It might be the largest city in the Baltic States, but Riga retains a whimsical charm that no amount of economic growth or frenetic construction can dilute. With its UNESCO-listed Old Town, staggeringly beautiful art nouveau architecture and electrifying nightlife culture, this is a place to come back to time and time again.
Central Riga is one big aesthetic banquet, so it’s no surprise that this culturally minded city has something of an obsession with the arts. Get the story behind its most iconic buildings at the Riga Art Nouveau Centre (Alberta iela 12) and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Skārņu iela 10/20) – then head to the Latvian National Museum of Art (Krišjāņa Valdemāra iela 10a) to gorge on an impressive selection of historic Russian and Latvian paintings. The recently opened Art Museum Riga Bourse (Doma laukums 6) is the hottest new hangout for visiting culture junkies.
A short break to Riga from Glasgow Airport is the perfect chance to indulge your inner Anna Wintour. The city once dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’ is awash with quirky little fashion boutiques, including art nouveau shoe gallery Madam Bonbon (Alberta iela 1-7a) and jewellery store Tornis (Grēcinieku iela 11-2). Bookworms can lose themselves in Jāņa Sēta (Elizabetes iela 83/85), the largest travel bookshop in the Baltics.
Riga is the gastronomic centre of Latvia, with an increasingly eclectic line-up of cafés, restaurants and markets. Traditional Baltic grub is the theme at the LIDO Atpūtas Centrs (Krasta iela 76), where the buffet yields up delicacies such as cold beet soup and pork tongue, and waitresses clad in frilly milkmaid outfits serve craft beer to thirsty patrons. You won’t find a hint of such kitsch at Istaba (Krišjāņa Barona iela 31a), a funky loft restaurant floating above an alternative art gallery, with dishes dreamed up by celebrity chef Mārtiņš Sirmais. The local secret is Dorian Gray (Mazā Muzeja iela 1), where intellectuals linger over cups of hot, strong coffee.