Having enjoyed visiting Tallinn in Estonia on numerous occasions, we decided to explore its neighbour Latvia for the first time. We booked flights with the low cost carrier Ryanair from Leeds Bradford airport which were very reasonably priced. It was an early start to the day as we needed to get up at 3.30 a.m. to allow sufficient time to arrive at the airport for our 6.40 a.m. departure. The flight departed on time and we were both asleep soon after take off and for the majority of the 2 hour 40 minute flight waking refreshed on arrival in Riga’s modern airport.
The queue at passport control moved reasonably quickly and we were soon leaving the arrivals hall and looking for a branch of the newsagents chain Narvesen to buy our bus tickets into the city centre. Fares from the airport to Riga are inexpensive costing only €1.15 if bought from the newsagents or from a ticket machine but rise to €2 if bought from the driver. Bus Nos. 22 and 222 both go into the city centre and take approximately 20 minutes. A bus was about to depart as we boarded and we thought we might have to stand but fortunately we noticed two seats on the very back row. The bus terminated outside the Stockmann department store near the railway station which was close to our hotel.
It was only 12.00 noon and we were in need of a drink so we stopped off in a McCafe for toasted sandwiches and coffee before checking in to our hotel, the Ibis Riga Centre in the centre of town. The hotel is in a beautiful, historic building which was constructed in 1895 and has always been a hotel. Ibis took over the hotel in 2016 and re-opened it after extensive refurbishments. The foyer was light and airy and checking in took only a few minutes, the receptionist not seeming to mind that we had arrived so early. Our 5th floor room was spacious with pleasant, modern furnishings and after unpacking our belongings we were soon ready to start exploring not only a new city but also a new country to us.
We had downloaded Google maps to our phones and also picked up a map from the hotel so we set off on our way, making our first stop at the Riga Central Market located near the railway station. The area was bustling with activity with locals buying fresh fruit and vegetables from stalls surrounding the large indoor halls. Completed in 1930, the market consists of five pavilions constructed by re-using old German Zeppelin hangars which had been transformed into light and airy market halls incorporating both Art Deco and Neo-classical styles. Leaving there, we made our way over to the historic old town, a designated UNESCO world heritage site since 1998. The old town is a delightful maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with pastel coloured buildings of various shapes and sizes. Many restaurants and bars can be found here with their wooden terraces filled with tubs of brightly coloured flowers.
There were people around, but it couldn’t be described as busy, in fact it was just perfect for our afternoon stroll. One thing that disappointed us though was being unable to view the House of the Blackheads which looked magnificent from its photos in our guidebook. Sadly, we had timed our visit during its restoration and there was nothing to see except polythene covered scaffolding !
Feeling ready for a short rest, we treated ourselves to coffee and cheesecake in a cosy cafe and then took a long walk through the esplanade gardens by the side of the canal. Along here we passed an attractive, antiquated circular tea house and the National Opera House. Pleasure boats chugged slowly past with just a handful of people on board, young children fed the ducks and it felt very tranquil and relaxing here, yet so near to the city centre.
After a short rest back in our hotel room we had dinner in the Lido restaurant which was near our hotel. There was a good choice of dishes and the waiters and waitresses wore traditional Latvian dress which made for a pleasant evening. Exhaustion then got the better of us after out early start to the day so we returned to our hotel for an early night.
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