Back in the states we shared seasons tickets to the Washington Capitals; and attending those games is one of the things we miss most of home. So on our ‘bucket list’ of things to do while in England was to take a trip to see a KHL hockey game. Based on where we could get easy flights to from North Yorkshire our two options were to visit Helsinki, Finland or Riga, Latvia; and plane tickets a hotel accommodation were much cheaper in Riga.
Part of what kept the cost of the trip down was that RyanAir flies to Riga. RyanAir is one of the cheapest of the low-cost airlines, and the one with the least customer friendly reputation. And while they have softened their image over the last year and a half (a purse or a shopping bag no longer counts as your one bag; and if you don’t purchase a specific seat they now allocate one when you print your boarding pass) they still aren’t a relaxed way to fly. The boarding process feels a lot like a cattle being round-up for slaughter. And in Riga they’ve refused to add the security fee that the airport charges into their ticket price (all the other airlines that fly through Riga have); therefore, customers have to go through an additional line to pay the fee to the airport (you can’t get through security without proof that you’ve paid).
Now, this isn’t to imply that’ll never fly RyanAir. If they’re flying where I want to go and are a cheap option, I’ll do it. However, I do find it useful to put myself in the mind-set that the trip will be inconvenient, and just has to be endured. It helps to manage expectations.
Riga is not a large city, so most of the sites you’d want to visit are not more than a 15 minute walk; which is good, because the old city heavily restricts cars, and bus routes only run along the outskirts of the old city.
We took the 22 bus from the airport to the old city, and found it to be easy to use. Tickets can be bought in advance at any convenience store for 1.15. I think if you buy your tickets from the driver they are 2. Once in the city; however, we did have a little trouble figuring out the bus & tram system, and as a result took taxis to and from the hockey game. But the taxis are affordable.
Riga also has a railway system (we didn’t use) and an inter-city bus, which did use on a day trip. The buses that we used all on time, and all the ticket agents spoke excellent English and explained what we needed to do. In the case of the buses outside of the city, there was no surcharge for buying a ticket from the driver; probably because if you don’t start your journey in the center of which ever town the bus departs from, there isn’t a convenient way to get a ticket.
What We Did
Riga played an important trade role in Northern European affairs. It existed as a city-state within the German Hanseatic League. And then was fought over by the Swedish and Russian Empires. Suffered under Nazi and then Soviet occupation/oppression. Yet through it all managed to soldier through maintaining it’s language and for a while it’s own currency.
In 2014 Riga was designated a European Capital of Culture by the EU; and throughout that calendar year held many cultural events with a European focus. However, in 2015 Riga seems to be recovering from the fesitival. Many of Riga’s museums permanent exhibitions were closed for renovations and only offered a smaller temporary exhibitons. To be honest, while we enjoyed our trip, even with a day trip out of the city, there didn’t seem to be enough to keep us busy for three days.
Day Trip – Rundale Palace
This 18th century baroque palace is often referred to as the Versailles of the Baltic and was the seat of the Duke of Courland. To get there from Riga on public transit is about a 70 minute bus ride to Bauska, and then a 15 minute local bus to Pilsrundale. While the whole process was very straight forward, I do recommend that you check the bus schedule ahead of time to plan your trip. There are plenty of buses throughout the day from Bauska to Riga, but from Pilsrundale to Bauska, there was a bus around 13:30 and then not another one for about 3 hours.
Rundale Palace offers a variety of tickets: short route, long route, and gardens only. However, things are pretty quiet in winter and the cost of the short route gives you access to all of the staterooms and the gardens. On the Friday that we visited, it seemed that there were more staff than visitors. But it was an enjoyable day out.
Riga has done a good job of restoring the buildings in it’s old town, which makes for a nice walk. You can check out the House of Blackheads and Large and Small guild halls, Central Market, and St Peter’s Church.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia details Latvia’s struggle against foreign powers, primarily during the 20th century. Despite only being able to visit the temporary exhibition, it was our favorite museum of the trip. The information is displayed on posters in both Latvian and English, and are very easy to read.
Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation tells the story of Riga’s role in world trade primarily from the 13th century through the 19th century. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts to tell its story. The wall displays are in Latvian, but there are cards available at the entrance to each room offering translations in several languages.
The Riga team is the Dinamo. We caught the last home game of the season. The regular season ends later this month (hence another trip so quickly following our ski trip), and Dinamo is eyeing a spot in the playoffs. Hopefully, they’ll make it, but unfortunately they did not win the game we saw against Traktor.
The arena that the Dinamo play in holds about 10,000 spectators and is quite nice, even if it is a little ways from the city. Again, I’m sure there is a bus or a tram line that runs there, with a little bit more planning. If you plan to take a cab home from the game it is worth pre-booking, since we had trouble finding one after the game.
Eating & Drinking
Latvia adopted the Euro last year, which often causes an inflation in prices for the country. And it may have for Latvia; but even still, we found food and drink prices in Riga to be very reasonable – not dirt cheap, but reasonable.
The best place we went to was Domini Canes. It is not a large restaurant, so if you are thinking of visiting I highly recommend a reservation for a weekend evening. We saw several people come to the restaurant hoping to eat, but unfortunately had to be turned away.
Across Riga there are several Lido cafeterias, which offer traditional Latvian fayre. Items are charge individually, and while I did have a little trouble figuring out how much each of the items I took cost, the total bill was very reasonable.
Next to the Lido Alus seta location is a nice bar with a wide variety of beers & whiskeys available. I don’t remember the name and I can’t seem to find it online.
For coffee and a snack I reccomend Makonis, which had a delicious homemade cheesecake.
We had a nice time in Riga, and enjoyed the hockey game. But it would have been nice if there were more flight options and we could have shortened our stay; or planned an additional day trip.