The capital of Latvia is traditionally one of the most popular destinations for a trip on a long weekend from Moscow or Saint Petersburg in February (February 23), March (March 8), June (June 12), or November (November 4). For Russians, it is a great getaway option, so, you probably should take this fact into account and expect Riga to be a bit more crowded than usually around these dates. However, it is not a requirement to go to Riga for a weekend and for these particular occasions; you can sure find a couple of available days during the year which should be enough to get to know the city.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Riga?
Downtown is definitely the best option for accommodation: first, here you will find the greatest number of available hotels; second, all tourist attractions are within an easy reach; third, near the Old Town there is the central railway station and bus stops from where you can go to Jurmala, the airport or other places, for example, Sigulda. Finally, the downtown accumulates most of Riga stores, cafes, and restaurants. To navigate through the city we can divide the downtown into a few districts, including the area near the railway station, the Old Town itself, Jugendstil district, and the opposite side of the Daugava river from where you can see great views of the Riga castle and churches of the Old Riga.
Riga Railway Station
Thousands of tourists arrive at the central railway station in Riga. This district is conveniently located for tourists with a lot of baggage, you can easily reach your hotel, leave your travel bags in your room and go out to explore the city, when you leave, it will be just as simple. Besides, hotels in the area near the railway station are generally cheaper than those in the downtown which can be essential for tourists with limited budget. At the same time from here you can easily reach the Old Town – it will take you five to ten minutes on foot to reach there, and you can also reach the famous Jugenstil quarter from here within just 15 minutes. At the station there is a large shopping center Origo (with lots of stores, cafes, bars, and restaurants) and Stockmann store. The views from the hotels aren’t great, though: it is either the residential district or the road. If the rooms in the hotel aren’t soundproof, the noise can become a serious issue. When choosing a hotel in this district, it is especially important to check reviews from fellow travelers who usually very detailed describe what they liked or didn’t like in a particular hotel. It would make sense to check the feedback left on the booking websites (www.booking.com, www.agoda.com, etc.), and pay attention not just to the score but also to the content of the review. Not all negative feedback would be relevant for you (for example, noisy rooms annoy everyone, but the fact that the hotel is smoke-free might not bother you at all if you don’t smoke). I recommend to look at such hotels as Tallink Hotel Riga and Hanza Hotel.
Old Town in Riga has the charm of old European towns. It is not large and you can walk through it in just half a day, including time you will spend in stores and restaurants. You can choose any place to stay here, all streets are clean, quiet (vehicular entrance to the Old Town is limited), and safe. Most of hotels here are accommodated in old or very old buildings which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. As the advantage we can see the authentic atmosphere, wooden floors, fabric covered walls, heavy ceiling beams create a distinctive mood which can become a great background for your trip. Besides, living in the city center, you will be surrounded by numerous cafes, restaurants, and stores, including Dzintars brand store. As for disadvantages, you sure understand that in old buildings you can face various problems such as poor Wi-Fi connection, small rooms and bathrooms (most of which have a shower without a bathtub), no lift and/or air conditioner. If you travel by car, you should keep in mind that most hotels will not have available parking, so you should message the hotel in advance and ask how to reach the building, if you require a special pass, and where you can park your car.
When choosing a hotel downtown, you should primarily consider your accommodation budget, and only then focus on your requirements. At the same time you should take into account the location of the chosen hotel, and the feedback left by other travelers. For example, if you stay in a hotel at the Town Hall Square, you will be in the center of all city activities, but at the same time the area is pretty noisy here not just during the day but in the night, too, especially in summer, and if you like to keep your windows open, fun-loving tourists and talented street musicians can keep you awake all night. Another source of the noise are church bells but on the other hand, they add to the atmosphere of living downtown and you get used to it really fast. Staying in the area of Old Riga is very convenient, especially when it is cold, and the piercing Baltic wind gets through to your skin, you still can explore the city quite comfortably by taking short breaks in the stores, restaurants, and the hotel. I can recommend the following hotels in the Old Town: St. Peter's Boutique Hotel or Ekes Konvents, and if your budget is not limited, then you will hardly find any better accommodation option in downtown than Grand Palace Hotel.
Today in Riga you can also quite easily find apartments to rent. Riga apartments, as a rule, are renovated flats in old buildings in the city center where you will find everything you need for your stay, including fully furnished kitchen, kitchen utensils, and cleaning agents. Renting the apartment you can save on accommodation costs, especially if you travel with family or a large group of friends (the apartment can accommodate three to four, and sometimes even five to six people whereas in the hotel you would have to book a suite or a few rooms), you can also save on your meals if you are going to cook every day. An additional bonus is that you have your privacy and independence. At the same time you should pay attention to the booking and accommodation details: if there is parking available, if cleaning is included into the rate, where you can receive the keys from the apartment (sometimes you have to travel to the opposite part of the city to get the keys), if you can pay using your credit card, etc. If it is the first time of booking apartments for you, you should understand that you will not have a mini-bar here, room service, or any kind of 24/7 service, daily cleaning, that you will have to do the dishes yourself, though some apartments will have dishwashers and washing machines. The absence of these services is the reason why renting apartments is cheaper that staying in a hotel. Before your arrival contact the owners and let them know when you arrive, so that there is no misunderstanding and you will not have to wait for an extra hour till the owner gets to meet you. As a rule, owners are motivated to receive good feedback from their guests, and they might even offer to meet you at the station and bring to the apartment, they leave their phone number as well, so that you could contact them in case of any problems or questions you might have. Sala Apartments or RigaHome R. Vāgnera 8 Apartment are great options for accommodation in the center of Riga.
Another interesting district in addition to the Old Riga is the so called Jugendstil district. It includes a couple of streets north from the downtown, around 15 minutes on foot from the Old Town. These streets are the Elizabetes iela and the Alberta iela. Here you will see houses with fancily decorated facades, and interesting architectural concepts; thanks to these buildings Riga has been included into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Almost all houses in this district have been renovated: beautiful facades that represent architectural merit have not been changed, but the interior of the buildings is up-to-date – from the underground parking to the lifts and bathroom fixtures. Staying here makes sense if you want to try out something new and aren’t scared to walk for 15-20 minutes in order to reach the historical center of the city. But then in this area you will not find noisy crowds of tourists, streets are respectable here and relatively quiet, nearby there is a nice park where you can go for a walk in the evening or for jogging in the morning. There is a trolleybus and a bus stop not far from here, and you can easily reach the market or the railway station. If you need to go to the airport, it is a 20-25 minutes long taxi ride away. In this area I recommend the hotel Monika Centrum and the apartments Quiet Center Apartment.
Other Side of the River
If you like having great views from your hotel room windows, you should keep in mind that the most beautiful views of the Old Riga can be seen from the other side of the Daugava river. Location-wise you should pay attention to hotels near the bridges – the Stone Bridge and the Vanšu Bridge. It is around one kilometer away from the Old Town, and you can even use a tram (around 3-5 minutes). Near the Stone Bridge (Akmens tilts) there is Radisson Blu Daugava Hotel Riga with a good spa, and to the north from here, near the Vanšu Bridge (Vanšu tilts) you can find such nice accommodation options as Riga Apartment in the Heart of City and Islande Hotel.
The other side of the Daugava river can be a great option if you travel by car and plan to explore Riga for a day or two and then go to Jurmala – from here you can easily reach the sea side or the local water park, plus, there are hardly any troubles with parking. The disadvantage of this area is some distance from the center (sometimes it is not fun to depend on the public transportation, or spend an hour for the round trip to the downtown and back when you only got a few daylight hours), additionally the other side of Riga does not look impressive (houses all look the same and it feels like they have not been renovated for over fifty years).
In conclusion I’d like to add a few words about spa in Riga. Holiday season in Baltic states is very short and unpredictable, that’s why local hotels are focused on developing spa services. However, hotel owners do not have many great options here. There is hardly space in the Old Town for building large pools and aqua/water centers, that’s why mostly you will see small spa centers with small pools and saunas where you can enjoy a massage or a body wrap, occasionally you might even be offered cosmetic procedures. If you treat spa procedures as a pleasant addition to a long stressful day, this will be enough for you (but you should keep in mind that you will have to book cosmetic procedures before your arrival and not after), but if you count on a complete spa holiday with relaxing walks and swimming, we recommend you to take a look at Jurmala which is located just near Riga (relevant hotels can be found here).