I recently went on a girls weekend to Riga but never for one moment (!) did I forget all the tots wanting to travel. New flights were introduced direct from Aberdeen Airport to Latvia with Baltic Air and we managed to book our flights really cheaply – around £100 return. We then found 4* star hotel accommodation at Avalon, including breakfast, for £115 each for three nights, sharing twin rooms – that’s £115 in total, not per night.
Whilst I was busy drinking balsam (the national drink), visiting spas with the girls and generally being childfree, I did spot and experience some activities that would be ideal for children, and I saw some attractions that make me hope to return as a family at some point soon.
SET SAIL – The first morning we left our riverside hotel and took a boat trip. We considered two choices: a large ship that sailed the main river Daugava, for €10; or a smaller vessel that took in a portion of the river then tucked into the canals, weaving through the city of Riga itself, under the cutest bridges, passing its key monuments and sights. It cost slightly more at €12, but it’s a good way to see more of the city centre and get your bearings. Sailings were every hour, and we got the 11am trip all to ourselves. On the downside there was no commentary and our skipper barely said a word so we were left none the wiser about anything we saw, but some folk find commentary irritating so it depends what you’re after. Most children love a boat trip so I suspect this would work well as a family outing.
PARKLIFE – Right through the centre of Riga run several parks with the canal passing through the them. Some of the city’s key sights, such as the Freedom Monument, stand proudly between sections of the park. The opera house also sits in the greenery on the banks of the canal, so taking kids for a stroll in the park provides plenty for adults to see and kids can run about. A few cafes, restaurants and ice-cream stalls, from extremely high-end venues to ‘no frills’ options are dotted throughout the parks. On the Saturday we spotted trampolines and mechanical cars for kids to rent and whiz about in – I walked past all this paraphernalia childfree and smug, carrying a tiny handbag rather than my usual change-bag detritus.
WHO ATE ALL THE PIES? Food in Riga can be deliciously cheap or as expensive and sophisticated as the UK. Riga is a capital city so there’s a rich offering at mixed price points. What works well for family outings is the range of bakeries in the city. Many do lunches/savouries and have seating areas. The cakes, pies and gateaux are much better than you’d get in the average bakery at home, and are about half the price – ideal for an economical family lunch or snack. Another added bonus is that the bakeries tend to serve booze (vodka is hugely popular in Latvia) so ordering a holiday tipple in a bakery is no bother. Imagine ordering a scone and a vodka at home? Bizarre.
HIT THE STREETS – Older kids and those in buggies may be able to stomp around Riga’s Art Nouveau district which is really quite jaw dropping. Entire streets of decorative, fanciful buildings. I didn’t know this until I visited but Riga is world renowned for its Art Nouveau architecture. Admittedly admiring buildings doesn’t scream ‘children’s entertainment’ but it’s a good reason to stretch your legs and see a different part of the city (and perhaps treat them to a bakery stop en route!). Free walking tours leave St Peter’s Church every day at noon if you want some organised stomping – the group mentality might help keep little ones occupied too.
HEAD OUT OF TOWN – Due to overcast weather and/or running out of time as we were busy in the spas, shops and bars, we didn’t make it out of town, but most of the family attractions I want to see with my kids are a short hop out of the city centre. About forty minutes by train from Riga is the beach region Jurmala. Name me a kid that doesn’t love a beach? A second option is catching a tram (or driving thirty minutes) and visiting the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum. I find the name pretty severe but, having visited a similar museum in Stockholm I know how cool they can be: 118 historical buildings from Latvia’s four provinces have been put on display at the museum. Guests can try their hands at different crafts and there’s a playground for tots. Riga Zoo is near the Open Air Museum and another attraction, for mini petrol heads, is the Riga Motor Museum boasting over one hundred unique, antique vehicles.
I would genuinely love to return to Riga as a family. It’s a very clean city and I felt safe. In the summer life seems to be lived outdoors, with al fresco dining and drinking in every square and on most streets. A city break with tots? Why not?
THE LOWDOWN – Riga is in Latvia, everyone asks me where it is so gold star if you’re better at geography than most of my pals. 99% of people who served us in shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants have quite a different approach to customer interaction. In the UK they would come across as quite closed or even cold/rude but it’s not personal, it’s a cultural difference that is no problem but worth knowing in advance. (I never realised how much we smile in the UK, a lovely note to take home with me!) We flew direct from Aberdeen Airport with Baltic Air to Riga. We found our hotel on booking.com. Discover more about Riga at the tourism portal Latvia Travel.
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