After a bit of a disappointing time in Tallinn, we headed to Riga, Latvia. Over the last few years of travel, I’ve learned it’s always better to go to a new location with low to no expectations. Generally, that seems to lead to a better experience, or at least keeps us from being greatly disappointed. It was a little harder to be optimistic about our upcoming time in Latvia at this point, though.
We aren’t fans of bus travel, but it was the most logical and cost effective means of getting from Tallinn to Riga. The ride was supposed to be about 4-1/2 hours, which is beyond my preferred maximum for buses. However, I was a bit more hopeful when I read about the Lux bus. They have a “Lux Lounge” experience which seemed fairly comfortable—1 seat on each side of the vehicle, WiFi, an entertainment center, lots of leg room, a beverage machine with free hot drinks, shelving space at each seat, a power outlet, etc.
It was only a bit more, so we decided to go that route. How was it? If every bus experience was like this, I’d be willing to travel by bus more often. Wow! It was worth every euro.
Latvia’s countryside was just as gorgeous as Estonia’s, but as we drove through Riga I could tell our experience was going to be much better. Sure, Riga has its share of industrial and rundown looking areas, but it also has many gorgeous and lively areas.
Tigger immediately commented on how much more welcoming Riga felt than Tallinn.
On our way from the bus “station” to our Airbnb (which ended up being the Airbnb from Hell) place, we passed through the central market. What an introduction to Riga! This market is one of the largest, if not the largest, markets in Europe. It not only occupies many buildings, but there is a sizable outdoor section as well.
I love these types of markets, so I was so excited I told Tigger I could do a big “squeeee!” He wasn’t fond of that idea, so naturally I let one out.
It’s a parent’s job to embarrass their kid, right?
Riga has a lot going on for it and is incredibly walkable. They have a good transportation system, but we found it just as easy to walk everywhere. The area around and in the historic section is the most interesting and charming, although we did also enjoy walking through various neighborhoods in other areas.
After spending a week in Riga, we headed to the coastal town of Jurmala. This city is a relatively short train ride from Riga (about 30 minutes), but you can also get there by bus or taxi for a reasonable rate. The train is a bit slow so it isn’t faster than driving. The train is very inexpensive, though. A one-way trip was 1.5€ per person.
Jurmala is broken up into multiple districts. We stayed in Dubulti. It was a gorgeous area, and we were less than a 10-minute walk from the beach. However, if we were to go back I would plan on staying in Majori instead. Dubulti is fine for a few days, but for an extended stay there just isn’t enough going on—not a lot of restaurants or grocery choices, bigger attractions are in Majori, etc.
For a trip to see autumnal colors, Jurmala is absolutely a wonderful spot. The town is very laidback and is full of green belts, parks, and wooded areas. It’s really fun to be standing on a beach while looking at the golds and reds bordering the sand.
I would say Jurmala was the highlight of our time in Latvia, and it really got me interested in exploring more of the country on a future visit.
Some Tips for Spending Time in Latvia
The Baltic culture is known for being a bit blunt and standoffish. We found people were friendly when you stopped them to ask a question, though. We found a lot of people who could speak at least a bit of English, which was helpful.
Customer service is kind of funny. Some people might feel it’s a bit rude, but they’re really just matter of fact. Although, we had an interaction with the train ticket agent that was pretty amusing. We had stopped there on a Thursday to get our tickets for that Saturday. “Why don’t you just come back on Saturday?” She had no one in her line, and I think she just didn’t want to be bothered.
It took a few exchanges before she finally huffed and rolled her eyes like a teenager and sold me the dang tickets.
In Riga, if you plan on using the public transportation, buy your tickets at the newsstands or kiosks. They’re cheaper than getting them from the driver.
If you plan on using a taxi, I can highly recommend Panda Taxi. I was pretty impressed with them. Their cars are in good order and very clean inside, they have free WiFi (yes, the taxi has WiFI!), and their rates are extremely good. The ride from Dubulti to the airport was over 30 km (about 19 miles), and the cost was 10 EUR. Even our host was stunned at how low the price was.
Credit/debit cards were accepted almost everywhere we went, so you don’t have to keep a lot of cash on you.
Latvia has a pretty good rail system and plenty of intercity buses. However, if you’re in a position to rent a car, I would highly recommend doing so and taking road trips around Latvia. The roads we saw were in pretty good condition, it’s a smallish country, and there were many times during the bus ride I wish we could’ve stopped and walked around.
When staying in Riga, the best areas are near the historic section. The bus and train station are also located next to the huge central market, which is on the edge of the old town.
If you go to Jurmala and decide to opt for the more small town feel, I can recommend this Airbnb place. It’s a great location and was a very comfortable apartment. It is on the 4th floor, though, so if you have mobility issues this won’t work for you. The host Roger was really responsive, flexible, and helpful.
If you need to print something (like boarding passes), check with the local library. They were cheaper than shops.
Do you have any tips or favorite places or activities for someone’s time in Latvia?
November 24, 2015
You had a great time. This is very nice to see people happy.
November 23, 2015
I have just returned from Riga. I went to see its light festival and was disappointed. The only outcome was that I remembered how much I hated Riga but on the plus side this time I noted appearance of uptown cafes and restaurants, which was great. I also took Lux Express bus, which I simply love (their version of Simple bus is way…simpler). I suggest you follow them on Facebook because they often sell cheap tickets- people can go from Vilnius to Riga for 0.50 eurocents! Did you go to Turaida?
November 23, 2015
No, we didn’t. Just Riga and Jurmala this trip.