Rīga has always been the big boy of the Baltics - a metropolis with a big-city atmosphere hard to find elsewhere in the region. Funky and vibrant, it pulsates with a magnetism that traps travellers long after their planned departure date. Set on a flat plain divided only by the 500m-wide Daugava River, the city answers the quaintness of Tallinn and Vilnius with impressive Art-Nouveau architecture of its own, a historic old quarter and large parks. You won't want to leave once you're settled into a candlelit bar or lost on winding, sun-dappled or snow-covered cobbled streets. Rīga manages to couple its toy-town cuteness of steeples and turrets with a glitzy nightlife and thriving restaurant scene. Business is booming, with eager backers pouring much-needed money into its infrastructure. Old Town may be a Unesco World Heritage site, but this fairy-tale city, once dubbed the 'Paris of the East, ' is building so fast that Unesco has warned Rīga it may withdraw its protected status due to the number of glittering glass hotels and business centres springing up faster than mushrooms after the rain.
With lavish beauty, timeless elegance and a restless fusion of old and new, Rīga has a charm as potent as the Rīga Black Balsams liquor it's known for.
Fewer than half of Rīgans are ethnic Latvians (41.2% at last count), with Russians accounting for 43.7% of the population. Despite Latvians being a minority in their own capital, ethnic harmony prevails in the city, with street- and shop-talk a natural blend of Russian and Latvian.
Reinvented Riga: a traveller’s guide to Latvia’s capital city
With two decades of freedom (and a renewed status as Latvia’s capital) under its belt, Rīga is reclaiming its rightful title as the cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic.
Rīga destination guides
Baltics to St Petersburg
Decades after the fall of communism, the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain a mystery to most travellers. We’re not complaining, though; more mystery means fewer crowds and an easier time getting to know these fantastic countries.