Project Description

The Latvian capital, the largest city in the Baltics, is a fascinating mixture of proud Latvian tradition and influences of the various countries that occupied it. Since the Independence of 1991, the Art Nouveau Centre of Riga has been classified as World Heritage. The city is open to mass tourism, thanks to cheap flights. The old center of Riga with its myriad of bars and restaurants can be explored on foot and the new city is easily accessible thanks to modern network of buses and streetcars.

THE PARIS OF THE NORTH

After a 4.5 hours ride by bus from Tallinn, I finally reach Riga in mid-afternoon. The bus station is crowded and quite dirty, but it seems to be the same in other Baltics capitals and it doesn’t always reflect the city itself. The sky is gray and it doesn’t look like it will get any better. I walk from the main bus station to the hotel booked the day before in Tallinn, Avalon Hôtel. In fact, it is just across the street!

  • Just in front of train and bus station, closed to the old town.
  • Clean, comfortable room with good soundproofing.
  • Free Wifi connexion.
  • Good, varied breakfast buffet.
  • Carpets in my room.
  • Air conditionning very noisy and just above the bed.
  • Wifi connexion not great, frequent disconnections.

hotelavalonriga

In the first place, I planned to stay at least two days in Riga, but I managed to see everything that was on my list in a day. I do not know if it’s the capricious weather or the fact that there is almost nothing to see or do, but I don’t regret leaving earlier. I read somewhere that Riga was the nightlife capital of Europe, so as you can imagine, it is definitely not for me, as I am not a night owl at all. Finally, no regrets. Fortunately, I was able to arrange this with the hotel and the receptionnist agreed to shorten my stay at no charge. Nice of them! As the day ends, I prepare my tour of the city in my room and go eat at the hotel restaurant. Very good service and excellent food.

My first … and unique day tour starts the next day on Dome Square, 100 meters from my hotel.

This place is situated in the heart of the Old Town of Riga, around which are located the best cafes and outdoor bars as one of my brochure says. The current appearance of the square has its origins in the 1930s, when only a small part of the medieval buildings were demolished to provide space. On an edge of the square, we can normally admire the Dome Cathedral, but it was under massive renovation during my visit. No pictures then. It was built as the Cathedral of the Bishop Albert in 1211 and was rebuilt several times. Today, the building has a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles. The cathedral is famous for its organ, which is used in many concerts and recitals. Due to renovation works, the inside of the cathedral was inaccessible to visitors. No problem, I am on my way to another nearby church, St. Peter.

It is an imposing red brick church, built in 1209 which was first made of wood and then rebuilt with stone. An elevator takes visitors on two observation platforms which offer panoramic views over the rooftops of the old town and beyond the river Daugava. Guess what? The elevator doesn’t work… Grrr! Well, anyway, it’s not with such kind of weather that I could have taken nice pictures of the old town. I admire a few minutes a statue which represent the Musician of Breme according to the story of the Grimm brothers, then walk to a nearby square where is the architectural jewel of Riga, the House of the Blackheads.

Built in the 14th century, the building belonged to the Guild of Merchants. It was the richest and most prestigious construction in the city. Severely damaged and looted during the Second World War, it was rebuilt in 1999 according to the original model. Outside, you can enjoy its magnificent Dutch Renaissance facade and inside you can admire some amazing paintings. Finally a visit which is worth it, even if you cannot take any pictures! Once out of there, I’m approached by locals who tried to convince me to take them as guides for a tour of the city, for the modest sum of 30 €. “No, thank you”. Not quite sure they got it, as they keep insisting… I have never seen this before! I end the conversation and go away from the main square to stroll in nearby narrow cobbled streets.

A little further on, I pass just in front of the Three Brothers, a charming group of three dwelling houses, each dating from another century (the oldest one was built in the 15th century).

A few steps away, I reach for the first time in Riga some green area, a large garden right in front of the palace of Riga (if my interpretation of the map were correct). Rather modern, you will surely agree.

The building has served as headquarters of various rulers over the centuries. After independence in 1991, the palace became the workplace of the President of Latvia. Having no desire to visit the building, I continue my way and stop drinking a large hot chocolate at Friday’s. Don’t mind me, it’s quite cold outside! At a corner of a street, I see a huge tower attached to a red brick building. This is the Powder Tower, one of the ancient fortification towers of Riga, built in 1330.

Rebuilt several times since, the tower founds its current name when people began to store gun powder in it from the 17th century. Since 1919, it houses the War Museum which I’ve visited. The mission of the war museum is to preserve the memory of the nation about the political and military history of Latvia, the influence of military conflicts and areflection in the aftermath of armed conflict. Admission is free of charge, so I got inside as it was definitely warmer than outside. The tour is interesting, but nothing more.

I finally reach the main street of the city, Brīvības iela, where I can see the Freedom Monument.

The symbol of Latvian independence and a major landmark of Riga. This monument can be seen from far away. It was originally built to commemorate the people who died during the Independence war of Latvia in 1918-1920. The motto “For Fatherland and Freedom” is written on its base. I then cross the street to visit one of the few parks of the city, Wörmann park.

This park was created by the widow of a rich merchant in 1817. It is known by the nickname “Vērmanītis”, the diminutive of Anna Wörmann’s name. No more information about it on my brochure. The weather has not changed at all. Wait a minute… Bloody hell, it starts to rain! I take refuge under the porch of the National Opera House, right next to the park. Good opportunity to read some information about it.

Pride of Latvian music and cultural life of Riga, the National Opera is located near the city canal. The building was constructed in 1863 as a German theater and was was completely restored in 1995. The Opera has excellent acoustics and hosts world-class operas, ballets and pop music performances. The outside of the building looks like the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow according to the brochure. The front door seems to be closed, so I don’t investigate further.

“Ok, I think I’ve seen enough” I told myself. Riga seems to lack of interesting activities, so I decided to leave the next day to Vilnius. Back to my hotel, as specified at the beginning of the article, I ask the staff to change my stay and directly booked my bus ticket Riga-Vilnius, again using the services of Lux Express.

REVIEW OF MY TRIP TO RIGA

I’ll be honest: as much as I loved Tallinn, I do not plan to set foot in Riga again. Several factors have certainly helped me reaching this sad conclusion, but it is without regret that I leave the capital of Latvia a day earlier than expected. Otherwise, people were friendly, although quite intrusive, prices for accommodation and food were good. I quickly saw what the old city has to offer, even through few available museums. The one big advantage of Riga is its international airport which is connected via direct flights to almost all major European capital cities. It is therefore a great way to reach Baltic States, rent a car and start exploring, but it ends here. Kindly note that this is just my personal opinion.