From the blog

A stroll through riveting Riga

The biggest metropolis in the Baltics, Riga is at once edgy and traditional, feeling much smaller than its size if you stay in its walkable Old Town. Blessed with amazing August weather, we enjoyed a long weekend of strolling, wining and dining in the well-preserved and colourful Latvian capital; the perfect stop for a relaxed break, if not a bustling holiday.

With cheap, direct flights from Malta; an efficient bus system getting you from the airport to the Old Town in around half an hour for close to nothing; most places of interest reachable by foot; and affordable accommodation and food, consider Riga the next time you need a short getaway and a (literal) breath of fresh air.

The best thing to do in Riga is walk, walk and walk – assuming the weather allows. One of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, the old city centre is best explored on foot. Stay somewhere in the Old Town and while the time away exploring every unique nook and cranny. What the city perhaps lacks in a long list of must-visit attractions it makes up for in interesting architecture, pretty squares and lush greenery. Popular stops along your walking tour include the Three Brothers (the oldest complex of dwelling houses in the city), Cat House (named for two black cat statutes perched on its towers), as well as the picturesque Swedish Gate. Don’t forget to pop over to the Art Nouveau District for a look at its striking buildings (especially in Albert and Elizabeth Street), the highest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere in the world.

Making the most of a relaxing trip without a long list of must-sees, we enjoyed two delicious brunches after a late lying-in. Handmade Kitchen was our favourite breakfast/brunch spot, with their gorgeous home-cured salmon topping both regular and potato pancakes. We also enjoyed a hearty egg-centred brunch followed by a sweet pancake stack at Street Fries Kitchen, although the wait for our food to be served was a long one.

A cheap and quick stop for breakfast or lunch, Big Bad Bagels is a small, cosy spot offering freshly-baked bagels with a variety of hearty fillings. My avocado, egg, cream cheese and bacon choice went down a treat.

The city boasts a number of gorgeous squares for you to enjoy a bite or drink in. The most popular is undoubtedly the Town Hall Square with the striking House of the Blackheads (which you can tour for an exhibition on the city’s history and viewing of the main rooms used to host banquets and concerts) and the Town Hall – all reconstructed after unfortunate destruction during the Second World War. The impressive Dome Square is the largest in the Old Town, the heart of the city with people and activities flowing in from seven streets. Livu Square is a hub of activity, showcasing beautiful flower beds around the large number of lively restaurants, cafes and bars.

To sample a variety of different food in an informal setting, consider visiting Centralais. The Central Market’s food court specialises in street food from both Latvia and around the world, apart from bars selling cocktails and craft beers. We sampled hearty dumplings from PelMan, tasty spicy Asian chicken wings from Hatch, what was termed ‘Latvian fish and chips’ (tasted like normal fish and chips) from Tempura, and a delicious nori salmon ‘taco’ from Tarpaccio.

Riga hosts a number of speciality coffee shops where you can sip on your favourite brew and enjoy a sweet bite. We enjoyed both the centrally-located Strada and MiiT.

On a clear day, head up to the spire of St. Peter’s Church for sweeping views over the bright terracotta rooftops. Afterwards, enjoy a drink at St. Petrus for some sunshine over my favourite little spot in the city. 

Our favourite dinner in Riga, the Catch offers top Japanese fare in a luxurious and modern setting. We enjoyed gorgeous sushi and other (small) mains washed down by excellent cocktails; the priciest of our meals but a place I would return to.

Bastejkalna park, with its lush greenery and pretty canals, is a must-visit stop in the heart of the city, especially in the early mornings or weekdays when it’s empty and peaceful. The Freedom Monument, honouring soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence, as well as the Nativity of Christ Cathedral, a great example of Byzantine architecture and art, are two popular spots situated along the park.

Folklubbs Ala Pagrabs is an extremely popular traditional Latvian folk club where you can enjoy some typical local bites and drinks to live music every night; a lively and warm atmosphere, if you manage to get a reservation. For a quieter evening sampling local cuisine, Milda is one of the many options in the Old Town.

The most interesting site I visited in my short time in Riga, the KGB Building – also known as the Corner House – is the former KGB headquarters, now Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940 – 1991. From the moment you enter through the daunting door to the well-preserved waiting room now serving as a ticket office, you feel quite transported to the past. You can simply enjoy a short, free exhibition, if you like, but for the complete experience consider joining a guided tour through the basement prison cells, which allows you to truly catch a glimpse into what life must have been like for those unlucky individuals imprisoned, tortured and killed here. (Note – tours often sell out, so consider booking ahead.)

Riga Black Balsam is the traditional Latvian natural herb liquor which we were told we had to try when in Riga. There is probably no better place to try it than Black Magic Bar, with the unique atmosphere of its underground bar hidden behind a bookshelf that will give you serious Hogwarts-potions-class vibes. Perhaps keep one of the shops chocolate truffles handy just in case the bitter drink is not to your taste.

With a slow-paced break in mind, we found we had enough to do in 2.5 days in Riga between strolling around the picturesque streets and stuffing our faces with food. However, there is plenty more to see and do away from the Old Town centre if you want to further fill up your time. If you want to venture further, look into a short trip outside the city to popular spots such as Jurmala beach or the Kemeri National Park, or consider a longer trip in Latvia to take in more of what the country has to offer elsewhere.

Until the next adventure!

K x