Positioned between Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is the median of the three Baltic States in both size and population. With just under two million residents, Latvia regained independence in 1991 after occupation by both the Soviets and Nazi Germany. It’s capital Riga is home to over a third of the country’s people and some of the world’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture.
Founded in 1201, Riga is an easy city to navigate and flat enough to make walking comfortable. Based at the mouth of the Daugava River, the city is full of parks and its historical centre has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Riga is home to over a third of the country’s people and some of the world’s best examples of Art Nouveau architecture.
Also a world heritage site is Riga’s Central Market. Housed in former Zeppelin hangars, the market is spread over five pavilions and occupies more than 72,000 square kilometres. Teeming with locals and vendors, an estimated 100,000 people visit the market each day. The place hums with people selecting dried fish, vegetables, cheese, bread and meat. Counters of freshly baked pastries and stalls selling chocolate by the kilogram also cater to Latvians’ love of sugar.
A short walk from the market is Riga’s Old Town, its cobbled streets full of restaurants and stores selling amber jewelry. Black Magic Bar serves Latvia’s famous Black Balsam, a herbal liqueur served in coffee or neat. Fine dining restaurant, 1221, attracts visitors for its beautiful exterior and its selection of meats including fish, horse, pigeon and beaver.
Behind the Old Town, spreads Bastion Hill Park, dissected by a canal crisscrossed with bridges. Just beyond there lies Esplanade Park, home to the Orthodox Cathedral and the Latvian National Museum of Art. Other museums worth visiting are the Latvian War Museum and The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Behind Esplanade Park is the heart of Riga’s Art Nouveau district. Around 40% of central Riga’s buildings were designed in this style and streets such as Alberta Iela attract photographers from around the world. This street is also home to the Art Nouveau Museum, housed in the apartment of architect Konstantins Peksens and restored in every way to resemble its 1903 appearance.
The city is also known as a spa destination.
With so many sights to see and so much walking to be done, it’s a welcome relief to visitors that the city is also known as a spa destination. Latvia’s connection to nature and history of sauna culture means that treatments featuring local honey and herbs can be as soothing or as invigorating as the traveller desires.
Words: Melanie Dower