Architecture and art, Scandinavia, Things to do

Backpacking in Riga or how to understand a culture in 6 easy steps, for free!

It’s not only refined, but harmonious and curved, delicate just like a giant piece of jewelry about to slip through your fingers. What’s really specific about this city is the way it’s going to reveal to you. At first, you’ll only see the striking beauty of the big picture, but Riga won’t cease to show you its innermost mysteries and wondrous places – all you have to do is be patient enough to discover them all and let them soak in. One of the world’s most important Art Nouveau cities, the first thing you’ll be spellbound by in Riga is the amazing, detailed, unitary architecture, the astonishing buildings thoroughly carved making you nothing more but a passenger to the beginning of the 20th century. What’s next to discover are all the little pieces making up the puzzle, the bohemian streets and craftsmen, its picturesque districts, particularizing every single experience you’ll have here. And what’s most comfortable is that being a budget traveler won’t confine your adventure in the Latvian capital, at least not concerning the attractions you shouldn’t leave without visiting.

1. Because some people don’t get to leave home without thinking what souvenirs to bring back,  Kalnciema Street Quarter should suffice in terms of authentic local gifts. But that’s not why locals love it, but because of the constantly ongoing events – from festivals of all kinds to movie nights – being the most secure source of fun in town. The huge backyard is surrounded by wooden architecture, pieces older than a century, a place where the pop up markets keep happening weekly, so you’ll never get bore while your friends are covering a topic you’re not interested in.

But having fun here is not only guaranteed because of the diversity of the events, but because the local charm of the events: local artists performing here are of great potential and since discovering a nation from the inside is quite trendy these days, you’ll only be pleasantly surprised – people here are friendly (not overly, friendly, so don’t be afraid to step out of your shell!), the art galleries are definitely worth visiting. And if you’ve saved enough money by just walking around the city during the first days, you’ll have the most amazing dinner with Italian wine and tasty local food, while listening to a concert or simply watching the sunset.

2. Before hurying to go to any museums or classic touristic attractions, we’ve already mentioned you should give yourself some time to sink in. The Old Maza Kalna Market is in the Moscow District. A destination in itself, this neighborhood hasn’t changed a bit from the times when it was the Jewish ghetto suburb of the city, a place where only the workers would step foot without panicking. This is precisely why we’d only recommend that you visit it during daytime.

The whole variety of houses waiting to be discovered will welcome you with its wooden architecture, perhaps not as sophisticated as the center’s, but clearly as interesting: a huge range of houses, churches looking very different one from another and yet fitting great together is what’s going to make your trip to this formerly infamous district worth it. In the very heart of the neighborhood is Kelna Market, of which only the name has survived, you’ll find a park and a tramp shop and if it suddenly starts raining there’s no problem, the pavilion in the center of the park is covered so you’ll have a perfect shelter for a romantic chit-chat.

3. Another very authentic place you’ll find in Riga is Rozena Street. If you haven’t done your stretching exercises in the morning, now it’s the best time for them! Not only one of the city’s shortest streets but obviously the narrowest one as well, this is where you’ll find a very appreciated local pub to have a beer. Because it’s been carefully preserved, the street looks like it did during the Modern Age, the only difference being made by the musing coming from the pub, constantly reminding you of the times you’re living in. Otherwise, the wooden themed joinery, huge wooden gates with metal lockers clanging whenever there’s the smallest breeze, barrels with beer and wine, all these seem to have been taken out of a pirate’s adventure book. As about exercising, if you stretch your arms hard enough you’ll touch the walls of the buildings at both your right and your left.

4. A former industrial port of the Latvian capital city, Andrejsala is where lots of exhibition halls, fancy caffés and studios popped up during the last few years, turning the poor Cinderella into a veritable princess worth visiting, especially on sunny days when the seascape is quite a sight for sore eyes. The fact that the project of finalizing Cinderella’s transformation is planned to end in 2018 makes it a place where you can still hang out without being turned off by crowded places full of curious tourists. What used to be a space where all the local artists would perform is now a great location if what you’re aiming for are astonishing panoramas away from the city hustle due to its transformation in progress since it was privatized.

5. In Riga you’ll find that taking a walk on a sunny day is an amazing idea especially if someone advised you to go to Bastejkalns beforehand. And if you’ve got the advice from a local, it would be even more impressive to hear that the rumor has it the place where the park was constructed during the second hald of the 19th century used to be a landfill. The story says that the repellent smell was exactly the main reason why the park was constructed in the first place. The Liberty Monument and Blaumanis Sculpture are by far the most interesting sights in the park, two of the country’s most popular landmarks. The park, called in translation ‘The Last Bastion of Riga’ was constructed from the ruins of the older ramparts demolished during the 1860’s. A very romantic place, the park looks wonderful during the cold season as well, making the perfect scenario for any couple who’s spending their holidays in Latvia.

6. After you got to understand the cultural specific of the city by meeting people and visiting authentic destinations, it’s time to take some history lessons. And the best place you can do that is nowhere else but the Museum of Occupations itself. Culturally rated as one of the most important museums in the Baltics, the exhibits here will tell you the story of a conquered Riga, occupied by both the Nazi regime and the Soviet Union during and after World War II. From weapons to posters, newspapers from the above mentioned times and models or pictures, the number of items on display forms a proper history lesson covering the period from 1940 to the early 90’s. After having taken this lesson you may as well want to pay 2.5 Ls (approximately €4) to see what has remained in history as ‘Stalin’s birthday cake’, the Academy of Sciences. The best sightseeing tower in Latvia is open every day from 8 a.m. to 10.p.m. during the summer months and speaks of the glory of the Soviet Union, as well as the complex architectural style.

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