A weekend in Riga, Latvia

This past weekend I went on a quick weekend trip to Riga in Latvia with some friends. Why Latvia, I hear you ask? Good question. The criteria for our destination were this: it had to be a country we hadn’t been to before, it had to hold a Christmas market and it needed to be cheap. With return flights on Wizz Air for under £65 including all fees and charges, and 2 nights in a boutique hotel for just £41.18 each (we booked the Monte Kristo through Expedia), Riga was the winning option for a weekend getaway. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to do research on this Baltic city, so on Friday morning, just hours before my flight departed from Luton I sent a cry for help on twitter, and immediately received a wealth of recommendations from locals and fellow travellers alike.

We ended up having an amazing time in the charming city of Riga, and although we had very little time, we did pack a lot in…mostly food & drink related, but we saw a lot on our gastronomic journey too! Here’s a quick guide of the best places to eat and drink, as well as a few things to see if you spend a weekend in Latvia’s capital city:

Eat & Drink:

For your morning caffeine hit: Coffee Inn, various locations (thanks to Arjan Tupan for this recommendation)

Start your day lounging on one of the comfortable sofas in this funky, quirky cafe. The coffee is good, and they serve what has to be my new favourite flavoured coffee: Bounty latte. Genius!

Bounty latte at Coffee Inn

For tapas and fabulous winesTinto, Elizabetes Iela 61 (thanks to Marta at Spotted by Locals)

We stopped here for a quick glass of wine and ended up devouring countless tapas and two really nice bottles of red. We happened to be there during their ‘wine happy hour’ (12:00 – 15:00), where bottles of wine are around 6 LVL cheaper than usual (the regular prices ranged from around 12 LVL to 45 LVL). Their selection was impressive; the wine store boasts over 300 different wines from all over the world and although both of the bottles we chose were at the budget end of the scale, we were really impressed with our French Fitou and Malbec.

We ordered a few tapas (priced between 0.55 LVL and 1.10 LVL) just to keep us going until dinner, but as soon as we tasted them we doubled the order as they were too delicious to just have one bite each. The clear winner for all of us was the goat cheese with honey glaze and eruka leaves. Wow! The cheese had a hint of garlic which somehow made the flavours a perfect match, and we were all in agreement that it was basically the highlight of our entire trip. Yes, that’s how much we love food!

divine goat cheese tapas

For a drink with a difference: Skyline Bar in the Radisson Blu, Elizabetes Iela 55 (thanks to The Aussie Nomad)

The modern and funky Skyline bar boasts the best views of Riga, and is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down whilst sipping a fabulous cocktail. This is certainly not the cheapest place to drink (entry is 2 LVL each and drinks are around 5 LVL) but the stunning view makes the additional cost worthwhile. There were so many delicious-sounding drinks on the menu, but I settled on one called Riga’s Knockout, which contained Riga Black Balsam & sparkling wine. It was fairly potent but not at all unpleasant, and I was glad to be able to try the local drink whilst I was in the city.

incredible view from Skyline Bar

the Skyline bar

Riga's Knockout

–  For a delicious meal in the Old Town: Domini Canes, Skārņu Iela 18/20 (recommended to us by a friend)

The food at this popular restaurant is not traditional Latvian fare; it’s considered to be an international menu but really it’s just great, flavoursome food. The interior of Domini Canes is small but modern and relaxed; the menu is not extensive but each dish sounds divine, prices are reasonable (main courses average 5 – 7 LVL) and the Old Town location makes it an ideal choice for tourists looking for a great dinner after walking around all day. I ordered the chanterelle risotto with garlic butter–roasted chicken breast which was packed with flavour and beautifully presented, and for dessert I shared (it could be argued that sharing is not an appropriate word for the proportion I ate) a chocolate fondant which was devoured in a few seconds flat. Yum.

dinner at Domini Canes

For Glühwein by an open fire: Christmas market at Livu Square

Before we arrived in Riga I thought there was only one Christmas market, but as we walked around the city we came across three separate markets; it’s little wonder that Latvia celebrates Christmas well: in 1510 the world’s first decorated Christmas tree was made in Riga! The market in Livu Square was the closest to our hotel and there was a cosy but temporary restaurant set up in the corner of the square complete with an open fire, blankets to keep customers warm and thick wooden tables which we later discovered were old Singer sewing tables. We ordered glühwein, which was much better than the mulled wine we had enjoyed in London, and we ate Christmas sausages and potato pancakes which were hearty and delicious; I’d recommend stopping here to warm up after a stroll through the charming little market stalls.

Glühwein

Christmas sausages & potato pancakes

See:

As our visit to Riga was short, we decided against attempting any day trips away from the capital city, and tried to enjoy the sights by strolling around leisurely and taking it all in, which we found to be a great way to see the city. There is some incredible art noveau architecture throughout the Old Town which captivated me and had me snapping far too many photos of the colours, the shapes and the quirky little details. There are some lovely parks and gardens around the city, as well as the river which is nice to walk along when it’s not too cold and windy. Take your time, stop to admire little markets or small, colourful roads and appreciate the quiet, relaxed city that is Riga.

architecture in Riga

The House of the Black Cat

A quick fact about the House of the Black Cat (thanks to Wikitravel): This building (also housing a pub of no particular note) is most famous for the two statues of black cats on the roofs. The legend has it that a disgruntled tradesman who was not accepted into the Big Guild [Guild of tradesmen], built this house and put the cats on it with their tails pointing towards the Big Guild, thus expressing his scorn.

art noveau door in Riga's old town

Bastejkalns Park

There is so much more to see and do in Riga than I can show in one blog post or, for that matter, fit into one weekend. It is a really stunning city that I’d love to go back to and explore further; I’d love to hear your recommendations if you’ve been there too. Head over to the [a bird in the hand] facebook page for more photos shortly!

Note: 1 Latvian Lat (LVL) is currently worth GBP 1.20, USD 1.86, CAD 1.93, EUR 1.43 and AUD 1.86

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