Once you have been to Riga, just try making a top 5 of places or events you have been to. You will find that it’s beyond hard to leave stuff out past these 5 places, as it is such an overwhelming lot to like there. This list is super subjective, and yours might look entirely different of course, but that makes it nonetheless enticing.
The old town of Riga. It is an absolute marvel. Go see it. I am dead serious. Put it on your bucket list of things to see before you die now.
2. Kino Citadele/Forum Cinemas
A cinema? Yes it’s just a cineplex after all. Situated in the Stockmanns mall, it has 15 auditoriums, all in decent quality with comfortable seats. What excites me as a German to go there in particular though, is the self-service snack bar. It is absolutely glorious. An abundant variety of snacks and drinks in a super affordable price range, all to be picked up by yourself. You go to a closet to take your popcorn out. You mix your candy in a paper bag. You fill your cups with the drink of your liking yourself. And thanks to that, there are almost never any waiting lines at the cashier. Show me a movie theatre in Germany that allows that, and I show you a German hygiene officer starting to twitch nervously alongside other nervous parents and germaphobes, and shutting the place down for good in less than half a day. Seriously, fuck Germany because of this overregulation. I will always prefer self-service and risking to get someone else spit in my movie candy than waiting in line for overpriced, sub-par popcorn prepared by an underpaid, unmotivated student.
3. The Riga Market
The Riga Central Market is the hub of local merchants to sell their produce of original Latvian goods and foods. You can see the market landmark hangars (which actually were zeppelin hangars in WWII, but have been repurposed) already from afar, but as soon as you cross under the railway bridge and over the canal, the fresh smell of fruits and vegetables will let you dive into a world of healthy freshness and regional cuisine. If you are lucky enough to visit Riga during the strawberry season in springtime, you should not miss trying the Latvian Sonata and Polka strawberries. My absolute favourites to try out on the market are cucumbers marinated in garlic and of course the Latvian Jānu Siers (St. John’s cheese), made especially around the time of Līgo, the summer solstice festival in Latvia. It is cottage cheese enriched with caraway seeds and sometimes garlic, bringing you the full broadside of spring taste with one single bite. Alongside Auksta Zupa, the fresh cold soup made of kefir and beetroot, those are my favourite Latvian dishes anyways, so forgive me for being biased about this. Taste for yourself!
4. The Riga Song Festival
Latvians like their traditional folklore music, and they like singing together. In fact, apart from Līgo, the summer solstice festival, it is definitely one of the rare occasions where you can see Latvians come together to sing and dance in traditional clothing. Every five years it is a display to one of the largest choirs to ever stage in an arena (which is situated in Mežaparks), and if you already watch one of the youtube videos (like this one), you might get a remote feeling how majestic this actually is. You need to compete with the entire Latvian population to score tickets, though. Oh, and they sing about sex. Mostly. Because that’s what Latvian traditions are about as I am told. To maintain the Latvian population, which is ever so decreasing.
5. Riga’s parks and beaches
While the parks are hard to miss when you stroll through the city, the beaches are a little outside the city, but easily and affordably to reach by train (about 30 min to Jūrmala, the tourist beach mostly for Russians, and Saulkrasti, the beach for Latvians). The synergy of lush pine forests ending right at the white sanded beachside instantly soothe your soul. The beaches are not overcrowded most of the time either, as Latvia has a huge coastline at the Baltic sea and people can distribute fairly well along the 530 km of white sand.
Mežaparks is a huge forest city and recreational area which is also housing the Riga zoo, but the park at the Ķīšezers lakeside and the homes in the lush forests are a nice sight by itself. It is considered one of the most expensive living areas in Riga though, so forget ever owning real estate there.
The Open-air Ethnographic Museum of Latvia
I admit that I am a sucker for all things ethnographic and humans history. Seeing how Latvians lived in days long past is just something that is sucking me in, and the Ethnographic Museum of Latvia is doing an excellent job of taking me on a ride in a time machine. Cuddled at the lakeside of Lake Jugla, it is bringing the living styles of all of Latvians regions together, with original homesteads meticulously rebuilt in the museum. Folk artisans are displaying their craftsmanship during the entire summer season, from blacksmithing over pottery to weaving and woodworking. Come along, let yourself get pulled in just like I do.
That’s it! Those are my top 5! It might tell a lot about me and my passions. How about you? What are your favourite things to see in Riga?