City guide: Riga, Latvia | Private jet charter
Latvia’s enchanting capital, Riga, lies on the Baltic Sea in northern Europe, at the entrance to the Daugava river. Under occupation throughout its history by the Swedes, Polish, Soviets and Germans, Riga offers visitors an extraordinary cultural legacy. A proliferation of Art Nouveau architecture – more than 800 buildings in total – are a fascinating addition to Riga’s UNESCO-listed medieval Old Town with its cobbled streets and wooden structures. Concert halls and museums, bars and nightclubs, markets and high-end retail give Riga a thoroughly modern vibe alongside its ancient heart. Here are 5 Riga attractions to visit during your stay in the Latvian capital.
Riga Old Town
A morning exploring Riga’s charming pedestrianised Old Town is well spent. A listed World Heritage site, this medieval centre of the Latvian capital has many cultural attractions as well as some excellent coffee shops where you can savour local pastries and mulled wine. Head for the Town Hall Square where you’ll find the tourist office as well as the Occupation Museum and the famous House of the Blackheads. The latter was built in the 1300s for single ship-owners and merchants. Latvian Independence in 1991 had its birthplace in and around Dome Square. The church here became a hospital and the square today hosts popular street markets. The square is also close to the Parliament and Riga Castle. The Latvian Freedom monument is here, while the Old Town is surrounded by Riga canal – the boundary between the old and new cities. Hop on a canal boat tour for a unique view of Riga.
Riga Shopping and Markets
Riga offers visitors a superb mix of shops, markets and shopping centres to explore, where you’ll find global brands as well as Baltic offerings such as Ivo Nikkolo and Monton. Head to Riga’s new town for Stockmann centre, while the Old Town boasts the Galerija Centrs. If markets are more your style, then visit Riga Central Market located on the Daugava river, just south of the old town. Housed in former German zeppelin airship hangars, this is one of the largest markets in Eastern Europe. You’ll find all manner of fresh foodstuffs among the pavilions, as well as local specialities (try the Georgian bread), fish, ceramics and homeware, in addition to unique souvenirs. The former warehouses here are now home to galleries and innovative art venues.
Riga boasts Latvia’s oldest public garden in the shape of the stunning Vērmanes Garden. Located in front of the University of Latvia, the park is named after a Prussian widow, Anna Gertrud Wöhrmann, who donated money and the land to create the park in the early 1800s. There’s an obelisk monument to her here, surrounded by a fountain. Covering an area of 12 acres, the gardens, walkways and shady trees provide a welcome respite from the city in summer, and there is often live music in the amphitheatre, while the park is a quiet contemplative space for walking in autumn and winter. Warm-up with coffee and cake in one of the park’s cafes.
Ethnographic Open-Air Museum
Just half an hour outside of Riga is the extraordinary Ethnographic Open Air Museum, located on the shores of Lake Jugla. A homage to Latvian history and culture, visitors will discover 118 traditional buildings from across Latvia – dating from the 1600s to the 1930s. Representing the Latvian provinces of Zemgale, Latgale, Kurzeme and Vidzeme, the traditional arts of weaving, potting, saunas, and even coin-making are all on show. As well as the chance to sample authentic Latvian cuisine. Make a day of it with a walk around the 87 hectares of magnificent pine forest that surround the museum: Ideal for cross-country skiing in winter.
Riga Motor Museum
Vintage car fans will love the Riga Motor Museum – just a 15-minute drive from the old town. Now state-owned after extensive refurbishment, the museum opened in 2016 and is home to more than one hundred vintage cars from across the world. Fully interactive – the exhibits here are informative as well as entertaining – expect to see Soviet vehicles such as the Volga, Zigouli and Moskvich, alongside a Lincoln Continental 53A gift from Nixon to former Soviet President Brezhnev. Unique western vintage cars on show also include a Mercedes 220 SE and a Jaguar Mk 2 – all gleamingly restored to their former glory.
Best Time To Visit Riga
Riga – and Latvia generally – is very cold in winter – much like its fellow Baltic states. From November through to March you can expect daytime temperatures to be frigid with snow on the ground on Riga’s cobbled streets. Adding a fairy tale air to the old town, enjoy the seasonal markets and stay warm with mulled wine and strudel. Definitely wrap up and wear a hat. Venturing outside of Riga, lakes and rivers will be frozen over and make for fun ice skating. Spring and summer are the best times to visit Riga – enjoy the City Festival in August – but you’ll still need to bring rain gear as the weather can be unpredictable. Autumn may be chilly, but the golden colours add to Riga’s abundant charm.
Getting Around Riga
Riga International Airport (RIX) is 10km from Riga city centre – an approximately 20-minute drive in good traffic. Take a taxi into town from outside Arrivals, making sure you check the fare before you depart. Prices should be clearly marked on a panel in the taxi. Once in Riga, we recommend using taxis to get around. Ensure you use the official metered cabs that you can book in advance from your hotel or hail them on the street. Using a hire car and driving among Riga’s somewhat aggressive drivers is not especially encouraged. Alternatively, you have a choice of trams, buses and trolleybuses to take you around the city. However, since Riga is such a green city (more than 1/5th is given to parks and gardens), your best bet is exploring on foot.
Why Visit Riga
Despite its reputation as a wild stag (and hen) party destination, Riga has much to offer visitors – not least its eclectic nightlife. The local currency is the Euro, and most locals speak some English. Riga is especially known for its superb examples of Art Nouveau buildings, while its old town has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture, much of which dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Strolling along Riga’s snow-filled cobbled streets in winter before setting down in a café with a strong coffee or local liqueur is a romantic way to spend a long weekend in the city, before exploring Riga’s innovative museums, its farmers markets, peaceful gardens and a renowned live music scene.
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