Latvia’s capital, Riga is the largest city in the Baltics, with a lively yet effortlessly cool atmosphere. Founded in 1201, the city has a rich history, and the old town is a UNESCO world heritage site. Unlike neighbouring Estonia’s medieval fairy-tale like town of Tallinn, the Latvian capital is entwined with more modern architecture (Art Nouveau and wooden buildings), diverse culture (theaters, museums, live music) and boasts elegantly rustic food markets and eateries. While I personally prefer the time-warp offered by Tallinn’s old town, Riga provides a more varied, ‘grown-up’ modern experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. Here’s 5 things I wouldn’t miss on a trip to Riga!
1. Stay in the Art Nouveau area
I’d recommend staying in Riga’s Art Nouveau district as you are surrounded by beautiful, intricately detailed buildings and many restaurants, cafes and trendy little shops. The old town is also within walking distance. Street names to look out for include Strelnieku iela, Dzirnavu iela and Alberta iela.
In terms of eateries, we loved Mr. Fox for breakfast (vegetarian/vegan friendly), PiraniJa for pizza (they have tables inlaid with board games!), Burga for excellent value drinks and burgers as well as many traditional Latvian meals in a pub atmosphere. A few places that weren’t open when we visited (during a public holiday period) but looked ace were Alberta 13 for more upmarket Latvian food, Rasols (Strēlnieku iela 9) for ridiculously cool drinks atmosphere and Šeila Raw for vegan/raw treats and beautiful handmade items.
2. Explore the Old Town
One of the few things I knew that I wanted to check out before landing in Riga, was the old town (Vecrīga). On the east side of the Daugava River, this UNESCO world heritage site is full of beautiful churches, colourful buildings and many pedestrian-only streets to wander down. Some of the more famous buildings include St Peter’s Church, the Cat House and the Building of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, And then there’s the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians, based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and proclaimed to grant wishes if you touch the animals of the statue!
3. Walk, Jog, Cycle through the beautiful parks
There’s nothing quite like an early morning jog through a foreign land, and Riga’s stunning parks, filled with interesting statues and a gentle winding river, do not disappoint!
4. Enjoy Riga’s markets
On our first day in Latvia we stumbled upon the perfect Kalnciema Street Market (English here) on our way out of Riga. I’m so glad we did as this was one of the highlights of Riga for us. Full of a huge variety of delicious (and cheap) local food and handmade crafts, this is a must for anyone who loves to eat! There’s a plethora of cured meats and cheeses as well as many ready to eat sweet and savory treats. We were gobsmacked by the huge loaves of bread, a quarter of which would last you a fortnight. The market is open 10am – 4pm Saturdays and is a 40 minute walk across the river from Riga’s Old Town.
If you want a market a little closer to the old town then head to the Central Market. With over 3,000 stalls covering 72,000 square meters, this is Europe’s largest market! To top it off, the market is housed in old German Zeppelin hangers which are now World Heritage listed. The central market is open daily from 7am – 6pm.
Riga’s Central Market
5. Take in the view of the city from above
There are several locations throughout Riga where you marvel at the layers of history below and get your bearings in the somewhat chaotic city. During the day St. Peter’s church offers views from near the top of it’s 123m tower for 9€ (or 7€ for students). Given the extraordinarily good value of all other tourist attractions I visited in Latvia, this was exorbitant and the platform at the top was crowded.
If you only have time for one or two options, I’d recommend the others below. Vertigo bar is at the top of the cinema complex in Forum and offers discount cards (pick up from your hotel/tourist info spot) for 2 for 1 cocktails. As these are only 7€ to begin with it’s a bargain way to watch the sunset over the spires of Riga. The Skyline bar on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu hotel is also meant to have reasonable drink prices and an unparalleled view (we didn’t have time to visit).
Yet, by far my favourite experience of viewing Riga from above came from the Academy of Sciences building. As a medical researcher I’m pretty partial to Science related buildings, but this one caught my eye before I knew what it was. It has a decidedly “Accidentally Wes Anderson” look about it (check out the instagram account if you don’t know what I mean) and I spent as much time getting shots of the building from below as I did from it’s 17th floor viewing platform. This platform is very roomy and relaxed compared to the others mentioned above- it was sunny when I went and there were a few locals tanning up there. There’s also a WC at the top, super handy for over-hydrated types like me.