It took me three visits (well, three and a half) to finally warm up to Riga. I used to think it’s pretty much soulless and kind of fake, now I believe it’s the coolest one of all the Baltic capitals, with so many great things to do in Riga. As it turned out my timing was always wrong – I was there either on the weekends when Riga Old Town was crowded (majority of tourists were stag parties and we all know what that means) or with the terrible weather. And I always limited myself only to the old part of Riga while most of the best things can be found beyond it. But during my latest visit I’ve also slightly changed my mind about Riga Old Town itself, it’s not that bad after all!
History of Riga Old Town
Riga Old Town is the historic and geographical center of the city. It was founded at the very beginning of 13th century and very quickly it gained the importance due to the Hanseatic League. Riga has become one of the main cities in the area, center of trade and transit. The location played an important role for Riga too – where Daugava river comes to the Baltic Sea. The city has been under Swedish, Polish or Russian rule and this diversity can be seen in the Riga Old Town very well. There are some 500 buildings in this area and they represent various architecture styles, from Gothic to Art Nouveau and Modernism.
Probably the most famous and most photographed buildings in Riga Old Town is the House of the Blackheads, dating back to the 14th century. What we can admire now, however, is just the rebuilt version as the building, together with neighboring and equally beautiful Schwab House, was destroyed during the World War 2. These days the House of the Blackheads is the (temporary) residence of the president of Latvia. It’s a nice starting point to explore the Riga Old Town, especially that’s the tourist information is located in the Schwab House.
My visit in Riga Old Town
I’ve learnt from my previous mistakes and this time I left exploring the Old Town for the end of my weekend in Riga. I stormed twice through it but without stopping to admire a narrow cobbled lane or an interesting piece of architecture. It all had to wait till Monday noon. And it was the best decision ever! Over the weekend I’ve managed to enjoy other cool spots in the city and finally really liking it so when I returned to the Old Town I didn’t have to try hard to like it, I’ve already known Riga is a great place to visit. Also my timing was so much better now: after a gloomy weekend the weather was again really good and the weekend crowds were gone. There were still some tourists around but their number didn’t overwhelm not spoil the place.
I still think Riga is the last one of all the Baltic capitals when it comes to the historic center but it definitely has its moments. While in Tallinn I felt like I was transformed to the medieval times and in Vilnius I always enjoy how the Old Town is a mix of past and present I appreciated Riga Old Town for the blend of architecture, the cobbled lanes and the charming corners. But still I couldn’t feel any kind of vibe in the Riga Old Town, it seemed to be superficial in a way – could be due to too many stag parties and the place changing for their needs (the problem we also deal with in Cracow, Poland). It surely was pretty but still kind of soulless. Perfect for couple of hours of wandering around and falling for the charming corners but Riga has so much more to offer and all the best things can be found outside of the Old Town.
Below you have couple of pictures of Riga Old Town so you can see it really looks lovely. This city itself is already a good reason to visit Baltic countries!
In Riga I stayed in Hotel Skanste and while the place itself was ok the service was really terrible and for that reason I’d suggest avoiding it (they tried to overcharge me and Booking had to get involved – kudos for their customer service). However there’re many other accommodation options in Riga, you can book a place for yourself here!
If you think of visiting Latvia or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
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