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Both Munich 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 Riga and Munich, 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 ratings -
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?)
Beer-mad and shrouded by the mountains, Munich is the boisterous capital of Bavaria. It's in the deep southern reaches of the country, where lederhosen are the threads of choice and white sausage is served at breakfast. Proudly unique, romantic, and steeped in art and culture, you won't find anywhere else like this in Germany.
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.
Take a couple of days minimum to get a feel for the alternative vibes of Munich. You'll need at least a morning or two to check off the grand churches and plazas of the downtown. Afternoons are often lost to a haze of currywurst and spätzle. The evenings will disappear to clinking tankards and too much Bavarian beer.
If you're planning on joining the Oktoberfest party, then the normal amount of time to spend in the Munich event is two days. Some people will stick around longer but remember that accommodation can cost a bomb during festival dates and you'll need to book well in advance.
The closeness of the Alps and the wide variety of off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods in Munich mean that it's also possible to stay here for much longer than just a weekend or a couple of days. You could do weeks of hiking in the spring and summer months. Alternatively, you could do a full ski holiday in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany's biggest resort) during the winter.
Munich is one of those cities that has something going for it no matter the time of the year. Lots of people like the height of the summer, for the regular sun and temperatures that often spike above 30 degrees in the middle of the day. That's certainly perfect for wandering the town and enjoying the big lawns and paths of English Garden.
The autumn is best known for Oktoberfest. The shindig and the beer drinking begin in mid-September, lasting until the first couple of days in October. It's usually still warm for the party, but the days get shorter and jumpers will be needed as you get closer to November.
There's often snow in Munich from December onwards. This is the time of year to come if you have your sights set on the ski fields of the German Alps. The slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen typically open for business before Christmas, which is also when the enchanting markets start selling gingerbread and sausages on Munich's medieval squares.
Spring is also lovely. May is among the best months of all to travel. The summer crowds haven't arrived yet, the snows have melted, and thermometers can read a pleasant 20 degrees during the day.
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.
Munich is unique in that it manages to fuse together the great outdoors, rich European culture, and an enticing foodie scene. That's all thanks to its place as the historic capital of Bavaria, which brings a long tradition of cooking, beer making, castle building – the list goes on.
The upshot? There are all sorts of travellers who are catered to, no matter if you come in search of pretzel eating or high-altitude trekking.
One thing you won't find in this city is the sea. The nearest saltwater is a hefty drive over the Alps in Italy or Croatia. So, don't come if you're pining to top up the tan and swim in the Med.
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 Munich
Sample Munich's famous food, beer, and regal inner city on this two-day itinerary that's packed with amazing palaces and parks. If you're hanging around for longer, then you should also have time to make a beeline for the Alps or explore those off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, but that will have to wait…
Day 1: Your travels begin on the grand Odeonsplatz. A prime example of the city's 19th-century rebuilding, it hosts some of the most magnificent sights in the region. There's the huge, 130-room Munich Residenz, the onetime home of the Bavarian kings and queens. There's the Theatine Church from the 1600s, sporting its dual Baroque towers.
You only have 48 hours, but the palaces can be visited if you have extra time. Instead, move on through the heart of the city on Briennerstraße to the vast plaza of Königsplatz. This is a photo op extraordinaire, with handsome Neo-Classical monuments like the strange Propyläen. The area around that is the artistic quarter (the Kunstareal), where there are endless museums and galleries to go into if you need to warm up or escape the rain.
Next is the beautiful Frauenkirche. This is a symbol of Munich as a whole; a great church topped by bulbous domes on the central Frauenplatz. It will take around 20 minutes to walk over there, but you'll enjoy moving into the Altstadt area as you go. You should plan to spend the evening within, hopping between sights like the iconic Hofbräuhaus (the best known beer hall in the city) and the ancient Peterskirche (the oldest church in Munich).
The Schloss Nymphenburg and its beautiful grounds
Day 2: No visit to the grand royal capital of Bavaria could possibly be complete without at least a glimpse of the Schloss Nymphenburg. It's hardly central, but private tours can whisk you there and back in a single morning, going through the manicured gardens, the court rooms, and the curious Marstallmuseum with its gold-leafed carriages from the 19th century.
When you return back to the middle of Munich head straight for the English Garden. This is one of Germany's favourite parks. You could start by strolling up the Eisbach to see the surfers riding the river wave. Then explore the pretty Hofgarten, where babbling fountains and bandstands once provided a retreat for Bavarian royals. Alternatively, go straight to the Chinese Tower Beer Garden, to glug traditional German hops brews and taste bratwurst and pretzels until sundown.
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.
Munich International Airport is the second busiest hub in all of Germany. It's a major arrival point, with links coming in on premium and low-cost fliers from right around the globe. Getting to the city from the terminals is easy thanks to the direct S-Bahn line that runs straight to the train station. The trip costs just over €11 and takes around 40 minutes in total.
Munich is a safe, modern city. The locals are famed for their friendliness and welcoming attitude – a trait of Bavaria, they say. However, it's still important to be wary of scams and dangers, particularly during the Oktoberfest, when alcohol intake increases dramatically.
The best areas to stay in Munich are the Altstadt, the streets around English Garden, and the grand university and gallery area of Maxvorstadt. Cheaper hotels that are still within walking distance of the sights can be found south of the main train station around Bayerstraße.