Riga | Travel Diary
After I read about Sarah’s plan to visit 90% of the world (she herself says she has only travelled 16% – despite travelling the world full time and being a blogger for living), I developed the ambition myself to visit as many new cities and countries as possible.
Admittedly, 90% is a very ambitious goal. Especially since there are many countries in the world that are either too dangerous or not very interesting (too me anyway). However, most cities in Europe have the advantage that they are easy to visit over the weekend, and so we used the app weekend.com (formerly weekengo) to search for a city in Europe where you can spend a weekend. That’s how we discovered Riga. Well, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of Latvia’s capital earlier, but in all frankness, I had never thought about visiting it either. I had no idea that the city on the Düna River has World Heritage status and is said to be upcoming. Well, thanks to the app, Riva found me. And I was exciting to go on this short weekend trip in the north.
By the way, Riga is located one time zone away (from Berlin, Germany), so you might think that the time is too short for a weekend trip. After all, you still lose an hour when flying there. With its 700,000 citizens and a small city center, a weekend trip from Germany is sufficient. I would actually fo so far and advise globetrotters like me to combine the visit with another city, such as Vilnius, in order to make the most of the weekend.
We took the plane from Berlin Tegel (TXL) to Riga (RIX) at 7:40pm – an ideal travel time for professionals who only want to go to Riga for the weekend. The AirBaltic plane took off very punctually (AirBaltic seems to be the most punctual airline in Europe) and so we landed on Latvian ground at about 10pm (thanks to the time difference…). Fortunately, the airport is not far away from the city center. We had informed ourselves in advance: Apparently there is a public bus from the airport that costs a few euros. But because of the late hour we just took a taxi and went directly to our hotel RADISSON BLU ELIZABETE to check in and drop off our suitcases. By the way, the taxi was really cheap (approx. 9 EUR) and the taxi driver rejected a tip, so this was probably a wise decision.
There are several Radisson Hotels in Riga, one of them is located in one of the highest buildings of the city and has a restaurant with bar and dance floor on the 26th floor. The SKYLINE BAR seems to be the pride and joy of Rīdzinieki (that’s the name of the citizens of Riga according to Wikipedia ;))), because the bar was recommended to us by several Rīdzinieki.
After 5 pm the trip to the 26th floor costs 5 EUR per person, but hotel guests and Radisson Club members can go up for free (I was lucky to get a membership 10 minutes earlier, when we checked in in „our“ Radisson Hotel…). The trip is worth it. After all you get a first great view over the city. The cocktails in the SKYLINE BAR are up to contemporary trends: I chose the CLAVIS RIGA, a drink mixed with BLACK BALSAM – the liqueur Rigas, as we found out. The drink was quite luscious. The taste of the Black Balsam – as far as I can judge it in one drink – reminded me a bit of Jägermeister, but less spicy. After the drinks and some rather small snacks we went home so that we could get up early on Saturday.
Breakfast in Riga
We had set our alarm clock to 09:30 am (after all, we wanted to sleep on the weekend, but not oversleep the whole trip) since we had a reservation at nearby Riits for breakfast. The reservation would probably not have been necessary at all, because until 10:30 a.m. we were more or less the only guests. Incomprehensibly, because the café turned out to be a great address. We appreciated the breakfast so much that we actually went back there on the next day. The menu wasn’t massive, but had some very tasty offers and the prices were ridiculously good. We took the Eggs Benedict, and the „Quark Pancakes“. The Eggs Benedict with extra avocado were heavenly, the quark pancakes were very particular tasting (our personal taste); but if you like quark it was certainly a delicious and actual healthy option.
Free Guided City Tour
After breakfast, we hurried to get to the old town quickly. Every day interested tourists meet at 12:00 noon in front of St. Peter’s Church to be shown Riga on a free guided tour. So we had at least read it on the internet in advance. But actually, there is not only this one city tour but many ones. At 10:00 o’clock probably already another city guidance had led by the Old Town, the guidance at 12:00 o’clock leads you in particular by the Suburbs and shows the „real“ life of Riga. The tour at 12:00 o’clock is scheduled for two and a half hours, which is why we bailed after a few minutes. It was just too cold, the wind blew icy through the streets, it started snowing and during such a tour you rather just stand around and either wait for others or let yourself be explained. But in principle, the tour guide seemed to be very friendly and if it had been warmer and more pleasant from the temperatures, we would have surely stayed. By the way, the city tour is indeed free of charge, but it is still appropriate to give the tour guide a few euros at the end.
Riga’s Old Town
We decided to explore the Old Town on our own. The many colorful little houses, many decoratively constructed in art nouveau style, reminded a bit of German old towns. And indeed, we learned from the city tour guide that Riga was founded by a bishop of Bremen and shaped by German merchants. That’s why a copy of the Town Musicians of Bremen can be found in front of St. Peter’s Church in Riga.
We strolled a little through the many alleys and streets down to the river, but as the weather became more and more uncomfortable, we quickly ended up in a coffee shop to warm up.
When I had done my research for Riga, I had found the KUUKA Café and put it on my list. When we found out that it was just nearby, we decided to get a pleasant hot ginger-lemon drink there. Outside, it started snowing more and so it was even cozier and comfortable to sit in the warmth while watching the snowflakes at the window pan. Now, I’m going ahead a little, because it fits so well thematically. The whole weekend we wanted to go to the restaurant PAGALMS, about which I had read a very positive report on another blog in advance. But we only made it at the very end of the trip, just before our departure on Sunday. The PAGALMS was a bit far away from our hotel, but more or less on the way to the airport. So we thought, we would just stop there on our way to have some more food and to end the weekend in such a comfortable way. Unfortunately, the kitchen was already closed at 4 pm and the PAGALMS was only open until 5 pm. Instead, we had Oreo cake – and oh how special that tasted! All in all, the restaurant was very nice, modern and contemporary and was located in the middle of a park, next to a tennis court. We wondered if the restaurant was kind of a „clubhouse“… it must be great to hang out with the team after playing tennis in a restaurant like this and get pampered culinary. Since we were starving, we asked the waitress if she could spear some bread with oil… she looked at us a little puzzled (maybe you don’t know this in the far north?), but then she brought us unbelievably delicious Focaccia with lemon pesto… which we eventually couldn’t even find on the bill when checking out. You’ll notice that I can highly recommend the PAGALMS.
Restaurants in Riga
To be honest, all we did in Riga was eating. But in our defense, I have to say that there is not too much more to do and the food in Riga is not only super delicious but also incredibly cheap. It was fun to walk from one restaurant to the other and eat our way through the small city.
On the first day, we went to THE CATCH in the afternoon, which I had heard about in the AirBaltic magazine. The food and the furnishings reminded me a bit of the DUDU in Berlin, maybe THE CATCH is a bit more Scandinavian. The waitress told us that we should try several dishes and share them. But since we both were less hungry than appetite and wanted to leave room for dinner, we ordered only four dishes: „Tori karaage“ (crispy free-range chicken), Bluefin Tuna with avocado, and Shichimi as poke as well as the „Chicken Ramen“. Everything was very tasty and of high quality. The prices were a bit more expensive in comparison to others in Riga, but compared to other European cities they were reasonable and in my opinion fair.
In the evening we went to the COD RESTAURANT & BAR, which had also caught my eye in AirBaltic magazine. Unfortunately, we were surprised by the prices. 5 EUR for 1 piece of Nigiri would even be considered expensive in Berlin and – for comparison – a piece of Nigiri in THE CATCH (which already belongs to the high price category of Riga) cost around 3 EUR. I ordered it anyway, because after all I wanted to try everything once and didn’t go to a restaurant that boasts with first-class fish for nothing – and was really disappointed. I had ordered some Tuna Makis that really had a steep price of 14,50 EUR. My expectation was accordingly high, but when the food arrived and an unpleasant smell of fish spread, my appetite was almost gone before I even started. The combination with radish was not really mine and the algae on top did the rest… I wanted to say something, but unfortunately, the waiter didn’t come by anymore and I had to put the plate demonstratively on the edge of the table and gesticulate wildly to draw attention to myself. Anyway: when he finally came, he wanted to make up for it and offered me another tuna dish. But at this point, I lost my appetite for Tuna, and so I simply ordered Edamame. We had already had them before and found them good. But unfortunately, the Edamame never came…we finally ordered the bill in frustration. At least the host spoke to us again when leaving the restaurant and asked us for feedback. Apparently, all customers were dissatisfied on this day and the staff suspected bad news or the weather as the reason… Well…
The COD is not only a restaurant but also a bar and the drinks were, unlike the food, absolutely delicious and special. We would have liked to order a second drink (unfortunately, as I said, the waiter didn’t appear anymore), but all in all the shop was nicely decorated and I would definitely go there again – at least for a good drink and some edamame. Maybe I would give the food a second chance, too…
By the way, in almost all restaurants we sent a reservation at short notice and mostly got a (positive) answer promptly. I wouldn’t say that the reservation is necessary, because not only the streets, also the restaurants and bars Riga seemed quite empty.
My restaurant and bar recommendations:
x THE CATCH
x RIITS RESTAURANT (Frühstück!)
x COD BAR
x SKYLINE Radisson Blu
Shopping in Riga
Since we had already explored the old town on Saturday, we kept Sunday free to stroll through the scene quarter CENTRS. Quite honestly, this was stupidly planned by us, because as it turned out, the shops and boutiques, which are located around the streets of the two RADISSON HOTELS, were closed on Sunday. I have to say that Riga is definitely not a city for shopping. Sure, Latvia is not known as THE fashion country anyway, but I would have expected more from a city that is „so on the rise“, as so many people told me about Riga in advance. At least I would have hoped to find a few additional trendy cafés, boutiques, or concept stores in Riga. Maybe we missed them and I’m wrong about Riga… but in any way, I recommend every visitor to plan the shopping tour for a weekday or Saturday, just in case.
Sundays in Riga
Since shopping was canceled that day and generally very few restaurants, cafés and bars were open on Sunday, we decided to go to the SKYLINE BAR of the Radisson Hotel to have another look at Riga from above by daylight. This turned out to be a good choice because that way I could take nice photos of Riga again.
We enjoyed the morning and went back to the hotel, which kindly offered us a free late check out at 5 pm (where can you find something like that?!?!) and decided to get advantage of the fitness and sauna area, where we spent a few nice hours.
On our way to the airport, we drove to the PAGALMS – I have already described my experiences above – and from there we finally drove to the airport. The AirBaltic plane returned on time again, and we arrived in Berlin around 7:30 pm – an ideal time to do some laundry and end the weekend in a relaxed atmosphere.
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