On my fam trip to the Baltic Region in June 2014, I was charmed by Riga’s quaint Old Town the city’s architecture and intrigued by its Soviet past and Pagan cultural prominence that is visible in many facets of the country. This summer was the perfect time to visit Riga, weather-wise because it was pleasant and because it was voted the European Capital of Culture for 2014.
Our small group took a backstage tour of this gorgeous opera house and enjoyed our friendly and informative guide and the sparkling wine that was included. It is definitely worth a visit when in Riga, either to see an opera for about 30 Euros or just to see the building’s incredible historical interior, the nearby grounds and impressive chandelier.
Located in the historic stock exchange building with rotating exhibits and also a few permanent ones, the building’s interior was restored to look 80% the same as it was when it housed the stock exchange. The art is tastefully displayed in order of country and time period and while there are many pieces, you do not feel overwhelmed as they are presented in an effective way.
One of and maybe the most memorable museum visit of my life. The museum is educational and informative but also a very emotional experience. Housed in the old KGB building in Riga, the interrogation rooms, prison cells, administration offices and the execution room where they shot many prisoners can all be seen and experienced as part of the walking tour. The two and a half hour tour is emotional, gut-wrenching, depressing, incredible, terrible, tragic and the history is fascinating as you learn about the KGB in Latvia and the Soviet invasion of the country. Innocent Latvians were taken from their homes many of them teachers, doctors, etc. tortured with sleep deprivation and kept in crowded horror-movie cells while being constantly interrogated for nonsensical crimes they may have not even committed.
As this unassuming club is underground, from the street you can easily pass it by. Although it is more open and spacious than you would expect, it is still cave-like and quite cozy inside. The crowd is hip and young and there is an awesome beer selection for enthusiasts. I tried hemp ginger beer which was surprisingly good and of course I enjoyed the beer tasting in general and the giant platter of food that we could hardly touch we were so full from our previous meal.
Walking along Alberta Street in Riga, you pass building after building constructed in Art Nouveau style. In fact, in the center of Riga alone, 40% of the buildings are Art Nouveau, much more than many other European cities. Along the street at 12 Alberta, there is also a cute little museum in a gorgeous Art Nouveau apartment which was designed by and belonged to the architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns. In the museum you can see the common interior decor of the era and learn about the history of the time period and the style of architecture. Even if you decide pass on the museum, you cannot miss walking around this area and make sure to look up and be amazed!
A boat ride along the Riga Canal and Daugava River was a perfect way to observe the historical fortification system and physical layout of the town and to become acquainted with the recreational possibilities of Riga. The ride itself was very pleasant and calm and the boat was covered in case of rain. While we had our boat ride reserved as part of the trip, for about 20 Euros per person, you can walk up and take a ride and experience a great way to enjoy the city especially after you have explored Riga on land and can identify the buildings you see from the water.
7. Ķīpsala Island
Riga’s Ķīpsala Island, also known as “student island” because of the RTU dormitory, is just across the Vanšu Bridge. It is definitely worth a visit to this part of Riga for a nice leisurely walk. There are fantastic views of the Old Town, the Daugava River and port and best of all, the famous UNESCO World Heritage traditional Latvian wooden buildings. On a nice day, bring a picnic to the beach along the river or check out the restaurants Fabrinka or Ostas Skati for fancy meals and gorgeous views.
Nothing is better than sitting in a square on a nice afternoon in a new city and people-watching while enjoying a beer or glass of wine. There are many wonderful squares with outdoor seating in Riga’s Old Town and there are plenty of provided blankets you can bundle up with in the evening when the temperature cools down.
By far my favorite restaurant in Riga we went to. Perfect for lunch or dinner and while we enjoyed a delicious and beautiful three course meal, the best part of all was the homemade hearty bread with hemp-seed butter. I think I could eat that for the rest of my life.
10. Riga Central Market
Riga’s Central Market is the largest market in Europe and cannot be missed. There is an incredible selection of fresh food and the location is outstanding as the market is housed in five old German Zeppelin hangars. Be sure to go in the morning. Even though there are less crowds in the afternoon, by then everything has been picked through and there is less available and less to see.
Where to stay:
1. Grand Palace Hotel 5 Star
2. Opera Hotel and Spa 4 Star