As the largest of the Baltic States, Latvia has experienced a huge surge in tourism since it became a member of the EU in 2004. This is partially due to the budget airlines and cheap beer which draw the stag parties to its capital, but there’s far more on offer in Riga than drunken Brits. Seen as an unlikely holiday destination by many, the city is criminally overlooked as it offers the perfect destination for a weekend break.
The city is a European Capital of Culture for 2014, so there’s never been a better time to explore. So what are some of the city’s top sights and attractions?
The Old Town
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Riga’s Old Town is a real highlight and you could spend hours just wandering around its labyrinth of picturesque cobbled streets. Boasting a distinct medieval feel that seems a million miles away from the rest of the city, there are plenty of squares where you can sit and watch the world go by or tuck into a feast at an open-air restaurant. Be sure to pay a visit to St Peter’s Church for a birds-eye view of the city.
LIDO Recreation Centre
The LIDO chain is a big hit in Latvia, and you’ll see many of these restaurants dotted across the city and they’re perfect if you want to sample some delicious Latvian specialities on a budget. For the best LIDO experience, head to the LIDO Recreation Centre on the outskirts of town (tram nr. 3, 7 or 9 or bus nr. 12 to the “LIDO” stop) where you’ll be greeted by a huge array of food and drink presented on several self-service counters.
It’s a great place to go with the kids too, and you’ll find a number of open-air attractions and fairground rides here for them to enjoy.
You might be arranging a city break, but that doesn’t mean you can’t soak up the sun on a beach too. Latvians like to make the most of the fleeting summer months, heading to the Latvian Summer Capital – Jurmala. Just a short train journey or car drive away from the city centre, you can relax and unwind on pretty sandy beaches and enjoy the lively seaside resort atmosphere.
Riga Central Market
Riga Central Market is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe and you’ll find produce and souvenirs from a huge range of sellers. Located in the heart of the city, short a short walk away from the Old Town, this market is the place to go for fresh Latvian meat, Baltic Sea fish, fruit and vegetables, sweet treats and souvenirs. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a great place to wander around for an hour or two.
Latvia has had a very turbulent past and spent most of the post-war years occupied by the Soviet Union. The Freedom Monument is located just across from the canal, and is a poignant symbol to locals as it was off-limits during the Soviet Occupation, and placing flowers at is base was a crime punishable by deportation to Siberia. Overlooked by the monument’s bronze female Liberty, the independence movement began here in 1987, and 5000 people rallied illegally to commemorate the victims who were deported under the Stalinist regime.
Disclaimer: Photos aren't mine.