Pleasant parks, cafés and markets beckon in Riga’s Āgenskalns district.
BY RON BERNTHAL
Many business and leisure travelers to Riga, Latvia’s capital city, make Old Town their first location to visit. As the historic center of the city, Old Town is on UNESCO’S World Heritage list because of its architecture. With its busy bars and restaurants, small shops and narrow streets, it also proves one of Latvia’s most Instagram-worthy destinations.
For a quieter and more genuine Riga neighborhood, take a 10-minute walk (or five-minute tram ride) across Akmens Bridge, crossing the Daugava River into the Āgenskalns neighborhood. When crossing the bridge, Old Town and the Central Market will be behind you, with the arched Railway Bridge to your left and the modern Vansu Bridge to your right. In front of you, on the Āgenskalns side, sits the National Library of Latvia, a modern building opened in 2014 and known as the Castle of Light.
Āgenskalns is a popular place for locals because of its historic and busy market, selling everything from fresh produce to clothing. You’ll find lovely parks on this side of the Daugava and streets where the neighborhood’s wooden buildings, built in the 19th century and beautifully renovated, remain visible behind the trees, especially in fall after the leaves have dropped. In winter, explore Āgenskalns by rental car or taxi, as the entire Baltic region is known for its snowy and cold winters. In the warm Latvian summer, the neighborhood brims with residents visiting local outdoor markets and cafés or strolling along the scenic riverbank until the sun sets late in the western sky.
The modern riverboat VECRĪGA offers a one-hour Riga Panoramic
Tour along the Daugava where passengers enjoy views of Old Town with its historic towers, Riga Castle, Riga Passenger Port and the TV Tower on Hare Island (Zaķusala). The VECRĪGA also offers 2.5-hour Sunset Tours to Sea Gate, where the Daugava meets the Baltic Sea.
During the past decade Āgenskalns gained a new, younger demographic which enjoys the neighborhood’s large parks, cafés, new shops and riverside location as wonderful amenities. The Āgenskalns Market, opened in 1898, boasts landmark status and is the third-largest market in Riga. The market owners completed a major four-year renovation project in May 2022, pleasing many local families that shop there.
A 15-minute walk from the market, the free-spirited Kalnciema Quarter also benefitted from some of the private and city revitalization projects, paving the way for this section of Āgenskalns to attract students, young couples and hipsters who populate the art galleries, cafés, music venues and boutiques that sprouted here, giving the Quarter a free-spirited ambience. Āgenskalns also boasts some of the best educational institutions in Latvia, including Riga Technical University and RISEBA University of Business, Arts and Technology.
Don’t miss the chance to dine at Fabrikas, one of the best Āgenskalns riverside restaurants, offering spectacular views of Old Town. Situated in a renovated factory, this high-end restaurant attracts expats living in Riga as well as the city’s wealthy business leaders and cultural celebrities. The venue offers live piano music some nights, a relaxed atmosphere every night, and a kitchen known for its international dishes, including excellent French cuisine and locally sourced seafood.