Flying via Riga (RIX) and want to do something more interesting than watch planes take off while you drink endless cups of coffee? Riga is perfect for a quick detour into the city itself as the airport is just a short taxi or bus ride from the city centre and the Latvian capital has easy-to-access attractions for all tastes.
Right now, as this is being posted on Wingtips, Riga is truly a winter wonderland with snow in abundance, Christmas trees, ski trails in the parks and skating rinks in town squares. Here are some suggestions for travellers who want to make the most of their transit time in Riga!
Before leaving the airport:
Make up your mind whether you’re going to need local cash and if so, how much of it: Latvian currency is called the lat (1 lat = 100 santims) and a five-lat note is worth around 7 euros. Most places accept cards, (including taxis and public transport ticket machines), so unless you want to shop at street stalls and markets you’re probably fine with ‘plastic’ alone. There is no shortage of ATM cash machines in Riga. If you do want to get some cash in your pocket at the airport, there are exchange offices in the arrival hall and bank branches and cash machines in the departure hall.
How to get to town and back:
If you’re short of time and/or want to take it easy, take a taxi—there are plenty right at the arrivals exit. If you’re on a tight budget and want to blend in with the locals, take the No 22 bus—they run from before 6 in the morning until midnight every 10-20 minutes, depending on the time of day. You can buy a ticket from the driver with cash for 70 santims or use the ticket machine just outside departure hall where single trip tickets will cost 50 santims and you can pay by card. If you’re planning to make several trips on the public transport you might want to buy the unlimited-use 24-hour ticket, available at the ticket machine.
To help you find your way around town:
Before you leave the airport, grab a map of the city or a One day In Riga brochure at the Tourism Information Centre. It is open Tuesday to Saturday 10:00-14:00 and 14:30-18:30. If your Riga day happens to be Monday, find the Tourism Information Centre on Town Hall Square. Most hotels will also be happy to hand you a free Riga map.
First time in Riga? Head for the Old Town.
The easiest way to get to know Riga is by strolling around the Old Town and maybe taking a look at the city from above—on the Ferris wheel in Liv square or from the top of St Peter’s church tower. Bus No 22 conveniently delivers you to the very edge of the Old Town—get off at the stop named “11 novembra krastmala”, right after crossing the Daugava river.
Old Riga is compact enough for a tourist not to get completely lost and large enough to provide a fun time. You may even manage without a map—you can always find your way back to the bus stop by finding the river embankment. Hint—the top of the suspension bridge is visible from everywhere. Do not mistake the picturesque canal around the Old Town for the river Daugava—the former is a narrow strip of water, the latter is a wide river!
There are quite a few options to take a look at Riga from above. The most central and traditional is the St. Peter’s Church not far from the river. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00. For 3 lats you’re free to roam the church, the exhibitions and the viewing platform in the steeple. Another option is a Ferris wheel in Liv Square (Līvu laukums) in the very middle of Old Town—it’s there until the end of March 2011, open until 23:00 and charges 3 lats for a ride.
If you’d like a view from a warmer location, go to the corner of Brīvības and Elizabetes streets where you will see the landmark Radisson Blu Latvija. The Skyline Bar on its 26th floor (open from 16:00 on weekdays and from 15:00 on weekends) offers great views in all directions.
If you’re in Riga before January 10, 2011, you can catch the Christmas markets in Liv square and Dome square that sell food and drink and lovely gifts. Speaking of drink, the best way to keep the cold at bay is a “Hot Balzams”—the unique Riga herbal bitter with hot blackcurrant juice that is available inpretty much every cafe and bar.
Been to Old Town, want something completely different?
If you fancy some quiet time where tourists rarely venture, get off the bus before crossing the river, shortly after the railway bridge, at the “Melnsila iela” stop. This is Āgenskalns, one of the most picturesque residential areas of Riga, known for its cozy, bohemian atmosphere and wooden-framed buildings. It’s a well-kept secret and barely appears on tourist maps, so be careful not to get lost.
A good plan for a few spare hours is to station yourself at the cluster of beautifully renovated buildings with stained-glass porches at the corner of Melnsila and Kalnciema Street, just a few hundred metres from the bus stop. One of the buildings houses the Māja (Home) restaurant of Mārtiņš Sirmais, Latvia’s answer to Jamie Oliver. Another hosts an innovative interior design store that mixes modern design with traditional crafts.
If you’d like to explore this lively part of Riga further, walk along Nometņu Street and you’ll end up at Āgenskalns market, a red brick Art Nouveau building that’s like a miniature version of the huge Central Market. If you’re not into market exploration, have lunch at the Vīnoga (Grape) restaurant just around the corner from the market on Mazā Nometņu, it’s a local favourite with great cuisine and a superb wine list.
Get in with the in crowd among Riga’s trendy hangouts
To mingle with creative types and gain an insight into contemporary culture, you have two options: the Spīķeri warehouse district or Miera street. The distance between the two is big enough for you to manage only one during your brief stay, so choose wisely.
Spīķeri is easier to find. Located right behind the unmistakable Central Market, the rows of renovated warehouses have been active for several years as a well-established spot for contemporary art, theatre, music and cuisine. Here you will find the KIM? Contemporary Art Museum, quirky Doll Art Museum, the Spīķeri Music Hall (home of Sinfonietta Riga chamber orchestra), and Meta-Kafe, a laid-back bookshop-cafe and a popular choice for weekend brunch.
If you’re in Riga before New Year 2011 don’t miss your last chance to check out the Dirty Deal culture initiative, comprising a nightclub, experimental theatre venue and a lunch cafe—it’s going into hibernation in January.
How to get there: walk from Old Town. Get off at the Old Town bus stop (“11. novembra krastmala”) but instead of entering the Old Town walk in the direction of the railway bridge, pass under it and you’ll see a row of warehouse buildings on the riverside.
Further from the airport, Miera street boasts all kinds of cool and cozy creative businesses. Many of them are so recent that they don’t appear in any travel guides, which only adds to the sense of exploration! The few blocks of Miera Street between Brīvības and Tallinas accommodate several great cafes, a few design and vintage item shops, an eco store, a tea and bookshop, a trendy hair salon and much more. It’s perhaps the closest thing Riga has to its own little Berlin.
How to get there: additional tram trip needed. First get to the Old Town by bus and then find the end-stop of tram No 11—if you get off at bus stop “11. novembra krastmala”, walk straight through Old Riga down Grēcinieku and Audēju Streets and the tram end-loop is right on the other side, behind a university building that occupies a whole block. Take tram No 11 either to the “Brīvības iela” stop and then walk up Miera Street or to the “Tallinas iela” stop and walk back down.
The space of a blog post is way too small for everything we’d like to suggest, so we’ll just direct you to some useful links to find out more:
Riga Tourism is a list of Tourism Information Centres and the official Riga tourism portal.
Another Travel Guide is everybody’s favourite travel guide, created by local designers and artists.
The actual guide book that Another Travel Guide people have published on Riga – a beautifully made and craftily written travel guide where locals share their secrets, something regular guides don’t usually have—can be ordered at the airBaltic Shop to be delivered on your flight to Riga for you to do some reading right before landing.
LiveRiga.com—Riga’s very own travel portal—check it out for up-to-date information on events and things to do in Riga.
Stay tuned for the spring edition of short stay suggestions. What would you like to know more about? A museum tour? Shopping advice? Spa getaways? What else? Tell us in the comments!