Your mini guide to: Riga
Latvia’s capital city may seem quiet and austere at first, but look a little deeper, and you’ll find a vibrant, cosmopolitan place that beckons to be explored
The largest city in the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Riga stands beside its namesake stretch of sea, the Gulf of Riga, and is split in two by the mighty Duagava River. Gothic spires dominate its skyline, and architectural wonders flank its maze of cobblestoned streets.
Days are best spent wandering the alleys while browsing markets and cutting-edge art centres, and allowing for sufficient time spent on comfy couches in cosy coffee shops. Come nightfall, join locals and resident Germans, Swedes, Russians and Poles in underground taverns, hip bars or Scandi-slick restaurants.
WAYS TO EXPLORE
Take to the water
Hop aboard a canal boat, such as ‘Darling’ or ‘Maria’, and sail along the Duagava River for a sight-seeing cruise of Riga’s historical landmarks.
Walk and talk
From meandering along the narrow streets of the Medieval Old Town to curated shopping excursions, Discover Latvia offers a range of informative guided tours.
Eat Riga offers a number of gourmet adventures. Learn to cook with a local chef, let your taste-buds do the exploring during the Feast for a Day tour or head to a local hops brewery.
Head to the top of St Peter’s Church to take in breathtaking views of the city. There’s a lift, which means no stairclimbing.
Screaming masks, wicked goblins, phoenix-women, slithering snakes, lions, griffins, peacocks… the list of sculptures adorning the Art Nouveau buildings along Alberta Street is remarkable. You could spend hours staring at all the details on the various façades, most of which were designed by architect Mikhail Eisenstein, who gifted this must-see lane to Rīga on its 700th anniversary.
The Three Brothers
Situated at numbers 17, 19 and 21 Maza Pils Street, this trio of houses line up in an Instagram-friendly row. The buildings illustrate Old Rīga’s diverse collection of architectural styles dating from the 15th and 17th centuries. No 17 is over 600 years old, making it the oldest dwelling in town.
House of the Blackheads
Built in the mid 14th century as a house for unmarried German merchants, the original structure was bombed in ’40s and flattened under Soviet rule a few years later. Fortunately, the original blueprints survived the destruction and a replica of this architectural masterpiece, which features a variety of styles and artistic trends of various periods, was completed in 2001 for Rīga’s 800th birthday.
Latvian National Museum of Art
The Baroque exterior of this venue, the country’s main art gallery, is just as impressive as the collection of 18th-20th century artworks that can be found inside. Visitors enter into an opulent foyer with a sweeping staircase that unites two levels of permanent exhibitions. Head to the basement, or to level 4, and you’ll be surprised by the ultra-modern white spaces, transparent glass floors and overall contemporary design.
Latvian National Opera
As one of the finest opera companies in all of Europe, Latvia’s pride and joy is also home to the Rīga Ballet. The season runs from September to June, during which time around six new productions will take to the stage.
It’s close to impossible to miss this landmark, which towers above the city between Old and Central Riga. Affectionately known as ‘Milda’, the monument was erected in 1935 in place of a statue of Russian ruler Peter the Great.
At the base of the monument there are granite friezes of nationals singing and fighting for their freedom. A copper female Liberty stands perched on top holding three gold stars in her hands.
Look out for Cat House, which is known for its two spooky feline sculptures standing on its roof. Ask any local to recount the legend surrounding these curious creatures.
The shops lining Tērbatas and K. Barona streets in the Old Town should be first on your list. At the former, look out for Paviljons that showcase the work of a number of local fashion designers. Concept store 8Rooms in the Galleria Riga shopping centre features Baltic designers.
For ‘traditional’ products
Discover Latvian wooden and glass interior objects and gifts in the Riija shop on Tērbatas Street, or for more modern designs head to Pienene in the Old Town. This café-shop has a beautiful collection of authentic local eco products including pottery and ceramics, cosmetics, design items, various dainties, and herbal teas.
This complex is spread across a collection of renovated warehouses, which are currently home to a contemporary art gallery, theatre and concert hall. Open-air screenings also take place there, as does the bustling Riga Flea Market – the ideal place for getting your hands on some antique items.
Rocket Bean Roastery
Coffee shops are situated on just about every street corner, and while most are delightful, the Rocket Bean Roastery outlet on Miera Street is definitely worth a visit. Set within a renovated sock factory on, it’s modern and flooded with light. We challenge you to find a better latte in the city.
Chef Kaspars Jansons is at the helm of this renowned restaurant. Its striking Nordic interiors showcase clean lines, raw brick walls, light woods, metals and sunroofs, but it’s the food that really shines. Both the goat-cheese mousse starter served with figs, leeks and a honey reduction, as well as the duck breast with poached plums for mains, are sublime.
Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs
For the ultimate dining venue, head to this vaulted underground tavern in Old Rīga’s where Latvian folk and world music come together with traditional and contemporary local cuisine. We recommend the gray peas and a mound of meatballs served with baked potatoes and sautéed sauerkraut.
The recipe for Riga’s Black Balsam – a dark and astringent beverage made from 24 herbs – remains unchanged for 250 years. Swig it back alone or try it in an infused hot chocolate at Black Magic Bar.
WHERE TO STAY
Housed in an ornate 19th century building, this plush hotel opened late last year. It’s situated in the heart of the city, just opposite the opera house and is within walking distance of all Riga’s major sights. Its Amber Restaurant and Grand Bar are both lively spots and the on-site spa impresses with its lap pool, experience showers, steam rooms and saunas.
This boutique hotel forms part of the Bergs Bazaar – a charming complex with designer shops and cafés. Book one of the splendid suites, and don’t miss an evening of fine dining at the property’s renowned restaurant.
Just a two-minute walk from Riga’s cathedral, this stylish abode showcases a number of stunning period features – think restored 18th century ceiling paintings, and an original 18th century wooden staircase – alongside contemporary designer touches. On-site restaurant Le Dome, is often said to be the town’s leading spot for seafood.