My time in Estonia had come to an end and after spending two days in Pärnu we crossed the border into Latvia to drive towards Riga. For this trip I was joined by two new road trip buddies; Haiko from The Netherlands and Eric from Ivory Coast. It was a fun trip as it was cool to have some guy talk (talk about nothing really!) and just enjoy the smooth long roads. I was suprised that the quality of roads were just as good as back home. Most people wrote horror stories about the quality of the roads in the Baltic States, but this was certainly not the case. In a few hours we arrived in Riga. During my stay in Helsinki and Tallinn, I kept hearing the name “Cinnamon Sally” as the perfect hostel to stay in when visiting Riga.
I was curious to see what was so special about this hostel and after discussing the options with Haiko and Eric we decided to book this hostel for a few nights and see what the fuzz was all about. Well.. Let me tell you Riga and The Cinnamon Sally Hostel did not disappoint! From Australia bars with Volkswagen Van’s to quiz nights and AK 47’s and RPG missile launchers appearing..
This is; 25.000 km Europe road trip part 8 : Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania)
Table of Contents
Arriving in Riga
We arrived at the Cinnamon Sally Hostel and to our delight it was right in the city centre. If you arrive with a car please make sure you park it at the train station parking as you pay only € 10,- per day here (with guard and underground) compared to street parking which was € 2,5- per hour.
The entrance of the hostel was a bit more tricky to find. It is actually through a McDonalds.. Yes, you read it right! You have to walk through a McDonalds to get to the entrance of the hostel. I love these guys already!
Exploring the city of Riga
The capital city of Latvia, Riga is definitely a place to head to if you want to soak up a spot of culture, as well as a thriving youth scene. Named as the European Capital of Culture in 2014, it is not only a beautiful city, but also one that is packed full of things to see and do.
So, if you have planned in a short break to the city, then what are the things that you need to have on your list?
If you love a good bit of architecture, then Riga is definitely going to give you what you are looking for. There are plenty of influences that can be seen in the buildings in the city. All thanks to the 800 years of turbulent history that has a number of cultures and countries have marked their imprint on this Latvian city.
If gothic architecture is your thing, then Old Town is definitely going to give you what you are looking for, and fans of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are packed with natural beauty are going to love the river reviews and traditional cobblestone streets.
A building that is almost as beautiful as one of the paintings that you will find in the art galleries, is the Alberta Lela, an Art Nouveau building which is perfectly decorated and designed.
One thing that many people look forward to on their holidays is trying an assortment of amazing food. You may not instantly think of Latvia when it comes to cuisine, but Riga proves that there are delicious foods to be sampled. A great place to head to if you like your food fresh and local is the Central Market. This amazing market is not only vast, but it is packed full of black bread, cheese, smoked fish and a whole lot of other amazing produce too. There are some great restaurants in Old Town and the average meal per person is € 7,- , not the cheapest but also not bad considering you are staying in the capital.
A little further afield
Feeling that you want to take your explorations out a little further into the areas surrounding Riga? If you are, then Latvia has some fascinating places for you to plan in a visit to. And best of all? They are not to far away.
Sigulda is known for being a romantic hotspot with some fairytale castles, and if you are looking to hit the beach and soak up some rays then Jurmala is the seaside spot for you. A single train ticket wil cost you € 1,40- and you don’t need more then halve a day. So, just book your accommodation in Riga and go explore.
So, there you go, some of the things that you can look forward to if you plan in a short break ( or road trip like me) to Riga. I am sure, with so much to see, you won’t have much trouble filling up your two days. The problem will more be how you will be able to fit everything in! Do I hear another road trip adventure coming up?
After our amazing time in Riga, Haiko and I said goodbye to Eric. We were heading towards the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. I was not sure what to expect. My research and contacts always mentioned Tallinn and Riga as the places to be when visiting the Baltic States. In just under four hours we arrived with the car in Vilnius.
We booked our stay at Jimmy Jump House where I was pleasantly surprised when upon arrival there was a Dutch staff member opened the door. He took us out that night and showed us around the city. Walter came from Amsterdam and had been going to Vilnius to work on and off for the last 6 years. Having a local guide with experience is always the best way to explore the city. I had a great 3-day experience in Vilnius!
To help you make sure that you see everything that you want to in Vilnius, I have put together our guide on how to spend your 3 days in Vilnius.
Do you love nothing more than sampling local craft beers in some rather unique settings? If you do, then you need to check out Bambalyne. This bare bricked basement shop/bar may not look immediately like the coolest place to hang out, but not only will you be able to try a range of amazing beers, but you will also get a taste of life in Vilnius.
Gediminas Tower and Gediminas Hall
Of course a hill isn’t exactly something fascinating in itself. Combine it with the city centre, and the hill really does stick due to the surrounding flat lands of Lithuania. The home to Gediminas Tower, Gediminas hill is not only a defensive alarm system that dates back to the 10th century, but is also one of the best places to take in the beautiful old town that lies below it.
The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislaus and St Vladislav
Not only can this Cathedral win awards for the longest name, it also is a beautiful building to take in. Still the venue of a number of religious events, this almost museum like cathedral is a fine example of architecture that is really going to impress you.
Not everyone is a fan of hipsters, but sometimes you have to take your hat off to them (just make sure it is a pretty cool one). Not only is this a cool and modern neighbourhood, it is also a solitary republic within the city. After obtaining this status in 1997, it has become a place that is packed full of trendy bars and shops as well as amazing restaurants too.
The Museum of Genocide Victims
It might not be a joyful experience in Vilnius, but it is an important one. Taking a look at some of the brutal treatments of Jews by the Nazi as well as the Soviets, this is a sobering place to visit. It gives you an insight into a part of history that no-one should ever forget.
So, whether you love the idea of learning about a rather dark history, want to take in a trendy republic within a city or simply love beautiful and historical buildings, there is bound to be something that you will love to do or see in Vilnius.