The series “Holiday like a local in…” aim to show you a destination through the eyes of locals living in any European city. Discovering a place’s hidden spots, the things that are not included in any guide book, and the charming cafes with amazing views or the best known sights from a different angle are just a glimpse of what locals can show you.
Today we are going to discover the charming city of Riga, Latvia. It is not the typical bucket list place, but I hope you change your mind after reading all the nice reasons to visit the city. Olga from The Russian Abroad is going to show us what we can’t miss while we are in Riga.
#1. Please, introduce yourself, your blog and the city you live in!
Hi! I’m Olga from The Russian Abroad. As you may guess from the name of my blog, I’m Russian. But the thing about me is that I’m not really Russian but a post-Soviet kinda person: so being of a Slav ethnicity, I actually hold a Latvian passport and I’m lucky to call Riga my home, as this was the place where I was born and grew up.
#2. What do you love the most about Riga?
It took me a while to fall in love with Riga, because, being a non-Latvian, I couldn’t really identify myself with the city. I didn’t even find it particularly pretty, to be honest, and it’s only when I left Riga for good in 2012 and I started travelling around Europe that I realized that OH GOSH, my hometown is PERFECT.
My city actually has a slogan. It says: “Riga. A nice place.” And this could be more true. The city has the most pleasant small-town atmosphere you can ever imagine, even though there’s about 700 000 people living there. Riga has a rich medieval history, that is, probably, my favourite prism that I like to see it through. I love that there’s always something to say about every little detail that you notice in Old Riga – the statues, the spires, the clocks, the streets… everything in Riga tells a little story! And that’s what makes this city so unique.
#3. What are your favorite local meals?
I love salads: beetroot salad, Russian salad (Latvians have it under the name of “Rassols”, but it’s the same thing), cheese salad, potato salad, anything salad. My second favourite meal is cold beetroot soup, which is aaabsolutely delish. You MUST try it!
#4. What’s the best place to have breakfast?
I’m obsessed about pancakes, and I could eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I could even snack with pancakes if I was allowed. So my definition of good breakfast in Riga is definitely the Šefpavārs Vilhelms pancake place in Old Town. It’s a tiny place in the heart of the city that doesn’t even have a website or a facebook page. Pancakes there are the best in the whole world, though.
#5. What’s the best place to have dinner?
The Black Cat House Restaurant, definitely. I always knew this place existed, but since it’s located in Old Riga, the most expensive part of the city, I also always ignored it, in spite of how well it looked from the outside. But then somehow I appeared there by mistake (I don’t know what led me there), and I somehow sat down, and somehow found myself looking at the menu. And I saw that there’s business lunch for less than 7 euro, which consists of a full 3 course meal. Not only it was the best deal I ever had money wise, but the food itself was absolutely fantastic. And the interior is splendid. And the waiters are super nice! Ah, I just love that place!!
#6. What are the top three attractions in Riga?
You should definitely visit the Dome Cathedral – this used to be one of the biggest cathedrals in the whole world, and it used to have the biggest organ in the world, too. So this place is pretty unique.
Then I’d recommend having a glance at The Three Brothers, which are three oldest residential houses in Riga, built, however, in different centuries, so their architectural styles vary. Which is quite interesting to see combined together.
And then finally, you should explore Riga’s famous Art Nouveau District. It’s just full of gorgeousness.
#7. Where can you get the best view of Riga?
The very, very best view over the city you can get on the top of St. Peter’s Church. It used to be for free to get there, but now, I think, it costs 7 euro, 5 for students. It’s a bit expensive but totally worth it. A tip: you better skip this activity during winter, though, because it gets super cold on top of St. Peter’s!
#8. Your favorite cultural attractions or activities?
Riga is so beautiful that just having a peaceful stroll in its old streets is already an amazing way of spending your time there. But of course, there’s always something more you can do in Riga – like going to “Concerto Piccolo”, the organ concert in the Dome Cathedral that I mentioned above, or visiting a museum (my absolute favourite is the Jugendstil Museum in the Art Nouveau District), or eating a crapload of pancakes (that’s a joke). Honestly, though, the city brims with culture from every corner, so every spot there is pretty much a tourist attraction.
#9. Are there any possibilities for exciting day trips from Riga? Where to?
What makes Riga an amazing city is that it’s the capital of Latvia. And Latvia can be driven through from side to side in just few hours. Which means that you can make several day trips in a day, if you plan it accordingly. A more thorough approach, however, would require a full day, of course. You should definitely go to the Rundale Palace, which is a gorgeous sample of baroque architecture, then plan a trip to Cesis, where you can visit the ruins of the medieval castle, and then finally go to Jurmala, to check out our Latvian beaches.
#10. What are the best traditional festivals or events throughout the year?
The biggest event in the Latvian culture is the Song and Dance Festival that happens every 4 years. If you’re lucky to be in Riga in 2017, do buy a ticket and visit a concert – I promise you won’t regret it! There are about 30 000 people participating in the event, which celebrates Latvian culture and traditions. This is the biggest festival happening in the whole country, and people are very much into it. Locals are always in a good mood during the Song and Dance Festival.
Then we also have a famous Positivus Festival, which is a camping/music thing for young people, mostly teenagers, though. Might be still fun if you have a young spirit. But if not, then check out the Riga Opera Festival. Every year it chooses a new composer (this year it’s Puccini), and dedicates a whole month to celebrate his music. A lovely tradition that I hope will stay for in the cultural life of Riga for a long time.
If you want to participate in “Holiday like a local in…” series on Travelling Buzz, send an email to: [email protected] with the city you live in. Currently wanted: Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Paris, Valencia, but always ready to include other European cities. Dublin and Moscow coming next! Stay tuned on Facebook!
Have you been in Riga? What is your favourite place there or the place you would love to see the most?