Not the warmest time of the year to visit the Baltic, but the flights were reasonable and the apartment was cheap. $104 for 3 nights to be exact and it was huge, in a great location, and the host was half American so that made communication so easy and straightforward.
We went to Tallinn, Estonia, in October 3 years ago and we’d always planned to make our way to Latvia and Lithuania. But real life (and those wretched deployments) has until now, got in the way.
So we booked this place through my old favourite; Air BnB. Thankfully Riga didn’t disappoint.
Founded by a German Bishop in 1201, ruled by Sweden from 1621 (growing bigger than Stockholm in the Swedish Empire) until Russia snatched it in 1721 and it became the third largest city after Moscow and St Petersburg, Riga was then captured by the Nazis during the second world war but remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse. This short history gives you an idea of the international flavour of the city. Now the largest city in the Baltic States, Riga was the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and I can see why.
Over 3 days, we walked the length and breadth of the central part of the city, covering nearly 25 miles. Because of the children, we didn’t really explore the churches and museums like we’d have liked, but we definitely got our fill of what there was to see.
Old Riga is a tangled maze of cobbled streets, beautiful buildings, alleyways and churches. There’s so much to see and do and with a 2 and 5 year old, we barely scratched the surface. There are museums and art galleries galore. But instead we visited multiple playgrounds, restaurants with the most spectacular facilities for children and a science museum! That said we saw enough though to satiate our Riga appetite, and then ate enough to fully satisfy our own hunger.
We visited the Central Market for our fill of Latvian food education. It was housed in 5 enormous hangers, previously used to store Zeppelins by the Germans, during the second World War.
The Esplanade, a large, and beautiful park, is flanked on one end by the Latvian National Museum of Art. Outside you can stand on a glass floor and look down into the gallery (that was obviously the nearest we got to the painting grandeur).
And the Freedom Monument at the other. The three stars at the top represent the three cultural regions of Riga and was built on the site of a torn down statue of the Russian ruler, Peter the Great.
Art Nouveau architcture is all over the city and the 750-building count is growing due to the increased restoration. Moving our gaze from eye level to the sky and this is what we saw. Amazingly all 5 of these buildings were from just one street; Alberta iela.
Eating with the kids was easy. There are so many child friendly restaurants and everything’s written everywhere in Latvian and English. Three of our favourites were:
- Lido – a Latvian fast food restaurant. Cheap, traditional food served cafeteria style which meant we could try everything (and we visited 3 times for dinner and once for breakfast it was that good). The one near our apartment on Dzirnavu Street had a great children’s area
- Street Fries Kitchen – brilliant breakfast menu, cool decor and more importantly a dedicated children’s table
- Milti – looks super smart from the outside with reasonably priced pizza, pasta and a kids menu. But the cherry on the cake was the playroom separated from the main restaurant by a glass wall. The playing could be seen but not heard. Amazing!
We didn’t get a chance to get the the Zoo or the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum; an outdoor museum which tells the story of a bygone Latvia, but we did entertain the children at Zinoo, a science centre for children, one rainy afternoon and they had a blast.
For a short, cheap break away, I’d highly recommend Riga. It’s less stag night/Bachelor Party-esque than Tallinn. There’s lots to see, lots to eat and it’s so very different to the rest of Western Europe in style, design and attitude.