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Reflections of Riga

Riga, Latvia is a UNESCO World Heritage city with its amazing medieval and art-deco architecture. Here are some things we recommend you do on a weekend citybreak to this gorgeous and friendly city.


“Have you ever had pudding made from old, stale rye bread?” asked one of my self-appointed hosts. “It’s what  I grew up on, and it’s probably the most famous dessert in our country!” With a recommendation like that, who could turn down this mysterious pudding.  Rye bread, for me, conjures up visions of pastrami, mustard, and maybe even some sauerkraut, but it most definitely doesn’t make me think of dessert.

Without another thought, I grabbed the pudding from the cafeteria shelf, resolutely put it on my tray on the way to the cashier, by way of the beer tap. My entire lunch, made up of all the local specialties recommended by my hosts, totaled to a whopping $4.00. After paying, I headed to our table and was ready to tuck in and chat some more with our new-found friends in the loud and crowded dining room.

The Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia.

What to do in Riga for a Weekend City Break

Riga is a great destination all year long. We went in the fall, but it’s been noted to be one of the best places for a winter citybreak in Europe. I’m sure it’s beautiful all year round.

We’d spent the majority of the day walking around the medieval city center of Riga, and we had all worked up an appetite. There were eight of us, six Latvians and two Americans, all with a passion for photography. We had come together thanks to Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk.

Shanti and his friends took us by churches, through cobble-stoned squares, down twisting alleyways, through the brilliant fall foliage in the park, all over the city. Not only did we click, click, click away, but we listened closely as Artur, the IT guy, told us stories of their lives as well as a smattering of the history of Latvia.

Traditional food choices abound at the Lido in Riga.
Rye pudding, Latvian style.

The weather was off and on rainy, which lent itself well to some of the old Soviet buildings and apartment blocks, but let rays of light shine in on the newly renovated art-deco facades of the old town. The rain, like a wizened old man, highlighted both the positives and negatives of the last few centuries. The light added a mix of somber and hopeful tones to our images, and left us feeling the texture of the city much more than if the sun had shone all day long.

Here are some of the things we recommend you do while you’re in Riga for the weekend!

1. Eat Local Food!

Our rye pudding was as good as Artur promised. So much so, that we had it the next day as well. This time in a more upscale restaurant where it looked quite a bit different, but it was still tasty! And in case you were wondering, we loved the beer as well!

Serving up delicious traditional Latvian food at the Lido.

2.  Take a Walk in the Park

Tourist go on a boat ride in an old wooden boat in Riga.
Kayaker competes in the park in Riga.
The Swan House, a strange little structure in the park in Riga.

One of the first places we wandered through was the park that is situated right in the middle of the city. With all the meandering walking paths, river boats, weddings, sculptures, we had already spent some time walking along the river before we noticed that the day we were there the city was hosting a kayak tournament. It was hard to pull us away.

Fall colors blanket the ground around a kneeling lady statue in Riga.
Fall foliage in the park in Riga.
Bride and groom lock in their love in Riga, Latvia.

3. Gape at the Amazing Architecture Throughout Riga

We did make it to the traditional old town, though, where we had a difficult time knowing where to look. The buildings were decorated with gabled roofs, or art-deco trim, or statues of cats, and painted all different colors.

Statue of Roland in Riga, Latvia.
House of the Black Heads and St. Peter's Church in Riga, Latvia.

4. Take Public Transportation

Riga is a walkable city as long as you stay downtown, but there is so much to see that is a little further afield that you will definitely want to get to. It’s quite easy to get around using the city trams and buses and stops are frequent. We never had any problems and, when asked, the locals were very willing to help.

Blue and white street car in Riga, Latvia.
Riga spelled out in plants in a local garden.
Exterior view of the Latvian National Library.

4. Go to the Central Market

It’s always fun to wander around a marketplace to see what is on offer. It was even more appealing when the rain was coming down in buckets instead of drops. The big problem with going to a market, is I always want to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables, but typically don’t have a place to cook.

Interior view of the Riga market hall's meat section.
Pickles and cabbage for sale in the central market in Riga, Latvia.
Market stall selling cabbage and carrots.
Fish for sale at the central market in Riga.

6.  Take in the Soviet History of Riga

Along with the wide main boulevard leading you right to the Soviet War Memorial, you can see vestiges of the 50 year Soviet era all over the city.

Latvian Riflement Memorial statue in Riga.
Riga manhole cover with city shield.
Riga and Latvia souvenirs with amber pebbles.

7. Go to a Museum

Like most capital cities, Riga is full of museums.  We don’t like to overdue museum-ing, so we will do maybe one on a weekend.  This visit we went to the KGB Museum and it looked as intimidating as the name wants you to feel.  Next time we are in the city, we plan on visiting the Museum of the Occupation.

Interior courtyard of a dilapidated building in Riga.
Latvian flags fly in front of a government building in Riga.

8. Go to a Café, buy some flowers, and hang out with the locals!

On a rainy weekend, we were just like everyone else, looking to keep dry and warm so naturally we hit café after café.  Riga has some great ones, and many of them even had free wifi…a bonus!  We also bought some roses from the shop owner of this gorgeous kitty, and tried to meet locals at the many cellar pubs that abound in the downtown area.

Cat sitting in front of a flower shop.
Young couple in the park in Riga, Latvia.

Have you been to Riga? What would you suggest for a weekend citybreak?

SJ

Saturday 16th of May 2015

I have seen so much about Riga in the past 12 months, it really will be 'that' place in the next few years .

Corinne Vail

Sunday 17th of May 2015

SJ, We have too, and that is one reason we chose it for a weekend getaway. What a great intro to a fascinating destination!

Adelina

Friday 15th of May 2015

I think I would spend way too much time trying to take in all that awesome architecture and history. I haven't been to any of the Baltic countries but would love to explore them one day.

Corinne Vail

Friday 15th of May 2015

Adelina, You really must go. You'll love it.

Mama Herself

Thursday 14th of May 2015

Ha! I've just been feeding some Europeans that great British classic, bread and butter pudding, to their utter bemusement. I am so totally going to google that rye bread pudding now too!

What an interesting time you had looking around Riga. Never been, but it looks stunning.

Corinne Vail

Friday 15th of May 2015

Mama, It was stunning, a gorgeous city. That pudding was delicious...try it!

Nancie

Thursday 14th of May 2015

Stunning shots, Corinne. Come for the architecture and stay for the food! :) Love the cat!

Corinne Vail

Friday 15th of May 2015

Nancie, Thanks. Yep, that's pretty much my m.o.!

Ruth

Sunday 10th of May 2015

I would love to walk around the city. To me, that is the best way to learn about a place.

Corinne Vail

Monday 11th of May 2015

Ruth, It really is. Normally I do this on my own, but I have to say with our local guides, it was even better!