Riga: A Birthday Weekend Away

Back in 2016, I wanted to go travelling for my birthday. Although we had previously done a trip to Europe in 2015, it wasn’t really what we expected. However, we wanted to give travelling another go! Luckily, we gave travelling another shot as the rest is history..

I had heard many good things about the nightlife in Eastern Europe, mainly from travellers youtube videos. Also, we had been to Prague in 2015 and the night life was crazy! I remember at the time, people were quite surprised we had decided to spend my birthday in Riga, but honestly it was one of the best weekends of my life. We met a huge group of crazy people and had chances to do things that most people don’t ever do!

When we first arrived in Riga we checked into our hostel (Riga Old Town Hostel & Backpackers Pub). Honestly, this hostel is great! What I really liked about the hostel was it allowed you to meet some awesome people and have an awesome night! Unless the rules have changed, the bar stays open until 3am so you can carry on the party very late into the night! (After checking on hostel world, the bar still closes at 3am). Also between the hours of 5pm-7pm there is happy hour – which means 30% off all tap beers!

The hostel has a sister hostel round the corner, The Naughty Squirrel. This is where the pub crawl starts if you are interested in having a mad night! However, this hostel is a bit run down and personally I am really glad we stayed out Old Town. Another quirky thing about Old Town is that it has a campervan as the reception and bar area within the hostel!

On arrival, we accepted a free welcome beer (always the sign of a good hostel) and we were give a free map guide where the hostel staff told us what they key attractions were. They also explained about the tours and activities which they can arrange.

As we landed in Riga at night time, we decided to just have a quick walk around the local area and see some of the historical monuments around the city. However, with it being -5C and our hostel having a bar and a pub crawl, we decided to get ready and sign up for the crawl.

After signing up, we went to the sister hostel (Naughty Squirrel) where we played party games and met loads of people from all around the world. This was the travelling that excited us, the idea of meeting lots of cool people. Unfortunately, we didn’t really do that during our first Europe trip. We also tried a new drink, Riga Black Balsam, which although not many people seemed to like, I really did! However, having 4 or 5 of these drinks can quickly escalate your night! The amount of free shots and drinks that you get on this pub crawl, and the cheapness of the drinks means that you soon become incredibly drunk! Which for a birthday weekend is perfect!

After visiting many bars we ended up at one of the biggest clubs I have ever been in. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name, but if you sign up to the pub crawl you’ll visit for sure! Downstairs in the first room, is a takeaway shop, where you can buy pizza slices and burgers! The second room had a huge cloak room to put any coats and bags, before another room having loads of pool tables. The other remaining rooms have several bars and the final room downstairs is the club area. It is incredibly easy to get lost here, however such an awesome place!

The next day after waking up ridiculously early to say we returned about 4am, we got our free breakfast beer. Yes, that’s right! Beer for breakfast! Although as you can imagine these were going down really slowly. During the day time we walked around Rigas old town as well as walking to do some escape rooms! We ended up getting carried away and trying to complete 3 escape rooms. Unfortunately, we wasn’t very good. One of the escape rooms, was called casino and 5 people is usually the recommended number of people for this room. However, with just the 2 of us we so nearly completed it!

After spending the day walking around Riga, we went back to the hostel where we decided to try a beer tasting tray. You get 14 beers to try and some were very good beers! Others… my word were they bad! However, I would still recommend doing the beer tasting because you get to try locally brewed beers from Riga. After we finished the last of the beer tasting, we signed up for the pub crawl again and met up with everyone we saw the day before. The night went pretty much the same way as we spent the last, having a great time and consuming a lot of alcohol!

The next day was going to be our best day yet! Through the hostel we booked to go winter bobsledding! This was an amazing chance to do something really unique. We had gone with some people we had met at our hostel which made the whole experience really fun. The whole tour was a really good package. The hostel provide transportation to and from the hostel which makes your life a lot easier.

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What I loved about bobsledding is that you had the chance to do something that not many people have done! Being able to travel at speeds of 110kmh as well as experience 4G’s was such an unreal feeling. What I can say, during the run it feels a lot faster than 110kmh! The constant turning of the sleigh, and feeling every bump on the track made the experience come to life. I remember when the driver started running down the slope of the track, I was wondering if I had made a mistake as the driver had warned us that people had died before due to the drivers being poor and overturning the sleigh. However, as soon as the run was over (which it ended so quickly!) I just wanted to go and do the whole experience again. The adrenaline rush was immense!

After having done one of the most unique experiences of our lives, we were all in such a good mood on the way back to the hostel. As soon as we got back, we got some beers in and just talked about how crazy the day had been! As like the other nights, we signed up to the pub crawl again and had an awesome night! Apparently.. It was a bit too awesome as we woke up with only 1.5hours left before our flight was scheduled to depart. Now this might not sound bad, but we still had to check out, and get to the airport which was a 20 minute drive away. By the time we had got to the boarding stage, we were on last call, but thankfully made the flight home! We learned a valuable lesson, don’t get home 1 hour before you have to leave for the airport, because you will fall asleep! Not that we have stuck to this lesson..

For those of you who hadn’t thought about Riga, or maybe even heard of the place before this article, honestly look into it! Riga is a fantastic getaway city, and if you stay in the right hostel like us, you’ll meet some awesome people who just want to have a good time! If you’re an adrenaline junky, then go try out the bobsledding as it is truly an immense experience!

View the rest of our Riga pictures here.

Amsterdam: A Capital on A High

Well known for its canals, bikes and coffee shops, home to the famous red-light district and amazing art galleries, Amsterdam is a city with a lot to offer. Having been to Amsterdam twice, we can say that for us Amsterdam is rather different to other European cities that we have visited. However, if we do have a criticism of Amsterdam, is that it can be over priced and sometimes over hyped.

Canal
Canal

Nevertheless, Amsterdam is still a great city if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. If you have the money, then Amsterdam really isn’t a bad place to spend it. One of the most enjoyable activity that we did whilst in Amsterdam is renting bikes. Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the city whilst soaking up those summer rays. We rented bikes for 24hours and spent most of the day riding from attraction to attraction, while seeing a lot of what Amsterdam has to offer. Bikes are reasonably cheap and make the city so accessible. Amsterdam has got lots of cycle lanes which make it a lot safer than cycling through the busy streets.  However, do be careful whilst on your bike as one of us rode into a local for being in the wrong cycle lane. For anyone from the UK, remember Europe drive/cycle on the other side of the road!

Bikes
Bikes

Amsterdam is well know for its night life and for people wanting to party. And if that’s what draws you to Amsterdam over its art galleries then perhaps stay in a party hostel. Why party hostels are so good is that you’re surrounded by people from all over the world who share your passion for travel, meeting new people and drinking. Amsterdam is full of travellers and there isn’t that many places in Europe better for meeting new people. Another reason why we stayed in a party hostel is that they usually have a night club or at least a bar, as well as organising their own pub crawls. This just makes your life so much easier as you don’t have to worry about finding the best bars or clubs, as the hostel just does that for you.

If you enjoy drinking Heineken, then there is no better place to go then the Heineken Experience. After walking around the brewery and learning how Heineken is made, you get given two Heineken beers at the end of your visit. Answer the questions you get asked and be rewarded with more free beer! You can spend as much time as you like in the brewery, and there are many side exhibitions such as having a photo of you taken virtually winning the Champions League trophy as well as playing FIFA against your friends. If you’re a big beer and football fan, then the Heineken Experience should be high up on your priority list. This was probably our favourite activity that we did in Amsterdam. As all of us are mad football fans and love to drink beer, both combined made for a pretty good day!

Heineken Experience
Heineken Experience

Another great alcoholic experience is the Ice Bar. The Ice Bar brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘A cold one’. The Ice Bar is a unique experience where you’re given the chance to stand, drink and get your picture taken in minus 9°C temperatures. After you have finished your drink smash your ice glasses together and enjoy any drink of your choice back in the warmth. Warm coats and trousers are provided for your visit so don’t worry about getting too cold! Unfortunately, one of us accidentally spilled the others drink all over them, and at 10+euros a drink, they’re not that cheap to replace. Luckily, it was a free drink.

Turning back to football now, Amsterdam is home to one of the great European clubs. Ajax are four time champions of Europe and their Amsterdam Arena is not too far away from the city centre. The Amsterdam Arena was a great chance to learn about Ajax and its history in the Netherlands and in Europe. However, we did think that the tour was quite long but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. After the tour, you have the chance to buy any Ajax memorabilia that you would like to take home or just continue to browse around the arena.

Our experience of the nightlife in Amsterdam is a bit of a mixed bag. In other European cities, we have regularly signed up to the pub crawls as they really have made our nights amazing. However, the one we signed up to at our hostel was a little disappointing. One of the reasons for this was because we were so hyped due to how good Lisbon was, that we thought Amsterdam would live up to the hype. Unfortunately, this was not the case as it only took us to really small bars and you didn’t get many free drinks for the money you paid like other cities. Nevertheless, the pub crawl did attract many people and offered a great chance to get to mingle with people from around the world. With all being said, we did have some great time in Amsterdam, and depending on what you’re wanting from your night, Amsterdam can be a great night out.

Let’s be honest one of the reasons many people go to Amsterdam is to smoke weed, see the red-light district and the night life. If you’re reading this and thinking “Yes, that’s me!” then you’ll be happy to know that coffee shops are all over the city. No matter where you are you’re always close to a coffee shop. If you just want to have a chilled-out day, then visiting one or a few of these is a way to accomplish that.

Amsterdam Central Station
Central Station

Finally, Amsterdam’s escape rooms are something a little different that you might want to try. If you’ve never heard of an escape room, it’s a room where you have to complete a series of tasks to get out. After first completing our first one in Riga, we got quite addicted to trying them. The Amsterdam one was great fun (We won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers should you want to try it), and we would recommend trying one! Although they can be a little pricey, if you have an hour to burn then it’s a great away of passing the time and testing your knowledge with your friends.

Although a bit on the expensive side, Amsterdam can offer you a different type of experience to other capital cities in Europe, with many different opportunities for you to explore. If you’re looking for a short weekend getaway then Amsterdam can certainly be a great one!

View the rest of our Amsterdam pictures here.