Riga was the very last stop on our Baltic cruise and truth be told, none of us knew a darn thing about it. Like the inquisitive traveler that I am, I did my due diligence and researched the crap out of Riga because I knew we'd be forgoing the tour route and navigating the city ourselves. I'm so glad we did, because Riga (Latvia's capital & largest city) is such an easy place to explore! Lucky for you, I've even got a Riga sight-seeing itinerary map all gussied up and ready for the sharing. :) If you are cruising to this port anytime soon, that map will be invaluable!
As I mentioned, Riga was quite easy to walk to from where our ship was docked. Maybe a 10 minute walk if you're in decent shape, longer if you're a meanderer. The first attraction you see instantly from the main road into town along the Daugava River is Riga Castle. From there, it's easy to see the juxtaposition of the old world and new world scattered around the city. A posh modern art-deco hotel to your left…and a classic Gothic-style cathedral to your right. It kept in time with almost every city we'd previously visited in Northern Europe. While not as charming as Tallinn's medieval walled city, Riga had a flair all its own. Colorful buildings, expansive squares, beautiful parks with rivers and lush green spaces…we strolled every square inch of the Old Town in our short 8 hour visit.
Some fun sights to note:
The Cat House- This house, while a little bit of a challenge to find (we made a nice game out of it), has a fun story behind it. According to legend, the owner of this building commissioned two copper (angry) cat statues to be perched atop his home with their tails facing Riga Town Hall after a heated dispute with the city council. Whatever the reason the cats came to be, it's a fun attraction to hunt out. Not to mention the building's beautiful yellow color. Gorgeous!
Bastejkalns Park & Freedom Monument- Dividing the Riga Old Town from the Central District, Bastejkalns Park is just another one of those perfectly placed green spaces. With a river running through it and a few adorable love lock-laden bridges, it was a nice reprieve from the flocks of tourists wandering around Old Town. If we'd thought to grab a picnic lunch, I imagine we could have lounged there all day!
Three Brothers Dwelling Houses- Another tough site to find (17, 19, & 21 Maza Pils Street), these 3 houses each represent a different period of dwelling house development and construction. The white house featuring Gothic & Renaissance details is the oldest on the street, dating back to the late 15th century. The middle house presents exteriors with Dutch Mannerism influences and dates back to sometime around 1646 with an addition of the stone portal made almost 100 years later. The last dwelling, the green house, is a narrow Baroque-style structure that was constructed sometime in the late 1600s. Today, you can find museums inside the dwelling houses.
Riga Black Magic Bar- Along the streets leading to Old Town Square, we found a unique bar that featured one of Latvia's most famous libations, Black Balzam. Balzam (or Balsam) is a dark liquor made from 24 different herbs. The recipe has remained unchanged for 250 years and is often sipped straight or mixed into various drink concoctions. Balzam can also be found infused with black currants. We bravely tried a Black Balzam Mojito and while not my favorite cocktail, it was fun to taste an integral part of Latvian drink culture. If anything, stop in and check out the funky apothecary-style bar atmosphere. Wickedly weird.
All in all, Riga was a day well spent. Cute, historic, easily explored…everything you'd want in a quick day trip. Would we visit again? I wouldn't not wander around if given the chance, but I also probably wouldn't book a separate trip back just for Riga. Another reason why cruising is a great way to travel…you get a perfect taste of various cities and can choose which you'd love to see more of in future vacations. If you guys haven't already booked a cruise by now, well, then I'm not quite sure why I keep writing these things! Kidding, kidding. But seriously. The Baltic Sea countries are definitely a joy to explore. Such a different experience than our Mediterranean & Adriatic Sea sailings, but still jam-packed with beautiful cities and cultures worth diving into.
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