When people asked “where are you going on holiday?” and we’ve replied “Latvia and Lithuania”, there’s invariably been a pause… then.. “oh… why?” and it wasn’t a simple question to answer. It all started with a TimeOut article about the world’s best undiscovered beaches and Jurmala in Latvia came high on the list promising 35km of unspoilt Blue Flag sandy beach, backed by sand dunes and pine forests. It sounded like heaven, plus the flights were cheap, and it’s a natural mineral spa resort. Why not?!
So, in August while London basked in a heatwave, we flew off to the Baltics. We only discovered later that during August in Latvia it typically rains – a lot! We had three spa days in a week avoiding the rain by soaking in a pool or baking in a sauna.
Riga is a small city, easy to navigate and on the night we arrived it was the annual city festival with fireworks over the river. The Old Town is chocolate box pretty with numerous medieval churches and amazing Art Nouveau buildings for tourists to gawp at. But of course we were more into the food scene, looking for the taste of Latvia.
We loved the amazing Central Market in the old zeppelin hangers where locals jostle with tourists among the flowers, cheese, meat, fish and vegetable stalls and old ladies sell handfuls of homegrown and foraged fruit and mushrooms. Here you get closer to the typical Latvian products and flavours including hemp butter, kefir (used in the fantastic cold beetroot soup), sea buckthorn tea, rye bread, sauerkraut and pickles and mystery summer berries.
We were only in Riga for a couple of days, but in between dodging the rain showers we tried out these places:
Tiny coffee shop in Old Riga. Fresh coffee roasted in Riga, Aeropress and every other coffee-making gadget. Lovely looking cakes too. A coffee-geeks paradise.
Easy Wine: Audeju iela 4, Riga
On the main drinking and eating out street in Riga. Great for late night nibbles and wine. Unlike their website, the menu is available in English, as is the case in most places in Riga. This is a wine sampling bar, you help yourself from wine chillers by the glass on a credit card system. Good quality tapas and appetizers including oysters, beef carpaccio and a fantastic buttery, chicken liver pate. Open til 2am at weekends
Domini Canes: Skarnu iela 18/20, Riga
Tucked away in Riga Old Town behind St Peter’s church. Although it’s a very touristy area this place serves up good quality Latvian dishes at a reasonable price. We dropped in early hoping for a spare table on a wet mid-week evening and they were fully booked so we reserved for lunch the next day. We were then treated to a large table in the window. Their cooking and presentation is good although the service can be a little bit formal. Expensive wine prices so we stuck to the local beers and homemade lemonades. Delicious fish soup and enormous servings of roast pork ribs.
Valtera Restorans Msnieku iela 8, Riga
Modern Latvian cuisine based on seasonal and local ingredients, all beautifully presented. Their daily Business Lunch for only 6.90 Euros was impressive – a delicious beetroot and chicken soup, homemade bread and hemp butter, a choice of mains including veal, herring or veggie option, carrot cake & ice cream, and a homemade fruit lemonade. We added a glass of wine, water and coffees which came with profiteroles and only ran up a total bill of about 30 Euros.
After a few days in Riga we left the city behind moved onto the beach resort Jurmala just 30 minutes train ride away. Jurmala is famous for its Art Nouveau wooden beach houses dating from the 19 and early 20th century. Through AirBnB we stayed in a lovely modern seaside house and felt like locals walking to the beach, restaurants, parks, river and shops everyday. It’s a leisurely place – like a giant Center Parks experience. It’s green, fresh and healthy.
We’d recommend these places if you ever find yourself in Jurmala:
Cafe 53 Jomas street 53, Jurmala
Our favourite on the popular Jomas Street, this cafe serves throughout the day. Breakfast includes a variety of porridges, and curd, pumpkin or potato pancakes. Lunch and dinners include BBQ meat and fish, pizza, soups and salads – or just relax with a beer in terrace garden.
Dukats Baznicas 12-14, Dubulti, Jurmala
Bakery and bistro open daily 8-7 a short walk from the beach or train station in Dubulti. This is the place for inexpensive local food and takeaway cakes and pastries. Salads, soups and traditional Latvian hearty mains served canteen style for 5-10 Euros per person. Large summer terrace.
Coffee + Concept Dzintaru prospekts 4, Jūrmala
Close to the Dzintaru concert hall this modern coffee and Baltic homeware shop specialises in designer eclairs, wine and good coffee.