I was adamant that when our map described the Moscow District as “one of Riga’s shadiest neighbourhoods” that this meant plenty of foliage in Latvia’s 35°c summers. Unfortunately, barely a tree can be found in this area of the city. Instead, wide barren streets, a looming soviet skyscraper and derelict buildings mean that your first instinct might be to clutch your valuables tightly. It’ s very different from the tourist utopia of the Old Town, but dig a little deeper and there are some interesting attractions in this neck of the woods. You may even develop a strange fondness for these battered Baltic streets like I did – and the best part is it’s highlights are all FREE to enjoy at no cost at all.
Like many European cities Riga is home to a varied collection of architectural and historical remnants mixed together to create beautiful and romantic neighbourhoods. Many of the city’s most ornate buildings come from the Art Nouveau era of the early 1900s. Riga was swept away by the influence of visionaries like Eizens Laube and Janis Fridrihs Baumanis, applying their principles to the streets of Alberta and Elizabetes. Today this area, to the north of the city centre, is a neighbourhood of contradiction. While a major tourist attraction, the area remains somewhat unloved and in need of renovations. Occupants vary from the more glamorous in the form of international embassies to the mundane, such a photo developers.
The buildings here tall and impressive, the detailing an ode to grand mythological symbols of the past such as sphinxes, mermaids and dragons. Colour facades use striking but mature shades; blues, reds and yellows dotted along the street in no set order. Scaffolding abounds indicating that in the next few years these buildings could be at the centre of Riga’s tourism industry.
Visiting the Art Nouveau Museum gives you a glimpse of the interior architecture of these buildings, including spiral staircases and never ending doorways.
The core of Riga’s Art Nouveau nieghbourhood is on Alberta and Elizabeth streets, illustrated on the map below.
After a few short years of an independent Latvian Republic, the country fell to Nazi occupation and the Moscow District area of Riga was turned into a ghetto for the thousands of Jews who had been such an integral part of the national identity.The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum aims to commemorate the lives lost to the tragedy of Nazi occupation
The Museum’s split into three main areas, and is effectively and outdoors exhibit with the displays of Jewish history in Latvia and memorials to the local victims of the holocaust flanked by barbed wire fences and ghetto gates.
On the grounds, which sit between warehouses, there is also a replica ghetto house which would have been inhabited by around 38 people. The downstairs is a somewhat confusing and creepy display of paintings and hanging dolls, while upstairs is set up like it would have been at the time including newspaper insulation.
The element that really makes this museum worth a visit is the exhibit “3000 Fates” housed in the adjacent warehouse. Here the life stories of the 3000 Jews transported into Latvia from European countries including Germany and Poland are documented on a light box each. This sunning displays put a spotlight on the individuals affected but such a monstrous event in history. Many of these stories end in 1942 at the concentration camps within Latvia.
Admission to the museum is free but donations are suggested at €5. Opening hours are 10 am – 6pm excluding Saturday. The museum is located at 14A Maskavas Iela.
Riga’s Central Market is a relatively well known attraction that sits a block away from the Old Town as a gateway to the Moscow District. It provides a slice of everyday Latvian life to visitors as it’s main function is to simply sell produce to locals. There are two elements that really make this such a unique experience; size and settings. The market is comprised of five massive halls in former Zeppelin hangars, which create a strong a stoic benchmark in Riga’s cityscape.
The halls are more or less consistently segregated into meat, bakery, dairy, fish, and fruit and veg. Amongst these you will find smaller stalls and sections offering everyday items like clothing, pet supplies, nuts, honeys and other artisan products. While in the market I grabbed a quick local breakfast of a roll baked with cheese inside and a sweet pretzel style biscuit. Most of the stalls and products were relatively practical, but there was a beautiful soap stall offering a kaleidoscope of options.
Outside the main halls are further stalls, including a flower market selling beautiful bunches. There was also a bandstand with local musicians on, where some locals were having a dance.
If you have a few hours free the Riga Central Market offers a great insight into local Latvian life.
I’ll be honest, food was not one of the highlights while in Riga. Most of the meals I tried were stodgy or lacking in flavour, along with being very limited in range for vegetarians. The local drink, Balsam, was also something I wasn’t too fond of so I was pleasantly surprised by how Black Magic,a kooky little cafe and bar in Riga’s Old Town, managed to utilise the alcohol within chocolate in such delicious ways.
Still peckish from a disappointing and mostly uneaten lunch I doubled down by ordering both chocolate coffee cake and a signature Black Magic hot chocolate. The cake was lovely, keeping a fine balance of sweetness for my more savoury persuasions, and the stir in hot chocolate with hints of balsam was rich in tones and quality.
Apart from the great treats to try Black Magic is worth a look for it’s unique decor. The style could be described as Victorian Apothecary, with old tills, feathers and small labeled drawers covering most of the front room. Further seating can be found beyond in stone cased enclaves, and a hidden door in a bookcase leads to the basement where the balsam, coffee and chocolate inspired cocktails on the menu are sure to make an appearance.
Black Magic is located at Kaļķu iela 10 in Riga’s Old Town. I highly recommend it to all visitors to the city.