Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Europe (
-   -   Riga & Vilnius--anyone know much about them? (

julies Mar 26th, 2006 06:17 AM

Riga & Vilnius--anyone know much about them?
We plan to visit both this summer along with some lesser known and lesser visited areas of both countries. I've been reading that Riga is larger, livlier and more cosmopolitan than Vilnius. Whether this is accurate or not I don't know. I've also been reading a lot about the stag parties that visit these places--in essence a bunch of drunken louts out to have a good time. We're middle-aged and not out to party. We enjoy doing a lot of walking to soak up the ambience of a city, history, interesting architecture, gardens, classical music, a light dose of museums unless they are really teriffic, visiting local markets etc. If we could find a bicycle rental to use to pedal around these cities for an afternoon that would aslo be fun. About how many days should we plan for each of these cities? And, if you've been to these countries, are there other places in the countries you would recommend? I think we will be renting a car. Thanks so much.

hsv Mar 26th, 2006 10:25 PM


I used to live in Riga for a while and it's one of the few places on earth I'd always want to return to.

It is a beautiful city with an Old Town section dating back to the days of the trade organization Hanse of which Riga was a member. That is surrounded by a belt of magnificent Art Deco mansions and thus quite untypical for those former Soviet republics where usually so many concrete blocks were erected.

I would never hesitate to book a trip because there also might be some stag night parties. In fact there are many nice restaurants where you can have a relaxed but enjoyable dinner.

Among other things I have outlined a small walking tour on a thread dating back to years, but the directions are still valid. Should you need tips for accomodation or restaurants, there are a few there, too, but I'll also be happy to provide some more current info.

Have a great time!

tn Mar 27th, 2006 01:47 AM

I spent five days in Vilnius in early December on a work related trip, so my touring time was limited. But it is a really a lovely place. I stayed in the old town area, which is a great place to stay. You should spend some time walking around old town and getting a sense of it. There are a lot of restaurants and some cafes to have a coffee. There are also a number of beautiful churches and a market with a number of stands and some very good artists. Outside of old town, you should visit the parliament building, where you can see story of Lithuania breaking away for the Soviet Union, and the old KGB headquarters, which explains the story of the Soviet occupation in addition to a tour of the jail.

The only side trip I took was to Trakai, which I am sure I have misspelled. Itís a village about 20 miles outside of Vilnius. In addition to being very quaint, there is a restored castle on an island in the middle of the lake around which the town is built around. Itís a great setting.

If you are going to be there, you should definitely hit the Baltic coast. While I did not visit, everyone said it was great.

I think you'll have a great time.

julies Mar 27th, 2006 05:09 AM

Thanks so much to both of you. Now a couple more questions. About how many days would you think I should plan for in each place? How about Jurmala outside of Riga? Is it anything more than just you standard beach resort? We'd be interested if we knew there was an area with lots of interesting houses or something to walk around and look at. Or, we'd be interested in renting bicycles and just exploring the area that way if we wouldn't be taking our lives in our hands trying to bicycle. We know we want to visit Rundale Palace and are wondering if it really is fine getting there by bus or is we should just go for a rental car to get there.

HSV--Do you know anything about Kuldiga? Is it worth making the effort to get there or is it just a lot of nothing on the way there and then a bit of something interesting? How about Kolka? Anything especially interesing there or just your typical seashore area? We already know we will be spending several days at the Nida area on the Curonian Spit? By the way, if you know, is Nida anything more interesting than just a beach place?

Transportation is another issue. We know we want to visit Riga and some place around it, the Curonian Spit, Rundale Palace, Kaunus & Vilnius. We're comfortable with public transportation and rental cars in Europe. Normally we don't like to have a car in larger cities, but we are trying to figure out how to manage this trip. We know we will need a car part of the time for a wedding so we have factored in a rental for that time. We don't know if we should just get a car for the entire time and then deal with the hassle of it in the cities or whether we should just get several short term rentals and rely on the bus most of the time. Another issue is that apparently there are huge drop fees if we want to rent in Lithuania and drop off in Latvia or vice versa.

hsv Mar 28th, 2006 09:53 AM


Kuldiga, while sort of pretty was also a bit rundown the last time I was there. As a rule of thumb driving times in Latvia and Estonia are considerably longer than what one is used to from Western parts of Europe - so the trip does take some time.
Kolka is beautiful - but it is just the seaside there that makes it attractive, it's pretty deserted otherwise and it's a long drive - allow for 2.5 to 3 hours one-way.
Depending on how much time you have on your hands, I would allow 2 to 3 days for Riga proper and do excursions to Rundale Palace (half a day) and Sigulda, which you might extend to Cesis, on two more days.

I unfortunately cannot comment on the Curonian Spit as I haven't made it yet, but I have always longed to go there. German Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Mann (whose works I adore) used to have a summer residence in Nida and as he usually lived in a pretty grand style it should not be too bad (might have changed since the 1920ies, though ;-) ). Supposedly there is a small museum dedicated to him there, but I would not suggest too much of it. Predominantely the Spit should be about the beach, but what makes it unusual is the reportedly huge wandering dunes.

I admit that I am not much of a public transportation fan (other than planes), so I would always recommend to rent a car in order to be mobile. The train network isn't that great in the area )and slow, too) and buses are cumbersome, I think. Hotels usually have guarded parking lots. And make sure that you purchase insurance for the car, should you decide to rent one.

Regarding classical music: The Riga Opera is always worth a visit IMHO (their ballet performances are neat, too) and they have an annual opera festival around June, I believe, with some more unuasual performances.

Meza Parks has a huge stage designed for choir music and if you are lucky you might catch an evening performance there - after all Latvia gained its independence in the process of what is called a singing revolution.

Gotta run for today - should you need more help, just let me know

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:31 AM.