A man's Travel guide: Riga
An iconic man’s journey to the Latvian capital in the middle of January. Who said you can’t visit the Baltics in the winter?
I’ve recently spent 4 days in Riga and of course everyone’s question was: How did you put up with the cold? Well, my friends I went prepared and wore more than 300 layers before going out. But this little fact didn’t hinder my experience at all. This Baltic gem is an all year round destination, judging by the huge number of tourists I saw.
What makes Riga so special? The old town looks like a fairytale picture, the drinks and food are relatively cheaper than other European capitals and their women are beautiful. With many museums and activities, there is something for everyone to do, whatever their tastes.
I would definitely suggest staying in the heart of the Old town. You will wake every day and feel like you've stepped back in time. The picturesque little cobbled streets are filled with stylish little coffee shops which serve great coffee and assortments. My personal favourite: BakeBerry, which serves amazing desserts, the best coffee with a very modern ambiance. I also liked (and took many pictures of) Parunasim which I randomly discovered on the side of church near the Three Brothers, definitely one of Riga’s must-see places.
Riga in the winter can be particularly cold, when I was there it varied from 26.6°F (-2.9°C) to 14°F (-10°C), but is astonishingly sunny. During the daytime because of the sun and the small streets (which stop the wind coming from the sea) the actually feels a lot warmer, making the wandering around experience doable. The snowfall was light when I was there and it added to the experience. What I found particularly interesting is that people would walk on the icy river (Daugava), once the police issued a report stating that is ok to do so. I joined the fun, but be aware if the police don’t give permission there is a fine for walking on the ice.
You can’t go to Riga and not visit the Blackheads House, the most iconic monument. The museum is not super interesting unless you're into silverware art. The square around it is also worth checking out and if you walk a little down the road you will find FAT CAT eklernica which has the most amazing eclairs I have ever tried. I also enjoyed the Latvian War Museum, which is free and gives you a great outlook on how Latvia came to be an independent country.
The downside of going during the winter, is that you won’t enjoy strolling around the large parks Riga has. Having said that, their zoo is open till 21:00 in January and since it was 3 euros per person I decided to brace the cold and give it a go. It was a surreal experience walking around the zoo in the dark with the snow falling and a foot of snow on the side of the paths. After, the freezing stroll around the zoo I got to enjoy a shot of Balsam at a nearby bar. Balsam is a must-try shot for all visitors in Latvia. You can literally find it anywhere: from bars to restaurants to souvenir shops. It’s super strong, since it’s made from vodka and herbs, but it helps you handle the cold. Alternatively, you can try as a shot in your coffee, tea or cocktail (if you’re not into straight shots).
Enjoy folk music and dancing at Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs, where the food is cheap, the selection of beers is endless and the atmosphere merry. If you’re not into traditional music (which I think is a great insight to any culture) head down to Omas Briljants to try their knockout cocktails and chill in their comfy sofas. If you’re feeling like classing it up, head to the Skyline Bar at the Radisson Blu Hotel. With a spectacular 26th floor view and great service, this bar offers the best 360 degree view of the city and you can literally pee while looking down on it (I was a bit freaked out at first when I used their restroom but it was super cool).
Food was tasty everywhere I went with pricing around €10.00 per plate. Locals will suggest Lido which is a long buffet where you pay by the item. Although, it is cheap I found that the quality wasn’t great. You can head to Golden Coffee instead. Don’t be deceived by the name, it is a restaurant with affordable prices and great local dishes. Do try the balsam dessert and enjoy the friendly service. If you are sushi fan, I discovered Tokyo City restaurant which offers a huge selection of quality but affordable sushi. The only problem I encountered, their menu is in Latvian. Nevertheless, their great buy 1 get 2 free on cocktails and drinks offer made up for it.
As in every place I visit, I check-out the shooting ranges. Riga Shooting Range is exceptionally professional and I enjoyed my experience. They offer a pick-up, drop-off service for free and their English is great. Don’t be alarmed if you see police cars parked up, they train there as well. I feel this is a true testament to their work.
I wanted to try other alternative activities such as electrocarting and VR gaming, but both of them were huge let downs. They are mostly for children and on the other side of the city so it’s not worth the taxi drive. I was lucky enough that the German navy was at port and they offered a free tour of their frigats and battleships. As I was told, quite a few countries train at the gulf and often offer free tours of their ships to locals and tourists.
Overall, I enjoyed my short but pleasant stay in Riga. The city is vibrant, elegant, the people speak good English and they are friendly. As a foodie, I enjoyed their local dishes and their drinks in small stylish places I discovered while strolling around. I would love to revisit in the summer time as I am sure the experience will be very different. As a man, I fell in love with the beautiful women I met, always full of smiles. Head to Riga either as a solo traveller or with a group of friends and I'm sure you will have an iconic time!