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Riga, Latvia. The Cultural Capital of the Baltics

Alternative Walking Tour Riga

I started off my time in Riga by meeting my group at St. Peter’s church for a free walking tour called the Alternative Riga walking tour.  I arranged to meet the guide there. He told me he would be carrying a yellow suitcase.  The tour starts at 12 noon, sharp.  This was the perfect way to get a feel for the place. Our wonderful, knowledgeable guide took us out of the Old City to parts of Riga that I might not have found myself and if I did, I would have just over-looked.  His explanation of this history, population, culture and economics of Riga and indeed Latvia was very impressive.
Throughout the 2.5 hour duration of this walking tour, I took note of the buildings I liked and wanted to learn more about that I would return to, once the guided tour was finished. Below is a list of all my favourite things to do in Riga and which I suggest you give a go if you ever find yourself in the Latvian capital city.
Old City Riga Latvia

Stalin’s Birthday Cake

This building now houses the Academy of Science located in the suburb of Maskavas Vorstadt. Being 108 metres (354 ft) tall, it was actually the first skyscraper to be built in the republic.  There’s a 17th-floor balcony that’s open to the public so if you get to Riga, get up there and witness the city from such a height.   There are 360-degree views, to as far as the eye can see.  I felt on top of the world! It’s very windy up there so be prepared. But, the views are worth it.  Weather in Latvia is very changeable so make sure to bring lots of layers that you can add and remove to suit according to the weather during those few hours.

Jewish Ghetto of Riga

We learned about the Jewish community of Latvia and how they were forced to live in a Ghetto during the Second World War. It is said that almost 25,000 Jews were massacred during the war.  The buildings of the Ghetto still stand today and are now a museum.  You can visit to learn more about the history of the time.  Brace yourself, it’s not a nice story but something that is important to learn about and know so you can appreciate the small things in life and how easily things can be taken away from us.

Riga Central Market

Is one of the largest markets and bazaars in Europe, with 3,000 stands selling everything from food to umbrellas. It’s actually housed inside old German Zeppelin hangars.  This will give you an idea of the scale of each of the 5 of them used as the market today.   It’s easy to see from walking around the food hangar which types of food are loved by Latvians.  On sale, there are ample types of pickled vegetables and smoked fish.  The main meat on the menu is pork and potatoes are a staple too.  There are some small cafes and restaurants inside the market hangars. I highly recommend you have something to eat in as you can be guaranteed traditional, authentic Latvian food there from locals. I tried a fish soup and it was delicious.
Riga Central Market

Orthodox Church

I’m not religious but I love visiting churches when travelling.  They are always the most beautiful buildings and give great insight into the history and culture of the region.  The Cathedral of the Nativity of Riga is no different.  This building with its gold roof is truly stunning.  Staying with the gold theme you’ll almost need to wear sunglasses on entering.  There’s so much gold, the altar, the walls are all decorated with gold and intricate statues.  I took a few moments there to be in the moment and contemplate life.  I love the ambience inside a church, it always feels so safe and filled with love and hope.  Oh yes, I also got into trouble for taking photos so note to self, no photos inside The Cathedral of the Nativity in Riga.
Orthodox Church Riga

Black Magic Café

Before I landed in Riga I asked in a Facebook post if any of my friends or followers would like to recommend things for me to do in Riga.  One of my lovely friends recommended I try Riga Black Balsam at the Black Magic Café.  I do love a bit of inside information.  This friend has clearly been to Riga a few times. This is not the type of place you’d just stumble upon.  It’s very plain looking exterior doesn’t set the scene for the wonders you’ll find inside.  This is the perfect mystical place to try a shot of the local Black Balsam, which is a vodka-like spirit infused with a number of herbs.  I’m not going to lie, it tastes awful but, when in Rome – do as a Roman! So I tried a sip of the poison and happily chased with down with a chocolate truffle recommended by the staff here.

Folk Dancing in Folkklubs ALA Pagrabs

Basically, do not leave Riga without visiting this place. I can’t bang on about it enough, I just loved it.  It is a restaurant that has traditional folk music and dancing every night of the week. So you’ll get a real insight into Latvian life there.  The food is delicious, I had a traditional pork dish and they have a great selection of local beers and a massive array or spirits, wines etc.  All in all, ALA Folkklub is a great night out with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  I highly, highly recommend you visit here if ever in Riga and be prepared to try some traditional dancing too as the locals will come into the crowds and invite you to join them for a jig.

Traditional Medieval Restaurant – Rozengrals

Dining here is an experience to remember.  There are parts of the building that actually dates back to medieval times.   The menu is a list of old recipes rediscovered in historical cookbooks.  The waiting staff all don clothing from the 13th century. Even the food is styled and served to match the theme of the venue.  I enjoyed a chicken giblet soup to candlelight and let my imagination run wild that my Romeo was about to come to rescue me.  Wishful thinking as the only thing to come for me was the bill, which wasn’t the cheapest I’ve ever paid.

Skonto Stadium

A friend of mine asked me to pop into the Riga team football stadium to take some photos for his Football Insanity Instagram account.  It’s not something I would have ever thought to do whilst visiting the city. If he didn’t request the photo I wouldn’t have went there.  I’m actually glad I did take the 20 minutes to walk out of the old city to have a browse around Skonto Stadium.  I literally just walked straight onto the ground nobody asked me any questions or to pay an entrance fee or.  I sat for about half an hour in the stadium seats and took a walk around the grounds.  If you’re a football fan this has to be a nice treat.
Go home here.