Return Flights: £58.49 (Ryanair)
Return Bus from Riga to Tallinn: €18 (approx £16.11*) (LuxExpress)
Accommodation Riga: €31.20 (approx £27.93*) (Booking.com)
Accommodation Tallinn: £16.27 Center Hotel (Expedia)
*Exchange rate at time of writing
Summary and Highlights
- If you’re going in the cold months, take 84 layers
- Work around the daylight and pick out attractions or sights you want to visit in advance
- St Michael’s Church tower
- Museum of Occupation
- Art Nouveau district
- City Wall
- Town Hall Square
- St Catherine’s Passage
You know the term ‘It’s Baltic outside’? Well if that was personified, it would be that picture of me caught in a gust of -7 (feel like temp -14) Celsius wind on top of a church tower in Riga.
This trip went over two months since I went at the end of November to the start of December and I went to two countries – Latvia and Estonia. So I’m counting this as a 2 in 1 trip. It was slightly over the £100 budget, but the savings I’ve made on other trips, treat yo self, right?
I knew that I wouldn’t really need 4 days in Riga but due to the days and timings of the flights meant that I would have that extra time. So I decided to include going to another one of the Baltic states. But I noticed that you can go from Liverpool to Vilnius (which I’m doing in March) so decided on Tallinn instead.
Even descending into Riga past the concrete Soviet tower blocks, an air of communism still looms. However, Riga is very much a modern European city. The downside of going in the winter (bar the bitter cold) is the lack of daylight. The sun rose at 9am and set at 3:45pm, after which I couldn’t stay out much long past 4. Much like Shrek (Ogres have layers remember), the best thing to do is layer up as much as possible. I even had pyjama bottoms underneath my skinny jeans for a tad more protection between my skin and the icy air.
The guide on the walking tour was surprised at how many people turned up. The Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval centre’s as well as Riga having a wide variety of architectural styles including over a third of buildings being in the Art Nouveau style. Plus their troubled history of being invaded by the Soviets, then the Nazis, then the Soviets again.
Wangled student discount (€5 instead of €9) to go up St Michael’s church which has the tallest tower in the Old Town. The man operating the lift was just sitting on a stool with a questionable portable heater and book ferrying tourists up and down. I only lasted about 10 minutes (as you can guess from the pic) before my hands went numb and I was struggling to get my gloves back on. The things we, well I do for the gram, ey? Even so, the view was amazing with the snow-topped buildings and a clear view across the city.
There isn’t heaps to do, but I was looking forward to going to the Museum of Occupation as I find WWII and the Cold War really fascinating. The main museum was closed for renovation so was temporarily in a building on the edge of the centre. I knew that it wouldn’t be as comprehensive but I was a bit disappointed as there was only a small amount of info available on Wikipedia style boards (lots of text and a few small pictures). That said, as a temporary measure, it serves its purpose whilst improvements are made on the main museum. Plus it was free and there was no obligation to donate, but even I’m not that tight.
The journey from Tallinn from Riga takes 4.5 hours and for €9 each way I was expecting a bog standard Megabus style transport. Instead, I was treated to leather seats, plug sockets, seatback screens and a free coffee machine. (It’s the little things that satisfy me).
If you want to live the winter wonderland/ Game of Thrones/ medieval fantasy, then go to Tallinn in December. I did prefer it over Riga and that isn’t just because it was a couple of degrees warmer. I had just over 24 hours in Tallinn so didn’t get to do much there apart from seeing the main sights and observation lookouts, plus as you can guess, a walking tour. I’d recommend walking the sections of the old city wall that remain, for a nominal fee as well as seeing St. Catherine’s Passage and the Masters’ Courtyard. Since it was close to Christmas, there was a small Christmas market with the most amazing smelling food at a reasonable €5 for sausages and potatoes.
Unfortunately, I feel like I didn’t get as much out of the trip as I would have liked. But that was primarily down to the bitterly cold weather (and my own choice to go in winter). I’m looking forward to having visited all the Baltic’s after I travel to Lithuania later in 2019.