If you can’t drive a stick shift and don’t speak Latvian, you may think it’s best to stay within the borders of Latvia’s capital, Riga, where you can find enough college students and public transportation options to guide you wherever you’d like to go. Yet the beauty of Latvia’s bus system is that it extends beyond Riga’s city limits, to quite far down the highway and into the countryside — and everyone still speaks English better than I do there. Here are three great things to check out (and yes, you can get to all of them with public transit).
1. The Open Air Museum, ie the Latvian Ethnographic Museum
I’ll admit, when I first heard about the Latvian Ethnographic Museum I wasn’t all that psyched about it. My Portuguese friend and travel companion, Ticha, was dying to go, so I went only because of her persistent pleading. I couldn’t be more glad that I caved in. This museum was one of my most favorite parts of Latvia.
One of the oldest open-air museums in Europe, the Latvijas Etnogrāfiskais Brīvdabas Muzejs features 118 houses, meeting centers, windmills, chapels and other items of historical life from 17th-20th century Latvia.
To get there, take the 1, 19, or 28 bus lines to the Brīvdabas Muzejs stop, and walk along the beautiful tree-lined streets of the museum entrance. Tickets are a steal: 3 lats for adults and 1.50 for students.
2. The Soviet Bunker, tucked inside a rehabilitation facility
You would never know that a Soviet bunker existed 9 meters below the surface of the Līgatne rehabilitation facility, but that was exactly the point. The bunker was constructed simultaneously with the facility itself in the 1980s to prepare for possible nuclear warfare.
Tours of the bunker are offered daily in Latvian, Russian and English, and show the living and eating quarters, radio and telephone rooms, offices, and even the generators and airflow regulators that could keep people safely underground for three entire months.
In addition to the romantically spooky lighting and dank smell, I know you will be pleased to learn that you can also host timed scavenger hunts (perhaps more like raids?) in the bunker as well as, my personal favorite, weddings.
3. Reconstructed Towns from the Stone and Bronze Ages at the Āraiši Museum Park
This reconstruction of two different traditional Latvian communities from the Stone and Bronze Ages in the 9th and 11th centuries, as well as castle ruins from the Livonian period is well worth an afternoon visit. For 3 Lats (about US $6), visitors can walk along the wooden village floating atop Āraiši Lake, or sit in teepee-like dwellings made of sticks nearby on shore. There is nothing like the instant teleportation to a time long before us, and if sitting inside an old 11th century potter’s quarters isn’t like Disney World to you, I don’t know what is.
Riga is an incredible city with so much to offer, but don’t let the city limits fool you. For just a couple extra lats and a bus ride out of town, there are some amazing sights waiting for visitors to check out. Do yourself the favor and make time for it.