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Maybe all post-Soviet cities are being labelled the new hip, the new east, the new funk. But Riga really is throbbing with resurgence, of change, new directions and an optimism that’s hard to miss.
This is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the Baltics – find proof in a vibrant cultural life, growing international influences and a great nightlife. After all, even before Soviet and German occupation, Riga was already a city with impeccable references. This is a city rich in history, once a leading trading port for the Russian Empire, and a Hanseatic trade city to boot.
Today you’ll find a Riga standing proud and free of occupation. There are museums and galleries to prove that yes, Riga has culture. Theatres and hip hotels to prove that yes, Riga’s looking forward. There’s an architectural cityscape that spans styles from Dutch Renaissance to more recent Soviet reminders. Then there are the surrounding forests, magnificent churches and a list of night options that shouldn’t go unmissed.
This is Riga, a city with a big-town feel, but a small city core; a city where the streets in Old Town will still have the local women selling local, homemade products; where you can still find antique knick knacks from the recent Soviet past…
What to see
There are churches a plenty in Riga - check out St Peter’s Church, St Mary’s Dome and the Dome Cathedral to start with. The Dome Cathedral, with its many spires and wooden tower, is the largest Cathedral in the Baltics. Climb the spires for a fantastic view of the city.
Make sure you wander the city’s streets - the best examples of art nouveau architecture can be found along the Brivibas thoroughfare. To the east of the town centre, you’ll find wide boulevards and 19th Century architecture. Riga’s old town, Vecriga is a UNESCO heritage listed site, and is described by the Riga Tourism board as “old, older and very old”. Don’t forget to check out the Town Hall Square at Central Ratslaukums.
If you’re keen on architecture then don’t miss the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia – not only for its interesting exhibitions… but for the contrast of this Soviet grey box next in Riga’s town centre.
A must see is Riga’s public market, Centraltirgus. Housed in old German WW1 Zeppelin hangars (what else would you do with them?), it’s the second largest city market in Europe. It’s worth the trip not only for the fish presented in buckets like flowers, but for the beautifully restored hangars themselves.
What to eat
Food here is affordable… and filling to boot. Try the stuffed noodles – cheap but so satisfying – it’s the ex-Soviet answer to ravioli. Expect a lot of pork, potatoes and sour cream in your meals. What you wouldn’t expect maybe, is the modern fusion coming into vogue in Riga’s restaurants.
Where to party
You’ll find Old Riga happening on most nights, and bars teeming in the summer. Find live rock at Cetri Balti Lerekli (on Vecpilsetas 12), indie & live DJs at Bebo (on Valnu 32) and all night techno and house at La Rocca (on Brivibas 96).
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