I’m quickly falling in love with these Baltic countries, after an enchanting 5 days in Estonia I just spent another 5 great days in Latvia. I took the bus from Tallinn, Estonia to Riga, Latvia (4 hours, 11 Euro/$14). The bus station is only a 10 minute walk from the Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, so I trotted off to my hostel.
Riga, and Tallinn for that matter, have discovered a new (unfortunate?) niche in recent years – becoming a hub for stag/bachelor parties from nearby European countries. So when the weekend descends upon the beautiful Old Town, the area becomes a sort of free fall full of soon-to-be-married dudes in pink panther suits, handcuffed to midgets or locked in trash can. It’s quite a boisterous affair so if heavy drinking Brits aren’t you’re thing, try not to find yourself here on Weekend evenings.
That aside, the city is a great place to backpack, it’s got some cracking nightlife (that doesn’t involve hordes of tourists), great places to eat and it’s still relatively cheap, certainly by European standard. You can still get by on around $30 per day here.
I spent 2 whole days wandering around Riga, not to mention one whole evening stumbling around Riga. The Old Town is full of culture and history, with every other building adorned with gargoyles. The streets are cobbled and the churches will have you gawping. Here are the highlights of what I saw in Riga, in order of awesomeness:
The Museum of Occupation:
I’m constantly highlighting my lack of culture with my general disdain of museums and galleries around the globe, but when it comes to political history, I’m all there. This is maybe the best museum I’ve ever been to, and is certainly worth a visit from EVERY backpacker who ventures to Riga.
Reading about how the former Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, then the USSR again had their way with Latvia for the best part of the last century is tear-Jerking. Hearing how the ‘Allies’ stood by and watched is even worse. Check it out.
FREE (by donation)
St Peter’s Lutheran Church:
The highlight of every trip to Riga is a jaunt up the spire in the Gothic Luterhan Church in the centre of the old town. You get great views of the entire city for 2 Euro ($3)
The largest church in all the Baltic countries with formally the world’s largest pipe organ, this massive Cathedral just a stones throw north of the Old Town and Freedom Monument. It’s free to walk around inside, but the best views are from 50m away, taking in the sheer size of the thing, with all it’s religious beauty.
Just on the cusp of the Old Town is a tribute to Latvia’s ‘freedom’, erected in 1935, almost 60 years before they were actually free. It replaced a statue where the Russian Peter the Great once stood, see u later Peter.
This is more of a ‘feely’ attraction rather than one to get snap happy with. A huge Soviet-style market beside the bus station in a massive warehouse. You can pick up cheap everything here so skip lunch and eat your way around here. There’s also a movie theatre, in English, 100m away so escape the booze for an evening and check that out too.
Russian Orthodox Cathedral:
Every time I think that I’ve almost had my fill of Russian Orthodox churches, I see another one and I’m impressed all over again. No change here with the imposing Cathedral If you’ve never been to Russia, then this is a must-see, really cool.
Worth a look just for what it is, and knowing that the Latvian President lives there gives it a bit of extra welly. Other than that it’s home to a couple of average art galleries. Nothing special.
So the Blackhead’s, for those of you who don’t know, were a group of single German merchants who used to booze, raise hell, chase chicks and get up to no good. Naturally I was excited about visiting their home. FAIL. They’ve used the name, and the former grounds, and converted it to an art gallery. Disappointed!
That’s Riga in a nutshell, and very cool it was too. You have to give yourself at least 2 days here, because realistically one of the mornings you’ll be lost in bed, nursing a hangover so be true to yourself! Happy travels!