Things you must do in Riga, Latvia this winter

Things you must do in Riga, Latvia this winter

When I went to Riga, the capital of Latvia, I didn’t know what to expect. I went in November which meant cold temperatures, possible snow and dark days. Not put off by the weather I was still up for it.

Vermanes Park, Riga Latvia in winter
Vermanes Park, Riga in November

I soon found out it was a fabulous place with so much to offer!

Below is a list of things to keep you busy in Riga:

Stay in the best hostel in Europe

I stayed at Cinnamon Sally Backpackers Hostel next to Riga’s Old Town. It’s the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in and I’ve stayed in lots!

It’s small with friendly staff that made me cake. Everyone spoke fluent English and really wanted to help, it’s great to see passion for a city from its inhabitants. I was in a big 6-bed female dorm which had beauty products on hand. The hostel held many events and pub-crawls.

Cinnamon Sally Backpacker Hostel, Riga Latvia
Cinnamon Sally Backpacker Hostel, Riga

It was warm all the time which you need in winter in the Baltics. I personally like small, homely hostels so it suited me perfectly.

Get lunch or dance the night away at Folkklubs ALA pagrabs

If you’re looking for some traditional food then head to Folkklubs ALA pagrabs, and then come back again in the evening as it livens up with live music. The bar is located in a basement in the old town and has a wide selection of beers, including €2 pints. For a more crazy night head out on a pub-crawl around the nearby bars, everything is open until 5-6am on the weekends.

Remember to wear layers as it gets hot and you’ll be regretting the thermal vest…

Get a photo with a pint and an AK74 at The Armoury bar

One thing the Baltics excel at is shooting ranges. Unlike in Western Europe, their shooting ranges are very relaxed and offer a large selection of guns. They’re common in Tallinn and Riga and both offer similar experiences. The only downside is they’re fairly expensive. So if you want to hold a gun and get a photo (with or without holding a pint) then I recommend heading to The Armoury bar. It has guns all over the walls and in cases in the bar. I got to play with an AK74 and a rocket launcher.

Me with an AK47 in Riga Latvia
Me with an AK74

This rocket launcher was incredibly heavy!

Upgraded to a Rocket Launcher in Riga Latvia
Upgraded to a Rocket Launcher

I drank Zaldāts beer which was on tap for around €2 a pint.

Grab a pint of Zaldāts beer, Riga
Grab a pint of Zaldāts beer

See the light show

Staro Riga Light Festival is held in November. The whole city lights up with art installations on the buildings, monuments and bridges. These impressive light displays are accompanied with music. It runs from 17:00 to 23:00 for 3 nights. So get a map and visit all the installations.

The start of the lights in Riga Latvia
The start of the lights
Political building lit up with the Latvian flag
Political building lit up with the Latvian flag
Staro Riga Light Festival in Riga Latvia
Lights in the park
Staro Riga Light Festival Riga Latvia
Staro Riga Light Festival
Staro Riga Light Festival Riga Latvia
Mobile phone light installation

It ends on Latvia’s Independence Day, November 18th, with a huge fireworks display on the river by the Freedom Monument. The display exceeded my expectations and is definitely worth battling the crowds to see.

After the firework display we went to McDonalds but be careful, we waited over an hour in line to get something to eat.

This bunny had too much fun .

Staro Riga Light Festival Riga Latvia
Collapsing bunny

Feel the Latvian spirit at the military parade

Latvians have a strong sense of national pride. Latvia’s Independence Day marks their independence from German and Russian occupation on November 18th, 1918. Part of the celebration includes a military parade and a speech from the President. You can feel the energy of the people and their self-determination. Remember to get a Latvian flag pin to fit in.

Latvia’s Independence Day in Riga
Latvian President giving a speech
Latvia’s Independence Day in Riga
Military Parade

You might also catch sight of their tanks.

Black balsam

Black balsam is a traditional Latvian liqueur made with herbs mixed with vodka, and it’s strong – 45% abv.

Black Balsam shot in Riga Latvia
Shot of Black Balsam

It definitely had a strong kick to it! In the winter the Latvians mix it with blackcurrant which I didn’t get time to try but it sounded nice.

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

Your first response might be – isn’t this depressing? I believe it’s good to understand the history of every country I visit.

This museum covers the occupation from 1940-1991, the period covering WW2 Nazi occupation and then the invading Soviet Union post 1945. It gives a great insight into the Latvian people and you can feel the dread they had to endure. As you walk through the museum there are many display boards and you can follow the timeline. While it’s hard to read about all the atrocities during this period it makes you understand why this small nation is so proud of their independence.

The entrance to the museum is “by donation”, however, don’t think you’ll be getting in there without donating. The Latvian’s are very keen on you giving.

Free walking tours

There are two free walking tours to choose from:

  • Riga Culture Tour
  • Old Riga Tour

I only had time to do the Old Riga Tour but I heard great things from the people in my hostel about the Culture Tour. While it’s a “free tour” they work on tips, so make sure you have some money on you.

The Old Town of Riga is pretty with narrow streets and medieval buildings. It lies in the centre of Riga and in 1997 was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The cobbled streets can get a bit tiring on the feet so wear comfortable shoes. Many of the original buildings are still there so if you have an interest in history or architecture then this tour, and a few hours wandering around the area, are worth it.

Riga’s Town Hall Square
Riga’s Town Hall Square

There’s a gothic feel to some of the buildings. St Peter’s Church is probably the most famous building in the Old Town, you can even go inside and up the spire. This is where the walking tour start.

St Peter’s Church Riga Latvia
St Peter’s Church

Near the end of the tour you pass the Cat House. This custard yellow building has two black cat statues on the roof. The revenge story behind it is cute. In the early twentieth century a rich merchant built his house opposite Riga’s Great Guild. As a rich businessmen he wanted to join the Guild but was refused entry, which would ruin any business opportunities he wanted to peruse in Riga. So he hatched a plan to display his disgust to the Guild that rejected him.

He built two black cat statues on his roof, with their backs arched high and tails in the air – with their assholes pointing directly at the guild.

Cat House, Riga Latvia
Cat House

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