If you’re thinking about spending a few days in the Latvian capital, you’re holding a good idea. I got the opportunity to spend two semesters there as Erasmus student, and I had much more fun that I had hoped for! Many things make it a paradise for students: delicious and cheap food, international and welcoming local students, a print shop open 24 hours (I don’t know why but I really liked the concept), and an amazingly rich culture:
BALLETS AT THE NATIONAL OPERA OF LATVIA
Whether you like ballets or not, there are several good reasons for you to attend the National Opera of Latvia : First, because the tickets are really cheap, second because the building is a beautiful neo-classical construction, then because the orchestra is amazing (the soul of Richard Wagner who was once music director there must still be floating around), and finally because it would be an opportunity to wear these fancy clothes that have been hanging in your closet, waiting for a special event, way too long.
Indeed, I have seen a lot of ballets in my life, but I will never forget the feelings I had while seating in that opera. Riga just offers the best mise en scènes ever. Peer Gynt almost brought me to tears, and so many parts of Anna Karenina let me breathless that I was surprised not to be the victim at the end. I think I was saved by the nice (but quite expensive) little toasts you can buy at the bar between two acts.
It is better to book your ticket in advance. You can book it online or go to the office near the opera. For some most famous shows, like The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, the tickets are sold out 3 weeks before the performance. But then, don’t worry, you can also show up one hour before it starts and, if you’re lucky, get one of the best seats for a lower price. One of the good parts of being unorganized!
TRADITIONAL DANCES AT ALA BAR
Then, if you want to see dances in a completely different atmosphere, you can also go to the Ala Bar on a Wednesday evening. And enjoy a nice live concert while eating delicious potato pancakes, meatballs, garlic bread or whatever pleases you from the menu (all their dishes are good) and a huge beer to warm you up before joining the dance. Of course, you won’t be left on your own, experienced dancers lead the steps, and you just follow the circle, and have fun!
As you can imagine, the restaurant is often full on that day, so if you want to make sure you get something to eat, it is better to give them a call and book a table, if you don’t get one, you can also just stay for a drink.
If you happen to be in Riga at the end of June, you’ll be lucky to hear traditional Latvian songs at the occasion of Jani, the midsummer festival. Usually, people celebrate it in the countryside, but you can also see the fire, enjoy the grilled food and hear the music in the old town.
HOCKEY GAMES AT THE ARENA RIGA
Sometimes you also get to see very nice ice-skating shows during the breaks of the Hockey Games. But, of course, that’s not the main reason people go to the Arena Riga… No toasts nor meatballs there but fries and burgers perfectly fit the atmosphere, and, obviously, so does the beer. Be ready to shout to support Dinamo Riga, the professional team based in the capital of Latvia. And you’d better do a good job, because you don’t want to miss the celebration of victory, with the fire, the music, the shows,… It’s always a nice way to begin a crazy evening before heading to the Old Town, where you’ll meet a lot of other travelers, and international students.
The arrival of the players and the presentation of the teams is one of the best parts of the game, so try to arrive in time to buy the tickets and reach your seat before it starts.
If it makes you dream of improving your ice-skating skills, you can too! There are many nice skating-rinks in Riga. One of them belongs to one of the Lido Restaurants: take the bus number 12 from the train station, get off at the LIDO stop, rent your shoes if you haven’t brought your owns, have a lot of fun, and as soon as you’re too cold and too hurt, go to the restaurant. LIDO is a self-service chain restaurant that offers a very large sample of traditional food for a very low price.
If you don’t like dances, food, beers, or hockey, you can still enjoy the culture of Riga! There is plenty of museums, and you just have to look around you to see pieces of art. One-third of all buildings in the center of Riga are Art Nouveau buildings, and if it’s not raining or snowing you can just spend hours looking at the details of their façades. If it’s raining, you can just to go to the Museum of Art Nouveau in Alberta Iela. You can also spend hours listening to the street musicians or to the students playing music in the old town in the summer… Actually, you can spend hours doing anything in Riga.
When you live there, you easily get the feeling that there is always something to celebrate. Indeed, Riga likes to show up in its most beautiful decorations. Indeed, if the sun barely shows up in the winter, you’ll find a nice compensation for light: in November, the city’s buildings and squares are transformed by light and multimedia installations for the Staro festival. In December, the city is sparkling for Christmas time. And you can count on snow to make it appear even brighter. I even saw a firework contest there, that’s the kind of things that make the city definitely great. In the summer you can stroll around the streets and parks to admire the sculptures, the architecture, the flowers,…
In short, even if you’ve already been there, the Riga you will now meet might be a completely different one. And if you’ve never been there, you definitely won’t get bored!