Riga

Late summer is a lovely time to discover Latvia's capital, with space to appreciate the impressive architecture, as well as the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere. By Neil Taylor

Click here for 48 Hours In... Riga map

Why go now?

Most tourists visit Latvia's capital in summer, and therefore miss all the cultural events that begin in September. They also miss the autumn colours, which come earlier to Riga's parks and gardens than to ours. Many new hotels have opened in the city, and the sharp drop in hotel prices more than compensates for the fall in the value of the pound against the local currency, the lat, which is tied to the euro.

Four years after joining the EU, Riga –particularly the centre – feels like a composite of most of the EU members: a French breakfast can be followed by an Italian lunch, German coffee and cakes, a pint in a pub and a Greek dinner, all within a few hundred yards of each other. Latvian food should not be forgotten either, with the country's lakes providing wonderful fresh fish, and its herb gardens delicious salads. These days, Riga is a city looking West, not East.



Touch down

Air Baltic (00 371 9000 6006; www.airbaltic.com) flies each evening from Gatwick to Riga. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies daily from Stansted, and two to three times a week from Liverpool and East Midlands.

Express bus 22a goes to the Orthodox Cathedral (1); the slightly slower bus number 22 will take you to the bus station (2) and railway station (3). The passenger fare on both is 40 santims (45p), but luggage is more expensive: each case costs 80 santims (90p). Taxis at the airport are properly regulated and cost about 8.50 lats (£9.50) to most hotels.



Get your bearings

Architecturally, central Riga divides into the Old Town – largely built before 1800 – and the New Town, with some excellent Art Nouveau architecture. A canal and a large swath of parkland divide the two. One of the few 20th-century buildings of note is a 100ft-high granite tower called the Freedom Monument (4). A 10-minute walk through an almost totally pedestrianised area leads to Town Hall Square, where the tourist office (5) (00 371 6703 7900; www. rigatourism.com) is located at Ratslaukums 6. It opens daily 10am-6.30pm.



Check in

The Gutenbergs (6) at Doma Laukums 1 (00 371 6721 1776; www.gutenbergs.lv) is right next to the cathedral, and so called because it used to be a publishing house. It is unashamedly 19th century throughout – the floors are uneven and wooden beams cross some of the rooms – but that is part of its appeal. From its rooftop restaurant, the determined can spot 17 church towers. Double rooms with breakfast cost 120 lats (£135).

Staying just outside the Old Town ensures spacious rooms, a sensibly sized lobby and reasonable prices all year round. Next to the American Embassy, the Reval Hotel Ridzene (7), at Reimersa 1 (00 371 6732 4433; www.revalhotels.com), manages always to be a year or so ahead of most other Riga hotels in its facilities, from electronics to air-conditioning to top-floor sauna. Fortunately, its prices remain a few years out of date. Expect to pay about €99 (£83) for a double, including a lavish buffet breakfast.

In the Hanza Hotel (8), at Elijas 7 (00 371 6779 6040; www.hanzahotel.lv), you are beside the largest wooden church in Latvia. The market (9) and railway station (3) are a 10-minute walk away. Doubles with breakfast are 75 lats (£84).



Take a view

Climb the staircase at the Janis Rozentals and Rudolfs Blaumanis Memorial Museum (10) (00 371 6733 1641), at Alberta 12, on the corner of Strelnieku. The Museum is on the top two floors, and occupies the flat that the artist Rozentals shared with the writer Blaumanis from 1906 to 1908. As one would expect, it is full of paintings and manuscripts, but of greater interest is the view across and down on to Alberta Street's array of Art Nouveau buildings. It opens 11am-6pm Wednesday to Sunday, admission 1 lat (£1.15).



Take a hike

A turn around Town Hall Square (5) tells an illuminating story. Much of it was demolished in the late 1940s as the Soviet authorities tried to eradicate Germanic architecture. However, the splendid House of Blackheads (11) (00 371 6704 4300; www.nami.riga.lv), originally the headquarters of a guild of bachelor German merchants, has been rebuilt and is open 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday, admission 2 lats (£2.25).

One Soviet building, now the Museum of Occupation (12) (00 371 6721-2715; www. occupationmuseum.lv), tells of the horrors of both occupations in explicit detail. It opens daily from 11am to 6pm, admission free.

Afterwards, to recover your composure, visit the Mentzendorff's House (13), on the eastern side of the square (00 371 6721-2951; www.mencendorfanams.com), to see how Baltic German merchants lived and traded. It opens 10am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday, admission 1 lat (£1.15).

Lunch on the run

Pelmeni (14), at Kalku 7, serves huge portions of noodle dumplings with meat or vegetable fillings at very low prices. The really greedy try all six versions, have a salad and soup, and still only pay about 3 lats (£3.40). In good weather, visit the farmers' market in the hangars (9) behind the bus station (2), and put together the ingredients for a picnic.



Cultural afternoon

The Arsenal Museum of Art (15), at Torma 1 (00 371 6735 7527; www.lnmm.lv), is full of out-and-out-individualism, usually on a very large canvas. Surprise your friends, perhaps even shock them, with a postcard bought here: socialist realism disappeared very early on when Latvia regained independence in 1991. The name of the building dates from the Swedish era in the 17th century, when a barracks was located here. Open 11am-5pm daily except Mondays, 2.50 lats (£2.75).



Window shopping

Few Rigans go to their modern railway station (3) to catch a train, buses being quicker. People do, however, pack into the grandiose station to shop. One outlet sells 50 different teas, another 30 types of swords. For refreshment, head for Soprano and its 30-plus varieties of ice cream, where a cornet costs 1 lat (£1.15). For stylish local products and delicacies, go to Bergs Bazaar (16).

An aperitif

There are two opportunities to toast the city at the Skyline Bar on the 26th floor of the Latvia Hotel (17). Have your first drink when the sun sets over the Old Town, and the second when the illuminations are turned on. Riga Balzam, the local herb liqueur, goes well with blackcurrant juice or sparkling wine. Otherwise, work your way through the vodka cocktails, bearing in mind that double – or larger – measures are standard.



Sunday morning: go to church

Riga Cathedral (18) was founded in 1211, and is still going strong. It was already ahead of its time during the Reformation, and today it displays English prayers on a large projector during Latvian services. With luck, the service will be followed or preceded by an organ recital, though it is unlikely that all 6,718 pipes will be used on one occasion.



Take a ride

Buy a 40 santim (50p) tram ticket at any kiosk. Then find the tram stop called Stacijas Laukums, Station Square (19), which is actually on Radio Street, just off the square. Tram 11 will whisk you to Mezaparks. You'll travel past Art Nouveau buildings, with interludes of Art Deco and Functionalism, and a local cemetery, always full of freshly cut flowers, followed by the formal one built for Latvia's heroes.

As the tram crosses Hamburg Street, a café appears with the name Gustav Adolf.

Mezaparks was known as Kaiserwald, or Imperial Garden, to the Germans. Visitors who know Berlin will immediately be reminded of Grünewald. Just remember not to say "ein Bier, bitte" at one of the many bars around the park. Latvian, English or Russian will quickly produce the goods.



Write a postcard

Head for the café above the Globuss bookshop (20), at Valnu 26. "In the Beginning was the Word" proclaims the sign behind the cashier, and around the walls are quotes from Dante, Goethe and Mark Twain, to name but a few. In such an environment, inspiration should come easily.



Icing on the cake

On your homeward journey set off early for the airport. Check in, and then allow 30 minutes for the Aviation Museum, situated about 300 metres from the main terminal. Its opening hours and admission charges are highly erratic and depend on who is on duty.

If the museum is closed or the weather bad, a meal at the airport's Lido restaurant is compensation. Tuck into a radish and herring salad, then a hearty serving of meat and vegetables, followed by a fruit compote.



Neil Taylor is the author of Bradt's 'Baltic Capitals' guidebook

Suggested Topics
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'