My 50th country! Celebrating in Riga at the Kempinski Hotel!
When I was young, I was always fascinated with the collapse of the USSR. I have always had an interest in Eastern Europe and the Ex-Soviet countries and their history. I wanted to visit and meet people there and hear about their experience through the transformation and see the cities and how they have rebuilt since tougher times after the collapse. Riga was top on my list. In photos, this city looked stunning and the art nouveau buildings were so neat! I knew I needed to come here and see for myself. I drove down to Riga from Tallinn, Estonia. It was a quick 3.5 hour drive and when I got to Latvia, I knew I was going to love it. Outside the city, it was so green and full of forests and nature. I stopped on route as well when I saw this lovely beach as I had to get a photo. It was so quiet and beautiful. When I got to Riga,I found it so charming. It wasn’t an overwhelming hustle bustle city, but a lovely mid-sized city that wouldn’t intimidate a new traveler upon arrival. It was just the right size to have plenty to do and see while still feeling safe and confident getting around. I indeed felt safe the entire time I was there. I even went for walks outside alone at night and had no issue whatsoever and never felt threatened. Latvia is just under Estonia and above Lithuania and borders Russia. It is a lovely little country. The people speak Latvian, Russian, and English. For money, they use the Euro.
Latvia was going to be the 50th country I've been to and the 25th for my documentary project! I wanted to really celebrate this accomplishment and so I chose Latvia for my 50th destination! It was truly a celebration for me considering how far I have come in my travels. I chose to stay at the new and beautiful GRAND HOTEL KEMPINSKI. It was beautiful! The attention to detail in the hotel, the very friendly and hospitable staff, and the gorgeous venue and facilities in the hotel made it one of my favorites. My room was immaculate and so big and cozy. Upon arrival, I was greeted with a welcome drink and shown around the hotel. The spa was truly one of the nicest I’ve seen and I’ve been in a lot of spas in my time. It’s world class! I also spent time in The Grand Bar downstairs. It’s a lovely little bar perfect for grabbing a signature cocktail before walking across the street to The Opera. Yes, the Opera is right across the street along with a beautiful park and some cute bridges. From here I was able to walk to all the sites. Literally everything you need to see is within walking distance! The location is amazing and because it is a KEMPINSKI property you know that you are staying in luxury that is detail oriented and your satisfaction is top priority! I loved my stay here and I will be back without question! I would love to return in the summer as it looks so nice and there are so many amazing things to do with warmer weather as 1 degree was a bit chilly to say the least.
Being that it was so cold, I spent a little more time in my hotel than I normally would. Like I said above, I didn't mind. They had a lovely afternoon tea and the spa was wonderful. There were a variety of different rooms and saunas that you could really spend all day in. When I did venture out, I walked everywhere. I had a lovely lunch at Ogle Wood Fire Grill and then I walked from there to The House of the Blackheads. This was built in 1334 and originally called “The New House." It was used for the Brotherhood of the Blackheads which were a guild of unmarried German merchants in Riga. The building was so interesting and so unique in its appearance really something. It was my favorite building in Riga. It reminded me of something from a fairy tale or children’s book. I also walked to the Nativity Cathedral as well as I love the old cathedrals in this area of the world. They are always so big and beautiful with so much detail. Next to THE GRAND HOTEL KEMPINSKI is also The Freedom Monument. This is a memorial honoring the soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence. It’s considered a very important symbol of freedom for the country. There are generally always guards standing there and they change every hour between 9am and 6pm. If you would like to go watch the changing of the guard, be there on the hour. It’s quite neat to watch. It’s so nice to see people have so much honor, love, and respect for their country and its memorials. I love watching the change of the guards in all countries I visit. There were a bunch of cute parks in the center of town and because it was December I visited the cute Christmas markets.
One beautiful area I walked to was the art nouveau district in Riga, the art nouveau architecture makes up roughly one third buildings in Riga and there is a particular district where the buildings are some of the most stunning I’ve seen. Art Nouveau is one of Riga’s claim to fame and rightfully so. I’ve not seen it done better anywhere else and I don’t mean art décor. There is a vast difference. If it has naked maidens and gargoyles then it’s probably art nouveau. This area is a 15 min walk from THE GRAND HOTEL KEMPINSKI and you cannot miss seeing it. My favorite building in the district was the famous light blue building. When walking, make sure you are looking at both sides of the street as I walked right past the very one I was looking for while staring at the other beautiful building across the street. I had no idea that it was right on my side and that I had walked just past it. How silly did I feel when I had to stop and ask where this building was. The best streets to walk on for that is Elizabetes, Dzirnavu, and Antonijas. It really is so impressive. Riga is a city where you can easily walk around and see everything and I advise doing this because you really see so many things that are maybe not exactly the typical tourist attractions but are stunning and worth a photo.
An amazing restaurant that you must eat dinner at is Ferma. It was so cute inside and the food was out of this world. The best I had had in a while on my travels. Liva from Kempinski had given me the recommendation and I’m happy she did. They also had a huge assortment of great red wines and amazing dessert! I’m such a sucker for a good chocolate soufflé.
Riga really has such charm; the old town area was my favorite as the buildings are so colorful and cute and like I said, really reminded me of something out of a children’s book. It's a great city to take in some history and culture. It does not look like an old soviet country like others I’ve been to. You can tell that the local Latvians really put a lot of love and pride into their city in keeping it safe, clean, and beautiful! The people here really were so lovely and sweet and it was just such a pleasant experience. I would absolutely put this on your bucket list and head there. I would advise going when it’s a little bit warmer but if not, like I said before, the Christmas markets were fun and the city is absolutely stunning when it is snow covered.
More Facts and Things to See in Riga.
Tip your servers between 5-10 percent unless the restaurant adds a service charge.
No need to tip taxi drivers, porters, or bartenders unless you feel like it.
Be on time as punctuality is really valued here.
Go see The Three Brothers. Number 17 is the oldest secular building in Riga. It’s cute!
Visit the Latvian National Opera while having a drink at The Grand Bar beforehand.
In the summer check out Pilsetas Channels. It’s a lovely canal to enjoy and ride through.
One Soviet style building that’s stunning here is the The Latvian Academy of Science.
If you have a sweet tooth like me you’ll be happy Riga is known for its chocolate and pastries.
Another good restaurant to check out is Bibliotheka.
If you want a bird’s eye view of the city take the elevator up to the viewing platform at St. Peter’s Church.
Try some of the black balsam liqueur. It’s Riga’s traditional drink and The Grand Bar does some amazing cocktails using it.
I’m not huge in food markets, but if you want to see Europe’s largest then check out-The Central Market. It’s full of produce, fruits, flowers etc. If anything, it’s a place to take in real Latvian culture.
Enjoy Latvia and Riga. It really is a city of old and new and is so beautiful and full of lovely and sweet people. It’s a budget friendly country and easy to get to. The airport is only 15 mins or so from the city. Have fun and take lots of photos,this city does not lack in photo opportunities.