A historical city centre with Baltic culture: 700,000 inhabitants live in Riga thus making it the largest city in the Baltic Sea. Although the official language is Latvian, English is understood and spoken – especially amongst the younger crowd. Widely known are the Old Town (Vecriga), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city centre (Centrs)is plastered with Gothic style buildings. What most people don’t know when they think of Riga is that it actually is a vibrant student city. Its nightlife, low cost of living and international atmosphere make it an attractive place to study for people from all around the world.

So after one of my friends decided to move to Riga to study medicine, I was curious to gain some insight into Riga’s student life that she was raving about. Spontaneously, I booked a return flight, conveniently caught from East Midlands airport. The best thing: it cost me only as much a train ride to London. It’s easily accessible – discount airlines such as Ryan Air and Air Baltic offer cheap flights to Latvia from most English airports.

“Simply discovering the city, especially the Old Town, by foot is something that I would highly recommend – but the ten top things to do should definitely be included in a weekend away!”

  1. Kalnciema Market

In one of Riga’s oldest quarters, the famous Kalnciema Market takes place every Saturday and is a good opportunity to discover Latvia’s culture. For little money one can find typical Latvian food made by locals, hand-crafted jewellery and other products. The market not only offers a taste of something different, it also gives you the chance to buy a cute little souvenir to remind you of your weekend trip in the East!

  1. Vecaki beach (Warning: summer only – you don’t want to sunbathe when it’s -20 Celsius)

With a temperature of up to thirty degrees in the summer months, this Baltic Sea beach is a refreshing change to the busy city life. Some twenty minutes by train or thirty by city bus – the Vecaki beach is not too far and easy accessible. Perfect to get a decent summer tan or to do some walking to cure that hangover from last night! So grab some towels, mates and enjoy the refreshment of a cool sea breeze.

  1. Mukusala Art Saloon

For all the art lovers out there with an interest in Eastern culture, this is where your dreams come true. One of the biggest galleries in Riga presenting Latvian and contemporary art.  Big bonus: it’s free! Exhibitions usually change every two months. Close nearby is the National Library, not only a nice place for students to revise, but it also offers a nice view of the Old Town – ideal for killing two birds with one stone.

  1. Riga at Night Kayak Tour

How to explore Riga by night that doesn’t involve staggering around drunk? Try a tour that offers a kayak trip along the Riga canal and Daugava River, covering most of the city. When the sun goes down, Riga’s bridges and fountains light up and you’re able to kayak past some of the top sights. Relax and recharge – the 25 Euros are definitely worth it!

  1. Miit Coffee

Pancake brunch on a late Saturday morning? Yes, please!

This cute little café has a buffet choice of all sorts of pancakes, fruit and spreads. Besides satisfying your sugar cravings, they also offer a choice of salad and savoury vegetarian stews. Its famous freshly made coffee wakes your senses and prepares you for a long day of sightseeing. Rumours say that it’s a ‘magical place’ – and I must say, I wasn’t disappointed!

  1. B Burgers

Starving and in a rush to the next sightseeing point, party or airport? B Burgers offers tasty burgers, available for 7 Euros. Excellent for curing your hangover or simply for enjoying some good burgers in a nice atmosphere.

  1. Tims Mints

As a small hidden bar filled with locals, backpackers and students, it’s a great choice to meet some party people and have an all-nighter moving from pub to pub in the Old Town. You can either mix your own cocktails or choose from a diverse menu for about £4! It’s a real bargain and a refreshing change to the rather high alcohol prices in England. If you stay long enough, you don’t even need to look for the next club as Tims Mints turns into one. The in-house DJ opens up the dance floor, making sure no one misses out on moving to some top global tracks.

  1. Shot Café

Get an impression of the student life in Riga: this bar is a hotspot for students as soon as the last lecture of the day finishes. You can choose between 123 different shots – so it might be better to set some time aside if you want to try them all! Located in Riga’s Old Town, it makes for a perfect pre-drinking spot during Happy Hour before leaving for the club.

  1. Skyline Bar

To be honest, it’s not the cheapest option to go for a drink, but is the best option when it comes down to the view. Located on the 26th floor of Radisson Hotel, it’s an amazing outlook to see the city. Especially pretty at night, watch as the city slowly lights up. Definitely worth a visit!

  1. Lose yourself on the dance floor

For only 7 Euros you can absolutely lose yourself on the dance floor – two floors are open until the sun rises at 7 am! My advice? Arrive after midnight – more people will be there and the more the merrier. This club is known to be popular for a young, international crowd, so don’t be afraid to talk to the other party animals as you might meet people from all around the world.

Pia Schäfer

Featured image courtesy of ‘TausP.’ via Flickr. License here.

Article images by Pia Schäfer.

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