Riga’s visitors are happy to stroll through its medieval old town and admire its stunning art nouveau city centre, but seldom do they cross over to the River Daugava’s left bank, unless of course they’re on their way to the airport. An odd combination of wide-open green spaces, Soviet housing estates, charming 19th-century neighbourhoods and aging factories, Pārdaugava, as it’s known in Latvian, or Over Daugava to translate literally, is often a hard place to get your bearings. However, those intrepid travellers who are brave enough to walk across a bridge or take a short tram ride will discover a town within a city that has its own spirit, history and traditions.
The best way to get to Pārdaugava is either to walk across the Vanšu or Akmens bridges or to take trams, especially during rush hour. For the Railway Museum, Soviet Victory Monument, Arcadia Park, the Monument to the Repressed and the Riga Luther Church take tram N°10. For the Āgenskalns Market and many of the restaurants and bars concentrated in that neighbourhood take tram N°2. For Kalnciema kvartāls take tram N°4 or 5.
Āgenskalns Market (Āgenskalna tirgus)
Although construction of Riga’s third largest market began in 1911, due to WWI it wasn’t completed until 1923. Since then this red brick building has become the focal point of the local community. It’s home to numerous stalls selling anything from pork and poultry to dairy products and fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to this historic landmark and a general feeling of depression seems to reside in its halls. Take the stairs to the second floor for great views of the bustle below and cheap food and drink at the café. Nometņu 64, tel. (+371) 67 61 15 49. Open 07:30 - 18:00.
Āgenskalns Water Tower (Āgenskalna ūdenstornis)
This stunning water tower dating from 1910 was the brainchild of prolific architect Wilhelm Bockslaff. Riga was experiencing a golden age of construction and development at the time, so it was created, not surprisingly, to provide fresh drinking water to an exploding population. The impressive structure rises to a height of 40m and has 2m-thick brick walls, as well as a stylised version of Riga’s coat of arms above the entrance. It was also used as an underground recording studio called ‘Tornis’ from 1991 - 2010. Alīses 4.
Arcadia Park (Arkādijas Parks)
Created at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, this pleasant park is divided by the meandering Mārupīte river which was diverted for the project. A restaurant building and an amphitheatre were part of the original park but were burned down over the years by vandals and never restored. Today, you can follow the course of the river and feed ducks from its banks or take in the view from the top of the hill. Take tram N°10 from Grēcinieku to the Arkādijas parks stop. Between O. Vācieša and F. Brīvzemnieka.
Castle of Light - National Library (Gaismas pils - Nacionālā bibliotēka)
The Latvian National Library is the brainchild of American-Latvian architect Gunnar Birkerts, who is perhaps best known for his creations in the United States which include the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State and the Law Library Building at the University of Michigan. Its shape is a symbolic expression of the Hill of Glass and the Castle of Light found in Latvian folklore. Legend has it that the Castle of Light sank into an ancient lake and would only arise from the depths when Latvians were once again masters of their own land. The building is finally open to the public and it hosts a variety of exhibitions and events. Mūkusalas 3, tel. (+371) 67 80 61 10, www.lnb.lv. Open 09:00 - 20:00, Sat, Sun 10:00 - 17:00.
Holy Trinity Church of Pārdaugava (Sv. Trijādības baznīca)
Although an older church dating back to 1453 once stood here, the current 17th-century Russian baroque-style building was completed in 1893. Designed in the shape of the Orthodox cross, its soaring belfry and blue and green onion domes can be seen from quite a distance. Inside you’ll find the smell of incense and hundreds of icons common to Orthodox churches. Meža 2, tel. (+371) 67 61 20 79.
Latvian Railway Museum (Latvijas dzelzceļa muzejs)
Retrace the tracks of rail history in Latvia in this museum run by Latvian Railways (Latvijas dzelzceļš). Inside the brick hangar you’ll find old photographs, antiquated machines and a few specimens of old wagons. Outside you can look at restored Soviet diesel and electric locomotives built in Ukraine and Russia as well as a German locomotive built in 1942 that no doubt became a spoil of war. Don’t miss the Tsarist era prison car. Uzvaras 2/4, tel. (+371) 67 23 28 49, www.railwaymuseum.lv. Open 10:00 - 17:00, Thu 10:00 - 20:00. Closed Mon, Sun. Admission: €1.42.
Soviet Victory Monument (Uzvaras piemineklis)
The Soviet war memorial which commemorates the supposed communist ‘liberation’ of Riga is the place to meet die hard reds on Soviet anniversary days. Built in 1985 to lionise the Red Army and to dishearten the Latvian populace, the monument consists of a tall concrete obelisk adorned with five golden stars symbolising the five years of WWII. On either side are bronze statues of Mother Russia and soldiers advancing with their weapons raised. Take tram N°5 from 11. Novembra krastmala to the second stop over the Akmens Bridge. Over the Akmens Bridge in Pārdaugava.
Žanis Lipke Memorial Museum
This modern, interactive museum designed by a prominent local architect tells the little-known tale of Žanis Lipke and the network of roughly 25 people that saved Jews from the Nazis during the German occupation of Latvia. Not only did he hide people in a bunker on his own land that now hosts this museum, but he and his colleagues also helped Jews to escape local ghettoes and then transported them to safe houses around the country. Although Mr. Lipke and his wife Johanna survived this noble undertaking, other members of the underground were caught and killed. A free audio guide will help you navigate the half light of the museum, which is left intentionally dark to mimic the conditions endured by families hiding in bunkers and warehouses. Mazais Balasta dambis 8, tel. (+371) 67 20 25 39, www.lipke.lv. Open 12:00 - 18:00, Thu 12:00 - 20:00. Closed Mon, Sun. Admission: donations.
FOOD & DRINK
You can order unique cakes and traditional Latvian pastries for special occasions or just drop by for an espresso and an éclair in this cosy space decorated with antiques, dried flowers, potted plants and books. If you’re hungry you can also buy a sandwich and the soup of the day. In case you’re wondering, a ciemakukulis is basically something, usually bread, a cake or anything edible, that Latvians bring with them when visiting friends or relatives. Nometņu 9, tel. (+371) 22 08 83 33, www.ciemakukulis.lv. Open 07:30 - 20:00, Sat 09:00 - 18:00, Sun 10:00 - 17:00.
The rooms of this historic building have only partially been restored as the designers decided to simply sand down the existing wood plank walls and ceilings to create a cosy atmosphere that is only enhanced by the tile mosaic tables, the fireplace and the hanging dried flowers. You can sit down for a full meal of international dishes from salads and seafood to steaks or try something from the vegetarian menu or the breakfast meals (served until 12:00, Sat, Sun 14:00). You can also just grab a slice of cake and a latte at the counter. Nometņu 7, tel. (+371) 67 61 61 96, www.fazenda.lv. Open 09:00 - 22:00, Sat 10:00 - 22:00, Sun 11:00 - 22:00. (€4 - 11).
This cafeteria on the ground floor of the enormous Swedbank skyscraper on the left bank of the river offers four different food stations: healthy, trendy (where meals are cooked to order), original and economical. Queue up with dozens of well-dressed bankers and take your pick of affordable international cuisine with a twist. The views of Old Riga across the river are sublime, which is why the space is also available for parties and events. Balasta dambis 1a, tel. (+371) 20 00 90 45, www.hote.lv. Open 08:00 - 17:00. (€4 - 7).
This wonderful restaurant occupies a beautifully restored 19th-century wooden cottage in the trendy Kalnciema kvartāls. Inside is an authentic interior of oak floors, chandeliers, tile fireplaces and walls decorated with nostalgic black and white Soviet era photos of people enjoying life. The refined Latvian and international cuisine, which is eaten with real silverware, is superb and anything from venison carpaccio and moose meat burgers to New Zealand lamb was available when we visited. Kalnciema 37-5, tel. (+371) 67 61 63 04, www.restoransmaja.lv. Open 11:00 - 22:00. Closed Sun. (€10 - 18).
Mūķene (The Nun)
Come inside the Nun for faux rock walls, chunky wooden tables and a good selection of incredibly cheap local beer. The illustrated menu offers Armenian and Latvian cuisine from succulent meats grilled outside under a canopy of smoke to pork knuckle, herring and grey peas with bacon. If you’re enjoying a night out on the town try the ‘appetiser platter for real men’ consisting of smoked meat, pork fat, onions, gherkins and two shots of vodka. Nometņu 58, tel. (+371) 67 61 83 80. Open 09:00 - 23:00. (€3 - 7).
This cosy, yet stylish café in an up-and-coming neighbourhood offers a smart interior that includes lots of live greenery, an impressive library, plenty of natural light from its large windows and exposed brick walls covered in paintings and antique maps of Riga. You can order refined cuisine from duck breast to black pasta with mussels or drop by for brunch until 15:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. Nometņu 18, tel. (+371) 27 54 48 18. Open 10:00 - 22:00, Fri 10:00 - 23:00, Sat 11:00 - 23:00, Sun 11:00 - 21:00. (€5 - 15).
This small Latvian bar next to the popular Kalnciems creative quarter is not only decorated with lighting fixtures made from vinyl records, but the entire musical soundtrack emanates from two modern turntables. That’s right. Your mp3s are as useless as cassettes or 8-track tapes here, so leave your digital devices behind and sip affordable cocktails and beer inside or on the large summer terrace with locals. Board games are available and you can ask the barman to put on your favourite album. Sadly, someone chose ABBA when we dropped by. Kalnciema 39, tel. (+371) 67 61 88 61.
Skrīveru saldumi (Plūmes šokolāde)
Skrīveru saldumi make one of Latvia’s most delicious sweets, which is known as a gotiņa or little cow. It’s basically a sweet, semi-soft cream-based candy available in a variety of flavours, but we prefer the original or ‘classic’ ones. Chocolates and other sweets are also available here. Kalnciema 32a, tel. (+371) 67 32 74 22, www.skriverusaldumi.lv. Open 10:00 - 19:00. Closed Sat, Sun.
This huge shopping mall seems to grow even larger every month. All of the usual shops are available as well as a supermarket (09:00 - 23:00), a large food court and a huge LIDO cafeteria with a vast indoor children’s playground. Take bus No.43 from 13.janvāra iela to the Spice stop. Lielirbes 29, tel. (+371) 67 80 72 81, www.spice.lv. Open 10:00 - 22:00.
Located in the main building of the Kalnciema kvartāls, this shop and café sells a wide variety of mostly Italian wines that can also be enjoyed on the premises or on its summer terrace. Kalnciema 35, tel. (+371) 67 61 43 22, kalnciemaiela.lv/davinchi/index.html. Open 12:00 - 22:00. Closed Sun.
Buy cowboy boots, hats and fashion here as well as stirrups, bridles, saddles and other equestrian gear. Nometņu 10 (entrance from Slokas), tel. (+371) 67 61 49 83, www.zirgustallis.lv. Open 10:00 - 19:00, Sat 10:00 - 17:00. Closed Sun.
The thoroughfare on the other side of the Vanšu bridge is a treasure trove of 19th-century wooden architecture and although many of these old edifices could use some serious renovation work, the beautiful buildings at the corner of D-1, Melnsila and Kalnciema iela have been lovingly restored and now host a bustling fair every Saturday from 10:00 - 16:00 that attracts visitors from around Riga. Although the theme changes from fair to fair, you can expect plenty of food and drink, local crafts and a lively atmosphere. Photo courtesy of www.kalnciemaiela.lv. Take bus No.53 from the National Theatre to the Melnsila iela stop.
Uzvaras Park Skating Rink
Once the mercury consistently stays below zero, you can use this 20x40m rink just beyond the massive Soviet Victory monument for free if you have your own skates or rent a pair for €2 - 3 from the kiosk. Take tram N°10 from Grēcinieku to either the Slokas iela or Arkādijas parks stop. Uzvaras bulvāris 15, tel. (+371) 29 51 12 44, www.uzvarasparks.lv. Open 11:00 - 21:00.
Uzvaras Park Cross Country Track
You can rent cross-country skis and boots and glide around the snow-covered lawn just beyond the massive Soviet Victory monument on the left bank of the RIver Daugava. Take tram N°10 from Grēcinieku to either the Slokas iela or Arkādijas parks stop. Uzvaras bulvāris 15, tel. (+371) 29 51 12 44, www.uzvarasparks.lv. Open 10:00 - 21:00. Ski and boot rental: adults €4.50/hour; kids €3/hour.
Zelta boulinga centrs
22 lanes, four squash courts, one tennis court, 11 pool tables, indoor mini-football, arcade games and a bar/restaurant. Uzvaras 2/4, tel. (+371) 67 61 07 07, www.zelta.lv. Open 13:00 - 24:00, Mon 15:00 - 24:00, Fri 13:00 - 02:00, Sat 10:00 - 02:00, Sun 10:00 - 24:00.