I love travelling, so when I meet someone new and we get on the topic of travelling I love hearing about different places that not everyone goes to. I hate to use the term “off the beaten path” so I will say…. obscure travel destination! If you have not yet been to Riga, Latvia I highly encourage you to do so! It is a mélange of history, foods, cultures and has a Baltic uniqueness that you simply will not find elsewhere else.
Here are my top 5 tips, tricks and don’t miss of Riga!
1. Stay in a hostel
This one is especially important if you’re travelling alone or in a small group and want to meet others. I know it is a ‘no brainer’ when it come to meeting people while traveling but at least when I travelled to Riga it wasn’t a popular destination so it was important to put yourself where you would meet people. To continue on that thought process, I think that the people you meet when you’re travelling somewhere out of the comfort zone of “prescribed hot spots” are very interesting and like minded people.
My brother and I were lucky enough that when we went to Riga, we were there the same weekend that many exchange students who were studying in Tallinn, Estonia had decided to make the trip. We ended up meeting a quite diverse group of people.
2. Enjoy the authenticity of Riga
This can come in the form of many things, whether it is the minimal English, different foods or rich history, Riga is untapped. The old city of Riga is quite beautiful, and definitely not a ‘bustling’ metropolis. I think this is one of the beauties of the place. It is calm and you can enjoy the quietness while exploring. I think some of the noteworthy topics are: Riga’s status as sister city with Bremen, Germany as well as the events that took place during WWII.
This small city is a short train ride out of the city. It will bring you to a white sandy beach that was once the summer vacation destination of the communist officials. Now, this cute touristy town is well visited by Latvians and others who are in the geographic region. I particularly found it interesting when we were looking for some authentic food. As in other parts of the world there is the “ethnic food”. For us in Canada I would describe this as getting Chinese or Indian food for example, however in Jūrmala the more exotic “ethnic” food was from an Uzbek restaurant. It was such a unique opportunity to try something completely different, and of course it was delish!
4. Walking tours
Walking tours are the best! If you are traveling on a budget and really even if you’re not, walking tours create such an opportunity to ground yourself in what you’re seeing and absorb the history and culture. An added benefit of course is that it is a great way of getting an overview of the area while not getting lost! I find that when exploring a new city, a walking tour will do much greater good than riding in a car or bus. When you physically walk, you must pay attention to your surroundings, as you are moving at a slower pace. The bonus is many times these are free (though I would still recommend a donation at the end otherwise your tour guide may not be so happy with you;) ).
My noteworthy highlights from the Riga walking tour were: The Bremen Musician Statue, The three brothers buildings, Laima Clock, and one of the many wedding lock bridges.
5. Black Balsam
To all you seasoned travelers out there, I am positive you try the local firewater in each new place you visit. In Latvia, it is definitely Black Balsam. This potent herbal liquor is made by adding many different herbal ingredients to vodka, which then creates a 45% or 90 proof beverage. According to me it does not go down smooth however it has been internationally recognized and has won over 30 awards!
Black Balsam was actually originally a form of medicine! We had the opportunity to taste this at the end of our walking tour.
Funny story actually, a couple years back my brother surprised me with a bottle of Black Balsam for my birthday, I definitely made sure all guests had a shot of it before I did!
I hope this has inspired you to tack on Riga as a destination for your 2016 travel plans or at least made you think about trying something that isn’t on everyone’s must do list J