For todays article I asked the lovely Olga Rabo to write something for me about her hometown. Olga is the blogger from The Russian Abroad. Olga grew up in Riga, the capital of Latvia. So today she is sharing us her favorite things of Riga, must visits but mostly why YOU should visit it too!
Did you know that Riga has more Art Nouveau buildings than Barcelona? Or that the world’s first ever Christmas tree actually comes from Riga, where you can still see exactly where it was located for the first time? Or that Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States? But where the hell are the Baltic States, and who the hell cares about its biggest and arguably most beautiful city – right? Wrong! Rumour has it that Riga is one of the best destinations in Eastern Europe, and I’m telling you as a local – it’s all true.
If you’re lucky enough to visit the Baltic States, do make a stop at the capital of Latvia for these 5 reasons:
Because Riga is gorgeous
My favourite area in Riga is the famous Art Nouveau district around Alberta Street. Which is actually one of the few streets in the whole world to be built exclusively in the style of Art Nouveau. In fact, 40% of all the buildings in Riga adhere to this sophisticated and elaborated architectural pattern, so almost everywhere you go in the city centre you’ll notice lilies, irises, and orchids – the main floral elements of Art Nouveau (also known as Jugendstil). Also, nearly every building in that district has sculpted figures and heads of famous legendary characters, whose facial expressions are the strongest you’ll see and the most compelling you’ll experience. But why should I tell you all that? Go to Alberta Street and marvel at those buildings yourself!
Because Riga radiates history
Riga is one of the oldest European capitals, numbering over 800 years of history. The city used to be a major centre of Hanseatic League, which left a defining imprint on Riga’s cityscape with a nice medieval touch. The historic centre of Riga is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, protecting the Old City Wall, the famous Swedish Gate, the inseparable Three Brothers (that are the oldest buildings in the city), numerous Gothic churches, the Powder Tower, and, among others, the Riga Castle, which is now inhabited by the president. Lucky bastard.
Because Riga is chill
Like any other north capital, life in Riga has a calm, steady pace, which may give a bit of a depressing vibe during winter, but is a total bliss during summer. When the weather is nice and warm (which is one month a year, if we’re lucky), people just chill in the parks, reading a book, kayaking, making picnics, and feeding pigeons. My favourite park is the one next to the Opera – it’s located at the bank of the channel running across the city centre, and is super cute. If you happen to be in Riga during summer, make a day trip to Jurmala, the best SPA town in the Baltic States. It has beautiful sandy beaches and fantastic relaxation centres that are definitely worth the 20-minute drive from Riga.
Because Riga likes art
I think that simply walking in the streets of this city is already an ‘art’ experience on its own, but in case you need more, there are a lot of galleries, exhibitions, and even coffee places that can satisfy your urge for beauty. Cafe Dali, for example, located the alternative part of Riga, Spikeri, is a coffee shop and an art gallery at the same time. Whenever you enter its doors for a cup of cappuccino, there’s always somebody playing piano, or discussing art, or hanging paintings, or reciting poetry. Then there’s another interesting place called Andalusian Dog, which shows on its own example that good food+art=success. (And that people in Riga are for some reason obsessed with Salvador Dali.)
Because Riga has good food
Speaking of good food, Riga is the right place to go and look for it. The best place to try traditional Latvian cuisine is probably Lido – a restaurant chain already known outside of Latvia. As any country in Eastern Europe, Latvians eat a lot of potatoes, cabbage, and pork, but, of course, they use their own little secrets to make the local food stand out in the international cuisine world. The secret that makes you guess, and wonder, and salivate, and crave for more… The secret that makes you fall in love with Latvian food. Ah, that little secret!.. If only you knew the answer!.. If only, if only… Well, that secret is just goddamn garlic. Nothing romantic. Sorry to disappoint.
And yet the city itself is one of the most romantic and undisappointing places in Europe. Riga is often referred to as ‘little Paris’. And even though we don’t have our own Eiffel Tower, you will notice that we look at Riga with so much love in our eyes, and we speak of it with so much sweetness in our voices, than even Paris wouldn’t expect that from Parisians.