To be honest, Riga, Latvia wasn't far up on my list. After visiting the city on a balmy summer weekend, I now regret underestimating this wondrous city. Of course, my trip coincided with Jāņi, Latvia's summer solstice festival, which added to the city's charm. The sun didn't set until at least 11 PM, locals took the streets with flower wreaths adorned to their heads, and the scent of dill wafted through the air. So if you're looking for a European city that's filled with beautiful architecture and has yet to be inundated with tourists, consider Riga, the gem of the Baltics.
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD AT NIGHT:
For travelers who want the historic, cobblestoned experience, Hotel Relais Le Chevalier in the heart of the Old Town offers the perfect stay. The rooms are bright and beautifully decorated with a hint of Parisian flair. Breakfast in the rooftop atrium is like a a dream in the clouds, with a generous spread of Baltic essentials and made to order egg dishes.
WHEN YOU'RE NOT EATING:
The first thing we do when arriving in a new city, and getting off a long plane ride, is take a walk around the city. Meander about Old Town, exploring all the little alleys and side streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Soak in the beautiful medieval architecture and stroll along the Daugava river.
If you love the medieval architecture in Old Town, venture to The Three Brothers buildings, the oldest dwellings in Riga.
Itching for a non-touristy shopping experience? Head to the boutique Riija for Latvian designer goods. We had our eyes on the wool mittens and blankets.
Open seven days a week, Riga Central Market is Europe's largest bazar and offers a window into Baltic cuisine. Bonus: If you're in the city during summer solstice, you can dress up like locals with flower wreaths from the colorful florists' stalls.
After you've bought some fresh fruit from the central market, head to the idyllic Bastejkalna park for a picnic on the grass by the canal.
For a cultural rendezvous, join in on the free Art Nouveau Tour. Discover the romantic architecture of Riga's Nouveau district, constructed in the early 1900s.
WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY:
The Black Magic cafe makes for an unusually fun dessert bar experience. The desserts are as equally over the top as the sorcery themed interior.
For a spot within a short walking distance from Old Town, check out the charming restaurant Rosemarine. If you're a picky eater, this cafe offers familiar selections.
Did you know that Riga is home to a flourishing coffee roasting scene? There are a number of specialty spots dotted throughout the city, and they're all within walking distance from Old Town. For a satisfying iced coffee in the summer heat, visit the popular Rocket Bean Roastery in the Dzirnavu location.
Another unique and causal spot is Café M, which serves sweet vegan cakes and great tasting coffee - the perfect combo.