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.
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.