Coming from Russia, Riga was a breath of fresh air – love at first sight. While I only had a week there, I found a lot to love about the capital of Latvia.
1. Old Town. Not surprisingly, I adored Riga’s Old Town. I loved wandering the streets and stumbling upon different squares or churches at each turn. Fairly small in size, I also liked that it blended well with the surrounding area, with a large park called serving as a scenic divider between the Old Town and a newer shopping district.
2. Latvian Museum of War. This was one of the best museums I have visited on my trip so far. Located in one of Riga’s 14th century towers, admission was free and explanations were available in multiple languages. While the museum focused on Latvia’s military history throughout the years, it really traced Latvia’s national history as well – not surprising considering how much of the country’s history involves armed conflicts. Particular attention was given to the German and Soviet occupations of Latvia and its independence in 1991. My favorite, and perhaps the most unique, exhibition was a collection of photographs taken by Latvian soldiers in Afghanistan.
3. Latvian National Opera House. Dating back to 1863, the Opera House sits just outside of the Old Town. It seats fewer than 1,000 people, giving it a very intimate feel, and boasts an exquisite interior similar to that of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. I saw the Nutcracker while I was in Riga and both the performance and the ticket prices impressed me. For just $20, I had a centrally located seat on the floor of the theater – pretty good considering a $30 ticket at the Mariinsky got me nose-bleed seats.
4. Rundale Palace. This was an easy and pleasant day trip from Riga. While my Lonely Planet guide made it sound difficult to reach, the tourist office in Riga provided the necessary bus timetables to make it all very simple. To get there, I first took a bus from Riga to the town of Baukas, where I then hopped on a bus to Pilsrundale. The palace and grounds could be considered Riga’s version of Versailles, with ornate interiors and carefully laid out gardens.
5. Christmas Trees. Okay, so these won’t be around for anyone who visits outside of the Christmas season, but I really enjoyed these. Riga placed over forty Christmas trees throughout the city and provided a map for people to try to locate all of them. I probably encountered half while I was in town and each was definitely unique. It was a nice extra touch beyond the usual holiday lights and Christmas fairs.
Have you been to Riga? What were your favorite things to see or do?