Face-Off #4: Tallinn vs. Riga

On my last trip to Sweden, way back in 2004, Jeff and I took an overnight ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. The boats leave in the evening and travel through the night. You get a cabin (we had a tiny one with bunk beds), and there is entertainment on board (movies, casino, performers) as well as food (casual restaurants, nicer restaurants, and a traditional Swedish smorgasbord). You arrive at your destination in the morning, disembark, and have an entire day to explore before reboarding the boat in the evening and returning to Stockholm. It’s a fun excursion that provides you with a taste of a place in a novel way without costing too much.

We’d like to take one of these trips again while we’re here, but we’re having trouble deciding where to go. Although we enjoyed Helsinki, we don’t want to go back, so we’re left with two options: Tallin, Estonia; or Riga, Latvia. Jeff’s actually been to both; he took the boat to Tallinn, and he had a day-long flight layover in Riga. I, on the other hand, have been to neither, and must admit that I know very little about either.

So help us out and vote for which one we should visit in the poll at the end of this post. Here’s a little background info on both.

Tallinn, Estonia: Occupied by Soviet forces in World War II, Estonia became a part of the Soviet Union, not regaining its independence (which it had first secured from earlier occupiers in 1920) until 1991. Tallin is the capital city, and its Old Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. The main attraction would be wandering the cobblestone streets and exploring the gothic buildings. We could visit what was the tallest building in the world in the 13th century (not quite a skyscraper) and check out Fat Margaret’s Tower (with a name like that, could we pass it up?). If the weather is nice, we could see it all by bicycle, row ourselves down the Pirita River, or visit the Botanic Gardens.

Riga, Latvia: Like Estonia, Latvia was also occupied by the Soviets, becoming part of their empire until its demise. And capital city Riga, like Tallinn, has also been recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage committee. Specifically, Riga’s Historic Centre has received this award, with its extensive Art Nouveau architecture noted as being unparalleled. Again, the main event here would be walking around and checking out the town. We can climb to the top of the tower at St. Peter’s Church for a 360 degree panorama, check out the Occupation Museum, and visit the largest church in the Baltic.

Do you see our problem? They’re very, very similar. Former Eastern bloc states, well-preserved old towns, easily walkable, etc. Which to choose? Is it cooler to go to Estonia or Latvia? Have you been to either and can offer some kind of insight?

I think we’ll be plenty happy with either. I seriously don’t think it matters which we go to. But we do have to choose one. So vote and make the decision for us. Vote because you actually know something about either of these places. Vote with your eyes closed. Vote because you think Estonia is a better sounding name than Latvia, or vice-versa. Vote because I asked you to.

Please? And Tack.

(That’s “thank you” in Swedish for all you non-Swedish speakers.)

[poll id=8]

12 thoughts on “Face-Off #4: Tallinn vs. Riga”

  1. Well, I cast the only vote so far for Tallinn. I am not sure why except it just sounded a bit more interesting to me. Also, I like Botanical Gardens.

  2. Essentially it comes down to Gothic vs. Art Nouveau. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of either style, but that doesn’t mean the finest examples aren’t wonderful works. They both can be a little fussy and at times gaudy. In my opinion Art Nouveau architecture is easier on the eyes and as it attempted to “humanize” the Victorian forms there will definitely be plenty of fine sculptural elements (specifically floral). So with that I voted for Riga.

  3. It all depends on how long are going to stay and what do you expect to see. Surely, Riga is twice bigger and thus you’ll have probably more to see, but Tallinn has a totally lovely atmosphere and an oldtown that makes you think you’re in some sort of fairy tale (just wish for a good weather). You just can’t describe the atmosphere. Also, I have noticed that it’s much easier for an anglophone to survive in Tallinn. I would be biased to say that you should definitely go to Tallinn, but I do recommend it.

  4. Tallinn is much smaller than Riga, but it’s the perfect size for a one day visit. Its fairy tale medieval old town is beautiful. Fat Margaret’s Tower is kind of fun as well. I heard over the weekend that the old town is full of hip cafes and restaurants now. Also, Estonians are an interesting bunch.

    Like the last commenter, I’m a bit biased. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Estonia many years back and Tallinn was a pleasant escape from my village. I’m hoping to visit Estonia in the next few weeks myself.

  5. I’ve not been to Riga but spent a long weekend in Tallinn. Tallinn is wonderful. It’s a cute little town with plenty of space for wandering. It’s a great day-trip destination where you will probably feel like you’ve been able to really experience the city in a day.

  6. Hey, These two are both on my list, maybe this coming summer if we make it to Russia. I’d have to vote for Riga if it were just one though. I’m fascinated by the history there. Latvia is a little less developed than Estonia and I certainly like the feel of the old Soviet bloc countries, particularly the ones that still have a bit of that aura, not that Riga will still have much of that. At the same time, Riga is bigger and will give you a lot of diversity in what you see. Either way, have a great time! (Jacks says that he thinks you should put aside both and go to Vilnius, as it has the most cultural history of the three. Just a thought.)

  7. Hi,
    Hans and I took a cruise to Riga a couple of months ago together with some friends. The boat was very small and old. Riga is quit interesting. Particulary for a swede as we have a lot of history together and some nice old buildings are restored and owned by swedes.

    Our friends had made the cruise to Tallin before. Their conclusion is that Tallin itself is much more worth seeing and the boats to Tallin are much nicer.

  8. I traveled to Riga, and Tallinn (in addition to Kaliningrad and Vilnius) back in 2004. Ever since my visit I’ve been quite fickle in deciding which city is my favorite. Riga and Tallinn are both beautiful cities in their own right. In my own humble opinion I think that Tallinn possesses the most aesthetically pleasing old town. Riga, as has been mentioned earlier in this discussion, is much larger than Tallinn, but it has gorgeous old town, as well. You’d be hard-pressed to argue which city is better than the other, so here’s my advice. Instead of trying to decide which city you’d rather visit, take the opportunity to visit both cities. You don’t need to visit them both in the same trip, but at least visit each of them once. After you’ve had a taste of both cities you can decide for yourself which one you like better, but I suspect, even then, you’ll have some difficulty in deciding.

  9. Since Im like from there and by there I mean a communist country (as so labeled by Kristi) I vote Tallinn. Oh and I have been there and its awesome. Plus Riga in Slovene means to burp so why would you want to go to a city named after burping? Therefore there is only one reasonable choice…to do my bidding. (By the by, Kristi says hi, and she made Pumpkin bars so that yous guys would come back.)

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