The city of Riga, conveniently located in the middle of the Baltic States, has been a destination for travellers for centuries, and even today many travellers repeatedly visit the Latvian capital. If you are one of those who has been to Riga many times but hasn’t really seen much more than the medieval old town, then it is worth giving Riga another chance to sweep you off your feet.
The Latvian capital is affectionately called “Little Berlin” for a reason – the cultural spirit that has emerged in recent years is certainly worth checking out and many creative locals are definitely worth meeting.
New breath for old buildings
The surroundings of Miera Street can be considered the centre of alternative culture in Riga. If you step into the courtyard of house number 34, the lively Tallinas Pagalms cultural quarter will open up its heart to you. The quarter, which was opened in 2018, is a creative place, where you can dance on the first floor, enjoy the pub atmosphere on the second floor, and play table games or computer games with friends on the third floor. Of course, Tallinas Pagalms also offers a versatile cultural programme. From 23rd to 25th August, the quarter will host the European Street Food Awards Festival, offering a food experience for both professionals and regular food lovers.
Kaņepes cultural centre, located at Skolas Street 15, has been Riga’s hipster hub for years. A hundred years ago, Baltic German aristocratic social events took place in this historic building. After the independence of Latvia it was a bohemian gathering place, and there has also been an art and music school there. In 2012, cultural activists took over what was an empty building and nowadays the Kanepes culture house is considered one of the most lively spots in Riga. Every week there is something happening there, be it a concert, a movie night, a poetry night or a heated debate. On summer evenings, the main activities take place in the in the cosy courtyard filled with street art; lively music and chatter point you to the right direction, so you will definitely be able to find it from the street.
Peaceful rural life in the middle of the city
The Kalnciema wooden-house district on the other side of the River Daugava is a refreshing change to the tourist flow in Riga Old Town. The heart of the quarter is the intersection of Kalnciema Street and Melnsila Street, where you can find a small, but impressive square in the midst of 19th-century wooden houses. Every Saturday, the square is filled with traders – in the street market you can taste traditional Latvian delicacies as well as modern exotic cuisine, eye the crafts of local artists or simply enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the people passing by in this quaint small place. Kalnciema Square also offers movies, open-air concerts and theatre performances. As in any other community centre, here there is a lively cultural life and active local people who are proud of their homeland. While walking down the side streets, you will see wooden houses that are still waiting for the restorer’s touch, but are still charming, nonetheless.
Hipsters’ address book
If you are in search of good coffee, you should visit one of the two Rocket Bean Roastery cafés in Riga. The roastery, built in an old factory building, can be considered the pioneer of modern coffee culture in Riga, which has now become one of the most loved meeting places for locals. The café menu has been assembled by a Michelin-experienced chef, and the baristas welcome customers with a sparkle in their eyes, which becomes even brighter when they talk about coffee! A special roasted coffee blend makes a great souvenir to take with you from this café.
Another local favourite is Vest, located on Stabu Street, where you can feel the breathtaking contemporary urban atmosphere of Riga. It is open from 10 in the morning until late at night, and you can go there for quick morning coffee, a peaceful and healthy lunch, or a drink in the evening. The cosy bar Pagalms (which means courtyard in English) is a pleasant place in the city centre next to the Latvian National Theatre building, where you can take time off and wave to the people passing by on boats on the Pilsetas Canal. Pagalms is also known for its rich brunches.
In case the weather is rainy, you could visit a cinema instead of shops or cafés. The Splendid Palace, which opened at the beginning of the last century, is a cinema with no place for popcorn, where next to the amazing cinema experience you can enjoy the proud Rococo interior. The cinema house was officially opened in 1923, when it was the first purpose-built cinema building in Riga. In order to fully enjoy the beauty of this cinema, it is worth seeing the films that are shown in the big hall, although occasionally you may instead also have an opportunity to see concert and theatre performances that take place here.
Author: Therese Uuetoa