The charming city of Riga is a must have experience for anyone wanting to personalise a break to suit their own schedule and interests
As the social secretary for a local amateur football team, it falls on me to arrange the annual club tour. Normally, the committee makes a joint decision on the chosen destination. However, on this occasion, my fellow board members handed me the baton with minimal help. “Let's go somewhere in Europe…a city with excellent nightlife…there’s got to be plenty of activities to do in the day…a bit of sunshine wouldn’t hurt…and make sure we can have a good game of footie."
Fast forward a hundred man hours surfing the net, assessing quotes and chatting with friends and a surprise but clear winner began to emerge – Riga.
And it wasn't just me that thought Riga would be a good choice. The Mayor of Riga, Nils Usakovs, recently attempted to lure more tourists to visit Riga by insisting "...you can still get drunk, and you can also get your teeth repaired, and the prices will be considerably lower."
All groups or individuals that have Riga on their radars should seriously consider hooking up with the friendly and eager to please Anglo-Latvian staff at www.rigaoutthere.com. Their easy to use Event Planner provides an excellent starting base for ideas and is designed to fit all budgets and desires. The more adventurous traveler might even want to try their hand at firing an AK-47 or perhaps take a thrilling ride in a Latvian bobsleigh that hurtles down the track at speeds of over 100kp/h!
Flights and accommodation are cheap and widely available to the Latvian capital. I arranged for my group of 23 to stay at the centrally located and reasonably priced Riga Hotel (22 Aspazijas, blvd, Riga). Twin/Double rooms were priced at 59 Euros for the 3 night stay with Triple rooms also available at a bargain 79 Euros. We also considered staying at Domina Inn, which provides another cheap alternative within walking distance of the Old Town.
We spent our first day being typical tourists, taking in the wonderful sights of Riga including the House of Blackheads museum, the Freedom Monument, Occupation Museum and making the most of the ridiculously cheap beer prices that can be found at many cafes and bars. After a morning of sightseeing it was great to spend a relaxing afternoon in the sun outside the Blue Cow restaurant in Livu Square. However, the very best place to combine breathtaking panoramic views of the city and drinking is at the Reval Hotel (55 Elizabetes iela) in the impressive Skyline Bar. Located on the 26th floor, only here can you can fully appreciate Riga in all its glory whilst enjoying a wide range of cocktails on offer (although your bar bill will be a lot higher here than most other places).
Graham, our tour rep from RigaOutThere, had organised for us to play a football match against local amateur team Riga United - a cosmopolitan team made up from players around the world, ex-pats and Latvians. Despite our lack of match preparation (we were partying at cafe/bar Madhouse on Kalku Street until 3am) we managed a 6-0 victory. The facilities and transport provided were excellent and first-rate post match hospitality was held at Paddy Whelan’s (4 Grēcinieku iela) who provided a great buffet and a friendly reception. However, food isn’t the only thing on the menu at Paddy Whelan’s and we caught one of the team seeking out some “dessert” on the top floor where you can find “extra entertainment” provided for a fee!
On our final day, we booked a coach trip via Graham to Jumala Beach, situated 30 minutes' drive away. We intended to indulge in a spot of sunbathing and play a friendly game of cricket on the 32km long white sand beach. However, as we began our game, it soon became apparent that not many Latvians are familiar with cricket and a large crowd soon gathered around us with several Latvians asking to join in the fun. In turn, we were then invited to join our new friends in 5 aside beach football where the Latvians took revenge for our victory the previous day. Needless to say we didn't have much time for sunbathing. We rounded off our final night in Riga with food and drinks around Dom Square where there are a host of outdoor bars and restaurants allowing you the chance to top up your tan whilst listening to local bands playing live music. We made many new Latvian friends around Dom square and were even invited to join in a friendly arm wrestling competition.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the city of Riga and found the Latvian people both friendly and sincere. It's a great place for a city break, but for something a bit different it Latvia (and RigaOutThere) offers far more than you would probably think possible.
Other Places we visited and recommend
The Occupation Museum – Next to the House of Blackheads and entry is free. A fantastic insight into Latvia’s history particularly surrounding World War 2
Club Essential – We pre-booked tickets here with RigaOutThere and had an excellent night. There are many different rooms with lots of varied music played and it's probably Riga’s best club.
Pre-club bars – Riga is littered with pre-club bars. Karku Varti, Velvets and Pulkvedis were decent ones that our group frequented.
Places to avoid
Sports Museum - don't waste your time, it probably the worst museum I've ever been to, but it cost next to nothing so no harm done
Babylon (24 Kalku, formerly known as Roxy Club) – We were told not to go here, although 2 of our lads forgot and were soon approached by bouncers looking for a “leaving fee”. Fortunately they got chatting about football (one bouncer was a Chelsea fan) and they allowed them to leave without the customary charge.