Things to do in Riga
Free walking tour
The first google search for things to do in Riga came up with free walking tour (where you can tip what you want at the end). We booked with Free Tour for the 11am tour but there are also options for 10am and 3pm. You start your tour at the back of Hotel Avalon – just look out for the flag of Riga. We spent just over 2 hours walking around the city learning about the history and culture.
We had a passionate guide who took us to see a number of sites, giving us a concise rundown of each one. Not only do you get to learn about Riga but you also get your bearings around the city.
The city historically had a number of warehouses which have now been converted to houses. You can spot these from a big gate on the ground floor and the anchors (which is a sign of hope). You will also spot influences from Riga’s prior Russian (the bear) and Swedish (the lion) rule. around the city.
Climb St Peter’s Church: Things to do in Riga
You can enter St Peter’s Church for 3 euros or pay 9 euros to include entrance to the terrace. You travel to the top of the church in an old lift which only carries 10 people so you may have to wait. There is no walking option. Beware that the space for walking at the top is limited and there are bars blocking a clear view. This makes me think that the entrance is a little pricey for 9 euros compared to other roof terraces in other countries. That said, I love a view and Riga sure is beautiful.
St Peter’s also has an interesting and memorable history to it. By 1491 its soaring spire had been completed. However, in 1666, the spire collapsed killing locals. A decade into its re-construction, the spire burnt down again. It was rebuilt once again in 1690 but once again engulfed in flames in 1721. The locals clearly had not learnt that fire burns wood!
Once again the steeple was rebuilt and in 1746 it was 415 ft. The architect who designed the spire drank a glass of wine at the top and dropped it to the ground believing that the number of shards it broke into would be the number of centuries in which it would survive. Believe it or not the glass only broke into two when a pile of hay came to the rescue.
Disaster struck again in 1941 when the spire was hit by a bomb in the war and collapsed into flames. The wine glass ritual was repeated (the hard concrete ground was aimed for!) and the glass broke into a number of pieces. Luckily since 1973, the spire has stood tall and proud on top of St Peter’s Church.
The Freedom Monument and Bastejkalns Park
The Freedom Monument is a memorial honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. Referred to as Milda by the locals, it is a symbol of the Lativians long struggle for nationhood. People continue to place flowers by the statute daily to pay their respects to the statute of mother Latvia. To the right of the Freedom Monument is the beautiful National Opera House.
Whilst you are there, make sure to take a stroll around Bastejkalns Park where you will find a padlock bridge! Always a good one for those selfies.
If you walk past the Freedom Monument facing north you arrive at the Orthodox Cathedral (Nativity Cathedral). You can enter but be warned that you are meant to cover your head with a scarf. It is also frowned upon to go to near the front and pray. However, it is a stunning building from the outside with gorgeous gold decoration.
Art Noveau District: Things to do in Riga
Slightly out of the centre (about 20 minute walk) is the Art Noveau district. Now I translated this as new art but in fact that us art deco! Art noveau is a slightly older form of expression which a general theme of elaborate naked maidens, gargolyles and other creatures. Art Noveau was really popular in Latvia compared to other countries but was actually only around for about 15 years.
The two main streets in the Art Noveau district are Elizabetes, Antonijas, Strelnieku, Vilandes and the popular Albert Street. We started at No 33 Elizabetes that apparently looks like a wedding cake (I could kind of see it). Opposite that is No. 10b and has long human faces on either side of a peacock (the symbol of Art Noveau). Unless you are really into art, you probably only need an hour walking around here.
Day trip outside Riga
Sigulda and Turaida
We had read that Sigulda is the Latvian Switzerland. Given it was only a hour outside Riga we decided to give it a go, particularly as the weather was good.
1188 gives you the train timetables from Riga Train Station to Sigulda which run approximately every hour and a half. The morning train times are 7.50am, 9.31am, 10.37am and 1.20pm. Given we had been out the night before we opted for the 10.37, which arrived in Sigulda for 11.49 and cost only 3.80 euros return.
Once in Sigulda, follow the sings for the cable cars down Raina Iela which takes you over to Krimaldi. The walk took around 15 minutes and you pass the umbrella park (a staple of Lativia) and Sigulda church.
The cable cars only run every 20 minutes there and back (only one car) so we had to wait around 30 minutes for an empty one. Luckily there were large bean bags that we could sit on and wait, as well as a small shop.
The journey over was 9 euros and a little underwhelming, taking around 5 minutes. Given the area is not well signposted, there is a good chance you would get lost walking! Once at Krimaldi, head straight for the caves, as to the left it was almost a ghost town and slightly weird. After walking down hundreds of steps, we were back on flat land. Sadly the caves were also pretty underwhelming, as you could not walk through or see inside.
From there we embarked on the 30-40 minute hike to Turaida climbing up and down stairs and weaving around the mountains until we hit the main entrance. There are a small amount of market stalls near here selling souviners. Entrance to Turaida is 3 euros and there is a shop on the site serving hot and cold drinks and cake. My biggest tip is to take lunch with you as there really is little choice around here. We wandered around the castle and grounds and there were some nice viewpoints. The buses back to Sigulda are infrequent but match the train times. It cost 50 cents to get back and took less than 10 minutes.
Although it was lovely to be in the country and hike, the sights were few and far between, there were no clear signposts and it just was not that pretty.
Riga is a beautiful town surrounded by the canal, gorgeous buildings and parks. It has character and atmosphere without being too touristy and busy. When you can fly there for under £100 and it is just under 3 hours away, I would definitely recommend a trip to Riga.
East London Girl: Things to do in Riga
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