A Local’s Guide to Riga is the first article in a new series collaboration with Spotted by Locals Riga 

Hemingway called it the “Paris of the North,” but even with its hip bars, modern art centers and experimental restaurants, Riga is still known more for its Old Town and Art Nouveau architecture than as a vibrant, modern city. From stylish hotels to street art and from boutique shops to dive bars, Riga has it all—except streets teeming with tourists. While the Latvian capital’s stunning city center and decorative architecture are astonishing, its true strength is the authentic energy of its burgeoning creative scene, which rivals even major cities to the west like Amsterdam and Berlin. Here’s what the locals recommend in Riga.

See the largest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

Nearly one third of all buildings in Riga’s city center are a work of art in and of themselves. While highly unique, many of these facades have something in common—architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns designed hundreds of them in the first decade of the twentieth century. His private home, constructed in 1903, is now open to the public as Riga’s Art Nouveau Museum. After sightseeing, head to the Atis Ķeniņš building. An offshoot of the Art Nouveau movement, Latvia’s National Romanticism style, pioneered also by Pēkšēns, is on display at this high school, which exhibits Nordic depth and thoroughness that can be seen in the building’s shape and texture.

Riga Travel Guide - Kārlis Dambrāns-flickr-creative-commons

Sample the creative cuisine of Riga’s most innovative chefs.

Chef Dennis Ivankov puts a creative spin on porridge at Kasha, one of the most unexpected, outlandish yet special restaurants in Riga. Improvising around the theme of cereal (Latvian cuisine originated from its farming history and is strongly based around grains) oatmeal, rice, semolina and corn flakes are paired with homemade jams to create dishes that look like works of modern art. In the city center, Fazenda Cafe is a homey restaurant where Latvian culture meets Mediterranean cuisine in a wooden house with a tiled stove. Don’t miss the ice cream with fresh berries.

Riga Travel Guide - MiiT-Works-flickr-creative-commons

Drink with the locals.

Don’t be fooled by the discarded bicycle parts—Miit is one of Riga’s coolest coffee shops filled with comfy couches, strong coffee and a €5 lunch special that changes daily. Head here for coffee in the morning, free WiFi at lunch and live music in the evening. At night, order a Valmiermuižas—the hipster beer of choice—with the locals at Kaņepes Kultūras Centrs, a cultural center where an artsy crowd packs the bar, cafe and music venue, especially during the summer months. At Chomsky, a cash-only, no-frills dive with a large open-air area perfect for a long night of drinking and conversation, beer may be the drink of choice, but the Georgian vodka is recommended.

Riga Travel Guide -Janis Rozentals-flickr-creative-commons

Check out works by Latvian artists.

Riga has plenty of museums, but the changing exhibits at Mūkusala Art Salon are highly recommended. Away from the busy city center, the private gallery features exhibits with specific themes by local Latvian artists, free of charge. An offshoot of modernism, naive art is on display at the Naive Art Museum of Latvia. The museum showcases works known for their childishness, plainness and simplicity—a form of art developed as an alternative to academic art, yet regarded alongside movements such as expressionism, cubism and surrealism.

Riga Travel Guide - Pavels-Dunaicevs-flickr-creative-commons

Bike to the beach in Jūrmala.

An extensive network of bike paths is transforming Riga into a more eco-friendly city. Its first-ever route, established in 1985, is a 16-mile path from the city to Jūrmala, a resort town just outside the city limits. Hit the path by bike and get to the 21-mile stretch of beach facing the Gulf of Riga in less than an hour. Don’t miss the beautiful wooden Art Nouveau beach houses.

Riga Travel Guide - RIIJA

Shop for the perfect souvenir.

The two-story Globuss bookshop has a good selection of English-language books, while the attached Kafka coffee shop is a great spot to enjoy a decent cup before or after shopping. Latvian design is on display at Riija, a sleek concept shop evocative of Scandinavia. At the boutique, the best local designers sell not only clothes but also hand-crafted Latvian home textiles, furniture, paper goods and more.

Riga Travel Guide - Pullman Riga Old Town Hotel

Stay in the heart of Riga.

Pullman Hotels and Resorts restored a historic 1789 building in the city center, elevating it to one of the finest design hotels in Riga. Vinoteca by Pullman, the on-site restaurant and bar, a luxurious spa and a swimming pool would make it hard to leave Pullman Old Town, if the Old Town, National Theatre and more of Riga’s top sites weren’t mere steps away from the five-star property.

Riga travel photos courtesy of Vadim Timoshkin, Kārlis Dambrāns, Miit Works, Janis Rozentals, Pavels Dunaicevs, Riija, Pullman Hotels and Resorts

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Spotted by Locals is a series of apps and blogs with up-to-date tips by locals in 60+ cities across Europe and North America. To get more local tips, visit the Spotted by Locals website or download the app.