Riga Travel Guide
The protagonist in a rags-to-riches story, Latvia’s capital has embraced the warm bosom of the European Union, and the ensuing influx of money has transformed it into a wealthy, cosmopolitan metropolis with a big city buzz.
Much of what’s new is devoted to commerce, with glittering plate glass malls and groaning department stores taking the place of the Soviet blocks that once dominated the skyline.
The UNESCO-listed Old Town, almost unchanged since the mediaeval period, remains intact, as do many of the city’s extraordinary art nouveau buildings.
As a result, Riga has accumulated tags such as ‘the new Prague’ or the ‘Paris of Eastern Europe’ - and attracted the cheap airline deals that go with it. Then in came the hordes of tourists searching for beautiful architecture, chequered history and cheap beer.
A profusion of sleazy bars and strip clubs then cropped up, making parts of the city feel decidedly seedy. But a hefty hike in prices is slowly discouraging lager louts in fancy dress from visiting.
That aside, things have remained stubbornly the same, not least in the city’s restaurant scene. Although there are some excellent eateries in which to indulge, the standard elsewhere remains fairly poor. Pubs and bars can range from the squalid to the sleek but as the stag capital of Europe, underwhelming food is found all too often.
Still, there is much to recommend Riga. Its harbour is a thing of beauty, while its museums and many art galleries are becoming increasingly excellent. Within striking distance of the city are the magnificent Venta Waterfall and the magical sandstone caves of Riežupe, as well as a smattering of quaint towns, including pretty Sabile and Kandava.
Riga might not be the new Prague but that’s because it boasts a unique charm that is entirely its own.