The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Amsterdam and Riga are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Amsterdam and Riga, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Riga is a cool and collected Baltic capital. Bridging both sides of the Daugava River estuary, its laid-back districts effortlessly flit from elegant Art Nouveau to stoic northern cottages built from wood.
But it's the Old Town area that really draws the eye. That's a web of cobbled alleys and hidden squares. Onion domes and Gothic belfries loom overhead in those parts, and hearty Latvian taverns slosh with beers and burst with dumplings in cellars beneath the flagstones.
Be warned that Riga has developed a reputation for stag and hen do weekending. If you travel during the summer, you're likely to encounter at least one group of boozed-up Brits.
But that shouldn't put you off. There are enough craft beer joints, bohemian cafes, and restaurants to go around. What's more, the old guild houses and haunting churches can balance the experience out with a dollop of culture and history.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map).
The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Riga might be the largest of the three Baltic capitals, but it's still a relatively small city. You can get from end to end in less than 40 minutes in the car, while the districts that are of interest to travellers are all within walking distance of each other.
That helps if you're only planning a short weekend away. Fly-in, fly-out city breaks are totally doable. In fact, a couple of days is what the majority of travellers come for.
If you want to explore for longer, you might want to come during the summertime. Not only can the winters here get downright cold (more on that later), but Riga is close to the some of the most celebrated beach resorts on the whole Baltic coast.
Three days is ideal to get a good flavour of Amsterdam, and in this time you could include a quick day trip out of town. Much less and it might feel a bit rushed, especially if you are visiting for the first time.
If you can afford more time, there are a surprising amount of places worth visiting in the surrounding area. Many people like to visit Keukenhof in spring, the largest flower garden in the world. There are also the Zaanse Schans Windmills and fairy-tale castle ‘Kasteel De Haar’ not too far away.
Lots of people also like to visit one of the numerous planned cities built on land reclaimed from the sea such as Almere or Lelystad, a short 20-minute train ride from the central train station. Because these cities are so new, they have prided themselves on drawing on the latest innovations in architectural design.
Spring is the best time of year to visit Amsterdam before the summertime high tourist season hits, and you can catch either the King’s Day festival in April or awe at the sea of tulips at Keukenhof.
The warmest month in Amsterdam is August with average temperatures of around 22 degrees (71F) which isn’t that hot! It gets pretty chilly in winter, down to just above freezing. The weather is generally very changeable all year round so we recommend you be prepared for all weathers at all times! It could easily rain or be windy for at least one of the days you are there.
The Baltic summers are a tamer version of the warm season in the south of the continent. It's pleasant here when the temperature squeezes into the low 20s. Then, Riga goes al fresco in earnest.
The cafes on the main squares in the Riga Old Town buzz with life and chatter. There are students and backpackers sharing stories in the beer bar gardens at evening. Those, coupled with the enticing beaches of Jūrmala, are all reasons to plan to arrive sometime between June and September.
Winter in this corner of the continent can be cold. Really cold. It's not uncommon to see whole weeks go by without the thermometers passing single figures, or even positive numbers! Snow is normal, too, so it's wise to pack underlayers and good boots to hit the sightseeing trail anytime from November onwards.
Riga does well to distil rich Baltic history, a touch of hedonism, and authentic culture into a bitesize destination. With a population of under 650,000, you're not going to have to navigate a colossal megacity to get stuck into the action here.
You can spend most of your time walking from sight to sight, and enjoy relaxed dining and nightlife scenes to boot. It's one for the more chilled traveller.
The flip side of all that is that Riga isn't some bucket-list-busting capital. It's not got huge, world-famous sights. Instead, it's about enjoying the atmosphere, the regional food, and the intriguing merchant heritage of the place. You also might want to steer clear of the city if you hate the sight of stag and hen dos. They are rampant between June and August especially.
There’s something for everyone in Amsterdam.
While it has historically attracted hipsters, it also has a lot to offer to those looking for a peaceful and relaxed place to getaway. It’s easy to follow one of the canals out from Rembrandtplein in the centre to a quieter neighbourhood such as Jordaan or Prinsengracht either on foot or by bike, or even better, floating along by canal boat.
Believe it or not, Amsterdam is also an incredibly family-friendly city. The relaxed approach to parenting permeates its museums, sights and events and the city is home to hundreds of playgrounds and child-friendly cafes.
Hop between the charming plazas and Art Nouveau neighbourhoods of Riga with help from this curated itinerary. It lasts two days and includes most of the mainstream sights and some hidden extras for good measure:
Day 1: Breeze straight into the Riga Old Town. This medieval maze of a district is a fairy-tale place to be. It's also got a glut of sights. Start on the square topped by Saint Peter's Church. The oldest Christian building in the city, it's been rebuilt and reconstructed many a time.
You can scale the 120 or so metres to the top of the spire to get 360-degree views of the river, the capital, and even the Baltic coast. Back on ground level and a few streets over, you can see beautiful Town Hall Square. The most eye-catching building in the city looms on one side.
It's the so-called House of the Blackheads, where rich bachelor merchants held court for several hundred years. Delve inside for exhibits that unravel the enthralling past of the city since the age of the Hanseatic League.
Day 2: Hangover or not, you should rise early and make for the western area of Miera Iela. The cracked-plaster façades of the old buildings there herald what's surely the most hipster and creative corner of the city. Students and young professionals are everywhere, and there are some top brunch spots to kick start your morning. Then bear eastwards, back towards the Old Town.
On the way, you'll have to navigate Centrs district. Your first pitstop should be Alberta 12, where a grand edifice decorated with statues of nymphs and floral motifs commands the attention. It's one of the finest examples of the Art Nouveau style for which Riga is famous. Inside, you'll even find the Riga Art Nouveau Museum, which chronicles the architectural and design style from the turn of the century onwards.
Lunch can be had in the new town area to the south – Dzirnavu Iela especially has some charming café-bars and great shopping. The pretty walking paths of Vermane Garden can be perfect for an afternoon stroll if the sun is shining. They will take you all the way to the vibrant Pilsetas kanals garden, the home of the town's padlock-covered love bridge that's in good proximity to some hearty Old Town taverns for dinner.
48hours in Amsterdam
Start on day 1 in the Museum Quarter where some of Amsterdam’s world-class museums are. Rijksmuseum where Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ is held can be found here, as well as the Van-Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum, which contains a huge collection of everything from sculpture to painting to photography by artists such as Picasso and Warhol.
In the afternoon, head to the artisan area of Jordaan. It has a homely charm to it with all the houseboats along the quays and old crooked buildings.
If you’re looking for a night out, head to the areas of Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein in the evening.
Spring at Dam Square with the Royal Palace in the background.
On day 2 head to Dam Square and the Royal Palace then the red-light district.
A visit to the Anne Frank House is a fascinating and sobering experience but this can get very busy so we recommend booking ahead online for a specific time.
If you are looking for something a bit slower paced in the evening - a great photo opportunity is from the Magere Brug. After dark, this bridge is illuminated by over a thousand lights and due to its location, it makes for a good vantage point where you can see 15 bridges at the same time.
All cities have their perils but with regards to Amsterdam, probably the main ones to consider are bike safety and caution in the "coffee shops". As well as the usual bike safety rules you’d expect at home, keep an eye out for nippy scooters on the bike lanes and avoid rush hour if possible. In terms of the coffeeshop visits – don’t underestimate the effects of the products, as the varieties sold here are more potent than elsewhere.
Amsterdam is typically an extremely safe city for solo female travellers but it’s not advised to visit the Red Light District at night as the area does have a seedier vibe.
Riga International Airport is the largest in all of the Baltic states. It's served by flights originating all over Europe, in Russia, and even the Middle East. Bus 22 and plenty of private taxi firms offer connections to the city, though you'll need to be wary of scam drivers who often crank up the price to €80 or more! The trip to the downtown from the terminals usually takes no more than 30 minutes.
You shouldn't need to deal with any public transport on a city break to Riga. The town is nice and compact, so a good pair of shoes and a willingness to walk is usually enough to get around. That said, there are streetcars, buses and minibuses on the same network. Grab yourself an e-talons ticket to use the lot. Each ride costs €1.15 and needs to be renewed if you transfer.
Keep your guard up when walking around Riga, particularly after dark or a few beers. The capital is generally safe, but areas like Maskavas Forštate should be avoided. Pickpockets and petty theft, along with taxi scams, tend to be the biggest dangers of all.