A few months ago, I was looking for a new travel destination. I wanted to visit a Christmas market, but something different then all the German markets. Not that I don’t like the German ones, but I thought it would be fun to see something different.
After strolling the internet, I found these Baltic city’s which I didn’t know much about. But to be honest Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius all looked so charming. After a few words with my travel-partner we choose to go to Riga (Latvia). To be really honest, I never heard of Riga before and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anything about the country, the weather, the food, the culture. So, everything was going to be a big surprise.
Arriving at Riga, I must say, it was like love at first sight. It was much warmer than I expected (it was only 2°C, but it felt the same as 8°C in Belgium). So, I didn’t need my thermal underwear during the trip. As a vegetarian, I was afraid that there would be few options in terms of restaurants. I found on the internet that the Latvian kitchen consisted out of a lot of meat. But there were a lot of different restaurants, we ate at “Lido”. This is a restaurant where you can eat all kinds off traditional foods. The concept looks a little bit like fast food, because you scoop everything on your plate and then pay for it. But the restaurant has cute decorations, the waiters are all dressed up and the food is really good. And don’t worry about the prices, we ate dinner here for €7 pp (with a soft drink and no alcohol).
What to do in Riga?
The first night we arrived kind of late in the city (in the winter it’s already dark at 2:30PM), so we just went to the Christmas market.
It was different than ours in Belgium. Because almost all the decorations are made of wood. At this market you can find a lot of mulled wine and gingerbread but also some lovely gifts as hand-knitted scarfs or mittens, wooden decorations of candles. The biggest Christmas market is at Doma laukums, but there are also small stalls throughout the city. If you walk a bit further, you come at Esplenāde park (here you’ll also find a Christmas market but with a real life “village” populated by real rabbits). Near Eplenāde park is the Radisson Blu hotel which has an amazing Skyline bar. And if you are in this area you can also see the “Riga’s Nativity of Christ Cathedral”, certainly a must see!
The second day we strolled around the city but had a list of “must sees”.
First, we arrived in the Art Nouveau neighborhood, and the neighborhood has really beautiful facades. This is partly due to the many Art Nouveau buildings that Riga is rich off. The city has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1997. They even have an art nouveau museum if you really like this style (Alberta 12).
The Three Brothers
After that we visited the Three Brothers (Mazā Pils Iela 17), three beautiful houses each built in a different century. And legend has it they had been built by three men of one family. In Tallinn there must be “the three sisters” (can’t wait to see them some day). The oldest building is the white one, build around 1500 and the oldest brick-built house in Riga.
House of the Black cat
If you walk around in Riga for a few minutes, you’ll notices black cats in every souvenir shop. It’s like the symbol of the city. There is also the Cat House (Meistaru Iela) in Riga, if you look on top of the building, you’ll see two cats. The cats have a curved back and their tails are raised. They say the owner of the house wanted the cats to be placed this way, with the tails turned to the House of the Great Guild. People say he held a grudge against the members of this guild.
And older version is that some wealthy tradesman places the statues on top of the building, facing the Riga Town Hall (after a dispute with Riga City Council). This Riga Town Hall burned during WWII but was rebuilt in the very same place in 2000. I don’t know which story is true or false, but as a cat person I did love all the cat statues and souvenirs.
House of the blackheads
House of the blackheads was built in 1334 as a venue for meetings and banquets. Later the building was destroyed during WWII and fully rebuilt in 1999. Towards the end of the 14th century, there was a guild in Riga uniting merchants and craftsman, and they called themselves Blackheads. These members where young and unmarried merchants (mostly Germans).
The building looks incredibly breathtaking from the outside, but the inside is also worth a visit.
In the upper level are some grand ballrooms, where historically many luxurious events happened (like ceremonies for kings, queens, presidents.). And on the ground floor you’ll find the Historical cabinets, which used to be is the former workspace of the president of Latvia.
This is a medieval building in the old center (Jauniela 16), and just perfect for a picture of Riga. The restaurant is very small and very busy. And I think they only serve meat.
If you do like to visit a cute tearoom in the middle of a park? Apsara tearoom is just what you’re looking for. It is near Elizabetes Iela and in the park “Vērmandārsz”. You can sit upstairs, where you’ll have the best view (and sit in these soft pillows). Just a little heads ups, you can only drink coffee and tea here and they serve only sweats (so no real lunch).
The Holy Trinity church
My final recommendation is the Holy Trinity church (Maza Iela) which is just outside the center. But I saw some pictures of it on Instagram, and I just had to see it in real life. You can easily take a bus (takes about 15 minutes and then walk like 5 minutes). During the bus ride you’ll cross the bridge (which is also a great view).
And if you want some pretty pictures, the whole city is just super cute and has these colorful buildings. Which is just picture perfect.
Hope you’ll visit Riga after reading my blog!