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Your Guide to Riga Latvia
Riga Latvia is very much different from its neighbors: Estonia and Lithuania. Don’t be misguided by people who say they are too similar. Tallinn’s old city is very much a medieval one, while Riga impresses with its Art Nouveau architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Historic Center. Riga is bit more cosmopolitan and well-connected by its port and Air Baltic connections. Riga is elegant—its people are well-dressed, its parks are tidy, and its buildings are handsome.
Our tour guide told us that most people visit the Occupation Museum and the Art Nouveau Museum. While the Occupation museum is undoubtedly important for the Latvian nation, it is a museum of details. If a visitor doesn’t have much of a background of the Nazi Germany and Soviet occupations, they might feel overwhelmed.
The Art Nouveau Museum, however, is excellent for anyone. The exhibit space is a near replica of an early 20th century apartment done up in exquisite Art Nouveau style. Original wall paintings, stained-glass windows, kitchen tiles, and furniture adorn the museum and staff even dresses in period costume.
While you’re in the neighborhood, stroll past the Art Nouveau architectural highlights on Elizabetes and Alberta Streets. These are undoubtedly Riga’s treasure, making it one of the best centers of Art Nouveau in Europe. Look out for a number of Mikhail Eisenstein’s decorative Art Nouveau motifs and compare to those in Jugendstil, the Latvian-specific style of Art Nouveau. Keep exploring around the city—1/3 of buildings in the city are Art Nouveau.
We were also recommended to visit the Art Museum Riga Bourse, but didn’t have enough time.
The quintessential Latvian experience is a visit to Riga Central Market. It’s located in Europe’s biggest market space, constructed from old German Zeppelin hangers. The market is a place you can find traditional crafts like wooden spoons, baskets, knitted wool socks as well as the fruits of the season: berries and mushrooms. Most impressive is probably the plethora of unique dairy products, and the meat and fish.
Enjoy the view from either St. Peters tower, now equipped with an elevator after serving as a concert space or from what is known as Stalin’s Birthday cake. It’s actually the Latvian Academy of Sciences Building, built in the 1950’s, which towers over the southern edge of town, past the market. Both charge a couple of Lats to reach the top.
A stroll through Riga’s parks is a must. Visitors and locals alike enjoy some of the cleanest, greenest parks in any city. Esplanade Park, including Freedom monument, winds its way along the former city walls and moat, capturing the essence of Riga.
For cheap and decent eats in the old town, head to Alus Seta (at Tirgoņu iela 6). I got a big plate of pork, sauerkraut, and potatoes along with a big house beer for less than 4 Lats (US $8).
The market is another great place to eat. I didn’t see too many prepared foods, but there is a nice selection of breads, many from other former Soviet Republics like Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Armenia. Get some local cheese, cold cuts, and salty cucumbers and you’ve got yourself a picnic.
AirBaltic is the Latvian carrier with whom you may be able to score a cheap flight or a layover in Riga. You’ll want a minimum of two days for Riga, more to get a better feel for the city and a chance to reach the nice beaches at Jūrmala. Lux/SimpleExpress and EcoLines also have great bus connections between the Baltic capitals.
Thanks so much to Riga Tourism for their support while visiting the city.