Question: What’s better than a long weekend away?
Answer: A long weekend away where you don’t have to spend much money to have a good time.
I’m a sucker for free things. Always have been.
You know those free samples they give you at the deli counter in supermarkets? When I was younger I’d happily stuff my face with whatever was on offer, even if I didn’t like it. Now that I’m an adult and a vegetarian, I can’t quite get away with scoffing 23 chipolatas faster than you can say “Stop that small child!” anymore, but that doesn’t mean my love for free things has waned at all.
Wherever I go in the world, and however long I spend there, I always try and scout out at least 2
cheap and cheerful free and fun-filled activities to get on with. This can be anything from hiking a really big mountain and hating myself for days afterward, travelling a fair few miles out of my way just to see a giant tree (Oaxaca, in case you were wondering) or, most likely, your good old free walking tours.
My trip to Riga was a spur of the moment decision made in the midst of a pretty ugly break-up when my credit card limit was way higher than I should have been trusted with! This, of course, means that by the time the trip came around I had about £3 to my name.
That proved to be quite troublesome as when I visit somewhere new, I’m not a sit back and relax kind of gal. I know that in the traditional sense holidays are all about relaxing and switching off, so having a few days downtime is kind of what it’s all about, but I just can’t do that. I have to be doing something, seeing something, every single day I’m away.
Which is why I always try to find the best of the best free things on offer wherever I go! That way my bank account doesn’t cry and neither do I. Win-win!
And Riga was no exception to my unofficial rule in life.
So if you’re looking for a nice little handful of free things to get yourself busy with in Riga that doesn’t involve using the ridiculous amount of Free WiFi on offer (it’s the European Capital of Free WiFi for a reason y’know) then you’re in the right place, my friend!
5 Free Things to do in Riga, Latvia
Free Walking Tour
The clue’s in the name here. It’s a tour, you walk it and the best part is it’s free. I’m a huge advocate for free walking tours and endeavour to find one more or less everywhere I go provided that a) there’s enough to actually see and b) the weather is okay. And by okay, I mean warm enough not to lose sensation in my toes but cool enough not to have me melting into a helpless heap of nothingness on the floor. I went on an incredibly interesting walking tour in Cartagena, Colombia, but do you think I remember any of the things my guide told me?! No, because I was too busy wondering who would win custody of my blender after my heat exhaustion-related death.
With all that being said I didn’t actually go on a free tour in Latvia. Oops. I almost ended up on one when I saw the guide looking sad and forlorn outside the entrance to St Peter’s Church, but I had a date with an over-sized chai latte and the comfort of Costa Coffee’s central heating that I simply couldn’t miss.
Still, I’ve heard great things about the few different tours on offer and most people I’ve spoken to have agreed that the walking tour is one of the best free activities in Riga! For sure, had the temperature risen above 5ºC during my time in the city I definitely would have added one to my itinerary! A quick Google search will give you more in-depth information about the various tours, but if you can’t be bothered for that just turn up to St Peter’s Church at 11am and there’ll be a bloke (or maybe a lady, who knows!) standing there with a little placard, ready and waiting come rain or shine.
Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
I won’t go into too much detail on this one as I already have an entire post dedicated to it but seriously, if your bank account is looking a little worse for wear and you want to do something to make the most of your time in Riga, this museum is definitely one not to be missed. It’s educational, informative, hard-hitting, and you’ll walk away feeling so, so thankful for anything and everything in your life. Although advertised as ‘free’ the museum is privately-owned and so relies heavily on voluntary donations, but how much you give is entirely up to you. Take a visit, you won’t regret it!
Marvel at the incredible architecture of the Nativity of Christ Cathedral
Otherwise known as Riga’s Orthodox Cathedral this is undoubtedly one of the most impressive religious buildings I’ve ever been in.
And I’ve been to the Vatican so that’s high praise!
It’s absolutely stunning. Its architecture is such due to the Neo-Byzantine influence imposed on the country when it was still part of the Russian empire, which is why on the surface it’d probably look more at home in St. Petersburg than little old Riga. Due to many varying factors the Cathedral hasn’t always been the Orthodox Cathedral it is now – within its lifetime it’s also been a Lutheran church and, bizarrely, a planetarium. Holy buildings don’t always emerge from the war unscathed you see.
Cameras are prohibited inside Riga’s Orthodox Cathedral but I promise you it’s just as beautiful as the outside, if not more so! And with free entry, what’s stopping you?! One thing that did confuse me is that the signs said no hats and women must cover their heads. So I threw my scarf over my head like an absolute noob, walked inside and there were a whole bunch of people wandering around either bare-headed or with a hat! Riga, please explain yourself.
Embrace the city and go for a walk
Am I really suggesting going for two walks in one city? Why yes, yes I am. See, the beauty of a free walking tour is that you’re accompanied by a guide who tells you things, you learn facts and figures and maybe even where to go for the best cup of coffee in town. But if you just take yourself out, go for a walk and basically get lost in the city, you discover a whole bunch of things you didn’t know where even there!
One thing I loved about Riga is the architecture. There isn’t one set design or influence for the buildings in Riga – it’s just a sort of mish-mash of many, many different influences. There are contrasts on every corner where old meets new, new meets old and orange meets peach. That last one happens a lot, I think orange and peach might be the colour scheme of Riga.
So go for a walk, get lost on the cobbled streets and who knows what you might find?!
Dive headfirst into Riga Central Market
Please don’t go literally diving into the market. But how much more interesting does that title seem as opposed to “Go to the market“?!
This, along with the free walking tour, was one thing that I had high hopes for in the city. However, due to a combination of crappy weather and my own laziness, I didn’t actually get around to going there. According to the Internet (whether or not it’s true, who knows?!) it’s actually the largest market and bazaar in the whole of Europe, which makes it just a tad more interesting than your bog-standard fish and fruit Friday market. It’s also, like Old Riga, a UNESCO Heritage Site. The more I read about this place the more I’m kicking myself for not going! So do yourselves a favour and take a peek!
If you’re looking for more info on what to do, see and eat in Riga I highly recommend checking out Girl Goes To who has a whole load of posts about the city. We may even have been there at the same time, what are the odds?!