My first impressions of Riga, Latvia’s capital city, are certainly good. Beautiful, walkable, affordable, cultural, historical – what’s not to love?
Accidentally, I could not have gone at a better time too, the sun played out from morning til dusk over the course of four days while the country celebrated a National holiday too.
Every year on 4th May, the country transforms into full celebration mode for the Restoration of Independence Day which marks the day Latvia regained independence from the USSR. In case that date doesn’t sound right to you, that’s because Latvia has two Independence Days: the 18th of November when in 1918, Latvia became an independent nation for the first time, and on the 4th of May, when in 1990, after being occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, Latvia was once again its own country.
I headed over to the Freedom monument where there was a bass band procession and people laying flowers beneath the monument, a green statue of a woman holding three gold stars on top of a 42-metre stone pillar in the heart of the city.
I stayed in the Old Town so I had many of the main attractions on my door step including St Peter’s Church for panoramic views of the city. I met up with Heather from Ferreting Out the Fun and we went up to see the view together. She used to live in the city for two years so check out her blog if you want to know all there is to know about the city. She might now be an American living in Asia but she jokes her blood is Latvian. As I stood looking out towards the River Daugava and beyond it was easy to see how she could fall in love with here.
If the weather is good you can walk everywhere; across the bridges, wonder down the side streets, laze in the parks and meander under picturesque archways. In fact, I’d say many of the best things to do in the city are free and that’s because the city is famous for its architecture. You simply need to look up and you’re spoilt with an eclectic mix of styles, from fanciful motifs found in art nouveau style to ascetic wooden architecture found in surprising abundance, plus there’s the medieval appearance of the Old Town with its spires and gables, as well as the Russian Quarter home to the imposing Academy of Science, dubbed ‘Stalin’s birthday cake’.
Riga has over 800 art nouveau buildings, more than any other European city. I was keen to learn more about it so headed over to Alberta and Elizabetes street where you’ll see the best examples. I’ll probably write a separate blog about art nouveau architecture which will include my trip to the museum as well, so I’ll save it for later and show you some examples of the buildings in these photos.
I know Riga is famous for its stag dos but I didn’t explore the night-life. That being said I can see why Riga is so popular with these kind of trips because not only is it affordable but there’s lots to see and do to please everyone in the crowd. If two or three people from the group want to hop off to a museum, there’s more than a handful of bars and pubs to keep the other guys happy – everyone’s a winner!
Since I was in the city alone I treated myself to good food instead. Like many Eastern European cities, a lot of the specialities include meat, so I unfortunately can’t give you any tips there. However, after snooping around on Trip Advisor I came across a restaurant called Restaurant 3 which was so good that I visited twice. All the chefs are Latvian but the menu is inspired by the Scandinavian philosophy of sourcing local produce unaffected by human intervention where possible. The staff were really friendly and approachable while being highly trained and very knowledgeable about each course. If you get the chance, go!
For brunch or lunch the best place to go – like in any capital city – is Central Market, impressively the largest market in Europe but definitely not the busiest. Originally used as military airship hangars, the building which comprises of five huge pavilions, were later transformed into the buzzing market you see today, offering new and old flavours of Latvia.
There’s plenty more to do in this city which I’ll write about in another post. But whether you’re like me, and just fancy a little solo trip, or want a romantic getaway or wish to include Riga as part of a bigger European rail journey, one this is for sure, you’ll love it. There’s simply no reason not to.