Last weekend I went to Riga, the capital city of Latvia. When I told people where we going for our Christmas break this year, my announcement was mostly met with surprise, because I’m not a lad going on a stag do. If you’re a lad planning a stag do – consider Riga, turns out it’s one of the top European cities for stag dos. I believe it’s something to do with the cheap booze.
Anyway, it was LOVELY, stag or no stag. It was very cold (according to the Met Office, it felt -6 degrees. I’m inclined to agree). But it was very festive, and I loved it. I’d originally had my eye on Tallinn, in neighbouring Estonia. However, Riga came up trumps in terms of flight times and costs. So, I taught myself how to say hello in Latvian (sveiki, if you’re curious), bought some thermal base layers (oh hello, adult), and booked a gorgeous Airbnb in the heart of the city.
We arrived at lunch time on the Saturday, and left before the crack of dawn on Monday, so we had about a day and a half to explore the city. The weekend mostly consisted of me saying ‘Ooh! Pretty!’ every time I turned a corner. I imagine this got quite annoying, but it wasPRETTY. Especially the Old Riga part of town. There were beautifully decorated Christmas trees in abundance, fairy lights a-plenty, and more art nouveau architecture than you can shake a stick at.
Full disclosure: I had no idea what ‘art nouveau’ actually meant before this trip, I just knew I liked beautifully designed buildings. Now I can say I enjoy art nouveau architecture and sound like a very cultured person *smug face*.
Anyway, I thought I’d share 9 things you can do in Riga on December day. Are you ready? Let’s crack on.
See the Cat House
The Cat House is one of Riga’s most well-known buildings. We were wandering through the cobbled streets taking in the beauty, when we looked up and saw one of the cats in the skyline. The story behind the Cat House is that it’s Latvian owner was denied access to the Great Guild. To take revenge, he built two cat sculptures on the roof with their backsides facing the guild. V. funny.
Cosy up with a coffee at Strada
Strada was recommended to us by Oliver, our Airbnb host. I think mostly for the delactable coffee, but as a non-coffee drinker, I was there for the cosy vibes. It’s tucked away down a cobbled street in the old town, and it’s just lovely. Let me tell you – when it’s absolutely freezing and you can no longer feel your thighs, curling up in this hyggeligt coffee shop is a must. We stopped by twice, and I had my first ever coffee there. I’m not joking – in my 30 years on this lovely planet, this was my first coffee. So naturally I opted for an espresso. Go hard or go home.
Admire the Swedish Gate
A big fan of all things Scandinavian, as soon as Oliver told us there was a Swedish quarter in Riga, it immediately went on the Absolutely Must Visit with no exceptions list. It’s a lovely area to walk around, and indeed looks typically Swedish. My favourite part is the Swedish gate, which is the oldest remaining part of the Old Town fortifications. It was built into an existing house in 1698, which is pretty cool (unless you lived there, I suppose. Not sure how thrilled I’d be if someone built a gate in my house).
Visit the Bunny Kingdom
I’ve no idea why this exists. It’s a bit surreal. But it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The Bunny Kingdom can be found in one of the parks between new and old Riga. They’ve basically built an outdoor kingdom for rabbits, including a bakery and what can only be described as a night club (it’s got flashing multi-coloured lights, so I’m thinking it’s some kind of Reflex equivalent for bunnies). You can feed them carrot and cabbage, and they just hop about their kingdom merrily. They’ve even got their own Christmas tree. I don’t think I need to say any more on this.
See the Three Brothers
The Three Brothers are the oldest medieval dwelling houses in Riga. The story has it that the three houses were built by men belonging to one family. The one on the left was built first, in the 15th century, with the middle one and the one on the right being built in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively.
Soak up the festivities at a Christmas Market
Riga has a few Christmas markets dotted about the city, but we were most enamoured by the one in old Riga. There was live entertainment, a huge Christmas tree with woven animal decorations, an old-school wooden merry-go-round, vegan sausages (I know, we were surprised, too), cute stalls selling all kinds of lovely things, and a holly jolly atmosphere. 10/10 would go again.
Brunch at Fat Pumpkin
I like to do a bit of research before I travel to a foreign country, so I can prepare myself in case the vegan offering consists only of chips and vegetables. Luckily, even though eastern European is known for being ‘very meaty’ (that’s a direct quote from a colleague) , there were plenty of places that catered for vegans. One of those places was Fat Pumpkin, which you 100% have to go to, whether you’re vegan or not. For the price of $16, you get the finest brunch you ever did see. It’s served until 4pm, and consists of a buffet starter of so many scrumptious-looking food items I didn’t know where to start, pancakes or a wrap, a slice of cake, and your choice between a glass of processco or a smoothie. Everything was delicious, and I felt like I wouldn’t need to eat again for a week afterwards. If I’m being honest, I was a bit confused about the system. I wouldn’t have piled my buffet plate up quite so high if I’d realised how much food was still to come. I can see why they’re called Fat Pumpkin, as I very nearly became one. Anyway, $16 well spent.
Admire the House of Blackheads
Granted, the House of Blackheads doesn’t scream a place you’d like to visit. It sounds like a dermatology clinic. But nevertheless, it’s a gorgeous building, and at this time of year there’s a massive Christmas tree in front of it, sporting warm orange-glow lanterns, which makes the whole experience that little bit more magical. It’s like something from a fairytale!
Enjoy the Christmas lights
Riga’s railway bridge glows blue at night. Birmingham’s does not, so that was very nice to see. With the inky black sky behind it, the electric blue light looked amazing. We wandered along the front admiring the bridge, and then walked part away across another bridge to get stunning view of the Christmas trees lining the bank.
So there you have it! 9 things you can do in Riga on a winter day. Now to start planning our 2019 Christmas trip… any recommendations?