Riga: The Hidden Gem of The Baltics

A few months ago, while heading out to meet friends on the S-Bahn, I overheard a group of people laughing and singing Alt-J (they had just seen them in concert). Shortly after, we struck up a conversation after the train broke down and we were all forced to exit. They were all visiting from Latvia and didn’t know a good place to go out in Berlin, so I told them to join me! They were all so much fun that the next morning, not knowing anything about Latvia, I booked a really cheap RyanAir flight to Riga. When I told Meredith what I had done, she first accused me of being crazy, and then shortly thereafter booked her flight. Two months later, we flew to a country that we, quite honestly, knew nothing about. We landed in a subarctic, snowy Riga and had no idea that we were about to fall madly in love.

After dropping our things off at our wonderful Bearsley’s Apartment (read more about that here), we made our way to Old Town to catch the sunset. Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was also named the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Our first impressions were that the town was impeccably clean, safe and easily walkable (except for the mounds of snow and black ice that we may have slipped on a time or two). Despite the single digit (°F) temperatures and icy streets, we were immediately smitten by the ornate Art Nouveau architecture that was refreshingly unique from our other favorite European cities. We also had our fair share of the local fare, since ducking into warm restaurants and coffee shops was the only solution to thawing out after a mere 30 minutes outside. Unlike Prague (don’t worry, you’ll still always be our first love), Riga never felt touristy and was incredibly affordable. We weren’t sure if it was the fact that you could risk frostbite and/or hypothermia every time you stepped outside, or if it was always this pleasant, but it was so nice to not be constantly fighting crowds. Also, who knew Latvia was such a fashion hub? Women, young and old, were rocking gorgeous fur coats and hats with high heels as they effortlessly maneuvered the icy streets (while we looked like puffins slipping all about in flat shoes and down coats). On our last day in Riga, our new Latvian friends drove us about 20 minutes outside of Riga to a little beach town called Jurmala. The town was incredibly charming (probably even more so in warmer weather), but the beach was unlike anything we’d seen. A thick layer of snow covered any trace of sand, and you couldn’t tell where the beach ended and the Baltic Sea began. We discovered this after trying to walk out to what we thought was the shoreline, but then realized we were already over the water standing on frozen waves! The candy-colored sunset only heightened the other-worldly feeling of this place. We also hear Latvia is magical in the spring and summer months and really hope to go back and check it out when it’s warmer. Friends, add Riga to your travel list today before it gets too popular!