When I told people I was going on holiday to Riga, the capital of Latvia, I frequently got the same (rather annoying) response - a bemused expression accompanied by the question 'why there?' For me, travelling is about visiting countries I haven't been to before, and going wherever I have the opportunity and ability to go, be it a tourist hotspot or a place that's off the beaten track... and in this case, I managed to get some ridiculously cheap flights (£40 return). I tend to think the 'why there' question is a bit redundant - there's interesting stuff anywhere and everywhere you could choose to travel, and once I'd decided on Riga, it was a matter of tailoring what the city had to offer to my schedule and budget.
As ever, I spent a lot of my time exploring the city on foot. There's a real mix of architecture, everything from lovely 17th-century buildings in the Old Town to (of course) the famous Art Nouveau district and the ultra-modern National Library of Latvia. There's almost too many must-see buildings to list: the House of the Blackheads, the Three Brothers (the oldest houses in Riga), the Soviet-era Academy of Sciences, Nativity Cathedral with its golden domes, the so-called 'Cat House' adorned with turret-top feline statues, Riga Castle, and the elaborate Mikhail Eisenstein creations in the 'Quiet Centre'. Taking the lift to the top of St Peter's Church is essential for fantastic views across the whole city and the Old Town in particular.
I explored all the city's parks, visited the Central Market (great for cheap food and coveting all the flowers), and checked out the Riga Bourse art museum, which has a variety of international displays housed in a striking palazzo-style building, originally built to house the city's stock exchange. Walking a bit further afield, I chanced upon English-language bookshop/café Robert's Books and the atypical 70s modernism of the Dailes Theatre. I also went to see a film at the beautiful, old-fashioned Splendid Palace Cinema, and to watch a performance of La Traviata at the National Opera.
The tourist attractions in Riga are really affordable - cinema tickets are typically about €5, and my box seat at the opera cost €7. The most expensive thing I did was an audio guided bus tour of the city at €15, but as this lasted 2 hours and went through every district of Riga, with the ticket valid for 2 days on a 'hop on, hop off' basis, it was good value for money.
Going on a solo holiday to a cold country was a new experience for me, and it was a bit of a learning curve. It sounds stupid, but I didn't really think about the fact that I'd be outside and on the move almost all the time - on previous holidays to warmer places, I've been used to spending a lot of time out & about but also relaxing, i.e. on a beach/by the pool/in a park. Without this option, I often found myself instead seeking out a café where I could sit with a bowl-sized black coffee and a book (to be fair, this wasn't hard - Riga has the highest concentration of cafés and coffee shops of anywhere I've ever visited). Another disadvantage of going at a quiet time was that some of the attractions I most wanted to see - the National Museum of Art and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia - were closed for renovations, and river cruises weren't running even though the weather was calm. Thankfully my hotel room was warm and I'd made the smart decision to take my tablet, loaded with books and Netflix.
If I could have chosen the perfect date to go to Latvia, I probably wouldn't have gone for March (it really was pretty cold - but significantly lacking in picturesque snow!), but I had a great time in Riga and I'd totally recommend it for a short city break. If you're planning to go, the Riga In Your Pocket, LiveRiga and Latvia Travel websites might be helpful.
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