Riga, Latvia: Art Nouveau Architecture and Local Beer in Riga, Latvia
The Latvian capital of Riga is one of my favorite Eastern European destinations. The country itself is super-small – just 2 million people – and less than half of them live in the capital. The history of Latvia is as exciting and full of events as of any other state and there are plenty of heritages of various cultures left. Why I love Riga, Latvia so much? Because for such a small city as it is (you can cross it in about an hour or two, or even just walk or cycle!), it seems to contain everything – from medieval to modern, from Eastern meals to Western cuisine, from Soviet spirit to contemporary European values.
It’s all there. In my opinion, one needs 3 days in Riga to observe, taste, feel and simply enjoy the most important aspects of the city. Of course, if you have more time, definitely stay around. In any case, I made a small plan for those who have to spend 3 days of Riga and listed all the “musts” one should do there.
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3 Days in Riga: Top Things to Do in Latvia’s Capital
Day 1. Central Market, Moscow forstadt
The district of the Central Bus station and the Railway station are among my favorite areas of the city. Although to many it seems too shady and too much of a USSR kind of thing, I don’t mind. It has some level of authenticity there. Central Market is one of the most significant architectural structures of the Riga landscape. Initially built as a hangar of zeppelins, it was later on turned into the market building as we know it today.
Each of the four pavilions are devoted to a particular type of food – meat, fish, milk, and veggies – and you will be amazed by all the colors and aromas that fill the place. Piles of sauerkraut, high-quality meat, and Latvian bread… Try a bit of everything!
Central Market is also one of the borderlines that separate the center of Riga from the Moscow forstadt – a suburb that was once known as the place where all the outsiders – the Orthodox, the Jewish, the Gypsies and many others – lived in isolation from the rest of the city. During the Second World War, terrible historic events led to Jewish Ghetto being put there. Moscow forstadt is an amazing district where many tourists and even local prefer not to go because of some odd misconceptions about the area being more dangerous than others. The reality is that the district mostly is as quiet as any other. Plus, it lacks the annoying supermarkets that fill most of the areas. Here, you will have to shop in nice, small local stores.
Just wander around, check all the various churches, attend the Ghetto museum and definitely head for the flea market Latgalīte to get some beautiful piece of old junk as a souvenir. Finish the day by preparing dinner for yourself from the things bought in the Market.
Day 2. On the lookout for Art Noveau
Art Noveau is one of the most daring styles that overwhelmed Europe during the early 20th century. If you are not familiar with it, just do some basic research – it’s amazing! The symbolic figures (especially female) and nature motifs suddenly appeared everywhere – in the interiors and exteriors of buildings, jewelry, letter fonts, theater, literature, cinema, paintings, posters etc. The style originated in Austria but it had a great influence in the architecture of Riga that is full of amazing Art Noveau samples. The most famous sample of this is Alberta Street in the so-called “Silent center” of Riga. The whole area contains many superb Art Noveau buildings.
Not too far from there, is the Old town where you can find some more samples, e.g. the building of Neiburgs – Rigas Old Town hotel and restaurant situated in a beautiful Art Noveau house. When in the Old Town, check the Dome Square and its magnificent church. Get yourself a ticket to The Art Museum of Riga Bourse situated right there and see one of the most important collections of foreign and local art. For Latvian paintings, visit the National Art Museum – its building is truly stunning and has been recently renovated. Finish the day with a nice pint of beer at Café Leningrad – a place of the local snacks, superb beer, and punk-rock.
Day 3: Across the River
As the city slowly expands, many people are moving away from the center and have started to habit other districts. Pārdaugava – the area that consists of several districts on the left bank of Daugava River – is becoming more popular among the young people and families.
Take a nice walk crossing the Stone bridge, take a photo of the National Library building and head to the Victory park – a grand sample of Soviet monumental architecture. Then head to Āgenskalns. Wander around wherever you see. Unlike many other districts, Āgenskalns is full of nice, small wooden houses from the late 19th century and there are plenty of trees!
Once you’ve crisscrossed the area, head to Eduarda Smilga street where you will find a nice local bar called Pils. The friendly staff will advise you on the best choice of beer – they have plenty of some truly good drinks there, including products of German breweries and beer of a really nice Latvian brewery called Malduguns. If you end up in Pils during the weekend, you might hear some nice concert or poetry reading.
These are just a bunch of things. The list of places you should visit could go on and on. Plus, it’s a list of my own favorites. I really dislike giving particular advice to the visitors of Riga as there is so much to see and do there I cannot and actually should not mention them all. If you don’t like sticking to plans, wander around the town. Go get yourself a daily public transport ticket or, if the weather is good, walk wherever you wish. Authentic food and drinks, interesting pieces of architecture and traces of historical events can be found everywhere.
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