Off the Beaten Path: 24 Hours in Riga
When your business travel takes you to Europe, it’s a great chance to extend your work trip. Tack on a personal weekend adventure and explore a little further.
You’ve probably been to a few capital cities. Maybe London, Paris and Rome. Or you’ve at least heard of the long lines and touristy crowds that haunt these popular destinations. When you’ve already had a busy work trip, the last thing you need is to push past the hoards or waste time in a line. Instead, opt for a quick and relaxing stop off the beaten path.
Riga is a unique city that has a lot to offer and yet lacks the usual tourist crowds you’d expect of a European capital city, making it the perfect place for a quick hitting side trip. While Riga may feel like a small city, the fact is, it houses about a third of the Latvian population, and it’s the third largest Baltic city after St. Petersburg and Stockholm. And fun fact: Riga is older than both of those cities. Riga has a little something to please everyone. History, pretty picture-perfect pastel old houses lining the streets, lots of gardens, old churches, cobblestone streets and ghost stories.
Start your morning with a cafe breakfast, preferably al fresco. There are dozens of options, but perhaps the most memorable is the tiniest cafe, Tornis. Located at the entrance of Vērmanes Dārzs Park, Tornis Cafe is the perfect place to stop for a coffee before walking through the park or finding a bench to sit and enjoy the sun.
A walking tour is a great way to get out of the door and start exploring on the first morning. I like to take one to get my bearings and add a little context to the city. We met our guide, the sweetest old gentleman, at Alberta laukums, the birthplace of Riga. He was obviously a history buff and told us all about the countless times Riga was invaded and occupied by surrounding nations.
Lunch in Riga’s Central District
Walk over to the Central District for lunch. There are so many good restaurants over there. We highly recommend La Kanna and Mio. La Kanna has a laid back lunch atmosphere and fresh flowers put out on each table. The halloumi salad and seasonal soups are delicious. At Mio, the housemade linguini with seasonal vegetables, pesto and parmesan is out of this world. They also serve delicious seasonal salads, like the brie, walnut and berry salad with a balsamic dressing in summer, if you’re looking for a lighter lunch.
Views of the City
Grab a drink at the Skyline bar at the Radisson Blu. While it’s not rooftop, the bar is surrounded by floor to ceiling glass windows. For an even better view, visit the St. Peter’s church tower. It’s the tallest steeple in Old Town and offers amazing views across Old Town and the river. You can walk all the way around the tower to get views in every direction. From there, you could walk towards the river if you want to see more. There are postcard views of Riga Old Town from across the bridge.
Just on the edge of Old Town, the Central Market is a huge hub of vendors selling everything from fresh berries and produce to amber jewelry and souvenirs. We had fun walking around and sampling cheeses. Outside by the produce the air smelled like strawberries. While just about everyone takes credit card in Riga, this is one spot where you actually need cash.
Dinner in Riga’s Old Town
After your day exploring, sit down for dinner in the Old Town. For a unique dinner experience, eat at Folkklubs Ala. The beer is inexplicably cheap – and good. The food is also cheap – and pretty decent. What surprised us was the atmosphere. We wandered down wooden steps into a dark hallway, and just when we thought we were going to enter some mellow, dimly lit beer establishment we were greeted with a full on Lithuanian party. Staff in cultural outfits, live music and a huge dining hall. We had to shimmy up to the last two seats at the bar to get served. It’s definitely a fun way to get a little taste of the traditional culture.
Alternatively, Ezītis Miglā offers lots of healthy, vegan and vegetarian (but there’s also pizza and burgers on teh menu if that’s more your thing). They have two locations though, and the one on Jauniela looked like a stale bar, so make sure you find the Ezītis Miglā on Aldaru iela. That location has such a cute patio and the indoor seating is cozy.