Published September 10 2016, Scandinavia Standard
The Daugava river rises in the Valdai Hills where it begins its 1020 km journey through Russia, Belarus, and Latvia, passing no fewer than 24 cities on the way with tongue-tying names such as ‘Beshankovichy’ or ‘Daugavpils’, until it reaches the banks of Riga.
I didn’t have to travel quite as far to see the Latvian capital - but I can see why the Daugava does.
Riga has all the charm you’d expect in an eastern European city: a maze of tram lines weaving their way through winding streets, a stunning old town rising from the cobbled stone at its centre, hip neighbourhoods that have that urban je-ne-sais-quoi, sporadically punctuated by brutalist Soviet architecture.
But Riga has even more to offer. It has a thriving theatre and culinary scene, as well some highly innovative shops, festivals and a burgeoning start-up community. There’s also the people, of course. While they wanted to assure me during conversation that as a nation they are entirely unbearable, I couldn't have had friendlier, warmer and more open encounters whilst travelling!
Here’s where we recommend you go on your next Riga adventure:
1. WHERE TO STAY
The Gallery Park Hotel is a smaller, fancier incarnation of Wes Andersen’s Grand Budapest Hotel. And the best part about the hotel (apart from it being extremely reasonably priced) is that you don’t feel like a guest at all. Somehow they make you feel that this grand establishment has become your home. Of course, at home I don’t have a concierge carry my luggage to my room, but I felt as spoilt as I do when my parents cook my favourite meal for me when I visit. M. Gustave would approve!
Perfectly located, the hotel is only a stone’s throw away from everything worth seeing in Riga. All I had to do was start walking.
Krišjāņa Valdemāra vela 7
2. GRAB A COFFEE
Tornis, possibly the smallest coffee shop in Riga, is a local institution and should not be missed. The coffee is strong and the shop’s owners are friendly and ready for a good chat. It’s ideally placed at the entrance of Vērmanes Dārzs Park, making it a perfect pit stop on a sunny day.
Robert’s Books is a little treasure found hidden in a courtyard just off Dzirnavu Street. The cafe was started by an Englishman named Robert, who, along with coffee, offered a library of second-hand English books to his customers. Robert has gone back to England but his cafe and books stayed on. Robert’s Books offers live music and other events in the courtyard during summer and inside when the weather is cold. Try the iced tea!
Tēbatas Iela 2F
Mon – Fri 08:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sat – Sun 09:00 am – 8:00 pm
51 Dzirnavu Street
Mon – Fri 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sat – Sun 12:00 – 10:00 pm
EAT & DRINK
Alus Darbnica Labietis is an impressive brewery that offers seriously good craft beer and is definitely the coolest-kid-on-the-Latvian-block. Street food is also available just around the corner if you get peckish; the perfect evening treat.
Aristida Briana iela 9A2
Strolling around Riga you’ll discover the city’s stunning architecture, especially in the Art Nouveau Neighbourhood. It has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau-style buildings anywhere in the world – they form roughly one third of all structures in Riga’s centre. So for design and architecture lovers this is a wonderful outdoor exhibition that’s totally free of charge!
Riga Central Market – along with the old town – is listed as an Unesco World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. The market is distributed between five pavilions built in the 1920s and 1930s from old zeppelin hangars – just five of the last nine left in the world.
The pavilions are neoclassical and art deco in style and make for a stunning canopy as you walk through the area. You can get everything and anything here: from clothes to fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat and delicious bread. Try the Kvass, a Latvian speciality – traditionally a Slavic and Baltic drink made from black or rye bread.
Paviljons is a fashion concept store that offers an array of Latvian designer clothes, as well as other well known brands. The price tags are very reasonable, so enter at your own risk, particularly if you’ve only got a carry-on luggage allowance. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Terbatas Street 55
Mon – Fri 11:00 am – 7:00pm
Sat 12:00 – 5:00pm