Small, green and beautiful, Riga is big on architectural styles, from art deco to rococo, and edgy art spaces that are currently hosting the city’s first biennale.
Old town hotel
The family-owned Neiburgs design hotel is in a beautiful art deco building on acobbled street in Riga’s pretty old town. There’s a mix of rooms and apartments, all with original features – parquet floors, original ceiling lamps, stucco coving. They are light and spacious (and most have a kitchenette). There’s an outstanding Latvian restaurant on site, with vegan, vegetarian and fusion dishes. Colourful, modern paintings by local artists such as Kristiana Dimitere and Katrina Neiburga decorate the walls.
• Jauniela 25/27, neiburgs.com, doubles from €107
With its neo-baroque facade and neo-rococo interior, the Splendid Palace cinema opened in 1923. It’s a really beautiful space and still the most popular spot in the city for independent movies. It often hosts film festivals and plays, and screens live opera and ballet from around the world.
• Elizabetes iela 61, splendidpalace.lv
One stop shop
The on-trend Bold Concept Store offers unique clothing, accessories, books and household items by designers from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and beyond. Check out designs by Deeply Personal, a ready-to-wear label by Elina Vanags from Riga, or jewellery from Latvian brand Verba. It feels fun, spread over two floors, with a industrial-chic look. The cafe also sells delicious cake and coffee.
•Terbatas iela 45A, boldconceptstore.lv
Design and dinner
Well away from the regular tourist trail, Galerija Istaba is an art gallery, a design shop and restaurant all in one (istaba means room). Browse the artwork (there’s a new exhibition each month) and look for Latvian-made gifts, from jewellery to cards and T-shirts. The Bufete restaurant upstairs overlooks the gallery and street; the daily changing menu blends different culinary traditions, with in simple and tasty fare. It’s small (six tables, so booking is essential) with just three meat and three fish dishes to choose from.
• Meal including starter and side around €20, Krišjāņa Barona iela 31A
The bar to be
A new addition to Riga’s already lively nightlife, the Brick Bar, built especially for the biennial, will have artists tending the bar and DJ decks, as well as performances, public events and live music. It’s in the grounds of the former Bolshevichka textile factory, on the outskirts of the city, and built from bricks left over from when the site was left derelict. It is the place to be this year, and beyond. There’s a clever roof on wheels, that can be rolled over when needed.
• Ganibu dambis 30
Andrejsala (Andrew Island) is the city centre port area, where the pier is lined with restaurants and bars and sunset views over the Daugava river. It’s popular on warm evenings, and this year it is also one of the official venues for the biennial. Public art works and installations by Karel Koplimets, Maarten Vanden Eynde, Yevgeny Zolotko and others are being exhibited here until the end of October. It’s very Instagrammable (particularly Maarten’s montage of vehicles on top of each other) and the industrial setting means the artwork fits in well.
One of the most interesting galleries in Riga, Alma Gallery, has recently moved to a new space – it’s small and cosy, but stylish. It was founded in 2005 by Astrīda Riņķe and Ilva Krišane, with the goal of promoting new Latvian contemporary art. They represent Latvian artists both at home and internationally, at fairs such as Art Cologne and Artissima. There’s always something interesting to see here.
• Tērbatas iela 64, galerija-alma.lv
The lively Kaņepes culture centre has a great bar and runs a vast programme of events, from music to film, live performances to creative writing readings. The building – a typical Latvian wooden house – is over 100 years old and was once a music school. Open till 2am most days, it is favoured by local artists and a young crowd.
• Skolas iela 15, kanepes.lv
Italian home cooking
This cosy Casa Nostra Italian restaurant, run by Adriano and Sandra, is in an art nouveau building with a beautiful terrace, and serves the best pizza in town. Other favourites on the menu are aubergine parmigiana (€10.50) and spaghetti alla Adriano with mint, chilli and prosciutto (€9.50). After-dinner limoncello is on the house.
• Elizabetes iela 10b, casanostrariga.com
One of the oldest places in “new” (post-Soviet) Latvia, Cafe Osiris was established over 20 years ago and is a much-loved meeting point for creative types in Riga, drawing intellectuals, artists and politicians with its bohemian, laid-back setting. There’s an all-day breakfast menu, and lunch and dinner features dishes from all over the world – from Danish open sandwiches (€10.50) to Greek dolma (€10.50), and there’s a decent wine list. On a corner down the road from Galeria Istaba, it’s an intimate space, with work by Latvian artists on the walls, and a good place to come in the colder months – with a great fireplace, and candles lit on autumn and winter evenings.
• Krišjāņa Barona iela 31, cafeosiris.lv
At a glance
Ryanair flies to Riga from several UK airports, including Edinburgh, East Midlands, Manchester and Stansted, from about £55 return. British Airways flies from Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester.
Early May to late October is generally regarded as the best time visit. The first Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (rigabiennial.com) runs until 28 October, at nine venues across the city. Later this year however, is the centenary of Latvia’s independence, on 18 November, which coincides with the Staro Riga Light Festival (16-19 November) in which visual artists will light up the capital’s buildings, monuments and squares.
Published by ” The Guardian “