As visit to the Latvian capital offers an irresistible mix of old world charm and youthful Baltic energy that’s as intoxicating as its famous black liquor.
The river Daugava sparkles in the Baltic sun as the spires and rooftops of Riga stretch out along its banks, winding their way towards the Baltic Sea. The city has a new found swagger and a palpable energy buzzing through its streets. With the weight of the iron curtain shaken off for good, Riga is the beating heart of Latvia’s Renaissance; vibrant, captivating and full of surprises – and there’s never been a better time to be a part of it.
Old and new collide
One of Europe’s oldest capital cities and a strategic trading port for the eastern Baltics, Riga stands at a geographical and cultural cross-roads. Today, it embraces its contradictions with a playful spirit that seduces and delights its visitors. It’s a city that can boast one of the highest concentrations of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe and at the same time, a reputation for hedonism that attracts hen and stag do revelers like moths to its shimmering lights. And why not? Riga is proud, bold and booming and its fun-loving inhabitants have plenty to celebrate.
Take to the streets
A great way to get acquaintance with Riga is by heading to its immaculately preserved Old Town (Vecrīga) on the east bank of the Daugava river. A gentle stroll around Cathedral Square and its narrow, cobbled streets uncovers charming hidden plazas and an abundance of jaw-dropping medieval and renaissance architecture. However, the jewel its crown is undoubtedly the House of the Blackheads, a striking Gothic building with a Dutch Renaissance facade.
Traditionally a clubhouse for unmarried merchants, the House of the Blackheads’ notorious wild parties became the stuff of local legend, with members of royalty rumored to attend incognito, eager for a slice of the action. It was also here on a cold Christmas Day in 1510 that a group of bachelors brimming with festive spirit decided to erect a pine tree in the clubhouse and decorate it with flowers, and without knowing, created a global tradition that is still going strong over 500 years on.
A taste of the city’s dark side
And while on the subject of high spirits, don’t leave the capital without sampling its native brew, Riga Black Balsam. Created by Abraham Kunze, a Latvian pharmacist, as a tonic to aid digestion and treat colds, a shot of it was rumored to have revived Catherine the Great when she fell ill during a visit here. The potent black liquor, made from 24 different plants is brewed in oak barrels, has a bitter taste with deliciously sweet undertones.