Riga is the capital of Latvia, the middle and largest of the three Baltic states. Riga is considered one of the cheapest cities to vacation in Europe. The modern and multicultural capital has a rich history and heritage dating back to the city’s origin in 1201, with towers, cathedrals and basilicas towering over the city. Riga stands out with its unique architecture and is considered an art nouveau attraction and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2014 Riga is the European Capital of Culture in Europe. The sights, shops and cultural activities are within walking distance in this compact city. The old town is quiet and traffic is almost non-existent. Riga is starting to get more and more famous for cheap dental treatment and it is also possible to go there on a spa vacation.
Best time to travel…
Visit Riga April to September because the weather is warm and the streets full of life. Visits off-season give the advantage of much lower rates, but the city is lifeless and might affect your Riga experience in a negative way. Midsummer (” Ligo “) June 23rd- 24th is a celebration worth experiencing, but this is also a holiday so shops are not open.
To travel further into the Baltic region and into Russia takes only a few hours by car.
At night the view is best from the Skyline Bar, just off the art nouveau district elizabete iela (street), but during the day one can enjoy it from the tower of St. Peter ‘s Church or from the Latvian Academy of Sciences viewing platform. The latter is close to the market, opened since 1930. This is where the locals buy theyir groceries and this is the largest market in Riga. For art enthusiasts Spīķeri creative quarter is a must in Riga. With a concert hall, an art exhibition and restaurants one finds enough entertainment, but nevertheless this is not a typical place for tourists. The films in Riga is fortunately not dubbed, but appears with Latvian and Russian texts and are showed int the spectacular Splendid Palace.
A district with a lot of character, and perhaps the city’s most shabby, is Maskavas forštate or the Moscow District. The art nouveau masterpieces are neglected and wooden houses are on the verge of collapse, but the churches still stand proudly. It is also the Jewish ghetto where approx. 29,000 Latvian Jews lived between October to late November 1941. Slightly more encouraging is the major shopping center Mols. To get there take tram number 7 or 9 from the opera to the Mazā Kalna stop.
A notable sight in Riga is its old town Vecrīga, constructed between 1860 and 1914, with cobblestone roads and preserved colorful buildings although it too has been marked by both war and fire. Here stand great buildings, from the medieval, in art nouveau style wooden house in neo classical style. Art nouveau, or the “new art” was popular in the 20th century, more vintage than modern. This style is prominent throughout Riga, so there is no reason to just stay in the old city. But many will argue the old town is the most pleasant spot in Riga. Between 12:00 and 24:20 Monday to Saturday a booming from the Dome Cathedral can be heard. If you are here you should try the cake named after the ancient city; Vecrīga, the cafe is suitably named Cafe Vecrīga.
House of Blackheads is located in the old town, originally a guild for unmarried German merchants in Riga. It was reconstructed in 1999 after being bombed by the Germans June 28th 1941 and since demolished by the Russians in 1948. Not far from here stands another interesting building; Kaķu Blackheads (cat house). A popular folk story is that this structure with two cats with arched back with their backs against the merchant house was built as an insult in protest by a rich Latvian merchant for being denied membership in the Great Guild. A little less provocative entertainment attraction is the Latvian National Opera in Riga. In this unique architectural masterpiece of 1863 wonderful and famous performances such as Othello and Carmen are showed, at an affordable price. On the other side of the scale; visit Occupation Museum in Riga to get a glimpse of a former and brutal reality.
The tawny Laima clock tower, donated by chocolate manufacturer with the same name, is a popular meeting place for many with its location on Kalku Street, in the entrance into the old town on. No fascinating attraction, but a famous landmark in Riga. It was erected in 1924 by the Social Democrats to make sure the cities inhabitants were not late to work. Another entrance to the old town is “Zviedru Vārti” (the Swedish street), and was raised by reigning Swedes in 1968 to celebrate the Scandinavian occupation of Riga. Like Tallinn Riga was once surrounded by city walls, but today it is only this port which testifies of this and the original town of ’68 .
If it’s the architecture that attracts one to Riga then a visit to the city center is obligatory, where most of the approximately 800 art nouveau style buildings and structures are located. The oldest residential buildings in Riga are found here. It consists of three stone houses and was built in the 15th century, called simply the Three Brothers. The art nouveau district of Riga, also known as Riga Quiet Centre is home to several magnificent buildings and the streets are filled with cafes, restaurants and shops.
A beach vacation may not be at top of mind when thinking of Riga, but the city is only short drive away Jurmala and a 33 km beach. For recreation in Riga the park Lucavsala is the place to visit, in summer this is a great beach for children as adults. Daugava River which flows through Riga makes the obligatory sightseeing trip more fun, with the possibility to view the city from a boat.
Shopping in Riga
Shopping is done in the center or in the old town, depending on what you are looking for.
- The malls are open longer, Origo is a nearby option, but Mols, a bus ride away, is open until ten o’clock at night and offers the best variety when it comes to clothes and accessories.
- Visit the chocolate factory and bring Riga Black Balsam and amber back home.
- The pop -up store at Kaļķu iela 3 is the place for authentic and local souvenirs.
Accommodation in Riga
Europa Royale Hotel Riga is a first class hotel. The rooms are classic, with preserved woodwork and charm from the original building year of 1874. The kitchen delivers exceptionally fine cuisine and if they have to they serve the finest grilled pork tenderloin medallions five minutes before closing. Lovely beds and delicious food!
2nd time visit to Riga
For second time visitors who want to explore beyond what the guidebooks recommend suggestions follow below.
- The Kalnciems quarter in the district Pārdaugava, on the way from the airport into Riga, has yet another set of unique collection architecture in Riga. Wooden buildings from the 18th and 19 century, not less than 23, represent Western European architecture stiles on this site . Saturday markets are held twice a month with stalls selling handicrafts.
- The Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum consists of dozens of farms, churches and windmills taking one back to a bygone era in the country of Riga. This is a large folk museum on Lake Yugla in the outskirts of Riga.
- The Gutmanis cave, covered in cave graffiti dating from the 16th century, is the deepest cave in the Baltic. It is said that the cave has healing powers. The cave is located in the national park of Sigulda. This is the oldest tourist attraction in Latvia. In Sigulda there are three medieval castles and the countryside with its beautiful scenery and dramatic mountains is an attraction in itself. Activity and adventure seekers should check out aerodium.
- Before Jurmala take off to the island of Kipsala where there are still wooden buildings, wood being the mandatory – ordered by military power – material for building houses just before the 1860s. Today the area is mainly inhabited by local and houses are private.
- The Rundāle Palace
The Latvian kitchen
Latvian cuisine is today reason alone to visit Riga, but as a country that is bordered by several other countries, there are several exciting flavors that meet and are prepared in Riga. “Fusion” is the new black.
- The famous Latvian-American chef Karlis Robert Celms states the international gourmet restaurant Berg, in the charming quarter of Berga Bazaars, is the best one in town. With a price matching the high quality food.
- A less expensive alternative proposed is the restaurant Istaba. The place has during its five years of operation established itself as the meeting place for trendy and casual fine dining. Here you will find a simple Latvian bistro with a daily changed menu.
- Aragats is an Armenian restaurant that serves simple yet good food. Here service and the guest is always at the center of focus.
- For medieval atmosphere and food the restaurant Rozengrals is the right place for it. The food is served in a stone cellar where wooden tables and the interior match the uniforms.
- Vincents restaurant has for more than a decade attracted attention among the crème de la crème thanks to chef Martin Ritins’ passion for local, seasonal ingredients, prepared to the highest standards. Reasonable prices and high quality.
- After a late night out on the town heart shaped pizza can be enjoyed at LuLu Pica, a popular late-night spot among locals.