Today we welcome Heather Hall to the blog, a one-time New Yorker who now makes her home in Riga, Latvia. Heather shares with us how she stays inspired by using her city, every single day.
City Guide: Riga, Latvia
How would you describe Riga to someone who has never been?
Riga is so pretty it defies description; you really have to see it for yourself to believe it. The medieval Old Town is a wonderful maze of cobblestone alleys fronted by colorful buildings that look like they’ve been copied from a storybook. The surrounding city center is overflowing with fantastically-detailed Art Nouveau structures and ancient wooden homes. But there’s more to Riga than meets the eye. The city has a vibrant cafe culture and some of the smoothest coffee I’ve tasted. You can attend world-class performances of the opera, ballet, and symphony orchestra almost year-round, and there is a festival or fair nearly every weekend. I’ve been amazed by the city’s wealth of cultural attractions!
What are three words that define Riga?
Architecture, history, and cafes
What is the one Riga clothing essential?
A warm coat! Winter lasts nearly six months of the year so heavy-duty outer wear is essential. Ladies should opt for one with a fur-trimmed hood if they want to fit in with the locals.
Somewhere super touristy you still like to visit?
St. Peter’s Church. The 360-degree view of Old Riga from the spire’s observation deck is worth every cent of the €7 entrance fee!
What’s the best way to get around the city? Bike, bus, car…
On foot! Riga is a small city that’s perfect for walking. Just be careful you don’t run into anything as you gaze up at all the incredible architecture.
Describe an ideal day in Riga.
I’d start the day with a cappuccino and pastry at an Old Town cafe, then head to the top of St. Peter’s Church to enjoy views of Riga in the morning light. After wandering through the narrow alleys and soaking up the medieval charm, I’d enjoy a business lunch (two or three courses for a low set price) at a local restaurant. Afterwards, I’d enjoy the sunshine in a canal-side park before making my way to the Art Nouveau Museum, where I’d don a fancy hat and step back in time for an hour. In the evening, I’d grab a beer and a live music performance with friends at a beer garden before heading to the river for a sunset cruise.
What hotel do you recommend to visiting friends?
Hotel Neiburgs in Old Riga. It’s located in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building in a quiet-but-central part of Old Town, and the rooms are large by European standards. It’s definitely where I’d stay if I were visiting the city.
What is your favorite place for…
A date night: Istaba, an intimate restaurant tucked away from the tourist crowds.
A dinner with friends: Biblioteka No.1, a sleek restaurant with near-perfect service.
Working: Any cafe in Riga will do as nearly all have free and fast wifi.
People watching: The summer beer garden Egle. It’s set up under a tent in one of the main Old Town squares and hosts daily live music performances. The locals like to sing along with the performers and sometimes even get up to dance!
Shopping (boutique, vintage, chain store): I love the Saturday market in Kalnciems quarter, an outdoor craft fair featuring artisans from all across Latvia. You can find everything from hand-knit winter accessories to jewelry and refurbished bikes. It’s also a great place to pick up organic produce and sample local specialties, like sea buckthorn juice and wild boar sausage.
Your coffee shop: All Cappuccino, because coffee tastes better with towering peaks of foam.
Your local bar: Skyline Bar atop the Radisson Blu Hotel, where you can sip fancy cocktails while enjoying stunning city views!
Your park: Bastejkalns, a beautifully landscaped green space that borders the Riga City Canal (which once acted as a protective moat to the fortified medieval city).
What is one souvenir to bring back from Riga?
I’ll give you two: Riga Black Balsam Currant, a potent herbal liquor sweetened with black currant juice; and Laima chocolate, Latvia’s answer to Nestle and Cadbury. Both products are made right here in Riga!
Okay, now some really hard questions…
We read that Riga is “the 2nd city that never sleeps.” True or false? Really? I haven’t heard that before! But Riga is a popular destination for stag parties so I suspect it’s true.
Being not a native Latvian yourself, how hard is it to acclimate to the culture, on a scale from 1-10? 1. The Latvians have been very welcoming and are eager followers of my social media accounts and blog. They take great pride in their country, and are delighted when a foreigner loves it as I do. I’ve received quite a few tips, recommendations, and invitations! Plus, Riga is a cosmopolitan European capital so it has been very easy to acclimate. Latvia is on the euro and grocery stores sell everything from French cheeses and Italian wines to Spanish tomatoes and Greek yogurt. All the necessities in life
Anything that has shocked, surprised, or amazed you so far? I have been amazed by the rapid change in seasons. Summer is glorious and brief, with autumn arriving seemingly overnight in September. The days grow noticeably shorter and colder until suddenly full-on winter hits in November – and lasts until April. One month later, all the parks and trees are vibrant green and the outdoor patios are packed. By June, the sun is rising at 4am and setting at 10:30pm, with twilight lasting all night. I’ve never seen anything like it!
Winter, spring, summer, or fall? Summer, definitely. Beer gardens are set up in all the Old Town squares and musicians perform live every night. Most restaurants offer sidewalk seating and you can take boat rides on the canal and the Daugava River. On weekends, everyone flocks to the beach, which is just 25 minutes from Riga by train. Because the season is so short, everyone stays outside as much as possible. Though the spring flowers and autumn leaves are worth seeing, too!
Thank you so much for sharing your city with us, Heather! You can read more about her Heather’s travel and expat adventures on her blog, Ferreting Out the Fun, and see photos from Riga and around Europe on her Instagram and Facebook.