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Sometimes called the 'Baltic Berlin', Riga has experienced a cultural boom with a thriving art, music and nightclub scene. New Nordic cuisine sits alongside traditional restaurants serving potato pancakes and rye bread, and micro-breweries are opening up in cavernous underground bars. Meanwhile, the UNESCO-listed old town retains its timeless charm with a maze of cobbled streets and colourful building façades, dotted with Gothic spires and flamboyant Art Nouveau architecture.
Hostels in Riga are welcoming – and sometimes unusual. You can stay in a classic 1905 Art Nouveau building, or in a historic stable house dating back to 1886. There's even a Riga hostel that is health-conscious, promoting yoga, with a free vegetarian breakfast every day. When it's snowing, some Riga hostels put on winter activities like bobsledding and husky dog sledding. You’ll also find plenty of pub crawls and Latvian beer tasting nights on offer all year round.
Riga’s old town is in the heart of the action. It's within walking distance of all the major sights and is packed with traditional bars and cosmopolitan cafés. Across the Daugava River, Āgenskalns is a quieter neighbourhood with houses dating back to the 19th century. Visit the Saturday market for local stalls selling smoked fish and cherry-filled pastries. Just north of downtown Riga, the Mežaparks neighbourhood (meaning “forest park”) is a tranquil spot where you can take a break on the shores of Lake Ķīšezers.
The best way to get to know Riga is to take one of the free walking tours. The Art Nouveau façades of Elizabetes Street are covered in ornate dragons, wrought-iron balconies and whimsical figures. Climb (or take the elevator) up to the spire of St Peter's church for views over the city's red roofs. A canal runs through the leafy central park, separating the old and new parts of town, where you can wander around the pretty Bastion Hill. To learn about the country's Soviet past, head to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.
Being such a compact city, Riga is easy to explore by foot, but there's also an extensive public transport network of buses, trams and trolley cars. After arriving at Riga International Airport, you'll find various buses to take you to the city centre in around half an hour. Riga International Coach Terminal and Riga Central Station are next door to each other, a 10-minute walk from the old town.