When you're as full of charm and vitality as Latvia's capital Rīga, anytime of year is a good time to visit as Giedre Brenciute discovers.
Thanks to its vibrant nightlife, affordable package trips and easy access from European capitals, Rīga is known as the number one destination for stag and hen parties. But proclaimed as a European Capital of Culture in 2014, the cat is now out of the bag: the Latvian capital has much to offer all sorts of visitors, not just those celebrating upcoming nuptials.
The beauty of the city itself is a seriously compelling draw. As easily seen on a walking tour, Rīga stuns with Art Nouveau architecture and 19th century timber buildings and at its heart you'll find a medieval Old Town, justly lauded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In terms of natural settings, this postcard perfect metropolis doesn't disappoint either. Reclining elegantly on the Gulf of Rīga, the city sits at the mouth of the Daugava River which flows through it and both the gulf and the canals reflect the city magically.
And as for the local population, well, they can speak for themselves. Rīga is the largest city of the Baltic states and home to one third of Latvia's population. Although first impressions might suggest a quiet reserve (at least during the daytime), its hip bars, experimental restaurants and very modern art galleries confirm it as a nerve centre that buzzes with energy and innovation.
Now that we've convinced you of the Latvian capital's irresistible charm, the remaining question is just when should you go to get the best out of your visit? Well, anytime you please really. As Giedre Brenciute reports, Rīga is a city for all seasons with plenty of fun to be had throughout the year.
There’s an extraordinary contrast between the four seasons in Rīga. Spring is one of the most pleasing times to be in the city as it awakens from its winter slumber, nature explodes with blossoms and bird songs and even the people are said to laugh louder.
Spring sees the start of Rīga's outdoor event season which mainly takes place in the city's vibrant Spikeri quarter. Once a collection of old warehouses, the area has now been transformed into a creative district that hosts performances, art exhibitions, concerts and all manner of creative workshops. Bargain hunters can't visit Spikeri without a browse through its fantastic flea market where you can find one-off vintage pieces and retro furniture amongst old knick-knacks and all manner of pre-loved oddities.
One of Rīga's most popular springtime events is Restaurant Week. Visit in the middle of May, usually between the 16th and 22nd, and you can treat yourself to exquisite gourmet dishes created by the capital’s best chefs without breaking the bank as five-star three-course meals are reduced to under €20. We recommend working up an appetite with a visit to Rīga’s stunning Botanical Garden where you'll experience the full glory of the season wandering through its bloomingly beautiful hothouses and outdoor spaces home to some 5500 plants varieties. Then head to locals' favourite Vincents and dig right in.
Summer On The Beach
Summer temperatures in Latvia can rise to over 30 degree Celsius and there’s only one way to beat the heat. Take a dip in the Baltic sea at the famous resort town of Jurmala - easily reached from the centre, or explore the Vecaki and Vakarbulli beaches which are just a short bus ride away from Rīga and offer sandy seashores, cooling waves and various outdoor activities.
If jumping on a bus sounds like too of much of a hassle, you can simply go for a swim in the Daugava river which flows through the city. There are two islands in the river - Lucavsala and Kipsala - where you can take a dip, lay out in the sun and enjoy the view. In the summer these islands are bursting with music and art events so it's worth while planning in advance and making a day of it by catching a performance after a day in the sun.
Mikelis' Day on September 29 marks the autumn equinox when the day and night are of the same length, signalling the end of summer and the approach of winter. Mikelis' Day is celebrated across Latvia, but not surprisingly the most impressive events take place in the capital. Rīga’s beautiful Dome Square plays host to the country’s best farmers and craftsmen who come to share the fruits of their labour at the traditional Mikelis’ Day fair which usually takes place on the closest weekend after 29th September.
Buy a woven straw basket from the craft stalls and fill it with autumn goodies from the multitude of seasonal produce on offer - pumpkins, apples, cranberries, honey, bread, smoked bacon - fresh from the harvest. When you’re done shopping for fresh farm treats and hand-made woollies, grab a cup of cinnamon coffee and head to the Daugava river – there’s nothing more beautiful than the reflection of colourful autumn foliage on water. For great deals on central Riga apartments, check out Trivago.
Rīga in wintertime is a real-life snow globe town where time slows down under a blanket of snow. The Old Town looks like something straight out of a fairy tale with glistening, icy cobblestone streets, foggy lights and snowflakes dancing around Art Nouveau buildings.
Put some heat back in your bones by heading to Victoria Park where you can try your hand at any number of winter sports such as cross-country skiing and ice skating. Spontaneous snowball fights have been known to erupt - you have been warned. Looking for a challenge? Drive to Gaizinkalns just outside of Rīga and put your mettle to the test at Latvia's highest ski resort. If watching from the sidelines is more your thing, go along to see Rīga’s ice hockey team Dinamo play a match and join in with the locals cheering on the home team.
And speaking of festive cheer, you'll find plenty of it around the city's huge central Christmas tree which is certainly worth a visit along with a tour of the Christmas Markets. Just make sure to don your woolliest reindeer jumper and warm up with a shot of Rīga Black Balzam in your coffee, a traditional Latvia herbal liqueur mixed in pure vodka for a fiery 90% proof that will put hairs on your chest. It gets cold, really cold, in Rīga but a winter visit is worth every frozen finger.
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