Riga, Latvia is the Art Nouveau metropolis of the Baltic States. On the water, this capital city of Latvia offers wonderful views of the oldest parts of the city. With the Jurmala Peninsula, lakes and rivers, Latvia offers many iconic spots for stand up paddling.
Latvian Charm: history and architecture via sup
“Latvia has a young, but positively developing stand up paddling scene,” says Normunds Barinovs when we meet at the trendy cultural centre, Kanape that is north of the old town of Riga.
Normunds is an enthusiastic stand up paddler and chairman of the Latvian Surfing and Sup Association. It is not yet common for tourists to travel to Riga to go stand up paddling so he was interested in meeting us. We drank a local beer together and talked about Riga, the country and its people. Of course, we also talked about stand up paddling.
Normunds gave us some insider tips for our city adventure. In addition to a city tour and the best hidden restaurants and cafés, we will – of course – also go on the water.
Art Nouveau facades show the beauty of Riga
The next morning, we first drove to the city centre for a tour of this ancient place. Liga, our tour guide, was already waiting for us in front of the National Art Museum. She job: to bring us closer to the beauty of Riga within the next hours.
Our first stops are the nearby streets of Elizabetes Iela and Alberta Iela. It quickly becomes apparent why Riga is also called the “Pearl of the Baltic States” or “Paris of the North”. With over 700 enchanting Art Nouveau houses, as well as historic wooden houses, this townscape is characterized by a rich history in architecture. The most beautiful buildings can be found within these two streets.
Riga’s rich architecture: a national treasure
We let our gazes wander over the lavishly decorated facades with ornaments, figurative sculptures and colorful ceramic tiles. Many of the Art Nouveau houses in Riga were designed by the famous architect Michail Eisenstein. Walking past the magnificent buildings, Liga tells us that Eisenstein’s Art Nouveau architecture defied the neo-classical style of Riga and, in retrospect, created a real treasure in the Latvian capital.
We continue towards the city centre, where we cross the small city channel and pass the Latvian National Opera, built by the German architect Ludwig Bohnstedt. The historical German-Latvian relations are not only evident at the opera,The ‘Schwarzhäupterhaus’, but also various churches and brick houses can be discovered on a city tour. These relationships are based on the foundation of Riga in 1201 by Albert, Bishop of Livonia, who came from Bremen.
Latvian independence unleashes a new era of prosperity
After a number of occupations, Latvia did not regain its independence until 1991 and since then has enjoyed a strong economic upturn with entering the European Union and the introduction of the euro as national currency.
We make a short stop at the “Fat Cat”, a café with delicious eclairs in a small street behind the city’s cathedral. The logo shows the cat of the owner Urgis. He offers over 200 sweet and 20 salty eclairs variants.
Riga’s Culinary Centre: the Central Market
After a short detour to the famous building ensemble “Drei Brüder” (three brothers) with Riga’s oldest stone building from the 15th century, our city tour continues to the culinary heart of Riga: The Central Market. This bustling center of cuisine was the largest, best and most modern market in Europe at its opening in 1930. It’s located in five old Zeppelin hangars. Local specialties are offered and aromas of Latvian products permeate the halls.
Right at the beginning of our tour, we tasted hemp butter, one of Latvian’s specialty. In the crowded meat and fish halls we witnessed pig heads, smoked bacon and dried trout. In small restaurants, the regional products can also be ordered directly and eaten locally.
Breweries and Beverages in Riga’s Central Market
The final stop our culinary tour is the small counter of Labietis Brewery within the market. This Latvian brewery offers more than 40 different craft beers. I choose the “Gaismas Hagana”, which has a slightly sweetish taste with eight percent alcohol.
Speaking of alcohol: Riga is not only famous for its beer, but also for its “Black Balsam”, a traditional Latvian liqueur. This bittersweet liqueur is made from a variety of herbs and ingredients and is also drunk by the locals as a remedy for numerous complaints. That’s why you can see the bottles in every restaurant or bar.
Stand up paddle tour around the Old Town of Riga
The Pilsetas Channel runs through the city centre, just wide and deep enough to explore the historic old town on a paddle board. North of the old town in the port of Andrejosta is a good starting point for our city stand up paddle tour. I brought my inflatable sup to Riga as luggage in my backpack. The paddle and pump also had room in the backpack, so I can act flexibly and independently on site. Normunds accompanied us on our tour and told us informative stories about his city.
From the small harbour we paddle under two bridges into the city channel. There is not much traffic on the channel. We are only accompanied by one of the small ships with tourists on board. Stand up paddlers are rather rare on the channel, so we are a popular photo scene for many tourists.
Riga national history tour by water
We paddle past the green areas that surround the channel almost along its entire length. At Basteiberg, we make a short stopover. It was part of Riga’s fortifications. Today, the small excursion boats dock there and wait for passengers.
Directly behind the Basteiberg, we pass the Freedom Monument built in 1935 and the National Opera House on the other river side. The sights are located directly beside the channel and provide a perfect photo opportunity.
The next highlight on our stand up paddle tour is the Central Market, which is also located directly beside the channel. Shortly after that, the channel flows into the Daugava River. The river crosses Riga with a width of more than 500 meters.
We pass an old railway bridge and discover on the left riverbank the Latvian National Library. The building, which opened in 2014, is one of the most impressive cultural buildings in Europe and is not only worth a visit for literature enthusiasts.
Slowly the sun is setting down and we paddle towards a dreamlike sunset. After 6.5 kilometres and two hours we come back to our starting point. We still enjoy the last sun rays on the water, pack up our paddle boards and decide to wile away the evening right there beside the water. Located directly in the harbor, we enjoy the delicious, modernly interpreted menu of the “Musuu Terase” restaurant.
Jurmala – Summer resort and Sup at the Baltic Sea
The next day, we bring our paddle boards to the “Baltic Riviera”, as the recreational area Jurmala is also called. The regional trains to Jurmala leave Riga several times an hour.
From the railway station in Riga, we first cross the old railway bridge with a beautiful view on the National Library and old town. The train station of the holiday resort Majori is located directly next to the river Lielupe and is a good starting point to start exploring the long peninsula of Jurmala and the Baltic Sea.
Jurmala: Latvia’s Summer Resort
Jurmala is the leisure and recreation area of many Latvians in the summer with a 10 KM long sandy beach. Surrounded by dense coniferous forest, the village of Majori is characterized by imposing villas, souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and cafés.
We roll our paddle boards a good 700 meters from the railway station to the Baltic Sea beach where Normund’s friend Valids is already waiting for us. Valids lives on Jurmala and paddles regularly on the Baltic Sea or Lielupe, which flows into the Baltic Sea at the northern end of the peninsula.
“The tour via the Lielupe to the estuary and on the Baltic Sea back to Majori has a good 23 kilometres,” Valis says as we pump up our boards on the sand. For today this is, unfortunately, too long a distance, but certainly an option for a longer stand up paddle tour.
We do a short tour on the Baltic Sea along the coast. The Baltic Sea shows itself from its most beautiful side with gentle waves and hardly any wind which makes the paddling easy and I watch the activity on the beach from the water. Numerous beach bars invite visitors for a cool or warm drink. You can also see the former bath from the early 20th century. After our leisurely tour, we stroll through the village and enjoyed a tasty piece of cake in the confectionery “Del Gusto”.
Sunset on Latvia: Wrapping up our tour
After our return to Riga, we finished the day at the Skyline Bar in the Radisson Blu Latvija with a delicious mojito during the sunset. On the 26th floor, the bar offers a magnificent view over the entire city. By the way, in 2016, according to the drinks menu, the bartenders mixed more than 22,000 mojitos, making it the most drunk drink in the rooftop bar.
For a weekend trip with impressive architecture, fine Baltic delicacies in cafés and restaurants and many places to discover, Riga is an exceptional and rewarding destination for stand up paddling. In addition to the described tours, countless rivers and lakes in Latvia invite you to sup.
— Written by: Thomas Pfannkuch
This trip was supported by airBaltic, Park Inn by Radisson Riga Valdemara and the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia (LIAA).