Did you know that women are the biggest consumers in the travel industry? Even for family trips, women make 80% of the financial decisions. That’s a lot! Women are the ones booking the trips, the hotels, the flights and the tours. It’s something I’ve noticed while traveling myself too. It’s usually the women leading the charge when planning couples and family vacations (lugging their partner and kids around) and I’ve met way more solo female travelers than solo male travelers.
Yet the travel industry is still an old boys club. It’s mostly men in executive and top management positions, even though they’re not the target demographic. Luckily, there is a thriving community of female entrepreneurs, influencers, creators and marketeers in the travel industry looking to change that. The Women in Travel Summit by Wanderful brings together those women working in travel to network, learn and lift each other up.
Until this year, WITS was a US event and I had never had the opportunity to go. So when I saw that this inspiring event for women was coming to Europe, I immediately signed up to volunteer. Especially since first WITS Europe took place in Riga, a city I hadn’t been before. Free access to an huge industry event, the opportunity to meet awesome people and the perfect excuse to plan a trip around the Baltics. Win – win!
The Summit itself was incredibly fun and I met so many cool women who love travel as much as I do. I also got to attend a few interesting workshops, network and enjoy some time in the city. I loved it so much, I’ll definitely join again next year in Gdańsk.
And I didn’t just enjoy WITS, I also loved Riga. It’s a beautiful city with a rich history and culture and delicious food. Basically everything I need to be happy. Latvia is becoming more popular as a summer holiday destination, but is still pleasantly quiet in the low season. Although the weather was definitely a bit chilly in November, it was nice to feel like I had the city to myself. No long lines or crowded streets, but the regular bustles of locals going about their business.
If you’re into diverse architecture, European history and hearty food, I highly recommend you book yourself a trip to Riga. Here are my favorite things to do in Riga:
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Explore Old Riga
The building you see here in called the House of the Blackheads and this is not what it originally looked like. Unfortunately it was destroyed during the many wars that ravaged Latvia in the 19th and 20th century. But it was rebuilt to look pretty much the same as it did in the 14th century. In fact, quite a few of the buildings in Old Town are not as old as the name would suggest. Several wars and occupations did serious damage, although luckily not as extensive as in Warsaw.
But the Old Town of Riga is still very impressive and it’s fun to play a game of “old or not” while walking around. I never learned much about Baltic history in school, so I decided to join the Old Riga Free Tour to learn more. Our guide took us on a very fun and informative exploration of the historic city center. We stopped by major landmarks such as the Cathedral, St. Peters Church, the House of the Blackheads, the Three Brothers and the Parliament Building. I highly recommend joining this tour if you’re interested in the fascinating local history, as it was one of my favorite things to do in Riga.
Visit the National Museum of Art
Another great way to learn about a local culture, is through art. The Latvian National Art Museum is one of my favorite museums I’ve been… probably ever! It really rivals major art museums in Paris, Amsterdam or Madrid in my opinion. Although luckily not as big as say the Louvre, the National Art Museum in Riga contains an impressive collection of Latvian art from 1780 to 2000. Which just happens to entail a few of my favorite movements: Romanticism, Impressionism and Art Nouveau. The building itself is absolutely gorgeous and makes you feel like you should be wearing a ball gown. Seriously, it’s like a fairy tale palace.
The permanent collection is amazing, but the temporary exhibitions are excellent as well. They definitely go all out to create informative, inspiring and creative exhibitions, highlighting individual Latvian artists in a new and exciting way. You can easily spend a whole afternoon here, and entry is only 6 euro (3 for students)!
If art isn’t really your thing or if you’re traveling with kids, I recommend the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum of Latvia. The name is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s a great museum. Here you can see examples of Latvian culture through the ages. How people lived, what they did, how they dressed etc. It’s a bit further outside the city, but you can reach it with a direct bus line. It’s really worth it if you have a day or afternoon to spare, even in the winter.
Shop at the Central Market
I love a good market. Every time I visit a new place I always look for local farmers markets and supermarkets. I just love to see what kind of food is being prepared and sold and trying new things. The Central Market in Riga is huge and consists of four buildings and an outdoor space. And it’s not just for tourists, locals love to shop here too!
I was lucky because Live Riga organized a tour for us as part of WITS, which included a tour of the Central Market by the famous Latvian chef Martins Sirmais. He took us through the market to see all the different goods on sale and try some local specialties. But even without a personal guide, the market is worth a visit. There’s a lot of amazing produce and traditional Latvian food on sale. Make sure to try every sample you are offered!
The Central Market is also a great place to shop for (food) souvenirs. The outdoor market largely consists of souvenirs shops, but avoid the first part, which has inflated tourist prices. Instead, head to the area to the left, behind the meat hall. This is the “charity part”. People, mostly unemployed and homeless, can set up a stall for free here and sell their goods as a way to make a little money. A great way to give back and support the actual locals, rather than shopping at a big souvenir store.
Stroll through the Art Nouveau District
I was astonished to find out that Riga has the biggest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in the world! Seriously! Not Paris, not Berlin, but Riga. Now, Art Nouveau (also called Jugendstil) just happens to be one of my favorite architectural and art styles ever, so you can imagine my joy.
Riga experienced a big economic boom at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, the hay days of Art Nouveau. So naturally, people started building huge mansions and apartment complexes all over the city. Most of the Art Nouveau buildings are concentrated just northeast of the Old Town along Albert Street. Each building more lavishly and intricately decorated than the next. If you’re a fan of Art Nouveau, it’s not to be missed.
If you want to learn more about the style and why Art it’s so important to Riga, you can visit the Art Nouveau Museum.
Eat some delicious Latvian food
I briefly touched upon the food situation in Riga when I mentioned the Central Market, but it really deserves a section all its own. Latvian cuisine is a delicious mix of central and eastern European, Russian and Nordic cuisine.
I personally love pickled vegetables, potatoes and rye bread, so Latvian cuisine was right up my alley. There were a few surprising flavors, such as the heavy use of hemp seed, rye and dill. Latvian cuisine, heavily meat and fish based, but still surprisingly vegetarian-friendly. Vegans will have a harder time as there is sour cream and cottage cheese in almost everything.
Food is also pretty affordable in Riga, especially for western European standards. There are lots of buffet restaurants that charge fair prices for huge plates of food, and most restaurants have a special discounted lunch menu. I recommend the LIDO chain in particular as they serve traditional Latvian food made with local produce. You can also follow one of my main budget travel hacks and grab bread and cheese from the supermarket to make your own lunches and breakfast.
The Baltics are a very underrated region in Europe. Although Riga is as beautiful as more famous cities in Europe like Paris or Vienna, it is much less known. So venture off the beaten path and avoid the masses by visiting Riga. There are so many fun things to do in Riga, from learning about history to trying local foods.
Have you ever been to Riga? What were your favorite things to do there? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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