Home And Away Guide: Riga Latvia

Riga is the capital of Latvia as well as the country's largest city. Known for its art nouveau architecture and its well-preserved historic quarter, Riga is a popular tourist destination in northern Europe. The city is an easy city to navigate, comparatively small and with clearly defined districts.

The Daugava River bounds the medieval Old Town, and the city spreads northeast from this historic core. A large park, where the Riga Congress Centre is located, divides the Old Town from a late-19th-century neighborhood of outstanding buildings that earned Riga its UNESCO World Heritage honours. Start at the Town Hall Square where you can see the historic Town Hall, the House of Blackheads and a statue of St. Roland, the patron saint of Riga. Also at the square is the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia where you can learn about the Soviet Occupation of Latvia. The other ‘must-see’ attraction of Old Riga is St Peter's Church, one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture in all of the Baltic states. Built in 1209 with money from the magistrates’ offices, it was intended as a church for the people of Riga.

Until World War II, its tower, the current version of which was completed in the 20th century, made it the tallest wooden building in Europe. Today, while its ecclesiastical functions continue, it is also used as a concert and exhibition hall. A lift installed in the 1970s is now available for speedy visits to an observation gallery at the top of the spire from which there are unparalleled views of the city. The streets of the Old Town are off limits to most vehicles so use only taxis with yellow license plates, and be sure the meter is engaged. It is better to phone for a taxi or to use those from the ranks at a major hotel. Buses, trolleys and trams (the fastest) are all covered by e-tickets, which can be bought at newspaper stands and vending machines or on the vehicle itself.

Originally built in 1877 as the Central Bank of Latvia, Riga's Grand Palace Hotel lends a stately elegance to the architectural pastiche that makes up the city. Surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage buildings, it occupies Riga's physical and spiritual core - the cobble-stoned 15th century Old Town, host to numerous restaurants, shops, and trendy bars, not to mention grand castles and domed churches. Grand Palace Hotel offers 56 rooms, furnished in soothing shades of beige and blue. Bathroom floors are heated, and high-speed wireless is standard in each room.

Despite the hotel’s rich history, it is filled with all the latest necessities: complimentary wireless Internet, a business center, fully equipped meeting spaces and a health club with a sauna. The Pils Bar, with its hunting trophies, is a popular place for local businesspeople to meet, and Seasons Restaurant is a good choice for entertaining clients. The Grand Palace “romantic & honeymoon” package offers a stay in one of their luxurious rooms,  luxury transfer from and to the airport, railway station, ferry port or bus station, flower arrangement and bottle of champagne upon arrival. Also a onetime 3-course candlelight dinner (excluding beverages), full breakfast served in the room or in the “Suite “restaurant along with daily use of sauna, Turkish steam bath and fitness room plus early check-in and late check-out free of charge upon availability.

For best rates www.grandpalaceriga.com  Ryanair fly daily to Riga ex Dublin. www.ryanair.com 

Robert Walshe is a travel broadcaster with Q Radio

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