Explore: Riga

Date Posted: 02/01/2014

Group Leisure looks at group holidays to the Latvian city of Riga, taking in its medieval buildings, food and drink and must-sees for groups.

Essential sights

Riga Cathedral: With the foundation stone laid in the 13th century, and extensively restored in the 19th century, Riga’s cathedral is the biggest church in the Baltics. Look out for the golden cockerels which adorn the top of the building, and many of the city’s churches, instead of crosses. In Latvian legends they are said to be the watchmen of Riga.

The ‘three brothers’: The best surviving examples of Riga’s old merchant houses. The trio of buildings are in Maza Pils Iela and number 17 was built in the 15th century and is the city’s oldest stone house.

Riga’s Central Market: Open daily and one of the largest in Europe. It’s also famous for using old Zeppelin hangars as food halls. You can taste local delicacies, such as Latvian cheeses and smoked fish, or sign up for a cookery course which will include a visit to the market to buy fresh produce.

Food & Drink

Influenced by Polish, Russian and German cultures, typical Latvian cuisine is hearty and filling. Pork is a popular meat and you’ll find plenty of fish on the menu due to the city’s proximity to the Baltic Sea.

Typical dishes are sorrel soup, pierogi – dumplings filled with bacon and onions – and manna, a creamy dessert. Local beers include Bauska and Aldaris, part of the Carlsberg group, which is based in Riga.

At lunchtime order the biznesa pusdienas, or business lunch. This fixed price menu offers excellent value and includes soup, main course and salad, and sometimes a small dessert.

New flights

In March airBaltic launches a new Aberdeen to Riga service and this summer will double the frequency of its Gatwick service to two flights per day.

Live like a local

Visit the regenerated Andrejsala port area on the banks of the Daugava river, where many local artists have opened small studios.

Aqua Luna is one of a number of restaurants that caters for groups and has an attractive outside deck area for the warmer months. You can travel to Andrejsala by tram or take a boat trip and disembark at the marina.

Best for groups

The Latvian National Opera House is a 19th century architectural masterpiece. Backstage tours, for a minimum of ten, offer an opportunity to see the ornate stage decorations close up, and watch singers and ballet dancers in rehearsal.

Tours can be rounded off with a champagne reception and private recital in the grand White Hall. Alternatively, if you prefer to watch a ballet, opera or classical concert the tickets cost a fraction of London prices.

Find out how wealthy Rigans lived in the 17th century at Mencendorf House, part of the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation. The home boasts period rooms, decorated with original wall and ceiling paintings.

Group visits can include meals themed to historic periods, such as the time when German composer Richard Wagner worked in the city as a conductor from 1837 to 1838 and composed one of his first operas, Rienzi.

Discover the city’s best kept secrets on a private guided walk. Tours can also be booked at the main tourist office in the old town and independent groups can follow a self-guided route.

Start the day with a visit to the Occupation Museum on Kalku Iela before heading into the old town. The main sights are located in a compact area on or near Skanu Iela, including St John’s and St Peter’s, Riga’s oldest churches.

Where to stay?

  • The good value three-star Konvento Seta occupies atmospheric medieval buildings in the heart of the old town.
  • In a good spot for sightseeing, the well-appointed Astor Riga dates back to 1876 and was completely renovated in 2012.
  • The luxurious Gallery Park Hotel overlooking Kronvalda Park is a boutique property with 24 beautifully furnished rooms.

Fact file

Journey time:
2hrs 35mins to Riga Airport, 13km from the city centre.

Currency: On 1st January 2014 Latvia adopted the euro as its currency. £1 = €1.20.

Best time to go: Temperatures are pleasant for sightseeing from April to September, avoiding the chilly winter months, and many outdoor festivals take place in July and August.

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