Riga is the capital of Latvia. Latvia is one of the three Baltic states (Lithuania is below it, and Estonia is above it). Its other land borders are Russia to the east (Kalingrad) and Belarus to the southeast.
We recently spent a weekend in Riga, just to explore the city and hang out there. It was a fun city. While it isn't especially huge, it is nice if you like to wander and explore a city. The city center felt like any other city in Western Europe, but as soon as we walked out the city center it did start to seem like a poorer country (but, maybe we just walked into the worse areas...).
The airport in Riga is quite tiny, and it was really fast to get through. When leaving the airport we found the bus to the city center straight away (it was just parked up, waiting for passengers). We bought our 1 way tickets from a machine at the bus stop, and made our way to the city center. (It took around 25 minutes from Riga airport to the city center by bus, and cost just over €1).
We had an apartment booked, so we got off in the city center (the final bus stop - the bus station - is on the other side of the town. It is obvious when you are in the city center - we got off by a big shopping mall) and using GPS on our phone easily found the apartment.
I love cities with a small, condense center. And Riga has it! There is a main square area in the Old Town. It isn't anything particularly beautiful, but it is still nice.
The whole city center area felt really safe. There were the usual souvenir shops (selling magnets, etc) but they weren't everywhere. The city definitely didn't feel like a tourist hotspot.
We soon came across an Irish pub, Maloney's Pub Riga, and popped in there for a quick pint.
While in there we thought it was about time to actually research the city. Until that point we hadn't really looked at what to do in Riga. One of the things we saw on a few websites was the Cat House, so after downing our drinks we went to find it.
The Cat House (Latvian: Kaķu nams) is a famous building in the old town area of Riga. It was built over 100 years ago in 1909. It is named "The Cat House" because of its two cat sculptures on the roof. The original owner of the house, who disliked the members of the Great Guild, first added the cats so their tails were turned towards the house of the Great Guild. But they complained and it was ordered to turn the cats around so they face the guildhouse.
We spent some time wandering, seeing what the back streets were like. Near the old town area the buildings look like any other city. But futher from that area and we saw a lot of wooden buildings:
We did come across a cool little cafe. It promised "Free Hugs at the Bar", and was in a cool looking side street.
It had a door on the ceiling (the photo is a little hard to see...)
There were quite a few churches and cathedrals that we saw, but this one was the most impressive.
It is the Nativity of Christ Cathedral. Find out more details here.
Known as the Kristus Piedzimšanas pareizticīgo katedrāle in Latvian, it was designed by Nikolai Chagin and Robert Pflug between 1876 and 1883. It is the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic area. We didn't go inside, but people told us it is impressive
The Three Brothers is a building in Riga that contains three houses. Together they form the oldest complex of houses in Riga. The oldest one dates back to the late 15th century. Find out more here.
The House of Blackheads is a cool looking building on the Riga Town Hall Square.
The original building dates back to the 14th century. It was built for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, which was a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. It was completely flatterned by German bombs in 1941, so the current building is a reconstruction that dates back only around 20 years.
The Freedom Monument is a memorial that honours soldiers that were killed during the Latvian War of Independence (1919-1920).
We made our way to the Latvian Academy of Sciences, and on the way passed a market. It was a sunday morning, but not too busy:
But then we got to the huge Latvian Academy of Sciences:
We had been to the Krakow Cat Cafe, so thought we would check out the Riga cat cafe. It is called Minka Cat Cafe, and is quite a walk from the old town area. It seemed more like a cafe/restaurant first, that also had cats as a distraction (we tried some of their dishes - they were tasty). The one in Kraków felt like it was primarily about the cats, with the option of small snacks as just something to do while you are there.
But, like I said, the food was tasty. And we did see a couple of cats...
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