire anyone to want to visit this city!

  21. Scott Mallon September 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Earl – I have a friend who went to Latvia for a film festival and he loved the place. He was there for two weeks and it was one of his favorite places he’s traveled. And he is a seasoned traveler. Two days isn’t long-a few days more and the place might start to grow on you.

    • Earl September 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Scott – I’m sure my opinion would be different if I stayed longer but unfortunately, I can’t stay a few weeks in every country I visit. Wish I could though.

  22. Elle of Solo Female Nomad September 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Riga looks really pretty…pretty pleasant that is. The buildings look like the beautiful colorful ones found in most German Old Towns.

    • Earl September 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm - Reply

      Hey Elle – Pleasant indeed! There definitely was a major German influence to the architecture, which made sense considering that so many Germans lived in Riga until the Nazis arrived and sent them home.

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