Travel to Riga, Latvia – Episode 415

categories: europe travel

Hear about travel to Riga, Latvia as the Amateur Traveler talks again to Spud Hilton, the travel editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, about his recent trip there.

Latvia is one of those Baltic nations that, because they were part of the Soviet Union for so long, Americans tend not to consider them. They assume that because they were behind the iron curtain that it must be filled with grey nondescript buildings and grey non-descript people. “As it turns out, you could pretty much not be further from the truth. What people tend to forget is that yes they were behind Soviet oppression for a while, but they were also medieval cities that have cobblestones streets, cathedrals, and incredible architecture just like any major city in France, England or somewhere else” in Europe. Riga is the European Capital of Culture for 2014.

“Riga is a very affordable European destination that gives you a completely different view from western Europe. Technically it is western Europe but the Balkan states all three of those countries have been run by a laundry list of other countries. At one point the Latvians have been “overseen” by the Swedes, by the Poles, by the Germans, by the Russians. That’s good and that’s bad. Each one of them put their own imprint on each of these cities. Riga was a walled city in the 1200s. No street that goes at a right angle to another street. At one point the Swedes who were running the city built a moat which is now a canal. The canal is wonderful. It goes through these beautiful parks, it actually goes under a shopping mall, but it goes back out to the river. For only $10 you can take this great boat tour in these small boats that only take about 10 people.”

“The history is phenomenal. They have some great museums that not only track Latvian culture but they have also got the Museum of the Occupation” which took an old Soviet government building and talks about both the Germans and the Russian occupation. “In 2014, they are finally turning the secret police building (the ghost building) into a museum that talks about the secret police. They are also using certain floors of it into an art gallery.”

“Overall the reason to go is because it’s going to defy your expectations of a former Soviet Socialist Republic. You’re going to find a tremendous European city with a lot of history, a lot of great architecture and great music.”

“It would be worth spending about 4 days to get the flavor of the old town area. Soak up the architecture, take some of the tours, check out some of the museums. Spend a day to go outside the old town neighborhood because there is an entire neighborhood that is one of the best spots for Art Nouveau in all of Europe. You could spend half a day just at the central market. It’s one giant sprawling place where you can get anything fresh. And in general, you can pretty much communicate almost anywhere. Even a little bit farther out you can find a lot of the buildings that were reused from the Soviet area.” For instance, you have the Orthodox Cathedral that was reused as a planetarium under the Soviets.

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Show Notes

Spud Hilton
Riga Travel Guide
Visit Riga
Canal & Riverboat Cruises
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
The KGB Building
Mikhail Eisenstein
Riga Central Market
Nativity Cathedral, Riga
Town Hall Square
Radisson Blu Hotel, Riga
Freedom Monument
Riga Black Balsam
The Big Christopher
St. James’s Cathedral
Air Baltic
Riga 2014
Bad Latitude Travel Blog
Travel – SFGate


@DawnChiasson tweeted about the recent Nova Scotia episode:

@chris2x Nailed it! She’s right..explore by car off beaten path. We are proud to show off NS! Also, we consider Toronto “Central Canada” 🙂


When I run at home I usually listen to sports or travel podcasts. My favorite travel podcast is The Amateur Traveler with Chris Christensen Today my loyalty to the program proved invaluable. Months ago I listened to a segment in which the guest discussed Ho Chi Minh City and they stressed the procedures for pedestrians to cross the street among the myriad of scooters, motorcycles and cars. She said to step into the street bravely and continue without changing speed and the variety of motorized vehicles will make their way around you. As you can see it was great advice….

Skip writes:

I’m a long time listener to your Amateur Traveler podcast.

I am going on a cruise south, fly north trip to Antarctica starting in Ushuaia, Argentina in January 2015. As I’ve planned my trip, I thought about stopping in several South American countries along the way. However, I’ve discovered each country has expensive visas required for American citizens. $160 here, $160 there can really add up!

Perhaps you could occasionally ask your guest about entry visa and exit fees that travelers can expect to pay.

Keep up the good work!


Brazil waiving $160 visa fee for World Cup players/spectators/press

The Amateur Traveler: 5 Reasons to Visit Riga This Summer from Springpad

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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