More than a year ago a friend recommended taking an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Riga so we arranged this part of our trip specifically to incorporate it. The reason the crossing came so highly recommended is that unlike many ferry departures, you don’t just sail away from Stockholm out in the open water: you have a whole archipelago of islands to negotiate first. These islands are of varying size; some are quite large, some are quite small, and many are covered in cabins regardless of size. The ferry weaves its way in between the islands providing not only beautiful views against the sunset but also the occasional surprise, such as a couple of brave souls swimming off the edge of one island (on what was not a particularly warm autumn’s evening).
I do enjoy these ferry trips (falling asleep in one country and waking up in another is pretty darn cool) but a reoccurring theme is starting to grate on my nerves. While boarding our last two overnight ferries crew members wanted to take our photo (so we could buy a copy later). Now, I could understand this if we were embarking on some kind of big long cruise – but we’re not. We’re just taking a form of transport to get from A to B. We didn’t get dressed up for it – in fact we’re probably not looking our best covered in sweat and backpacks. No one tries to take my photo when I board an airplane, train or bus, so why should a ferry be any different?!
But maybe that’s just me being boring and difficult. :P
Minor gripe aside, it was a good journey and Riga turned out to be a delight. We had four days there (9-13 Sep) and took them at a relaxed pace, alternating between a bit of sightseeing and booking future travel arrangements. We also met a couple from (the Australian) Newcastle (Alex’s home town) on a walking tour and spent a couple of evenings with them swapping travel stories over delightfully cheap beer (a welcome change after Scandinavia!).
If you’re in a hurry you probably don’t need four whole days in Riga but however long you decide to spend there here are the 10 things we enjoyed the most:
- Free walking tour. It’s kind of cheating to list this as one thing as it kills quite a few birds with one stone. The tour takes you out of the old town pretty early on and shows you some of the less touristy (but still historically interesting) parts of Riga.
- Old town. While it’s not especially old (most of it was destroyed and rebuilt after WWII) Riga’s historical center is picturesque (if you ignore the chain restaurants), compact and enjoyable to wander.
- Museum of the Occupation of Latvia. A very sobering account of Latvia’s extended period of occupation: first by the Soviets, then they were “rescued” by the Nazis, then absorbed into the USSR until they finally gained their independence again in 1991.
- Saint Peter’s Church tower. Excellent views of the whole city and you don’t even have to climb 300 steps to earn it because there’s a lift.
- Rigensis bakery. A fabulous bakery in the middle of the old town. We ate here every day and still weren’t able to sample every different pastry and cake on offer.
- Lido. Delicious Latvian food with a kind of self service set up where you pay for each plate you take from the buffet. It’s a great way to try out lots of different things and it’s super cheap! There are several different branches but our favourite was Vērmanītis. (Avoid Alus sēta, it’s more expensive because it’s in the old town and they have less variety because it’s smaller.)
- Stock Pot. Cheap and honest international food perfect for lunch or a light early dinner. Get the full portion if you go for a soup but a half portion is enough if you get a rice dish.
- No Problem. A cool open air beer garden/bar in the centre of the old town with a huge variety of beers on tap and free live music.
- Albert Street (Alberta Iela). Worth a visit if you’re interested in art nouveau architecture but be prepared to dodge bus loads of tourists.
- Bastejkalns Park. A nice place to stroll on a sunny day. You can start at the Freedom Monument and follow the canal that surrounds the old city. If it’s a really nice day you could hire a pedalo or go for a boat ride.
Bonus points: Hobbywool is a lovely yarn and knitting shop marked by some pretty excellent knit graffiti out the front. They sell gorgeous Jawoll Magic Dégradé amongst other yarns, tempting Latvian mitten knitting kits and other lovely wooly things.