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Have you ever done that thing, where you arrive at a destination to check in and somehow and it turns out you have arrived a day early? This is what happened to us during our weekend in Riga.
We’d booked Johnson’s House. Which is a 20 minute walk from The Old Town of Riga in one of the popular suburbs.
Fortunately turning up a little early worked in our favour. We were then able to spend the full weekend in Riga.
If you want to spend a weekend or a few days on a city break in the Latvian capital of Riga here’s all yo need to know on accommodation, transport and free things to do during your city break to Riga, Latvia.
My weekend in Riga, Latvia
If you are reading this whilst looking for the perfect location for your next European city break you’ll want to know all about spending a weekend in Riga.
The Latvian capital is the ideal destination for a long, or short, weekend. Whether you decide to visit Riga for the food, the culture or just the exploration you won’t be disappointed.
Enjoy all the opportunities and adventure available in this city during a weekend in Riga.
How to get to Riga from Vilnius
Arriving in Riga, Latvia with Lux Express
After arriving a night too early in Riga we were able to easily stay check in early and book an extra night thanks to our accommodating hosts at Johnson’s House.
Please always check your booking information to avoid looking like an idiot when you arrive in a new country/hostel.
We had been travelling the Baltics using Lux Express, a cheap and comfortable bus service that operates through all of the Baltic State Capital Cities.
When I arrived in Riga on the Lux Express my immediate first impression was disappointment. Arriving in Vilnius, Lithuania a few days ago at night was more impressive than the lonely bus station we found ourselves at in Riga.
We were on the edge of the river and there was nothing in our immediate surroundings that made me feel like I was in the centre of Latvia’s capital.
I read somewhere in my Europe Lonely Planet that this is how most people feel when they arrive in Riga by train or bus, as each of the stations are a 10-15 minute walk from the beautiful and much more desirable Old Town, or the actual city centre.
A history rich suburban area of Riga. As mentioned we arrived a day earlier than expected but fortunately we were able to extend our stay to an extra night which gave us more time to explore Riga.
Exploring the city of Riga
The Suburb of Agenskalns
Exploring The Old Town of Riga in the late afternoon sun became the perfect way to start our time in Latvia after leaving the bland bus station behind we were easily able to find The Old Town of Riga.
We were joined in our afternoon activity of exploring by every other tourist in Riga all crammed into the busy tourist hot spots.
We soon realised that Riga, like Vilnius was much more expensive than Poland and we began to notice a pattern of high priced dining among the many restaurants throughout The Old Town of Riga.
This wasn’t actually a problem for us we were staying in the trendy suburb of Agenskalns where eating and drinking is much easier on your wallet, mainly due to the limited presence of tourists here.
We’d booked to stay in a self service hostel named Johnson’s House located over the river from The Old Town. Johnson’s House is quiet and exceptionally clean, if you don’t want to stay amongst the bustle of The Old Town then check it out.
Where to eat in Agenskalns
One of our favourite places to eat in Angensklansand a must try in Riga is Street Burger.
With three veggie options (a rarity for a burger restaurant) and everything from Greek style lamb burgers, Venison burgers to the classic Cheeseburger there’s something for everyone.
Add a drink and fries to your burger to make a meal deal and still pay under €10.00 to eat.
Along with the Agenskalns restaurant there is another Street Burger in Riga’s City Centre. No, that isn’t The Old Town.
The Old Town vs. Riga’s actual City Centre
Let me clear this up. The Old Town of Riga is not Riga’s actual city centre. Which may come as a surprise to you.
Centrs is the actual city centre of Riga and cheaper bars and restaurants can be found here.
Mostly filled with locals rather than the usual stag weekend you’ll find occupying many of the best places to eat in The Old Town of Riga, Centrs is where you’ll blend in with the locals on a Friday night.
Many tourists find this quite confusing and it’s not uncommon for someone to end up at a hotel in the city centre rather than Riga’s Old Town.
Be sure to leave The Old City of Riga and explore the historic suburbs of Latvia’s capital. For budget travellers Centrs is where you should be eating and drinking for cheap.
How to spend a Weekend in Riga
Riga’s Old Town is twice the size of Vilnius’ Old Town with twice as many bars and restaurants serving up every type of cuisine imaginable.
If you feel like some reggae try Coco Loco, Cuban try Cuba Cafe, Australian try the Aussie Pub. There is simply something to suit everyone in Riga’s Old Town and the flocks of tourists are a constant reminder that Riga is the go-to destination of the Baltic Countries.
By nightfall in Riga The Old Town erupts with beer drinking Scandinavian tourists, Russians on holiday and the classic embarrassment of a British stag do in printed T shirts.
Now, I try not to judge but it’s easy to see why British lads on a stag do get a bad reputation for themselves in a small city like Riga.
Things to do in Riga
We found ourselves in Peter’s Brewhouse during the Champions League final and thanks to the football there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
We had picked a less rowdy spot as we were still nursing a hangover from our pub crawl in Vilnius the night before.
At Peter’s Brewhouse €7.50 will buy you a tasting platter of 3 Latvian beers and a small beer snack.
Like Lithuania, Latvia is also home to deep fried, garlic covered cheese smothered, beer snacks. Something I can only hope catches on in the UK and the rest of the world. Beer snacks in the Baltics are truly a gift to the world.
The nightlife in Riga
Riga, Latvia’s nightlife isn’t as you’d expect. The small walking distances between bars make a pub crawl and bar hopping very simple.
Riga stag do tourism is big in Latvia and its not unlikely you’ll catch a bunch of lads wearing wigs, shit shirts or some other attempt at fancy dress enjoying a Riga stag weekend.
Nightlife in Latvia and Riga mainly is what can be expected from most of Europe and the bars and beer flow all night, but there is always an essence of stag do tourism in Riga Old Town.
If you’re planning a Riga stag weekend be cautious of the Old Centre and the impact of large groups of tourists in this area, although in Riga stag do tourism is welcome, not all the locals feel fondly about the behaviour that comes with large groups and excessive drinking.
Riga is home to several popular backpacker hostels and bars, which means the nightlife in Riga can be fun filled.
Riga was the only city in the Baltics where we didn’t take part in a pub crawl but I’m almost certain the nightlife in Riga will offer one.
If that doesn’t satisfy you why not jump on one of those beer bikes, we saw a few whizzing around the city during our weekend in Riga, Latvia.
If you’re looking for tips on nightlife in Latvia then definitely chat to a local for the top places to go. Local’s knowledge of nightlife within the city is always the most reliable. Explore more on stag do tourism in riga.
If you are looking for where to stay in Riga and you don’t fancy checking out my recommendation of Johnson’s House, try the best cheap hostels in Riga.
Where to eat in Riga
Budget eats in Riga, Latvia
Where to eat in Riga? That’s an easy one. For where to eat in Riga cheap look for diner-style restaurants in Riga.
They have Cili like Lithuania and also something called Lido which is a similar concept. Another great way to eat for cheap in Riga is by checking out the handy Rimi hypermarkets that can be found throughout the Baltics.
A great alternative for budget travellers is grabbing some picnic food or a cheap pastry for lunch or breakfast this is the best idea for where to eat in Riga cheap.
Fresh bread, pastries and pizza’s are baked daily at most of Riga’s supermarkets. Rimi also has a deli counter for travellers who fancy something less snack-like, this is a popular supermarket chain in the Baltic State Countries.
You can by roast chicken, Tortilla, salad from the salad bar and plenty of other budget options and you won’t be short of choice as there are lots of supermarkets around Riga Old Town and the suburbs. This is probably the best way to enjoy budget eats in Riga.
Things to do on a budget in Riga
The best cheap things to do in Riga
When spending a weekend in Riga there are a few must do things you’ll want to do and add to your Riga bucket list. Some of these are great free things to do in Riga and others aren’t but I’ve highlighted which in the below list.
Free things to do in Riga
- Riga’s alternative free walking tour is a must and a great way to fill an entire afternoon learning about the history of Riga and Latvia
- Visit Riga’s central market. This is completely free and the strange setting makes a trip to Riga’s market a bucket list item
- Enjoy Riga’s outdoor spaces including the coast and the parks outside the main city centre of Riga – Note that this is a free thing to do in Riga but transport costs may apply
Riga’s Alternative Free Waling Tour
After such an enjoyable free walking tour in Vilnius, Lithuania we decided we’d definitely be up for taking part in another walking tour in Riga. One of the best things to do in Riga and the best way to see the city through the eyes of a local is a free walking tour.
We decided to take the free walking tour in Riga. We arrived at St. Peter’s Church in the Old Town of Riga around 15 minutes early for the walking tour to start at midday.
We waited around 25 minutes for the tour to actually start but instantly realised we were in the correct location as small groups of other tourists started to accumulate outside of the church.
Our host showed up a few minutes late but made up for this with a fun and sarcastic introduction.
If you plan on taking this tour look out for the battered and beaten yellow suitcase the tour guide holds. Once you spot that then you’ll know you have arrived at Riga’s free ‘alternative’ walking tour.
Now, when I say ‘alternative’ I mean it. The tour boycotts Riga’s Old Town that turns out to be much younger than you would expect. And you are taken straight to Riga Centrs – the actual city centre of Riga.
I’ve read one or two reviews that weren’t too keen on this approach but I found it to be really refreshing.
We had already spent the majority of our time in Riga in The Old Town and had already learnt as much as possible about the renovated churches and buildings that all fill the cobbled streets of Riga’s Old Town.
Riga Central Market
The first stop outside the Old Town is Riga’s esteemed Central Market and Bazaar. Riga’s Central Market is the largest market and bazaar in not only Latvia, but Europe and is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The market is unique due to the five large German Zeppelin hangars that house the actual market.
The hangars contain thousands of various stalls from fruit and veg to fish and the rest. Its not just food you’ll find at Riga Central Market, you can also by clothes and electronics.
The tour takes you right through Riga Central Market and out at the other side where you have officially reached Riga Centrs and the tour truly begins.
First stop and the top of my bucket list was the Latvian Academy of Science for no other reason than the building itself.
The large towering Stalinist building this style of architecture was named after a range of Stalin-era skyscrapers that can be found all over the ex-Soviet Union.
Culture and Pagan Pride in Riga, Latvia
The one thing I will say I respected most about Latvian culture is their pride towards Latvian Pagan heritage. The Pagan culture once ruled the whole of the Baltic region.
Long before Catholicism was brought to the Baltic states the three countries were proudly Pagan and that’s actually something Riga is very keen to share with tourists.
Many of the souvenir shops in Riga are filled with wooden crafts depicting Pagan styles. Check them out if you’re planning on doing some shopping in The Old Town.
Day trips from Riga
Trips you can take during a weekend in Riga
If you have some time to kill and the weather is as beautiful as it was for us take the train from Riga Central Station to Dubulti or Majori a return ticket will cost you €2.73.
Jurmala is the main resort on the Gulf of Riga. A long clean stretch of sandy beach known for its soviet architecture, wooden buildings and affiliation with The Russian’s.
We got off the train at a stop called Majori and returned from Dubulti after walking up the beach for around 20 minutes. You can stop to have a drink or watch some sports – it was a volleyball tournament in our case.
Majori is what I would describe as an extremely pleasant family friendly seaside town with restaurants and souvenir shops all lining the only street.
If you had more time in Riga it may even be nice to spend a night or two here to enjoy the coastal forest backdrop of Jurmala.
How to spend the perfect weekend in Riga
We ended up spending a lot more time in Riga than originally planned. Air travel from the Baltics to the UK is a little frustrating and after our time in Tallinn, Estonia we had to head back to Riga to catch our flight which meant our final night and day was spent in Riga. Which meant for us, another trip to Original Burger was an absolute must.
Our walking tour guide told us that Riga has the reputation of being the ‘Baltics bus stop’ and although that may be true I rarely noticed anyone passing by.
It seems to me that although Latvia and Riga are the transport capital of The Baltics people often find a reason to stay, whether they had intended to or not.