I had finally arrived in Riga after a scenic four hour bus ride from Tallinn. I had been traveling for three weeks and was eager to see everything I had heard about the old town Capitol of Latvia. Riga is famed for its old world charm, beautiful architecture and to some, beautiful women.
Upon arrival at the Riga bus depot I was only a five minute walk to the old town entrance. Here is where the architectural time clock moved back. It was a blustery twelve degrees Fahrenheit with a biting wind. The kind if cold that snaps at you if you take a deep breathe. Light snow covered the cobble stones and the roofs of massive mid evil churches adding to the already mesmerizing historic atmosphere. I checked into my hotel and was surprised by the four star facility at two star prices. A large room and bathroom, modern decor (even a small fridge) with large windows facing into the streets of the old town. It was February and the off season but these accommodations were plush and high above the basics I usually book. But enough of my stroke of luxury luck.
I quickly unpacked and ventured onto the frigid streets of Riga. A pit stop at a coffee shop for some brain fuel and people watching. Some rumors are true. The ratio of beautiful looking girls appears to be as high as I had been told, the women as equally as beautiful as the old town itself. For years I had wanted to visit Riga and most clicks on a Google search would make some sort of mention of the beautiful native women of Riga, all true.
There are many streets and alleys to explore in Riga and traveling on foot is the best way to take it all in, so bring shoes for walking not shoes to impress. It is easy to lose your bearings. I once again rely on the height of church steeples to steer me in the right direction. Although Riga has not been able to be immune to the corporate world of McDonalds and Costa Coffee, they are at least housed in old buildings and do not spoil the wonderful architecture lines that Riga represents.
I had been walking around for several hours, grabbing coffees as I go, but despite my best clothes packing efforts, my attire was not enough. I still wasn’t beating the frigid air and my toes and nose had gone numb. I headed back to the hotel for a much needed hot shower. One thing I had read so much about while researching Riga was, due to the number of beautiful women here, many (apparently English) men come here for “stag parties”. This lead to stories of men being duped by women (working in scams with bartenders) walking along the streets agreeing to go to a bar for a drink and then being charged €100 for a €5 pint with little recourse to get out of this jam. Well, for the many types of stories that I read involving situations like these, I never stumbled into anything. Maybe it was too cold out? I did make a list of bars & pubs that other travelers had been to and rated friendly. Paddy Whelans (I always find the Irish pubs) was one of the friendliest pubs I’d been to yet. All the staff speaking fluent English and Russian in addition to their native Latvian. Judging from the amount of Spartak stickers, a Moscow football club, this place hosts a lot of Russian tourists.
I got to speaking to one of the servers who was happy to chat with an American visitor and share some local info. Although she had attended university she was still working as a server to make ends meet at a wage of about $300 per month. Her two brothers had left Riga two years ago to live and work in England in factories making wages five times what they would have made at home. So although the cheap beer and food prices are great for visitors, the local salaries reflect the costs.
Not one single spot stuck out for me in Riga as a must see. Rather, the entire old city is the must see. It may have been the slow time of the year for Riga and bitterly cold being January but every step I took turned up something picture worthy and this city can make any camera slinger look like a pro. I’m sure summer in Riga gets fairly busy, but I did not miss the packs of tourists and although cold, Riga seemed more majestic with snow. If you have though about going to Riga I highly suggest it and don’t let the idea of a winter visit dissuade you. Everything looks better with snow, especially when you’re not the one with a shovel.
One tip: If you need to take a taxi to the airport or anywhere else, use the Baltic service. There are some pirate cabs running around and the Baltic service is well run and regulated. 20 lats flat rate from the old town to the airport.