Rich in history, with a burgeoning creative scene, the Eastern European nation is only starting to hit the radar of global travelers. The perfect weeklong visit combines four days in the capital, Riga, with three more in the nearby countryside.
A variety of European carriers such as KLM (klm.com) and Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) will get you to Riga via a stop in a major hub.
When I visited Riga previously, I stayed at the Neiburgs (neiburgs. com; doubles from €140), a boutique hotel with rooms overlooking the mansard roofs of Old Town, a library that doubles as a showcase for local textiles, and a spa that can be reserved for private use, as I did every night. This time, I opted for the contemporary sleekness of the Hotel Bergs (hotelbergs.lv; doubles from €215) and the sumptuous oldworld style of the Grand Palace Hotel (grandpalaceriga.com; doubles from €150). With a subdued palette, high-design flourishes and refined restaurant, the Bergs, which neighbors a luxury-shopping arcade, would not be out of place in Miami. The Grand Palace evokes Vienna: chandeliers, soaring ceilings, and staff in bow ties. The Annas Hotel (annashotel.com; suites from €120), an hour and a half from Riga, offers 10 apartment-like suites.
EAT & DRINK
You could visit the Riga Central Market (rct.lv/en) because it’s housed in five of the last eight World War I dirigible hangars on the planet, or because you’ll find the full bounty of Latvian food production, from the countryside to the waters. You will never have strawberries and cherries this sweet anywhere else. Both 3 Pavaru (3pavari.lv; mains €20–€30) and Restorans 3 (restaurant3.lv; tasting menus from €42) serve modern Latvian cuisine and should be first on any gourmand’s itinerary, but for an entirely different yet equally heady experience, visit Valtera (valtera restorans.lv/en; mains €12–€24), which prepares updated versions of traditional food in a rustic setting. We had an excellent dessert of rhubarb purée, hazelnut meringue, rhubarb sorbet and milk foam.
No trip to Riga is complete without seeing the former local KGB headquarters, the Corner House (kgbbuilding.lv), so named because it sits at the intersection of two major streets downtown. Latvians joked grimly that the Corner House was the tallest building in the country— you could see from it all the way to Siberia. The English-language tours are often led by a guide for whom the endeavor is clearly personal.
Riga’s Old Town is a warren of mostly unexpected delights. For shopping, I suggest browsing for avant-garde jewelry at Art Gallery Putti (putti.lv/en); body-care products derived from Latvian flora (juniper shower gel, milk-thistle eye cream) at Pienene (latviangreen. com); and household items and accessories—linens, kitchenware, handbags—at Riija (riija.lv).
For a traditional pirts (sauna) experience in the countryside, head to Brūveri (hotelbruveri.lv; pirts €50 per person), a hotel complex near Sigulda, which is the scenic gateway to Gauja National Park about an hour from Riga. Sigulda is surrounded by castles and hiking trails—for locals, it’s the Switzerland of Latvia—and has a small cottage industry of adventure sports (bungee jumping, bobsledding). And while you have to be venturesome to seek out carpenter Jacob Dimiters’s property and the workshop of the Northmen guild of ax- and watchmakers (northmen.com), you won’t regret it. He may reward your effort, as he did ours, with homemade blini with fresh cream and lingonberry preserves or a pizza from his woodburning oven. — B.F.