Instead of flying from Stockholm to Riga we decided to take Tallink’s ferry, the M/S Isabelle. The trip lasted about 18hrs and was indeed pleasant with everything from check-in at Stockholm’s Frihamnen Terminal to disembarkation at the Riga Passenger Terminal running smoothly. A most civilised and stress-free way to travel.
The ferry departed Stockholm at 5pm and arrived into Riga at 11am the following morning (it runs on alternate days) resulting in minimal loss of on-ground sightseeing time which was important for us given our tight schedule. We were in our Riga hotel, the SemaraH Hotel Metropole, by noon.
While there are many accommodation options available on board we choose an external en-suite ‘A-class’ cabin (pictured attached, courtesy of Tallink). While this cabin type can accommodate four, we found it about right for two. It was clean, the beds were comfortable, and otherwise to our full satisfaction. More expensive suites and less expensive internal cabins are available. We paid approximately Euro200 for our cabin, which I thought quite reasonable for transport and a nights accommodation for two.
I won’t go through, in detail, all the many facilities available on the ship as this detail is adequately covered on the website listed below.
Most importantly, in terms of eating and drinking, there were about five dining options available and a similar number of bars.
Having boarded and settled into our cabin we set out to explore the ship and make a booking for dinner. This duly completed, we settled for a relaxing coffee and cake in the ship’s Tapas and Wine Bar. Later we had dinner at the excellent ‘Dining Room’ restaurant (see below). The food was delicious and the view, from our window-side seat, to die for, as we made our way out through the Stockholm archipelago and into the Baltic Sea, as day transitioned into night.
Though we didn’t partake, the ship has a nightclub (Club Heaven), entertainment in the Starlight Palace with the program billed as ‘a stylish combination of the classical and the modern’, a mini casino and children’s playroom.
Additionally there was a large very well stocked supermarket offering a range equivalent to what you might find in a decent airport duty free.
Oddly, I thought, there did not appear to be an on board gym though there was a sauna and wellness centre (cost extra) and perhaps more oddly, for a ship that essentially does extended overnight trips, it sported a very large conference suite.
The services we did partake of and the general ambiance aboard were excellent and though we had little interaction with the ship’s staff those we did engage with were pleasant and helpful.
Fine Dining at Sea
During our 2015 trip to Scandinavia and the Baltics we took a couple of overnight ferry trips – the first from Copenhagen to Oslo and the second, this one, from Stockholm to Riga. On the first trip, for dinner we had what could be described as a decent buffet dinner at a reasonable price.
En route to Riga we decided to go ‘upmarket’ and, for not a lot more than the dinner buffet would have cost us, we ate in the ship’s a la carte restaurant – The Dining Room (cost Euro36 v Euro29 for the buffet dinner per person in Aug 2015).
The restaurant was very beautifully laid out with good space between tables and was uncrowded. Having booked on boarding (though the restaurant was uncrowded) we secured an excellent table beside a full length window affording us lovely uninterrupted views of the Stockholm archipelago and, later, the Baltic Sea as day transitioned into night.
While I said the restaurant was a la carte there were two dining options, a Pan-European option where one’s starter and dessert was selected from a small, high end, buffet selection with a choice of ordered mains or a full Russian a la carte menu. The mains on the Pan-Euopean offering were also on the Russian a la carte menu and there seemed to be no issue if the diner wanted to mix and match from both options.
We both chose to go for what I (not the ship – which didn’t seem to have a name for it) have referred to as the Pan-European option of starter and dessert from the buffet and a separately ordered main.
For main we both chose the beautifully cooked fillet of beef with madeira sauce, served with a delicious broad bean and slivers of bacon mix and potatoes.
As you can see from the pictures below the starter options were varied with everything being delicious. We could go back as many times as we liked – as you can see I went twice.
Desert was equally varied and delicious though by this stage one plateful and some ice-cream was more than I could handle – a reflection on me rather than the quality of the food.
With a bottle of nice wine (which cost about the same as the two meals added together!) we passed a most enjoyable few hours – enjoying delicious food while watching the islands of the Stockholm archipelago disappear behind us looking forward, in anticipation, to what awaited us in Riga the following morning.
We really didn’t need that coffee and cake that we had enjoyed in the ships tapas and wine bar shortly after boarding!
Should you travel to or from Riga on the M/S Isabelle I recommend you seriously consider this restaurant a an option to the buffet – assuming you are seeking a full meal. There are other options on the ship for lesser meals and of course you could take your own food on board.
Getting from Ferry Terminal to the Old City
Many sources that I read state that it is a short walk from the Riga Passenger (Ferry) Terminal at 3a Eksporta str. to the Old City.
Should you arrive on a cruise ship and merely want to get to the Old City for sightseeing purposes this is entirely true. A ten minute walk, due south, will get you there.
Should you be staying in Riga and need to get to your hotel whether you can (or want to) walk will depend on the location of your hotel and the amount of luggage you are carrying.
To put things into context, the Central Railway Station and Central Market/ Bus Station, all three just to the south of the Old City, are just over 2kms walk from the port. Our hotel, the SemaraH Hotel Metropole, was very conveniently situated between the train and bus stations on the southern edge of the Old City – to far to walk with luggage.
To get to our hotel we decided to catch a tram. Finding the tram stop was a little tricky as we didn’t see any signs for it (presumably to keep taxis in business). A taxi would have cost around Euro7 in Mid 2015.
The closest tram stop, Kronvalda bulvaris, is about 500 metres walk from the port. On exiting the port, cross Eksporta Iela (use the pedestrian crossing as it’s a busy road) and continue east one block to Kronvalda bulvaris (street). On arriving here, turn left into it and continue walking until you cross a small stream. Here you will find the tram stop. See sketch map below.
All trams (5,6,7 and 9) from this stop go as far as the Nacionala Opera (about a minute walk from our hotel) and take around 6 minutes. This is also the best stop for any hotel in the southern section of the Old City.
Should you not have any Euro (the local currency) on arrival at the port there is an automatic teller machine (ATM) in the small passenger terminal. I recall there also being a small café and toilets but nothing to entice us to linger at the terminal. What I didn’t see was a place to buy public transport tickets. Accordingly, we just bought a Euro2 ticket on boarding the tram and later bought a three day pass (see my separate review – Getting around in Riga – for details on the latter).
All in all, the M/S Isabelle is a most relaxing way and one I thoroughly recommend using to get from Stockholm to Riga. We arrived fresh and ready to go!
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of General entries on Riga, Latvia. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Getting around in Riga – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Riga – A Turbulent Past Left Behind?