This weekly travel column is brought to you by ManAboutWorld, an immersive digital gay travel magazine for iOS and Android devices from Billy Kolber, Ed Salvato, Kenny Porpora, and nearly 75 Global Correspondents.
An Eastern European city with a tumultuous Soviet past may not sound like the backdrop for a fabulous gay vacation, but then again, that’s exactly why you need to go. Riga is a vibrant, overlooked, and mostly undiscovered city: a welcoming, cultural hub locked inside a complicated country. The streets of Riga — architecturally, historically, culturally — can be viewed as a time-capsule of its former rulers, and each — the Swedes, the Germans, and the Poles — left a unique mark on the city. Today, the oppressive grey skies of the Soviet era have been replaced with a hopeful and artful revitalization, making Riga a true hidden European gem when there seemed to be none left, and perhaps the most beautiful Baltic city of them all.
The mention of Latvia and its close proximity to Russia may stir fear in the hearts of gay travellers, but the city is surprisingly tolerant of gay life. In November 2014, the foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs came out via a punchy tweet, and the landscape, in general, is friendly and accepting, if not altogether celebratory. That also doesn’t mean you and your boyfriend should indulge in public make-out sessions; the city, while still a far cry from Mykonos, has come a long way from its days when it was an involuntarily Soviet-ruled state.
If you plan a trip, here are five things not to miss, especially the number-one reason to go this summer:
1. EuroPride is here this year: From now till June 21, something quite historic is happening with Riga stepping out onto the global stage to support LGBT rights by being the first post-Soviet Eastern European city to host EuroPride, a multi-day gay pride mega-event. The event is shining a light on the struggling and oppressed of Latvia’s neighbors, and showing the rest of the world how far Riga has come since it’s less than pro-gay past.
2. Miera Iela neighborhood: To appreciate Riga for everything that it is, you’ll want to start in the Miera Iela neighborhood, maybe the best (and most underappreciated) hipster town in the world (yes, maybe better than Berlin or Williamsburg). A stroll down Peace Street (Miera means peace in Latvian) will unveil the boutique art galleries, the vintage clothes shops, the hairdresser/bookstores, and the florists bartering green plants for herbal teas.
3. Hotel Bergs: A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the Hotel Bergs is the best in town: a five-star designer paradise of muted coffee and mocha tones, spacious rooms overlooking courtyard fountains, and one of the best restaurants in all of Europe in its lobby. Outside the hotel is Riga’s cultural quarter of cobblestone streets, small boutique shops and quaint cafes.
4. Drink with the locals: The Golden Bar is the best gay-ish bar in town, friendly for everyone, with a mixed crowd, great atmosphere and hosting parties all weekend long. Garage is the super trendy wine bar everybody is loving. A quick walk from the Hotel Bergs (see above), it’s sexy and chic, with great wines and a seasonally-sourced menu that changes daily — the steaks and duck breast are the menu’s best.
5. Tourist highlights. Visitors will want to make time for the Doms Cathedral, the Art Nouveau district, full of 20th century architectural jewels, which is popular among the artsy gays, and the Central Market, among the liveliest places in the city come weekends.