Travel Guide: Riga

Image credit: Siya Deshmukh

Last weekend, midway through week 7, I went on holiday – please don’t tell my supervisors. Me and a friend booked flights to Riga, Latvia because I had a Wizzair discount code, and we thought that by booking in January, by the time we got to March it would feel like we were going on holiday for free, right? Following what was one of the more bewildering weeks of my life, it actually couldn’t have come at a better time.

Get there: Scour the Internet for cheap deals! Return flights from Luton were £37.48 each (with the discount code). Getting to Luton can be expensive, but if you register on Unidays and book your coach three days in advance, you get 25% off.

Stay: We got an Airbnb for three nights, costing £33 each for a double room and full access to the house, including the kitchen. Our hosts were living there too and were absolutely wonderful people and really helpful guides to the city. I much preferred having my own room to a more hectic hostel option.

(We did debate not booking accommodation for the final night and just staying out till 5am, when we needed to get to the airport. In hindsight, this would have probably been feasible – you’d just need to find a warm bar to spend a lot of time in.)

Get around: Riga is teeny-tiny and has a ridiculously great public transport system of regular trams and buses - on arrival we got overly-excited and each bought a €10 three-day travel pass, so to make back our money we took a lot of unnecessary buses, but you can actually walk everywhere too.

Eat: Food in the city is expensive; I would suggest cooking at your accommodation - eat a massive breakfast and take a packed lunch out for the day. But, if you’re keen on eating out:

Tokyo City: An unexpected chain, there’s one what feels like every 300 metres. Ideal if you’re into buy-one-get-one-free sushi.

Lido: It functions like college hall – you get your own tray and get served. Around €6.40 for main, side, and dessert. I tried some grilled chicken with cottage cheese and pineapple, which was unexpected, but also great.

Pakistānas Kebabs: Open till very late, we spent a worrying amount of time here. If you ask for ‘medium’ spicy, it will burn the insides of your mouth.

To see:

Riga Cathedral may be the most famous in the area, but the Nativity of Christ Cathedral is far more beautiful. The whole place is painted sky blue with massive murals of scenes from the bible, and we happened to see a local baptism there too.

There is a grand National Museum of Art in Riga, but a stone’s throw away is actually the regional Art Academy, which is worth properly exploring. The building’s interiors are decrepit and chaotic; we played piano and table tennis in the dark amongst mammoth statues and busts. They also had two temporary exhibitions on – it was surprisingly reassuring to see work by other students despite my looming 2000-word deadline.

To do:

The Skyline Bar in the Radisson Blu is on the 26th floor and is the tallest point in the city. It’s worth going for nothing but the birds eye view of the whole city.

Rock Café has five floors, each with a different vibe. On the ground floor we spotted the guy who’d sat next to me on the plane from Luton, and we also made it to a live Estonian concert on the third floor. Across the street is Funny Fox Bar, which has a far more intimate vibe. We ended up here in search of local beer and also accidentally performed some terrible karaoke.

The highlight was Jūrmala. A €2.73 return ticket, it takes half an hour from Riga, and trains run till late. Get off at Majori station to get to the heart of this coastal town. It was -1°c and it snowed on the beach. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.

The friend I travelled with has been around my whole life. She’s landed me in hospital, we got our dogs at the same time, and we’ve been there through births and divorces. Riga was a wonderful addition to our arsenal of bizarre memories. A mid-term holiday may be risky, but when it's just a weekend, it's not so bad. Riga is so compact you can properly cover it and also get a wonderful break in a really short space of time!

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