LATVIA is set to party this year, celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its independence.
So for those looking for somewhere to live it up or relax with friends, then the capital city of Riga should be channelling the right vibes.
After a quick taxi ride from the airport into town, one of the first noticeable things about the city’s elegant main squares are the number of al fresco beer halls, informal cafés and restaurants.
That means it’s easy to combine an initial blast of sightseeing with a quick refreshment and a catch up with pals.
Another chilled way to get your bearings in Riga is to cruise the city.
Sailing is available along the Daugava River but I’d recommend the Canal Sightseeing Cruise as it cuts through the heart of city, into attractive parks and gardens and passes key Latvian sights.
We sailed under bridges, past waterfalls, chatting as we went, photographing Riga’s renowned National Opera House, and its iconic Freedom Memorial that embodies the struggles faced by the country and its people after the trauma of Nazi and Soviet occupation.
The memorial is such a key monument that we returned on foot to look at it in greater detail.
Another free attraction that puts Riga on the map is the fact that it boasts one of the world’s richest collections of art nouveau buildings.
Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage site of cobblestoned alleys and breathtaking river views, but if you’re looking for elegance and refinement with no price tag, then a meander down key art nouveau streets, such as Alberta Iela, brings you face-to-face with stunning facades, fanciful doorways and inspiring balconies, statues and decorative features.
After some earnest sightseeing it was time to take a break with quality food and drink that didn’t bust the budget.
The bakeries in Riga really hit the spot – the refinement of the cakes and tarts is exceptional.
Regensis Bakery had ample indoor and outdoor seating, and mouth-watering pastries at fantastic prices.
We also discovered a wonderful chocolatier called Black Magic, on Kalku 10.
We were tempted by the sweet treats alone, but customers could also order a shot of the traditional Latvian liqueur Black Balsam.
This strong herbal beverage can be necked straight, but also enjoyed as part of a hot drink, with blackcurrant juice, or served with coffee and whipped cream.
The foodie exploration continued and we discovered that Riga’s culinary scene is for an indulgent weekend.
The city’s most famous restaurant is Vincent’s. Prince Charles and Elton John have dined here, so it has a great reputation.
We treated ourselves to another Riga gem, Biblioteka No.1 Restaurant, located in the beautiful Vermanes Park. It’s certainly a stunning backdrop, but for a relaxed atmosphere and a menu that catered well for a group of friends, Neiburgs, situated on Jauniela 25/27, was our clear favourite.
As well as hearty filling dishes, Neiburgs serves up raw cocktails alongside a raw food menu, so this location works for any groups with vegans, vegetarians, seafood lovers and carnivores mixed together.
With mains starting at £7.50, combined with live piano music, and works by the well-known Latvian artist Kristiana Dimitere on display, it was a delightfully affordable culinary and cultural treat for pals with varied diets and budgets.
Admittedly, no girls’ weekend is complete without a spot of shopping and a spa break, and the Espa Spa Centre, in the Radisson Blu, is one of the most attractive havens in the city.
We whiled away several hours in the swimming pool, vitality pool, sauna and steam room, before lounging on the heated benches and drenching ourselves in the range of showers, veering between warm tropical rainfall and invigorating cold mist.
Riga’s shopping was another treat. Chains such as Reserved are the equivalent of H&M in the UK, but we also stumbled on a boutique called Riga Modes.
With truly innovative designs and styles for curvy women a lot of damage was done here by several members of our group.
In Riga we discovered art, history, great food, cool bars, chic shopping and good times, returning home refreshed and ready for life, work, kids… and reality!
One-way flights from Aberdeen to Riga with Air Baltic start at £45 airbaltic.com
Double rooms at the Avalon Hotel & Conference start at €110 per night hotelavalon.eu
Discover more about Riga and the rest of the country at latvia.travel/en