Day Trip to Riga, Latvia

Art nouveau architecture, coffee roasters, and vegetarian treats

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

What springs to mind when you think of Riga, Latvia? Unless you’ve been there, you’re probably right now imagining… nothing. That’s all we knew about Riga before we cycled into town in the summer of 2013.

Riga is a vibrant small European capital, with a large proportion of the population under 30 (34%, according to the CIA World Factbook, 2014 data), leading to a youthful feeling city that is also filled with gothic, imposing, and hundreds of years old buildings. Since our first visit, I’ve been back a few times, teaching yoga, and have a few favourite places I like to visit each time.

(Don’t miss: Riga is on our list of the most romantic cities in Europe. Check out the full list!)

Ring A-Round Riga

If you need a break from the amber strewn light sandy beaches on the Latvian coast, or are heading south from Tallinn, a day trip to Riga is ideal.

This day-long walking tour takes you from the heart of the city, up to the chocolate factory, past the Opera House and back to where you started, just in time for dinner.

If you need a break from the sandy beaches on the Latvian coast or are heading south from Tallinn, a day trip to Riga is ideal. This day-long walking tour takes you from the heart of the city, up to the chocolate factory, past the Opera House and back to where you started, just in time for dinner.  http://bit.ly/1NeIsuM

The Old City and a Secret Garden

We start on the winding cobbled streets in the Old City of Riga. The narrow passages date from the middle ages and are lined with brightly coloured buildings, restored to their original splendour, offering lots of eye candy for architecture fans. The tourist office is inside The House of the Blackheads, a building that evokes memories of competition-winning gingerbread houses, crossed with a cuckoo clock.

The splendour of the Blackheads

The splendour of the Blackheads

Riga Domkirke, also known as Rigas Doms, is the main Riga Cathedral, and forms the centrepiece of this maze of streets. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Riga and also a popular tourist destination, making it an unlikely place for My Five Acres to ever want to visit.

We start here because we are in on a secret. A secret garden, that is.

The Riga Cathedral is like many other churches in the world – large, ornate and filled with dark, forbidding images of sinners and bright, exquisite paintings of redeemed souls.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

Carbonite frozen monk?

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

I dream of this tree in full bloom

Walk across the church to the far side, however, and a door transports you into a secret garden, unseen from outside the church walls. Lined by a colonnade filled with artefacts spanning the city’s tumultuous history, the garden is simple, quiet, and contains a shade tree perfect for sitting under and contemplating life.

It wasn’t quite spring yet on my recent trip to Riga, so the tree was still getting ready to bloom, but I look forward to coming back and sitting under its branches.

(Related: If you’re looking for the perfect place to go after Riga, we suggest you explore Tallinn and Vilnius →)

Art Nouveau Treats

After wandering through the circuitous alleyways of the old city, make your way across the canal and stroll along Kalpaka bulvaris with the park to your left and a row of glamorous mansions to your right. Soon you are in Embassy Row, where the Russian and Ukraine embassies stand perilously close to one another.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

Art Nouveau In Riga

Near the corner of Strelnieku iela and Alberta iela sits the Stockholm School of Business, in the heart of Riga’s Art Nouveau quarter. The collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Riga is one of the best in the world, so get your camera ready.

These grandiose ornamented buildings are everywhere, looking for all the world like giant exquisitely decorated cakes. If museums are your thing, the Art Nouveau Museum in on Alberta iela. Let us know what it’s like if you’ve been there. I didn’t stop in.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

Art Nouveau Architechture In Riga

Coffee, Beer, and Vegetarian Riga

By now it is time for a coffee, food, a beer, or all of the above. Luckily, we’ve almost arrived at MiiT.

Don’t miss: Eating Our Way Across Rīga →

MiiT is a vegetarian cafe, serving local roaster Andrito small batch coffee and house-made vegetarian and vegan food. They have the usual pastries, cakes, and also a lunch menu with pastas, salads, and the like. They are bicycle-themed café and until recently also ran a companion bike shop. Pop-in to rest your feet, get on their WiFi to share your best Art Nouveau photos, and enjoy the delicious food.

Update: ALEhouse is now closed!

If you’d rather a beer, right next door is ALEhouse. They brew their own beers, and have an incredible selection of craft beer from around the world. You can enjoy it in the bar, or get a few bottles to go. It’s worth stopping in just to browse the selection and enjoy the graphic design of beer labels from around the world.

Tippler’s tip: The sale of alcohol is still very restricted in Latvia. Good luck buying a bottle of beer after 8pm in a store.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

The damp, winding streets of Riga

Caffeine Fix

Riga’s own Laima chocolate, who have been making chocolate in Riga since 1870, run a museum dedicated to the dark, sweet, goodness of cacao. There is also a new chocolate shop that is like something out of Willy Wonka. Laima makes some of the best northern European chocolate I have had. They do tours of the museum if that’s your thing. However, I really came this way to stop in at Riga’s newest coffee roaster, Rocket Bean Roastery.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

Rocket Bean Roastery, Riga

Walking in to Rocket Bean is like walking in to any hip coffee shop on the West Coast of America. Rough hewn wood, old filament light bulbs, and an array of extraction styles await. There is also a “coffee laboratory” in the back where their roasting happens behind large glass walls, so everyone can enjoy the process.

You might also like: Looking Back – Coffee Talk →

The coffee at Rocket Bean was exactly what I like, deeply flavourful and not over-roasted, and I bought some beans for my morning fix.

The Wild West of Riga

When most of us imagine old Europe, we picture formidable stone and marble giants with ostentatious decorations. We don’t picture the rundown slat-board houses of Riga, which look like something lifted directly from America’s Wild West.

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

High noon, Riga

They are in various states of decline, but a resurgence of interest in these homes is leading to a slow renovation and improvement process. On Murnieku iela, you can see several houses that have recently been renovated and the street has been re-cobbled as well, giving you a feel for what the entire city would have looked like once upon a time.

Follow my route map, or wander down whatever streets you like to make your way back to the Old City, past the Freedom Monument and the Opera House, and back towards the Cathedral. Now that you have come full circle, you are probably hungry (again).

Rīga Latvija, Riga Latvia, day trip to Riga, day trip to Rīga

The National Opera House, Riga

Burgers and Fries, European Style

Stop in at Fat Pumpkin, a vegetarian (and vegan friendly) restaurant, just a short walk away. I recommend their house special burger. They make the patty in house, and it’s the staff’s favourite. They did recently expand their burger menu though and have several options, including a vegan fish burger. As a bonus, the fries were fried to perfection (even if I would have liked twice as many).

Follow this link to find a walking tour map that you can download and install in your favourite offline map (like the now FREE Pocket Earth).

stephen ewashkiw adventure yoga

Hi, I’m Stephen, full-time travelling yoga teacher & founder of Adventure Yoga. I’ve taught yoga in 25 countries and have had adventures in 50! At My Five Acres, we inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Absolutely Everything you Need to Know About Renting a Bike in Amsterdam | My Five Acres. Travel. Adventure. Yoga.

  2. Comment by Zane

    Zane June 23, 2015 at 2:08 am

    You can freely get alcohol till 10 pm, not 8 pm.

    • Comment by Stephen Ewashkiw

      Stephen Ewashkiw June 24, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Hey Zane, Thanks for the correction. Yes, it’s 10p that gas stations, stores, stop selling alcohol. I was exaggerating a bit when I said 8:00pm in the article…

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