Riga is the most popular travel destination in Latvia, it has been flourishing in the past few years, along with fellow Baltic capitals Tallinn and Vilnius, as Latvia’s economy enjoys the boosts in tourism, foreign investment and number of cheap inbound flights that come from joining the Europe.
When visiting Riga, time is essential: tourist spending a whole week in the city is more likely to discover the hidden gems of Riga than a casual weekender, who is still more likely to see more than the stag weekender, mainly due to the somewhat essential challenge of waking up before the museums close. Nonetheless, even the most pressed for time can discover the charms of Riga’s Old Town and perhaps see some of the stunning architecture of the Art Nouveau District. If staying for a few days, a venture into the Central District is well worth the walk, and a day-trip to beautiful Jurmala beach resort well worth the train ride.
Naturally, the life of the city begins in the Old Town, where most of the popular clubs and bars are situated, as well as a smorgasbord of restaurants serving Latvian food and just about any other cuisine imaginable. The area also houses hotels and hostels aplenty. Unlike its sleepier neighbor Vilnius, Riga’s nightlife flourishes seven days a week, often into the wee morning hours.
Along with art and architecture lovers, nature lovers will find something to praise in Latvia’s capital; 54.2% of the area of the city is made up of so-called “blue zones” (rivers, lakes and canals) and “green zones” (woodland, parks and urban squares). Perhaps the most noticeable is the Bastejkalns Park, which connects the Old Town with the Central District. Even in the winter its many benches are inviting for a rest with a warm cup of tea, and in the summer one can lay out in the sun with a good book or picnic.
Though the majority of Riga’s attractions lie on the right bank of the Daugava, a venture over the pedestrian-friendly Akmens bridge, which conveniently begins at the edge of the Town Hall Square and provides a dramatic view of both the iron giant that is the Railway bridge and the geometrically stunning modern Vansu Bridge, is worth it for the view of the Riga skyline alone. Left bank Riga itself boasts enormous parks and Kipsala Island, home of the International Exhibition Centre where many interesting events take place.
Back to the right bank of the city, one can venture first to the enormous zeppelin hangars-turned shoppers’ orgy that is the Riga Central Market to find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to DVDs. The Central Market’s hangars are impossible to miss, but just in case you get lost then simply venture towards the Central Train Station, which is right next to the market. Behind the train station lie several mementos of Riga’s Soviet past.