Visit Europe's 2014 Capital of Culture

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Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2014 is Riga, Latvia. Odds are you haven’t been to this Latvian city – but you should! Dubbed the “Paris of the East”, Riga is considered one of Europe’s prettiest cities. As our guide Jelena will tell you below, it’s a city that’s ripe for exploring!

The history of Riga is long and honored; the city is 800 years old, definitely a respectable age. Because of its long history, Riga was subjected to many different governments and many economic and cultural influences. This long history is reflected not only in the appearance of the city, but also in ourselves as Riga’s citizens: our way of life, cuisine, favorite places to go and things to do. I think that Riga is a cosmopolitan city, but its citizens are still used to “keeping their noses to the wind”, just as a few centuries ago their ancestors were monitoring the wind direction with weather-vanes, Riga's famous gilt roosters.

Over the last year our city has received some big recognition. For example, a USA Today article called it the “Prettiest City in Europe”, and in 2014, Riga became the Cultural Capital of Europe. Our city supports these accolades: so many concerts take place now in Riga, free ones as well as paid, for fans of various styles of music; there are so many, it makes you dizzy! "Which concert to go this Sunday?" has become a tricky question to answer! Personally, in the last month I have visited two or three concerts every week, and this is only the beginning! Latvian National Opera, traditional organ concerts in the Riga Dome, the Rigas Ritmi Jazz Festival, the spring festival of brass bands, folk music concerts in the Ethnographic Open Air Museum - so many opportunities this year for a music fan!

On Saturdays, I go on pilgrimage to the Kalnciema market. This place has an absolutely magical atmosphere, and the air is filled with the scent of Latvian delicacies: rye bread baked on maple leaves, smoked venison sausage, fresh cheese, halva, Latvian aromatic herbal teas, biscuits . It’s no wonder Jamie Oliver calls Latvia “Europe's hidden culinary gem”!. The market caters to those whose mouth waters at culinary delights; you can enjoy a squire pumpkin soup, a sandwich with local ostrich meat or pearl-barley risotto, as well as buy authentic souvenirs crafted by local artists.

If you arrived in Riga by a means other than ship (otherwise, I guess you might already be tired of water activities) go on a slow boat trip on the city canal on the 100 year old boat “Darling”. From personal experience, I can assure you that this is the most romantic adventure. Canal banks are carefully maintained with colourful flower beds, fountains spray, and maybe you will be lucky and see the real live beavers who live there.

I am often asked: “What is the best time of year to visit Riga? I have a lot of answers to this question! July, when it’s the warmest time of the year, you can go to the seaside town of Jurmala, just 20 km from Riga to swim and bronze. Or come in August for Riga City Days (this year 15-17th of August). My favorite event during these days is "Albert Street 100 years ago." Imagine you go through a modern city, turn the corner on Albert Street (one of the most famous and visited Riga Art Nouveau streets) and suddenly find yourself in the atmosphere of a century ago: ladies wearing huge hats slowly walk along the street , there’s a policeman instructing a yard-keeper with a broom, while at the other end of the street a brass band sounds , and people are learning to dance...

Although, perhaps, there is no better adventure than to dress warmly, take along a thermos with hot spicy tea and go for a walk to see the light installations of the festival Staro Riga in mid-November!

Thank you, Jelena, for your many suggestions on how to enjoy Europe’s Cultural Capital for 2014! Any travelers headed to Riga in 2014 can contact Jelena through her Jelena guide profile page, for a custom private tour of her beautiful city.
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