On our final day in Riga we woke to clear blue skies enabling us to experience Latvia’s natural beauty outside the capital. After enjoying our final breakfast at the Ibis Riga Centre we gathered our belongings together and left our bags at reception, as our flight home wasn’t until late in the evening giving us a full day to explore the city.
On leaving the hotel we called into a branch of the newsagent Narvesen which are to be found on most street corners throughout the city. Here we bought one day travel cards costing €5 each which are valid for travel on trolley buses, trams and buses with the exception of minibuses. It hadn’t been necessary to purchase a travel card on previous days as the city is compact with a flat landscape making it easy to get around on foot.
As we planned to make five journeys including the bus back to the airport, a day ticket worked out slightly cheaper and was more convenient than a series of individual tickets. We took the No.1 bus to the Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum north east of the city. Buses run every 30 minutes and the journey takes 35 minutes. The bus continues further than the museum so to alight look out for a lake on the right hand side and then alight by the stop directly after crossing the long bridge. The museum is signposted from the road and the entrance is a short distance along a leafy lane. Admission is €4 for adults with reduced admission prices during the winter months when some of the buildings are closed.
It’s one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in Europe and is located in a pine forest overlooking Lake Jugla. The museum comprises 118 historical buildings from all four of Latvia’s provinces. The buildings range in age from 17th century farmsteads to homes of the 1930’s. It was the perfect place for a stroll in the fresh air on such a beautiful, sunny morning. The site is huge with the buildings scattered around the forest in small clusters. We viewed homes of farmers, craftsmen and fishermen. It was fascinating to observe how people furnished their homes and to see the everyday objects they used during that time.
We viewed an ancient wooden windmill and historical churches representing the various faiths present in Latvia. There was a restaurant where local cuisine could be sampled as well as a small cafe with outdoor seating. In some of the buildings demonstrations were taking place by local artisans with opportunities for visitors to try their hand at pottery making, forging coins and basket weaving. For children and the young at heart there were Latvian traditional games to be learnt and played.
It was a splendid place to visit both for its scenic location and to explore the museum and I would certainly recommend a visit during a Riga city break. Having enjoyed our visit, we returned to the main road to catch a bus back to the centre of Riga. Over lunch we consulted our map and decided that as it was such a beautiful afternoon we would take a stroll through the suburb of Mezaparks and follow a trail through its forest park.
Getting there was by tram No.11 which terminates at the park entrance passing some elegant wooden houses on its way. Day tickets need to be tapped on the reader on entering trams and shown to the inspector if required. Despite only using public transport a few times during our stay in Riga, ticket inspectors were frequently in evidence so please ensure that you have a valid ticket for any journeys you may take in and around the city.
Mezaparks, meaning forest park is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Riga with records of residents living in the area going back as far as the 14th century. The area was then home to farmers until the mid 19th century when construction of summer houses began. Several hundred villas were built in Mezaparks during that time. The district opened as a recreational park in 1948 with prestigious homes secluded in the pine forest. Within the park is a theatre and an open-air Song Festival Stage which is popular for large public events during the summer months. It was the perfect place for a stroll in the afternoon sunshine along some of the forest walking paths.
Signposts from the central avenue direct walkers and cyclists to a variety of landmarks and we decided to follow a short trail to the shores of Lake Kisezers. Here we found a sheltered beach with an attractive lakeside cafe. Wandering along to the end of the jetty we enjoyed the view looking back along the coast which was very scenic and tranquil with only a few people about.
Taking an alternative route back to the tram stop we came across a forestry exhibition called ‘Name the Tree’ which displayed the work of the Latvian forestry industry and the various uses for its wood. Continuing to the tram stop, we then only had to wait a few minutes for a tram back into the centre. Although heritage trams also run on this route we unfortunately didn’t see any but are the same price as the regular, modern trams.
Back in Riga we had just enough time for a meal and then collected our luggage from the hotel before returning to the airport for our 9.15 p.m. flight home. Riga had been a good choice for a city break. Cheap flights and affordable yet comfortable accommodation meant that our four day break was inexpensive yet very enjoyable. Riga’s old town is an absolute delight and combined with its interesting museums and the beautiful nature on its doorstep, makes for an excellent European short break.
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