I wanted to take a short weekend break and celebrate my birthday in style, and I could not have chosen a better spot than Riga, the capital city of Latvia. Despite being huge for its population, Riga still managed to punch well above its size due to its magnificent architecture, irresistible charm and delightful food! It is by no means a big city, which makes it a great place for a city break or even a weekend getaway.
Riga is incredibly pretty with its impressive Art Nouveau architecture (the finest collection in Europe), winding, medieval lanes and skyline of storybook spires. It’s a city loaded with history and is picture-postcard pretty wherever you look; there is plenty to see in Riga.
The largest city in Latvia and the Baltic region and traditionally linked to trade, Riga is a surprising gem of architectural styles. The charming beauty of Riga has been described in many different ways: it has been likened to Paris, Prague and Berlin, since it combines the best aspects of all these places.
Riga is well known for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture, believed to be the largest collection of buildings of this style in the world. In the early 20th century, between 300 and 500 new buildings were constructed each year, melding with earlier architectural styles, such as the medieval guildhalls, in the Old Town.
The city has an extensive bus and tram network that will easily and affordably take you anywhere you might want to go. However, the centre and old town are very walkable and it’s best to get around on foot. If you plan to only spend your time here, you will likely only need to use public transport to get to and from the airport and perhaps to go to the central market, which is located quite a distance from the Old Town.
As can be expected, the most popular area of Riga is its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. With its narrow cobblestone streets, colourful squares and medieval-era buildings, the Old Town is full of architectural treasures. Here, one can visit attractions such as the Gunpowder Tower, the House of the Blackheads, and the Riga Castle, which draw tourists in with their historical significance and stunning architecture. And due to its proximity to the coast, Riga is also the perfect place to have a taste of the Baltic Sea.
One thing not to be missed is a visit to Riga’s eclectic central market, housed in and around former zeppelin hangars. It covers a vast floor space and is officially Europe’s largest market, offering just about anything you could possibly want. In fact, I spent quite a while in this market walking around the stalls and did quite a bit of shopping here too!
As well as a fascinating history, the city’s charm also stems from its wide main streets, lack of traffic and bicycle-friendly culture in the city centre. There is no shortage of lush city parks making Riga a very walkable and pleasant city to get around.
To understand Latvian culture and traditions better, you must get to know its cuisine with all its unique dishes. Some of the dishes might seem odd, but if you are open to an unforgettable gastronomic journey in Latvia, you’ll want to take all the food back home! In fact, for my special birthday treat, I went to an authentic medieval restaurant, ‘The Rozengrāls’, where I was treated to dinner based on medieval recipes.
Another unusual dish in Latvia is beetroot soup, prepared using kefir, beetroots, cucumbers, eggs, and herbs.. At first, it might taste and look a little odd because let’s be honest, no one expects a soup to be pink! However, it’s simply delicious!
Just like most every other major city in Europe, the Old Town does tend to be a bit more expensive than the rest of the city purely because it is where most tourists tend to spend their money. That being said, if you’re trying to save some money, I would recommend looking for accommodation and restaurants away from the main tourist centre, as I did. It will both be more affordable and likely of better quality too!
I was only there for three days but Riga definitely made an impression on me. I really liked Riga. It’s lovely. It’s old. It’s got history, art and culture, and looks absolutely gorgeous. And perhaps, more importantly, it’s reasonably priced. So if you’re looking for the next best European city that’s safe, quiet, and away from the tourist throngs, you’ve found it.