Weekend in Riga: Hundred-Percent Europe for a Very Reasonable Price

Riga, the capital of Latvia.

I awaken (ideally it would have been a little bit later, more like 10 a.m.), and come down to the café on the ground floor of the hotel. They prepare an excellent cappuccino. Latvia is the second country in the world where you always get a good coffee; the first is Italy. I turn on my tablet PC (free Wi-Fi is everywhere), check my mailbox, Google+, websites, and blog. I place comments on one or another, and write down some of my impressions of the art-quarter of Riga with its Art Nouveau buildings visited yesterday.

It’s time for a second breakfast. Then I walk along the pavement of Riga’s old, quiet streets. I am just spending my time, having a calm relaxing rest. One more café. I come in and take some sweet things. Coffee, liqueurs–Moka, Vana Tallinn, Riga Balsam or Black Balsam–everything is great. A cat “came in” with me like “I am also a real European, and I can afford a cup of coffee.”

Somewhere in Riga, Latvia.

The House Of The Blackheads. Riga, Latvia.

By the way, you can buy the liqueur, Moka, only in Latvia; it is not exported. This is the most delicious coffee liqueur I ever tasted. Especially good is the kind with truffles. We have brought five bottles with us. The Riga Black Balsam was not so lucky. Its ancient recipe, which Catherine II The Great liked, and which Goethe called “the elixir of youth,” was lost. The modern recipe was recreated from the words of one of the former factory workers.

I stroll around the medieval squares and lanes, watch the tourists, and drink some great local beer. Yes, they actually start to drink early here; however, beer is pretty light.

A street of Old Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A street of Old Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Well, it’s time to listen to the Dome Cathedral organ. Every day there is a concert from 12:00 till 12:20. What a sound! It is beautiful enough to bring on tears! All my life, I have heard about the Riga Dome Cathedral organ, and now I am listening it.

The Riga Cathedral or Rīgas Doms. Latvia.

Inside of the Riga Cathedral or Rīgas Doms. Latvia.

Then, I can take a leisurely lunch in the expensive restaurant Le Crab, or in the budget Lido, and rest in my room in the hotel. I wake up again and go to watch a football game on a big screen at the Dome Square. A cup of coffee, a cigar, and probably dinner, but a bit later.

If you like this style of vacation, Riga is for you. It is quiet and calm. There are medieval towers, cathedrals, basilicas, winding streets, and the peaceful atmosphere in the Old City. Car traffic is almost fully prohibited. European tourists are all around. They are a little bit ceremonious, but funny at the same time. The culture. There are no international migrant workers, ragamuffins in flip-flops, or any other of the usual afflictions of European capitals. That’s so nice. You are surrounded by the different European languages and feel at home.

The House Of The Blackheads. Riga, Latvia.

The Roland Statue. Riga, Latvia.

The Cat House. Riga, the capital of Latvia.

All the things here are connected with the old times and the Middle Ages. No surprise–how else to attract tourists? However, there is one more attractive thing–amber. Amber, a resin solidified a couple of million years ago, is rarely found in the world. But one place it is found, is on the coast of the Baltic Sea, including Latvia.

Baltic amber. Riga, Latvia.

Baltic amber. Riga, Latvia.

Many cafes are stylized medieval; some look like taverns for the poor, some for the rich. This restaurant is located in an old wine cellar and called Rozengrals. People say it is expensive. We’ll verify.

The entrance to the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

It has ancient stony vaults, candles, oak tables, coarse dishes, and some kind of old-fashioned cuisine, for example, venison flavored with juniper twigs. The red wine is poured out into huge thick glasses. There is no elegance and delicacy–the real Middle Ages. The Renaissance is yet to come. Waiters wear medieval dress.

Inside of the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

Venison with wild mushrooms and juniper sauce in the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

Venison with wild mushrooms and juniper sauce.

Inside of the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

The toilet of the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

Yes, the toilet is the «medieval» as well

Inside of the restaurant Rozengrals. Riga, Latvia.

They bring your bill in this little chest.

Our bill was about US$120 for the food and wine for two, but this is probably the most expensive restaurant in Riga. In most cases, you can get a tasty and hearty meal for much less money, for example, in the restaurant Pelmeni XL, Kalku Street 7. There, the portion of dumplings with soup or salad costs not more than US$6. The same with the restaurant, Šefpavārs Vilhelms, Skunu Street, 6, which invites you to enjoy delicious pancakes and dishes with cheese and meat.

In fact, the Riga service staff are worth a separate discussion. They are pretty, young, and speak at least three foreign languages–English, German, and Russian. I guess some of them also speak French, although this is just conjecture. Bravo!

Let’s go into this bar called Black Magic. The proper interior and girls wearing ancient dresses make a special atmosphere. There is a great variety of different coffee cocktails, several kinds of Riga Black Balsam, and a whole counter of handmade candies (although they can’t compare with the candies in Carcassonne). The walls, the ceilings, the floors, everything is renovated, but it looks like as if they brought them right from the Middle Ages.

Coffee with Black Balsam. Riga. Latvia.

Waitress of the Black Magic bar. Riga, Latvia.

We stay in a small hotel near the Dome Cathedral, almost in the Cathedral itself, or in its annex. One of the hotel’s walls was at one time part of the church outbuilding of the Dome Cathedral.

The wall of the Justus Hotel. Riga, Latvia.

An unplastered wall is left in front of the elevator. The masonry is antique and grained.

In the Justus Hotel. Riga, Latvia.

The staircase in the hotel. It is not so old, but there is the complete illusion that it is.

The smallest house of Riga, Latvia.

This is probably the smallest house in Riga. The view from the window of the Hotel Justus.

Old Riga is small. It takes a couple of days or maybe even just a day to become acquainted quickly with every tiny street, but here, you don’t want to hurry.

The bell tower of St. Peter's Church. Riga, Latvia.

A street of the Old Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Alpenrose. The restaurant of Swiss Cuisine. Riga. Latvia.

However, there is another Riga–the modernist one. I always considered that Barcelona is the modernist capital. Nothing of the sort! It is the citizens of Barcelona who think so and spread this opinion all over the world. Indeed, there are some splendid modernist buildings in Barcelona, but just turn the corner, and all the modernism disappears. In Riga, you can spend hours strolling along streets full of different architectural surprises.

Art Nouveau architecture, Riga, Latvia.

However, I wrote a separate post about the Art Nouveau architecture of Riga.


Hey you, the sailor’s soul. What is so special behind this window? Was this your home when you were alive? Then the sea demanded your life. Maybe now, your offspring lives there? Are you trying to see your great-grandson?

Seagull near window. Rigam Latvia.

Don’t be sad. Life is taking its course, and you are not a human anymore, but a beautiful bird with a plaintive voice. No one knows which is better. Although… now, you can compare.

Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all.
Together we stand, divided we fall.
– Pink Floyd

However, we keep walking along Old Riga. What remarkable architectural models are around.

Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Old house. Riga, the capital of Latvia.

I felt like buying this dilapidated house and converting it to a hotel.

It is possible, but not profitable. The tourist season in Riga lasts only three summer months. The rest of the year, the city is empty and gloomy. The weather does not indulge Latvians.

Hospital in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

You might think this is a castle or a residence? Nope. This is a simple hospital.

The last, but bright spot on our stay in Riga

We had to book a taxi for six o’clock of Monday morning. It was decided to order it right in the hotel the day before rather than spend our time trying to catch somebody in the early morning. No problem–ten Latvian Lats, something around 18 dollars. It is twice as expensive as the usual street taxi, a small white-green Toyota Corolla.

Next morning. Six o’clock. We are checking out. A couple of guys stand at the reception together with a tall German-looking blonde of a modelling type. She is all in black and on high heels. A tiny cup of black coffee is in her hands. Apparently, she is a tourist. Guten morgen.

“Here is your driver,” says one guy pointing to the blonde.
“?!… Wow! Please, don’t tell me that enormous black limousine outside is our taxi!”

A sparkling new BMW of the seven series. What a surprise! We were waiting for a tiny Toyota Corolla. Later it turned out that it is the cheapest transfer offer of the Hotel Justus. Guess, which is the most expensive? Maybach! 🙂 I love you, Riga!

P.S. People say Riga sprats are the best in the world. Maybe. But we do not really like canned fish, so we have not tried it.

More about Latvia:

A Walk Along the Jugendstil Quarter: Mikhail Eisenstein—the Gaudi of Riga.

51 thoughts on “Weekend in Riga: Hundred-Percent Europe for a Very Reasonable Price

  1. In my 20s, I became acquanted with an ex-pat Lativan in NY and since then have always been curious about visiting one day. History, great coffee and reasonable prices? I think I would love a long weekend to enjoy it at the slowest and decadent pace possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Victor,

    my friend and I were really thankful to find your blog when we prepared for our 4 day trip to Riga/Jurmala this summer. It was a real joy to go through your text, read about your observations and build an understanding of the Latvian culture and priorities to see from there. If you’d like to see how our trip went, you can check it out here: https://mintandcopper.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/sheer-beauty-4-days-in-riga/
    We had 4 days on a budget and we really felt like we made the best out of it – such a beautiful city! One of the nicest trips I’ve experienced so far. Would love to come back some time, maybe also for a longer period. Thanks again!

    All the best
    P.S. Love your photos!


  3. Victor: another excellent post! I decided to comment on this one because, next year, we will visit Riga (and Tallinn) during a trip lasting about 10 days. This post (and the one about Tallinn) gives us many ideas for things to see and do!

    Oh yes: I also liked the post about Segovia – and I’m glad you like Denver in Colorado. Denver has a lot going for it!

    I am glad you still like “!n search of unusual destinations”. Best wishes for Christmas and 2014. Phil.


  4. beautiful, beautiful place…it’s like turning the pages of a storybook. stunning photographs. would love to spend a vacation there if only i have the funds to do so ;).

    and i’d like to thank you too for dropping by at my blog and liking my post. I appreciate it very much.


  5. What wonderful photos.
    I see here the same atmosphere of Tallinn. I wasn’t able to give it a name, until you said it: medieval.
    That’s the kind of atmosphere that make Baltic towns a little different than others town in Eastern Europe, which have a more baroque or neoclassical architecture.


    1. Maybe you’re right, but Tallinn is a bit richer then Riga, it is noticeable. In addition, the crowd of Scandinavian teenagers arrives in Tallinn for weekend. They get drunk all night long, and then float away again. Riga has no such a “luck”.


      1. Yeah they’re from Helsinki I guess, two hours away by ferry. They and Estonians also speak a similar language.
        Apart from being richer, I understand that you prefer Riga to Tallin, right?


    1. I am not sure about Lithuania. I have been there some years ago, and I cannot say I liked it very much, and I cannot write something special about this country, but Riga is another world. I don’t know why, but Riga is very different. My recommendation is to start from Riga. This is marvelous European capital which is much more better than Brussels, for example.


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