So why visit Riga, capital of Latvia, voted the most beautiful country in the world?
It seems to be the top destination for librarians and library lovers this summer, with the World Library and Information Congress being just a stone throw away, a satellite meeting in the very heart of the city and the amazingly crazy Cycling for Libraries passing through!
So while you’re here, I suggest putting on your walking shoes and exploring the city. It’s small enough to be conquered on foot and big enough to never run out of things to do.
What to see? Or rather – which areas to explore?
Riga Old Town
Overcome your fright in height by climbing the St.Peter’s church and map your Old Town route from above. The area dates more than 800 years back and is a proper cultural mash-up.
While you’re up the tower, catch a glimpse of the newly built National Library building just across the mighty river of Daugava.
Republic of Miera street
Literally it stands up to it’s name (Miera iela= The Street of Peace). This little district offers plenty of cafes to choose from for lazy brunches and creative shops and galleries to fill up your day. At night it transfers into lively buzz for all tastes of music and drinks.
Riga’s centre is considered to be one of the most important Art Noveau (New Art, Jugendstil) districts in Europe. It consists of over 800 houses to capture on camera, be prepared!
What to eat? Where to do that?
Coffee matters and the place to go is the Coffee Inn. Get a take-away or make use of the free of charge wi-fi . Make sure to bring your travel plugs. We use the European style with 2 pins here. And by the way, my absolute favorite is chicory coffee with a dash of blueberry syrup!
No doubt you’ll be in need of a sugary treat after all that sightseeing. Grab an authentic French croissant at laid-back Cadets de Gascogne. Opt for traditional cinnamon buns at the elegant Kanēļa Konditoreja. Or indulge in one of the [truly believed] healthier cream cakes at Kūkotava.
The Recipe of Riga Black balsam is said to be one of the best preserved secrets in the world. We Latvians believe its unique magical qualities. It tastes great in various cocktails no matter hot or chilled. And where’s a better place to sample them all than B-Bārs where most of the best bartenders in the country can be met?
Also, a must try is the selection of local stouts and ales. You can do that at one of the many outdoor beer gardens open late April to early October. Many of them, especially Egle and the ones on Livu and Dome’s squares feature live music every night.
There’s a saying that Latvia is best enjoyed slowly. So is the food here. The usual visitor’s package consists of piragi, dark rye bread and cabbage soup. All of that and much much more can be sampled at one of Lido’s restaurants (the most local food you could possibly find!). For gourmands I would suggest to go for something contemporary, organic and fresh at Kitchen or 3 Chef’s Restaurant prepared by the funkiest chefs in the country.
Where to shop and what to look for?
Riga’s Central Market
It is by far the largest and probably the most famous food market in the Northern part of the Europe. You can find everything from meet delicacies to freshly smoked fish and gourmand cheeses here.
Feeling adventurous? Try the Latgalīte flea market – no matter if it’s trash or gems you’re looking for, this bizarre little place has everything from antiques to iPhones.
The trademarks of Latvia are amber, pottery and wooden crafted objects. Explore old Riga for a mobile stall every here and there. Turn to the open air craft-fair for complete paradise of handcrafted goods to take home!
There’s a whole range of shops you can visit for some locally manufactured goods. Knitwear both for winter and to dress up your bicycle at Hobbywool; Latvian meadows bottled in natural cosmetics from Madara (highly recommended) and variety of honey products (within a beautiful store!) at the Honey Room.
By the way, it helps to know that the Latvian currency is lats (LVL, Ls) that is divided into 100 santims. 1 EUR would be approximately 0.70 LVL.
Bookstores and libraries
¼ Satori Birojnīca
Birojnīca is a bookstore [slash] officeria. It’s a known place for artsy type freelancers and selected high quality literature. But what’s most important, it offers facilities for remote work and high bandwidth connection for a mere 3 Ls per day (coffee and water included!). Can you imagine your Prezis being created here?
This is an English language second hand bookshop with comprehensive selection of cheap gems. Truly – anything can be found here!
By far the most extensive selection of maps, travel guides and books in the country. Local and international publishers can be found here as well as some unique USSR army maps etc.
And last, but not least … Libraries!
I already mentioned the new building of the National Library of Latvia (NLL). Visual proof of why we’re so impatient about it, are the several NLL locations scattered all over city. The recently renovated Riga Central Library is largest public library in Latvia. As for academic libraries, probably the best equipped is Riga Technical University Library. The library folk here are as friendly as anywhere, and you’re welcome to pop by anytime!
Enough of the city? Well, there’s plenty to offer in Latvia with more than 500 kilometers of white sandy coastline, countryside meadows, pristine forests, scenic lakes and swift rivers.
Pictures are courtesy of my talented friend Silva.
Written by Sanita Maleja, an active new library professional living, working and studying in Riga. You can also follow her on Twitter and say hi when visiting.