Latvia’s capital has a lot going for it no matter where your travel interests lie. The largest city in the Baltics is over 800 years old was named a European Capital of Culture in 2014. It’s not hard to see why once you start exploring the city’s winding streets. Museums and galleries abound, as do architectural gems reflecting Riga’s history through the centuries. But Riga isn’t all arts, culture, and architecture. This is a vibrant city filled with parks, markets, and a growing culinary scene worthy of any travelling foodie. Here are five things not to miss when you visit.
Designed by Latvian-American architect Gunārs Birkerts, the National Library is one of the most unique buildings dotting Riga’s fast-developing skyline, thanks to its futuristic shape and multitude of windows spanning the building’s 14 floors. Known as the Castle of Light, Latvia’s new National Library opened in 2014 and is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. It’s best visited during sunset where you’ll get an excellent view over Old Town from the building’s top floor.
A must-do when in Riga, the Central Market is one of the largest markets in Eastern Europe. Opened in 1930, the sprawling market sees 80,000 to 100,000 visitors daily, making it not only one of the largest, but one of the most-shopped markets in the region. But you’re not heading here to people-watch, then you’re coming for the food. Get lost in this wonderful world of stalls packed with local and imported vegetables and fruits, meat, fish, spices, clothes, fresh pastries and bread, and have an excellent local meal for cheap, beating any restaurant experience. Don’t forget to try the Russian caviar and buy some home-brewed kvass, one of Latvia’s most popular drinks.
Kalnciema Quarter is an up-and-coming neighbourhood frequented by a young, artistic crowd. The area is comprised of several restored late 19th-century wooden buildings where you’ll find an art gallery, leafy orchard, wine shop, restaurant, and courtyard where events are held ranging from open-air concerts to workshops for kids. On Saturdays there’s a small but charming market where you can buy original handcrafts and shop for (and sample) local foods. The area makes for an good spot to hang around among locals and relax with a glass of wine.
The Apsara Tea House, of which there are two locations, is constructed of mostly glass and wood, and is designed to feel like a tree house. The best location is in Barona, which is located in a beautiful park in the middle of the city. Get comfortable among a pile of pillows, grab some blankets, and watch the city go by while sipping your tea or coffee. If you’re not flying solo, Apsara Tea House also makes for an ideal place for a romantic date with your partner.
The winding Daugava River divides the city in two and a walk on either side will give you Instagram-worthy views of both Riga’s skyline and its Old Town. It’s a beautiful, relaxing walk and best enjoyed during sunset or sunrise. If you’re out for a sunset stroll, cap off your walk with a drink at one of the bars or restaurants that line the banks of the river.